2016 Northside Music Festival Review


Summer was well and truly ushered in this last weekend as the Northside Festival concluded its 8th year. With a 400+ roster of bands among dozens of venues, there was no shortage of entertainment; Free Williamsburg staff made a credible stab at doing as much as possible, and our thoughts are below – the best sets, what we sadly missed, and looking to the future. All photos by Chris Quartly

Best Set

Peter Rittweger:  I mean, Brian Wilson probably should win this one by default, but he doesn’t really need my platitudes so much as he needs a handkerchief (those who were close enough to the stage will know what I’m talking about.) So, I’ll go ahead and say that the best set I saw at Northside was arguably the only act booked from this past weekend that I’d leave the legend’s set early for (I made it all the way to “Fun, Fun Fun”), Into It. Over It.


Standards, the latest record from Evan Thomas Weiss’ declaratively-punctuated project has been in constant rotation on my personal playlist this year and, in my opinion, has already earned a worthy spot in the emo-revival canon (how do you guys feel about “nu-emo” instead?) alongside Home, Like No Place Is There and Never Hungover Again.My expectations were ridiculously high going in and they vastly exceeded them, so much so that I am willing to overlook Weiss’ pledge of allegiance to “Team Pork Roll” in the TAYLOR HAM debate that shouldn’t even exist (because it’s totally Taylor Ham, NORTH JERSEY represent.) They were that good.

Coleman Bentley:  With the world going to complete shit, it’s probably unsurprising that the opening night of this year’s Northside Festival belonged to a band called Diarrhea Planet. A NBC Late Show gig. A new Buzzfeed-backed LP. A bowling alley packed to the pins with the converted and the converting. All of this was property of the knuckle-gnashing Nashville rockers on Thursday evening, and with good reason: They rule. But in a funny twist fate that even they might appreciate, Diarrhea Planet weren’t even the best dubiously named band in Williamsburg that night.

That distinction instead belonged to Eagulls—a perfectly mismatched crew of post-punk crate-diggers from the factory floors of Leeds—who took to Baby’s All Right a little after midnight for what held up, over the next several days, as the weekend’s finest set. Sure, Eagulls’ audiophilic breed of brood may be more time capsule than trailblazer, but standing at the feet of a band at the feet of neither fashion, nor politics, nor beer—but instead the almighty dominion of Sound—is about as rare a “festival” experience as you can get here on Planet Diarrhea, 2016 A.D.

Chris Quartly: There were some very strong contenders this year, Eagulls seemed like a perfect warm up for those seeing The Cure in a few days, and given the recent news that The Grand Victory is closing soon, I’m glad I saw my favourite band in Brooklyn, Slonk Donkerson play a great set there. King Khan and the Shrines would probably win this category but I only managed to squeeze in about 30 minutes of their set, they remain one of the best live bands around.

However, I’ve got to hand it to Brian Wilson. Yes, he does sound like the 73-year-old man that he now is and can’t possibly hit all those wonderful notes, but hearing Pet Sounds (and various Beach Boys hits) was a genuinely thrilling experience. Backed by a fabulous ensemble, the sheer ambition of the songs were realised and belted out around McCarren Park. As far as rarities go, and with few genuine legends that are even still alive, this was a must see. While there was a strong wind that brought a chill to the air, there are no warmer songs than the likes of Wouldn’t It Be Nice. Wilson was the headline act for the whole festival, and it may seem a little obvious as a pick, but credit where it’s due, he delivered the goods and then some.

Honourable mentions: Into It. Over It, Yowler, Psychic Ills

The One That Got Away

Peter Rittweger: Like the Mr. T to my Homer Simpson (“I’ll go a little later! I’ll go a little later! But when I got there, they told me he already left.) Slonk Donkerson are probably my “one that got away” for all-time. I’ve missed them play virtually every venue in the city over the past five years, despite being Chris Quartly’s favorite band not called Rush and nabbing a well-deserved spot on our top 25 albums of 2015. That includes their Friday night set at The Grand Victory, which hurts doubly because the Grand Street venue will be joining the long list of shuttered Williamsburg music venues in short order. Next time, fellas, I swear!

Coleman Bentley: Considering Into It. Over It are responsible for one of the half-year’s finest records in Standards, missing them was a bit of a gut check…literally, as I found myself sidelined by a stomach ailment on arguably the best-booked night of the weekend. So much for what was surely an uproarious, fun-filled evening of misty-eyed emo introspection I guess…

Chris Quartly: After catching Slonk Donkerson‘s fine set at the Grand Victory I wandered over to Baby’s All Right for Diet Cig, Childbirth and Colleen Green, but unfortunately it was a bit of a zoo (mostly on behalf of the crowd who just barged through when the doors opened) and they weren’t taking any badges despite arriving early. These things can always be a bit of a lottery… alas, I saw most of what I wanted to see overall this year. I always try and see Priests when they play in New York but Saint Vitus proved a bit too far out the way with everything else going on at the same time.

Final Thoughts

Peter Rittweger:  You wouldn’t know it from our preview coverage, but I was a bit underwhelmed going into this year’s Northside Festival. But as I walked to the subway at the end of it on Sunday night, I realized that it was a pretty solid Northside overall.

When I left Baby’s All Right on Thursday evening, I was pretty confident that nothing would top the blistering Eagulls set I had just witnessed, or the quad axe-grinding antics of Diarrhea Planet at Brooklyn Bowl from a couple hours before, but the fest’s programming was incredibly consistent. While I’ll agree with Coleman that the booking wasn’t particularly exciting or diverse, I will disagree with him and say that I saw a bunch of stuff that was up to the high standard set early on, on stages of all sizes. Friday was a bit light, but there was generally always something worth seeing. Grouper was fantastic, and her film-accompanied ambient soundscapes were a welcome change of pace from all of the straight rock and roll. Other standouts from the “undercard” included Psychic Ills and Pity Sex.
The “headlining” acts didn’t have the cool cache of the acts of years past, but I mean… Brian Wilson, man. He may not have the pipes he once had, and I’m not sure if he actually played a single note on his grand piano, but he was a charismatic, engaging showman and his backing band and vocalists were great. I left the cynic in me at the McCarren Park gates, and just had fun (fun fun.) Ditto for Conor Oberst, who I only managed to catch for a few minutes, but I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed and missed his music.
The booking was pretty “safe” this year, and it’ll be disappointing if that ends up being the norm for the North Brooklyn festival, but for now I’ll say “Whatever. It was fun.”

Coleman Bentley: Part of the beauty of Northside is that it still resists the urge to become a food-truck circle-jerk/Instagram currency ATM, unlike so many of its glossier peers. The downside to Northside’s actual musical focus, however, is that one’s enjoyment is pretty much tied to the booking, which, for me, was a bit of a letdown this year.

There were just two “extreme music” bills (courtesy of Fox’s Noisey and Condé Nast’s Pitchfork, ironically enough) and virtually no hip-hop shows spread throughout the tide-like crash of bands, bands, bands. And those left? Almost as generic the well-furnished behemoths that now tower above them, making previous marquee draws like Against Me!, Black Flag, Chance the Rapper, Fuck Buttons, Iceage, and Merchandise seem like a forgotten relics of some lost (and much cooler) city.

Perhaps next year will be different. Perhaps it’s just a sign of the times in North Brooklyn. Either way, kudos to Northside Media for keeping this thing kicking against all odds (not even CMJ is a guarantee this year), but here’s hoping that 2017 welcomes back a music slate as diverse at its constituency.

Chris Quartly: Northside has this pretty much down to a tee by now and in my opinion is the most well-organised music event in New York. It’s a well oiled machine and I’m always impressed as how closely things run on time, which certainly helped cram in all the different acts on fine margins schedule-wise. I usually take the time to see bands I haven’t seen before which is where a badge really comes into its own, and I think I enjoyed this year’s Northside more than the previous year. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go from here; Brian Wilson was such a huge name for the festival, will they be looking for huge legacy acts in the future or was this a one-off? I tend to prefer smaller showcases and Northside has always managed to straddle that fine line of merging the local DIY scene with the established mainstream, as bands and venues continue to be the veritable David among the Goliath of New York real estate, are we to see more musical giants come to the fore?
Yowler ConorOberst

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