Three days and at least 19 Red Bulls later, I’m here to give you the rundown on this year’s Governors Ball. The favorable weather forecast was a happy omen for what would inevitably be a fantastic (albeit bro-heavy) weekend. There was something for everyone. Whether you were coming just to see Outkast for the first time in a decade or you’re a total dubslut, Governors Ball delivered. For a festival that’s still under five years old, they’ve established themselves as a major summer staple, and this year’s event carried few snafus from what I could gather. Big thumbs up on food accessibility, clean(ish) portopotties and ample water stations. Sound bleed could use some improvement, but it’s still pretty incredible that any of this can be orchestrated in Manhattan, so bravo to that, and let’s break it down.
I arrived on Randall’s Island around 2:15 on Friday. The walk from Astoria was lively, as a number of other ambitious music loving day drinkers made their way across the RFK Bridge. I was a little bummed to miss Run the Jewels, but that’s the nature of the beast when you’re juggling a full time job during festival season (MY LAST DAY IS TOMORROW BTW). I wandered over to see Ratking at the Gotham Tent, thinking I’d soak up some local vibes. MC Hak, Patrick “Wiki” Morales and Sporting Life make an impressive trio. The fearless threesome is high energy. They come out swinging with rhymes that smack you in the face and make you forget that you’re watching dudes who aren’t even old enough to share a beer with you. Damn. If these kids are doing this well now, expect the to make a serious splash in the next year or so.
Next up was Janelle Monae – the perfect mid-afternoon mainstage act. Of course her entrance was dramatic. She was rolled out in a straight jacket and dolly before setting herself free and bringing forth a full blown vocal assault. I hadn’t seen Monae play since she opened for Of Montreal at Terminal 5 back in 2010, and it’s safe to say she’s become an even better performer. Her stage presence is larger than life. Her vocals are unfaltering. The bitch is foine. Her unique style, wicked talent and relatively prolific catalogue are the makings of an undeniable pop icon. Big ups to her performance of Electric Lady which had the entire crowd in a real groovy place singing out the lyrics (or making up our own). Either way, Monae set the tone for a powerful evening.
I hit up the Big Apple tent to catch London rockers Bastille. My first thought was, “Oh God, the sound over here is effin’ terrible.” Based on other reviews, I wasn’t wrong. I did catch a rendition of Rhythm of the Night (Well played, Bastille. Drunk white people love that shit.) before they closed it out with their hit Pompeii. The set suffered due to sound quality, and I heard they thought it was a good idea to do a cover of TLC’s No Scrubs? Meh.
Then this is where the Friday night colors really start to show themselves. We grabbed some overpriced chicken tinga tacos that I had about as much interest in as a John Grisham novel. I swear at these music festivals, I could give two shits about food but I have to shove something in my face only to keep me from collapsing. So I opted for dry ass chicken, scrapped most of the tortilla and headed to The Gotham Tent for La Roux. SPOILER ALERT: TOTAL BRO FEST. Yeah, not sure what was going on, but after every song, there were crews of dudes screaming into faces, giving violent high fives and chest bumping like they had caught wind of a Top Gun revamp. It was super weird, but it also coined my crews catchphrase for the weekend. LET’S F@&!ING BRO OUT! Elly Jackson brought the fire with her piercing dance ready vocals. We made it in time for For the Kill and Bulletproof. The bros loved it. LOVED IT.
Then it was time to start setting up camp for Outkast, which of course meant peeping the end of Julian Casablancas + The Voidz set and seeing all of Phoenix’s. Julia Casablancas played that Instant Crush song and that was awesome. Some guy started a rumor that Daft Punk was going to come out. Or I don’t know, I probably heard that wrong. I was pretty drunk at that point. Either way, I was bout it.
Now this is the fourth time I’ve had the opportunity to see Phoenix in a festival setting and the only time I’ve been in the thick of it. Yes, there’s no denying that it was fun to sing along with the hits. The Too Young fade into Girlfriend was cool, BUT is it terrible that I just wasn’t that amazed by the show? Thomas Mars is great! He sounds JUST like his studio stuff, which is pretty damn impressive, but I don’t know if I’ve just become too accustomed to being brutally assaulted by confetti but this show lacked a certain je ne sais quoi (French reference). I’m essentially hating on Phoenix for being consistent. If you’re a Phoenix fan, you would have been pleased, they played anything you would have wanted to hear off of Wolfgang Amadeus (Lasso, 1901, Girlfriend, Fences) and Bankrupt! (Entertainment, Trying to Be Cool), plus plenty of older stuff. Like I said, fun show but I don’t feel compelled to see them again.
And then we waited. And missed TV on the Radio. And waited some more. And there was no music to keep us occupied. And then the bros around us got drunker. And then one bro tried to grab a girl and she got mad. And then my friends popped some fun pills. And then BOMBS OVER BAGHDAD!!!! They opened with Bombs over Baghdad. Ballsy. Outkast came out with a mega hit, and did not stop for the next hour and a half. Andre 3000 wore a platinum wig and a shirt that said “Art or Fart?” for some reason, and Big Boi, well he was wearing a tricked out looking jumpsuit and he’s just, well, he’s the best. As they wove through their discography, hit after hit, it became clear that Outkast was more than just a hip hop group, they were the soundtrack for a generation. ATLiens, Rosa Parks, So Fresh and So Clean, Roses . . . I was taken back to the all the high school dances. All the bowls I smoked in college. It was pretty nostalgic. And then Killer Mike showed up to sing on The Whole World and it ruled. I will say that Outkast’s audience interaction sometimes left something to be desired, but what could you really expect when they are yelling at a mostly early 20s, white, over-privileged, New York audience. When they asked where all the “baby mama’s wit drama wuz at?” before Ms Jackson, you could hear a fucking pin drop, so I was kinda like, dude, know your audience . . . but all was forgiven when those silky, ingrained lyrics came flowing forth.
Later that night I took the wrong exit out of Randall’s Island and it took me nearly two hours to walk back to Astoria, meanwhile my friends were rolling their balls off and got picked up by an unsuspecting yellow cab that 1.) was full of lollipops and 2.) had microphones and a karaoke screen. If they hadn’t sent me snapchats of them looking wild eyed and crazy, I wouldn’t have believed it either. It was truly a Governors Ball miracle.
Saturday was the tits. RJD2 – holy shit. I was so impressed with his live set. The Philly-based producer was killing it when I walked up to the Honda stage around 1:45. He was scratching Star Trek vinyl, crooning with his guitar and playing dress up all for our amazement. Of course, he ended it out with Ghostwriter, and the crowd lost their shit. What a great way to start the day!
Next up I sat with The Glitch Mob and we talked bagels . . . more on that later. My friends tried to watch Tanlines but said the sound at the Big Apple stage was so jacked, that it made it difficult. I found them eating corn dogs nearby.
We checked out Disclosure for a bit but the massive crowd at the Honda stage made it hard to really experience the show. I decided to walk away after AlunaGeorge sang on White Noise and save my full blown Disclosure orgasm for their set at Bonnaroo this week (I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it a million times – I’d cougar the hell out of those baby brits).
We wandered over to Broken Bells in time for Control and The High Road. You can always count on frontman James Mercer to be spot on with the vocals. I’m glad I got to check out his side project with Danger Mouse considering I’ve been a Shins fan since the time I thought it would be noble to be a vegetarian (spoiler alert – I just got pretentious and fat). It was great to take a little break before the electronic maelstrom that was about to hit.
Shit got so real in the Gotham Tent for The Glitch Mob. This crowd was full of MY PEOPLE. From start to finish, LA’s Beat Scene killers DESTROYED. Their show was incredibly unique. Their custom made set, also known as The Blade, was the perfect platform for these dudes to wail on some electronic drums. The show was a rockin’ overview of their newest album Love, Death, Immortality which plays like a 90s Tool album and totally rocks my world. When Can’t Kill Us and We Are the Wild Ones came on, the crowd went insane. edIT, Boreta and Ooah pummeled electronic drums with force and precision, never faltering and looking like they were having a blast as they went. They had an infectious intensity that kept the audience raging right into the late afternoon. They closed with a relentless, blaring verision of We Can Make the World Stop. I loved this show SO much. This crowd was totally on point. And when I run into TGM at Bonnaroo in the Artist Tent, I HOPE THEY AREN’T MAD AT ME FOR MAKING FUN OF THEIR MATCHING TATTOOS BECAUSE REALLY I ONLY DID IT BECAUSE I LIKE THEM AND THINK THEY ARE CUTE (I got kindergarten game, son).
Then I was all like, “Hey who’s Spoon?” And then I went and watched Spoon and I was like, “OH YEAH, SPOON.” And then we totally spooned out when they played The Way We Get By. Oh wait, and Spoon also did that I Turn My Camera On song. Man these guys were so great, and I’m an idiot for not realizing that while they don’t have their own Pandora station on my account, they might as well because their songs pop-up constantly.
And then I put on a squirrel costume because it was that time of the night.
GUYS GUYS GUYS GUYS. A clock ticked down on the Honda Stage as the moments led up to Skrillex’s mothership set. We knew he was looming behind the giant tapestry adorned with the cover of his newest LP, Recess, but it didn’t make it any less exciting when he appeared in his MOFO SPACESHIP. What do I need to do to get that spaceship, seriously? GUYS, I CAN’T HELP IT BUT I AM OBSESSED WITH SKRILLEX. Yes I am yelling. I went insane with a bunch of brosteppers for about 98% of this show (my friends are adults and opted for Jack White instead) and I have 0 regrets. The sound system really came through as Skrill took us through his discography, playing through older hits like First of the Year, Kyoto, Bangarang, Breakin’ a Sweat and so many more, and playing through the majority of the new album, really bringing the fire with tracks like Ragga Bomb and Make it Bun Dem (featuring fellow Governors Ball artist Damien Jr. Gong Marley. The finale came with an extended version of Cinema that was SO DAMN HYPE. “EVERYONE GET ON THE FUCKING GROUND, and when this drops, WE’RE GOING TO FUCKING OUTERSPACE!!!” We layed on the ground. AND “duhduhduhduhduhduhdudDROP THE BASS” Everyone went insane. GOD DAMMIT, AND THEN IT WAS OVER LIKE THAT. Ugh. That’s always tough, but what bliss. I didn’t even care that I could hear the reverb from Jack White’s Seven Nation Army floating from the Governors Ball Stage. I wouldn’t trade a crowd of dubstep fans for anything else in the world. I love them.
Which brings me to – how much do you think that spaceship costs? Because I want it. And I want to convert it into a bed. It will be like a racecar bed, but for adults who refuse to grow up. And we will all live and sleep in it forever and ever.
Jesus, and then it was Sunday already? I had told a few people that on Sunday I wanted to BRO OUT really hard and get so drunk that I thought I was a man. I got pretty close at a few points, and I spent $111 on Red Bull and vodka that day. It was a mission, and it needed to be accomplished. We started at Frank Turner and the Bouncing Souls before heading over to Alunageorge.
Alunageorge was my pleasant surprise for the day. We were able to get relatively close, and her brand of dance house is unique even for today’s saturated market. We grooved it out while she slipped in her Disclosure collab White Noise and some 90s dance hit which is escaping me.
The Bloody Beetroots were some next level shit. They are an electro-house punk formation, and they were unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. They had the theatrics down, with funky costumes, a full rock band and so much more. This crowd was getting it, and when you were in the middle of that pulsing tent, you’d never know it was a Sunday afternoon. I went to this solely off of a recommendation from a drunk flight attendant I met on my way back from Output last weekend, so the whole experience exceeded my nonexistent expectations. THESE GUYS SHRED! Apparently, it’s often a solo act, but on Sunday they were a whole collective and they were really raging. I thought I was going to get a nosebleed during Rocksteady.
Next up was a band I’ve seen several times, Empire of the Sun. While they don’t do much to switch up their stage show (if you’ve seen them once, you’ve seen them a million times) it’s always a good time. Costumes, dancers, headpieces sharp enough to impale Keith Richards’ leather skin and a catalogue of hits came together to create an alternate world in the Gotham Tent. Swordfish, Hotkiss, Night brought tribal beats, smoking totem poles and alien dance moves. Walking on a Dream almost made me cry (gets me every time), and then we closed the night out with their 2013 hit Alive before frontman Luke Steel descending into the stage with one hand in the air. He brings so much fire that it doesn’t even matter if Nick Littlemore doesn’t tour (he sounds like a doucher anyway – apparently saying that $200,000 wasn’t enough and that Steele should call when there’s “real money on the table”.) Fuck that. You do your thang, Steele. We love you anyway!
While Vampire Weekend’s set sounded fabulous, I was just too amped to mellow out, so it was over to the Honda stage for Axwell and Ingrosso. Two-Thirds of Swedish House Mafia made their presence known at the closing set of Governors Ball, and I honestly can’t think of a better send off. The visually stunning set could probably be seen from space. It was a flurry of glowsticks, streamers and scantily clad, youngsters dancing like it was the end of the world. Hoorah! They premiered a ton of new music, but not without throwing in some existing collaborations like Calling (Ingrosso and Alesso) and an amazing One More Time Daft Punk remix. Thank god I didn’t have to hear Eat. Sleep. Rave. Repeat. or some one might have felt my Punch. Kick. Choke. Elbow. (I’m aware that you can’t hear an elbow, but you get it). The finale was about five straight minutes of pyro. I APPROVED.
So overall, a spirited crowd only somewhat marred by drunken bros. It was clear skies, overpriced Foster’s and good times for everyone who made the trek to Randall’s Island this year (I met TONS of out of towners). I’m excited to see what next year will bring, and until then LET’S ALL BRO OUT!!!