Austin is far away. For most San Franciscans, it’s too far away. But for two weeks in March every year, the hipster holdout in the least fashionable state in the union—go ahead Texas, secede—is Mecca, the intersection of tech and music like no other.
This year, the Bay Area was a bit tired of the stolen spotlight focused on the South. In its first installation in San Francisco, The Creators Project—the visionary arts, music and tech collaboration between VICE and Intel—made us all forget about SXSW and whatever legendary show we were missing in that hidden Austin warehouse.
“We don’t really care about what is going on in other places,” said Johan Jervoe, VP of Intel’s marketing division at the beginning of the day.
Jamming 25,000 ticket holders into the warehouses of the more or less abandoned Fort Mason, it was easy to focus on San Francisco especially with Karen O bellowing in your face or the innovative tech-art mashups begging to be toggled and touched. And the best part? It was free.
Bringing the artists that pulled off some of the greatest live collaborations seen at Coachella last year (remember Arcade Fire?) as well as similar shows from Paris to Beijing, The Creators Project was mind-numbingly beautiful—for the music alone.
Here are some highlights from Saturday’s performances:
Leading off the day in a cavernous empty warehouse, The Hundred In The Hands performed for an early crowd the slowly trickled in to avoid the cold gusts off the bay. Taking the opening set warm up literally, front woman Eleanore Everdell sang like a siren as her voice echoed through the festival pavilion to draw in The Creators Project’s early visitors. Taking over the keyboards, she deferred at times to bandmate and guitarist Jason Friedman who weaved around the stage for “Dressed In Dresden.” It was a fleeting if not fresh opening set for the dance rock pair, who lacked the crowd needed to meet the energy on “Young Aren’t Young” and closer “Commotion.”
The wild card of the day, Beijing’s New Pants, a four-piece band that supposedly had superstar status in China, arrived with little fanfare. With more shows like Saturday’s, it won’t be long until they achieve the same stature in the states. Arriving on stage like they had just crash landed their spaceship, they proceed with a gentle wave—“We come in peace!”—before unleashing a wave of synths that recalled the happiest of M83 riffs. And that’s as far as the comparisons go. Shifting styles, instrumentation and backing videos—which ranged from Bruce Lee cuts to a cartoon duck fellating a monkey to SpongeBob—New Pants seemed in on a joke that no one could understand. Caricaturizing Asian stereotypes, New Pants displayed a music based on skilled instrumentation, The Ramones, indistinct Enlgish lyrics and Far Eastern karaoke (see: “Bye Bye Disco”), complete with singalongs and clapping. Edging Karen O for best performer of the day was band keyboardist Pang Kuan who dressed like Kim Jong Il, truffle shuffled, danced the robot while singing through a vocoder and smashed an iMac all in a 40-minute span. Well played, sir. Well played.
HEALTH and The Antlers provided the Creators Project with two styles on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Going for the loudest band of the day award, the former, the L.A.-based noise rock quartet, slammed their way through an hour-long set that featured plenty of floor tom, pedal-injected verve and hair. Head banging throughout guitarist John Famiglietti’s flowing mane proved appropriate for the HEALTH assault which included fan-favorite “Die Slow.”
Separated from their noise rock predecessors by a Teen Daze DJ set, The Antlers took a gentler approach to their dusk set. After being introduced by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who championed the festival in his kelly green tie and Giant’s baseball cap, the trio laced lead man Peter Silberman’s falsetto with beautifully worked synth melodies. Playing a similar set list as their appearance at Treasure Island Music Festival in the fall, highlights included “French Exit” and “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out.”
Taking the intersection of music, art and electronics to a new extreme, Tom Jenkinson, or Squarepusher, appeared on the main stage wearing a helmet of LED lights and wires protruding from his back. With a black and white light display that would have sent any DJ wearing a mouse helmet running, Jenkinson proceeded to one-up the David Bowie art display just outside the pavilion with a seizure-inducing set that had some fans waiting for later acts covering their eyes and begging for sunglasses. For those that could stand it, Squarepusher’s set was a glimpse of the future–an all-out shelling of the ears and eyes with Jenkinson triggering a Howitzer of acid house and glitch techno. He reveled in syncopations, heavy breakdowns and clothes-dissolving bass that threatened to split Fort Mason off the rest of the Marina and send the military base floating off into oblivion.
If the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are art rock, Karen O is Pablo Picasso, contorting her faces into abstract shapes that would have made the painter proud. Forever the show woman, O is a master of the crowd, spitting beer, smiling and snarling at “Frisco” all while bending every terrified man and adoring woman to her will. Seemingly giving zero fucks about St. Patrick’s Day, O arrived on stage dressed as a red matador ready for the kill and launched into “Gold Lion” before a smooth transition to “Phenomena.” With Nick Zinner and Brian Chase quiet and steady as always, Karen O proceeded in typical shock diva fashion, squatting while wagging her tongue as her crazed eyes looked out from makeup that included crosses on each cheek. She was unshakeable. Her voice ripped through the warehouse’s cavernous walls, and O was unwavering even when a giant dude dressed in green breached the stage for a momentous embrace. After a pat, it was back to action. “Maps” was for the lovers, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs closed on “Zero” and “Heads Will Roll,” leaving the crowd in a frenzy.
Little good can emerge from festival spots with the dreaded label of “DJ set.” It’s never the same when your favorite artists, whose instrumental capabilities you’re well aware of, show up to spin knobs or spend the night hunched over a Macbook. That disappointment reached another level with James Murphy behind the decks. For those that waited around after the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s beer-sloshing set, there was indeed lingering hope that Murphy’s appearance would take some form of LCD Soundsystem reincarnation. All the right ingredients were there: Pat Mahoney and Nancy Whang, so we had license to fantasize, right? Not so much.
The DJ set was akin watching your favorite recently retired boxer return to the ring only to get knocked out in the first round. There was no Adrian or title bout with Apollo Creed. This was it. As roadies tore down the stage and lugged equipment behind the performers, few could tell with the in-between set music stopped and the DJ set began. Photographers wandered the pit, watching Murphy move sandbags and Mahoney connect wires, waiting for some semblance of a starting cue that never came. The LCD trio was confined to a side table and shared a single pair of headphones as they took turns spinning records. Indeed it was a DJ set—there were no misrepresentation about it. But with the awing sights and sounds that had fed crowd members throughout the day, you couldn’t fault them for hoping for a revival. The Creators Project had given those attending an unnerving entitlement to dream, even for the impossible.
Treeswingers’ Top Three
New Pants- Bye Bye Disco (download)
Squarepusher- Hello Meow (download)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs- Cheated Hearts (download)