This past week, Northside Festival took over Williamsburg, more specifically, the area around McCarren Park. The SXSW-styled festival brought together film, speakers in various mediums and music over seven days and we were on hand to sample some of the nearly 400 bands that were in town. Most of the bands were small, looking to cut their teeth and get their big break, but others like Run The Jewels, Vince Staples, Best Coast, Zola Jesus and Built To Spill all brought more established names to the event. We were there to capture some of the best moments from a very busy couple of days of music and we narrowed that down to a top 10 list.
Our Top 10 Picks for the 2015 Northside Festival
10. Proximity of Venues: If you live in New York City, you know how much music there is on a nightly basis. If you want to see a band, you can just pick a venue or genre and go out whenever you want. Northside took advantage of the abundance of concert halls in and around the park to host the nearly 400 bands over four days. You could end up at Cameo, Music Hall Of Williamsburg, 50 Kent, Brooklyn Bowl, Rough Trade, Warsaw, The Gutter, Muchmore's and many more in a 10 minute walk without waiting in much of a line.
9. Free Stuff - Festivals are packed with young, impressionable millennials looking to have a good time. The festivals want to create an experience for their attendees and brands want to be a part of that. One way to do that is by giving away free stuff. Notably in McCarren Park, you could get free wine, free chips, free meat and plenty else.
8. Ex Hex - While the highest level of the music industry is still a boys club, Northside had plenty of leading ladies this past weekend. Whether it was the lead singers of Best Coast and Sleigh Bells (we will get to them in a little bit) or indie singers like Zola Jesus or Neko Case, there was plenty of female talent on display. One such badass all female threesome, Ex Hex, closed out the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday. The trio did a bit of everything, playing drums, bass, guitar and each singing. The guitarist did not hold back, shredding some pretty vicious solos.
7. Alden Penner & Michael Cera - This was probably the biggest curveball of the festival. Famous actor Michael Cera, who also does his thing as a musician from time to time, and Canadian musician Alden Penner, member of The Unicorns and Clues, headlined the Knitting Factory on Friday night, June 12. Cera played backing guitar on Weezer's 2010 track "Hang On," toured with the band Mister Heavenly and released his own solo album True That in August 2014, so this is not foreign to him, but the introverted actor is clearly still learning his craft. Assisted by a drummer, each musician took turns on bass, drumming, guitar and singing. It was clear they needed to some more time to practice. It was worth it to see Mr. Cera play all of these instruments and not badly but it did not help that the sound quality was pretty awful.
6. Built To Spill & Their Beards - It is Brooklyn so you know for better, but mostly for worse, there will be plenty of unkempt beards, jorts and man buns. Boise, Idaho musical export Built To Spill blended right into their environment with some of the biggest and more important beards of the entire festival. They also delivered a great performance as well, running through their set with such a speed that they had to add a few extra tracks to their set, including a cover of Metallica's "Orion," which was fitting since Best Coast, the next band, walked out to "One."
5. Best Coast - Speaking of the California band, the foursome have been on the tip of music fan's tongues ever since the pair released their third album California Nights on May 5. When the pair tour, they bring some friends - Brady Miller on Drums, Brett Mielke on bass and a third guitar from Joe Bautista, who also steps in for some keyboards. The group performed to a packed crowd as the sun set over the Manhattan skyline behind them with plenty of sing-a-long moments from California Nights, closing the night with "Boyfriend."
4. DJ Premier & His Live Band - Northside may not be the biggest event happening during festival season, or even that weekend with Bonnaroo also happening down in Tennessee, but the draw of New York City did not prevent some special get-togethers from happening. Legendary hip-hop DJ, producer DJ Premier decided to do something special for his adopted home city by performing for the first time ever with a live band. The DJ brought out a bassist, a drummer, a trumpet player and a trombone player. The band sounded really good together, even with Premier scratching and shouting on the mic. Much of the night was spent as a dedication to Gang Starr, Big L and MC Guru, who passed away in 2010. The crowd was a bit older, anticipating some quality 1990s hip-hop.
3. Sun Ra Arkestra - Though Sun Ra may not be with the group any more, 16 others are still carrying on the group's legacy. The spacey, African-influenced jazz was suited for the late night as we made our way for one last hurrah at Rough Trade last night. The group performed for an hour and a half, getting the crowd to woop and cheer, but the best parts were when various members of the band would go out into the crowd and play their instruments in a line walking through the crowd. They even went upstairs and walked around the mezzanine with one attendee who was having a much better time than the rest of us.
2. Run The Jewels - El-P & Killer Mike have grown into one of the most in demand hip-hop groups in the world in a few short years. They were tabbed to close out 50 Kent, the venue hosting the biggest acts at the festival and the pair delivered. They ran through tracks from Run The Jewels 2, getting the crowd extra hyped during "Close Your Eyes" and urging the crowd to finish their sentences during every chorus. Killer Mike was still bound to his sling due to the unfortunate SXSW shoulder injury, but he still went hard next to the energetic El-P. It started to rain about 10 minutes into their set, steadily picking up to a nice downpour by the end that was by no means unpleasant on a warm evening. They brought out Gangsta Boo, Despot and some unknown rapper named Nas to perform with them as well. More on that below.
1. Nas + Run The Jewels - The Nas, Run The Jewels collaboration was pretty special and was the biggest moment of the festival bar none. Future legends in Run The Jewels sharing the stage with one of the best to ever spit bars is always a treat. We hope to see it again sometime soon. You can get the full details in our original article on this surprise collaboration.