By: Elizabeth Anne-Marie Vogt
Sporadic rainfall and a record-breaking temperature of 103 degrees did not stop music lovers from flocking to Eleanor Tinsley Park on June 5th for the second day of Houston’s third-annual Free Press Summerfest.
Although Summerfest is a two-day affair, the second day of the festival featured notable electronic music artists such as Chromeo, Neon Indian, and Cut Copy. Considering Girl Talk and Lymbyc Systm were the only major electronic musicians on the 2011 lineup, it was assuring to see that the genre is finally beginning to gain more notoriety in Houston.
Eleanor Tinsley Park is a massive outdoor space located smack in the middle of downtown Houston, and along the not-so-swimmable Buffalo Bayou. Each year since Summerfest’s inception, thousands of fest-goers from Houston, Austin, and other surrounding cities brave the scorching Texas heat to enjoy a weekend of musical indulgence. Unlike the past two years, this year’s festival did not condense all of its performances to one main stage but rather divided them amongst a main stage and 5 smaller stages throughout the park. Much to their disappointment, this caused many attendees to constantly wander the park rather than secure a decent lawn spot on the hill facing the main stage and camp out. What was most troublesome about this experimental setup, however, was the inevitable overlap of performances throughout the day. Chromeo, on the other hand, was fortunate enough to land a set time of 5:15, allowing attendees who had just finished watching the prominent noise rock band Health perform on the nearby Budweiser Stage to scramble over to the main stage before anything was missed.
As soon as the duo’s “CHROMEO-OHHHH” funkateer call was sounded, the weary, overheated crowd instantly perked up and answered with an energetic accompaniment. Hailing from Canada, childhood friends David Macklovitch (Dave 1) and Patrick Gemayel (P-Thugg) first began making music together under the name Chromeo in 2002. Since then, they have toured the globe recruiting funkateers and have released three albums including 2010’s Business Casual, which earned a spot on the Billboard 200. The duo initiated their disco-friendly set with the popular single from Business Casual, “Don’t Turn The Lights Off.” Behind the two performers was a massive board of LCD lights that flashed and changed colors in perfect time with Macklovitch’s buttery voice. Between songs, Macklovitch would prompt Gemayel to use his talk box to in order prepare the audience for the upcoming song or bring about more crowd involvement. The duo won over the entire festiva by customizing their “You’re So Gangsta” lyric to resemble the syrupy flow of legendary Houston rapper DJ Screw: slowed way down in reverence of “The Lean.” Chromeo smartly stuck to new and old classics from both Fancy Footwork and Business Casual that they knew their fans would enjoy. Some songs in particular—“Momma’s Boy,” “Hot Mess,” and “Tenderoni”—even provoked somewhat of a karaoke dance party. When Chromeo finally dropped what could be their most popular hit, “Night By Night,” the crowd went berserk. No audience member could resist Macklovitch’s infectious opening guitar riffs and dancing did not become an act of choice but rather an uncontrollable desire. The duo ended with their claim to fame, “Fancy Footwork,” and caused audience members flocking to the Budweiser stage for Neon Indian to 2-step all the way there.
Unlike Chromeo and many other performers from the north, Alan Palomo, the man behind the enigmatic moniker of Neon Indian, was much more prepared for the unforgiving heat. As a long-time resident of the hippie capital of Texas, Austin, it is no surprise that Palomo was inspired to produce some of the most psychedelic synth-pop in today’s industry. In 2009, Palomo released his debut album Psychic Chasms under the name Neon Indian that, after a bit of head-scratching, was eventually praised by the likes of Pitchfork and even indie-rock group Grizzly Bear. Despite his solo producing behind closed doors, Palomo enlisted Jason Faries, Leanne Macomber, and Lars Larsen to assist him in providing an otherwise nonexistent stage presence. Palomo took full advantage of his free hands and energetically bounced around the stage like a rock band vocalist as he belted out lyrics of the questionably named yet fan favorite “Should Have Taken Acid With You.” Despite all of his frontman work, however, Palomo could not resist returning to his keyboard and creating the other-worldly synth sound that only he could produce on tracks such as the deceivingly upbeat “Deadbeat Summer” and eclectic “Mind, Drips.” The most intriguing aspect of his performance, though, was a mysterious instrument he used to make an eerie, electric sound at the end of “Psychic Chasms.” What turned out to be a theremin, produces sound without player contact due to two antennas which reflect radio waves from the player’s hands. Palomo used one hand to create an oscillating-frequency while another controlled the volume, resulting in an alien spacecraft sound straight from a 50’s B-movie. The audience seemed to be more perplexed than mesmerized by the theremin, exchanging glances that denoted a collective “WTF”. At last, Neon Indian rocked the crowd once again with Psychic Chasms’ hardest-hitting track, “Ephemeral Artery.” Thanks to Neon Indian’s battery-charging farewell, the lethargic yet devoted crowd was once again revved up for another dance party and made their way back to the main stage for Cut Copy.
The Aussie synth pop band made it clear immediately that they were out of their element as they admitted that their button-down shirts and tight, black skinny jeans were not suitable for a Texas summer. Despite the already-visible sweat on his shirt, vocalist Dan Whitman, who started Cut Copy as a solo project in 2001, embraced the heat and took to the mic to sing “Need You Now,” a single from the band’s spanking-new 2011 album, Zonoscope. Guitarist and bassist Tim Hoey, drummer Mitchell Scott, and bassist Ben Browning accompanied Whitman and, albeit looking like an indie-pop band, kept to the original electro pop sound that has made them famous. In fact, since the release of their first album, Bright Like Neon Love, Cut Copy has risen to become a global electronic music sensation. Along with having the privilege of touring with the fathers of modern electronic music, Daft Punk, in 2007, Cut Copy’s third album In Ghost Colours took a spot in the Billboard 200 the week it was released. When the band let loose the first few sounds of the celebrated album’s hit “Lights & Music,” the audience erupted into roaring cheers and applause. Smoke began to seep out of the corners of the stage and multi-colored lights shone down on the cloud-covered stage. The entire crowd was jumping up and down as Whitman reached the lyric containing the song’s namesake, encouraging everyone to sing along. It was a difficult song to follow and consequently, the audience’s energy level dropped a bit as the band continued with more tracks from their new album including Zonoscope’s first single, “Take Me Over.” As soon as the words “Hearts On Fire” left Whitman’s lips, however, electricity surged into the crowd had everyone on their feet and hysterically screaming. Some people even traveled to an open area by the stage and created a massive mosh pit of dancing. In addition, the most picturesque moment of the entire festival occurred during the song. Right before Whitman sang the chorus for the last time, he encouraged everyone in the audience to raise their arms in the air and dance like crazy. It was a sea of arms beating together to the beat, a metaphoric symbol of unity.
Regardless of both the heat and the rain, Free Press Summerfest once again brought together thousands of different people with one common love: music. Whether it was the craziness of Cut Copy, the dance-funk of Chromeo, or the psychedelia of Neon Indian, this year’s electronic acts set an incredibly high standard for their successors.
Tendoroni - Chromeo
Deadbeat Summer - Neon Indian
Need You Now - Cut Copy
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