Photos and story by: Jordan Calvano
If you’ve yet to experience the weirdness and all out madness that takes place within the city limits of Portland, Oregon on a daily basis, we’ll just safely assume you don’t know how to party. Sure, maybe you think you’ve gotten a proper fix of the 503 by keeping up on every season of Portlandia, but beyond that television screen is an entire Mecca of dimly-lit strip clubs, bacon-covered donuts, and enough concert venues to satisfy even the savviest of music lovers. This place is real folks, and the locals are inviting you in with open arms whenever your 9-5 job isn’t calling. Anytime is good, but we’d imagine the first week of September would be a damn good place to start.
The reason is Portland’s annual Musicfest NW event, boasting hundreds of thrilling acts performing in over fifteen venues spanning six unforgettable days. An entire city connected by a blue or white wristband, allowing access to countless concerts every single night. You interested yet? Then there’s the lineup, which pulls artists in every genre fathomable from all across the world. If you wanted to bob your head and enjoy some classic hip-hop beats, then head across town to Joey Bada$$ at the Roseland Theatre. If twerking is more your thing, then pop on over to the Woner Ballroom to catch Diplo throwing down. If you’re into something much heavier, we’d recommend checking out The Bronx at Dante’s, or even their Mariachi side project behind Doc Martens. And that’s just scratching the surface.
CHVRCHES (Sept 4th, Roseland): After XXYYXX immersed the entire audience with his ethereal style of bass music, the Scottish electropop grown known as CHVRCHES took to the Roseland’s stage for their headlining performance. The trio spiked the venue’s energy with their stunning coalescence of Lauren Mayberry’s dainty vocals and blissful instrumentations, sending the packed dancefloor into an unbreakable frenzy with ubiquitous hits like “The Mother We Share,” “Gun,” “Lies,” and “Recover.” Along with previously unveiled tracks were upcoming tunes from The Bones of What You Believe, set for release on September 23rd. The group played “Basically every song of their album,” dazzling fans and furthering the suspense towards their full-length debut. CHVRCHES also played a free show at the much more intimate Doug Fir the next morning, showcasing six tracks for KEXP radio and around 150 attendees.
Shlohmo (Sept 6th, Wonder): Halfway through Musicfest NW’s jam-packed schedule of events, concertgoers were treated to one of the week’s most anticipated and talked about showcases. Flume and Shlohmo (Henry Laufer) performing together, providing Portland with a visceral brand of electronic music that instantly pummels your entire spectrum of senses. Auditory and visual magic at its finest, and the dancefloor was fully laden with excitement. The L.A. native performed first and eased the audience into the night with enticingly spellbinding tunes. This included multiple tracks off his Laid Out EP, bewitching remixes of Electric Guest, Young Scooter, Little Dragon, and Samo Sound Boy, along with SALVA’s 808-filled anthem “Drop That B.” Shlohmo closed things out by putting on his ubiquitous bandana, taking a few sips of beer, and letting loose the heaviest portion of his set.
Flume (Sept 6th, Wonder): Following a short intermission that felt like a lifetime, the congregation’s grueling anticipation was abruptly cut short by Flume (Harley Streten) stepping to the stage. The Australian producer has become a loved and welcomed face all across the world, bringing with him an exhilarating collection of tracks that spark instant elation amongst anyone present. Flume’s set was focused primarily on poignant tunes from his eponymous debut album, unleashing “Sleepless,” “Sintra” “Left Alone,” “Holdin On,” “Insane,” “On Top,” and “Ezra” upon the ecstatic audience. Amongst his thrilling originals were enigmatic remixes of Disclosure, Rustie, and Hermitude, bouncy gems from Cashmere Cat and What So Not, along with a crowd-pleasing acapella of “Juicy” that left beaming faces singing along in unison. Then everyone got free food from KOi Fusion and it was awesome. Like really awesome.
ODESZA (Sept 7th, Branx): Headin’ over to the Branx, another stacked lineup awaited MusicfestNW attendees who desired a good ol’ fashion dance party. ODESZA and Beat Connection, two of Seattle’s most promising electronic groups, teamed up for a joyous night of euphoric hip-hop beats, live instruments, and dreamy soundscapes galore. The boys of ODESZA wasted no time getting down to business, busting open the venue’s musical floodgates by divulging catchy cuts from their debut album like “Hey Now,” “How Did I get Here,” “Rely,” “I Want You,” and “iPlayYouListen,” amongst three glittering songs from their upcoming My Friends Never Die EP (Sept 17). The audience was also fortunate enough to hear ODESZA’s bright remix of “Saola” along with Beat Connection’s instrument based original during their set. Both performed with grace and pizzazz throughout, leaving fans thirsty for more after each song ceased.
Big Gigantic (Sept 8th, Crystal Ballroom): The final night of MusicfestNW left crowds with just one last performance to attend. A bit saddening, but Big Gigantic flipped these emotions in a completely different direction with their grand finale of a set. ill-esha warmed the audience up with her trademark style of lovestep and glitch, getting the juices flowing all across the Crystal Ballroom’s dancefloor. Big G then stepped to the stage, fastened a firm grip on their respective instruments, and let loose one of the weekend’s most highly electrifying sets. The Colorado duo utilized their ability to mix computer production with drums and sax at every corner, weaving vocals samples from artists like Rudimental, Flux Pavillion, and Savages over hypnotizing beats. Next up were jaw-dropping originals including “The World Is Yours,” “The Heavyweight Champion,” “Rise And Shine,” “The Uprising,” “Let’s Go,” “Beginning Of The End,” and multiple unreleased tracks including a sax and bass heavy anthem entitled “Touch The Sky.” The duo also showed off their ability to create stellar remixes, including venue shakin’ new takes on chunes from Jay-Z, Adventure Club, Biggie, Kanye West, and Macklemore.
-Nacho Picasso, Youth Lagoon, Young The Giant, ON AN ON, The Joy Formidable, Haerts, Dan Deacon, The Head and the Heart, Pickwick.
-XXYYXX approaching the decks wearing a white T-Shirt, workout shorts, and a pair of socks that would eventually slide off throughout his set.
-Nacho Picasso showing off his leopard print socks, tattooed frame, and bright underwear with bananas all across them.
- Lauren Mayberry from CHVRCHES telling the audience she was planning on being a Jawa (Star Wars) for Halloween, then proceeding to imitate their voices in between songs
- Dan Deacon performing his entire set in the crowd while making audience members throw a dance-party, put their hands on other people’s heads, and run to different corners of Pioneer Square.
-The Head and The Heart playing an extended encore that included individual, solo performances from three of their vocalists.
-Beat Connection bringing out the Honeynut Horns to add onto their already impressive live set that includes drums, guitar, keys, and vocals.
Musicfest NW concluded it’s thirteenth year with an abundance of unforgettable sets that won’t soon slip from our memories. The festival continues to highlight both underground and more mainstream musicians, each as dedicated as the next to providing concertgoers with jubilant performances. Tough decisions were constantly being made, but no matter what venue you ended up at, there was something worth hearing. Bands of all genres and from all walks of the earth, coming together for one week under the stars or the bright lights of clubs across town. Music the way it should be. No bullshit, no drama. Just smiling faces and the desire to support your local venues and artists. Thank you Portland.