Live in Los Angeles:
SUNSTOCK SOLAR FESTIVAL 2016
Saturday, June 18, 2016
Los Angeles, CA
Pictures by Drew Adams
Words by Dan Sinclair
SATURDAY, JUNE 18, 2016 was fucking hot. And what made it so hot was that giant fireball up in space we call "sun." And what better place to spend a day when the sun is at its strongest than at the SUNSTOCK SOLAR FESTIVAL? Nowhere, that's where. What? You weren't there? Sorry your day sucked, then. Good thing Drew Adams and I were, so we can know tell you all about it...
The inaugural Sunstock Solar Festival was the brain child of Trapdoor Social's Skylar Funk and took place in the middle of Griffith Park at The Autry's big-ass field. What's unique about Sunstock is the whole thing is 100% powered by the sun with 100% of the proceeds going to charity. Yep, everything from the stage to the food truck to the... whatever else needed power that day was all running from pure solar power.
Okay, everybody back? Onto the music...
Yoya, started the day to a fairly small gathering, but singer and guitar player Alex Pfender wasn't deterred. "Even though you're all out there hiding in the shade, we can hear you," he shouted as he took stage alongside his songwriting partner manning the keyboards, Noah Dietterich.
But then they started , drawing several music fans from their dark resting spots to come dance in the sun to the folky electronic beats. I found it quite ironic that on a day so many were there to celebrate the sun that it wasn't being very nice while burning the shit out of us and making us sweat out the few fluids left inside. And I apparently wasn't alone as the fair-skinned Pfender joked, "More like Sun Stroke Festival, am I right? Fuck! I'm so happy to get the brunt of that solar energy right in my face."
Before they played "The Heartwood," Dietterich asked, "What's it about, Alex? Your mushy feelings again? Yuck." But the crowd seemed to enjoy Alex's mushy feelings, at least set to the soothing melodies playing over the slick beats hit by drummer Ian Meltzer. Ian's dad came up and introduced himself to Drew and I, so we're fairly sure we turned him into a BeerMoviesMusic fan. He was a pretty cool dude. You better be reading this, Ian's dad!
By the time Yoya announced their last song of the day, several more dancers had joined the crowd, including a couple who were very disappointed at their own timing. He yelled, "No goddamn it!" She shouted "We just got here." I thought, "Well, maybe show up on time and you won't miss shit," but Alex said the nicer version of that, "We'll play extra loud for you." And so they did, and all were happy.
For more information on Yoya, go to YoyaTheBand.com
When Gateway Drugs came up, the sun was still hot, but the shoegazers out of Los Angeles chose to wear black all the same. And as Gabriel Niles pounded a thumping beat on the drums, I noticed another person wearing black-- the very large dude with the shaved head who was headbanging and dancing through the entire set. I think he scared away a few folks, securing a big space in front of the stage for himself. Not sure that Gateway Drugs' music was quite heavy enough to warrant the thrashing of his own skull, but he was having a good time, so...
But even if it didn't quite reach headbanging status, the sound was certainly worth a listen as the energetic Gabriel enthusiastically drummed away, while Noa and Liv Niles played guitar and alternated the lead vocals in trippy harmony. Liv also traded her guitar for Blues Williams' bass for a couple tracks as well.
Then Liv introduces the next song as "Head," but it's Gabriel who takes over on lead vocals for this one. It's this writer's choice for best song of the day thus far, taking me back to the likes of Swervedriver, Ride and My Bloody Valentine-- and seriously, any fans of those bands need to check these guys out. Then the first technical difficulties arrive as the crew rushes to fix one of Liv's amps. Noa takes the opportunity to say hello and thank everyone for coming out. But the problems are fixed pretty quickly, and as I look around I see that the crowd has filled out a little more and now all are bopping (not banging) their heads to the soothing sounds with heavy distortion.
As the second to last song comes to a close, one of the crew members yells out a loud, "Fuck yeah," which the band interprets as enthusiasm for their performance, but was actually his response to his team finally lifting a large speaker up on the stage that they'd been working on for the past ten minutes. But they didn't need that dude's approval anyway, as there were plenty genuine cheers coming from the crowd as Gateway Drugs finished out the set with a very long Sonic Youth-esque distortion fest that included Liv getting down on her hands and knees as close as possible to the amp to make her guitar scream.
Blues Williams and Liv
For more information on Gateway Drugs, check out their Facebook page
Sunstock founder Skylar Funk met his songwriting partner Merritt Graves at Pomona College while both attending an environmental program. They bonded over their love of music and concern for the future of the planet, and now here they are on stage together with bandmates Louie Gonzalez, Ben Ebert and Patrick Griffen as Trapdoor Social here at the Solar Festival to get everybody up and moving.
And the band kicks off their emotionally-driven pop with force with Funk and Graves providing the dueling vocals. The crowd has at least doubled, if not tripled as the music fans continues to file in. The sun is still up, but on its way down and the place has cooled by at least 15 degrees at this point. But that won't stop the solar power, and Skylar knows it. "Thank you guys. Thanks everyone who made this happen. Every single person who bought a ticket has made a difference. They even play a new song called "Sunshine" in honor of the day.
The majority of the crowd seems to know every word to every song, which impresses bass player Patrick Griffen, another member of Trapdoor Social whose super stoked to be here today. "Wow! You guys care about the future and what an amazing future it will be 'cause you guys care." He also reminds everyone that Trapdoor Social is the only band selling homemade peanut butter at their merch table. Shit, as I'm typing this, I realize that I totally fucking forgot to try some of that damn peanut butter!
Next up is “Fine on my Own,” that starts off with Skylar playing saxophone. The stage doesn't seem big enough to hold him, so he hops off over the gate and into the crowd to complete his solo. Fans love it, patting the festival's leader on the back and taking selfies with him as he passes by. But his attempt to rejoin the band is stalled when he can't open the gate closest to him and is forced to race all the way around to enter through the VIP section to rejoin his mates and actually sing the song.
Guess who else was right by that fateful gate...
Before Trapdoor Social plays their last song of the day, Skylar tells the crowd that the city requires a dancing permit for all large events such as this, but he never got one. "So, let's try and shut this motherfucker down!"
And, oh, did the crowd try their hardest as the band closed their set out with "Away," but luckily the dancing police did not show up.
For more information on Trapdoor Social, go to TrapdoorSocial.com
THE BIG PINK
The sun is nearly set now and it's time for the stars to shine as the only band from outside the US of A, London's The Big Pink, comes up next. Smoke fills the stage and heavy distortion fills the air as Robbie Furze, Jesse Russell, Free Hallas and Mary Charteris take their places. The festival is full effect at this point with the whole lawn filled from stage all the way back to the Autry building itself (granted that most of those farther from the stage are sitting and a little more spaced out).
Robbie kicks the set off with"Velvet" with Mary backing him up on vocals. It's a beautiful, trippy rendition of the song with a loud-as-fuck kick-in in the middle that gives The Big Pink the award for loudest, cleanest sound of the day, appearing ready for an arena twice the size of the field. No word on how the animals at the L.A. Zoo reacted... and then things get even heavier with Robbie's sweet-ass guitar intro to "Decoy." Mary sings into two microphones as Jesse moves back and forth from front stage to back, looking very serious with her bass.
After the song, Robbie introduces the band: "We're The Big Pink, and it's fucking great to be here for such a noble cause!" Then the band goes into "Golden Pendulum," and I can see the masses dancing as the sun starts to fall in the sky. Mary starts to have problems with her levels during "Hightimes," but doesn't miss a single word sung in time even as she signals to the sound guy.
Robbie yells out, "Great fucking vibes, man!" And he's right. Great fucking vibes from practically everyone I came across that day... except for some asshole who threw a water bottle and knocked over some poor girl's beer. Fuck that guy. But anyway, The Big Pink played the memorizing "My Beautiful Criminal" and Robbie and Mary flashed the dynamic dueling vocals again.
Robbie sang as Jesse and Mary danced together behind him as The Big Pink closed the set with their most famous song, "Dominoes," of course, and everyone sang along. Even Drew knew the words even though he told me before the set that he never had heard the band before. When I asked him about it, he replied, "Oh, I thought it was a cover. Okay, I feel pretty stupid now."
Good job, Drew.
For more information of The Big Pink, take a gander at www.MusicFromTheBigPink.com
Word on the street is that the Allah-Las got together when Matthew Correia, Spencer Dunham and Pedrum Siadatian worked together at Amoeba Records, which is totally unfair because I’ve been in Amoeba millions of times, and nobody ever asked me to start a band. The sun is starting to set here at Sunstock, but clearly the power it provided is still going strong as the band goes into “Tell Me What’s on Your Mind,” and the sound booms out through the solar-powered equipment.
If you’ve never heard The Allah-Las before, you’ll think you’ve been transported back to the 1960s through their mellow, dreamy psychedelic pop time machine. After they finish up “Follow You Down,” frontman Miles Michaud gives the crowd his best Matthew McConaughey impersonation, “All right, all right,” and then launches right into “Busman’s Holiday.”
Michaud seemed very concerned that the majority of festival-goers preferred sitting way back on the lawn as opposed to the more adventurous who sing and dance near the stage. “What’s going on out there in the back? Everybody’s sitting down out there. Get up and come join us down here!”
With the band now cloaked in a trippy yellow lighting, Siadatian takes over on lead vocals for “501-415,” to change it up, but Michaud returns for “Sandy,” as everyone sings along: “Time after time, girl/like Daedalus’ child/You wasted your mind, girl.”
After playing “Catalina,” Michaud announces that they only have time for one more song, and the Allah-Las faithful just aren’t having it. They plead and beg for more as drummer Correia takes the vocals for a cover of The Human Expressions’ “Calm Me Down.” The crowd continues to chant, “One more song,” and “Encore! Encore!” to no avail. The Allah-Las have left the stage.
For more information on The Allah-Las, check out Allah-Las.com
Long before Ms. Katherine Elizabeth King takes the stage to perform, it is her guitar that shines on an otherwise dark-as-fuck stage. But while seemingly no one else noticed, I happened to spy the guitar phenom playfully dancing with the sound guy. As I fumble for my phone to try and sneak a picture, Kaki immediately stops. She saw me and was none too pleased to be caught in the act.
And even as Kaki does finally sit down to play to her grateful audience, she remains cloaked in darkness, while her guitar takes over as the show’s star with various colorful lights blaring out, matched by the abstract art that dances on a projection screen behind her back. It’s a pretty cool sight. Suddenly I secretly wished that I had dropped acid and felt jealous of anyone who had the foresight to do so for this set. Not that I actually do drop acid… anymore...
Though Kaki sits in the guitar’s shadow on stage, I am able to see that she’s dressed in all white with matching white-rimmed sunglasses, even though the sun has long since set. Perhaps she is protecting herself from the powerfully bright aura her instrument beams to the audience? Much like Native Americans did with the buffalo, Kaki manages to use the entire guitar when she plays from playing an entire song with both hands on the neck to when she smacks the body with her right hand to provide a drum beat while her left hand continues to scale away.
There is a brief moment when heavy distortion reverberates, and Kaki puts her hands up in confusion with an apologetic smile. But her former dance partner at the sound board is on it, and Kaki then whips out a sweet-ass guitar lick that I can best describe as “robots crying,” in the best way possible, of course.
The whole set is instrumental, with all vocals provided by the audience, who continuously shout out, “Wow,” “Oh, my God,” before changing those expressions to “Holy shit!” as Kaki switches up to some heavy electric riffs. It isn’t till the end of the set that we finally hear Kaki King’s voice when she thanks the crowd for coming out and supporting Sunstock. She doesn’t say much, but she doesn’t need to. Her guitar talked plenty and the crowd walks away astonished at the most unique performance of the night.
For more info on Kaki King, please go to KakiKing.com
The most people I’ve seen at the stage all day wait patiently to hear the grungy surf punk of Wavves, but first have to groan through some overly energetic dude promoting a phone app. At the end of his spiel, he shouts out, “And now for The Wavves!” Nathan Williams laughs as picks up his guitar: “Apparently, we’re now The Wavves.” The band is also asked to relay a message about tossing away garbage, which eventually gets garbled into bassist Stephen Pope’s interpretation of “Throw your garbage somewhere.” This, of course, prompts a fan to toss his or her garbage onto stage, just missing Williams’ head. He finds the response hilarious and laughs into the mic for almost a full minute before starting the show.
But when the show actually does start with “Sail to the Sun,” the crowd goes fucking nuts. In a response unlike any other that day, everyone is jumping and thrashing and moshing and pushing and shoving until they manage to break through the gate, breaching the media pit and hitting the stage! It’s a mad house as Wavves continues to rock out while crew and security tries to maintain the mob and rescue the confused photographers in the pit. Shit. I hope Drew is not dead.
Oh, the madness of Sunstock!
After the song, Williams reminds everyone, “You can’t blame the gate breaking on the solar shit!” It’s still a frenzy as security and fans butt heads even before the next song starts and it looks like Williams is about to advise the crowd to take a step back, but then changes his mind. “Maybe you guys should… Aw, fuck it. Do whatever you want!”
When the song "Idiot" is over, Williams stops suddenly. “Wait, wait! Someone got trampled. We’re not for people getting trampled.” He then makes sure, everyone is on two feet : “Is everybody safe out there?” “Redlead” is next, followed by two of this writer’s favorites in “My Head Hurts” and “Afraid of Heights,” before switching things up a bit. “I wrote this song with my friend Dylan from Cloud Nothings,” says Williams before playing “No Life for Me” off the Wavves X Cloud Nothings album with the same name.
Then Williams shares some bad news: “They just asked us to shorten our set.” This, of course, brings a sea of boos, and will certainly not do anything to get the crowd to start complying with security. After a brief discussion with Williams, guitarist Alex Gates says, “Fuck it, we’ll just play our set. They can shut it down if they want.”
And that’s exactly what Wavves does with “Heart Attack.” The crowd is as relentless as ever and the band’s energy seems to mirror theirs, personified best by Pope’s constant head-banging as he thrashes all over the stage slamming on his bass strings like they owe him beer money.
The insanity continues with “Post Acid” and “Heavy Metal Detox,” before Williams finally announces, “All right, I guess we only have one more song,” much to the crowd’s dismay. The band is clearly pissed about it, too, and Williams directs his anger to some asshole off-stage shouting instructions. “Yeah, I just said ‘one more,’ Guy with the Shitty Hat! I don’t even know who the fuck you are! Who the fuck are you?”
The notorious Guy with the Shitty Hat lurks in the shadows...
Wavves closes with “Green Eyes,” and the crowd rushes the stage once again as the crew, security and quite possibly the unknown man with a shitty hat try to hold them back. One young man actually makes it onto stage in attempt to take a selfie with Williams. One tall, frustrated security man isn’t having it though, and grabs a kid by his shoulders in attempt to tackle him to the ground. Williams backs into the security guard and pushes him away enough for the boy (with a now legendary picture on his phone) to escape back into the ocean of Wavves’ love below. As the set comes to an abrupt ending, Williams hangs on stage for several minutes to touch as many of the hands reaching out to him from the usurped media pit. It’s quite an inspiring sight and makes an old writer wishes he were a few years younger and had the energy to join them.
For more on Wavves, surf on over to Wavves.net
Deep into the festival now, the crowd has thinned some—many of them presumably leaving to sleep for a long, long time after they exerting a week worth’s of energy during the Wavves set—but the best and most faithful music fans remain as Saturday starts to become Sunday and Cults takes the stage. The crowd cheers for half the indie duo, Mr. Brian Oblivion as he is joined by the traveling members of the band only because he can’t play all the instruments at the same time live quite as easily as he does on the Cults’ recorded albums. But they cheer much, much louder for the elegant Ms. Madeline Follin when she finally walks up to the microphone. She says hello, but it’s Oblivion is the one who introduces the band: “All right, we’re called Cults. We’re from New York City. Sorry we’re late.” Hmm, they’re late and Wavves still had to cut their set short. Weak. Thanks a lot, Guy with the Shitty Hat! ***NOTE: Please see the Wavves coverage if you have no idea what the fuck I’m talking about.***
But if anyone did hold any grudge against Cults for keeping them up past curfew, all was forgiven once they kicked the set off with the dueling vocals of “Abducted.” The remaining Sunstock fans must’ve been wearing solar panels as they have much more energy left than the writer as they dance like they’ve never danced before… and did not rush the stage and/or take any gates crowdsurfing. ***NOTE: See note in the previous paragraph if you still have no idea what the fuck I’m talking about.***
I think it’s during “High Road” that I notice Madeline’s pretty dress. She holds it at the bottom as she tosses her hair back and forth in rhythm of the song. Probably a good idea to grasp it tight, Madeline, because that thing is relatively short and there’s a breeze now blowing through Sunstock in the wee morning hours.
Madeline shouts out, “We want to see you kiss out there! Anyone!” I turn to Drew, but he’s not into it. Shit. Maybe it is getting too late out here. I should’ve worn fucking solar panels. I thought I did enough remembering sunscreen for my pale ass. Anyway, Cults continues to sooth and the crowd continues to sway as the beautiful thing that was Sunstock 2016 starts to come to an end. Really great performances and the shit was all for a really great cause. Drew and I had a hell of a time and we look forward to doing this shit again next year!