By Shelly Simon
The city of New York is already a buzzing, bustling place. Nestle a five day innovation, music and arts festival into one of New York’s vibrant boroughs and you’ve got magic. Northside Festival which takes place primarily in Williamsburg – hosts hundreds of musicians, artists and innovators who congregate for a few days in June to talk shop, play tunes and showcase what they’ve been working on. The New York Times describes Northside as “A sprawling, slightly more centered and improbably huge event – Brooklyn’s version of SXSW” (2017). Whereas Billboard claims this congregation of creatives is “a perfect mix of DIY meets mainstream culture”. I’d have to tilt my hat to both observations because it’s true.
9 years ago, Northside began as a very small gathering used to showcase a selected bunch of artists and musicians! Fast forward to 2017 and you’ve got acts of all sizes performing; from Oakland based indie-rock songstress Jay Som sharing a main stage bill with Kamasi Washington and Dirty Projectors.
The accessibility to see all these acts has spread within the years, but the growth is good. Creating more space for more music to be performed; not a problem in my book. The roster of venues hosting gigs throughout the festival has even expanded past Williamsburg’s borders into Bushwick and Greenpoint just to accommodate all the awesome music! With that in mind, I mapped out who I could see, when I could see them and where the free coffee was – because it’s a task to stay awake until 4am to experience a new, up and coming artist play an exclusive show at 2am…yet, who cares; you can sleep when you’re dead, right?
“a perfect mix of DIY meets mainstream culture”
For the artists listed below, I was able to either catch their show, spend time with them outside of the gig setting, or do both and chat freely outside the festival framework. I got the chance to speak with drummers, DJs, multi-instrumentalists, magicians and more. Through the lens of my camera and my general love for supporting the geniuses of today (aka musicians) – I present to you all the Tom Tom Magazine Wrap-up + Review of Northside Festival 2017
Jay Som – To catch this multi-instrumentalist maven twice was a dream of mine. Thanks to her rad team I was able to catch her Tuesday night pre-festival show at Rough Trade and then her Thursday night all-star show opening for Kamasi Washington and Dirty Projectors at McCarren Park. Melina D. is the epitome of an executioner: meaning she slays. From constantly and comically communicating on stage (with an impressive amount of high kicks) to her touring band, to keeping her head down and adjusting pedals in between songs to writing all the parts for her second album Everybody Works – it’s incredible to see a young artist balance all of that and still manage to sign your vinyl with an adorable dog drawing and a sincere thank you.
SNEAKS – That afternoon before the McCarren Park show I was able to spend my time soaking in the solo endeavor that is SNEAKS. Eva Moolchan prides herself in creating possibilities right-and-left to perform as the drummer/producer/DJ/bassist/badass that she is. Hailing from the D.C. area – where the men-to-women DJ ratio is far from even – SNEAKS aims to take up space where it’s needed. Donning a heather grey blazer, leopard pants, orange-tinted frames and lipstick to top off the look; SNEAKS is a perfect metaphor for her presentation. She’s not one genre, one style or one emotion. It’s fluid, it’s fresh and it’s fun.
From our post-show convo, Eva explains some fundamentals of her sound:
“Beats first – and then the rhythm creates space for me to experiment with bass. To make sure it’s not separated and to make sure it’s fun. I want to have fun. Beats are a really good place to start”.
As far as her music origins, Eva told me the heartfelt story of how her dad gifted her a guitar when she was 2 years old. Her fingers learning to grow from stretching them on the neck of that old acoustic guitar.
“…I want to have fun. Beats are a really good place to start”.-SNEAKS
SAMMUS – A revolutionary rapper/producer/DJ/beat connoisseur and the nicest nerd out there; Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo aka SAMMUS is here to stay. Her artist title is an ode to the intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran from the classic Nintendo game Metroid as she is imagined by producer, rapper, and feminist warrior Sammus. This woman warrior performed early that Friday night on the famed McCarren Park stage with the sunset drawing in some special feels. She looked so powerful up on that stage with the sun rays hitting her face as the beats were hitting my ears just right. The set was a good forty five minutes of free verse, self-produced beats and heartfelt shout-outs to certain crowd members who made their way to Northside to see SAMMUS slay. One of my favorites was her song “Spell It Out” (from the album Infusion) where she demands folks spell & pronounce her given name correctly. Being a first generation African woman making beats in Ithaca, NY – SAMMUS is one of the most unique players in the game – if life were a video game, I’d chose her as my character.
tubafresh – A hometown hero, Chanell Crichlow has been making music for years. From conservatory to concerts to creating/managing the Pitchblak Brass Band in Brooklyn, she’s got a groovy vibe both on and off the stage. I got to kick it with her before, during and after her set at Baby’s Alright that Friday night. The band, which consisted of: trumpet, tuba, keys, synth, electric and acoustic percussion, electric viola and Crichlow’s hypnotizing harmonies; gave the crowd a stunning performance. The “unapologetically queer” musician was hyped to explain to me a mission of her music:
“Who better to take up space on these stages than ourselves?”
On her 2016 album Just Another Night, her drummer/good friend Ashley dropped some sick beats to complement the crafty style of tubafresh’s tone. With tubafresh, Crichlow amplifies her style by way of a “smoother lo-fi pop” sound which creates opportunities to experiment with different instruments. Playing with others speaks to tubafresh’s undertones of the importance of community. The stage at Baby’s Alright housed the whole crew with no problem; a metaphor for tubafresh’s commitment to include many people in creating something beautiful.
MIRAH – Talk about talent; this woman has been making music coast to coast for over two decades. Her youthful energy compliments the years of hard work she’s put into creating a name for herself – performing with many different musicians of many different genres. Her performance at Northside was right after the Tubafresh set. She was accompanied on stage by local legends Maia MacDonald of Kid in the Attic and Lia Simone, currently drumming for A Place to Bury Strangers. Their Northside set included percussion, synth, keys, bass, acoustic guitar and ukulele.
One of the best parts of their set was the intro song which had Mirah beating a floor tom in conjunction with Lia on the actual drum kit. The nomadic noises filled Baby’s Alright in the pressing way that percussion demands presence. Mirah’s ethereal vocals draws the audience in as space is held for the other musicians to craft up sounds to soak up said space. I was entranced and entertained – humbled by hums of audience members who knew every word to Mirah’s music. Towards the end of the set we got a special treat: the return of Tubafresh to the stage! Chirclow & Co. joined Mirah for a few songs that really highlighted the community aspect of music in Brooklyn. Friends, acquaintances, professionals and pals: all eight performers on that stage really cast a spell over the crowd – making it a night to remember.
PSYCHIC TWIN – Take two individually incredibly talented women, a handful of magic and some dreamy decks of electronic equipment and you have Psychic Twin. By my standards – it’s the coolest best friend set-up out there. Both Erin Fein and Rosana Caban have dabbled in a hefty amount of music endeavors and their paths have crossed to continue making magic as Psychic Twin. Their hometown show that Saturday night of Northside really resonated with me. Atop the roof of Our Wicked Lady in Bushwick, I gazed at the stars above as the stars in front of me performed in their traditional get up. Two black and white adorned superhero suits that grace the stage every time they perform. I swear this must have been their 90th show this past year; taking on tours with bands like STRFKR for multiple months ain’t a easy gig. To see these traveling musicians perform in their own town was such a treat. It’s no wonder they had fans singing the lyrics, applauding in happiness after every song and hanging around to mumble words of admiration to the “twins” at this special show.
THICK – A three piece indie-punk powersuit that is Nikki, Kate and Shari performed two sets over the course of the festival. As I was unable to be in two places at once – I was able to catch them for a traditional Sunday morning breakfast of any artist/musician champion: bagels. We chewed our crusts and chatted about the Brooklyn music scene, playing Northside and the hometown hustle (these girls played 45 shows in the past year!) On a separate note: Shari shared some of her drumming do’s, don’ts and damn’s about touring with drums. Here’s a few tips from THICK’s drummer:
- If you don’t bring your own, get used to playing crappier stuff. It happens – you make it work!
- If you do bring your own, make sure to take the more used gear on the road. Bringing the older, less expensive equipment leaves less opportunities for items to be broken, stolen or bruised.
- If you do or don’t bring your own, just know how to set up the gear you got. Nothing is worse than being rushed to set up a drum kit! So practice breaking down, setting up, adjusting and avoiding wasting time onstage when you’ve got 30 minutes to play a 27 minute set … perhaps an encore if the fans are really digging you.