By Amy Hanna
This year’s Hopscotch Festival brought the best of the best all to the city of Raleigh, North Carolina–acts that shook the ground of Raleigh’s City Plaza, electrified Memorial Auditorium, and wholly unified the smallest, sweatiest crowds in bars across the city. Melodic was on the scene throughout the weekend, in the throngs of North Carolina natives and nationwide music lovers, experiencing the beauty of Hopscotch firsthand. Check out our five favorite acts of the weekend.
Baltimore-based synthpop outfit Beach House headlined City Plaza on Night 2 of Hopscotch Festival, and the crowd they drew was nothing short of captivated. The band brought haze and drama as Victoria Legrand (vocals, keyboards) waxed wistful, her raspy vocals wrapping around the transient, haunting number “PPP”, or the bass-laden, emotive “10 Mile Stereo”. The band moved fluid and slow against the manic energy the crowd. Come to think of it, the crowd’s endless dancing almost didn’t match Beach House’s moody set, but such a reaction can be expected from a fanbase so devoted. Still, the set dazzled, making fans out of the whole crowd – a dark, rich ending to a Friday night City Plaza lineup.
Diet Cig at Raleigh’s Deep South bar was loud, physical, unifying, and a test in respect. Lead vocalist and guitarist Alex Luciano exuded sincerity and feistiness in equal measure, jumping around on stage and reaching dangerous heights on stage equipment. Diet Cig songs are something of a quick shot of espresso: coursing through veins, vibrating there, and spurring listeners forward. That sensation seemed to double seeing them live, even with such a sparse instrumental set-up (only the best punk rockers can create this full a sound with just a guitar and drums). The crowd sang, swayed, and moshed to tracks from the bands Over Easy EP such as the honest, anthemic “Dinner Date” and the jaunty, ever-charged “Harvard”. The set was near perfect, save for the moshing getting bit too forceful for the comfort and safety of the crowd. Alex was sure to make the band’s sentiments clear that Diet Cig shows are environments of respect in all regards, and that none of the aggression in the crowd was to be tolerated. This call to mutual respect from the band itself was just one of the many reasons why Diet Cig is not a live act to be missed.
Tuskha was one of the (admittedly many) groups on the Hopscotch 2016 bill that I was unfamiliar with prior to seeing them take the stage. The trio appeared pretty unassuming as they began their set, but the soundscapes they managed to create were anything but. Tuskha’s sound is unique and engaging, psychedelic yet grounded. “Fight All Things” was a personal favorite – a hazy, grinding piece jam-packed with lifted layers and compelling, stacked vocals. Some of the band’s vocal treatments felt reminiscent of Yeezus-era Kanye, but those were far more apparent live than on the studio cuts. This band is full of contrasts: a cheerful appearance on molasses-dark sounds, low, solid bass on soft synth and higher effect fills. However, it was clear that no one came for predictable at Hopscotch, so Tuskha fit the bill and even, in moments, stood superior to it.
Hailing from Durham, North Carolina, synthpop group Sylvan Esso took the city of Raleigh for a ride through their personally constructed musical galaxies. To put it bluntly, the band’s frontperson, Amelia Meath, is one of the most captivating I’ve ever seen, dancing fluidly and sustaining a powerful vocal delivery. The band tested out a lot of new material from their upcoming LP, and the crowd ate it up. Included in this mix of new works is the ambivalent, fast-paced dance number “Radio”, the most recent release from the band. The audience reacted just as powerfully to Sylvan Esso’s older trademark hits like “Coffee”, the band’s infectious energy catching up with the crowd. If the goal of a Hopscotch act is to bring an audience to one mind, Sylvan Esso was the clear winner of the weekend, bringing the hearts and souls of individuals together in the heart of Raleigh.
One of the wittiest rappers of right now blessed City Plaza with an energized set of sharp rhythm and even sharper rhymes. Vince Staples regularly outsmarts the crowds he plays for, but somehow remains one of the least contrived rappers I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing live. The only downside to this performance was on the fault of whoever was in charge of sound, as Vince Staples’ vocals were about 75% buried under his DJ’s (albeit fantastic) backing beats. Technical shortcomings aside, Vince Staples delivered immeasurably on hits like “Blue Suede” and “Norf Norf”, and mesmerized on new tracks like “Smile,” the gritty, guitar-led single off his last release, Prima Donna. I’d keep an eye on this one. His music will make you think, make you laugh, and, at times, make you dance – and he definitely managed all three at Hopscotch this year.
When it comes to Hopscotch Festival, there are countless acts to see, hundreds of paths to choose. Regardless, it felt as though all fest goers were in one mind: one of awe at the power of sound and the beauty of diversity. Hopscotch has so much to offer every year, so if you missed out this year, be sure to make a trip to Raleigh next year for one of North Carolina’s best music events – you’ll be glad you did.