Considering the apocalyptic rain that drenched LA on Friday, one would have thought all was doomed for Air + Style. Fortunately, the rain and clouds dissipated and the festival continued on unscathed.
At 4:30 the band The Shelters took the stage. Clearly inspired by The Black Keys, they performed songs drenched in wailing guitars and harmonizing by the lead singer and lead guitarist. Immediately after their set, St. Lucia graced the Summer Stage. A heavenly hymn rang out over the speakers and in the only rays of sunshine the day had seen, St. Lucia casually walked out and greeted the crowd. Joy was at the center of this band’s performance and the crowd immediately latched onto that emotion. The energy and happiness they exuded on stage was most apparent in their song “Love Somebody.” Whether it was the drum kit, synthesizers or bongos, the crowd at St. Lucia grooved hard.
On the Winter Stage, Minnesota based hip-hop group Atmosphere played to a growing crowd. The duo’s MC, Ant, engaged with the crowd and shouted, “Throw up your fingerprints” and everyone would throw up their hands in unison. The synthesizers and bass reigned supreme during their set. Songs like “Godlovesugly” and “Sunshine” were highlights of the performance. “Yesterday” received the largest cheer from the crowd and when the Billy Joel-esque piano started the song, the audience burst into dance. For the second to last song, Atmosphere was joined by artist Brother Ali and as they finished the crowd slowly moved from one stage to the next.
What turned into the most “political” set of the evening was in fact not that political at all. The crowd waited patiently for Vic Mensa at the Summer Stage. Despite starting twenty minutes late, Mensa was able to win back the hearts of the crowd with his intense and quick-witted lyrics. While Mensa did not talk about politics between songs, there is no doubt that his lyrics are political. Whether it’s “We Could be Free” where he raps about seeing his enemy as his brother or “Danger,” about violence in Chicago, Mensa did not have to talk about politics in order to get his point across.
Sunglasses at night? Who cares? Chromeo is too cool to wear them during the day. Chromeo played next and it was everything one could imagine a Chromeo set would be. Lots of lights, smoke and dancing. Their song “Sexy Socialite” was inundated with one part 80s synth pop and one part strange alien music. The message was clear at Chromeo: if there was enough smoke and funky beats the crowd could temporarily suspend their lethargy and jump up and down higher than before.
Rounding out the night was Vince Staples followed by Flume. Staples played on the Summer Stage and what started as a small crowd soon grew exponentially. He started his set with an old video of Madonna before he sang “Fire.” Staples also had one brief political moment where he said he didn’t want to discuss politics, but we can all agree on one thing, “Fuck the police.” The crowd then chanted “fuck the police” back at him. Some of the songs during his set were “Lift Me Up,” “Norf Norf” and the GTA song “Little Bit of This.” Other songs like “Birds & Bees” and “Blue Suede” provided trippy visuals like distorted bees crawling around a beehive and the iconic rose petal scene from American Beauty.
Flume finished the night at the Winter Stage. The stage was dark and just before Flume appeared, a flutter of white lights jumped around the crowd. The black backdrop fell and revealed 3D cubes that climbed upwards from the bottom of the stage to the top. Similar to Chromeo, Flume provided lots of colorful visuals and massive amounts of smoke that would be violently released sporadically. During his set, Flume had lots of help from other artists. Vic Mensa was the first guest of his, followed by Pusha T on the song “Enough” and Vince Staples for a couple of the last songs. He played one of his biggest songs “Never Be Like You” to a reinvigorated and passionate crowd. He closed out the night with “Free” and the last bursts of smoke emitted from the canons.
The first day of Air + Style began as a saturated mud crater, but slowly became a day filled with unforgettable performances. Most of the day consisted of dance heavy electronica, but two of the best performances from Atmosphere and Vince Staples transported the crowd with the use of their lyrics and storytelling abilities, bringing them out from the mucky trench and into their rich narratives.
All photos by Mauricio Alvarado