Northside Festival was back. Celebrating its ninth year here in Brooklyn, Northside Fest invaded most of North Williamsburg, which included the conference spaces at the trendy hotels and indie music venues from Bushwick to Greenpoint. It also closed down Bedford Avenue for their weekend Block Party and took over the lot at McCarren Park. Imagine this festival being like a Brooklyn version of SXSW where over 300 bands came to perform at over 30 venues. But on the flip side of that, there was also the “innovation” part of the festival where over 150 speakers came to host various panel discussions about media, content, politics, art and culture. The festival was described as being “a deep breath and a much-needed reminder that, despite the headlines, the future looks bright for arts and culture, for innovation, and for the triumph of truth.”
While Northside took place from June 7-11, there was a static energy everywhere in Williamsburg as people immersed themselves in this creative hub, gaining both insight and inspiration. No matter where you went in between talks — whether it was a hotel lobby or a nearby coffee shop or just passing along Wythe Avenue to the next venue — people everywhere had things to say. They wanted to have conversations. They wanted to write about it. And they were interested to learn. Whether you went to a specific panel to enhance your career or to enlighten your personal interests, there really was something for everyone. You could literally go from listening to a panel about content creation in mainstream media, to politics in pop culture, to how to jump-start a new career, to music curation and brand marketing, to the future of social networking, and everything in between.
Over the course of the innovation segment, we were lucky enough to listen to Kathryn Minshew (co-founder of The Muse) talk about the pressures of exploring a new career and how to be your own brand. Later, Andy Cohn (president and publisher of The Fader) interviewed Young M.A., an independent rapper who has established her career by staying true to herself. She kept the audience strongly engaged by saying things like, “Independence is power; that’s your narrative,” and that, no matter what, “you have to move forward.” Deeper into the bill, Michael Angelakos, frontman of Passion Pit, discussed branding in the music world. We listened to execs at Tidal, Spotify and SoundCloud talk about music platforms and streaming. Queens rapper Heems passed out bananas and citrus fruit to the audience before his performance, which was presented by BuzzFeed News. And that was just a small part of it. No matter where festival-goers found themselves, the sense of community and creativity was invigorating. They felt part of something cool, and it was all happening right there.
And then there was the music. The show at McCarren Park on Thursday was the lead-in to the next four days of insanely awesome bands performing all over Brooklyn. It all started with buzzworthy California dream pop artist Jay Som, followed by the lively jazz of Kamasi Washington, before ending with the sultry, mind-twisting jams of Dirty Projectors. Although the lineup that night didn’t make the most sense together as far as genre cohesion, it still made for a fun evening of music that got everyone super revved up to see as many shows as possible throughout the rest of the festival. And that’s what Northside is all about when it comes to the acts they showcase: the appreciation of music as a whole. Whether the bands are up-and-coming or already pretty well-established, the point of it is to be totally present in the moment, to celebrate the experience and to discover something new or revel in what’s already familiar.
Aside from the outdoor shows at the park, venues at Northside jumped from popular spots like Rough Trade, Knitting Factory, Brooklyn Bowl and Music Hall of Williamsburg to some indie favorites like Union Pool, Saint Vitus, Matchless and Warsaw. Whether at some of the more talked-about shows or just roaming around from Bushwick to Greenpoint, bopping in and out of venues while hoping to discover some new indie favorites, there was no way that you didn’t feel part of it. And the highlights were endless. Over the weekend, performers included experimental French singer (and member of Stereolab) Lætitia Sadier. Later, we caught jouska, an emo rock band from upstate. Also performing were indie outfit Really Big Pinecone, followed by Big Thief, who performed their entire new album Capacity, which is as hauntingly beautiful live as expected. The sweet country band HoneyHoney performed, and edgy R&B artist Miguel slayed the stage. We caught gothic folk singer Aldous Harding performing her second set of the weekend. It wasn’t easy deciding which shows to go to when blinded with so many options (and so many set time conflicts). But that’s the best part of this festival; all roads lead to music no matter which way you end up going.
Northside Festival ended on Sunday with a free show at McCarren Park. This time around, the lineup made a little more sense — one easily found on a punk rock/hardcore playlist — including Tony Molina, Jeff Rosenstock, The Hotelier, PUP and Thursday. It was 95 degrees and sunny that day. The mosh pit was serious and the energy was at its peak, especially when listening to the long-missed anthems of a reunited Thursday, who played all their top songs. The highly influential post-hardcore group made the crowd go especially crazy when they closed the show with “Understanding in a Car Crash” from their breakthrough album Full Collapse.
From there, exhausted and sweating, people ripped off their wristbands and put their badges away. Northside Festival 2017 was officially over. But the electric vibe of the past five days lingered still. It was just like Northside had said from the beginning, “We’re in this together; we’re in Brooklyn, and there is so much to see and celebrate.” And even though it all was over, we still felt completely part of it.
Photo Credit: Marv Watson