Check Out All Of The Bands Blurred Culture Caught On Day 2 Of This Ain’t No Picnic!
LOS ANGELES, CA- With over 70 acts performing over the course of two days, it’ll always be a task to pick between acts and get that which will fill your soul. We hope you enjoy what we were able to see/hear love the weekend.
I wish that They Hate Change had gotten a later-in-the-day billing. They were far too talented for how early in the day they were scheduled. Their simple, visual parsed down, show on the Back Nine stage highlighted the rap duo out of Tampa who married San Fransisco, British, electronic roots with a familiar down south grime that gave them an infectious intensity rarely seen these days. Yet, despite their early-in-the-day show, they were like pied pipers to the crowd. The initially small audience had grown to 3x its size halfway through the show. The faces of those around me were undeniably those of excited music lovers finding their new favorite band.
They Hate Change took that charged energy and fed their set with it, growing more and more physical in their performance as the hour ticked on. The duo bounced and ebbed between each other amongst trips to the edge of the stage as they leaned into the crowd, pulling power from the eyes of onlookers. “Thanks for havin’ us all the way from the Gulf, California,” they said, “Hope y’all’ll have us back.” I have a feeling this is far from the last trip these two will be making to LA.
I hadn’t planned to go see Zulu. Yet, as I meandered around the festival, I found myself inexplicably drawn to the hardcore chainmail sound of power violence catharsis striking out from the Greens Stage. I watched a dust devil rise from the mosh pit as fans circled round and round and round, wrenching into violent thrashing in the moments of Zulu’s hyper-short blasts of songs. Fans seemed to be in some kind of modern, hardcore trance, moving in a way that superficially implied violence, but spoke to a level of deep actualization upon a second look.
Zulu’s music is as innovative as Death’s was in the 1970s as they pull from R&B, reggae, hardcore, and Hello Kitty to make a sound and create a look all their own. Like most hardcore metal bands, the intensity of their sound belies the impressive talent that it takes to make it. Just like Dolly Parton famously said, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” For the hardest of the hardcore bands, it takes a lot of talent, to be this difficult to listen to (for the everyday Joe, at least).
It is at this point in the festival that I start to revisit my relationship with hardcore music. My brief youthful inclination towards the genre had waned in recent years in favor of something a bit more chill. But there is something to be said for the movement, the blood, and the catharsis of hardcore. Maybe I am missing out on something transcendental soaked in blood that will give me a glimpse of some lost answer to a question I forgot I’d asked.
An early surprise on Day 2 of This Aint’ No Picnic was the performance of the Hermosillo-based band Margaritas Podridas. With the second set of the day on the main stage, Esli Meuly (guitar), Carolina Enríquez (bass, voice), Rafael Armenta (drums, guitar, synth), and Alfonso López (guitar) brought some of those mid-90s grunge/shoegaze sonics that I was deep into back in the day. A good chunk of their set were songs sung in Spanish, but that didn’t stop me from feeling all of the angst and tension that was in the music they performed.
The sun may have been melting faces, but Margaritas Podridas was melting eardrums with their loud distortion and the occasional howl from their lead singer Esli. Don’t let the band’s youth fool you… their music hits hard. Their music has dollops of classic punk mixed in, and that makes for nice bursts of energy throughout the performance. Very pleasantly surprised by this act. Keep an eye on them for sure.
Spellling is an interesting artist. I know it’s a little cliche to put artists in categories, but even if I wanted to, I’m not quite sure I could find a comfortable category for Spellling’s music. Maybe fantasy-soul? Neo-mystic? Let’s just say that I felt like I was living a D&D RPG game during her performance. Even her soprano range had an elven quality to it. Very Kate Bush-ish. Maybe RPG Soul?
Despite my feeble attempts to find Spellling a genre, I can say that her performance was a solid soundtrack to the time of day and mood of the festival. With the sun high in the air shining down on us, we could all take a spell, laying on the festival law, and let the magic in her music sonically transport us to the place she wanted to take us. Solid lazy afternoon, beer (or wine) in hand listening.
Man… I got upset during Girl Ultra’s performance. I don’t know whether it was the people working sound or whether it was a matter of faulty gear, but Girl Ultra’s performance suffered from undeniably unfortunate technical issues. Every thirty seconds or so, the sound from the speakers totally cut out, making it very tough for fans and newbies alike to get into and fall in love with Girl Ultra’s music.
Of all of the new-to-me artists performing at This Ain’t No Picnic, I was particularly excited to catch Girl Ultra’s performance. I loved her “ultra” smooth vocal stylings and was fully prepared to just vibe during her set. The language barrier aside, you could easily throw a bunch of her tracks on a “make-out” playlist and you’d do just fine.
Unfortunately, the sound completely dropping out all through her performance made it difficult for me… and I’m sure everybody who was watching the performance… to get to that level of emotional sensuality that I know Girl Ultra can deliver.
Being the bonafide performer that she is, Girl Ultra powered through her set nonetheless. She even had Pablo Sotelo of the band Inner Wave join her on stage for a song. I’m hoping to be able to catch Girl Ultra at a future show. Seeing her perform without sound issues is pretty high on my list of things I’d like to happen. Hopefully, she’ll be back in L.A. Sooner rather than later.
Culturally speaking, I really got the sense that Goldenvoice made a conscious effort to cater to the Spanish-speaking fanbase of Sunday’s headliner, The Strokes, by booking three Latin American acts on the main stage. Nicki Nicole, born and raised in Rosario, Santa Fe in Argentina was the third act.
At only 22, she made waves in her homeland at age 19 when her single “Wapo Traketero” peaked at number three on the Billboard Argentina Hot 100. She would make history during the year of COVID when she became the first Argentine woman to top the Argentina Hot 100 chart with the single “Mamichula” featuring her, Bizarrap, and Trueno, and parlayed that success into media opportunities in the United States and a performance at Coachella in 2022.
Nicki’s performance at This Ain’t No Picnic was solid. She had a cadre of backup dancers bust moves during the start of her set, but eventually, she took the stage solo and let her soulful vocals croon to the audience in the afternoon sun. Her entire set was performed in Spanish, but I still enjoyed the vibe her music carried. Real chill.
“You are really going to want to check out Shame,” my editor told me. “They put on a hell of a show.” Well… he wasn’t wrong. “MAKE SOME FUCKING NOISE!” Shame’s lead singer, Charlie Steen, yelled out over the crowd as the show began.
The post-punk band stands musically on the shoulders of its British punk ancestors, while still respecting the lineage of the American punk culture it finds itself in LA. “We figured the main thing Americans yell out during a show is ‘LET’S GO!’” said Sheen. “But our buddy said that was bullshit. We made a bet that he had to buy us a beer for every ‘let’s go’ we hear.” Pausing a moment he yelled, “SO LET’S HEAR A ‘LET’S GOOOOO!!!’” Shame’s band members are nothing if not unique in and of themselves. Sheen has an uncanny ability to make you think he is talking and singing only to you throughout the performance. The guitarists in the back range from the kind that runs around and thrash like a hardcore puppy, to the kind that tends towards a self-containment that speaks of some marinating deep intensity that could erupt at any moment. The drummer is utter perfection—like every drummer tasked with building the foundation of a band.
Shame loved its crowd and regularly ventured into it as they played—crowd surfing, moshing, and even tasking the crowd to hold them up at the ankles as they towered above them. At one point Sheen took his hand and swirled it round and round, turning up the mosh pit like a baker with bread. Shame wanted the dirt, the sweat, the blood—Shame wanted the punk.
This was my fourth time seeing Tinashe perform live, and she did it again… she slayed. Her performance was immaculate.
From the jump, when she entered the stage from an elevated riser, with the large LED screen upstage behind her shining bright purple with her current logo digitally spinning around the screen, it was both a sensual and empowering visual.
She packed her 45-minute set with 14 bangers from across her entire repertoire, opening the set with her hit single “2 On” from 2014’s Aquarius to closing the set with the cut “Bouncin” from her most recent studio album, 2021’s 333. She sprinkled in a couple of tracks that she was featured on (Kaytranada’s “The Worst In Me”) and Snakehips “All My Friends”). I also found a bit of satisfaction hearing her perform the last single she released with RCA, “Throw A Fit”. A real banger of a track that kinda proves that that label was foolish to ever let her go.
The music aside, what I absolutely love about Tinashe’s performances is that they are always “big time”. Great dramatic elements. Cleanly hit choreography that has Tinashe nailing every move with her dancers as she sings alone in tune. Great repartee with the crowd in between songs when needed. Tinashe’s performances are always polished as hell, and an absolute joy to watch.
Slowthai played next. He is a British rapper that reminded me of The Streets—I am obviously poorly versed in British rap since this is a pretty basic go-to for anybody.
I sat near a man who, before he told me his opinion of the show asked, “Are you related to him in any way?” After saying I was not, he voiced his lukewarm feelings about the concert. But I contend that Slowthai’s performance gave me more to write about than most.
Slowthai walked onto an empty stage in a pair of long plaid shorts that might have been mistaken for boxers. A patchwork of tattoos covered his torso like high school sketches on a desk. He rapped in a nearly antagonistic, self-contained kind of way. He kept his energy to himself rather than sending it out to the crowd. He rather required the crowd’s energy to come to him. It was as if the spectacle performance, fame, and idealization were not worth his time. His seemingly detached antagonism was the basis for many fans’ point of contention (I don’t think Americans appreciate performative irony much), but I found that it fit Slowthai’s music to a tee, which has found its base in political statements and sticking it to the man. Not to mention that, despite his intimidating personage, he talked about love and freedom over and over again.
I wondered as well if the basis for his withholding of too much energy was a result of just how his music came about in a literal sense. His stage name, Slowthai, came from an early speech impediment that the rapper had overcome. The “Thai” of Tyron Kaymone Frampton spoke slowly, hence, Slowthai. I rather imagined that his stage presence had a real background in reflection and the amusement he found in his circumstances as a result. “Is this a game?” He laughed between sets.
Following the dissolution of her band Chairlift back in 2017, Caroline Polachek has cultivated her alternative/alt-pop sound and garnered an amazingly loyal following, and they were all at the Back Nine stage as the sun slowly set in the west.
Even while she was fronting Chairlift, she had been developing her own sound with solo projects CEP and Ramona Lisa (a project that I am actually quite fond of). Not only has she cultivated her own artistry, but she’s helped shape the artistry of other recording artists collaborating with the likes of Blood Orange, Christine, and the Queens, and Charli XCX. She’s also co-written for artists like Beyonce and Travis Scott. Needless to say, Caroline’s artistry overflows with abundance.
That artistry was on full display at This Ain’t No Picnic. Some reviewers have deemed Caroline’s live performances as “Avant-Garde… Pop Perfection“, and it’s hard to dispute that description. Even on a generic festival stage, she was able to transform her setting into a unique minimalist world of her own. Her sheer, hand-knit dress with bright red boots reflected both a youthful attitude with a deceptively sensual flare. And as she performed her wholly individual music, her body moved in a way that was perhaps choreographed but felt so organically natural that you couldn’t help but feel that the movement was inspired from the moment, in the moment.
All of this provided for one of the most sparkling performances of the weekend, and if you weren’t already a fan, you probably would have fallen in love with the energy that came from that Back Nine stage. It was a moment when artistry fully translated into joy, and that speaks volumes.
Next on stage was IDLES, another band that my editor loves, and the band that the man sitting next to me came to see that afternoon. I was interested to see what they had in store. Their show helped me realize a few things about hardcore rockers that I had perhaps forgotten in recent years.
First, no one loves their own music genre more than the hardcore crowd, performers included. The music does not allow for detachment by definition. Hardcore performers leave every inch of themselves on the stage. Audience members always lose themselves in the music. Everyone screams and slams their bodies together as a way to dig through the rough topsoil of everyday life to reach the soft earth of love underneath, their fingers and bodies bloodied in the process.
Second, hardcore fans are by and large total softies. There is real care for the people around them and while IDLES often splits the crowd in two so that they can run into each other in a fury mid-show when they observed that some decidedly not hardcore fans were in the front row (waiting for Phoebe Bridgers who was on next), they instead reminded the crowd to take care of each other and thanked the security staff that watched out for the decidedly bewildered and unintentional spectators.
As the show approached its end the crowd began to shift as it is want to do, everyone trying to see their next favorite band in and among very tight set times. The man next to me, clearly a massive fan of the IDLES, was incensed to see people actually leaving. I could not help but smile at the not-so-subtle fandom behind the statement.
If you needed a fix of adrenaline to get you over the hump at This Ain’t No Picnic, I would have prescribed you a set of Turnstile. You would have been good for the rest of the evening.
There were fans who had camped out all day at the front of the railing at the Back Nine stage to catch Turnstile’s performance. Like me, they wanted to throw their hands in the air and bang their heads to the band’s anthemic hooks and ultra-loud guitar riffs. Pent-up. Bubbling over. Ready to burst. That’s how I felt as Turnstiles went through their set. And whenever a beat dropped or there was a hook around the corner, their fans erupted in synchronicity moving their bodies in unison to the aggression that Brendan Yates, the lead singer, was shouting into the microphone.
Turnstile put on one hell of a show. With the stage backlit by large LED screen upstage, they performed much of their set as silhouettes on stage. Since this was my first time catching them perform live, I wasn’t sure whether this was par for the course… but it did seem to have a subliminal effect on the crowd, causing fans to really focus more on the music than on the antics on stage. And that really made their performance that much more impactful, and really makes one focus on the melodic lines of their music, which made me actually realize/recognize how accessible their “hardcore” music is to a veritably broad and diverse audience. Mind-blown.
Phoebe Bridgers is the queen of LA’s indie scene. That fact was never more apparent than it was at This Ain’t No Picnic. Part of Bridger’s appeal is her humor, which was on full display at the opening of her show, which winked and nudged at the idea of opening a heavy metal show with ripped letters spelling out Phoebe Bridgers and “Down with the Sickness” by Disturbed playing out over the crowd as she and her band walked onto the stage. They countered their intro by launching into a concert version of Motion Sickness, Bridger’s most popular breakout song.
Wearing a black bejeweled dress version of her skeleton outfit from the year before, Bridgers was showing that she had clearly grown into the more mature version of her independent artist persona. Yet, a youthful playfulness still showed through as she ran throughout the tech booths and along the crowd barrier getting the people around her to sing along with “Scott Street.” Elated fans that had been waiting hours (and who had braved the hardcore bands that preceded Bridgers), squeaked out their excited version of the song, bewildered at the opportunity.
I remember when Bridger’s star had begun to rise a few years earlier. I had seen her at a behind-the-bar venue in Louisville Kentucky, playing to a crowd of about 30-40. Seeing the transformation just a few years earlier, and in the neighborhood, she’d grown up in no less, was a pleasant transformation to behold. “I learned how to drive in this parking lot,” Bridger’s said midway through the show. “In fact, I grew up only 8-minutes from here.”
A year prior to This Ain’t No Picnic, I sat in a small apartment in Paris, France, nursing the hangover from an ocular migraine and saturated in memories from three years earlier. Beach House played in the background and in that moment, my enjoyment of the band was tattooed into a love for them. They had sung to the ineffable melancholy that sat in the room as the clock ticked towards, and then past, midnight. Seeing them live for the first time felt like a kind of closure to a year of hard lessons.
The band was silhouetted behind a colorful LED screen that played out pinks and blues to the music. They never once emerged from their embodied darkness, as if saying, No, no, it is the music that is important, not us. It gave the performance a kind of memorizing ambiance that simultaneously relaxed and energized the crowd. After a bit of searching, I finally found a good seat above a sand trap overlooking the right side of the stage. As the band began playing Space Song towards the end of the show, the crowd grew more animated and swayed back and forth, hugging each other, as if trying to hang on to the last ounce of the concert before it was over.
I have loved Godspeed You! Black Emperor for over a decade. “They’re a weird band,” you often hear people say. I suppose I agree, but there are few other bands that invite you to fully lose yourself in the comfortable embrace of their music as it emanates from any stage that they play on. The Godspeed show was the only show that I lost myself in throughout the entire festival. Albeit, only for a minute.
The band’s opioid ephemeral sound grew and crescendoed through each song, ending at the height of emotionality. Scenes of destruction, nature, winter and empty cities moved in and out of each other as they were projected behind them. After two straight days of writing and talking to people, I had forgotten about writing and asking others about their experiences, I had forgotten about everything and I swayed back and forth like a snake in front of a charmer’s flute. I closed my eyes and the music moved through my tired body. It was the one moment in the festival I had let go—and then, almost ironically, someone wanted to talk to me.
The man pantomimed, “Great show! Great music, right?!” I agreed kindly, but the spell over me had been broken and I had been slammed back down to earth. It was hard to hide my disappointment and the man soon got the hint and tried to leave me in peace. I waited for the song to end, enjoying what little remained of the musical spell that had been cast over me, and left the last show a little early. I resolved to catch the Toronto band again someday. I would track them down, come hell or high water.