Top 3 Fall 2011 Music Festivals Around the World

Early fall equals party time in San Francisco: we have three massive music festivals coming – first LovEvolution, then Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and finally (as a hip cherry on the proverbial cupcake) Treasure Island. The rest of the world doesn’t sit and envy though — they’ve got their own. Here are three fests in Europe and the US that exemplify what “a badass lineup” means.

Unsound Festival, Krakow, Poland. Sunday, October 9 to Sunday, October 16

If you’re hungry not only for new sounds, but for an intriguing curatorial concept to hold them together, you should head to Unsound. Last year’s topic was “horror,” and this fall the artists will be grouped under the banner of “future shock.” The theme explores the phenomenon of “information overload” and how people will need to brace up for what the future holds — many a participant’s music might be best described as dystopian.

Who I would see: With his partner The Spaceape, London-based producer and Hyperdub label founder Kode9 made one of my absolute favorite albums of all time: 2006’s Memories of the Future. This year’s Black Sun is somewhere up there, too. Kode9 is hailed as an originator of the dubstep genre, but he offers something more complex and sophisticated than the lumpen “brostep” that seemingly rules the world today. That doesn’t signify sexless intellectualism though: Kode9’s music always stays markedly physical, with Memories of the Future’s hair-raising bass pressure replaced on Black Sun by sensual, funky beats and synth sounds so crisp you’ll want to wear them for your wedding. All of it is coupled with the narrative about the Earth after a radiation disaster. At Unsound, Kode9 (sans Spaceape) will be paying a live homage to the 1960s sci-fi movie La Jetée, which tells the story of a time traveler in a world ravaged by nuclear war.

Kode9. Photo by sunny_J, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Extras: Unsound will also feature a wide array of producers and musicians whose releases all played a part in making 2011 interesting – including, but not limited to Morphosis, 2562, Andy Stott, HTRK, Kangding Ray, Sun Araw, and William Bennett’s Cut Hands.

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The J-pop Summit Festival 2011 – J-Poppers Unite! [Review]

Where else are blue-haired girls in mini skirts a dime a dozen? And where else will you get to see a band of fortune tellers along with their traveling DJ?

Why, no other place than the J-pop Summit Festival.

The Peace Plaza in Japantown. Photo by Tabia Chui.

In its third year, this two-day festival is a major gathering point for local Japanophiles–and trust me, there were a lot of them. Cosplayers turn out and crawl Japantown to attend the events and shop at the vendors’ booths. Curious visitors photograph said cosplayers and watch the “interesting” events (anyone else interested in a flash mob-like group dance?) going up on the main stage.

This, of course, doesn’t even start to describe half of the flurry of activity the weekend of August 27th and 28th, which was when the festival took place. It wasn’t only concerts on the main stage. There were several fashion events, seiyuu (voice acting) workshops and of course, booths with their own special activities going on.

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Outside Lands, Inside Hunger

What was your first-ever concert, back in the day?

I remember mine. It was an all-day outdoor music festival in Mountain View. I have great memories of jumping around, dancing with my friends and getting to see Bloc Party and The Cold War Kids. However, those great memories were tainted by one not-so-great memory: paying $7 for some undercooked garlic fries, redolent of stale oil and raw potato. After those uninspiring fries, I found myself wishing I had packed myself a peanut butter sandwich instead, and ate nothing for the rest of the day. It’s a wonder I didn’t pass out from low blood sugar or something along those lines.

On the other hand, if you plan on venturing to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park next weekend for Outside Lands 2011, then dining should be an added bonus at the festival rather than a matter of concern. After all, the Bay Area has been known nationwide for its foodie culture ever since Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Whether you’re at the SFMOMA cafeteria, the zoo, or an ice cream shop on a hot summer day, you’re going to find that San Franciscans really pay attention to the overall taste and quality of their food. The food here is fresh, combines unique flavor profiles, and is made with organic, sustainable and local ingredients where possible. And since “food and wine” are listed as taglines on Outside Lands promotions along with “music and art,” you can rest assured that the festival directors put just as much thought into the lineup of food vendors as the lineup of musicians.

Presenting the Piglet from The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen - a preview of the deliciousness that is Outside Lands. Photo by Katherine Hamilton.

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AM², the New Awesome Kid on the Block

The Los Angeles and Orange County area was especially busy this year–especially with an incredible new convention that swept Anaheim by a storm over the July 4th weekend.

AM², short for Anime, Music and Manga, surprised Japanese culture fans as it exploded with its many events and exhibitions at the Anaheim Convention Center. There were four concerts over a course of three days, and the convention introduced many bands that were expanding out of and visiting from Japan for the first time.

The great thing about AM² was that the concerts were free.

Wait–what? Free? Free exists in Southern California?

Yes. Free.

Attendees who purchased a passport were allowed first dibs and a fast track into premier seating, but entry into the actual venue and concerts are free. AM² recommended that people who had bands they were dying to see purchase a passport to guarantee they would have a spot at the concerts.

The four performances were all Japanese musicians who flew over for the sole purpose of participating in AM² taking off in its first year. The concerts included Heidi., Sadie, KanonxKanon and SCANDAL.

Photo provided courtesy of AM2.

As luck would have it, I caught the KanonxKanon and SCANDAL live shows.

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Beats Antique

Today is June 8th and although summer doesn’t officially start till the solstice on the 21st, we have officially plunged into summer festival season.  Whether you plan on road-tripping across the country to catch the festival stops of your favorite band or just wandering to a nearby stage in the woods to vibe on some heady jams, you will be seeing a lot of great bands (and others not so great) that you haven’t heard of yet.  One band that you should know about in advance, because there is a good chance you will encounter them in your summer festival plans (and a great chance you will love them), is Beats Antique.

The NorCal group is becoming a great festival mainstay, if there is such a thing.  They will be hitting a lot of festivals this summer as they tour the country, including Bonnaroo, Camp Bisco, and Lollapalooza.  I was able to catch Beats Antique for the first time last summer at the Wanderlust Festival in Squaw Valley, CA.  I was immediately hooked.

Photo provided by Beats Antique.

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