Hopscotch 2015: Hip-hop and electronic programming spotlight the tension between being a major festival and a niche feature | Music Feature | Indy Week

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Hopscotch 2015: Hip-hop and electronic programming spotlight the tension between being a major festival and a niche feature

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Of course Pusha T won't be playing the main stage at Hopscotch 2015.

Even if he's on a major label, and even if his Friday night set at the Lincoln Theatre will likely be one of the festival's toughest tickets of the year, his eminently lyrical coke rap would put some folks off (or, heaven forbid, attract a more diverse crowd) on Raleigh's Main Street, especially in a city beset with downtown noise woes. Instead, by the time the former Clipse spitter hits the stage late into the night, the precious lightweights and teetotalers will likely have tucked themselves into bed.

After Mastodon ended last year's Hopscotch with metal, this year's headlining attractions look as safe as houses, even with the stunt casting of former Los Angeles neighbors Dwight Yoakam and X on Saturday night. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, slotted for Thursday, and TV On The Radio, who handle Friday's headlining duties, have long since outgrown the modesty of their indie qualifiers. The former now enjoy the spoils of a reunion (without ever having really broken up), while the latter feeds off the largesse of Universal Music Group.

Still, when Hopscotch announced its lineup via Coachella-style, day-by-day poster in May, one trend stuck out: After years top-heavy with rock-leaning headliners, marked by an occasional legacy hip-hop or DJing stand-in, more of the festival's marquee billing now went to hip-hop and, to a lesser extent, electronic music.

These hip-hop and electronic options seemingly supplant the more avant-garde fare for which Hopscotch has traditionally been known. Trying to be more things to more people helps differentiate the event from more focused post-Labor Day competition, like the rap-centric A3C in Atlanta or the punk party The Fest in Florida. From Pusha T and the sepia-toned producer Tycho, who will open for TV on the Radio on the main stage, to a toughened roster of emcees and beatmakers scattered throughout the festival's web of clubs, this new slate spotlights Hopscotch's liminal stance. That is, is it a major festival or a niche event, or can it be a bit of both at once?

Following 2013's spare hip-hop bookings with a comparatively robust rap offering last year seemed like a reaction to criticism of Hopscotch's historically pale lineups. But this year's programming takes that one step further. Indeed, despite the choice to relegate the biggest hip-hop name on the bill to a club, Hopscotch's hip-hop picks reflect a clear desire to break into the higher tier of destination festivals.

While still predominantly indie, this year's hip-hop picks include some formidable talents with substantial followings. Father, the hedonistic patriarch of Atlanta's Awful Records crew, has been packing clubs all over the country with rowdy crowds in thrall to his self-medicated turn-up. Exploding onto the scene roughly a year ago with Young Hot Ebony and its breakout banger, "Look At Wrist," the millennial favorite should bring out some of his hungrier labelmates to play.

Putting Father on the same bill as Pusha T almost seems unfair to the competing Friday night hip-hop show at Kings, where New York pillar Le1f will command the stage following sets from Hellfyre Club founder Nocando and promising Raleigh local Ace Henderson.

Following that dilemma, however, Saturday offers a no-brainer for rap fans looking to finish the fest strong. Still shining from a rare Rick Rubin co-sign, Goldlink has become one of the genre's most engaging live performers, inciting a rambunctious scene last month at the Afropunk Fest in Brooklyn. Opening that same CAM showcase is fellow Afropunk alumnus Cakes Da Killa, whose effervescent presence threatens to outshine anyone else who dares to share the stage.

While Hopscotch's hip-hop programming continues to push into the boundaries of mainstream, the electronic programming mostly caters to niche nightclub fare. Remember, Hopscotch's only electronic headliner, A-Trak in 2013, was a last-minute replacement for Outkast's Big Boi. Shying away from high-priced arena EDM monsters like Calvin Harris or Skrillex, slots instead go to well-regarded left-field producers such as Hanz, Nick James and Obey City.

Having long graduated from suspected Aphex Twin pseudonym to manic techno dream boy, Clark takes considerable pains to export the energy flash of his Warp Records output into a blinding, bewildering live experience. And on the DJ front, Miami-via-NYC heroine Jubilee should saturate the small Neptunes with good bass vibrations during her Friday night headlining slot. Retro fetishism will receive adequate representation, too, courtesy of Breathers' nu-nu-wave and Boulevards' darling disco boogie.

In its earliest years, Hopscotch earned a quick reputation as a bastion of the avant-garde, which it still maintains to an extent. But now it's clear that its programmers are paying close attention when hip-hop and electronica overlap most. A co-producer on Kanye West's "Wolves" and Ty Dolla Sign's trap-pop single "Drop That Kitty," Cashmere Cat headlines Thursday night at CAM. He arrives after a wave of summer festival appearances, including HARD Summer and Mad Decent Block Party. His star is rising, and Hopscotch is a perfect platform for it. Deejay Earl, of footwork powerhouse Teklife, will blur lines in similar fashion with his set.

And Hopscotch may have jumped ahead of the American festival curve by recruiting Mumdance, a producer at the fore of the grime revival. In recent months, U.K. rappers like Skepta and Riko Dan garnered substantial media buzz on this side of the pond for the first time in more than a decade. Even rap blogs that typically avoid grime now behave otherwise, which makes this particular booking a genuine coup, even if Mumdance doesn't bring along any emcee friends from London. It positions Hopscotch near the bleeding edges of rap and electronica—an appropriate place to be at this particular moment of genre fluidity. Such trend-spotting will prove key to the vitality of permanently midsize events like Hopscotch, if they are to excel in the age of Coachella.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Ever bigger events"

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