It may be the mind's function to create patterns out of chaos. And maybe I'm accustomed to chaos, because Hopscotch '11 didn't feel all that chaotic. Still, out of the 135 bands, I believe I caught some patterns in the 29 I saw this past weekend.
I'm sure everyone had a different vision of the event. It's impossible to have seen enough of these bands to have a coherent picture of the entire fest. No one can run that fast. As much as I want to talk about how amazing Andrew Cedermark or Grandchildren were, I think these patterns bear some discussion.
My principal goal for Hopscotch was simple: to be front and center, touching the stage, during Earth. Achieving this meant I missed Swans completely, but the sheer fact of that conflict points to a healthy amount of patient music. Bands like those two, but also Horseback and Rhys Chatham's G3, engaged audiences with long-blooming, meditative performances. What's remarkable here is how these acts were balanced with more traditionally accessible artists in a natural way. It didn't at all feel weird seeing Superchunk and Duane Pitre Sextet in the same night. There's a certain kind of intellectual effort required to enjoy these acts, and I appreciate the balance between them and the more extroverted rockers one expects at this kind of fest.
(Still holding on to) black metal
I actually cried during Liturgy. As the band finished its set at Kings, the final song built into a gorgeous wash of brutally beautiful black metal. I closed my eyes to take it all in without visual distraction, and I can't say I was surprised when the tears came. I wasn't ashamed, either. Liturgy and Krallice were two of the finest acts I caught during Hopscotch, and my one regret is that I only saw two Krallice songs. I should have stayed for the whole set; the act I saw instead was weak by comparison. It's significant to me that black metal's resurgence has eclipsed the genre's violent early history. Bands like Liturgy and Krallice contribute emotionally dense metal that's complex and engaging like a good book.
I hate to say it, but there was a weaker showing from the rap world this year. I don't mean to disparage King Mez, Beans or L.E.G.A.C.Y.—all fine acts—but involvement last year from Raekwon, 9th Wonder and (naturally) Public Enemy resulted in a fest more evenly balanced with the rock world. L.E.G.A.C.Y., for his part, offered an enticingly severe take on Southern hip-hop. His rhymes, borne of the semi-rural grime surrounding Fayetteville (or Fayettenam, as some locals call it), set educated references afloat in a graceful sea of crunk. Overall, though, there was a palpable and regrettable absence of marquee names from the rap world.
The headliner's changing role?
City Plaza was expectedly packed with the drunk and stumbling for Saturday night's Flaming Lips set. And it's telling that the Lips trended on Twitter, but Hopscotch didn't (unless I missed it). Yet this year, the club shows seemed to pull their weight the same as the City Plaza dates. There's the obvious thing—that wristbands sold out in a hurry—but many clubs were packed out over the weekend in a way that didn't happen last year. Slim's was at capacity or close for The Super Vacations early Thursday night. And Kings had a line out the door during Whatever Brains, also an early show. As deserving as both bands were of their crowds, the former's a comparatively minor Virginia act and the latter is a local. So while there were certainly folks who only came for the Lips, or Guided by Voices, whatever, it appears the fest wasn't wholly financially reliant on them. To me, this confirms the existence of the kind of passionate, musically educated fanbase Hopscotch needs to survive. And that's exciting.