Photo by Grayson Haver Currin
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, in the Raleigh rain
By design, Hopscotch rewards diverse tastes. Most music festivals pen attendees in like blue-jeaned bovines, all meant to share the same experience whether they like it or not. But this one liberates the audience from the minor musicological tyrannies of conventional concert-going. With multiple shows occurring within walking distance of one another, these three nights in Raleigh seek to satisfy the discerning type who finds the speed-dating-quality question “What Kind Of Music Do You Like?” a truly vexing conundrum.
So only a fool, a bore or a desperate person at the end of some rope stays at just one venue all night long. It’s in the goddamn name, after all: HOP
, people. Whether dipping out of Kings to peep the scene downstairs at Neptune’s or schlepping from Lincoln Theatre all the way to CAM, there’s something quite thrilling and even a little illicit about trying to watch as many sets as possible while gambling on venue capacity, too.
Admittedly, it took this seasoned thrillseeker a while to achieve that high during the opening night of Hopscotch 2015. Following a devastating tie for second at the trivia night down at Woody’s, watching Godspeed You! Black Emperor headline City Plaza certainly didn’t lift my spirits at first. A studio band to a fault, the Canadian avant rock troupe did as best as they could in a live outdoor setting, dutifully playing the slowest abstract versions of “Norwegian Wood” and “Aloha ‘Oe” while recycled INXS music videos played on a screen behind them.
As intermittent rain pelted their patient audience, roadies desperately nudged the band’s gear as far toward the back of the stage as possible to avoid a catastrophic short circuit or a soaked cello. Watching from a clandestine Sheraton perch above the muted fray, the lightning crashes moved me more than anything happening on stage. Nonetheless, during an extended encore, the band locked into a groove. Boredom eventually turned to mild fascination as recognizable crescendos from their best records finally did
something with the open-air space.
A short walk away, Chapel Hill’s SOON wrapped up their Pour House gig with a doomy roar, much to the grunting delight of the black T-shirt mob in attendance. Scheduled headliner Eyehategod canceled earlier in the week, but thrashcore replacement Iron Reagan seemed an acceptable substitute. Local trio Solar Halos hit the stage at 10:30 p.m., each of its members looking like they were from entirely different bands. But despite their sartorial mismatch, the musical cohesion came quickly, as militant rhythms and meaty riffs combined for a steamy stoner squall. At one point, the sound guy jumped on stage mid-song to tame a miscreant kick drum. The band played on.
While I’ve never been fully on board with footwork, that fast-paced Chicago sound, I had a hunch that Deejay Earl could convert this moldy old clubber down in the Neptunes basement. Decked out in a shirt that read “OFF THAT LOUD,” he ambled behind the decks to a few requisite hoots, only to throw the crowd one hell of a curveball. "I'm kicking it off with my new live set,” Earl said. “I don't want it to be an ordinary DJ set. Rest in peace, DJ Rashad.”
It opened with echoes and ominous bass vibrations, reminiscent of the sort of noise set you might catch upstairs at Kings. Reverb drenched breakbeats struggled to emerge from the radical ambience, immediately silenced to make way for beauteous dub-wise drones that ebbed and flowed. Earl slowly permitted footwork elements to seep in and out, introducing some new music from a forthcoming EP by saying "I hope y’all ready for this shit." Before long, we were all immersed in his mix of uptempo dance and downtempo brooding.
Earl’s approach is revolutionary yet retro, the stubborn spirit of rave haunting the fuck out of the club. The references frequently became hard to spot, and I’m unsure this morning if I heard a remix of Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” or The Charmels "As Long As I've Got You" last night. And was that Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s “Reminsce” getting reworked or saxophonist Tom Scott’s Jefferson Airplane cover? Unbothered by such nerdy woes, Earl wiped the sweat from his face with a towel while simultaneously turning up, constantly reminding that footwork—a genre with both legacy and legs—has so much for room for expansion.
Though Battles and Bully seemed the late night trade-off for most Thursday attendees, I still felt like dancing. Cashmere Cat at CAM proved my best bet. Long blonde hair spewing from the bottom of his Night Slugs cap, he took the stage that invincible rap warrior Lizzo had just decimated and dropped an Aphex Twin-esque piano intro. Black-and-white forestry projections played like Rorschach blots. With two Pioneer decks and an arsenal of mad mixes, the Scandinavian delivered a downright euphoric set. Hip-hop and techno commingled, with Wiz Khalifa reworks and footwork takes on Migos' "Hannah Montana" and the Spice Girls throwback "Wannabe” butting heads.
Cashmere’s a proponent of hypnagogic trap, bedazzled beats for turn up functions. Last night, he found ways to marry a mutant R&B mix of Jeremih's "773 Love" (replete with bedsprings) to Rustie's nu-rave anthem "Raptor." Whether dropping remixes of Silento’s “Watch Me” or Miguel’s “Do You...,” the guy’s set represented a beautiful future for EDM and Hopscotch’s continued electronic prospects.