The Treasure Island Music Festival returned for a ninth year Saturday, bringing with it a slate of electronic and electronic-inspired artists before Sunday's indie-rock steeped bill. Here were some of the day's highlights.
Full photo slideshow below.
"On the Regular" is Shamir's calling card, a concise electro blast of fun that serves as an operating ethos of not trying too hard to be someone you're not. Hailing from Las Vegas, a city of superficial veneer if ever there was one, the 20-year-old androgynous singer embodies everything positive about being new to and perhaps a little naive about the music industry, and his approachable nature had a massive crowd only piling on the love. Shamir was born the same week TLC's CrazySexyCool was released, and whatever molecules in the universe conspired to make that album such a raw, honest work must have scattered in Shamir's direction as well. A cover of Joyce Manor's "Christmas Card" was the day's biggest unexpected delight, and despite "On the Regular" being featured in an Android commercial, Shamir's set felt stripped of any hype machine or music industry apparatus -- just the new generation championing one of their own. "This song is for all the youthful people of the world!" Shamir said at one point. "Because we're gonna run the world someday! So this song is for us!"
2. FKA Twigs
Tahliah Barnett is a 27 year-old from Gloucestershire who has singlehandedly brought the sonic experiments of late-'90s trip-hop back into the mainstream, and incidentally managed to top my listening habits of 2014. Barnett's set was a combination of new material from her M3LL155X EP and older material, including the compact, brilliant "Water Me," and though her songs tend to overlap stylistically there's no denying the unusual musical language being spoken once their hypnotism takes hold. Coy, seductive, mysterious -- all these adjectives work in the service of her choreographed stage presence, but Saturday's set felt looser and less persona-driven than when I saw her at the Great American Music Hall last year. It's always exciting to imagine what she'll do next.
3. Run the Jewels
I've remained immune to the pervasive pedestal-hoisting of this joint project by Killer Mike and EL-P, but no lie, the two delivered a near-perfect set on Saturday. This is the third time I've seen them together, and in this sad age of rappers rapping over their own rapping, it is simply so refreshing to be in the presence of expert phrasing and breath control. (Mind you, these are intricate, rapid-fire verses — not the rudimentary “bought myself a hat” lines of yesteryear.) Earlier in the day, the two hung out and chatted with fans in a corner of the festival, and that same we're-in-this-together vibe ran through their set. Neither of them are from the Bay Area, but all-around national treasure Killer Mike paid respect to the Jacka, a nice touch (he reliably mentions Oscar Grant and Mac Dre during area shows, too), and near the end of their set, he looked out across the bay. “Everybody look at that perfect body of water over there,” he said. Ever the Abbott to Killer Mike's Costello, EL-P quickly replied: “I'm from New York, and if that were a New York body of water, your flesh would just burn the moment you touch it.”
4. Barry Rothbart
One of my annual traditions at the Treasure Island fest is to spend some time at the chain-link fence facing San Francisco, just absorbing the view. (I'm not alone.) I love the array of interactive booths, crafting tables, and weird installations like a payphone where you can talk to God. But for everything that makes the festival so unique, organizers added a comedy tent this year, seeming to bend toward a prevailing trend. We caught Barry Rothbart, who cracked wise in a stream-of-consciousness style about grandmothers, the drought, "dad bods" and Burger King while his DJ flitted from "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" to Close Encounters of the Third Kind to "Born in the USA." The whole thing worked in a strange, stoned way, and the fact that the comedy tent opened westward for that million-dollar view was a definite plus.
5. Gorgon City
A great aspect of the Treasure Island fest is the way the lineup is split between electronic and indie rock acts, and historically, Saturday's electronic offerings have featured at least one left-field pick that's a little on the noisy, abrasive or experimental side. Four Tet filled this role one memorable year, and Amon Tobin's set in another year served the same purpose. There wasn't really any artist this year that confused people, which I recognize is a funny thing to wish. But if Autechre, who'd played a show the night before at the Mezzanine, had been available to play on Saturday, it would have broken up a continual smoothness. All this is to say that Gorgon City were great, despite being the perfect thing to play over the speakers at dinnertime if you owned an Asian-fusion restaurant in Healdsburg. Hear for yourself here.