The 8 Best Acts We Saw at New Colossus Festival 2020
This five-day event in New York City's Lower East Side was probably the last music festival for a while.Photo by Paul Familetti Music Lists New Colossus Festival
It’s hard to discuss the second edition of New York City’s New Colossus Festiva without mentioning the elephant in the room. Coronavirus has been shutting down or postponing live music events all across the globe over the past two weeks—most notably Austin’s famous SXSW and California’s Coachella—but NYC’s New Colossus chugged ahead last week as best as it could. A number of artists pulled out, fearing that they might get stuck in New York City due to impending travel bans, and venues were eventually subject to the city’s capacity restrictions or forced to cancel. It was hectic, to say the least, but the artists who did show at this Lower East side five-day event put on some incredible performances for audiences still hungry for live music—despite all the warnings.
Paste’s showcase at Berlin experienced a few speed bumps due to artist cancellations, but performances from Tim Burgess, Honey Lung and others resulted in a warm, intimate evening of music. Paste also hosted live-streamed sessions with a number of artists from the festival at our Manhattan studio, like Donna Blue, Ali Barter, New Luna, Siv Jakobsen and more, and you can check all those out on our YouTube channel here. As for the artists that blew us away while we floated around the small venues of the Lower East Side, you can read about these fantastic eight artists below.
Halifax, U.K. quartet The Orielles brought their new album Disco Volador, out now via Heavenly Recordings, to life in New York City in all of its loungey avant-pop glory. The record saw them shift focus from the reverby guitars of their 2018 debut Silver Dollar Moment to something much groovier and forward-thinking, and their floaty tunes were perfectly suited for boogying footwork. The disco-pop of “Bobbi’s Second World” and funky dreamscapes of “Space Samba (Disco Volador Theme)” washed over the crowd with wonderfully sultry and oddball energy.
While they weren’t able to put on another impressive showing at SXSW this year, Hull, U.K. four-piece LIFE (pictured above) did leave a lasting impression on the American crowds at New Colossus. The band released their latest full-length, A Picture of Good Health, last year, and its bratty indie-punk was perfect for the small bars of New York City. Lead vocalist Mez Green utilized incisive arm movements like an airbender as he simultaneously unfurled snotty vocals at the crowd’s faces. “Moral Fibre” (whose video premiered at Paste) and “Excites Me” were particularly rowdy and bouncy numbers, and the floors began to rumble—almost as if the room itself was encouraging pogoing.
Zoe Mead, the one-woman force behind London dream pop project Wyldest, put on a wispy, transcendent show upstairs at Pianos. Mead released a reworked version of her 2019 debut Dream Chaos—called Redream Chaos—earlier this year, and it swapped breezy effects for moving acoustic renditions. She performed with nothing more than an electric guitar and some programmed loops, but her graceful voice transfixed the crowd, temporarily erasing the strange circumstances of the week and providing pacifying moods via timeless melancholia.
Catch Wyldest today (March 17) in the Paste Studio at 12:30 p.m. ET.
British quartet Honey Lung were one of our favorites from last year’s SXSW, and their melodic guitar slinging and tender-hearted vocals made an emotive return. The band recently signed to Big Scary Monsters (Beach Slang, American Football) for a forthcoming EP and released a new single “Be My Friend,” which made its American live debut at New Colossus. Songs like “Nothing,” “Sophomore” and soon-to-be-released single “Juggle” sweltered with benevolence, during both ardent guitar solos and vulnerable, longing lyrics.
Winnipeg, Canada trio Veneer were one of our favorite discoveries at New Colossus. Their minimal indie rock floored audiences with their gorgeous harmonies and perky guitarwork. When they weren’t all smiles during their jaunty plucking, they were knee-deep in measured catharsis and sentimental fireworks. The three-piece’s chemistry was palpable and enhanced every moment of their Bowery Electric set. One satisfying example came when a lyric was spoken seemingly as off-the-cuff, between-song banter, but then all members began to chant it until it became the first line of the song.
Canadian guitarist Daniel Monkman describes the music of his project Zoon (short for Zoongide’ewin) as “moccasin gaze,” and the earthy, bewildering sounds that tag brings to mind were true to form at New Colossus. The band’s shoegaze sound was imbued with droning psychedelia, soft dream pop and occasional jazzy and folky touches, but never settled in one lane for too long. The blended vocal melodies between Monkman and drummer Andrew McLeod were some of the most affecting, sheer pop performances of the festival, and their Bowery Electric showing was everything you’d want from a hypnotic band like this.
The sensitive electro-rock of Barcelona two-piece Toflang was a much-needed rush of euphoria on the final day of New Colossus. Their set at Arlene’s Grocery merged the twisty, pumping electronics of LCD Soundsystem with the heartwarming keyboards and pretty melodies of Radiohead. Toflang’s ruminations were aided by windy ambience and drum machines, and when their vocals reached a powerful climax during the end of a grand electro-pop number, it felt like the room was packed with tens of thousands rather than dozens. It’s hard not to imagine a band with this much gorgeous refinement getting scooped up by a big-name label.
South London singer/songwriter Sophie Ellison, who records as HUSSY, released a number of enigmatic, lo-fi dream rock singles, the latest of which we featured here at Paste, and despite no full-length to speak of yet, HUSSY more than peaked our interest. Though normally a five-piece, the band performed as a quartet with no drummer for their NYC debut, but Ellison’s wistful songs and distorted guitars still brought plenty of oomph. Previously released tracks like “Slayer” and “YLMD” were wispy highlights while unreleased selections brought more gruff guitar tones and yearning emotions via silky vocals.