Panorama Festival 2016: Photos and Review

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Panorama Festival 2016: Photos and Review

The music festival world’s newest baby launched this past weekend in Randall’s Island Park in New York City.

From Goldenvoice, the same outfit that puts on Coachella, Stagecoach, and Hangout Festival, comes Panorama – a Venn Diagram of a festival where music, art, and technology overlap and live together.

True to its name, Panorama’s inaugural year drew major acts from across the musical spectrum. Though the crowd was young, the festival had more than enough incredible musical acts and art to keep everyone entertained – I only caught one person playing Pokemon Go then entire weekend (Rhianna, I feel you).

Did you miss it this year, or was that you playing Pokemon? Lucky for you, we didn’t, and I don’t understand how to play Pokemon Go, so here’s a breakdown of the festival by day.

Day One: The Hot Tub’s Too Hot, and So is the Panorama Lineup

Remember that? The one where they sit around in bathrobes and talk about the hot tub? And how it’s too hot?

The scene from Zach Galifianakis, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim advertisements for Absolut Vodka where Zach screams, “The hot tub! It’s too hot!” playing on a loop in my head Friday when making our way to the festival (ironic because there was an Absolut tent in the festival’s VIP section).

Normally I’m a shriking violet in the heat, but Friday’s lineup was too good to miss.
After a long, hot trudge across the RFK bridge and all the way around what I think was the Ward’s Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, Panorama-sanctioned cheerleaders posted along the way, ready to answer questions and just for a friendly kick in the ass to keep our spirits high in the heat, we made it without melting (though I suspect other people with glitter and metallic makeup on can’t exactly say the same).

As soon as we checked in, we ran over to The Pavilion, a giant tent on the far east side of the festival grounds to catch Here We Go Magic from the Secretly Canadian label. The duo started off with a slow and syrupy song like the newly formed rivers of sweat dripping down my back, but the slow bass and soulful guitar riffs made me forget I was in New York for a minute, and put me porch side in some field in the South.

After HWGM, we hustled over to the Panorama Stage for experimental, jazz- and gospel-infused, funky-ass-bassed rock from Algiers. In a contemporary moment where hip-hop and rap are largely responsible for speaking to social and political issues, Algiers is also claiming space for that in rock ‘n roll. Their name printed in alarming red letters behind them created a sort of in-your-face panic that matched their almost sociological lyrics. Clad in all black, they eventually got the whole crowd moving – even a small gang of dudes behind me who looked like future generations of Wall Street who didn’t realize they were dancing to songs about burning down all structures of power. It was glorious.

Madlib delivered one of the best DJ sets I’ve ever seen inside The Parlor – a yurt-like structure that was air-conditioned, disco-balled, and full of enough weed smoke to give any entrant a second-hand high. His set included the second overt anti-capitalist and -racist message of the day – old Civil Rights speeches weaved into a set that included his collab “Deep” with Freddie Gibbs and “Kush Coma” from Danny Brown.

At the same time across the grounds, alt-rock band Silversun Pickups smiled and laughed and seemed to be having a blast – but that might have been due to the topless girl with two strategically placed smiley faces leaning over the front guardrail. Who knows?

“There’s so many of them!” Many people in the crowd at Broken Social Scene – some probably new to the band, given their 5-year hiatus from performing – seemed surprised that the band brought out nearly a dozen members, including a horn section. Notably absent was Leslie Feist, replaced by the band’s newest member Ariel Engle. But the band proved their timelessness, with “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl” when most of the crowd knew every word and sang along with Ariel and a blonde, pregnant, and powerful Amy Millan.

Soon after BSS finished their set, another blonde took The Pavilion stage. Excuse me while I break a cardinal rule of feminist music writing, but I NEED to describe her outfit and hair as part of her perfectly curated set. FKA Twigs – clad in a combination of mesh, straps, sequins, and combat boots – perfectly designed her set to mimic an underground BDSM cave circus theater, her voice as light as the feather that pierced through her nose as beautiful shirtless men danced around her and popped their limbs in and out of their socks to the beat of the music. It was like entering a matriarchal Afro Goth matrix that was simultaneously futuristic and ancient sex magick. I was reborn.

Back at the Panorama Stage, Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard screamed and hollered as the sun finally sank below the horizon, making way for the day’s headliner, the inimitable Arcade Fire. They performed the same songs they’ve been performing for years like they just started a brand new tour. Their set included songs from Funeral to Reflektor, ending with a tribute to David Bowie and a march through the crowd with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who had performed in The Pavilion earlier in the day.

Day Two: Girls to the Front, and King Kendrick

Day two was just as hot, if not hotter, than the first. But at this point, I had learned to ignore it, or at least distract myself by finding shapes in other people’s back sweat.

Anyway.

The day began with The Julie Ruin, the band of former Bikini Kill front woman Kathleen Hanna, where she reminded us of 2 things: that at 47 years old, she’s “still got it,” and that “we can do whatever we want!” And she did, as she pulled up the legs of her shorts to show off her ass before giving the crowd the finger. Everyone loved it, and her, but she warned us not to put her on a pedestal – “I’ll only disappoint you” – before covering Courtney Barnett’s “Pedestrian At Best.”

The sublime indie folk band cum-shoegaze-burn Daughter was next on my list for the day, and I’m so glad it was. Their background graphic looked like an abstract oil painting – the same image on the cover of their newest album, Not to Disappear – and was the perfect backdrop for their set that often seemed to slip in and out of reality.

After a minor debacle caused by a sunscreen and dirt cocktail in my eyeballs (shout out to air conditioned bathroom trailers with actual sinks for helping me through that), I joined the biggest crowd I saw all weekend in The Pavilion for Anderson .Paak and his super tight backing band, The Free Nationals. And if I didn’t love him then, then I damn sure love him now. Anderson’s live show lives up to the hype, 100 percent – “energy carried on and on and on” – that it was difficult to walk away from his set.

But I knew I had to, because whoever overlapped Anderson .Paak and Blood Orange obviously wasn’t thinking of me. Dev’s first New York show since the release of Freetown Sound, he honored the city and the new album by performing mostly new songs in front of graphics of the New York cityscape – in front of the actual New York cityscape. The set was as moody and emotional as Anderson’s was powerful, and Dev’s G-Unit jorts and Freetown hat provided some levity (Dev, if you’re reading this, I really need that hat).

Later The National took the stage, fronted by a long-haired Matt Beringer who, as usual, kept his head down but made his way into the crowd near the end of the show. True to the political climate, both the band and the crowd seemed to take “Fake Empire” from 2007’s The Boxer with a little more gravity than usual.

Sufjan Stevens came out for his set donning a huge pair of wings – an homage to his 2004 album Seven Swans – and went on to change his costume several times throughout his show. He repurposed the incredibly delicate and poignant 2015 album Carrie & Lowell for a festival, with a stage that looked decorated with stuff from Party City, probably to make up for the cost of smashing his banjo before leaving the stage.

The second day of Panorama finished with the king of rap and explosive live shows – King Kendrick. He came out to “Untitled 07 (Levitate)” and a looped background graphic of Tupac’s eyes. Those eyes turned into images of Prince, George W. Bush, Muhammad Ali, President Obama, Ellen Degeneres, and an American flag, as Kendrick worked his way through his entire discography, spending lots of time honoring his Day Ones with tracks from Section.80, before giving his backing band a huge chunk of time to show off their funkiness with tracks from To Pimp a Butterfly. He also covered a few songs from his TDE counterpart, Schoolboy Q, who had come through the day before to promote his brand new album, Blank Face. The entire set was unrelenting, the bass turned up so loud, I swear I sneezed because my sinuses were vibrating through my ear canals. But goddamn if I wasn’t going to be right up front to witness the king’s greatness.

Day 3: You Wanted a Hit

By day three, I think everyone felt they had mastered the heat, or had at least figured out that Panorama had generously provided us with multiple air-conditioned escapes.

A large part of Panorama’s unique appeal was their interactive art that provided spaces for play, creativity, and trippy visuals (you know, in case anyone who goes to music festivals is into that kind of thing).

The interactive art was mostly focused on The Lab, created and curated by some of the best designers and artists in NYC, featuring an exhibition of interactive exhibits that led to The Dome, a 70-foot high, 360-degree immersive theater.

Across from The Lab, Despacio was all black-lit Miami vibes giving festival goers a chance to dance in a jungle disco with a black and white checkered floor.

Music on day three started off with Brooklyn-based psych-rappers Flatbush Zombies, who set the bar and the energy high for the day. The Zombies were followed by the equally lovely and fierce neo-soul artist SZA, who kept the energy going with her onstage high kicks and her bubbly but raw personality. But the best part of her set was watching her sing happy birthday to some lucky ass fan named Hugo, and to her mother, who had been watching her daughter from backstage and mouthing “go baby,” during most of SZA’s performance.

After SZA, I walked in a pretty daze over to the Panorama stage to chill out with Kurt Vile and the Violators. Immediately following a set of giant inflatable fist and pistol dropped from the ceiling, signaling a takeover by rappers Killer Mike and El-P, otherwise known as Run the Jewels. They declared themselves there to “burn this stage to the fucking ground,” but also apologized for wearing shorts and “exposing our legs to you.”

In between Run the Jewels and the next main stage performer, Sia, I rushed back over to The Pavilion to witness a modern reincarnation of Stevie Nicks in the form of Grace Potter. It’s been years since I’ve seen her, and never without her old band The Nocturnals, but she was just as powerful as ever.

An odd follow-up to Grace Potter was A$AP Rocky, one of the main reasons I wanted to attend Panorama this year. But while watching his performance, I remembered that Black Lives Matter is a movement, not a bandwagon. And I realized I certainly didn’t want to hear, “we wanna see some titties!” from someone who thinks that Bill Cosby should be remembered for his good deeds. But, then again, I’m from one of those small-market “Middle American cities,” so maybe I just “can’t relate.”

So I left A$AP’s set and headed over to Sia – something I never thought I’d do – but I’m glad I did. No other performance throughout the festival was more emotionally powerful than that of Sia. People talk so much about her mystery that her vocal abilities are often overlooked – but they were on display here, even if she hung back in the stage corner and let her dancers take the center. Against backgrounds that looked like technicolor Rothkos, they performed perfectly choreographed and intimate stories, like during a piano-driven rendition of “Titanium” where two dancers dressed in nude spandex and animal heads (panda and rabbit) circled each other like two kids in love.

And then it was time. Time for the biggest disco ball I’ve ever seen, a neon pink double cowbell, and a drunk James Murphy declaring they needed to play their set quickly because of time, and also because he was drunk. Which was fine, because we all were too.

Casting LCD Soundsystem as the festival’s final headliner was an incredibly smart and lucky move for an event in its first year, and especially for one based on music, art, and technology and in New York City. In fact, I started to wonder if Panorama had actually built the entire festival around LCD Soundsystem’s comeback after their “final” 2011 show. Like true legends, they didn’t stop to ask for anyone to put their hands in the air, or to clap along, or do anything they didn’t want to do, because everyone was already full-throttle. I saw people abandon their shit on the ground like nothing else mattered – only the dancing, and maybe it would never end. And once I heard the opening notes of “You Wanted a Hit,” I followed suit.

But after almost two full hours, it did end, and everyone eventually made their way into their respective lines for the ferry, shuttle, or the walk back across the RFK Bridge over the Harlem River and into the New York night. Our energy was both exhausted but rejuvenated, because after a long weekend of booze and heat, we had been able to dance ourselves clean.

Taylor Swaim
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