Sunstock Solar Festival, Saturday September 9th 2017
While an impressive storm was trashing Florida and the Carribean Islands, the Sunstock people were trying to save the planet, however their small but ambitious festival got plagued with a series of problems.
Last year Sunstock Solar Festival went very smoothly, there was not even the slightest problem with the 100% sun powered stage, but this year, it was not the case at all! May be they got too ambitious with two stages? May be it was just bad luck, because the generator was not working early afternoon and the power on the big stage was down when I arrived at their new location, Downtown LA. Several bands (Yip Yops, SWIMM, The Fuzzy Crystals and Wild Cub) were forced to cancel their set, and it was probably the worst thing that could have happened to a festival which wanted to send a big fuck you to the fossil fuel industry.
In any case, it wasn’t anybody’s fault, and they just had to wait for a replacement, but unfortunately the second stage also encountered several problems, and the sets of Freedom Fry and Wildling were equally interrupted a few times. One thing is sure, the bands took it the coolest way possible, engaging the audience with some acoustic ‘campfire’ segments before the power was restored.
And when they finally fixed the problems around 6 pm, the rest of the night went very well, but it put a toll on the day, and this is a shame because the event is such a great one, filled with altruistic intentions: the proceeds of the fest are going to charities, the space was filled with eco-conscientious booths from solar power companies to ‘Fuck Fracking’ activism. This year, they even had speakers and comedians on another stage to entertain us between musical acts, so there was really a lot to do at the festival, which was nevertheless poorly attended.
In any case, the music was truly great, every band delivered badass performances as if nothing had happened, as if nothing could have wrecked the mood of Sunstock Solar Festival. Just look at what you have missed if you were not there:
Bloodboy was lucky to go first without any interrupting, they started under the hot sun on the small stage, and their frontwoman Lexie Papillion is really someone to watch, she could be like a tall Karen O, she has style and charisma, she wore white high heels, hot red pants and a red hat, while her big voice brought the hooks with charm, boldness and dangerous dance moves. She invited us to mosh on her power pop anthems, which could give you a sort of the Killers-meet-heavy-hitting-pop-synth vibe. Following Bloody, Freedom Fry had a very heartfelt sound with girl-boy harmonies and foot-tapping melodies, like the ones we used to love during Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ debut. They had nevertheless real dance floors and they even covered Tom Petty, but when the power went down during their set, it was a good occasion to cover a few classics, like Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’.
‘Everybody has to do ‘Wonderwall’, said someone when the power went down again during the set of the next band, Wildling. They didn’t play ‘Wonderwall’ but kept rocking with great harmonies, and there was certainly no shortage of energy coming from the band, especially thanks to Ryan Levine, a strong-voiced frontman who could have been heard with or without a sun-powered stage.
When they finally restored the energy on the large stage, the laid-back Chris Whitehall of the Aussie band The Griswolds gave a solo acoustic set, before Run River North’s very impressive performance. I had seen them years ago, but their electrifying sound has now swollen to some epic proportions as if they were the new Asian Arcade Fire, and their set was all fuzzy bombast with big hooks and long black shiny hair whipping the hard red light. As a matter of fact, frontman Alex Hwang frontman joked around by presenting the band as Steve Aoki’s side project,… believe me, their music was much more passionate and lovable than some boring HARD festival EDM.
Trapdoor Social’s frontman Skylar Funk and founder of the festival, had already addressed the crowd a bit earlier, thanking us for our patience, offering a round on the house, and thinking about all the bands which couldn’t have played. Trapdoor’s set was visibly trying to catch up for all the previous technical difficulties, offering one youthful happy anthem after another, covering the Pixies’ ‘Where is My Mind’ and inviting South Pasadena High School marching band to join them for a song on a grand finale. It certainly looked and sounded good, however, the festival crowd was overall thinner than last year — including during Robert DeLong and Ra Ra Riot’s set — even though the rest of the evening was flawless.
Robert DeLong looked like an alien behind all his electronic-percussive equipment and he delivered a genre-blending set with pure poppy hooks as he is used to, moving around all this stuff as a multi-task-one-man band. All the faces in the crowd were matching his fluo green makeup, everyone was singing along while balloons were floating in the night. This precise moment looked like the scene I had envisioned, and what the entire festival should have looked like. By the way, a Delong set can be a very entertaining thing to watch, as he seems to be everywhere at the same time, behind his electronic equipment, moving behind a real drumset the next second. Honestly, his music is often unexpected, scattered and surprising but always very dynamic and bold, like a one-man-soundsystem.
I also have to mention the Soft White Sixties, as I get a big smile on my face every time I see this man (frontman Octavio Genera) sing and dance. Saying that he has a stage presence would be an understatement, he doesn’t really dance, he slides around the mic stand, he moonwalks like the god of soul while their raucous sound has infectious grooves mixing a retro-clap vibe with a truly modern delivery.
Ra Ra Riot closed the festival with a bouncy pop-rock set making everyone dance on the parking lot,… at times, you certainly could tell they have been working with Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, but it was never too obvious, and their light electro-pop sound with violin was the perfect closing for a festival with a big heart, which, I truly hope, can recover from its technical obstacles.