All photos by Ray Legendre
Afropunk Fest 2015’s Saturday incarnation offered beautiful weather, fantastic musical performances and the reminder that black trans lives matter. I didn’t plan to spend most of the day at the Red Stage – and in the process miss most of Kelis, Ms. Lauryn Hill and Grace Jones – but I did just that after getting a taste of the festival’s punk offerings early in the day. It also didn’t hurt that the Red Stage provided close access to the stage whereas the Green Stage did not.
Here’s my Afropunk Fest 2015 Saturday recap.
Bold fashion choices and hairstyles were everywhere you looked Saturday afternoon. Lion Babe’s frontwoman Jillian Hervey rocked one of the day’s boldest – a look that screamed punk (towering gold mohawk and knee-high red boots) and sex kitten (black one piece that accentuated her curves). Hervey and producer Lucas Goodman delivered standout cuts like “Treat Me Like Fire” and new single “Impossible” plus a surprise performance from Marky Ramone who drummed on Ramones classics “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.” All in all, a damn good way to start off a festival afternoon.
Festivals are more often than defined by their unexpected moments. Such as the ice cream stand with salted caramel and whiskey that I gladly paid $5 after Lion Babe. I wandered with that treat over to Red Stage where I discovered Brooklyn metalheads Candiria laying down a filthy set – and I mean that in the best way possible – with chugging riffs, pummeling drums and frontman Carley Coma’s screams. The 15 or so people in the pit spun around like mini-tornadoes, threw their hands backward and forward and ran into each other with a bumper cars-like glee.
Looking at her mid-afternoon schedule slot I presumed SZA at a bit of a disadvantage. The TDE starlet’s music oozes a nocturnal vibe – the opposite of the bright sun that hung over the Green Stage field Saturday. Yet, SZA, with her massive orange hair and Bushwick basketball jersey, hyped the crowd with new and old jams. “Make me look good for my parents,” the Jersey native requested from the crowd at her set’s start, and they obliged, notably going mental before the beat dropped on “Child’s Play.” Later in her set, SZA debuted a new song that morphed from a slow burner to one where she turned scat singer emphasizing the word “do” over and over before the drums, bass and keyboards lifted everyone to the stratosphere. SZA closed with “Babylon,” with labelmate Ab-Soul turning up onstage to vibe out. The sunlight suited SZA just fine, it turned out.
BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER
I ran into a friend at the boozy ice cream cart after SZA. That’s where I also first encountered the Trans Justice movement that declared “Black Trans Lives Matter” across the Commodore Barry Park on Saturday. They initially took over the Green Stage. A trans performer sung, “There’s an outcast in everybody’s life.” Notably, the Green Stage had banners on each side with No Homophobia, No Transphobia and No Hatefulness, among other messages.
Look up and to the left on the above photo. That’s the craziest thing I saw on Saturday. Letlive’s frontman climbed the stage support as I walked back toward Red Stage. Once he reached the top, he grabbed one of the supports overlooking the stage and swung from it for a second or two. This was at least 15 feet above the stage. He climbed down as the band’s set finale ended and proceeded to dive into the drum kit. Fuck yeah!
BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER PT. 2
The Trans Justice movement relocated to the Red Stage prior to Suicidal Tendencies. This time they took the mic to chant the names of five black trans women murdered in the past week. The crowd’s chants recalled Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout.”
In hindsight, Mike Muir’s request for all the skaters in the crowd to join his band onstage during “I Saw Your Mommy” was a little, uh, suicidal. The two dozen people on-stage ran into each other, yelled into the mic and even stopped to take pictures amid the mayhem. Muir (pictured above) knows what he’s doing though. He started Suicidal Tendencies almost 35 years ago. Now he’s the only remaining original member but he showed no signs of slowing down. He and the band’s other members raced around the stage while playing furious punk with a defiant bent. The crowd in the “psychopit” looked like motorcyclists speeding around a tiny cage. Muir paused the proceedings every so often to talk about diversity, skateboarding and tough love from his father. And before it was all over, he invited audience members onstage a second time. “I can die now,” one stagecrasher yelled out after the set ended.
“Hi, I’m Daniel,” the Detroit rapper told the Red Stage crowd midway through his set. A high-pitched giggle followed. Truth is, Brown needed no introduction. His set started around a half-hour late – a rarity among the day’s punctual shows – due to technical difficulties (i.e., a hot mic). Once he took the stage, Brown delivered his sex and drugs anthems with a gusto only matched by the shouts of his fans. “Drinkin & Smokin” provided an early highlight with its call and response chorus. The set’s high point – literally or figuratively, you decide – came when Brown brought out Ab-Soul for their collab track “Terrorist Threats.” Brown joked toward his 45-minute set’s conclusion he was happy it was almost over so he could party. “I know how New York City parties on a Sunday night,” he said, seemingly oblivious to the fact it was Saturday.
If understanding words were a prerequisite for show enjoyment, Death Grips would have rated near the bottom of shows I witnessed so far in 2015. I caught bits and pieces of words and phrases as MC Ride (nee Stefan Burnett) shouted, rapped, roared during his hardcore act’s Red Stage headlining set. As it turns, the Sacramento group’s primal intensity – MC Ride’s guttural howls, drummer Zach Hill’s breakneck hand speed and hoodie-wearing producer Andy Morin bouncing throughout the set – translated into a sonic and visual tour de force, words be damned. Of course, the fans in the center jumping up and down as one mass knew all the words on “Get Got,” “Aye Aye (The Fever)” and “Anne Bonny.” “Get Got,” with its hypnotic, darting, percussive pulse, sparked the first crowd surfers I witnessed all day. Many more took to the skies before Death Grips wrapped. Post-show, I saw a shirtless bearded man, with sweat beading down his face, walking around with a gold-toothed grin like he had just been raptured. He knew, as did I, that he had just seen the quintessential punk performance at this year’s Afropunk Fest.