8 Things We Learned at Sweetlife 2013

[Originally published on Virgin.com, May 2013]

1) Everyone loves a badass.

Two words: Karen O. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs front woman had everyone wishing they could throw off their own inhibitions and attempt half the moves she made at Sweetlife. The newly blonde, yellow-suited and Chuck-Taylored singer gesticulated and gyrated through a set full of hits like ‘Zero’, ‘Maps’ and ‘Gold Lion’, at one point soliciting snippets of lyrics from, literally, each member of the front row, one by one, with her microphone. Once she walked off the stage, we experienced a moment of confusion, realizing the headlining band was at least two acts away; no disrespect to PhoenixPassion Pit or Kendrick Lamar intended.

2) Down with the flower crowns, already!

When we saw that full display of floral headdresses in Urban Outfitters the other day, we were like, yeah right, no one on the East Coast will buy that crap. Oh, were we wrong! At Sweetlife, the pseudo-hippie retail chain successfully infiltrated the 16-24 female festival-goer market with fabric flower products, which frankly stood out on a day with little sunshine and few real hippies in sight. But, if nothing else, we were comforted to see the festival spirit alive and well at a burgeoning annual event. Sweetlife was, after all, as close as most would get to Coachella this year.

3) Embrace the mud.

Sweetlife also got a taste of Glastonbury this weekend (or Shaky Knees, to keep things domestic). We all saw the gloomy weather forecast, but only some guests planned ahead, donning rain boots and packing ponchos. The rest of the hapless bunch had no choice but to embrace the afternoon downpour during the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ and Foxygen‘s sets, as Merriweather became a big mud slick. Even the press area was pocked with sloshy pits. If you didn’t come home after Sweetlife with mud-caked shoes, you probably weren’t there.

4) More of that local stuff, please!

The motto of Sweetlife this year was “Passion x Purpose.” A passion for sustainable, delicious local food, and, we assume, the purpose of rocking our socks off. Booths of the best Beltway cuisine imaginable lined the grounds, and we ate and drank to sounds of new DC bands, like spunky rockers Shark Week. “DC has a small creative community. Everyone is very collaborative with each other,” says Jonathan Neman, founder of the festival and health-food company Sweetgreen, and who, incidentally, used to have his hair cut by Shark Week frontman Ryan Mitchell. “For our first few festivals, it was just U.S. RoyaltyWill Eastman, all these local guys that were playing for free. They would play for salads, essentially. It’s cool to see a lot of those people grow with us.”

5) Nothing like a music festival to make you feel old.

Well, it’s settled. Some of us might be too old for music festivals. Not because Sweetlife wasn’t awesome – it was – but good grief, the kids just keep getting younger and younger. We swear that last time we attended Sweetlife, we were in a pretty average demographic, but somehow the years passed and so did our age. Crazy how that works. So, when one whippersnapper politely approached to ask if we might buy him and his friends some beer, we laughed. Beer? Ain’t nobody got time for that line. We’re going to see Solange.

6) Goosebumps are the best.

Feeling tingly? Are your arm hairs standing on end? You’ve got yourself some goosebumps, my friend, otherwise known as the main symptom of feeling unmistakably alive. Patrons at Sweetlife had several acts to thank for that sensation this weekend, including Gary Clark Jr., who received a standing ovation after an epic set of raw, electric rock, and Lindsey Stirling, whose unique blend of violin and dubstep was mind-bending.

7) Bands up close > bands far away.

Merriweather Post Pavilion provides a great outdoor experience, even for those sprawled out at the very back edge of the amphitheater’s lawn. But we found many pro’s to being in the pit at Sweetlife this year: 1) not getting soaked by the rain, 2) making eye contact with Kendrick Lamar and 3) helping Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars crowd surf. We recommend splurging for those pit tickets next time.

8) Make room in your calendars for next year.

Sweetlife is still green as far as festivals go, but expect to see it blossom soon. Founder Jonathan Neman hinted that an expanded event might be in the works, saying, “That’s the vision, to really make [Sweetlife] a full experience, more than just a 1-day event.” We can’t wait to set up camp.

10 Things to Crave at Sweetlife 2013

[Originally published on Virgin.com, May 2013]

We’re about to enjoy a dish of tasty music and healthy food this weekend at Sweetlife Festival in Maryland, where PhoenixPassion Pit and Kendrick Lamar will headline. Here are the ten things we’re craving…

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs

It’s sacrilegious just how much we worship Karen O. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman and her two bandmates recently released new album ‘Mosquito’, an edgy alternative-dance-punk trip down the same musical road the band’s been traveling for over ten years. Not that we’re complaining. We’re picturing beer, blanket, and song ‘Maps’ echoing up the lawn and through the trees, and we can’t think of anything more perfect.

Lindsey Stirling

Imagine sitting in on a high school band practice. There’s this quirky girl playing her violin; she’s pretty good, might even give you goosebumps. And then someone’s dubstep ringtone goes off. At first you’re like, “turn that thing off! Show some respect!” but it keeps ringing, and, actually, it meshes kind of well with the girl’s violin. Really well. Wow – this sounds amazing! That’s Lindsey Stirling.

Sprawling on the lawn at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Those outside the Washington/Baltimore metro regions may only know Sweetlife’s venue from the name of that one Animal Collective album. But the place is real, folks, and there are few other amphitheaters like it. Seating is limited to a covered pit, but the expansive sloping lawn provides not only a view of the stage but also its own show, if you’re into people-watching, that is. While spacing out to Phoenix, see how many people you can spot stumbling down the hill, one too many beers in hand, trying to find their picnic blanket in the dark. More than you’d think.

Solange

Queen B’s younger sister sure is making a name for herself. Maybe one day, writers will stop referring to her as Beyoncé’s little sister. Until then, Solange continues to endear herself to lovers of that ubiquitous 80’s club sound, lending her pliant vocals to synth- and drum-machine dance-pop that not everyone enjoys, but to which anyone can move.

The healthy, local food.

Sweetlife Festival gets its name from DC-based healthy food chain Sweetgreen, whose owners decided to do something fresh and bring immense joy to area music lovers in the process. Sweetgreen is known for its local, organic ingredients and innovative salads, so, there’s something to look forward to when you’re just not feeling the pizza and burritos anymore.

Phoenix

These French lads barely made it onto the list, not because we aren’t excited to see them, but because it’s such a given that we’re excited to see them. Providing the night’s last bit of ‘Entertainment’, we’ve sworn to not drink too much, too early so we still have energy to dance to ‘1901’ and ‘Lisztomania’. Be prepared to give your sleepy friends a scornful look and say, “Leave early? Dude, Phoenix hasn’t played yet”. In all likelihood, none of your friends will want to leave early, anyway, knowing that Phoenix is still waiting in the wings

Youth Lagoon

Providing some relief from what’s sure to be a day full of dance-worthy tracks, meet Youth Lagoon. Fans of Deerhunter and Local Natives will appreciate Trevor Powers’ understated, moody alt-pop (for lack of a more apt genre), and those unfamiliar with him will be thanked by their ears. This is that set where you and your friends huddle on the blanket and bust out whatever it is you brought with you. Ahem.

Being green – it’s easy!

In other news, the people behind Sweetlife have made it clear that they’ll ensure the festival is as green as can be, figuratively. The main stage will house solar panels on its roof and the utensils will be compostable. Not a recycler? You’ll be one at Sweetlife. Hold onto your (and all your friends’) empty bottles of Yeungling and go redeem them for something cool, like sunglasses or a poster. Do it during Passion Pit’s set, when they’ll be too busy dancing to notice.

Gary Clark Jr.

No matter how you feel about The Black Keys, there’s a dearth of good roots rock these days. We know that makes us sound old, but there ain’t nothin’ like a sweet, heavy blues riff to shake your bones and make you feel alive, and this is exactly what guitarist Gary Clark Jr. does best. Like he says, you’re gonna know his name by the end of the night.

The amazing new acts on the lineup.

The font of their names might be smaller, but the second half of Sweetlife’s lineup represents a pretty impressive group of emerging talent. From Los Angeles psych-throwback band Foxygen and electro-pop crooner Robert DeLong, to word players Twenty One Pilots and the fuzzy, Florence-esque MS MR, there’s a new buzzworthy artist for everyone’s palate. We have a good feeling we’ll come away from Sweetlife with not only new memories of our old favorites, but some new favorites, as well.

Robert DeLong: Weird Tunes on a Wild Ride

[Originally published on Virgin.com, July 2013]

Virgin chatted with electronic wunderkind Robert DeLong before his set at Firefly Music Festival in Delaware, where an impending rain loomed, and the overcrowded press area led us to the backseat of a golf cart.

To someone unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe it?

I always say it’s something like indie songwriter-meets-electronic dance music styles, and then there’s a wild live show with lots of gadgets and stuff to go along with it.

Your single, ‘Global Concepts’, that’s an awesome song. What inspired you to write it?

I locked myself in a closet — I had just moved to a new apartment so I didn’t have a studio space set up — so I locked myself in the closet for about four hours one day, with a timbale, a microphone and my computer, and that’s the weird shit that came out. I don’t know, it’s just a weird tune; I wanted to write something kind of moombahton, which is like slower house, kind of a Latin influence. So yeah, that’s the weird shit that came out [laughs]. Lyrically I think it’s connected to a lot of stuff on the album.

And you released your first album, ‘Just Movement’,  only recently; can you tell us about your path to get here?

The record was something I’d written over four years, by myself, self-produced. But I guess everything got started with this project about two years ago, when I really started to focus on it. It was a year ago that I signed to Glassnote Records,  and I just finished the record. It was just a large collection of songs, and this last August we went into the studio and formalized it.

A year ago did you think you’d be here now, playing festivals?

No, I didn’t know anything! I mean it has been a lot of work and planning up to this point. It’s not like it happened overnight, even though I’m sure for most people it  shows up on their radar overnight.

The orange face paint – you always wear that onstage. Is there a story behind it?

A lot of my friends in LA were really into the electronic scene, and when they went out to shows, they’d have tribal-ish face paint and get dressed up and do their thing. So when I started playing shows, they started doing that, and it caught on and people got into it. My girlfriend started painting people’s faces at shows, and obviously I got my face painted, and it became the design for whatever reason.

Has living in Los Angeles influenced your songwriting?

Definitely. I’m writing all the time, and I think LA has been a huge influence. I grew up in Seattle, so I gleaned a lot of the Seattle songwriter and indie vibe. But living in LA was really when I was introduced to dance music and started getting into electronic music, by going to big festivals down there and by going out to clubs. So I think that, yeah, it’s been a huge influence on my music, and it’s kind of a feedback loop down there. As you get into the scenes, you start meeting a lot of people that are doing similar things, and you’re influenced by them. It’s a cool place for that.

Who are some other people you’ve been working with down there?

Mostly bands. Flinch and 12th Planet, and then indie bands like HOTT MT, Races, Capital Cities. It’s a cool scene. It’s eclectic, and at least in my experience, everyone’s pretty accepting, which is not what you would expect.

Have you played any particularly memorable shows?

Yeah, it’s been kind of a wild ride, playing these festivals that I either grew up hearing about or going to. Coachella and Sasquatch were some of the biggest moments for me, because obviously in LA and Seattle, those are the biggest festivals, and those also had really great crowds and really great response. Every show is great, every show is fun, and it’s always crazy playing and hearing people sing your lyrics along with you. It’s bizarre [laughs].

Has that happened more as the tour goes along?

Definitely more and more, and club shows especially, because those are the people who are coming out just to see you.

Finally, does anyone ever throw strange artist comparisons at you?

Yeah, all the time. It’s interesting because I’ll get everything from electronic artists, like, I don’t even know. People say pretty obvious things, like whatever’s popular in EDM. Everything from Tiesto to Diplo or something, but then “meets”, and somebody will say something really weird, like, “meets Modest Mouse”. I’m trying to think. I’ve definitely gotten some weird ones, but I’ll have to think about that more.