Governors Ball: The Music (AKA An Ode to Gesaffelstein)

Governors Ball this year was about one artist and one artist only – the man, the myth, the legend, the Prince of Darkness, Gesaffelstein.

Usually the music portion of my festival recaps are a highlight reel of my favorites, or possibly of memorable disappointments. But while I saw a good 6 hours’ worth of music at Governors Ball last Friday, only one artist matters.

I first heard of Gesaffelstein in pre-blog 2014. I went to Spring Awakening festival in Chicago and ended up on a group chat of roughly 30 people, all of whom had connections to some others in the group (and no one had connections to everyone) and various subsets of the group met up at different points in the weekend. One woman in the group was remarkably quiet every time I hung out with her, lurking around during our meetups, not being particularly chatty. But then in the late nights, when everyone was on their respective ways home from the festival and our group text lit up with talk of favorite sets of the day and favorite artists in general, she came alive.

“I love anything dark, deep and dirty. Like Gesaffelstein.”

Gesaffelstein, for the record, was not playing this festival. But she repeated this phrase countless times over the 3 days. Dark, deep, and dirty, like Gesaffelstein. It was a little creepy.

When I got back to New York, I felt compelled to check out this producer I had never heard of, after a weekend of not-so-subliminal messaging burned his name into my brain. I did this despite the fact that dark, deep, and dirty are not words I ever use to describe my taste in music.

To my surprise, I liked it. It sounded like the score to a horror movie, with someone about to meet their end in an abandoned warehouse. But…in a great way? It tapped into this dark part of my soul in an oddly delightful way. Dancing to Gesaffelstein felt like an upbeat exorcism. It is unlike anything else I listen to.

I saw Gesaffelstein live a number of times over the years, including on New Years Eve 2016 with my friend Cody who I didn’t know back during Spring Awakening but who shares a love of this producer. Each time I saw Gesaffelstein live, he had the same sort of stoic presence. He would stand still, wearing sunglasses and chain smoking cigarettes, never speaking. None of the, “Hey what’s up New York how y’all doin tonight??” between-song banter of other producers. Just silence and cigarettes. I chalked it up to him being cool and French.

At Coachella this year, Gesaffelstein was one of the sets that was live-streamed over YouTube, so I crawled into bed at 11pm on a Sunday night and pulled up the stream on my TV. I texted Cody – who wouldn’t be able to watch the set himself – with my excitement. And then the set began, and I continued texting.

He’s covered in glitter.

Even his face and hair.

I don’t know what’s happening but I like it.

He looks like a glitter statue.


I tried to take photos of my TV. I tweeted about it incessantly for days. I couldn’t get over the transformation. He of intentionally minimal on-stage personality all of a sudden had this jarringly incredible re-brand. I later learned that his outfit was not glitter but a reflective black, and he was standing in front of a monolith made of vantablack, a highly expensive material so dark it absorbs all light and causes confusion for the human eye.

This was the turning point for me that made me go from never wanting to go to Coachella to proverbially yelling, “COACHELLA 2020” from the rooftops, like a campaign slogan. If this was the kind of thing artists do at this festival, I am all in (Beyonce’s “Homecoming” movie also had a lot to do with my mind changing).

We bought tickets very shortly thereafter to the day of Governors Ball that Gesaffelstein was slated to play. I joked that if he didn’t wear the glitter outfit, I was leaving. But I knew that he wouldn’t wear it; that outfit was a Coachella special.

As we waited for his set to start, the anticipation was through the roof. We hadn’t seen Gesaffelstein live since New Years 3.5 years earlier. He recently put out a sort of poppy album, and we speculated whether his set would be intense or upbeat. I said, yet again, that my fingers were crossed for the glitter suit, even while knowing it wouldn’t happen.

Except it did happen. The vantablack monolith parted, and out walked Gesaffelstein, in his full sparkling glory. I was overjoyed. His set was incredible but short; it was scheduled for 75 minutes but he both started late and ended early. It was both intense and poppy, and appealed to both the light and the dark (and deep, and dirty) within us.

I think this contradiction is one of my favorite things about this performer. This is a man who makes music that is honestly a little bit frightening but is also creating a custom soundtrack for a high-end men’s fashion show in Paris later this month (for designer Balmain, who created his glitter suit). He never speaks on stage but he has collaborations with Kanye West, Pharrell, The Weeknd, and other huge names. It’s weird, but it works.

The best part is, I don’t have to wait 3 years before seeing him again. There’s a 2 night run coming this November in Brooklyn. I hope the glitter suit comes with him.


Governors Ball: The Experience (2019)

This year marked my 4th (!) time attending one day and only one day of Governors Ball. Last year’s post mentioned how the logistics don’t really change over time, and upon re-read that’s definitely still true, for the most part. But I will recap it anyway because this is what I love to do.

This year was new for me actually because I took the ferry instead of walking (more on that later). Security was before you got on the ferry, and then once you got to Randalls you just scanned your wristband and waltzed on it. I have no idea if it’s always been like that or not,  but I can tell you that the only other time I’ve taken a ferry to Randalls, for Electric Zoo in 2013, security was most definitely after, not before, the ferry. The line was long and I had to pee the worst I’ve ever had to pee in my whole life, and it sucked. The lesson here (or rather, there) is – don’t meet your friend for drinks before getting on a 20 minute ferry ride to a place where you won’t have immediate access to a bathroom. But that was then, and this is now. 6 years ago me was not the seasoned festival expert she is now.

The Crowd
Ever so slightly older than last year, which seemed to average out at about age 16. This year…19? 20? To be totally honest, my friends and I mostly stayed away from the crowd and kind of hung out towards the back of every set except one, so we generally didn’t get all up in anyone else’s space. It was definitely an Instagram fanatic kind of crowd, posing pretty much any and everywhere, but…what festival isn’t like that at this point.

Fun Stuff
I loved the mini golf they had last year but I didn’t see that this time around. They had an area to get your hair done which I also didn’t use, although I LOVED SO MUCH the similar thing they had at Panorama last summer. If you had a Citi card (which I do) you could access a nice viewing deck for the main stage, so we briefly went up there to shield ourselves from the sun. There were the same large tri-fold kind of artistic billboards around, the huge bust of the Statue of Liberty with sunglasses that they always have, and a mini maze of reflective colored plexiglass that some idiots later smashed when they were angry that Gov Ball evacuated early on Sunday due to storms (I was there Friday). People are idiots.

My Panorama space bun from 2018

I brought a water bottle with me but every free water line I saw was longgg and if there’s one thing I really try not to do at festivals, it’s lines. I mean this. When I went to Lollapalooza in 2013, Jess asked me, at the end of each day, what delicious food I ate. And each day I answered with the same thing – steamed buns. Because it was the only food vendor at Lolla with no line. Anyway, we bought water at Gov Ball. Had to do it.

Gov Ball is basically a big blob. They cut it off in the middle and create a narrower pathway between the 2 ends of the festival than I think necessary, but honestly, it’s fine. It works, and I guess that’s the only place they can put that row of vendors? Not sure, and no one cares.

I said last year that I would never pay for the bus or the ferry when walking across 125th Street is so easy. I stand by that. But this year I bought a pass off StubHub and my ticket came with a free ferry wristband! So we ferried it up, and it was actually quite nice. Until the moment when my friend and I went to the front of the ferry to check out the view, and a giant wave crashed on us and we got soaked. It was nighttime and IT WAS COLD. F that ferry. Just kidding, the ferry was still a delight.

As I said about Boston Calling, city-based festivals are just more expensive than it feels like they should be. But considering I saved $15 by buying a resale ticket AND I got a free ferry pass, I’m pretty happy about my 2019 Gov Ball pricing.

Here’s a tip that you, whoever you are, should take with you if you ever go to a music festival. When you arrive, do a lap. Check out the surroundings. What you will find, a good percentage of the time, is the road less traveled. Namely, a bar with a short line and a much under-utilized area of port-a-potties. We found what we called the “secret bathrooms” which truly did feel secret even though they were technically right there next to some much more popular bathrooms. They were great. Go forth and find yourself your own secret bathrooms.

Music recap, on the way soon!

Boston Calling: The Music

Boston Calling was, logistically, a very well run festival and totally worth the 4 hour bus ride up to New England for just one day of the event. But festivals aren’t just about the logistics, are they? (Sometimes I feel like I get excited enough about festival details to be able to attend one and not even have any music there…kidding, but only kind of.) So let’s talk music.

I had only heard this name before but didn’t know anything about her. She’s kind of pop/rock, which makes for really nice daytime festival music. What really sets her apart though is her slow, meticulous and quirky choreography. This video isn’t from this festival but it gives a good sense of what she’s about.

Denzel Curry
Stumbled on his set by accident but stayed because I loved it. I don’t like rap that much anymore and I think it’s particularly hard for me to get into a rap set where I don’t know the music, but he had such great stage presence. And as it turns out, I do know one of his songs, from this amazing video that makes me laugh every single time despite the sheer volume of times that I’ve watched it.

Jenny Slate
For the first time ever, I saw comedy at a music festival! I love the characters Jenny Slate has played on the TV shows I’ve seen her pop up in but her comedy was…okay. It was an extended story about meeting a guy from a dating app and how he showed up to the restaurant wearing a full suit of armor.

Lil Nas X
I was walking through the festival grounds when a staffer driving a golf cart started coming down the road in my direction. Following the golf cart were hordes of festival goers screaming and taking video on their phones. As the cart drove past me, I saw a cowboy in the backseat, smiling and taking it all in. I did not know who he was.

Later on, during Anderson.Paak’s [really great and funky and upbeat] set, he started singing a song I didn’t know, which was totally normal because I don’t really know A.Paak’s music that well, but everyone around me started buzzing. “Oh my god, he’s coming, this is it, he’s going to come on RIGHT NOW I KNOW IT!!” And then A.Paak left the stage, and the cowboy walked out. The thin crowd around me (I was pretty far back) turned into a mob, everyone with their phones out, and the cowboy sang some song for about 2 minutes and then left.

This, I now understand, was a special guest appearance from Lil Nas X, the man with apparently the biggest song in the world right now, passing Drake for most streams on a song ever. This factoid comes to me from my friend Cody and I did not fact check it, so if it’s wrong, go tweet him. His song, “Old Town Road,” has apparently been THE SONG OF THE WORLD for the last 2 months, and I’ve had no idea. It was in this moment that I realized I Am Old. Anyway, if you are also Old and don’t know this song…here it is. This is the Boston Calling performance so you can see the transition from Anderson.Paak singing it to Lil Nas X singing it and everyone loses their minds.

I don’t have anything new to say about how much I love Odesza so instead I will say this. I saw Odesza play in New Jersey on Thursday and then play an identical set in Boston on Saturday. I loved it both times. A lot of people in the electronic scene give artists shit when they have multiple nights in the same city and play the same set over again. This was obviously not in the same city so I don’t think anyone would be mad about this,  but I would have been just as deliriously happy about both of these sets if it had been a 2-night New York run. I flat out do not understand why you wouldn’t relish in the opportunity to hear all your favorite songs twice, and in fact, Gramatik played the same set on Saturday and Sunday in NYC back in March, and it was wonderful. So this isn’t really about Odesza at all but…cut artists some slack, y’all. Planning a new set is hard. Let them repeat stuff, because it’s still great the second time.

Tame Impala
Tame Impala is so weird and the visuals behind them were just as trippy as I thought they would be. The lead singer has this really interesting sort of brooding voice, so it was such a delightful surprise to me when he was so chipper and friendly to the audience. I didn’t stay for this whole set because I was cold, tired, and my lower back was really killing me (see: Old), but the first hour was really something else.

It took me awhile to get this recap up and I’ve already gone to my one day of Governors Ball, so, more festival updates soon!

Boston Calling: The Experience

Festival season is upon us! Rejoice!

Over Memorial Day weekend I went to one day of Boston Calling to check out mainly Odesza and Tame Impala. It’s a new festival for me but one that seemed pretty similar to Governors Ball, my local all-genres fest. It was a beautiful day which I am delighted to recap. First festival post of 2019! Yeeha.

Easy breezy beautiful (CoverGirl!). I was honestly shocked to get there at 4:30pm, prime festival arrival time, and have there be no line. I waltzed through in seconds, and all the security people I spoke to were alarmingly friendly.

The Crowd
This was a slightly older crowd than I anticipated, meaning everyone seemed to be in their early 20s instead of teens, as Gov Ball always seems to be. I am most definitely not in my 20s but I was still happy that I was surrounded by people who had a 21+ wristband. It was also a much more relaxed crowd than most festivals, with far fewer OUTFITS. I did see 2 women on the way in who were dressed like they were going to a rave and they looked verrry out of place.

Fun Stuff
Boston Calling had a ferris wheel, which I didn’t go on even though I’m generally a big fan of the festival ferris wheel. They had the usual array of sponsor booths, several with fun games or photo opps, including a Vans station where you could “stage dive” into a pit of foam blocks and have your photo superimposed onto a photo of a crowd. I appreciated the Chase Sapphire area where, if you had a Chase Sapphire card, you could go get some snacks, charge your phone, relax in comfy chairs and enjoy some random freebies like pins and fanny packs.

I didn’t arrive until after prime sun time and it wasn’t particularly hot, so I actually didn’t drink any water. I had an empty bottle with me but I didn’t seek out any water stations, though I know they were there somewhere.

I was surprised by how well this worked. There are 3 main stages, 2 of which are right next to each other. They don’t have acts at the same time so there’s no issue with sound bleeding, but it still looked pretty cramped and I was surprised that Tame Impala (the headliner) was scheduled to be on one of those stages instead of the bigger stage further away. But when the time came, it just sort of magically worked out.

I liked that the layout was pretty open, but there was sort of a back path to getting around which took some of the crowding away from the main area.

A short 10 minute walk from the T at Harvard Square. I love a festival that I can get to easily by public transportation.

About the normal level of being slightly overpriced. Which I guess means it’s just standard festival pricing, but that I still personally think it should be cheaper. I think one day I just need to accept that festivals in big cities are not going to be as cheap as festivals in remote areas, even though the remote area festivals also come with camping.

It didn’t seem like there were enough port-a-potties, to be honest. Either that or/and the layout of both bathroom areas wasn’t at all efficient and just created long lines where there didn’t need to be any.

One sort of fun and unique addition was the Arena, which is an indoor stage that featured dance, comedy, and some other atypical performances. I saw some not-great standup there but still thought it was a cool experience. If it had been hot out, which it wasn’t, it would have been incredible to be in air conditioning.

Stay tuned for the Boston Calling music recap, and for one day of Governors Ball, coming up this weekend!

Live Music Should Not Sound Like the Album

There are many benefits to seeing music live over just listening to recordings. The energy of a crowd; the added depth of live instrumentation; the thrill of seeing a person or band you admire in the flesh.

One of the best things about live music, in my opinion, is something that not everyone agrees upon, and that is the ability to hear a new twist on songs you already love. Sure, “new twist” sounds like something everyone would be excited about, until you realize just how much people get attached to a specific version of a specific song. I’m guilty of this too, sometimes. One example that comes to mind is Hozier’s “Take Me To Church.” The first hundred or so times I heard this song it was on one particular radio station that always played it as a somewhat upbeat, dancey track. It wasn’t until months later that I heard the “real” version, which is much slower and folksier. I spent far too long trying to locate the exact version that I knew and loved from the radio, but magically every other remix available on the internet is not the right one. “Take Me To Church” isn’t current enough to be on the radio all that much now, and I don’t even listen to that station anymore, so I will likely never hear it the “right” way ever again. Despite this, if I ever saw Hozier live I’d probably be pretty psyched to hear it, in whatever form it should take.

But over the course of my concert-going years I’ve heard some genuine displeasure about artists not playing songs the way people were used to hearing them. Typically this happens with top 40 tracks, the kind you hear all the time, everywhere, for maybe 6 weeks straight. The kind of track where most people at the concert are probably really only there for that one song because it’s so much unarguably bigger than any of the artist’s other songs (the kind of song that “Take Me To Church” is, to be honest). But it can happen with any artist, or any song.

I do not understand this logic. I love hearing my favorite songs live and I love hearing how the artist has expanded on their previous vision to create something new and fresh. Maybe they just changed the harmonies, maybe they added a part for a new instrument that wasn’t originally there, or maybe it’s adding a new verse or changing up some lyrics. Even if I don’t think the new version is better, I pretty much always appreciate being present for the evolution. The only exception is when the artist severely shortens a song I love. Snippets make me sad.

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot over the last few days; or rather, I’ve been thinking a lot about the reverse of this topic, because I haven’t been thinking about maintaining the purity of songs in the form that I know them, but about how excited and #blessed I have felt to get to hear a new take on songs I already love.

I’ve written about my love of Odesza many times on this blog, and yet again was #blessed (hard for me to use this word seriously) to get to see them twice last week. Out of all the artists I’ve seen, they’re probably the most prolific remixers of their own music. The live adaptations of some of their songs blow me away, and not only do I not care when the song doesn’t go in the direction I was expecting, it delights me. My favorite video that I’ve ever taken at a show (to be fair, I don’t take many and they’re all terrible, including this one) was from Odesza’s set at Panorama last year. I only captured about 20 seconds of a song I happen to love, but they surprised me by adding a new drop and you can hear my voice in the background go, “WHAAAAAAAT” and then cackle out of shock and joy. Sadly everything got deleted from my phone back in March so I don’t have the video anymore,  but I’ve heard the live version of that song many times since Panorama and that one moment still makes me scream and laugh, in that order.

They’re hardly the only artist to do this – Gramatik, who I’ve also written about many times, plays a live version of “Illusion of Choice” that has an insane new violin sample that slays me every time.

I will allow that everyone who chooses to experience live music does it for a different reason. But music isn’t just about the consumer, it’s also, of course, about the artist. If switching up a song gives me a teeny tiny bit more insight into the brain of a musician I love? Amazing. Does it hopefully also make playing the same song over and over on tour more palatable to the artist who is probably very sick of it? All the better. It gives me endless joy to go to a concert and see that the person performing loves their own music just as much as I do; it’s why it makes me so happy when producers dance around on stage as they’re working. What remixing your own music says to me is, “I made this song and I still love it so much I’m going to keep working on it and innovating and having fun with it.”

I don’t get upset if a live performance sounds like the album – after all, if I didn’t like the album, I wouldn’t have paid money to see those songs live. But getting to experience some new twists and turns makes the experience fuller and so much more gratifying.

*One semi-unrelated side note to close out this post – I actually did have the opportunity to see Hozier live yesterday at Boston Calling. But his set was at the exact same time as Odesza. For a teeny tiny split second during my festival planning I thought about trying to catch the last 10 minutes of Hozier because a) I was sure he’d play “Take Me To Church” toward the end, and b) I had juuuust seen Odesza live. But I never seriously considered it because…I mean there’s just no way I can miss an Odesza set. I’ll get taken to church another time.

A Personalized Ultra Music Festival Schedule For My Friend Teodor (and anyone else going to Ultra)

This is my friend Teodor.

Cool shirt!

Teodor is going to Miami for Ultra – the mecca of EDM festivals – in just a few short weeks, and he asked me if I had any thoughts on the lineup and suggestions of who he should see.

Just kidding! He didn’t ask my opinion at all. I told him that when the set times came out, I was going to make him a schedule and he had better stick to it. He told me he would, as long as I made it into a blog post. Well, the Ultra set times are out, and here we are.

Below is Teodor’s carefully crafted Ultra schedule that I’m forcing upon him. These selections were not made lightly; I took into account all the very best music that Ultra has to offer while still considering the artists that I knew he would want to see. This is not just a reflection of my own preferences. I MADE SACRIFICES.

(Side note – do you want a personalized schedule for a music festival you’re going to? I will make you one, free of charge! Not joking – this is fun for me.)

(Double side note – if you go to the Ultra website to look at set times, this is what you get, only slightly larger. Why. Why why why. I could write a whole blog post about how horrible this image is.)

Friday, March 29th
Teodor won’t be at Ultra that day but whatever. Making this list anyway just for completeness’ sake.

5:05pm – Get them tropical house vibes with MATOMA

7:00pm – Check out Rage Against the Machine guitarist TOM MORELLO perform his twisted alt/EDM hybrid album in a performance that is sure to be one of the best of Ultra that will also be the most confusing to attendees who don’t know enough to care about this artist.

9:20pmALESSO, because it wouldn’t be Ultra without some solid progressive house.

10:00pm – Seemingly the biggest band in the universe right now, ODESZA

11:15pm – Yo Skrill drop it hard with DOG BLOOD (I would want this slot to be taken by Jai Wolf, but I know he wouldn’t go to that)

12:30am – The Man, the Myth, the Legend – MARSHMELLO

Saturday, March 30th
This is where the real excitement begins.

5:00pm – Odesza junior, AKA PHANTOMS

6:30pm – I have no idea how you’ll react to G JONES but this is far and away the best of this time slot

8:00pm – This is a new collab, but anything that involves Big Gigantic is great so GIGANTIC NGHTMRE it is.

9:30pm – Let GRiZ take you to funkytown (please do not go to Armin Van Buuren or I will end our friendship)

10:55pm – Get some clarity with ZEDD

12:30amDEADMAU5 and also you must pronounce it “deadmau-FIVE” the entire time

Sunday, March 31st
Last day already? My how the time flies.

8:00pm – If you liked G Jones, you’ll love SPACE JESUS

9:10pm – Apparently this guy is still around – AFROJACK

10:30pm – Resist the urge to go to David Guetta because ERIC PRYDZ is the clear move here.

11:30pm – Everyone’s favorite space mom, REZZ

12:00am – If you must leave Rezz early to go to ARMIN VAN BUUREN, I will permit it but don’t leave toooo early.

Have fun, be safe, and please clear all potential schedule deviations with me in advance. Thank you.

Blog Posts I Am Never Going to Write

In the Notes app on my phone lives a list of potential blog post ideas. The list has been going since 2014, and is almost entirely ideas that have come to me while I was at some show or another, because, unsurprisingly, music is what most inspires this blog about music.

The list grows more than it shrinks, because a lot of the time, if I can’t sit right down right away and work on an idea that I have, by the next day, I’m no longer inspired by that thought.

I told myself I would blog once a month in 2019, and since there are less than 2 hours left of February I decided to look at my list of post ideas for “inspo,” as the obnoxious social media world says.

I am wholly unimpressed with this list. But I also hate deleting things from the list if I haven’t written about them. So, instead of a “real” blog post, here’s a list of posts I will never write.

Lady Gaga and Kanye West are the same person
No, they’re not. I had this idea back when both artists had far different public personas than they do now, but this is still a dumb idea.

Bands to catch up on
I’ve referenced in some of my goals posts that I wanted to spend more time listening to bands that are well-loved yet that I feel I could dive deeper into. That list includes: Radiohead, Tool, Dave Matthews Band, Pink Floyd, LCD Soundsystem, and the Beatles. And look, blog post written! That’s all I really have to say on that topic. And also I have done very little of this, although I did put in some solid Radiohead time in 2018.

What IS house music? Brass house? TMZZ
TMZZ is Too Many Zooz, and brass house is the genre label they’ve given themselves. TMZZ is a band comprised of a trumpet, a drummer and a baritone sax. Can house music be contained within 3 instruments and no actual electronic production? The world may never know, because I’m never going to investigate this highly important question.

“Lizzi question”
This is related to a conversation I had a few years ago with, you guessed it, my friend Lizzi! I really should have written this  blog post because Lizzi actually asked me to write it. She wanted to dissect whether women felt safer, specifically with regards to men and potential sexual harassment or violence, at all-genre shows and festivals vs EDM shows and festivals. Her take was that she felt less comfortable in the more mainstream crowds at all-genre festivals because there’s a higher rate of alcohol consumption, which, let’s be honest, can sometimes turn people into shitheads. I wasn’t sure I agreed at the time, and I’m still not sure that I do. I think I did try to get some women to weigh in but couldn’t get enough of a conversation going to really get a post fleshed out.

5 weird festival tips
This post was predicated on the fact that I wanted to share some unsolicited advice about bringing mittens to music festivals. I know, mittens are never on your mind in the middle of July, but if you’re going to a camping festival that has predicted cold weather, mittens are awesome. You know you’re not going to bring a bulky coat or anything actually warm, but keeping your hands warm really does spread the warmth to the rest of your body. I learned this tip accidentally when I was freezing at Voodoo Festival in New Orleans and bought some mittens from a vendor. It was a game changer. Anyway though, I could never really think of any other tips that are “weird” so this post was kind of DOA. Don’t get me wrong, I have lots of practical festival advice, but nothing too shocking.

My music bucket list
Queen (with Adam Lambert, I guess). Sia. Big Grizmatik. Britney Spears. There, now you have my live music bucket list.

Tada! It’s like 6 mini blog posts in one! Maybe this will inspire me to actually write some of the ones I didn’t put here. Or maybe they’ll end up in a future iteration of this post. TBD!