Everywhere at Once: Solving — Or At Least Mitigating — Hopscotch Music Festival’s Paralyzing Problem of Choice
By Patrick Wall
Stylistic pinball has always been the prevailing spirit of Hopscotch. The festival’s breadth has always been remarkable: Its first year featured headlining sets from Public Enemy and Panda Bear and its downticket club lineups featured everything from the rippingest garage rock to the rawest free jazz to the raunchiest rap to the most refined experimental music, and it’s followed that model since.
That formula remains potent, even as Hopscotch’s sloughed off some of its niche features for bigger main-stage acts and more classic festival fare. Now in year eight, Hopscotch’s lineup is probably the most generalist it’s been, but it’s still probably the most diverse and out-there destination festival operating. But such heterogeneity presents with opportunity cost, and Hopscotch’s most maddeningly appealing problem is the paralyzing problem of choice.
Indeed, Hopscotch’s very nature obliges tough decisions. Sometimes, those decisions work out (for me: White Lung and Phosphorescent over Hawkwind, 2014; ) and sometimes they’re a wash (KEN Mode over clipping., 2014; Sun Kil Moon over Purling Hiss, 2014; Earth over Swans, 2011) and sometimes they’re kind of a bust (Television over Don Bikoff, 2016; Liturgy over Swans, 2011). Sometimes circumstances dictate motion: If I’d stayed to see any of Erykah Badu’s postponed set in 2016, I’d have missed two of my favorite sets of that year’s festival (Dai Burger, Julien Baker); if I hadn’t gotten trapped at Lincoln Theatre on the first night in 2014, I’d have seen the amazing IIII rhythmic orchestra one-off show.
Hopscotch’s day parties were once easy ways to solve nocturnal scheduling conflicts. But the ever-expanding diurnal lineups now feature a lot of acts that don’t playing the actual festival, making for many more tough decisions. Then again, day parties don’t require festival passes, so maybe that’s a good problem. (To wit: The WXDU-Three Lobed day party at Kings is never to be missed.)
So that’s the inherent downside of Hopscotch: Raleigh’s overrun with music worth your time, and there just aren’t enough wee small hours of the morning to see it all over the long weekend. So here’s an attempt to navigate some of this year’s most painful scheduling conflicts.
Shane Parish (Fletcher Opera House, 9:30 p.m.)
Kayo Dot (CAM Raleigh, 9:30 p.m.)
For all the grousing I’ve done over the past few years about the dwindling presence avant-garde and outsider musics have at Hopscotch proper, this year’s Hopscotch presents two of its strongest offerings right out of the gate. Parish, an Asheville guitarist best known for his work with prog-jazz-noise duo Ahleuchatistas,
Go with: Kayo Dot. You can catch Parish’s conflagratory playing tomorrow, when he plays the festival proper with Ahleuchatistas, and it’ll either prime you for a night of epic heaviness (see: Pallbearer, Torche, Metz) at CAM or leave you plenty of time to get to Fletcher Opera House. (See below.)
G Yamazawa (Lincoln Theatre, 10:30 p.m)
Mount Eerie (Fletcher Opera House, 10:30 p.m.)
Hopscotch, historically, has featured hip-hop in its genre jumble, but it’s never been kind to it, scheduling-wise. (See: Vince Staples, Saturday, 2016, when he was, one, opening for coffeehouse electro act du jour Sylvan Esso, and, two, the only hip-hop act in the night’s programming — a rather notable lapse. Or Pusha T in 2015, when he should have been on a City Plaza stage but instead was corralled into performing early at Lincoln Theatre.) It’s not especially kind of G Yamazawa, a Durham-born Japanese-American National Poetry Slam champion turned excellent rapper, this year; he’s slotted just around the corner from Mount Eerie, the long-running mostly solo vehicle of ex-Microphone Phil Elverum, who just happens to have released one of the best and the most wrenchingly affecting record of the year in the painfully, surreally direct A Crow Looked at Me.
Go with: Mount Eerie. Crow is a powerful document of love and grief — Elverum wrote it while dealing with the immediate aftermath of his wife’s death, and recorded it in their living room using mostly her instruments and writing words on her paper — and a moving meditation on what it means to keep living.
Future Islands (City Plaza, 9 p.m.)
Bodykit (CAM Raleigh, 9:30 p.m.)
Mourning Cloak (Pour House, 9:30 p.m.)
Presuming Run the Jewels has wrapped its Red Hat Amphitheater set — or, heaven forbid, you’ve decided to leave early — you’re faced with a triptych of options to kick off your Friday night in earnest. You could go with Future Islands, whose The Far Field isn’t the great leap forward that Singles was but is nonetheless crammed with hooky, emotionally resonant electropop. You could go with Raleigh’s Bodykit, a synth-freak duo featuring ex-members of punk weirdos Whatever Brains. Or you could go with Mourning Cloak, a funereal doom act from Greensboro.
Go with: Mourning Cloak. Friday features some excellent options for exquisite sadness (Songs:Molina, Lee Fields & the Expressions) and effervescence (Har Mar Superstar, Kaytranada), and Mourning Cloak’s bellowing darkness is a good precursor for both. Plus: amp worship!
The Afghan Whigs (Lincoln Theatre, 12:30 a.m.)
Ó (Neptunes, 12:30 a.m.)
The Veldt (Deep South, 12:30 a.m.)
The end game on Friday night is traffic-jammed, too. Sleazed-out Ohio soul-rockers The Afghan Whigs (R.I.P., Dave Prosser) released In Spades, their second record since reuniting five years ago, back in May; it’s maybe their best work since 1993’s seminal Gentlemen. Ó, the pseudonymous Gabrielle Smith band once called Eskimeaux, is melodically lovely and thematically bleak, balancing raw emotion and pure beauty. The Veldt is a longtime Raleigh cult favorite whose pioneering distortion-soaked soul went tragically overlooked amid the rise of indie rock in the ’80s.
Go with: The Veldt. Lincoln Theatre is perhaps a bit too cavernous for The Afghan Whigs’ roar, and Neptunes not big enough to not be overpowered by Topshelf signees Ó. Deep South is the right size for the heavy, honeyed haze of The Veldt, a band that could have pulled the legacy card but instead refuses to be beholden to its own history.
Jlin (The Basement, 11 p.m.)
Rafiq Bhatia (Fletcher Opera House, 11 p.m.)
Jlin and Rafiq Bhatia employ and deploy groove in different manners. Jlin’s still nominally a footwork DJ, though on this year’s superb Black Origami, she’s moved beyond it, her production so much more intricate and knotty this time, still highly intense but more cerebral than aggressive. Bhatia is nominally a jazz guitarist, and his enigmatic music employs the sonic language of hip-hop and electronic composition to press toward a more interesting future.
Go with: Both. The Basement, in the, uh, basement of the Raleigh Convention Center, and Fletcher are close enough to split the difference between the two hyperreal sets.
This is the first year Hopscotch has officially stretched into Sunday, and its inaugural programming is enticing to indie-rock-loving schlubs like me who’re used to sleeping in after the three-day onslaught and hitting the road after some brunch.
Go with: Why not split the difference? Stay through Mary Timony’s Helium reprise (she takes the stage at 4:15 p.m.), then book it home in time for dinner. Or stay through the whole hecking thing. Who cares about work the next morning?
Patrick Wall lives and writes in Columbia, South Carolina. He is the former music editor of the Columbia, South Carolina, altweekly Free Times, and his writing has appeared in Blurt, Dusted, Creative Loafing, IndyWeek and more. He is carbon-based.