Treasure Island Festival :: 09.15.07 & 09.16.07 :: San Francisco, CA
Boasting around 800,000 citizens, San Francisco is the second most densely populated major city in the U.S. Oakland stacks over 400,000 people into her quarters. Yet there is a slice of heaven that sits smack dab in the middle of these metropolitan monsters that is almost un-inhabited. Treasure Island was originally constructed (yup, it's man-made) in 1939 for the Golden Gate International Exposition in order to celebrate the completion of both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. The Navy usurped the island during World War II and 70 years later in 1997 finally gave this pristine spot back to the city of San Francisco.
| Treasure Island 2007 by Josh Withers|
For the past ten years the question has been, "What do we do with Treasure Island?" The one-lane-in and one-lane-out roadways are far too small to support a huge influx of cars, and there really isn't any commerce on the island. But, the spot is a green little oasis of tranquil beauty with views of the Pacific Ocean, SF and Oakland that are unparalleled. Taking a chance, the fine folks over at Another Planet Productions decided to jump in and give The Bay its first taste of what's possible on Treasure Island.
There was considerable stress and anticipation hanging over this event as San Francisco's bureaucracy was watching every move under a microscope to determine if Treasure Island could be used for future city events. The big question was transportation. How do you get all these music freaks on and off the island? Shuttles were the only answer, but would a bunch of hipsters and rockers pile onto a bus? They did, and it went so smooth people were shocked. In fact, the inaugural Treasure Island Music Festival brought 20,000 people and went off without a hitch. In retrospect it seems almost ridiculous that this spot had not been used for an event like this until now. With logistics running smooth as liquor down the belly, breathtaking panoramic views and a stellar lineup, TI was one of the easiest, most enjoyable audio and visual experiences of the year.
09.15.07 :: Day 1
Words by: Robyn Rubinstein :: Images by: Dave Vann
The bartender says, "Hey, Pirate! Do you know you have a steering wheel sticking out of your fly?" The pirate answers, "Aargh! It's drivin' me nuts!" The first, and hopefully annual Treasure Island Festival lacked for almost nothing, except more pirate jokes.
Honeycut is one of San Francisco's hidden gems. The electro-funk quartet is one of the freshest things happening in the Bay. Comprised of Bart Davenport on vocals, Tony Sevener on MPC and RV Salters on keys and clavinet, Honeycut rings of Prince at his funkiest. That's no small accomplishment for three white San Francisco-based hipsters. Set against the postcard perfect backdrop of San Francisco from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate and joined by Etienne de Rocher on bass, their set was a sun-drenched dance party. Salters' command of his vintage keyboards is impressive, and when combined with his exceptional dance moves, he is just shy of epic. "Tough Kid" swaggered and strutted along with frontman Davenport. In contrast, "Exodus Honey" is a light, airy and mildly poppy but was given street cred by Sevener's drum production. They closed their set with an explosive, harmonica-infused cover of "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life." Seeing as Apple is now using "Exodus Honey" in their iMac commercials, I recommend delving into Honeycut before the rest of America catches on.
| Honeycut :: Treasure Island 2007|
Ghostland Observatory does not lack for charisma or potential. The duo describes itself as "not a band, but an agreement between two friends to create something that not only heals their beat-driven hearts, but pleases their rock 'n roll souls." Thomas Turner mans a drum machine/drum-kit/Moog platform at center stage, sporting an Elvis-meets-alien cape, and frontman Aaron Behrens handles the swagger, strut and vocals. With two long, dark braids that swing with a life of their own, he grinds and gyrates, pure Mick Jagger style. The sound is largely '80s electro, which definitely has its appeal. Parts were reminiscent of the original Miami Vice TV show, which was comforting and mildly disconcerting at the same time. Behrens is a quality frontman, overtly sexual in a way that appeals to everyone, and Turner's beats are pounding. "Sad, Sad City" best exemplifies that when the blend is balanced Ghostland can deliver hard beats with a rock feel. However, the recipe still needs some work. The beats are undeniable but repetitive, and at times Behren's voice degenerates into a screechy Jack White. There were compelling moments, but there were also moments of borderline noise.
I love everything about M.I.A., in theory. However, if Homer Simpson has taught us anything over the years, it's that "in theory, communism works." A daughter of revolution, she rose from war torn, Third World abject poverty to become an international rap-electronica star. She is a shining female beacon of the spirit of hip-hop. She came from nothing, becoming famous by telling her story about where she was from in her own unapologetic voice. She has no problem speaking her mind and blasting those who hold her back, whether it be the idiocies of the American government and her recent immigration issues, or telling Pitchfork that in spite of their current position as the ultimate arbiter of what is important and cool, they were wrong when they credited Diplo as the brains behind her first album, Arular. I've used the term "full sonic assault" before but it's never fit more perfectly than as description of her set. A portion of that could be attributed to terrible sound quality, ultimately resulting in a blown speaker. However, I think M.I.A.'s style comes at you like a machine gun, which is only fitting given her war-infused youth. You can escape unscathed but you can't really forget it, no matter how much you'd like to. She brings a vast, international musical arsenal, layered and incorporated into strong, catchy beats. Unfortunately, pretty soon they all started to sound the same. The beats were compelling at first, but her songs are repetitive by nature, so it felt like the same beat, the same intonations, the same essence, for the majority of her set. By the end, it felt like someone had beaten me over the head with M.I.A. Live, it sounded like too many musical cultures diluted the whole concoction past the point of relevance into something indistinguishable and mundane. She also made more than one reference to Alcatraz, which led me to wonder if she knew which island she was on. Let me be clear though, I was in the minority. She definitely pleased the crowd, especially with earlier hits like "Galang," "Sunshowers" and her latest single, "Boyz." She did pick specific girls out of the audience, inviting them to dance onstage during "Bird Flu," a cut from her new album, Kala. "I want all you girls to get crazy!," she screamed, leading the way by climbing the scaffolding. I always applaud women getting down and crazy in solidarity. I also applaud her gold lame leggings, just because.
| M.I.A. :: Treasure Island 2007|
DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist's set was rife with promise. Their latest collaboration, The Hard Sell, is an all 45 rpm set, using eight turntables and two guitar loop pedals. They explained the details of their set with a PSA and corresponding diagrams that had the feel of a 1950's educational film. The PSA addressed questions rhetorical ("At the end of the day, aren't they really just playing records?") as well as practical ("What is the difference between a 45 and a 7 inch? Nothing! They're the same. 45's may be harder to play but they do have a groove."). The pair's past joint works, Brainfreeze (1999) and Product Placement (2001), have near legendary status for their ability to effortlessly mix a vast array of styles and sounds into seamless musical odysseys that are funky, highly danceable and enthralling. In contrast, The Hard Sell was just that – difficult to buy. The first 30-minutes or so were solid, emblematic of the duo's skill, laden with hip-hop and funk samples from the Pharcyde, Outkast, the Sugar Hill Gang and Digable Planets. Cut Chemist announced a tribute to De La Soul, spinning segments of Manzel, Billy Joel and the Bar-Kays, which are some of the components of "Plug Tunin'" and "Potholes in My Lawn." I had to consult a crate-digging expert to help me identify the various bits and pieces the next day. Putting it back together re-enforced the fact that deconstructing one work and assembling it as something else as authentic as the original is a difficult, complex task. DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist have already proven their more than ample skill in this area, and told the audience that The Hard Sell was the natural extension of their past works. Though I agree that pushing the boundaries of their craft is the logical progression, this felt anything but natural. The second half of the set stumbled, ranging from background music to moments of cacophony, like their final scratch-off involving portable turntables around their necks (I don't believe those were included in the official eight, so that's a total of ten turntables) and samples of various death metal tunes that I couldn't identify. I'm all for innovation and challenges but only if it's practiced. At the end of the set, DJ Shadow sheepishly admitted, "That last part needs a little work." It was obvious that they were excited about the concept and wanted the audience to understand just how cool it was. The concept of an all-45 show with eight to ten turntables is undeniably cool, in theory, but again, in theory communism works. Though the PSA was hip, rehearsal would have gone much further. The closing PSA sagely told the crowd, "The party's over. You've been drinking all day and doing cocaine. If you think doing more cocaine will keep you up for the drive home, think again."
| DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist:: Treasure Island 2007|
If M.I.A. was a bit of an assault then the Gotan Project and Thievery Corporation were warm embraces. A play on the word "tango," the core of Gotan is French producers Philippe Cohen Solal and Christoph H. Müller with Argentinean guitarist-singer Eduardo Makaroff. Their goal is to bring the passion and soul of tango and other Argentine folkloric music to electro - a genre that is largely lacking in heart. Their fusion is nearly intoxicating. Their stage set-up involved guitar, a baby grand, a string section (comprised of three violas and a cello), a bandeon (a small accordion used in tango music), two turntables and vocals, both sung and rapped. Catalan vocalist Cristina Vilallonga is nothing short of ethereal. At times the blend was so flawless that it created a new musical culture that was unique from the electronica and tango that spawned it. However, the rich sensuality of tango was ever present, even in the more electronic influenced songs like "Diferente" and "Santa Maria (Del Buen Ayre)," which contained a "Billie Jean" tease. The synthesis of new and classical was the perfect balance, creating a lush musical landscape. The musicianship and passion in this band is undeniable, and I could say the same about Thievery Corporation. They are simply at the top of their game. The DJ team of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton were joined on stage by bass, guitar, horn section, percussion, sitar and vocalist. What started as a DJ duo has grown into a full-fledged band that far surpasses any expectations. They invigorated the crowd with airtight versions of their dance classics like "The Heart's a Lonely Hunter," "Lebanese Blonde" and "Strange Days." Set against the sparkling backdrop of San Francisco at night, it was a victorious way to close the day.
| Gotan Project :: Treasure Island 2007|
Other highlights included Chicago-based DJ duo Flosstradamus for spinning "all the old throwback club hits." They opened their set with DJ Shadow's "Organ Donor" as a clear nod to him. From Daft Punk's "One More Time" to Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'" with dashes of E-40 and The Klaxons, Autobot and J2K can command a party. Mexican dance-rockers Kinky are also adept at creating an instant disco, and nothing accomplishes that quicker than their power-packed "Do You Like It?"
| Thievery Corporation :: Treasure Island 2007|
Even if some artists on Day One were less than convincing, the view and vibe alone made it worthwhile. It was intimate, welcoming and a successfully green festival. You could collect discarded recyclable cups and bottles and redeem them for prizes ranging from free Vitamin Water, a pair of Noise Pop badges or Logitech iPod speakers. That is absolutely one of the most inspired ideas I have heard in quite some time. All shuttles that ran to and from the island ran on biodiesel and all leftover food was donated to local shelters. It didn't seem possible that San Francisco could be any cooler musically than it already was, but Noise Pop and Another Planet clearly raised the bar.
Continue reading for Day II from Treasure Island...