Review | Photos | Governors Ball Music Festival | New York

Words By: Andrew Bruss
Images By: Scott Fleishman

Governors Ball NYC Music Festival :: 6.7.13 - 6.9.13 :: Randall's Island :: New York, NY

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Fucked Up vocalist Damian Abraham told his audience that the group has played festivals all over the world but that Governors Ball looked the grossest. The New York City-based event took place over three days on Randall’s Island, and after an eight hour stretch of tropic rainstorms, the festival grounds had been entirely blanketed with thick, deep, manure-smelling mud.

While the grounds were as gross as Abraham would have you believe, festival goers willing to take it all in stride were treated to a world class lineup of artists on-the-rise, over-the-hill icons, modern day superstars and a mix of artists who champion various genres and the sonic spaces that fall in between.

Kendrick Lamar

While the festival hosted four performances spaces, the grounds featured two stages, the Honda Stage and the You’re Doing Great stage, that faced each other. While one band performed, another act was prepping on the opposite stage. This formula worked at it’s best on Saturday when Kendrick Lamar worked the crowd into a frenzy unlike any other act of the weekend only to be followed by Queens’ native son, Nas, dishing out a set full of rearranged classics.

While presenting the new and old guard of any given genre back to back is always a recipe for success, the wild card was throwing oddball experimental neo-folk-pop icons Animal Collective in between the two. Presenting the analog- heavy pseudo-electronica act to attendees that were camping out for hip-hop royalty speaks to a booking philosophy that is nothing short of brave.

While acts like Thievery Corporation and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros can barely fit on one stage, both Japandroids and Crystal Castles got the job done with two members each.

Crystal Castles performed Friday evening, right in the middle of what meteorologists called the second wettest June day in NYC history. Of the four venues, the Sky Vodka Tent was the only one that provided any cover, and as a result, Crystal Castles played to an overflowing crowd hoping to use the body heat of a crowd to stay warm. While drummer/producer Ethan Kath brewed up their spastic, glitchy brand of beat-heavy electronica, vocalist Alice Glass romped around the stage, diving into the crowd, and giving everyone in her audience something other than just the music to pay attention to.


The following afternoon, Japandroids took the main stage, jokingly introducing themselves as Guns ‘n’ Roses,. These two guys from Canada powered through a set that would have made for a great opening act for The Clash circa 1977. For all the laptops that were used on the various stages throughout the weekend, this duo only needed a drum kid, a single Fender Telecaster, and two microphones to work their modest crowd into a passionate frenzy. “The House That Heaven Built” may have been the single best song released in 2012, and any crowd that has a chance to hear it performed live is going to be utterly moved. The male-heavy audience they had at Governors Ball seemed to agree.

Kanye West may be an arrogant egotist with a gift for being unlikable, but as an artist, he borders on genius. Even before his freshman release, West was producing tracks for Jay-Z’s best songs and for the past decade or so, he has been reinventing hip-hop for the better. Attendees got a taste of everything he’s dished out from The College Dropout-era classic, “Jesus Walks,” through his genre cross-pollinating “Stronger” (featuring samples from Daft Punk). Although he forgot a verse to “Good Life,” he nailed a handful of tracks off his 2011 masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, in addition five new songs that will be released on his upcoming coverless album, Yeezus.

Hip-hop acts generally take one of two approaches to performing live: rapping over an instrumental track, or going all out with a full live band. Kendrick Lamar chose the former. Nas utilized the latter, and West went with neither. While he strutted around, mic in hand, a small handful of other artists kept the beats flowing from the back of the stage. On some tracks, they cued samples for Yeezy to rap over, while on others they worked on crystal clear synthesizers to recreate the mood of the tune. On some tracks, notably “Power,” they fused both methods.

West encored with “Runaway,” a track off of Fantasy that demonstrates his self-awareness in regards to his unlikable egotism, before closing the show with another versions of the song he opened with, the soon to be release “Black Skinhead.”

Say what you will about the man, but his performance may have been the most passionate of the weekend.

You can’t blame Governors Ball for acts of nature and given the circumstances, they did a pretty exceptional job keeping the trains running. Each year this event seems to improve the lineup it puts together and Kanye’s performance alone is reason enough to look forward to the event in 2014.

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[Published on: 6/13/13]

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