There’s not much more that exemplifies Portland than MusicfestNW. The yearly festival brings together local and national musical acts for a weekend of music, food cart munchies, and in this year’s case, a cloud of smoke coming from forest fires that hung over the festival grounds.
Despite the less than ideal air quality, this year’s festival proved that big name acts like Modest Mouse and Foster the People can perfectly blend with local up and coming bands like Beat Connection, Pure Bathing Culture, and Divers.
Here are some of the festival highlights with a playlist of songs to make you feel like a true Portlander.
Los Angeles-based indie pop group Milo Greene has a cinematic history; they originally wanted to make music that sounded like it could be in films. While the group’s chill grooves could be the soundtrack for the next Sofia Coppola flick, the music stands on it’s own. While four of the group’s five members switch between lead vocals, it’s not chaotic. The variety adds depth to the group’s music, although keyboardist and occasional bassist Marlana Sheetz’s voice stands out amongst her male bandmates.
Listen to: “Lie To Me”
Amongst the wave of indie groups, it was refreshing to have a pure pop act like MisterWives thrown into the mix. While the group could easily be included in this year’s Warped Tour lineup, lead singer Mandy Lee got the audience singing along, even if they didn’t know the lyrics. The band’s sound, which ranges from pop gems to almost ska melodies, is brought together through Lee’s powerful vocals. The highlight of the set was easily when they covered “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”. If the group has an ethos, it’s that.
Listen to: “Our Own House”
While some groups can’t get past their one (or two) hits, Foster the People has proven their worth since the success of 2010’s “Pumped Up Kicks”. Lead singer Mark Foster was definitely a crowd pleaser, not only because he played the group’s biggest hits without any sense of annoyance or boredom, but because he also maintained the energy of the group’s music in every track. While his black trench coat was somewhat inappropriate for the still-hot summer night, Foster’s vibe was somewhere between a mad scientist and a rock star, which isn’t a bad place to be.
Listen to: “Helena Beat”
Portland is a long way away for Orlando-based SALES, but the duo seemed perfectly at ease with their low-fi, bedroom sound. Lauren Morgan and Jordan Shih (aka SALES) have a quiet sort of chemistry. They chatted about living in the same apartment complex and starting a tennis club, but their relationship truly showed in their music. With recorded tracks backing their simple melodies, the two traded off simple yet engaging riffs as Morgan squeakily crooned. While they have only released a self-titled EP, there is definitely more coming from this act.
While the words experimental and instrumental don’t always mesh together, Battles continues to excite even after 13 years as a band. Drummer John Stanier (who is known for perching his ride cymbal as high as he can) kept the band on track while keyboardist Ian Williams and guitarist/bassist Dave Konopka took the audience through jams that effortlessly switched from electro pop to more harder hitting rock songs.
Listen to: “My Machines” ft. Gary Numan
Earlier this year, Twin Shadow, aka George Lewis Jr. suffered injuries from a car crash that pushed back the tour for his latest release, Eclipse. But the Dominican-American is back on the road and as electric as ever. Dancing around the stage to the his catchy, ‘80s-inspired melodies, Twin Shadow looked as happy to be performing as the audience was to be able to have the chance to see him live.
Listen to: “I’m Ready”
Even though they’ve released nine albums in their almost 20 years as a band, Scottish group Belle and Sebastian is as fresh as ever. Lead singer Stuart Murdoch might just be the most endearing figure in indie rock. The band’s eclectic set was interspersed with clever anecdotes from Murdoch about his time in Portland, from trying to get to yoga class to his feelings on the recent proliferation of dildos on power lines. He was the only artist to bring fans on stage, who were as happy to dance to hits like “The Boy with the Arab Strap” as they were to dance with Girl Talk at last year’s festival.
Listen to: “Nobody’s Empire”
Local group Pure Bathing Culture were right at home playing in Portland, which came through in their calm but surprisingly well-attended set. There is something captivating about lead singer’s Sarah Versprille voice, which is paradoxically rough yet angelic. She meshes perfectly with the group’s relaxed poppy sound. Comparisons could easily be drawn to groups ranging from Beach House to Fleetwood Mac, and I for one am excited for the group’s new album Pray for Rain, which will be released later this year.
Listen to: “Pray For Rain”
Lady Lamb is from “the other Portland,” aka Portland, Maine, but it seemed the crowd was ok with this city rivalry and so was Aly Spaltro (aka Lady Lamb), who mentioned the Oregon city in “Milk Duds”. While the group is only a three-piece, Spaltro carries the group with her strong vocals and formidable guitar chops. Despite her skills, she sang to the large audience about simple tales of traveling, New England, and her childhood. But Spaltro knows herself as a musician. She has put out eight releases since 2007 and this year’s After is confident and mature, but never boring.
Listen to: “Billions of Eyes”
Since the release of The Hybrid in 2010, Danny Brown has been considered one of the most innovative rappers in the industry. Known for his unique style and sticking his tongue out (he’s a serious rival for Miley Cyrus and Gene Simmons), Brown stood out in a festival that lacks much diversity outside of indie rock. The crowd was excited for something different, and Brown did not disappoint.
Listen to: “25 Bucks” Feat. Purity Ring
Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock has had a complicated relationship with Portland, but he was on his best behavior closing the festival. There couldn’t have been a better Pacific Northwest band to end with, and Brock pleased the crowd with old favorites and new tracks off this year’s Strangers to Ourselves. I somehow ended up backstage and watched most of the set there, drinking kombutcha and thinking there couldn’t be a better way to end the festival.
Listen to: “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box”