When all was said and done, 30,000 people packed Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn for Afropunk this year. That many people meant lines. It took me a while to check-in, but that’s what you get.
Unfortunately, I missed The Memorials. But I did get to see Straight Line Stitch, and I will be getting to know their music. Lead singer Alexis Brown is a powerful performer. Small thing: from a photography standpoint, she likes to do this thing where she lets her hair cover her face, which doesn’t make for great photos.
It’s always a pleasure to watch Reggie Watts. He’s funny and always engaging, especially when things don’t go well. He deftly turned some technical mishaps into a production discussion that kept the performance moving along until he was able to work around the problem.
I was surprised that Toro Y Moi was so much more “dance-y” live than on his album. He had the crowd grooving, especially a gaggle of young girls in the front row.
All the things you’ve heard about Janelle Monae are true: She goes hard and 100% every time and her performance on Sunday was no different. And she brought a bigger ensemble with backup singers and a horn section that gave her songs more muscle, even as they stayed supple and bouncey. Folks where definitely there to see her and we were packed in tight. She repayed that enthusiasm with a great performance and some crowdsurfing.
Finally got to see TV On The Radio! The thing that really impressed me about them was how big their sound is. It’s melodic and muscular at the same time. Clearly, they’ve been performing in stadiums. Also, Jaleel Bunton has moved from drums to bass and keys, a move, someone remarked to me, made for a bit more vamping on the band’s part. They’ve grown into real rockstars (and I mean that in the best way) as performers. My one disappointment: They didn’t do my joint “DLZ”. Oh, well!
At the end of the day, Afropunk is now, credibly, a mainstream festival. Which means that they’re polishing the rough edges musically. Even though I saw a lot of black punk and metal fans in the audience, it seemed like very few of the bands actually pulled from those ranks musically. I say this having NOT seen Radkey, Inky Jack or The Skins. Is it the case that what we’re seeing are the mainstreaming of once “alternative” black music and a festival that has progressed similarly? Maybe. And it’s smart for a festival to continue to grow with its audience. After all, those same kids who were part of the scene portrayed in Spooner’s film in 2004 are now eight years older. And, honestly, might have been radical or alternative back then–a punk, electro or metal sound–they’re all just elements of the music that this grown up iPod generation has become used to.
In the meantime, here are some photos. What do you guys think about the festival and where “Afropunk” as a label, a lifestyle, is and where it’s heading? Drop a note in the comments.