Afropunk Festival Day 1: 8/23/14

Afropunk Festival

Commodore Barry Park, Fort Greene, Brooklyn

August 23, 2014

As I mentioned in a previous post, throughout the bulk of JOVM’s history, I essentially ran the site full-time and as a side project, while maintaining full-time positions at a company located in Times Square. And as you can imagine, it often led to competing demands for my attention and time which were frustrating and unfortunately kind of necessary. After all, there are only so many hours in a day and only so much time to do it in. Of course, those same competing demands led to a series of incredibly delayed posts – including this one – but what can you do? 

And as I mentioned in that previous post, I got laid off from my full-time job and in many ways that was a blessing; if anything, I’m taking the opportunity to pursue things that i’m truly passionate about – mainly, this site, which has been for some time, an insane but precious labor of love. I’m also taking this time as an opportunity to catch up on a variety of things that I needed to catch up with – especially since this past summer may have been one of the busier summers for live music in quite some time. Certainly, Summerstage has had two or three consecutive summers of incredibly strong and diverse lineups, and if you were an old school hip-hop fan, you’d find something up your alley. There was the New Music Seminar NY Festival, Northside Festival (which had one of the weakest lineups I’ve seen in some time), live shows at the House of Vans, and one of the highlights of last few summers, the Afropunk Festival

Although I’m down with the festival organizer’s overall mission of providing alternatives to the stereotypes of black youth, and defying all stereotypes, the festival has been plagued by a variety of organization issues that mar its good intentions – and in particular, this year the organizational issues were far more troubling. 

  • Festival headliner D’Angelo, who coincidentally released his first full-length effort in 14 years, went from being the headliner to dropping out, to reportedly being a special guest and back to being a headliner within the week of the festival. In fact, I came across several festival attendees who didn’t know if D’Angelo was performing or how long he was performing – on the actual day he was slated to perform. If you were going because you were a fan of D’Angelo, you were stuck vacillating in your decision to attend or not. 
  • Then D’Angelo’s set started an hour late on a Sunday night, and because a majority of the crowd had jobs or places they needed to be on Monday morning, there was a mass exodus of people who had started to leave before the man’s set even started. And adding insult to injury, the set was listless, uninspiring and dull. 
  • Over the last few years, there have been a number of lineup changes. One year, a band couldn’t make it because one of their members was hospitalized as a result of a bad car accident. They’ve had a couple of artists show up late for sets, which is something I can’t quite comprehend. And they’ve even had artists held up by a variety of legal issues including visas being delayed and so on. And organizers have done a poor job of informing the public and the press of lineup changes as they occur. 
  • Just to give you a sense of how bad this has been: I can remember running into a fellow photographer, and he was excitedly telling me about shooting a certain artist; however, that artist was barred entry into the country because of visa issues. This was something I had heard from another photographer, who had proven to have serious inside word about the festival including who was there, who wasn’t there, etc. And when I informed this colleague that the artist in question wasn’t even in the States, his frustrated response back to me was “Well, who the hell was I shooting then?” There have also been moments where attendees have gone up to me and other press members asking us if we knew what was going on – and usually we had as much of an idea as they did. 
  • With the exceptions of the headliners who played 60 or 70 minute sets, everyone else had 30 minute sets and with such a tight schedule, it created some terrible scheduling issues. In previous years, Janelle Monae’s set overlapped with Erykah Badu’s set; Living Colour’s set overlapped with Chuck D’s set; and somehow, as much as I wanted to show love to the young brothers in Unlocking the Truth, their set was at the same time as Fishbone. Talk about being unfair, huh? 
  • This year, the addition of a third stage seemed largely unnecessary. In fact, other than a few minutes of two punk band’s sets and Bad Brains’s set, I couldn’t find a reason to go to the third stage. Also, to be fair, I couldn’t understand how Bad Brains was relegated to the tiny third stage when they’re fucking Bad Brains. i mean come on. 
  • Bad Brains’ set was marred by security issues. Apparently Mayor de Blasio was there with his daughter Chiara and his son Dante for Bad Brains and instead of just hanging out backstage or letting the photographers do their thing and then taking a special spot close to the stage, Bill de Blasio kept poking his head out. So naturally, security went overboard – and this included one security guard threatening to arrest people for not complying with his orders. Huh? Really? 

And yet there were still highlights galore. 

  • Clipping performing songs from their highly experimental and sonically challenging album, clipping. But they also had a new song, which was at the time unreleased, inspired by the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO. That song in particular was harrowing because it possessed a muted, numb sense of horror and terror as it described a violent act with a level of detail that made it seem surreal and unsettling. And considering that it had happened a few short days before, it seemed even more timely.  
  • BLXPLTN, who I had interviewed during the festival, had played a set of anarcho-industrial punk and with a guest artist, they also pulled out a song inspired by the Mike Brown shooting, which included the phrase “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” which I had heard for the first time that afternoon. 
  • Shabazz Palaces played a set which included material from their critically acclaimed albums, Black Up! and Lese Majesty. Admittedly, I was a bit concerned that their deeply textured, nuanced sound would lose something live and that turned out not to be the case; in fact, the Afropunk set struck me as being one of the more inspired sets I’ve seen of theirs. And it included Butler and Maraire doing the Black Power symbol in perfect unison. (Yes, I got a picture of it here and on Instagram.)
  • Ice T and Body Count played songs form their recently released new album, which consisted of punishingly loud guitar and drums, misogyny and violence – all the things we should expect. Granted, among some of the crowd, Ice T’s inclusion was a bit strange in light of the fact that the festival had promoted itself as a sexism-free, racism-free zone. Believe me, I understand the argument but how many times are you going to see Ice T with Body Count? 
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings were as they always are – amazing. From watching an extremely energetic Sharon Jones, it would have been difficult tot tell that she had been nearly on her deathbed a few months before. The set started off with her and the band shouting out all the lovely weirdos who had come out to catch them, featured a couple of songs from the new album, and a lengthy dance routine in which she called up audience members. At one point, she was dancing with a pretty, young man who had caught her attention – but he could also move. What fun! 

Check out some photos below.

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Press photos of the members of BLXPLTN for my interview with them, which appeared some time ago. 

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Some graffiti writers doing their thing. 

Clipping 

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BLXPLTN

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“Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!”

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Shabazz Palaces

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I came across this piece and it needed to be photographed. 

Bad Brains 

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Body Count

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Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

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For these photos and many more, check out the Flickr set here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yankee32879/sets/72157649246129667/

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