Live Concert Review: Jumping Back into the New York Music Scene: A View of Northside Music Festival

Jumping Back into the New York Music Scene: A View of
Northside Music Festival, by Natalie Hamingson

As Will mentioned in his preview, one of the beauties of a
festival like Northside is the chance for new discoveries. This was especially
true for me, as I started off the week knowing very little about the festival’s
massive line up.

You see, I just moved back to New York after spending some
time with family in the Midwest. While I know the soundtrack to Frozen pretty well (,
I’m sorry to say that this music journalist has fallen very, very far out of
the loop in the non-Disney part of the music world. Luckily, I was able to make
up for my two-year musical dry spell in just four days, as I sampled some
afrobeat, electronica, and good old-fashioned rock’n’roll at Northside’s
multi-venue showcases.


My first night of music kicked off with a bang at Brooklyn
with Femi Kuti and the Positive Force. The
show was opened by EMEFE, an eight-piece act self-described
as “funk pop.” Due to a less than stellar vocal mix, I honestly wasn’t too sure
about EMEFE when they began their set. But the instrumental combo of solid
brass, keys, and drums was too much for me (or the rest of the audience) to
resist, and once I realized this was more of a mixing than musician issue, I
was sold. (Side note-this vocal thing has been a noticeable problem at quite a
few shows I’ve been to recently. What’s going on New York sound engineers? Get
it together!)

(EMEFE at Brooklyn Bowl)

I had high hopes for the night’s headliner, as some friends
had informed me I was in for a good show. (And possibly something to do with
his relation to a musical legend.) Well, my expectations were eclipsed beyond
belief from the moment the brass section of Positive Force lined up at the
front of the stage for a set that kept the energy level at 11 for its nearly
two hour entirety.

As the man at center stage moved from one instrument to the
next, it was easy to watch in awe and just assume that level of talent must be
in his blood. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to hear from a friend the
day after the show that Femi’s gifts are really the result of very hard work.
He has admitted in several interviews, she said, that musicianship didn’t come
as naturally as he hoped, and he had to practice intensely in order to sound so

 (Femi Kuti and Positive Force at Brooklyn Bowl. )

While Femi certainly knows how to work a stage, I have to
admit that I spent a good amount of time watching the band more than him. (And
by the band, I mean the completely mesmerizing trio of dancers.)

Femi was immediately followed by Questlove’s midnight DJ
set. I’m sad to say I didn’t stick around for too long, as I wanted to conserve
my energy for the rest of the festival, (i.e.: being out passed midnight again
is still taking some getting used to). But seeing as Questlove’s Brooklyn Bowl
appearances happen almost weekly, I will more than likely have the chance to
catch him again.  


Will suggested for this night I catch rock band Made Violent at The Knitting Factory first, and when I saw that
Michael Cera was on the bill at the same venue, I decided to stay put rather
than venue hop. (This decision may have had more to do with being an Arrested Development fan than
expectations for good music….)

Made Violent did not disappoint as they started the night
off with a dynamic set of distorted vocals and pop rock riffs. (And when I say
pop, I am referring to the days when rock’n’roll was pop.) Watching their young fans rock out and passionately sing
along in the front row was almost as fun as watching the actual band.

The small club was packed by the time second act Drenge went on. Beating
Made Violent for best set of the night by a hair, Drenge delivered a tight set
of British affected vocals laid over guitar with a heavy grunge influence. (By
the way, are the 90s coming back? ‘Cause I’m totally okay with that.)

Michael Cera took the stage around midnight, along with
Alden Penner of The Unicorns. As I said
before, I wasn’t anticipating a lot musically, but the group’s mellow falsetto
driven tunes were actually fun to sway back and forth to. The band could have
been a little more in sync with each other, but as they rotated instruments
with each song change, I was impressed by Cera’s versatility. The
actor/musician was very aware that his name was what drew the crowd in, joking
at one point, “Did you get some good pictures?”

Like this? (Michael Cera at The Knitting Factory. Photo credit: Natalie Hamingson) 


I started Saturday off at the Green Label Stage at McCarren
where Against Me! were set to headline. I arrived
in the middle of opening act Mitski and was immediately
impressed. I’m kind of a sucker for angsty alternative rock, but Mitski’s
potent vocals, alternating from high to low and moody, were what earned my
attention the most. (Also, yay for quality vocals! Props to whoever mixed this

Against Me! took the stage around 5:30, greeted by an elated
crowd of clearly adoring fans. And then they won Northside. No, seriously. This
was not just the best set I saw during Northside. This was one of the best live
sets I have seen ANYWHERE. They kicked into “Fuckmylife666,” the first of a 20-song
set as the crowd erupted in chaotic harmony. As a mosh pit quickly formed,
everyone in the perimeter bounced and danced with intensity that suggested it
wasn’t completely sweltering outside.  

And it was just one furious punk masterpiece after another
from there.  They played tracks spanning
the band’s more-than-a-decade career, including “The Ocean,” “I Was a Teenage
,” and “Cliché Guevara,” along with several from the band’s 2014
release Transgender Dysphoria Blues, (which
I’ve had on repeat since the show), and a cover of The Replacements
Androgynous.” Just as the band’s energy never faltered, neither did the
crowd’s. By the time front woman Laura Jane Grace thanked everyone for
“enduring the black top heat,” and the band closed with “Sink, Florida, Sink!” I
was not at all ready for the show to be over, and I don’t think I was the only
one who would say so.

 (Against Me at McCarren Park. Photo credit: Natalie Hamingson)

The next band I
caught wasn’t until several hours later, when DOOMSQUAD took the stage at Rough Trade. The set started ominously, with front man Trevor
wailing in cookie monster style vocals from underneath a dark hood. The vocals
got less harsh after the first track, with the songs veering from sinister to
trippy sounding.

The experimental trio from Toronto was quite animated for a
style of music that’s pretty hard to translate in a live setting. Unfortunately
I just wasn’t feeling it, and neither was the rest of the crowd, who kept a
significant distance from the stage until addressed by the artist, “You guys
can dance if you want….or come a little closer.”

The night closed with PINS, an
all- girl alternative rock band from Manchester. Though I didn’t catch the entire
set, I thoroughly enjoyed what I heard, like “Young Girls,” a dreamy number
with the incredibly catchy lyrics, “What will we do? What will we do? What will
we do when our dreams come true?

The aforementioned track comes off their sophomore album, Wild Nights, released just five days
before this performance, and recorded at famous desert studio Rancho De La Luna
by Dave Catching (Queens of the Stone Age). I may have had to run that night,
but I definitely plan to keep paying attention to what these girls do next.

 (PINS at Rough Trade. Photo credit: Natalie Hamingson)


I ended the festival with electronic duo Light Asylum,
featured on Northside’s Art Walk on Bedford Avenue. As I’ve said before, making
that style of music work in a live setting can often be an uphill battle, as
tinkering with switches and knobs often means sacrificing a certain amount of
energy. This is not an issue for Light Asylum at all, as front woman Shannon Funchess’ booming
voice and commanding stage presence absolutely demand attention. It was
the perfect end to a great week.

(Light Asylum at UO Stage, Williamsburg Art Walk) 

For more photos, check out the following links:

EMEFE and Femi Kuti and The Positive Force at Brooklyn Bowl 6/12/15:

Light Asylum at UO Stage, Williamsburg Art Walk 6/14/15:


Natalie Hamingson’s bio: I am a freelance writer with over nine years of experience writing for online media, primarily journalistic. My expertise is in music journalism, especially feature artist interviews. (Outlets published on include: Music for America, LA2DAY, Covers, Chicks with Guns, my own blog,, and

I am, however, very flexible in my ability to write about multiple subjects. My second most covered topics are political and social issues. Those issues frequently appear in my music related articles, as I often cover artists with social justice focused messages.In addition, my background includes freelance marketing work, such as social media/viral marketing, blog and website content, and press releases for artists and non-profits. I also have extensive editing and proofreading experience.

For samples visit my portfolio:, and blog: