Matson on Music
Capitol Hill Block Party 2012: break outs and sure things
Photo by Joel Hawksley / Seattle Times
Once again it is upon us — Capitol Hill Block Party, the loud, boozy outdoor festival in the middle of Capitol Hill, fanning out from the corner of Pike Street and 11th Avenue.
If you're not familiar with this event, the neighborhood annually hosts thousands of sweaty people in the street who crowd and jostle while absorbing noise ricocheting off brick walls from huge speakers. The lineup is 100 trendy/tasteful acts from the worlds of electronic music, hip-hop and rock 'n' roll (highlights below). The action starts Friday evening and goes solidly through Saturday and Sunday.
Don't worry if you don't recognize the names of the performers. Block Party is about breaking new acts. Last year, folksy pop band the Lumineers, based in Denver, played as unknowns and managed to convert a few hundred fans at Neumos, one of Block Party's indoor venues. Spurred by an enthusiastic reception, they toured hard afterward, appeared on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and this year sold over 100,000 copies of their first, self-titled album, according to manager and Seattle nightlife impresario Dave Meinert.
"Block Party is where it all started for them," says Meinert.
The Lumineers play the main stage Sunday.
Also breaking out at Block Party are local acts Allen Stone and Beat Connection, on the main stage Friday and Saturday, respectively. Stone's had much success the past year with his Stevie Wonder-inspired pop music, selling out concerts across the U.S. and playing twice on national TV. He recently signed a record deal with Dave Matthews' label ATO, which is rereleasing Stone's self-titled, originally self-released album next week. Not everyone in Seattle knows him yet, but Block Party might be the last time you'll be able to say that.
Beat Connection, two University of Washington student DJs who formed a dorm-room electronic band, is a similar case. Their "Surf Noir" EP was rereleased by British labels Moshi Moshi/Tender Age; now the Beat boys have added singer Tom Eddy and a full band (all current or former Huskies). Block Party catches them in the middle of a tour of festivals and American nightclubs supporting "The Palace Garden," their new full-length album, which sounds like three words: "college pool party."
It will be fun to see how those stories play out. Will Seattle recognize Stone as a hometown hero? Will the masses ride Beat Connection's chill wave? Stay tuned.
There are also more established artists playing Block Party, for whom the script is pretty much written. Sometimes that sure-thing satisfaction is what you want. For that, we have headliners Neko Case and Major Lazer.
Case is arguably one of the leading voices of our time in independent pop music, a country-leaning singer-songwriter from Tacoma. She's older than most of the other Block Party acts by about a decade, appeals to a far less party-hardy audience and often sings of wild animals and hard feelings. She is a constant favorite in Seattle because of the slicing power of her voice. She may make rude jokes, but her set Sunday ought to be the weekend's most elegant.
One hundred eighty degrees in the other direction is Major Lazer, Saturday night, the rump-shaking electronic band fronted by producer/DJ Diplo and featuring a fleet of dancers (Diplo is also on at Neumos at 1:30 a.m., solo). Major Lazer's jacked-up dance music will probably incite the festival's most ravelike scene.
Musically, those are the big stories. But Block Party is also full of little ones — hip-hop, for one. The Seattle debut of Florida rapper Spaceghostpurrp is a minor miracle to some hip-hop fans, especially those of Purrp's gangsta-Goth Raider Klan crew, which counts Seattle Garfield High School student/rapper/producer Key Nyata as a member. An onstage cameo is not inconceivable. Nacho Picasso and Keyboard Kid are inspired choices, too, local guys making a lot of great music right now.
The dance music contingent is strong, as well, with Stephanie, Onuinu, Grimes, John Maus, Spoek Mathambo; and rock is present in a meaningful way, with Trash Talk and local bands Crypts, Haunted Horses and Dude York.
All in all the festival looks exhausting — but fun.