The halcyon ’90s saw the rise of touring music festivals that paired iconic headliners and cult powerhouses with their respective scenes’ up-and-comers. Lollapalooza, Warped, Ozzfest, H.O.R.D.E., and the less genre-bound, more gender-powered Lilith Fair — before they all dwindled down from cutting-edge to “meh,” discontinued or stopped traveling, they formed a movable ecosystem that broke major musical groups in their infancy and connected audiences with many acts they otherwise would never have seen.
Where do you go today for that — to support the insurgents whose first big step up would have been from creaky vans to back-of-the-pack tour buses? Who showcases, as their mission, the offbeat emerging talent that used to be the festivals’ forte?
Here in South Florida, there’s BUMBLEFEST, a block party of great indie performers assembled at a quintet of West Palm Beach venues on one downtown street, in a sort of scavenger hunt of fun. Voltaire and Respectable Street anchor this year’s Bumblefestivities, with Hullabaloo, Kismet Vintage and Subculture Coffee rounding out the Clematis Street circuit — nothing so far apart that one can’t wander on foot to take in all the sights and sounds.
Bumblefest belongs to a breed of hometown festival such as Fun Fun Fun in Austin, Texas and III Points in Miami that absolutely wants your freak flag flying. They’re here to connect you with the fresh, good-vibe and sometimes strange music you didn’t know you needed. Sure, you could pile into Sunfest to see the Pixies or Ice Cube or whichever legacy act is playing a waterfront jammed full of people who aren’t really interested in music. Or you could head farther west to the 500 Block of Clematis Street to see the bands that everyone else will be talking about one, five or ten years out. Thirty-three bands will play on six stages from 6pm-4am. (Limited $5 advance tickets are on sale NOW at Ticketfly)
Here are a few of the touring highlights:
Hailing from Oakland, California, LUMERIANS are what Silver Apples and Kraftwerk would sound like collaborating on a psychedelic space rock opera. The group, formed in 2006 with a name that references “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” is known for incredible live shows with trippy visuals to enhance the equally out-there sounds. A Lumerians audience is basically lulled into a trancelike state that is captivating to behold and insane to be a part of — a full frontal-cortex assault that is part cult of personality and part alien abduction. Listening to albums such as “Transmalinnia,” their slow-to-gestate 2011 debut, or 2013’s “The High Frontier,” is like a Marshall Applewhite ascension ritual that you actually get to live through.
”I guess we live in a spaceship that bends the universe around it rather than flying,” a Lumerian explained to Dangerous Minds in 2012, “or maybe it’s a beach house, except instead of sand and water outside, it’s got taco trucks and human trafficking.”
Veterans of bills with the Butthole Surfers and more recently My Bloody Valentine, the band is presently touring in support of “Call of the Void,” an album exhibiting shades of John Carpenter movie music and the Tangerine Dream-channeling Survive — they of the “Stranger Things” theme. It seems fitting that an act from Oakland, one bridge over from the birthpod of hippie culture, would be the new ambassadors of envelope-pushing, audiovisual sex, drugs and space travel.
SANTOROS is a pure Mexican garage-rock, psychedelic-surf act straight from Los Angeles. The group is currently touring in support of “Bad Habits,” a four-song EP that’s all jangly, beach-kissed fun in the sun. “When You Cry at Night” starts off as an instrumental throwback to the Ventures and evolves into a keyboard-driven pop song about forlorn love on a sand dune someplace.
Santoros embrace both their Mexican and Southern California roots. Mostly raised in the San Fernando Valley, the band members cut their teeth on L.A.’s Echo Park music scene, starting out as drinking buddies who decided to jam and liked what they heard. The brotherhood that is Santoros was raised around music, surfing and the west coast lifestyle. It doesn’t hurt to have oldies stations and the mighty KROQ-FM to nurture bourgeoning musical passions, and it’s no surprise that this combination of surf, sun and fun would translate into the sounds the band is making; it’s been the West Coast rock muse since forever. PureHoney booked Santoros for an amazing Delray play almost four years ago when they tripped through town with Psychomagic.
SCOTT YODER could easily be mistaken for the 21st century version of Marc Bolan. He’s a glam rock-inspired folk fella based in Seattle who spent his formative years playing in the Pharmacy for Burger Records, and a self-described “glitter-folk elf prince … touring the world with his backing band of glammy freaks and misfits.”
Yoder’s specialty is the dreamy, spell-casting ode to impossible love. Think Big Star and Donovan at their most turned-up sharing a cloud with Nick Drake in a dreary sky and you’re starting to get the picture. All pomp and circumstance that’s simultaneously way too much, but never enough, the music is psych-pop and punk raised on the promises of T-Rex and Ziggy Stardust, and filtered through a lo-fi dreamscape. Check out Yoder’s “Goodbye Lady Day,“ and be prepared for the possibility of numerous in-concert romantic breakups, with people so transported by the experience of Yoder in person they ditch their significant others to go live among elven royalty. The band snuck into town on a Tuesday night three months ago and performed an intimate super secret surprise pop up for us at Kismet Vintage. If you were there… you know;)
GUSTAF, the nom de plume of New York-based artist Lydia Gammill is, in the band’s own estimation, an irresistibly danceable combination of ESG, Jonathan Richman and Alan Vega. Dropping those names in an official bio sets the cool bar very high, but Gustaf sounds confident enough to deliver. A debut album is due this summer, in time for Gustaf’s Bumblefest debut.
The group itself — Gammill with Tine Hill, Tarra Thiessen, Angela Tornello and Vramshabouh — hasn’t been around for long. But Gammill is a veteran player and has put the work into making people sit up and take notice in a place, Brooklyn, where you can’t swing a cat without hitting a musician.
PLEASURES are our local (Saint Petersburg) heroes dabbling in experimental psych rock and dark noise abstractions that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in a David Lynch film. The band describes itself as dark and stormy space rock from the Swamplands of Southwest Florida and quite frankly it would be hard to argue against that description. They’re part BATTLES, part Tame Impala, with a dose of Grizzly Bear, but completely original in their stage presence and sound
BUMBLEFEST 2018 (34 bands on 6 stages) took place on September 8, 2018 on the 500 block of Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach. LUMERIANS | SCOTT YODER | SANTOROS | GUSTAF | PLEASURES | HURRICANE PARTY w. Boston Marriage + Citizen Badger + Cog Nomen + Donzii + Ella Herrera + Glass Body + Haute Tension + Heller Floor + Humbert + In His Head + Indigo Dreamers + JM & the Sweets + King Complex + Lion Country Ferrari + Man Made Weather + Matchstick Johnny + Mona Lisa Tribe + Monster Teeth + Mood Swing + Nervous Monks + Pocket of Lollipops + Poparazzi + Raised by Wolves + Seafoam Walls + Sonic Shaman + The Brand + Toledo + Turtle Grenade
SIX STAGES: Kismet Vintage * Respectable Street (inside/outside) * Voltaire WPB * Hullabaloo * Subculture Coffee
~ Tim Moffatt