Fun Fun Fun Fest's Blue Stage boasts eclectic mix of established powerhouses and soon-to-be stars
In 2007, a young up-and-coming New York pop duo by the name of MGMT played Fun Fun Fun Fest’s Blue Stage. They took the stage in the early afternoon and were, says booker and Transmission Entertainment principal Graham Williams, paid around $500.
Less than one year later, riding the runaway success of the inescapable single “Kids,” MGMT played an afternoon set at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Thousands upon thousands of excited fans ringed the stage, creating one of that year’s most impassable crowd bottlenecks.
That’s one of the great virtues of the Blue Stage at Fun Fun Fun: From Grimes or Childish Gambino last year all the way back to MGMT or Girl Talk in 2007, the stage is consistently a great place to park yourself if you want to see acts that will almost certainly be a bigger deal in the next 12 months. It’s the little festival that could’s little stage that could: home to an eclectic mix of dance and electronic music and hip-hop. Once tucked into a tiny corner during the festival’s Waterloo Park days, the expanded footprint of Auditorium Shores has allowed the stage and its offerings to fill out. Once and still a great place to catch a lot of the festival’s under-the-radar acts — and since year one the best place to go if you wanted to get your dance on — it’s now home to some of the festival’s most ambitious and exciting shows.
Plus, the Blue Stage is ground zero for the fest’s gradual evolution into a destination for hip-hop fans. That’s never been truer than this year, with the stage boasting an astonishing mixture of established greats (Rakim, Run-DMC, De La Soul) and young talent (Danny Brown, A$AP Rocky and Macklemore, among others).
The increasing prominence of hip-hop in F3F comes, says Williams, from the festival’s desire to offer a lot of everything — in contrast, obviously, to the more famous a little of everything.
“There’s so many other festivals that barely do any hip-hop, and if they do it’s the flavor of the month, like whoever Pitchfork likes at that time. It’s whatever is trendy or widely accepted,” says Williams. “Whereas we really try to embrace the small and the big acts from that scene, whether it’s the buzzy stuff or the old-school acts, which may have faded in popularity a bit but are still really important to the genre.”
With that in mind, here are 10 of the stage’s must-see acts this year. They span a half-dozen genres and subgenres, but all share one thing in common: With energy to burn, they should get you moving.
10 Blue Stage highlights
1. De La Soul (7:55 p.m. Sunday).This classic hip-hop trio very nearly invented alternative hip-hop and jazz rap, they deploy a massively diverse array of samples, and their rhymes are some of the quirkiest and funniest in the business. But the most important fact is this: They recorded “3 Feet High and Rising,” one of those stone-cold classics that will be winning converts long after all of us are in the ground.
2. Nick Waterhouse (2:35 p.m. Friday). Fans of soul and R&B are enjoying a modern embarrassment of riches — Mayer Hawthorne, Aloe Blacc, Black Joe Lewis, Fitz and the Tantrums, all things Daptone. To that impressive and ever-growing list, add Waterhouse, a young singer whose debut LP, “Time’s All Gone,” is an infectious slab of full-throated R&B goodness with a raw, analog edge.
3. STRFKR (7:50 p.m. Saturday). Portland, Ore.’s STRFKR picked its name largely to see, as songwriter Joshua Hodges has said, how far they could get with “a stupid name like (that).” As it turns out, they could go pretty far indeed, thanks to the band’s eminently lovable, bouncy electronic pop.
4. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (7:05 p.m. Friday). Probably the best white rapper since Eminem, Seattle hometown hero Macklemore, alongside producer Ryan Lewis, has built a massive following with scarcely any help from the mainstream music business. Their debut album, the knowing, irreverent, immaculately produced “The Heist,” managed to hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200 — an especially impressive performance for a self-released album.
5. Nite Jewel (3:05 p.m. Sunday). Née Ramona Gonzalez, Los Angeles’ Nite Jewel is one of a wave of artists — including the Chromatics, Frankie Rose, and M83 — resurrecting the nocturnally tinged synthpop of the 1980s. This year’s “One Second of Love” is stuffed to the gills with compelling grooves, pairing Nite Jewel’s eerie voice with an atmosphere that’s equal parts danceable and brooding.
6. Rakim (6:10 p.m. Sunday). Widely acknowledged as one of the best rappers ever — possibly the best, period — Rakim casts an impossibly big shadow, with his wordplay, his pioneering use of internal rhyme, and his relaxed delivery influencing nearly everyone in the game. These days, he doesn’t play live often, making this performance doubly essential for hip-hop fans.
7. Etienne de Crécy (8:50 p.m. Sunday). Buoyed by the likes of Deadmau5 and Skrillex, electronic dance music is enjoying a moment right now. Let’s hope that brings added attention to slightly older icons like Etienne de Crécy, a French house music producer who, with his cathartic jams, helped make Paris one of the world’s great dance capitals in the 1990s.
8. Icona Pop (1:50 p.m. Friday). Because Robyn and Little Dragon weren’t enough, Sweden has given the world yet another earworm dance act in the form of Icona Pop, the electropop duo of Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt. Unabashedly big and hooky, their sophomore EP, “Iconic,” is practically genetically engineered to get bodies on the dance floor.
9. Feathers (12:35 p.m. Sunday). Exhaustion, hangover … there’s no excuse not to show up early in order to catch some of the astonishingly good Austin acts playing F3F — including, especially, Feathers, four immensely talented and impossibly cool locals brewing gothic, atmospheric electropop.
10. Anamanaguchi (2:30 p.m. Saturday). Take one part traditional rock band and add a dash of glitch-y beats courtesy of a hacked Nintendo Entertainment System, and you have New York’s Anamanaguchi. The quartet’s videogame-infused sounds make for perfect party rock for the 8-bit generation.