Photography by Ted Maider
San Franciscans have a longstanding relationship with outdoor music festivals. Spurred by the city’s innate, free-spirited love of rock ‘n’ roll, the Bay Area leverages its superb weather and breathtaking scenery by offering countless music festivals throughout the year. From the free, independent concert series at Stern Grove to the commercial juggernaut that is Outside Lands, the stream of lineups headlining scenic venues is incessant.
This may be why the Bay commemorates each festival season with Treasure Island Music Festival, a two-day event held on an artificial island outside the city. It’s just far enough removed from the metropolis to offer concertgoers a reprieve from the day-to-day chaos, marking the end of summer with one laid-back weekend. This year it did just the job again.
While the weather is notoriously fickle, this year’s attendees were treated to a balmy, sun-soaked haven where they could chill out, drink beer, and listen to good music. And next to the island’s ocean breeze and Cali green grass (ahem), what proved even more relaxing were the relatively chill crowds. At just 10,000 attendees, the dense clusters typically bottlenecking San Francisco festivals weren’t an issue here. Save for the frenzied crowds at OutKast and Zedd—each of whom drew a remarkably distinct audience—there were no moments in which the music wasn’t accessible.
Saturday was the more party-charged lineup of the two days, packing in German electronic DJ Zedd, Ryan Hemsworth, and Janelle Monáe, while Sunday offered a more mild vibe with sets from Washed Out, New Pornographers, and Banks. But perhaps by far my personal highlight was when I got to finally see Massive Attack live—checking off a lifelong aspiration that lived up to the fantasy I had imagined so many times over. It was ultimately the perfect ending to the festival season, offering a tranquil experience that refueled the festival-loving pathos of the city.
Having remixed an array of artists from Cat Power to Future, Ryan Hemsworth is adept at commanding experimental twists. Over sharp synth textures and stylistic production, his music is difficult to pin as full electropop. As Hemsworth pulsated the stage with a smooth remix of Frank Ocean’s “Thinking About You”, he subtly faded into dreamy R&B cuts like “One for Me”. His sultry, ambient electronics encapsulated the weekender essence of the day.
In what was the most visually stunning set of the evening, Classixx charged a piercing San Francisco sunset with expansive, mood-altering disco. The colorful, glossy dance tracks channeled a vibrant spirit in the crowd, closing the afternoon with a renewed energy. This ushered in a larger nighttime crowd that was beginning to swell, and signaled the last of the calm before the chaos of OutKast hit. It was the perfect afternoon send-out.
Continuing the palpable charge of Saturday night’s energy were Brooklyn electro-pop group St. Lucia, who fueled the fervor that was beginning to develop with synth-driven pop beats. It was clear that with their emergence the party was just getting started, especially evident by the rhythmic pulsing in the dancing crowds. As a cascade of laser beams pierced the night sky, the energy of the group’s pop hit “Elevate” was palpable.
While Saturday featured a dance heavy lineup, Sunday was far more casual and rock driven. The tween girls clamoring to dance with their group of mall friends had dissipated, and there was a noticeably mature vibe that permeated the day. White Denim was an excellent marker of that (as well as the fact that this was the first band I was really excited to see). Having seen them perform live a few times, the indie stalwarts have consistently delivered solid performances. Singing old favorites like “New Blue Feeling” and “Pretty Green”, they proved to retain their bluesy charm on stage.
Photo by Catie Laffoon
It was like the weather knew she was coming on. As soon as icy songstress Banks took the stage, there was a noticeable temperature drop, which was too perfect in accompanying her chilly vibe. Dressed head to toe in black, the Goddess singer ushered in her languid, dreamy synth pop, crooning to tracks like “Waiting Game” and “This is what it Feels Like”. At this point, there was a noticeable swell in concertgoers, who flocked to hear the spine-tingling ballads.
The New Pornographers
The life cycle of The New Pornographers is one that continually evolves while their sound gets better. Having seen them live before, it was either a fabulous day for acoustics or the sound was cooperating wonderfully with the venue – but Dan Bejar and Kathryn Calder sounded stronger than ever together. Strumming out tracks including “Bill Bruisers” and “Myriad Harbor”, the band sparked an elevated sense of community among an eclectic crowd, harnessing the spirit of the festival.
Experimental art-rock group Alt-J sent noticeable shocks of energy with a frenzied electro-tinged set. Introducing the robotic soulfulness that characterize much of their work, the rich vocals of Joe Newman moved through the crowd and had everyone swaying to “Hunger of the Pine”. That vibe continued as they performed the jazzy, shuffling hit “Breezeblocks”, giving the festival a rhapsodic, eclectic vibe.
TV on the Radio
It’s easy to understand why TV on the Radio retains a very core and loyal base. Their music has been nothing less than full throttle – an intense, sonic appeal that had the power to shatter the afternoon tranquility. And it was just what the festival needed. Once Tunde Adebimpe hit the stage, his supercharged vocals bellowed and growled over “Wolf Like Me”. The tyrannical essence of his performance electrified the crowd, re-charging their energy and leading them into the final throes of the festival.
This may error on the side of bias, but Massive Attack was arguably the greatest set of the festival. As the closing act, the legendary trip-hop group drew a decidedly older crowd familiar with their downtempo electro grooves. And while Massive Attack have flourished in their evolutionary path over the years, their sound has never diminished. In fact, lead vocalist Martina Topley-Bird sounds as soulfully forthright as her younger counterparts, delivering a haunting and memorable performance. Over the pulsating and blinding lights that darted through the band into the crowd, hearing the nostalgic classics of “Paradise Circus” and “Teardrop” sealed the magical feeling Treasure Island exudes.