With just under 200 bands and more than a dozen venues scattered around downtown Raleigh, Hopscotch Music Festival (Sept. 6-8) lived up to its choose-your-own-adventure namesake.
You could start your journey at tiny clubs like Slim’s, where sound quality is measured in terms of quantity, and pack yourself in to experience the often-shirtless fervor of rock ‘n’ roll and its derivatives. There was room to sit back in sleek comfort at the Fletcher Opera Theater and contemplate whether Southern musicians like Hiss Golden Messenger’s M.C. Taylor (http://shop.heavenandearthmagic.com/album/poor-moon-2) incorporate religious imagery in their lyrics to emulate Americana idiosyncrasies, or because they’re genuinely religious.
You could even find an answer to that question from M.C. Taylor himself during an open-to-the-public moderated panel on “Atavistic power: Soul, gospel, folk and blues traditions in independent music.”
My own adventure led me to the unfamiliar. Not to write off a genre that may or may not exist, but I’ve never really cared for noise music. I can see its role in expanding the fringes of the musical palette. But past the novelty of listening to something that is so different from what I normally understand as music, it seemed like something that would be hard to listen to twice.
Of course, Hopscotch’s far-ranging lineup gives the music listener spaces to challenge their preconceived notions and broaden their musical appetite. I went with an open mind to the Pour House to see New York’s noise god Prurient at last year’s Hopscotch. Blame it on a lingering cognitive bias, but I very quickly left that venue. Standing around with furrowed brow, trying to react emotionally to nothing but a 16 kHz tone and white noise … it didn’t click.
But this year’s Hopscotch brought a different space for me to field noise music. After Thursday and Friday saw Deerhoof and Yo La Tengo at Memorial Auditorium, the lights were dimmed for Saturday’s night of noise and doom.
It was the rare chance to grab a seat in a spacious (and mostly empty) auditorium, lay back, close your eyes, forego the visual spectacle of performance and solely listen to music, with your friends and maybe 50 other people doing the same around you. It was dark, it was comfortable. And I legitimately enjoyed the music I heard there.
The first thing I thought of listening to Kevin Drumm’s set was that it sounded a lot like what scientists estimate the Mars Science Laboratory’s descent to the red planet sounded like. There was definitely an otherworldly vibe: the pacing would have matched up nicely with the scene in 2001 where scientists investigate the monolith on the moon. After a period of near-silence, where the only hint of any musical happening was a spooky midtone, a screeching came so loud and remained so long that you had no choice but to plug your ears. It was terrifying.
You can make Hopscotch a numbers game; an endurance test to see how many bands you can cram into three-plus days. You can stake out one venue for five hours. There are bands that will probably never play on the eastern seaboard again. There are local acts that might never play outside of the Triangle.
Hopscotch has established itself is a music festival for music fans. For now, there are no cumbersome sponsors, no gimmicks — just a ton of bands and a wide variety of venues.
With the sale of the Independent Weekly, Hopscotch remains essentially in the same hands, but the litmus test for the festival’s survivability has yet to come. If it can keep up its non-linear distinction, I say look out for this festival for years to come.