by Steven Pisano
Each June, the Northside Festival brings to Williamsburg and Bushwick a long list of interesting conferences revolving around today's tech and media worlds, but what always interests us most at Feast of Music is of course music--lots and lots (and lots) of music. This year marks the festival's tenth anniversary, and over 300 bands are playing Thursday through Sunday with something for just about everyone.
On Thursday at Brooklyn Bowl, the line-up featured three self-professed "weirdos" and "geeks" who brought a DIY rap sensibility to their musical views of the world. To be honest, we never knew this was a niche, and it almost seems too much of a niche within a niche, but in a way this proves Northside's role in supporting performers across a wide spectrum.
Leading off the 3-hour concert was a singer known as Sammus (born Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo), a PhD candidate in science at Cornell University who is now based in Philadelphia. If you are a fan of the Nintendo game "Metroid," you would recognize her name coming from the game character Samus Aran who protects the universe from Space Pirates.
As you might expect from a singer/songwriter/rapper/teacher working on a doctorate, Sammus writes smart, socially conscious, and sensitive songs that surprise with their literate lyrics. Sammus also surprises by being angry at people (but in a nice way)--at people who made fun of her name when she was a kid, at people who misbehave on social media, at a**holes in general.
She had an immediate and likeable stage presence, and the audience was soon under her sway. But she had one annoying characteristic. At the end of every song, she just ended singing, bam, and walked back to her computer that was playing the background tracks. She seemed uncomfortable accepting the love of the crowd. It's OK, Sammus, being loved is good. I didn't detect a Space Pirate in the bunch.
Following Sammus and her high-energy good mood, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya and his band took the stage, and, well, deflated the room a bit with a darkly lit stage, static musicians, and incomprehensible singing. Apparently a multi-instrumentalist, Ogbonnaya played guitar and mumbled into the microphone. One of the few times his words were understood, he said, "This song is, uh, about eating ass." And maybe it was, but who could tell?
Rounding out the evening was the headliner Milo (born Rory Ferreira), an indie rapper with a growing following who seems to be carving his own path in the music business. He started out in the business and earned his initial reputation with raps that were heavily leaden with classic philosophy, because that is what he was studying in school, and although his subject matter has changed over the last five years, his devoted following still expects literate references in dense layers that are not your usual bread & butter of the rap scene. Unfortunately, it was hard to make out his words on the Brooklyn Bowl stage. At least half the time his back was turned to the audience as if he was in his basement just bopping around to his own private groove.
Over at the Brooklyn Bazaar in Greenpoint, the always-adventurous Tinnitus Music Series hosted experimental four piece L'Rain, mixing Taja Cheek's otherworldly looped vocals with sax, bass, drums, and what sounded a lot like a decaying French organ. A little of everything: jazz, rock, R&B.
The night ended another half mile up Manhattan Ave, where post-rock heroes Caspian played through all of their 2015 release "Dust and Disquiet" at Saint Vitus. Over two sets, the sextet - including two drummers and four guitars - played their butts off, building visceral crescendos of near-symphonic grandeur. At the end of a long day, it was cathartic, energizing, thrilling.
More Thursday photos can be found here.