How was Sasquatch 2014? Well, on one hand it was great because Outkast was there. Friday night, the longstanding Atlanta duo performed the best set on the main stage, moving thousands of sunburned, face-painted millennials to dance to generation-defining hits like “Hey Ya” and “Ms. Jackson,” and to the delight of hard-core fans, older cuts like “Crumblin’ Erb.”
Charismatic super-rapper André 3000 wore a white wig and a giant tag attached to his bodysuit that read “FOR SALE” and on the flip side “SOLD OUT” — playing with notions of gender and credibility like Kurt Cobain did.
The best moments of the annual Memorial Day weekend festival are always the ones that work on a few levels, and several elements of Outkast’s set did.
Did young Americans notice Outkast launched into its set with USA-criticizing songs “Bombs Over Baghdad” and “Gasoline Dreams” (“Don’t everybody like the smell of gasoline [...] don’t everybody like the taste of apple pie”)? Maybe not. But the beats brought everyone together. That, and the sound of Andre 3000’s rap voice — which does amazing things with vowels — along with the syllable-twisting flow of Big Boi. Whether the political undertones were apparent to the crowd, the throngs were bouncing.
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Speaking of America lately, surveillance emerged as a theme. Signs posted at the front gates stated that by entering you surrendered your image to photographers and videographers. Normal enough, but as soon as the festival opened, attendants were greeted by a drone buzzing overhead. It could have belonged to the Seattle music-marketing company Ziibra, which was collecting footage for future videos, but other companies had drones in the air as well.
Headliner M.I.A. even used them for artistic purposes. Hers hovered benignly over the stage, decorated with neon peace signs during a set that included old hits (“Galang”) and new (“Double Bubble Trouble”). Her swirl of sirens and heavy drums was the best dance music at Sasquatch.
A close second in that category was Ryan Hemsworth, the Canadian electronic/rap deejay. His liquid treatment of hip-hop (remixing songs like Future’s “Honest”) in the El Chupacabra tent motivated several teenage/college-age people next to me to sniff and apply powders to their gums. At times, everyone at Sasquatch seemed very young, very bare and very, um, impaired.
Other big musical stories included Chicago rapper Chance the Rapper, who had a breakthrough performance on the Bigfoot stage, bringing a downright balletic flair to his emotional music. That guy can work his feet. He performed with some of Macklemore’s preacherman appeal but far more dexterity, not just in his feet but also in his lyrics. Now that Kendrick Lamar is a popular rapper in this hyper-wordy mode (unlike, say, lyrical low point Flo Rida and most of the radio), perhaps the season has changed and the masses are ready for rapper’s rappers to be pop stars again like they were in the ’90s. Chance has a song with Justin Bieber, and that, with his reception at Sasquatch, bodes well for his popularity.
Locally, Seattle made a mark with feminist rock from Chastity Belt, who sang about reclaiming the word “slut” on “Cool Slut,” and Tacocat, who sang about street harassment on the song “Hey Girl.” Like Outkast, these groups had messages in their catchy tunes.
The fest was diminished by cancellations by U.K. electronic act AlunaGeorge, which had been previously announced, and Los Angeles band Liars, which was a surprise and left fans confused at the Bigfoot stage. They issued a statement, which was texted to me by Sasquatch owner Adam Zacks: “The airline lost essential instruments and equipment.”
These things happen, but it was a bummer.
There were originally to be two Sasquatches this year, with another installment over Fourth of July canceled due to lack of tickets sold. Zacks told Seattle Weekly the event needs to “take a breather and go back to its roots.” As long as he keeps booking acts like Outkast and hard-rocking festival closer Queens of the Stone Age — and tapping the fertile music crescent of the Pacific Northwest — the festival will be fine.