A man stepped out of Neumos and gazed in bewilderment at the scene which lay before him Sunday night. A sea of bobbing humans, packed shoulder to shoulder across an entire city block, raged their faces off as famed party starter Diplo conducted from the main stage DJ booth.
His voice was inaudible through the throbbing bass and chirping synth lines fueling the mayhem, but his lips were unmistakable: “Ooph,” he exclaimed with a heavy sigh.
Undeterred or simply out of options, he removed from his pants a smuggled PBR (two for $8 inside) and forged ahead, elbowing his way through the jungle of sweaty bodies in search of his friends, God or a quiet place to drink an illicit tallboy.
Capitol Hill Block Party is back, baby.
One of Seattle’s premier music festivals came roaring back for the first time in three years this past weekend, taking over the city’s nightlife epicenter with a stacked lineup led by alt-pop star Charli XCX and dance producers Jai Wolf and Diplo. Beyond our first-day vibe check, here are a few of the highlights, presented in the form of mock awards. Congratulations to all the winners (and losers).
The best Seattle rapper …
… was actually from Spokane. Any Seattle fans mistaking fiery Eastern Washington rapper Jango (or is it just Jang now?) as a 206er can be forgiven considering the foothold he’s establishing on this side of the mountains. The artist to watch ignited a small Neumos crowd with his punk rock energy over booming, sinister beats reminiscent of Florida’s murky underground of the early 2010s. Seattle stalwart Sam Lachow — whose last Block Party appearance was a clutch fill-in slot on the main stage in 2018 — made a cameo for a lighthearted run through their springy collaboration, “Merchandise.”
Most wholesome and uncomfortable moments: Danny Brown
During his sometimes slow-moving set, colorful Detroit rapper Danny Brown pulled a young child up from the crowd for an onstage dance session and some adorable banter that elated the crowd. “Sometimes I feel like rapping; sometimes I don’t,” Brown proclaimed earlier. “But they’re paying me to rap.” Despite slaying a number of cuts off his 2011 breakout “XXX,” Brown, who also has a podcast, seemed more interested in chatting Saturday, bringing up Phoenix Jones (loves him), Seattle homelessness (scares him) and Seattle rapper Raz Simone (“That’s my [guy], not gonna lie,” he said to an uncomfortable smattering of applause). Simone is accused of sex trafficking and physical abuse in a civil lawsuit, and was recently implicated in a tort claim surrounding the shooting death of a teenager around the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone in 2020.
Worst product placement: Big Soda’s big boombox
On Saturday, the brand-activating vibe jackers from a large soda corporation (not Pepsi, the other one) plopped a giant boombox-shaped DJ booth on Pike Street to promote a “limited edition” Cola collab with a famous DJ that may or may not taste like marshmallows. Eye-roll, whatevs. But the dance music emanating from the engagement-thirsty ad installation bled over to the block party’s No. 2 stage about 30 yards away. Wasn’t it a Doritos stage that ruined South By Southwest? Just sayin’.
Best product placement: Toro y Moi’s Enumclaw shirt
Chillwave forefather Chaz Bundick and his merry band of synthy men delivered what was unquestionably the vibiest set of the weekend to a massive, tightly-packed crowd Saturday night. He did so while repping his recent tour mates Enumclaw, the buzzy Tacoma-area indie rockers who played earlier that day, by wearing the local band’s T-shirt on stage. It was a cool main-stage salute to the steam-building locals set to release their debut album this fall.
Best reason to feel old: Josie on the Rocks
Anyone who can correctly identify a Discman might feel 100 years old to know that the daughter of Seattle rock royalty Chris Cornell and Susan Silver is now making her way in the local scene. A chip off the musical family block, Lily Cornell Silver fronts the new quartet Josie on the Rocks, which helped set the Sunday afternoon vibes on the Vera stage. Calling the gig a “dream come true” — a common theme for young local bands who grew up attending as fans — Silver and crew’s songs ranged from breezy jangle pop to a groove-rocking ode to “our beloved Sonics” with a heavier psych riff that could have been cribbed from the “Superunknown” sessions.
Least functionally dressed: Duckwrth
“Why did I decide to wear all black today?” the L.A. rapper/singer asked himself aloud, taking a well-deserved breather after leading his band through a high-octane “Power Power.” Despite going shirtless under a black blazer, his black pants, thick boots and leather glove on his mic hand weren’t the most functional attire for the hottest afternoon of the weekend, as Sunday temperatures reached 80 degrees. Even without the air conditioning he enjoyed when electrifying Climate Pledge Arena with Billie Eilish a few months ago, Duckwrth’s progressive mix of hip-hop, dance music, funk rock and dreamy R&B (among other things) with a live-band punch was a guaranteed Block Party smash.
Best call and response: “Positive affirmations” with Remi Wolf
Alt-pop singer-songwriter Remi Wolf and her three-piece backing band (which sounded 10 times bigger) walloped a rapt Sunday crowd with dubby soul-rockers, sun-drenched pop tunes and Wolf’s thunderous voice. At one point, the good-vibing singer traded her mic for the drum kit while her drummer, who “can’t sing for [expletive],” led the crowd in chanting a series of “positive affirmations” meant to improve our human condition. They included “My happy thoughts will become my reality,” and the dad-approved “I know how to do my taxes.” It was the most responsible thing that happened all weekend.
Most likely to confuse your parents and future children: 100 Gecs
The hyperpop brain melters came crashing into the main stage like an errant Mario Kart racer on speed-boosting mushrooms (the funny kind) Sunday night. The duo’s marvelously erratic digi-noise is a senses-frying concoction of smash-and-grab video game sounds, crunching hip-hop beats, glitchy electronics, ska and metal riffs and heavily Auto-Tuned vocals that sound like they’ve been filtered through a dial-up modem. The sonic equivalent of a Tumblr page come to life, 100 Gecs might only make sense in these hopelessly online times, and even then, I’m not so sure. Gecs were the most glorious oddity of the weekend.
Best reason to root for Capitol Hill Block Party’s continued success: Local bands
For better or worse, most music discovery happens online these days. But it’s not the same as stepping into a room full of people and being blown away by a band you’ve never heard of. That wasn’t possible during the pandemic’s lockdown phase, and it made fan-winning performances from Seattle bands like dreamy indie rock quintet La Fonda and indie pop up-and-comers Sea Lemon all the more special. While some artists have taken issue with Block Party’s pay rate for local artists in the past, it remains an event where Seattle talents have the potential to play for bigger crowds than they otherwise might. And that’s worth celebrating.