The debut of The New Colossus Festival, which took place at independent venues all around the Lower East Side of Manhattan, demonstrated itself to be the DIY musical exposure that we all need. This proved to be a mammoth celebration of true indie music values in an age where the business of music (as well as our very lives in general) are being bought up and packaged by big businesses and industries. Much like the gentrification of the LES that has pushed out many of the smaller NYC venues, while the rest got gobbled up by bigger outfits like Live Nation and Bowery Presents, the chances of smaller, unsigned and minor label artists getting exposure on good smaller stages in Manhattan has become tougher. As unyielding as the big label dominance of the music industry may be, there has been quite a bit of positive change over the last couple decades as well, with the internet helping to circumvent the big record deals and promote and distribute their work in a more pure DIY form. However, without the promotion power of the biggie labels, these small indie stages are the launching pads that these newer up-and-coming bands need to get discovered, so celebrating those that still fight the good fight is more important than ever.
Things became a blur during the second half of the festival, as the shows started early on Saturday and bled dreamily into Sunday afternoon. This next stage started with some good friends of mine, the elegantly swooning Brooklyn indie-rockers Flying Pace, who have returned after a lengthy hiatus, and really started the day off right at a Rough Trade Party at Pianos. Then came the Brighton band Penelope Isles, a divinely harmonic and expansively lush band that soared with an extraordinary set at Arlene’s Grocery. Following that, Montreal’s Emilie Kahn played an angelically gorgeous set with her heavenly harp named Ogden. Next came Liverpool’s quintet of craziness called Psycho Comedy who kicked up the heat with a blistering set that would have given classic punk bands like The Ramones and The Clash a run for their money. Then came another chance to catch the ballsy hard rocking pop duo from St. Lewis called Bruiser Queen. I also caught The Natvral (aka Kip Berman, former frontman of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart) a second time back at Pianos again; only this time he played solo with no backing band, which only further exemplified his raw early Dylan sound. That led sublimely into a set by a long-time sovereign institution of indie pop values by the name of Tris McCall, who is a well-respected music journalist and novelist, as well as a member of a number of former indie bands like My Teenage Stride and The Consultants, and his present band had a lot of members of his more recent Brooklyn-based pop/rock project Overlord, but his solo stuff is really all about life seen from the prism of Jersey City, and his songs are both hilarious and thought provoking.
Next was an extraordinarily smooth Israeli pop band called Bones Garage that had a great surf punk charge and a smoothly harmonic indie pop edge. Over at Bowery Electric one of my favorite local bands Russian Baths rocked out a towering sound built on the dueling guitarists and vocalists who face each other center stage while bathed in the darkness and belting some vigorously swelling epics. Back at Arlene’s, the Brighton band Orchards showed an almost Olympian level of energy and a championship plateau of talent. The spicy Calgary duo Lambsbreath captured and nicely raw guitar/drum rumble, and when topped with sound effects, it proved to be a real treat. Quebec’s Ghostly Kisses were an aptly titled ethereal journey, and I loved the whole heavenly sermon. Afterwards, the Danish dream pop band Lowly had that richly lush sound you’d love to wrap yourself up in and drift away. Following that, the synthy Siren calls of The Other End beaconed me to the rocks, and the set proved to be supremely transcendent. As the finale, there was Montreal’s Radiant Baby funking us away with a very Rapture and LCD Soundsystem styled dance party climax to the festival.
I found this new music festival to be just what the New York music scene not only badly needs but has also been so critically aching for. I can’t wait to see how it all further matures and hopefully flourishes in the coming years. Until then, we all need to keep patronizing these small venues and taking back the gentrified neighborhoods, as we all need these springboards for emerging artist, or else we will only be left the shiny objects the slimy big corporations try to sell us.
Article: Dean Keim