The end of summer, back to school, the calendar shift to avoid coinciding with those commie bastards who celebrate Labor Day on May 1—whatever your association with that fateful three-day weekend at the end of August/beginning of September, in this part of the world it means one thing: Bumbershoot.
Thankfully, the weather gods delivered and we can keep our actual bumbershoots safely sheathed (not that any of us carry them). As the workweek wound down yesterday, I plunged in to sample the wares artfully displayed across Seattle Center for the three-day extravaganza.
We were promptly greeted at media check-in by the volunteer code of conduct. The first rule of volunteering at Bumbershoot, it turns out, isn't "Don't talk about volunteering at Bumbershoot." Rather: "Don't show up for your shift drunk or high." Sage advice.
Speaking of sage, I spied some smug passersby muttering "cultural appropriation" in the general direction of a shirtless young man sporting a feathered headdress. Had they bothered to ask, they would have heard him proudly tell another onlooker that the tattoo on his chest was written in Skwxwú7mesh (that's Squamish to us English speakers), and he was a proud tribal member. In a decade of festival-going defined by debates over attire, it was a postcard Northwest moment to see those tables turned. A good omen for the weekend to come.
B.A.G., KEXP, 3:05-3:50
Seattle and San Francisco doesn’t have to play jealous West Coast rivals, really. Just ask local rapper Gifted Gab, who teamed up with SF’s Blimes Brixton to form the power duo B.A.G. Even before the end of working hours on Friday, these two packed the KEXP Gathering Space, which means we’ve still got enough shiftless motherfuckers in this town—or the not-yet-back-to-school quotient was really high. Either way, a promising kickoff to Bumbershoot.
Gifted Gab sported a Mariners jersey (keep those playoff hopes alive) topped with a Central District snapback, while Blimes rocked a 49ers jacket replete with pickaxes and gold rushers (boo). A little rivalry aside, the stylish pair traded rhymes for 45 minutes with lyrical dexterity, drawing from their solo material—sample crowdpleaser: “This isn’t a comedy ho / I’ll sit you in economy yo”—and their nascent hits, the million-plus views “Come Correct” and hot-off-the-press “Nasty.” DJ Vega kept time with some deft scratches.
It wasn’t a competition, but I’m giving the nod to G.G. for her breathless acapella performance of “Eye On ’Em.” I lost count after 30 bars how many she spat without taking a break. The spellbound crowd hung on every word and erupted in hoots and hollers when she dropped this gold nugget: “What type a nigga don’t like / thick thighs with fish fries.”
As they descended from the stage and encouraged the audience to form a circle around them for their final number, the two stared intently into each other’s eyes as the lyrics whipped back and forth. A true MCmance has been born.
Bhad Bhabie, Memorial Stadium Main Stage, 4:30-5:15
As I descended the stairs into Memorial Stadium, one Bumbershooter told a friend disparagingly, “She’ll never be more than a meme.” I interjected to point out that the fact all several thousand of us were crowding into the stadium to see Bhad Bhabie meant we’d already created a bigger monster.
The 15-year-old inadvertent foul-mouthed social media star-turned-actual rapper is a case for sociologists to ponder at a later date. For now, she’s cruising main stages generating equal measures of wild euphoria among her adolescent fans and disgusted bewilderment among those in the bleachers searching for meaning in her trainwreck of a set.
A friend later asked me if Bhad Bhabie actually sang. I think he was asking if she had lip synced or not. I’m sure there was plenty of that, but she did, indeed, emit sound from her larynx. I wouldn’t call it singing, or rapping. Most of it was as unintelligible as her “cash me outside, how 'bout dah?” catch phrase—which, rumor has it, is banned from her performances—and I wondered if she, her backup singer, and DJ Asia Shabazz (who gives all Nation of Islam devotees a bad name by adopting their supposed prophet as her nom d’artiste) actually knew how to use microphones. Even the frequent and superfluous gunshot samples sounded garbled.
For those not in the know, her song titles were helpfully projected on the big screen, as were a handful of her music videos—a useful distraction from the shitshow on stage. Bhad Bhabie twerked her way through most of her numbers as the camera zoomed in on the universal sign of bad bitches everywhere, her Playboy bunny necklace.
Toward the end, she played an R&B song in full—I confess I wasn’t familiar with it—and attempted to sing along. It was like bad karaoke projected over loudspeakers, so I finally threw in the towel and left.
RL Grime, Memorial Stadium Main Stage, 5:45-6:45
The sun was still reasonably high in the sky, but too many artists playing a main stage feels compelled to crank it to 11 within the first 30 seconds. RL Grime was no exception, apparently unaware there were several more acts before the headliner as he let loose a huge bass drop before most people were aware the show had started. Poor form for an hourlong set—show some pacing, buddy.
His thunderous electronica veers too far into pop-EDM territory for my taste, though there are hints of a talented producer in his dabbling with different tempos and beat structures. An early foray into breakbeats was a Prodigy rehash, thrashing guitars and all, but a later drum’n’bass interlude showed more nuance.
Despite the early hour, it was apparent the massive crowd didn’t come for subtlety. Literal pyrotechnics lit up the stage at regular intervals as fire shot into the sky and it soon smelled like Gasworks after July 4th. I admit the bombastic, low-end horns that I’m pretty sure have been in a sportswear commercial almost got me motivated to join the fray—there is something stirring about music that heavy.
He’s still youngish (27) and his audience veered even younger. There is a theory of EDM as the gateway drug to better electronic music—after all, most of the crowd wiling out to RL Grime is too young to get into the Monkey Loft, where I caught TUF and secondnature DJs lay it down on the rooftop last night. I left with the hope that they’ll grow up and grow out of stadium-sized bass drops.
Stay tuned for more reviews today and through the weekend.