Photo: Nate Hertweck/The Recording Academy
Photo: Nate Hertweck/The Recording Academy
Photo: Roots Picnic Facebook
In a music world saturated with festivals, full of massive multi-day, multi-genre experiences, Philadelphia's Roots Picnic just feels different. Perhaps it's the local-heavy lineup, the laidback atmosphere, or the soulful spirit of the city, but more than anything, it's the music.
"There's no egos, everybody really just comes to have a good time, that's what's perfect about the Roots Picnic," says producer/engineer and Philadelphia Chapter board member Dilemma. "You get exposed to new music, new artists and you come to be entertained."
While the gravity of its hosts, GRAMMY-winning Philly band The Roots, and their many musical collaborations and connections may be what attracts the masses to the festival (you never know who will take the stage,) most of the day's music rings out with vibrant discovery of new sounds coming from each of the Picnic's three stages. From burgeoning local rappers on the Cricket Stage, to breakout experimental artists like Tank & The Bangas on the Mann stage, to upcoming queens like Asiahn and Ari Lennox holding court on the Fairmount Park stage, the festival boldy faces forward, embracing its historical ties to the black community.
"This is my first time at Roots Picnic. It's been a beautiful experience, nice and black and soulful," said Lennox. "I love Philly, so it's a dream—I've been hearing about it for years, so I'm glad I can finally be here and sing!"
Since 2008, Roots Picnic has brought together Philly's staggeringly talented music community to host artists from across the nation for what basically is one big party.
"To me it's like a big family reunion," said rapper and official Philadelphia music ambassador Chill Moody after performing with his new project &More. "There's people you may only see at the Roots Picnic every year, but when you see them, it's like you've been hanging with them every day. it's just love and everybody's having a good time… It's bigger than the stage, it's just the camaraderie. It's just family."
Where many festivals find themselves too corporately lucrative to stay focused on a family atmosphere, Roots Picnic has managed to keep this in perspective. This energy is perhaps best exemplified by the unique Live Mixtape, presented once again this year by J.Period and The Roots' Black Thought featuring a string of guest appearances honoring and celebrating hip-hop, including an iconic mini-set with the great Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def.) All afternoon, the Mann stage at Roots Picnic feels like a backyard family party, excpet the bass thumping isn't shaking a house, it's shaking the walls of the dressing rooms below.
A Philly music mainstay in her own right, Donn T spoke concisely as to why the event feels familial: the mutual support.
"[It's] artists supporting artists, as well as the public supporting us," Donn T said, adding, "It's history, It's an institution."
The Roots have been able to create an atmosphere that doesn't just show love to local artists, but different kinds of artists from all over.
"Everybody's here. The DJs are here, the artists are here, the producers are here, the fans are here, and there's great energy when other top artists come to Philadelphia," said Dilemma. "When everybody's under the same Picnic roof there's a great energy, it's always a good time. The Roots always know how to show Philadelphia and on a great scale."
But like any party, there's nothing like showing love to the hosts and this year Roots Picnic main event celebrated none other than the band's 20th anniversary of their classic fourth studio album, Things Fall Apart, with a whole performance of the album that included a surprise appearance by Common. The album, released in 1999, is in many ways The Roots' breakthrough and a major part of their journey towards becoming household names with critically acclaimed, GRAMMY-winning albums and a high-profile gig as the house band for "The Tonight Show."
"The lyrics and the songs still relate to today," said Dilemma. "Seeing how well it was put together… the production, and just seeing how young they were when they created it—it's Philadelphia's Illmatic," he says referencing rapper Nas' renowned debut. Donn T, hesitant to even begin to articulate what the album meant to hip-hop, to Philly, to her as an artist—not to mention as Questlove's sister—brought it down to something simple: "It means everything."
The Roots' influence continues to ripple through so many genres and communities, and with Roots Picnic have been able to create a festival that does too in its own way. Truly providing something for everyone with performers ranging from rap superstar 21 Savage to R&B prodigy H.E.R., the fest has grown into a major event, complete with compelling features like sing language interpreters for the hearing impaired, an arcade with ping-pong, video games and skee-ball for kids (of all ages), and a podcast stage with a silent disco party up on the hill, which features a serene view of the Philly skyline not to be missed.
But the focus at Roots Picnic remains on the music. For instance, when the crowd at the Mann Auditorium went wild for surprise guest Musiq Soulchild's performance during Raphael Saadiq's set, the look on many faces in the audience captured how that moment alone was worth the price of admission. A similarly pleased yet more determined look could be seen on the faces of the various young local artists that took the stages throughout the day who knew that performing at Roots Picnic is a true turning point.
"The Roots, with this platform, sets a certain standard for all Philadelphia creatives," said Dilemma. "Once you make it to the Roots Picnic, you're good."
Courtesy Of Corona Capital
Guadalajara, Mexico might be known as the birthplace of mariachi, but as the second-largest city in the country—after Mexico City—it is a thriving cosmopolitan destination with a modern music scene that draws influence from in and out of the country.
Enter Corona Capital, a festival that believes music should have no boundaries. Through its two events—one taking place in Mexico City, now on its 10th year, and the other in Guadalajara, which is now on its second year—Corona Capital offers a range of acts from electronica and pop to indie and rock. While that lineup formula may sound typical for a music festival, the kicker is that many of the acts who play Corona Capital rarely get a chance to perform in Mexico. But Corona Capital offers them the chance to do it—and for local audiences to enjoy the show.
"We always try to bring in acts that either have not been in Mexico ever or that haven't been here in a long time," says Ricardo Gomez Senior International Talent Buyer for Mexican promotions company OCESA, promoting Corona Capital. "We don't have any Latin acts, and we do that because we want to desegregate Corona Capital from other festivals in the market ... [we] look at trends and what's happening in the music scene internationally [to bring] the most interesting and fresh project that we think can work in the format of the festival."
Gomez says roughly 80 to 85 percent of international acts that come to the country only play Mexico City, forcing fans in smaller cities to travel to the country's capital from all over or miss out on their favorite artists.
This year the Guadalajara rendition is bringing the likes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Chemical Brothers, Dillon Francis, Phoenix, the Goo Goo Dolls and more to its lineup on May 11 at the renowned Akron Stadium, home to Las Chivas soccer team.
Beyond being enticing to locals, the fest's international flare has brought in people from outside of Mexico, too. According to the fest, two percent of festivalgoers are international; the biggest country of origin is the U.S., with California and Texas being the homes to most of the attendants.
More than just a space to listen to music, the festival wants its attendants to discover new music. It's the reason the fest's campaign includes social media visuals that feature up-and-coming artist recommendations based on established performing artists. For example, one social video features Boy Pablo as a recommendation if you're a fan of Phoenix.
The fest is also amping up its culinary chops and adding an exclusive gourmet experience with a scenic view of the city's forest, along with its Capital Gourmet experience in which local chefs highlight their dishes.
Below, the Recording Academy speaks to Gomez about the festival's background, why Corona Capital is a fest to know, his mindset behind booking Corona's Guadalajara lineup, and more.
Corona Capital began in Mexico City. Why bring one to Guadalajara?
We thought it would be an interesting experiment to try to expand and take this to other cities that maybe don't have these types of lineups. In the past years [there has] been a boom of festivals not in Mexico City, but happening in Monterrey and Guadalajara, especially. And the festivals that are happening in these cities seem to be in line with maybe Vive Latino or in Monterrey, we have Pa'l Norte, which is really really eclectic. So you can have all different type of genres, but for [a] specific alternative rock and international music [festival], there weren't any proposals. So we decided to do Corona Guadalajara to offer that to the market and maybe this is a good experiment to try to expand to other territories as well.
How do you choose which international artists get to become a part of the lineup?
Well, like I mentioned, it's a combination of acts that haven't been in the market or haven't been here in at least a few years so we can have that performance as some sort of value. I really think that overexposing an artist in the market is not a good way to develop them. So we try to wait, at least, a couple of album cycles to bring them into a festival like Corona; some of the acts [were a part of] the lineup we had at Corona Capital in Mexico City last year; some of them had never been here and a lot of them were experiments that we were going try and to see how the audience responds.
This year we got very, very lucky because the artist that we reached out were available and were within our budget so we have a really interesting and cool combination of acts that are really working out. We're seeing that in sales and actually selling really well. We're selling prices as much as we did last year so we're happy with the results.
Yeah, with a newer artist like Boy Pablo and an established pop act like the Goo Goo Dolls, that's a pretty eclectic lineup.
Yeah, I mean we're also trying to speak out to the generation that is now in their 30s and it has that ingredient of nostalgia, which I think is very, very effective in a lineup. You can go and check out [an act] that maybe you remember being a fan of and [then] you can go there and enjoy, like you said, a fresh interesting project from the earlier time slots and spend the whole day and finish with a band like Phoenix, or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or The Chemical Brothers, who you listened to 10 years ago.
For some of the people in Mexico, this is the only opportunity to see some of the acts on your lineup. How hard is it for someone in Mexico to see American acts in the country?
Well, I'd say like 80 or 85% of the artist that come to play in Mexico only play Mexico City. That's because it's such a huge difference in the type of market. Mexico City is 25 million people and the next biggest cities are 1.5 million. Festivals are a great opportunity to check out new bands that might not come to Guadalajara or other territories outside Mexico City. It really depends on the act's availability and willingness to develop a market because they're not going to make the same money in Guadalajara or Monterrey that they do in Mexico City, at least for headline shows.
Which of the artists on the lineup haven't been in Mexico before?
It's the first time for Tops, Boy Pablo, and it's the first time for Kimbra, first time for Christine and The Queens, and it's the first time for Goo Goo Dolls.
How big is the impact of American music in the country?
It's huge. Radio still has a very strong media format in Mexico because of the amount of time people spend in their cars. I was just looking at some numbers from radio in the country and English-speaking radio is the number one-rated radio station in Mexico.
According to Spotify, Mexico City is the streaming capital city of the world, and, as you've mentioned, sometimes it's the only city international acts visit. For people interested in exploring other parts of Mexico, can you tell us what Guadalajara has to offer music-wise, and regionally?
Yeah, Spotify is tricky because sometimes the numbers are deceiving. So maybe an artist will see that Mexico is their number one market in streaming, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they have strong loyal fans there. It has to do with the editorial playlist that they are in, and the type of streaming database in Mexico.
Also, YouTube is really strong because YouTube is free and Spotify has those numbers, but for the premium not a paid subscription. We've seen that in the past. We see that an artist has a huge a streaming number coming from Mexico City but that doesn't necesarily translate to ticket sales.
Now, for the second part of your question. Guadalajara has a very, very cool music and arts scene. There's a lot of acts, like new acts coming out of Guadalajara who are doing really interesting stuff. The food is also great in Guadalajara. You have great restaurants in the city. And it's worth making the trip and coming just to spend the weekend, take advantage that it is just a one-day festival and you can come to the festival Saturday and enjoy the city on Sunday.
For American artists, what makes going to a festival in Mexico different from other parts of the world?
Well, this trend that I'm seeing right now with festivals in the U.S. and in other countries is that some of the headliner budgets are impossible to pay. So I'm seeing that many festivals are trying to make the festival more of an experience. The problem with that is you're going to have lower ticket sales. So I think it boils down to how cheap it can be for Americans to come to Mexico, as opposed to going to Coachella or something like that. Coachella is like really pricey and you can, for the same price that you pay for a general access ticket to Coachella, travel to Mexico and pay for travel, hotels, and also be able to pay for a V.I.P. ticket.
What else would you like people to know about Corona Capital?
It's not only about coming and checking out the bands—it's also exploring a country you don't know. We really put a lot attention on the gastronomical experience and the cooling operation. We have this food area called Capital Gourmet, where we invite local restaurants to showcase their dishes so people can have an added value to their experience in not just grab a hotdog, or a burger, or pizza. But really try local ingredients, local restaurants. And there's going to be a ferris wheel and other carnival rides.
We also have a local market that you can explore with with arts and crafts from the regions around Guadalajara. We will be showcasing street art and a couple of murals during the festival, and there's going to be an [exclusive gourmet experience].
In the future we're expanding to other territories and other cities. We also want to have Corona Capital in, say, Veracruz or Tijuana. We want the festival to have a local essence so that people can still experience the city.
Photo: Scott Legato/Getty Images
What do you like about festivals so far?
The catering's really good. The acts are really good. Lot of women playing, which is great. Yeah, it's a good festival.
Photo by Simon Emmett
Most will remember U.K. camp-rock maestros The Darkness from their early aughts days with lead singer Justin Hawkins croon-chanting, "I believe in a thing called love: JUSTLISTENTOTHERHYTHMOFMYHEART!" Well, the quartet have been steadily producing records since their rollicking 2003 debut, Permission To Land, save for a hiatus between 2006 and 2011.
These days, Hawkins, his brother and guitarist Dan, bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor are fresh off of releasing their sixth studio album, the impishly titled Easter Is Cancelled, which, according to Hawkins, came from his going down a rabbit hole of savior-themed "what ifs."
"Let's imagine a universe when Jesus decides on the day of the crucifixion that he's not having that after all and he's going to use his supernatural God-attributed gifts to escape," he tells the Recording Academy over the phone. "And then I suppose the thinking is, what kind of world is it after that? Is there poverty? I suppose nobody else would get crucified either. I think that that that'd probably be the last time anybody's crucified. And that's just a kickoff."
Below, Hawkins delves further into the ideas behind Easter Is Cancelled, the current state of rock and roll ("there's a real appetite for quality rock; there just isn't any quality rock") and why the Darkness, despite the viral nature of their debut single, will never be in the business of creating "content."
How does Easter Is Cancelled stand apart from your previous work?
Well, the last studio album was our first foray into writing with Rufus [Tiger Taylor] as a legit member of the band. And so a lot of the stuff on that last record is just us trying to have fun and all of us are accepting things that we don't think are necessarily world-beatingly brilliant, but they're fun to play and it is good for the relationship. And it was a good document that shows where we were at that time, but I think this one is all of us going, "Right, f**k, we're going to make something amazing and we won't stop until we've done that." And I think that comes across. We really did not compromise on anything. If one person had anything vaguely negative to say about any part of any song, it just disappeared, never to be seen again, locked in the vault to be used as a BBC Sports theme at some point in the future.
We spent eight months doing that and came up with an album that doesn't sound, to me anyway, doesn't sound self-indulgent. Or if it does, it sounds self-indulgent in the right away. It doesn't sound like we've become an elfin tribe, it still sounds like a rock record.
I read some interviews that you did while preparing to release the previous record. There was some commentary about how it sounded a little bit harder rock, more metal. And I didn't really get that impression from the sound on this album.
You know what? I think the reality is that I just say words and I don't always mean [them]. I met somebody recently who just looked at me and said, "You lie all the time, don't you?" I was like, "Yeah, thanks." I love somebody who appreciates what I really do.
It's hard in promo because I didn't know what to say about the last record, really. And also, I think your perception of it's a little bit different when you've been working on it closely. I think I was probably referring to “Japanese Prisoner Of Love.” I probably had that in my head, thinking, "Oh, yeah. This'll be heavier than we normally do, isn't it?"
Well, I do think your fan base enjoys how the Darkness leans into the campier side of rock, never appearing to take yourselves too seriously. But a lot of the themes and the ideas on Easter Is Cancelled are more serious. And in the promotional materials, you talk about how you have a responsibility to change the establishment. Do you see your role in the industry differently now than you used to?
Well, I saw a talk that Todd Rundgren did a few years ago, and I love Todd Rundgren's music and I wanted to see him and talk about music. And he said something that really stayed with me: it was that music used to be a product and then now it's a service. And I think that just sums it up, doesn't it? We've all regressed to being minstrels at the beck and whim of whoever is going to pay enough... I don't know what the currency would be, doubloons, enough doubloons to buy the puffy trousers that we want. And that's a long-term effect. You've got Coldplay with the puffy trousers because they're getting all the doubloons and then we'd probably be somewhere down the long tail eating mud. And that's the reality of that status and also the nature of the music trade. The last concern of the whole infrastructure is, "how is the musician going to make money?" Who cares?
You guys kind of came up at a time when musicians made money in arguably a more straightforward way, via album sales. But you've been around long enough now to see the economics shift and change. Have you had to change the way you monetize yourselves as musicians?
We've refused to [change]. We've gone through a few different managerial changes. We can't get our heads around the concept of "content," and we're not interested in doing that.
As vacuous and as daft and as whimsical as I seem, I am actually quite a serious person when it comes to the arts, and I feel like making albums is what I grew up wanting to do and doing YouTube videos of some people farting or whatever it is, I'm not interested in that and I'm not interested in Instagram, Twitter annoys me. I understand why in order to monetize your existence as a musician you need to have a firmer sense of ownership from your fans, but that offends me. You know?
I feel like you're supposed to be free to express stuff, not just be what your fan base wants you to be, because you should be a viable artistic entity even if it means losing your fan base. You should always run that risk and you should never be afraid of it. I feel like making an album is like painting a picture. That simple, isn't it? It's like somebody says, "People aren't buying pictures anymore. What they're buying is some Etch-A-Sketches that have been varnished." What kind of person puts down the paintbrush in that instance and then starts Etch-A-Sketching? And the answer is somebody who isn't a true artist, somebody shouldn't be f**king holding a paintbrush in the first place. They should be, I don't know, doing something else.
Doubling back for a second, can you elaborate on what actually led to the name Easter Is Cancelled?
It came about because I was asked to do some poems and write down all of my lyrics over the years and make a book, which would be a stocking stuffer for the hardcore Darkness fan. I wasn't that interested in doing it because I like singing songs. I don't like doing books. Never done a book before, not that interested in doing it, really. So I just said, "I'm writing an album. Can we do this next year or something?" And they went, "Well, what about Easter?" And then, "You can do an Easter poem." I was like, "Okay." And I wrote, "Wishing you Easter pleasure that you cannot measure with a ruler bula bula." And I just sent it off and I got an email back from my manager saying, "Easter is cancelled."
That was how that started. And then I thought, "Well, Easter is cancelled. Let's have a think about that." And I did an internet search for "buff Jesus" and I found a Boris Vallejo piece of artwork with a buff Jesus broken down from the cross and I thought, "Well, why stop there?" Let's imagine a universe when Jesus decides on the day of the crucifixion that he's not having that after all and he's going to use his supernatural God-attributed gifts to escape. And then I suppose the thinking is what kind of world is it after that? Is there poverty? I suppose nobody else would get crucified either. I think that that that'd probably be the last time anybody's crucified. And that's just a kickoff.
Have you gotten any pushback from religious types?
[Yeah], I was disappointed when people assumed that it was intended to shock. Because I feel like if it's 2019 and then the thing that you're shocked about is a rock band misappropriating some religious iconography that's been around since f**k knows when, then you need to close your laptop and have a look around you. It's mental. It's mental to be upset about that kind of stuff, and I never considered for a second it would shock anybody. And I think most people claim not to be shocked, but only to be disappointed.
And then I just have to ask, well, what were you hoping for, then? Were you hoping for, for example, a rehash of Appetite For Destruction where there's the four faces of The Darkness on a cross? Because that's still a cross. Or were you hoping for Easter Is Cancelled written on a bin lid or wherever it was that Slippery When Wet was? Because the actual artwork is too racy or do you want a piece of something that's from the band and expresses an idea? What do you want? What do people want? I think nine times out of 10, the answer is they want the band to be expressing themselves, for better or worse. I hope that's what the people want because if what you want is water, then can I direct you to the Maroon 5/Coldplay section of the record store where you'll find all of your musical desires will be sated.
Yeah. I think whenever anyone in art decides to imagine a different idea of Jesus or decides to redirect that story, people tend to freak out.
I was thinking about ... You know when in Inglourious Basterds when they're shooting Hitler in the face? Even though that's a guy that's responsible for a whole lot of genocide... To reimagine his end, I don't understand where the difference is. Why is that not offensive and then the Jesus one is? I suppose it's been 2000 years of all that stuff.
Moving on for a moment, the press materials for Easter Is Cancelled contemplate what rock and roll even means anymore. You write that it used to mean challenging the establishment, but now it's "something that most artists seem to have given up on in favour of easy celebrity." As someone who came up during a time of rock and roll resurgence, what else have you observed about the way the genre has changed in popular music?
Yeah. I think there's a lot of stuff that's really exciting to listen to at the moment, but in a sort of nostalgic way. I don't want to name any names or shame anybody because I think new music needs to be supported. Let's just say for argument's sake this singer sounds like another singer from 30 years, 40 years ago, right?
And then you listen to it and it's impossible to not be excited by it because it reminds you of those great albums, that really iconic voice, but then you can't just do that. You need to have a second influence or you need to work with a writer like Justin Hawkins who can get the best out of you. That's what you need to do. You can't just do records slightly weaker and less syncopated version of the singer you already sound like. That's one of the problems with rock and roll: you have to go back such a long way to find an artist that's done anything challenging within that genre that it's losing to other genres. That's what's happening, isn't it?
And it will change because you've only got to look at how excited people get about something that's totally retro. There's a real appetite for quality rock. There just isn't any quality rock, but that's because it only comes around every, what, decade, 15 years something brilliant happens in rock, whether it's grunge or nu-metal. Some people thought that was brilliant. And then of course most people will deny that they thought that, but they did.
And then everyone thought we were brilliant. Every 10, 15 years, something's going to come and they'll go, "Look, rock and roll isn't teetering on the edge of the precipice. They've pulled them back." And we all live to do the devil's horns and wear a denim jacket once more, not leather though because that's not vegan.
When you guys first arrived, you became so well known for your Freddie Mercury-esque falsetto vocals. Have you been one to do vocal exercises?
I never used to in the olden days. I used to smoke a lot and drink a lot and eat a lot of really sh*tty food and didn't do any exercise or any exercises. And then I just when it went wrong, I used to get somebody to come in and try and help me make it better. But now I've paid my dues. I've done all my rock and roll stuff, so I don't do anything naughty anymore. I think singers, they're slightly different to other musicians in the way that they prepare for shows. I've been getting some vocal training from a friend of mine who helps singers at the Zurich Opera House.
He's showing me a lot of really cool preparations and warm downs and stuff that he assures me [Luciano] Pavarotti would have done in the olden days so that he could then go on to party after he's done his singing. I've got loads of stuff that I do. It's not really ointments and potions. In fact, with that experience I've reduced it a lot. It's not taking an hour to prepare for a show anymore. It's more like 20, 25 minutes, but it's way more effective and I don't know, I just make sure I don't have too much of a late night the night before. Actually, that's not true at all. Anyway, I do try.
Serious question: How often do people approach you on the street and attempt to sing the chorus to "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" at you?
Say, for example, I'm in a supermarket and I'll walk past and I've been spotted, but they're not quite sure I think. I hear people singing it to each other and then laughing and then waiting for me to react, to check. I think that's what's happening there.
It never happens in Switzerland. This is one of those places where nobody gives a thought at all because I just think that they're used to it. It's part of the reason why Tina Turner and Phil Collins and all that lot have retired here. The other reason, of course, would be the tax advantages, being able to have a bank account that are held in a number as opposed to a name and all that other lovely Swiss stuff, but a big part of it is the culture here is they will not bother you if they spot you and recognize you. It just doesn't happen. Sometimes I realize that people have spotted me and I'm sort of known around the town, but nobody says anything to me directly or sings that song.