Governors Ball 2012 should essentially be described as a tale of two festivals. While the setting was the same for both Saturday and Sunday; the music and crowd found on Randall’s Island each day were completely different stories. A sea of neon and tank tops pounded the ground Saturday to heavy bass lines and high energy music, while Sunday’s showing was a heavy homage to the ‘90s, replacing the neon with plaid and turntables with guitars. A quick glance at the line-up could explain this phenomena, with Passion Pit, Kid Cudi, Duck Sauce, Chromeo, and more the first day and Beck, Modest Mouse, Explosions in the Sky, and Fiona Apple amongst Sunday’s artists. Regardless of the drastic differences between each day’s roster, the 20,000 + people who left each day all seemed to be very satisfied. Much of the reason why can be attributed to the folks at Founders Entertainment for throwing one of the most efficient and well-organized festivals that New York City has ever seen (perhaps the weather deserves some credit as well, but we’ll get there…).
This was the second year of Governors Ball; the first of which saw it take place on Governors Island which is where the name of the festival is derived as well. While the move up the East River to Randalls Island may have come to a shock to the .01% of people that arrived on Governors Island, this was a move that tremendously helped the flow of people as Randall’s Island was much more accessible to public transportation and didn’t see the massive bottlenecking that plagued last year’s ferry lines. 2012 also saw the festival expand to two days featuring almost 24 hours of live music.
Santigold’s Disparate Youth
One of the best qualities of last year’s festival was the decision to have two stages with no over-lapping sets which prevents you from making those life-altering decisions of which bands to miss. This was continued in 2012 with stages being placed on opposite sides of the site and concessions in the middle. Sets were staggered with just enough time to volley between as well as grab a refreshing 25 oz. Fosters for just $10. There were also water stations all throughout the site sponsored by Camelbak to make sure everybody was hydrated.
Another great quality carried over from the previous year (albeit with no control from the promoters) was the weather, which was as ideal as could be. After a record-breaking heat wave in the days leading up the festival; 80 degree weather was very welcomed, endless sunshine was a nice touch as well. The entire perimeter of the site was lined with plenty of shade and had a gentle hill giving you a nice perch over the grounds still within an earshot of the music. Top food trucks from throughout the city (Luke’s Lobster, Coolhaus, Phil’s Steaks, and Mexicue to name a few) lined the top of the hill providing festival goers the chance to dine on just about any type of fare they desired. It did seem, however, that Ben & Jerry’s was the savior of the weekend; giving out free frozen yogurt from their booth both days which proved to be the perfect summer treat. Other nice features found throughout the site included assorted lawn games; a photo booth which may have had one of the longest continuous lines of the weekend, and a silent Disco tent sponsored by Sennheiser. While Silent Disco was the only actual time that one was listening to a music source not coming from the stages, a great rotation of DJ’s supplied the headphones with some good ear candy all weekend; and those watching from the sidelines got to witness throngs of people making asses of themselves trying to sing to likes of Daft Punk’s “Around the World” or dancing the worm the worm to silence (at least from the spectators point of view).
While all of the aforementioned features contributed to some good fun in the sun; what would a music festival be without the music? As mentioned before the line-ups by day were vastly different but when looked at as a whole offered up a rather diverse cross-section of genres and styles. For those who just wanted to dance; Saturday was your day. One of the earlier acts that completely captivated the audience was Penguin Prison. This electro-pop project which is the brainchild of Chris Glover, has been creating a stir with they’re hit “Don’t Fuck With My Money” and they’re remixes and DJ sets have been getting a decent amount of attention of late as well. After Saturday, it can be assured that they have some new fans. Their live set was especially funky and ran through many of the tracks off of their self-titled debut. A well placed cover of Lana Del Ray’s “Blue Jeans” towards the end of the set definitely left the crowd thirsty for more. Penguin Prison is certainly an act to keep your eye on.
Duck Sauce’s Barbara Streisand
The energy level remained high as the crowd shifted over to the Honda Stage for Big Gigantic’s 2pm set. Although the temperature was beginning to rise as the sun shone down; people enthusiastically embraced Big G’s unique fusion of live instrumentation and electronic beats. Saxophonist Dominic Lolli puts forth a tremendous effort with each show; and may have gone down as the sweatiest performer of the weekend. Santigold followed Big Gigantic over on the Hype Machine Stage packing plenty of fans in front. The Brooklyn phenom opened up her set with “L.E.S. Aritstes,” and it was clear from the first notes that there were some sound issues. With a pair of female dancers donning militant outfits by her side; Santigold plowed through her hits and delivered a very crowd-pleasing set; regardless of volume.
The noise level was definitely turned up from that point on however; and instruments seemed to have been placed by the wayside for the next slate of acts. Back on the Honda Stage, Special Disco Version were getting situated behind a table of turntables and a whole slew of vinyls. While Special Disco Version won’t be necessarily be familiar to all; perhaps you’ve heard of LCD Soundsystem; whose members James Murphy and Pat Mahoney comprise this DJ duo. Their DJ set was much more a nod to the 70’s and 80’s and gives you a great idea of where some of that funky sound that made LCD so special came from. Major Lazer held the honor of continuing the dance party over at the Hype Machine Stage. The volume for this set just continued to rise as the crowd danced into a frenzy.
With the bright sun finally falling behind the Manhattan skyline, Chromeo took to the stage. With neon-clad dancers, bright disco lights behind the stage, and stands held up by high-heeled legs; the Canadian duo brought the funk. Chromeo member Dave 1’s brother A-Trak had the honor of continuing the dance party on the Honda Stage with his own DJ duo, Duck Sauce. A giant inflatable duck filled the entire stage, and duck bills were thrown into the audience for this performance, further solidifying this group as one of the quirkiest out there. With the infectious hit “Barbara Streisand” as the band’s claim to fame, would anything surprise you? Besides what other band can get thousands of people to howl on cue for one of their other major hits, “Big Bad Wolf”?
The headliner of Saturday, Passion Pit were the next to grace the stage and were one of the most highly anticipated acts of the day. With the follow-up to the acclaimed Manners due to come out shortly, this band is ready to hit the road again. Their live show packs a ton of energy into it and also held the honor of having the most elaborate lighting display at this festival. A giant blanket of LEDs obscured the band but created a visual spectacle to accompany the synthy sounds emanating from the stage. Their set consisted mostly of some of their more popular songs but also included a few of the new tracks, such as “Take a Walk” which were extremely well-received.
Closing the day was Kid Cudi, who unfortunately just never seemed to get it going. His set was slightly delayed and was cut by a strict 11pm curfew and by saying that he would bring the crowd on a journey through the entire Kid Cudi catalog during his frequent banter; he made his set seem even more absurd. The crowd continued to shrink as people made it towards the exits tired from 12 hours of music and trying to recharge for the day ahead of them.
Upon entering Governors Ball on Sunday, the differences from the previous day were immediately noticeable. Perhaps all the dancing had drained some, but this was definitely the more relaxed day. While Saturday much more like a game of ping pong between the stages, Sunday the crowd seemed to move as they please, whether that would be occupying stretches of shade, holding down spots for an artist they loved, or gathering with friends to play some bocce ball.
Beck’s Black Tambourine
The focus on Sunday was rock; and while the morning featured many emerging artists such as Freelance Whales, Phantogram, and the Cults; all of which were well received, it was the evenings slate of artists that drew the crowds. Seasoned veterans such as Fiona Apple, Modest Mouse, and Beck could have been on the bill for such a festival well over a decade ago, and each act had loyal fans filling the crowd.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing was Fiona Apple, who many have not heard from for a while but as of late has seen a surge in popularity; fresh off the heals of her latest release The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. The emaciated songstress jumped out of the gates with “Fast As You Can.” Her vocal delivery is unlike all others as she reaches so deep inside of herself; twitching away, for each note. When she took to the piano, she pounds away with a fury that matches her voice; all of it meshing together so well. Her set was closed out with “Criminal,” the same song that introduced many of us to her 15 years ago.
Following Fiona Apple was Explosions in the Sky; a band known for their elaborately layered instrumentals. Despite the lack of words, a narrative is created within many of their songs that conveys emotion and mood erupting into a crescendo. Following Explosions, yet another band from the 90’s took to the Hype Machine Stage. Modest Mouse was just getting into town after playing Metallica’s Orion Fest in Atlantic City, NJ. Whereas they may have seemed like the odd band out in the metal-heavy festival the day before; they fit in perfectly with Sunday’s lineup. Lead singer Isaac Brock even flattered the crowd by saying how beautiful everyone had looked compared to the attendees of their previous show. Simply put, Modest Mouse just rock. They went through many of their hits to a massive crowd of loyal fans.
Continuing the throwback to the decade now 12 years removed, Beck closed out the day on the Honda Stage as the day’s headliner. Beck was playing with the band which he recorded 2002’s Sea Change with. Although the set started at a slower pace, they eventually touched upon hits such as “Devil’s Haircut” and “Where It’s At?.” This was the first time in 4 years that Beck has played New York City and fans responded very enthusiastically, regardless of what was played. Without a doubt, this was the largest crowd for any of the festival’s sets.
Governor Ball’s jump from year 1 to year 2 can definitely be viewed as a success. The addition of a second day made this festival approachable to far more people and allows those who are there for both to get more comfortable within the site and explore all of the surroundings (and food!). Now that Governors Ball has established itself as one of the premier festivals in New York; how will it continue to grow? We can only find out next summer . . .
Words and photos by Jesse Zryb