Preface: The Voodoo Experience is New Orleans’ perennial 3-day music festival; which takes place in New Orleans’ spacious City Park and is centered around Halloween, and all the mischief and outfit-alterations that holiday implies. The Voodoo Experience, you will notice, is not deemed the Voodoo Festival, and for a good reason. Because while it has all the normal trappings of a festival, it’s just a little different. What other festival has a spookified marching bands flaked by fire-breathing women wandering the grounds? Or how about roaming robots bumping house music, that yes – also emit fire.
However, even with all that added fun, Voodoo is still predominantly a music festival. The feeling of Voodoo 2010 was a beautiful blend of a large scale and medium scale festival. There were 3 main stages (2 traditional stages and then a ‘DJ tent/stage’ of sorts) that were supplemented by 3 smaller stages. So while that is large enough to gather in just as many nationally known acts as any other festival, it doesn’t spill over and create a sense of enormity like Lollapalooza, Coachella, or Bonaroo. Not that those festival aren’t wondeful in their own right, it’s just that it is quite nice to encounter a slightly more docile festival in terms of crowds and distance/energy expent between traveling from stage to stage.
Interactive Mushroom Art
The two main stages sat relatively facing each other on a large field about approx. 250 yards from each other, the large field was situated at the termination of the one road, which began at the main entrance (check out map here). The DJ stage/tent was situation near the entrance of the festival (to the right as one walked in) and was flanked by a lake containing some modern art in it’s center, which created for quite a glamorous setting. The 3 other, smaller stages, were placed to the left of the main entrance road, which also contained all the food, art, and miscellaneous items any festival brings along with it.
House-playing fire-breathing robot
Day 1: Rusko, the well known dub-step DJ, had a pretty early slot at 2:15 for his type of music. But sometimes one needs baptism by fire to get into the festing mood, which Rusko was only too happy to provide for those at the Le Plur DJ tent. Big Sam’s Funky Nation was the next step at one of the smaller, more local stages. He provides for a brass laden musical party in traditional New Orleans fashion. Big Sam isn’t quite as big as he once was, but his trombone prowess has not deteriorated. For fans of party-friendly brass-based music this guy is a hero to many in the crescent city. It’s almost as fun to watch the energetic crowd as it was to watch the band itself.
After some actually quite nice festival food (all from local places serving their signature dishes) and a quick tour of the grounds it became time to casually take in Dead Confederate, the first stop at one of the main Voodoo stages. Dead Confederate plays a brand of psychedelic rock, with an edge, that walks the line between contemporary indie and more traditional rock. Having never seen or heard of them prior to this fest they proved to be a nice band to take in as one rested their legs. On this day they were at their best while playing their most beat-centered, but rowdy, psych rock numbers.
As 5’o clock rolled around, and the sun began to arc towards the surrounding tree-line and inklings of a sunset and shade were felt, it was time to take in some more of the magnificent native sounds of the crescent city with Jon Cleary (playing with just piano, upright bass and drums). Cleary is a stellar pianist who relies more on unique takes upon that nawlin’s side-step R&B sound than blasting brassy airwaves at the crowd. And while both tactics are effective, Cleary’s seems to require more finesse and true skill, which translates to an afternoon of joy listening to him as the sky began to change colors. After an enjoyable set from Mr. Cleary it was time for just a taste of Crookers, the duo-DJ team from Italy that have gathered a lot of attention recently. And while these guys undeniably have talent, their brand of electronic music comes off as – for lack of better words – gritty and grimy. They are better suited for indoor, nighttime, urban sets – not midday, outdoor, festival sets.
Catching the tailend of the sunset and the first bit of darkness was the fist more major act of Voodoo, Metric, who took to the festival’s main stage. Metric is a band who has quickly seen success after the release of their first album, ‘Fantasies.’ Last spring they were playing in small venues, this summer they were playing day time shows at festivals, and now in October they were one of the main acts of a festival. That rise can inspire or kill a band’s development. But what was encouraging about Metric’s show was the few new songs they casually dropped into their set, songs which were beautifully balanced between intriguing-psychedlia and electro-rock. Of course their tracks, Help O’m Alive and Stadium Love also killed in this festival setting – especially after the 4 high power lasers surrounding the main field were suddenly revealed to everyone’s jubilation.
Following Metric came a tough decision for many; head over to the DJ tent for Hot Chip or stay close by to take in Weezer, of course the only viable option was to catch a little of both. Hot Chip, who was closing out the Le Plur dance tent on Friday, hail from London and genuinely thrilled the crowd of their first-ever New Orleans performance with their “sad disco” brand of electropop. Opening with a blissfully slow intro to Boys from School that featured guitarist Owen Clarke showing off his skills on a trumpet, the band proceeded to throw down the sort of synth-heavy dance party that has carried them to new heights into 2010. Showcasing their ability to segue seamlessly from one song to another, they mixed the more pop-driven tunes such as Thieves in the Night and I Feel Better from 2010’s ‘One Life Stand’ with the reliable bangers from previous efforts, including a typically raucous Over and Over.
Weezer, on the other hand, is no newbie to any city but nonetheless seemed quite excited to be playing near Halloween in New Orleans (and who can blame them?). Sticking mostly to their hits, and only playing a few songs of their latest release ‘Hurley’, they definitely pleased the crowd which had gathered there to see them. One can think and say what they want about the path this band has taken in recent years, but Rivers Cuomo and his pals know how to work a crowd. During Beverly Hills Rivers took the opportunity to walk down the center security partition leading to the sound board as he sang, taking the time to hug and high-five fans while occasionally letting a few yel the chorus into the mic. But that wasn’t enough for him apparently as he climbed up onto the sound booth, made his way to the back and sang out the remainder of the song standing on top of the sound guy’s porto-poties, greatly plying the fans which couldn’t muscle up nearer to the stage. Other highlights included a Halloween inspired rendition of MGMT’s Kids which they morphed into Lady GaGa’s Poker Face and quickly back into Kids, all while Cuomo was sporting a wild silver wig. Yeah, it sounds weird as hell, but on Halloween weekend it worked somehow.
To close out the night were British headlining pros Muse. And regardless of your opinion of their music, these guys are rock-stars who had no trouble bringing the heat and properly closing out a festival’s night. After eerie bass tones set the stage the band came out and immediately went into their popular banger Uprising, revealing their impressive array of three large vertical video displays. Matthew Bellamy, the lead singer, came out in a suit seemingly made from a disco ball, modeling a pair of those trippy sunglasses Kayne made popular – except his were pulsating light and could be seen from very far away. When you combined this setup with the aforementioned lasers that encircled the field, it became quite the visual spectacle. In addition to that, Muse also had the most balanced loudness of the festival, allowing for people to stand far back (avoiding the masses) yet still being able to hear everything quite perfectly. Not to anyone surprise but Suppermassive Black Hole especially killed and got the crowd amped.
Day 2: It is not uncommon for 1 day in a 3-day festival to not inspire as much excitement at the other days, and for most people Saturday was this day for Voodoo. The first act of positive notice was techno DJ Boys Noize. Boys Noize is a very interesting DJ in that he doesn’t seem to do anything novel or revolutionary within his genre, but nonetheless continues to deliver entertaining show after entertaining show. His brand of Techno has a palpable undercurrent of happiness and positivism, which really helps add to his live sets. Then there is the fact that he is an actual DJ on turntables, allowing for the crowd to watch him alter the music with his hands. This has become a rarity as most DJs have now turned to Ableton & in-computer mixing for their live sets.
Next in line was Florence & The Machine, the ascending indie/alternative act from the UK lead by front-woman Florence Welch. Florence became well known after her foot stomping rocker Kiss With A Fist. But at this set she seemed to stick to her more subdued and introspective pieces. And while this may have regaled those in the audience who were already fans of this band, it probably did little to convince those who didn’t know her material well to go home and download an album or some tracks. That being said, she does have a captivating voice and stage presence and will probably continue to grow in popularity.
Ducking out of Florence & The Machine slightly early allowed for one to catch the set from Die Antwoord (which translates to, “The Answer”), the caucasian South African rappers who quickly grabbed the world’s attention with their massive viral video for their song, Enter The Ninja, which they decided to open with on this night. Die Antwoord does not take on the appearance, or sound, of any type of traditional hip hop. They are comprised of skinny-as-hell yet edgy lead vocalist “Ninja” and his counterpart, Yo-Landi Vi$er, a very short blond girl who has a voice something like a Japanese robot. Their beats are hip hop, but take a lot from techno and house music. Their intense stage energy is hard to deny, and substantially contagious, quickly evoking the crowd into a jumping frenzy as many crowd surfers were succinctly thrown into the air. The aforementioned Enter The Ninja, Rich Bitch, and Wat Pomp were especially hard hitting and were the most fun of their set.
Drake technically hails from Canada, but because he was signed to Lil Wayne’s Young Money Records, he has become an adopted son of New Orleans. Drake has only released 1 album, but because of Lil Wayne’s backing he has quickly catapulted to a feature act at Voodoo. The Voodoo crowd was surprisingly ready for him and his southern-bounce beats, as one of the larger crowds of the weekend gathered. Drake wins best Weezy shout out also, as he performed a few songs filming himself, and the crowd, as a out-of-jail gift to show the world’s most famous lyricists that his home town still loves him. Besides that interesting shout out the show was exactly what one thought it would be (he doesn’t have that much material to work with), but still provided for quite a fun southern rap experience for the casual listener and big fan alike.
The Crystal Method
Next up was The Crystal Method (DJ set) and their brand of raucous breakbeat based electronic music. Their show is more about being impressive sonically than blowing you away with bass, although there is plenty of that also. It was a good set, but not great. Playing at the same time was The Street Sweeper Social Club, a relatively new band comprised of Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello and bay-area rapper Boot Riley. As one would assume their music is comprised of solid beats to rap over continually highlight by wailing electric guitars. Yet it’s done with class and finesse. They really impressed a crowd which one can only assume was for the most part newbie fans who haven’t seen them play before. Watch for this band to become more and more talked about in the coming years.
To close out Saturday one could choose between the fading rock/metal god of Ozzy Osbourne, or the fading trance DJ Paul Van Dyke. Both acts probably made those who came to see them happy, without bringing any more fresh fans into their flock. Ozzy just can’t get it together enough to be musical, and PVD just seems stuck in the early 00’s. Oh well, it was Saturday night and the magnificent mayhem of the city of New Orleans called many attending to make an early departure.
Day 3 (Halloween Day) : Minus The Bear was the first act to see on this final day of the festival, which also happened to be Halloween day. Needless to say there were quite the assortment of costumes present within this crowd from New Olreans – a town known the world over for party disguises. Minus The Bear played their brand of mature and varied indie rock. They are good at playing upbeat music that isn’t actually aggressive. It was a good way to slide into the last day of festing. After them was The Airborne Toxic Event. This indie band from California plays a brand of discriminating indie rock in which balance and emotion are giving precedence over volume and energy – though it is not as if they are a mellow bunch. No big surprise but Sometime Around Midnight was the most entertaining, as many in the crowd sang along for this wonderfully building and brooding song.
Then came maybe the best run of the entire weekend. Interpol or Paul Oakenfold into MGMT or Macy Gray into Deadmau5 into My Morning Jacket. Yet unfortunately one can only comment upon what they decided to see and hear. Oakenfold plays electronic music which contains a certain subtlety to it, even when he busts out the intense low end. He seems to like to make you nod your head before you move your feet, usually allowing for well thought of crescendos and movement. He did not disappoint the crowd of outfitted dancers as they danced away in the dazzlingly sunny, 74 degree day.
MGMT dressed up as Scooby Doo
Up next was MGMT, who were not only the best costumed band of the weekend (playing their entire set dressed up as the characters from Scooby Doo), but also continue to be the most misunderstood band of festivals. MGMT, despite their spectacular first two singles Electric Feel and Kids, remain an indie psychedlic-pop band. That’s right people, they are a band, you know – with guitars and stuff… Why throngs of e-babies continue to believe that they are something different truly astounds true fans of the band. MGMT went on to play a set in which the songs were ever so slightly subdued, which actually really matched the feel of their sun-set time slot. Electric Feel was reduced by a few bpms and resulted in a wonderfully smooth version of the song, the same could be said of Weekend Wars. They played a sumptuous full version of their epic Siberian Breaks, “for the stoners in the crowd.” The guys even played a couple covers and 1 song near the end which this author couldn’t place – but it was a thick and meaty psychedelic rock song with a great back bone and one can only hope it’s something they are working on for the future. About the only song that was played strictly in it’s album version was Kids, as Ben and Andrew took the opportunity to run through the crowd partition giving high fives. The only draw back was the crowd of misplaced e-babies who wanted to fist-pump, and about half-way through their set made an annoying exit to make their way towards Deadmau5.
Deadmau5’s tilted cube
Speaking of Deadmau5, he totally brought the fire as the last act of the weekend at the Le Plur DJ Tent. As numerous homemade mau5 heads dotted the horizon Deadmau5, along with his visually jaw-dropping tilted cube display, brought the crowd to it’s most heightened moment of the weekend. His hard hitting number FML was especially memorable, both visually and sonically. As was his song Strobe. His stunning electronic mouse head, which makes faces to the beat, left everyone with the same sentiment, “I want one!” Deadmau5 is getting better and better at learning how to perfect his stage show in addition to his live mixing, begging the question as if he will become Daft Punk’s successor in getting people to electronic show who would never go otherwise. Needless to say, GO!
Ending out the night, and the festival, was My Morning Jacket. The crowd at My Morning Jacket was the most relaxed of the weekend’s headliners – due to the fact that the Saints were playing the Steelers at the same time. And in New Orleans they take their saints very seriously. Nonetheless, it was evident these guys were so excited to be playing on Halloween in New Orleans, they just kept talking about it. They even brought the Preservation Jazz Hall Band up on stage to join them in a few numbers, which was undoubtedly well recieved by the Nawlins crowd. Highlights from them included a substantially disco version of Evil Urges, and a fun and lengthly version of Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt 2. My Morning Jacket gladly moved from electro-rock into deep psychedlia into reggae into rock n roll with amazing ease. They can run the gamete and were showing this fact off on this night, and it was a great way to conclude a festival itself made up of an interesting mix of genres.
In Conclusion: The Voodoo Experience is a wonderful festival because there is an atmosphere present there that no other festival can create. New Orleans, New Orleanians, the breathtaking City Park, amazing festival food from local restaurants (shout out to the duck empanadas with sweet and sour sauce!), consistently sunny & dry 70 degree weather, and all the silly implications of Halloween coalesce to create for an unforgettable ambiance no other city in the world could provide – regardless of effort. The ground were overall well designed, with minimal sound bleed from stage to stage. Ideally the festival would have had more ground, as in years past, but somethings are going to be out of your control. However, new little details like the DJ stage being next to a lake help you forget the layout of previous years.
This year, musically, the highlight was hands down Paul Oakenfold into MGMT into Deadmau5 into My Morning Jacket. And it was well played to save that lineup for the last day. Most people would say the lineup contained some odd choices (ozzy?), but then again the people of New Orleans are oddly adept at listening to, and loving, a large swath of musical genres. It is a shame that next year Halloween day won’t fall on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. But rest assured that The Voodoo Experience will still be taking place, the people will still be costumed to the till, and it will be an amazing time.
See you in New Orleans for The Voodoo Experience 2011!
Crowd right before Deadmau5 started