Trying to Wash Us Away: Voodoo Music + Arts Experience 2015
While a flooded Saturday gave way to a cancelled Sunday, this year's Voodoo Music + Arts Experience in New Orleans managed to maintain a little of that old magic.
Despite flash flood alerts and warnings of a tornado-ridden rainstorm, the sixteenth annual Voodoo Music + Arts Experience began Friday night with nothing but calm winds and pleasant temperatures. Capering into New Orleans City Park, the vampires, cats, pirates, and other costumed festivalgoers had no idea the severe turn the weekend would take once the rainstorm hit and almost decimated the festival grounds. In the meantime, however, New Orleans locals and travelers from across the states were thrilled to start the weekend with some unmissable live performances, local and southern-influenced fare, and plenty of people-watching.
We’ve reported on some of our favorite—and not so favorite—sounds from the first two days of the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience below.
Joey Bada$$ and the Soul Rebels
Never one to be satisfied with the bare minimum, Pro Era co-founder Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott (a.k.a. Joey Bada$$) took the stage at Voodoo on Friday afternoon with an eight-piece brass band in tow—New Orleans locals the Soul Rebels.
Though the rapper took his sweet time getting on stage (despite chants of “Jo-ey! Jo-ey!” echoing through the crowd) The Soul Rebels were content to entertain the antsy festivalgoers with brass band renditions of Kanye West’s “Touch The Sky” and D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha.” Once Bada$$ came out, however, the show became his. He dominated the stage with his expertly crafted raps, and the crowd was more than happy to rap along. You could see—and indubitably smell—the smoke billowing above the crowd as he launched into ”Save the Children” and “Paper Trail$.” During the rapper’s performance of “Waves,” off his debut mixtape 1999, he requested the audience get out their cigarette lighters and wave them in the air, which produced an ethereal glow of orange across the swaying crowd. Bada$$ closed the set with the intense “Survival Tactics”—a politically charged, explosive rhyme aimed at corrupt politicians and police—leaving a somber but powerful energy in the air as the young rapper left the stage.
Though the indie rock multi-instrumentalists are not known for their consistency—past live shows have featured lead singer and guitarist Isaac Brock in various states of sobriety—Modest Mouse began, maintained, and ended their Friday night spot at Voodoo with a boisterous energy that kept the crowd grooving for their entire set. Brock’s vigor was infectious and had festivalgoers singing along to a litany of their hits, including their unavoidable 2004 single “Float On.” “It’s nice to be here,” said Brock as he gazed out onto the crowded field. “I wish it was raining on you.”
The group began with the downtempo “World At Large,” from 2004’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News, following it up with a few newer hits, including the pop track “Lampshades on Fire” off their most recent album Strangers to Ourselves and “Missed the Boat,” a sing-along jingle from 2007’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. A few longtime fans yelled uproariously as Brock dove headfirst into the more obscure “Doin’ The Cockroach,” though much of the younger audience seemed unfazed by the flashback. As Brock and company closed with the tight polished pop hit “Dashboard,” older fans were reminded that the band’s new sound may be more hi-fi and sonically sophisticated than the older tunes but lacks the emotion and complexity of their pre-2004 songs.
Florence + The Machine
If Modest Mouse kept the energy at a high level, then Florence + The Machine burst through the glass ceiling, taking the good vibes to astronomical heights. The eponymous Florence Welch erupted onto the stage at Voodoo on Friday night in a hot pink pantsuit complete with eerie skull makeup; her backup singers were clad in head-to-toe black and similarly styled skeleton faces. The British singer never once stopped moving throughout her set, running frenetically back and forth across the stage and coming down to the front to embrace the crowd. “New Orleans, have you been exorcized?” Welch howled after finishing up the anthemic “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” from her 2009 debut Lungs. She then dove into “Delilah,” off the new How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The group lean heavily on the new record throughout their Voodoo set, tearing through “Ship To Wreck,” “Queen of Peace,” and “Mother,” and encouraging the audience to bellow along to the title track. Florence closed the encore with an impassioned, scornful “What Kind Of Man,” leaving the audience in a glorious daze.
Whatever blessed dry weather festivalgoers experienced on Friday was completely gone by Saturday afternoon, when powerful downpours and 30 m.p.h. winds ravaged the park. Traipsing through deep, muddy grounds made it difficult for many to fully enjoy the Voodoo Experience, but Peaches did not care. Though the rain delayed her set and much of the crowd was drenched and huddling for warmth instead of dancing, the electro-pop maven—wearing a barely-there leotard bikini—grooved and gyrated all over the front of the stage while snarling her undeniably fun, feminist, gender-bending lyrics.
During “Vaginoplasty,” two dancers ran out onto the stage dressed up as (in case the title of the song didn’t give it away) vaginas. The dancers—one man and one woman—grooved furiously throughout the singer’s live show, and performed a series of simulated sexual positions during “Dick In The Air,” which ended with the Canadian musician spraying the audience with champagne. The already-soaking festivalgoers didn’t seem to mind.
By Saturday evening, Mother Nature had become almost unbearable for many. “This is fucking miserable!” one festivalgoer cried out while waiting for Santigold’s 6:15 p.m. set. When the Philly-born producer took the stage, however, most of the audience seemed to forget they were in the midst of a storm. They were rewarded with not only dub and reggae-inspired beats from Santigold and her onesie-clad dancers, but a delicious treat in the form of free Krispy Kreme donuts, which the dancers passed out to the audience halfway through her set.
Wearing a gingham-print pajama set and a large orange bow on her head, Santigold showed her playful side while shimmying and bopping along to her singles “Disparate Youth,” “L.E.S. Artistes,” and the rap-heavy “Creator.” During the fast-paced “Say Aha” off her 2008 self-titled debut, Santigold invited audience members to hop on stage and dance alongside her. “Louder than they allow, allow / say aha!” Santigold chanted and the costumed festivalgoers lucky enough to make it upstage were all too happy to oblige—so much so, in fact, it seemed a challenge to get them off the stage once the song ended.
Iconic producer Giorgio Moroder may have been suited for a more intimate venue—or at least, an older and more seasoned crowd—but he took his place Saturday night at the Le Plur stage, in front of a mostly high school and college-aged audience. The legendary seventy-five-year-old producer was a household name in the ’70s and ’80s, helming hits like Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby,” “I Feel Love,” and “Bad Girls,” in addition to creating songs for a litany of artists including David Bowie, Janet Jackson, Blondie, and Kylie Minogue. Unfortunately, older was not necessarily wiser at Voodoo and the producer’s low energy was not suited to such a large-scale (and barely legal) audience. The highly intoxicated crowd was more content to chat and laugh amongst themselves than to enjoy the legend in front of them, and who could blame them? After waiting for several minutes for Moroder to come on stage, I asked when he was slated to perform, to which the security guard responded: “He started 20 minutes ago.” It didn’t help that the sound quality was incredibly low, and even at the front of the stage Jane’s Addiction could be heard from the other end of the field. Unfortunately, the producer’s expertise in the studio may not always extend to a festival setting.
What Moroder lacked in energy, British producer Adam George Dyment (a.k.a. Duke Dumont) more than made up for with his signature brand of deep house. Turning the festival—parts of which were now flooded with four inches of mud and rain—into a European club scene, he jumped right into his Saturday night set with his 2014 hit “Won’t Look Back.” And look back he did not, as he continued the good vibes with a remix of Format:B’s “Chunky” and an extended edition of his Grammy-nominated “Need U (100%).” While Jane’s Addiction and Ozzy Osbourne were bringing back past decades of classic rock and roll on the Altar stage, Dumont’s set felt like a Halloween rave, complete with intoxicated, costumed, kandy-wearing young teenagers who wouldn’t have looked out of place at Electric Daisy Carnival.
After Duke Dumont’s set, this festivalgoer had reached her limits with the weather; with mud up to my shins and sopping wet—curse you, ineffective $10 rain poncho!—Mother Nature had officially told me it was time to leave this swamp and prepare for the following day. Unfortunately, she also compelled the festival producers of to cancel the third day of the festival due to “dangerous weather,” leaving us without the chance to see Elliphant, Chance the Rapper, Deadmau5, Fishbone, and many more. FL