LCD Soundsystem, Magdalena Bay, Kelly Lee Owens & more rocked a scorching Saturday in Pasadena
Ain’t No Picnic? More like ain’t nobody topping this music festival for a long time, that’s for sure.
Goldenvoice can take a bow. After a summer of running music festivals at Pasadena’s Brookside golf course venue at the Rose Bowl – including Cruel World, Just Like Heaven, and Palomino – the SoCal-based promoter closed with its best fest yet. To the delight of attendees, This Ain’t No Picnic was downright magical, cementing its status going forward as LA’s premier indie-leaning, Coachella-alternative music festival. I’ll just put it this way: Primavera LA has its work cut out.
Everything from the venue, to the organization, parking, shuttles, layout, logistics, food and drink options, boutiques, sound, visuals, and of course, the incredible performances themselves, made this festival one for the ages. The party went down with barely a hitch, and the vibes were immaculate.
Despite the scorching temps, the (faded) grass of the Brookside golf course and the abundant shade from trees (and Despacio) made the conditions easily bearable as the music added the perfect mental reprieve. Aside from waiting to get in for Honey Dijon’s set on Sturday night, I didn’t have to wait in line for anything else – not even for craft beer or pizza or a trip to the restroom. But that wasn’t to say that the festival was under-attended. Overall I’d estimate it as being similar to the crowd sizes of Cruel World and Just Like Heaven – although the fact that there were five stages of music spread around the grounds definitely made things feel breezy and comfortable. As the night wore on and the conflicts eased, massive crowds flocked to the headlining acts, namely Kaytranada and LCD Soundsystem.
All five stages – Fairway, Back Nine, Greens, 19th Hole, and Despacio – featured top-notch performances all day long. Early afternoon, I planted at the main Fairway stage and caught the last half of Indigo De Souza’s mesmerizing set. The grungy indie pop rising star proved why her LP Any Shape You Take was worthy of our Top 50 Albums of 2021 list, carrying those songs via propulsive riffs and bravura vocal performances. Just what the doctor ordered.
Following her on the Fairway was the up-and-coming Australian alternative hip-hop artist Genesis Owusu, who delivered an eye-poppingly theatrical display with some help from a trio of ninja gimp-suited backup dancers and hype men. Owusu, sporting a Corvette-red suit and black mesh shirt, absolutely commanded the stage and had the audience in the palm of his hand. Toward the end of the set, Genesis and his ninjas jumped into the crowd and ignited a bonkers dancing pit as explosive beats had the ground shaking.
From there, I felt in the mood to cool down a bit, so I grabbed a beer and wandered over to the 19th Hole dance tent, where English house maestro Leon Vynehall (whose shirt read: “LONDON: where the weak are grilled and eaten”) was throwing down a groovy DJ set. The 19th Hole was mercifully shaded, fenced in and featured a full checkered dance floor – so as to conjure those indoor club vibes – on top of Vynehall’s skilled, throttling beats that had the crowd shuffling their feet eagerly.
Later in the night I made sure to return to watch Honey Dijon spin for a bit. Although a massive line had formed to get in, within ten minutes I was loose on a packed dance floor as she pummeled through a sterling mix of house, techno, and golden-era disco with surgical precision. Ultimately, Honey Dijon continues to solidify her status as one of the hottest DJs on the planet.
The dance party continued at Despacio, the James Murphy and 2manydjs-led palace of 360-degree sound. The indoor walls of Despacio are lined in a circle with a series of sound towers that project towards the center, generating a soundwave intersection that reverberates through the entire body. Its a musical experience like no other, made all the better by James & co. spinning immaculate throwback vinyl classics. If James ever hits a festival and brings Despacio in tow, you absolutely must check it out. It was packed out all day.
Shortly after, the always audacious Yves Tumor took to the Fairway stage and delivered a true rockstar performance – clad only in a leather vest, S&M chains, and a studded jock strap. Tumor has recently emerged as one of today’s leading experimental rock artists; on Saturday they were in fine form, blending elements of blues and alt-rock with subtle noise and electronic quirks, all elevated by their slithery, sexual alter ego persona that totally galvanized the crowd with their theatrics. Tracks like “Gospel for a New Century” and “Dream Palette” soared thanks in part to the mulleted guitarist’s flying-V noodling. The whole band was at the top of their game.
Earlier this year, Ethel Cain released one of my favorite albums of the year so far, Preacher’s Daughter, and I was incredibly excited to see her and those songs in action. Her tales of the trauma and the hardships of emerging as a trans teenager from a Preacher’s family in Florida’s panhandle are as churning as they are inspiring, and she managed to bring a confessional power that cut through the noise over on the intimate Trees stage. Her stage presence was hypnotic and she sounded incredible as her songs ebbed and flowed between haunting intimacy and noisy, guitar-driven bombast. You could feel a storm of emotions burst out of her and swirl through the crowd as the stormy crescendos of “Thoroughfare” hit stratospheric heights. Ethel Cain is the new rising star of Gothic Americana.
Shortly after, Magdalena Bay had the crowd swooning from beginning to end with what was hands-down the best set of the entire festival. The L.A. indie pop duo continues to conquer the world on the heels of their radiant, futuristic all-time classic Mercurial World; at Picnic, singer Mica Tenenbaum ignited a dancing frenzy with her powerful vocals and rad dance moves, and Matt Lewin shredded on the guitar amidst a wall of shoegazey technicolor synths and cosmic beats. In the photo pit, “You Lose!” shattered my eardrums in the best way possible, and from the crowd, new track “All You Do” had us all hailing the heavens. It was a magisterial performance from start-to-finish, and once MagBay had wrapped, I knew no other act was going to top it the rest of the weekend. Despite some awe-inspiring efforts, that prophecy turned out to be true.
As day turned to night, I sat back with a pizza and beer as Kaytranada led a massively-swelling Fairway crowd in a luminescent dance party. The Canadian beatmaker continues to be as reliable as ever in these festival slots, reeling in those nighttime vibes and gearing up the crowd for an energetic end to an already impressive day.
After Honey Dijon, I raced over to catch Kelly Lee Owens deliver the second-best set of the weekend (only to MagBay). The forward-thinking English producer crafts a mind-melting IDM elixir full of ethereal singer-songwriter vibes and incendiary, whiplash-inducing U.K. garage breakbeats. Her set mentally teleported the crowd to an industrial warehouse full of strobe lights, fog machines, and cigarette smoke. Truly dazzling stuff.
LCD Soundsystem closed out Day 1 with a tight, precise, and rollicking headlining set. On some level, if you’ve seen an LCD set before, you know what to expect: clanging dance punk beats, fizzying synths, pulsating percussion, and James Murphy’s verbose vocals and stage sensibilities steering the ship. That’s all to say that LCD Soundsystem is awesome and always a reliable pick to anchor a fest-closing spot. “Yr City’s A Sucker” opened the set with sass, “Losing My Edge” had the crowd losing their edge, and “Dance Yrself Clean” had us all, well, you know.
A quick parking lot escape and late night nightcap put the finishing touches on an exhausting but pitch-perfect day 1 of This Ain’t No Picnic. Stay tuned for a recap of day 2 at Rose Bowl, but for now, scroll below for the full highlights from a spectacular day and night of music.