Capitol Hill Block Party Review – Featuring Crater, Cuff Lynx, Mantatee Commune, Ca$h Bandicoot, and Maiah Manser.
Capitol Hill Block Party is one of those festivals that your friends who are just a little cooler than you wont stop talking about. It’s far cheaper than the Northwest’s majors—Sasquatch and Pemberton—and also boasts a large portion of the region’s best up and coming talent. The headliners (this year Ratatat, TV on the Radio and The Kills) tend to live in that coveted stratum of artistry that comfortably pays the bills, but not so comfortably as to risk “selling out.” In other words, they’re still hip despite their success. And hip is probably the best way to describe CHBP, where no matter how well prepared, you will inevitably end up missing out on a handful of newly trending acts rocking the smaller stages.
One of those acts who I did manage to catch was Crater, a duo who opened the festival on the Vera stage with a great set of electo-pop. Their songs are an infectious stew of chromed-out hip-hop beats, dance floor synths, surf guitars, and perfectly flowing melodies. Imagine Purity Ring, but swap the trap hi-hats and dubby bass for kicks and snares a little sweeter on the ear. Crater are simultaneously understated but bold, relaxed but wired with energy.
The duo will hit the road later this fall opening for another producer/singer two piece, MS MR. For multi-instrumentalist Kessiah Gordon and singer, Ceci Gomez, Block Party offered a great way to flesh out their new set before the tour.
“We’ll be playing some really scary, large venues so it’s great to play a situation like this,” explained Gomez.
“We’ve played large club venues before, but as a three piece rock band,” added Gordon. “It will be a different as a duo. There will be a little more responsibility on stage, but we’re excited for sure.” Crater are also working on a full length album slated for release early next year.
Mobility is limited at CHBP, which means that when Crater finished, I had to push my way through a swarm of human traffic on Pike Street in order to catch local Bellebrity, Grant Eadie (a.k.a. Manatee Commune), throw down viola for Seattle based hip-hop/electronic/r&b trio, The Flavr Blue. Eadie’s performance didn’t disappoint as his stringed accompaniment added an orchestral flair to The Flavr Blue that was not unlike the chorus of Sean Paul’s, “We Be Burning”. As a lover of guilty-pleasure club-bangers, I was all about it.
If you’re keeping track at home, Eadie was one of four performers with recent Bellingham roots at the festival. The others, Cuff Lynx (Matt Linus Ogle and Jordan Hatzialexiou) and Ca$h Bandicoot (Paco Mejindo), are, like Eadie, represented by Austin Santiago’s BuildStrong Management. I took a respite from the concrete jungle to join the crew for a brief chat in a gloriously air-conditioned creative suite overlooking the festival. The stylish office is also where Ogle of Cuff Lynx works his day job as a graphic designer.
“Everyone’s doing their day job. A lot of people think that we just make music all day, but we work 9 to 5s and then come home and make this shit happen, and everyone’s doing that. Everyone’s who’s not touring and on a label are just hustling,” said Ogle.
One common thread when talking to the BuildStrong guys is an emphasis on work ethic. “It’s not work hard and play hard. It’s actually work hard and work harder,” added Hatzialexiou. “You have to put in the hours.”
But one plus of rolling with a crew is knowing that when you do put in the work, others will have your back to make sure it sounds good. “Every time we have a track coming out, we immediately send it to each other, and there’s a lot of encouragement that goes along with that,” said Eadie.
“We also give each other production tips, so we have another perspective on things,” said Mejindo. “One of us will be better at percussion, while someone else will be better at writing melodies.”
For all the preparation, the squad seems most excited to share their work with friends in the Seattle community, many of whom are artists like them, working over time to find their position in the crowded music scene. And despite the competitive nature of the business, Ogle describes nothing but love for his fellow artists, a habit formed and hardened in community-centered Bellingham.
“How can we not credit Bellingham?” he asked. “I wouldn’t be playing music if I didn’t go to college in Bellingham.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch Ca$h Bandicoot’s set because of a conflict with my own show in Bellingham, but I did get to see Cuff Lynx tear the house down at a late night Barboza show. True to their word, the set had a distinctly community vibe and featured remixes of a number of noted northwest artists, most prominently, The Flavr Blue, who even hopped on stage with the duo for their last song. Cuff Lynx’s music is best described as a mind-bending trip through time in which you hop in a DeLorean in 2015, jet on back to the early eighties, then fly forward a hundred years (speakers blaring of course), and finally slow dance your way backwards to the present moment. All in all, 10/10, would ride again.
The last rising artist I got to catch up with at CHBP was the insanely talented Maiah Manser, who performed not once, but twice, at the festival. (Had a last minute booking mix-up not derailed her own solo set, she would have played three times.) For those paying attention, Manser’s growing profile should come as no surprise. The Seattle singer’s breathtaking voice has made her a hot commodity for artists in need of a little extra vocal pop to take their songs to the next level. Seeing Manser do just that for Theoretics on the Neumos stage, it was clear that she is something special. Plenty of singers have great voices, and plenty more can find creative melodies. But those who can do both and still manage to write killer pop hooks? They’re the ones who stick around, and Manser belongs to that rare breed.
“It’s fun to topline,” said Manser in reference to writing lyrics and melodies for other artists’ songs. “It’s nice because it takes me out of my comfort zone, so maybe I get to work on a faster song. Most of my own songs are pretty down tempo.”
Speaking of her own songs, Manser is working on a solo EP with producer Buddy Ross (Motopony, Frank Ocean) that she hopes to finish by the end of August. “I feel so close to it,” Manser explained. “It’s the most true and genuine to what I’ve wanted to make for the past five years.”
Like so many other artists at CHBP, Manser’s album will be one to watch. While the festival continues to grow in name brand recognition—bigger headliners, sleeker logos, more corporate sponsors—it’s heart remains in the local talent who still call the neighborhood, the city, and the whole northwest their home. When the last show ends and the crowds clear, these artists will remain, walking the same streets on their way to work as on the way to their shows, fighting patiently to catch their next break, to ride a new wave onward.