Sacramento – This first weekend of October is turning out to be a hot and sunny one here. With temperatures rocketing up to the mid-90s, it feels more like summer in the desert instead of autumn in California’s capitol city. Nonetheless, the few devotees willing to brave this Indian summer of sorts to bask in the glory of live indie music are doing just that this weekend at TBD Fest.
According to their website, TBD Fest started out as a party in a hotel room, and evolved over the years to an inner-city festival under the name Launch, which has now become TBD Fest, a three-day festival on a dusty patch of land between the Sacramento River and West Sacramento’s Riverfront Street, right down the way from the Tower Bridge as well as Raley Field, home of the Sacramento River Cats baseball team.
The layout is rather simple: at the north end lies the Lowbrau Stage, which is where the larger acts and headliners are all performing, and it boasts the largest viewing area of all four stage areas. On the opposite end is the Beautiful Buzz stage, almost as large as the Lowbrau—but not quite—and holds prime real estate next to the luminous Ferris wheel that runs throughout the day, and becomes increasingly popular as the sun goes down, as festival goers get drunker and more insistent on seeing the Sacramento skyline rising over the handful of trees that separate the venue from the riverbank. There are two smaller stages: the modest Block Stage situated south of the Lowbrau Stage, as well as the teeny tiny Red Bull Stage closer to Beautiful Buzz. In between, these is a bustling vendor area that includes a variety of shops, and the de rigueur handful of corporate booths seen at practically every festival, doling out free samples of everything from granola bars to electronic cigarettes. Along the perimeter are food trucks and a VIP ‘Glamping’ area adorned with ornate canvas tents decked out with comfortable furniture, for those few who are willing to shell out the big bucks (actually, at $250, the VIP passes for this festival are way cheaper than most).
On Friday, the gates opened at 3 PM—Saturday and Sunday they open at noon—and I arrived at around 4:30 and headed to the Lowbrau Stage to check out EXMAG’s 4:45-5:30 set. The bespectacled trio stood close together behind a table adorned in billowing silver tarp, each member intently focusing on his instrument of choice. EXMAG’s sound is new and refreshing, mixing like guitar and keys rooted in jazz riffs with sampled vocals and twisted synths and heavy bass throughout. They also had a rather devoted fan base that was eating up every note that emanated from the multitude of speakers standing like stalwart sentinels around them.
Next I headed to the opposite end of the venue to the Beautiful Buzz stage to catch Little Daylight, a three-piece outfit out of Brooklyn (not counting their touring drummer). Formed in 2012, this synth-heavy group belted out tracks from their recently released album Hello Memory, including “My Life,” “Mona Lisa”—a real toe-tapper that reminded me of CHVRCHES—and “No One Else But You,” a song that vocalist Nikki Taylor introduced as the first song they ever wrote together. (Ed., Read more about them in our recent interview.)
Back at the Lowbrau Stage, fellow Brooklynites The Drums took to the stage at 6:15, playing a slew of songs covering their three-album discography, including old favorites like “Money,” “Book of Revelation,” “Let’s Go Surfing,” and “Best Friend”—introduced by singer Jonny Pierce as ‘a song about my dead best friend’ which was met by a seemingly inappropriate amount of ‘WOOOOOing.’ The indie pop band also tapped into their newest album Encyclopedia–released just a couple of weeks ago—most notably with their new semi-dreary single “I Can’t Pretend.” Their sound now is way different from when I saw them last a couple of years ago, though the shift in tone suits them, I think.
Just as “Let’s Go Surfing” was wrapping up, I headed back to the Beautiful Buzz Stage to catch MNDR, the moniker under which eccentric singer Amanda Warner operates, along with her absent producer partner Peter Wade. Warner took to the stage with a pair of blond, braided dancers, and the three of them wore Bane-like masks over their noses and mouths made of black cloth and bearing the all-too-recognizable “Parental Advisory” sticker that has graced album covers for the past several decades. MNDR reminded me a lot of producer Grimes, with a little bit of Zola Jesus and Trent Reznor added in. MNDR’s sound was deep, dark, and sultry, and was almost industrial but not quite. Warner took to the mic for the entire set, her two dancers writhing about and contorting on either side of her as if they were doing some kind of demonic yoga. They performed a bunch of tracks from their debut album Feed Me Diamonds, plus a new song (“I’m an independent artist, so it’s fun to play this for you!”) as well as the song “Go For It,” a song by producer TOKiMONSTA that features MNDR.
Over at the smaller Block Stage, LA synth-pop duo Carousel was just getting started. Carousel consists of a couple of graduates from the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, with one helming vocals and synths while the other played a mean guitar. The duo conjured images of Holy Ghost! and a less foofy version of Owl City, playing a couple of covers–including Deadmau5’s “The Veldt”–as well as a few other upbeat tracks that I was unfamiliar with, though my interests are certainly piqued. This is definitely a band I will be following after seeing such an impressive set.
The last set by a new band I saw Friday happened once again at the smaller Block Stage, the first belonging to singer/producer Zak Waters. Waters’ energy was unmatched by any other act I had seen thus far, and he and his backing band gave the impression of a sort of modern bandstand outfit, complete with podiums embossed with his name stylized as a logo. He played for about a half hour or so, featuring tracks from his 2013 album Lip Service such as “Penelope,” as well as a song called “The City” released by French producer Madeon that features Waters on vocals. His sound reminded me a lot of Penguin Prison, though somewhat wilder and more jubilant.
Friday at TBD Fest wrapped things up with a DJ set from legendary producer Moby, though I was so exhausted and overwhelmed with the magnitude of great new music I had seen I only stuck around for about ten minutes or so. Clearly Friday was tailored for the electronic music crowd, seeing as most of the day’s bands had exhibited heavy appreciation for the genre. The rest of the weekend looks to be more balanced, which is both exciting and a little saddening at the same time. I’m excited to check out a more varietal Saturday and Sunday, though I’m unsure whether or not the energy will match tonight’s carefree spirit. Let’s hope it does.