Every summer, PDX Pop Now acts as an unofficial State of the Union on the health of the Portland music scene. What this year's installment—held outside AudioCinema under the Hawthorne Bridge on July 22-24—indicated is that, while the city itself grows increasingly more exclusive, our music culture might be more inclusive than ever.
But don't just take my word for it:
That sentiment was true not just of who was performing, and what was being performed. At a time of great civic angst, PDX Pop Now was a timely reminder that, if you keep your ears open wide enough, there are still plenty of reasons to feel good about living here. Here's the best of what we managed to catch.
Heaviest Teens: Saola
I could hear Saola from three blocks away. The youngest in the sludge-metal quartet is fill-in guitarist Holden. He's 14 and poised to enter his freshman year of high school. Saola played three songs in 30 minutes in what was assuredly the heaviest set of the weekend. NATHAN CARSON.
Best Slackers: Ali Muhareb's Mujahedeen
Calling Ali Muhareb's Mujahedeen "slacker rock" might be lazy journalism, but I'll try anyways. With Ali's vocals reaching the rare falsetto of Built to Spill's Doug Martsch, the three-piece band, sounded like Grandaddy with balls, achieving a perfect balance of irony and self aware shreddage. WYATT SCHAFFNER.
Best Glitch Cowboy: Dragging an Ox Through Water
Americana mad-scientist Brian Mumford brought a street-fair vibe to PDX Pop Now, playing country-fried guitar accompanied by a series of homebuilt noisemakers. With a motley collection of digital effects at his feet, Mumford delivered down-home ballads, warming the crowd with an electro-acoustic set, sounding a bit like a low-key Arthur Russell at times. (WS)
Best Protest Performance: Mic Capes
As of late, Mic Capes has been Portland's most outspoken artist. Closing the festival's opening night, Capes inspired a majority white crowd to observe 10 seconds of silence for those recently slain by law enforcement, raise their hands in the image of Black Lives Matter, and chant "fuck the police." The latter is the refrain to Capes' most recent single, the visceral "One 4 O'Shea." But Capes knows the issue is more nuanced than that, introducing the track by thanking the officers monitoring the festival, declaring the song isn't about them necessarily, but crooked cops everywhere. MATTHEW SCHONFELD.
Best Death Stare: Aubrey Hornor of Lithics
Lithics came to harsh the Saturday afternoon mellow with a set of scraping, nervy post-punk, built from shards of No Wave guitar, mutant-disco rhythms and a skronking saxophone. Throughout, singer-guitarist Aubrey Hornor kept an intense gaze fixed on the audience, like she was trying to set everyone's hair on fire with her mind. But if the band meant to disturb, its noisy squall only succeeded in drawing more eyes to them, and based on the reaction, it was, for a lot of people—myself included—one of the revelatory sets of the weekend. MATTHEW SINGER.
Best Art Show: Old Grape God
"Art-rap" is generally a pretty useless term, but in the case of Old Grape God, it's unavoidable, considering he literally paints onstage. But the guy works with more than one kind of canvas: At PDX Pop Now, the set itself was like a Jackson Pollock painting turned to sound. With the reverb on his microphone cranked, his woozy drawl pinged off the walls of the concrete echo chamber at the festival's East Stage, creating a disorienting splatter of words, bass and other sonic colorings. The effect was less cacophonous than hallucinatory, and for His Grapeness—who doesn't ride beats so much as he wades through them, and at times did so with a paintbrush between his teeth—it all made a delirious sort of sense. I'm sure he'd call it a masterpiece. He wouldn't be wrong. (MS)
Best Conjurer of Dragons: Disemballerina
If you've read my author bio on this site, you know I'm not into Game of Thrones, but I've caught enough episodes to know that if viewers need something to pass the time until the next season premieres, they might as well listen to chamber-doom three-piece Disemballerina and try writing some fan fiction. The trio's brooding instrumentals, performed on guitar, cello, viola and harp, could score any number of epic fantasies, really. Watching them outdoors on a Sunday afternoon over the shouts of a nearby Rigsketball game wasn't ideal, but hints of their uniquely dark beauty managed to get through the noise. Trains twice interrupted their set, but if dragons had materialized in the sky to derail them, it wouldn't be shocking. (MS)
Best Party Poopers: Sleeping Beauties
With raging guitars and intelligibly spat-out lyrics, Sleeping Beauties' set was one hell of a proper shit show. With songs like "50's Haircut," the Beauties are a welcome throwback to garage rock with real vitriol and nothing to lose, least of all their hearing. For once I appreciate the shitty acoustics of the open air-perfect for feedback—and for Rob Enbom from Eat Skull to do his worst on the guitar while crazy eyeing the crowd. This is a band so volatile that who knows how long they'll stick around, but here's hoping they'll be making noise for years to come. (WS)
Best Hardware Heshers: Antecessor
Antecessor is like Tangerine Dream through the looking glass, fusing eerie atmospherics with progressive sequences and drum-machine grooves. After a chi- stroking intro, the power electronic duo detonated "the drop," coincidentally right at 8:08 pm. The effervescence of their cosmic synths paid off with upbeat, almost tribal rhythms. (WS)
Best Spazz-Out: Consumer
Consumer stole the show Sunday evening with interpretive back up dancers and fucked-up beats. Possessed by loops and drum machines, Matt Palenske's solo project is the height of derangement, with Palenske in singing like Jim Carrey doing karaoke in The Cable Guy in one breath and then lounge-lizard ab-libbing the next. For those in his cult, Consumer rewards with frazzled funk and pummeling dance beats that indulged the inner spazz in all of us. (WS)
Best Rapper's Delight: Maze Koroma
At age 24, Maze Koroma is proving himself to be one of his city's most pervasive rappers. Performing to a tight crowd of friends—Ripley Snell, Old Grape God, Slick Devious and Blossom, to name a few in attendance—Koroma was admittedly a bit green onstage and clearly still finding his stage presence, but that is perhaps what made it all the more impressive when he hit his stride on tracks like "MDA" and "Rebels." Sure, the North Portland MC is a little timid on the mic, but he's charming nonetheless. I mean, he showered the crowd with Ring Pops. What more do you need? (MS)