While I admit that I wasn’t clocking folks for their copies of Flowers for Algernon or that new Sue Grafton joint, the most popular between-bands book being burrowed into Saturday afternoon at the fifth annual Siren Music Festival required no real work to spot. All day, wherever you turned, there was another kid plowing through Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, whose release at 12:01 a.m. Saturday morning clearly took precedence over the temporary gentrification of Coney Island on lots of hipster shitbags’ weekend to-do lists. (After all, nobody brought a Spoon concert to the bookstore.) I even saw two separate redheaded Ron Weasley look-alikes paging through the paper-weight, which was nothing compared to the number of people cruising around who may have been members of Q and Not U.
Would-be age discrepancies aside, the Siren and Harry Potter constituencies actually converge in one crucial way: Each group enjoys the predictable and reassuring comforts of a make-believe world that’s easier to navigate than the real one. You could get a sense of Siren’s imaginary universe before you even hit Surf Avenue, on the Q train from Manhattan: Was the sleepy kid clutching the soccer ball on his way to the show? How about the girl with the leather-fringed bell-bottoms holding her dad’s hand? The tanned, halter-topped young woman gossiping on her cell phone about the Bravery? The crush on West 10th Street only allowed room for one of them.
Still, who am I to talk? I’ve never read a single Potter book, yet I own records by every act that appeared on Siren’s two stages. (Not that I asked for them. Which reminds me: If you keep trying to write for Pitchfork but can’t seem to pass the mandatory taste test, hitting Siren is another great way to get your hands on quite a bit of free shit. This year covertly attired members of marketing departments were loose with sampler CDs, interminable issues of Paste, even plastic bags emblazoned with the naked lady from the Louis XIV album.) So, sure, indie rock is a shitty scene with a dangerous and predictable case of self-aggrandizing cultural myopia (not to mention bad hair). But it’s my shitty scene!
And as a scene member, I’m asking: What’s with Be Your Own Pet? Early in the day on the Stillwell stage, these Nashville teens, led by the self-confidently blonde Jemina Pearl, bashed out an incredibly rudimentary neo-garage racket that I found indistinguishable from any of the no-name local acts I saw play all-ages auto shops every weekend growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas. As a loud-and-somewhat-proud Southerner, am I inured to this type of thing, or is it in fact as overrated as it seems? Also possibly overrated: VHS or Beta, who some unsavory handbill distributor inaccurately told my Cure-shirted lady “sound exactly like the Cure.” I’ve seen this band multiple times and I still have no idea whether they have a singer or not.
Seventy-three times more interesting was this fucked-up ride called Top Spin 2; I was too chicken to ride it but watched others do it while Morningwood played. Basically your ass gets spun around high in the air while you get sprayed in the face with a jet stream of fetid water. Apparently the ride is German, because there’s a sign that says “Der kick im netz,” which I can only hope translates to “A kick in the nuts.” Across the midway, Break Dance—a sort of extreme-sports variation on the Himalaya—threatened to put main-stage DJ Tommie Sunshine out of a job; in one glorious stretch I heard both Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You” and a beautiful reggae version of DJ Sammy’s version of Bryan Adams’s “Heaven.”
In the zone of Swedish psych-rock longhairs Dungen, music sounds better with flute; I didn’t much trust Ta Det Lugnt‘s liner notes till I saw frontman Gustav Ejstes (big-upping Other Music in a pine-green tee) blow a long-ass woodwind solo that, considering the heat, was actually kind of cruel. (Appropriately, Dungen’s set occasioned the first whiff of weed I caught all day.) A dude next to me complained that Detroit power-pop whiz Brendan Benson’s bass player was too loud—too bad, given that in “Good to Me” Benson sang about his amp sounding like a champ. By the time Spoon sauntered onstage for their headlining set, a thick fog had turned Coney Island into a humid, funky chamber of secrets. Understimulated but overexposed, we took a sip from Britt Daniel’s goblet of fire and split.