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The Afro-Punk festival at Commodore Barry Park in Fort Greene, Brooklyn is in its 10th year. The decade mark brings with it an air of legitimacy and staying power that usually signals the inevitable corporatization of most music festivals. At this point, you might expect to see million dollar headlining acts and gimmicky stunts like the resurrection of dead rappers via hologram, or the reuniting of sorely missed icons like Outkast, take center stage at Afro Punk. But the Brooklyn festival is still holding true to its homespun ethic. There’s no lounge sponsored by Bud Lite Limarita, and there’s no Red Bull street team doling out sugary energy drinks. Afro Punk is more about exuding and promoting culture than it is about corporate partnerships and asserting itself as a tastemaker and brand. After all, the festival is free, so why the fuck would Kanye West want to play anyway?
Last weekend’s Afro Punk festival brought with it an overloading of the senses and a host of disparate artists aiming to celebrate the music and creativity of people of color. There was much to behold and much to enjoy. Like, say, these 15 things…
See also: Afropunk Started With a Documentary. Ten Years, Two Websites, and Eight Festivals Later…
1. BMX riders getting radical.
Off to the side of the red stage, there were two discrete BMX ramps. There were about three BMX riders pulling off gnarly stunts like backflips and tailwhips while most people casually walked right past, their attention turned to things less tied to the super-radical and extreme. But the BMX riders were chillin’ out, sessioning a ramp, casually risking their necks for the modest entertainment of the crowd. If there was any reason for a Red Bull street team, it was these dudes, who deserved mad respect for reppin’ both the sicky-sicky and the gnarly-gnarly.
2. The ever-present smell of marijuana.
There were mad peeps smoking doja at Afro Punk. There were also police officers who seemed to ignore the casual use of Mary-J. The thick cloud of weed-stuffs seem to float in a haze that casually drifted up into the gloomy sky on Saturday. But for real, big ups to the NYPD for not frisking people for responsibly smoking dope with their friends. It was shocking that the cops didn’t care, but maybe it was because they were high too. Let’s hope officer McSwiggins doesn’t fail his bi-weekly pee-pee test. That’s like a 6-month suspension from the force, or something.
3. Afro Punk security wearing cute little bow-ties.
Come on. Who gave these jacked-up, huggy-bear looking dudes these adorable little bow-ties to compliment their factory made polyester suits? They looked approachable despite their sour looks and furrowed brows, though. The ushers didn’t like it when people crowd-surfed, but how could we take their scowls seriously when it looked like grandma had dressed them up for their nephew’s clarinet recital?
4. Pony giveaways
Casual reader: no one was given an actual horse last weekend. We’re referring to the NYC-based shoe company Pony, who offered up free kicks to some lucky shoeless festival attendees. People waited in pretty deep lines to see if the Pony reps had anything that fit their fancy, and some of the more lucky recipients expressed their gratitude on the Twitters.
5. Beautiful People
There were babes-galore at Afro Punk. We’re talking chick-babes, dude-babes, and literal baby babes. After all, Commodore Barry Park is home to a few jungle gyms and swing sets, so there was a healthy amount of playground action. Music fests are always an excuse for sexy people to showcase their tendency to dress like the smokingly hot, self-important urbanites they are. Afro Punk’s attendees were scintillating for the most part, but they weren’t the frathouse beer-pongin’ beauties we see at Coachella. There was some real style and class poppin’ out there on the field.
6. Everything About Tecla’s set
Tecla is an NYC based “tropical electronic pop,” band comprised of Tecla Esposito on keytar and trippy vocals and a rotating cast of shredding drummers and gyrating back-up dancers. Everything about Tecla’s set on Saturday absolutely ruled. From the showmanship of Tecla herself, to the energy of the thumping drums and to the pulsating movements of the chick dancing alongside the band, Tecla silently stole a considerable crowd away from the festival’s other attractions. Rain even started to drizzle from a partially sunny sky while the band closed their set with a resounding climax. The setting made Tecla Esposito, clad in all white, look like some sort of messianic cosmic-funk goddess. Maybe she is.
7. The Great Clusterfuck of #AfroPunk2014
More and more people gradually showed up to the fest, which created more and more traffic just about everywhere you turned. However, no area of Commodore Barry Park was more royally fucked than The Great Clusterfuck of #AfroPunk2014. The walkway separating the athletic field from the parking lot was basically the only way to move between all three stages. Needless to say the situation was packed full of way too many sweaty, stoned and inebriated bodies than comfort could possibly warrant. The situation was reminiscent of battle scenes in Braveheart and Last of the Mojicans where two armies charge straight into one another. The Great Clusterfuck was quite harmonious, however. No charging warriors this year.
8. Trash Talk’s Ridiculous Circle Pit
Trash Talk fans very much enjoy thrashing and Trash Talk frontman Lee Spielman very much enjoys getting his fans to mosh. Between Spielman’s yells of “I wanna see you fucking move!” and “Let’s fuck shit up!” every angry 16 year-old was afforded a real good reason to spastically flail like a fish fighting for its life. But credit to the band, they put on a wicked performance, and with world-class beast of a drummer Thomas Pridgen tearing up the pocket, everybody there thrashed accordingly.
9. Sharon Jones in the Drizzle Rain
Sharon Jones is a classy woman. She closed Saturday night on the Green stage with a big ole’ horn section of dudes wearing dapper suits and hankies. Sharon Jones’ set felt like Afro Punk’s sweet Grandmother tucked-in all of the weary, stoney-eyed hipsters after they spent a hard day being seen on the scene. She lent the festival an air of history, being that almost every other act (minus Bad Brains, Cro Mags) was less than 10 years old.
10. Activism Row
Afro Punk is not a corporate event. There are sponsors, including a few notable brands like Zip Car and Dr. Martens, but for the most part the event is unencumbered by a glut of commercial bullshit. In light of this, the fest has this thing called Activism Row, where local organizations like Progressive Pupil and Voto Latino stake out tables and talk to interested attendees about their organizations and how to get involved. It’s a great thing, because it shows the fest isn’t all about the glamorization of the party lifestyle, and it also shows many of the young kids at Afro Punk that they have a political voice they can sharpen and use to advocate for themselves. Up the Afro Punks, indeed.
11. The Fact that Bad Brains Played
They played on a stage that was undeservingly small. They played instrumental songs and way too much reggae. They played rap-metal with the rapper Murs. They played without their enigmatic and crazy-ass vocalist HR. But they played, and for everyone that should suffice. They played some of their classic hardcore material with John Joseph McGowan of Cro-Mags and Corey Glover of Living Color. They took the audience through some of the most important punk music ever written, songs like “Attitude,” “Sailin’ On,” and “The Regulator.” Bad Brains bass player Daryl Jennifer joked about his band getting screwed out of a bigger stage and copyright money. He was justified. This was Bad Brains in 2014.
12. Hoisting Unlocking the Truth’s Guitarist/Vocalist Over My Head
Unlocking the Truth is a three-piece metal band from New York City. They’re all African-American and they’re all about 12 and 13 years old. They are cute, but they also shred. There were lots of pinch-harmonics from the band and lots cooing from adult audience members when they played. The best part of their set was when frontkid Malcolm Brickhouse crowdsurfed all the way from the stage and into my arms after their set. At this point during his crowdsurf, Brickhouse had nowhere to go, so another audience member and I carried the young tike back to security in front of the stage. But young Brickhouse didn’t even say thank you. Kids these days, I tell ya, YEESH.
13. Ice-T’s Rant About the “Pussification of Men”
Ice-T is a tough guy and he wants you to know about it. He wants you, especially if you’re a man, to know that he’s tougher than you, and that you’re probably a bitch. Ice-T made this very clear when he spoke about the “Pussification of Men,” during his band Body Count’s set on Saturday night. He said, “Ladies, have you noticed that your men these days all have vaginas? Is this happening in Brooklyn too?” Ice-T’s crusade to bring masculinity back to the male gender then took to a searing Body Count number with way too much double bass drum.
14. The Sky on Saturday
The threat of rain persisted pretty much all day on Saturday, August 23, but it made the atmosphere kind of fun, like we were all teetering on the edge of disaster. Because of this, the crowd had to really “turn up” as it were. Although we didn’t get much more than a light drizzle, there were hints of the sun bleeding through the gray clouds that emitted a kind of divine cascade of light. It was mad poetic, people.
15. Smiles and Unity
All hipster pretension aside, this festival really was quite a beautiful display of people uniting and bonding. Attendees were from all walks of life. They all made it to Afro Punk for the only extant reason there was: enjoying music in the company of friends and strangers, passing joints and giving out high-fives and hugs. Love was everywhere last weekend. Let’s hope Afro-Punk keeps this going another 10 years.