TBD Festival Challenged the LA/SF Culture Monopoly in California
The THUMP-presented Sacramento weekender made a powerful statement to the West Coast festival scene.
Capital cities can have it rough if you're looking for real fun. The masses aren't quite lining up to get their rave on in Pierre, South Dakota or Salem, Oregon, for example. But this year in Sacramento, California, residents, visitors and even a curious Belgian man on a road trip to Alaska, had plenty to wild out about as the THUMP-presented TBD Festival took over the city's Bridge District, September 18-20, for three days of music and Sac-town pride.
In tandem with steamy temperatures in the high 90s, the weekend set sail across four stages, as well as a sprawling vendor village of cold-brew coffee, weed vapes, cookies, hats, a live chef cookoff, works from local artists, as well as headliners Pretty Lights, Chromeo, Tyler the Creator, Porter Robinson, and a rare appearance by famed 80s outfit Tears for Fears, who definitely played that song you heard in that movie once. Armed with a notepad and a raucous crew of Russian Sacramentoans (Sacramentors? Sacramentoners?), I set off to discover what California's capital city is all about.
TBD's lineup operates in an interesting place in the realm of indie-electronic music, a term that gets thrown around so much one has to wonder what it even really means. The stylings were niche when compared to some other big festivals, yet not quite weird enough to be an FYF, or dancey enough to be a HARD Summer. With the music presented, the crowd also was something of an occasional oddity—not quite bro, not quite hipster, zero glow sticks in sight, with people expressing themselves in ways where you at times couldn't tell if they're on psychedelics, stimulants, or just really damn hot.
Day one saw the festival's only stage devoted directly to CDJ pushers, featuring a full-on Anjunadeep takeover of the LowBrau stage, an area owing its name to the local sausage eatery owned by TBD's founders. While the steady rinsing of flowing deep house from label dudes like Jody Wisternoff and Vincenzo was pleasant on the ears, they weren't quite as good as the spicy andouille sausage being circulated adjacent. Anjunadeep? More like Andouilledeep.
As far as those who mixed on more conventional DJing apparatuses, RL Grime let loose on a classically #lit mainstage set with his celebrated one-two punch of of powerful bass-propulsion and rap sprinklings after Austin's Yung Wall Street played a solid set dropping everything from Jersey Club to house. A-Trak played on the final day of the weekend, scratching, jumping, yelling and playing his "Heads Will Roll" remix for the very first time (wink face).
The festival shined brightest with its tremendous presentation of live electronic music. The jammy chillwave of Toro y Moi brought in the day one sunset before flipping the switch to the thunderous swirl of Purity Ring, who appeared on stage immersed in a sea of hanging LEDs, and producer Corin Roddick's custom lantern drum setup. The Glitch Mob would headline the festival's opening day with a nonstop hour of punishing bass whomp. Their showmanship is indeed something to celebrate, but I consumed a cocktail of two Advil and one and a half spliffs of medical grade Sour Diesel to counter the cerebral assault of their set, sans panic attack. Can't they occasionally just once drop a subtle dosing of glitch? Please?
At one point during the opening day, I noticed an old, scraggly, shirtless man shimmying his way across the festival grounds. Convulsing like some sort of possessed golem, I figured him lost in a perma trip that began far before my birth. Soon I discovered he was in fact not crazy, but rather a local legend named Kenny the Dancing Man, who's a fixture at parties and clubs around the city.
Kenny explained to me that he was in rigorous training as a latin show dancer (a cultivated by the British, he noted), and used festivals to hone his skills, as well as be as a beacon of fun, safe, dancing that people want to hang out with. Living in the city for over fifty years, Kenny noted TBD's power to not just draw in locals, but the eyes of all of California and the whole music community. For a city not known for big, shiny, massive events, you could see the pure jubilance in Kenny's eyes and dancing limbs as he gleamed about his hometown's newfound pride and joy.
The culture-bashing melange of synth and guitar sounds were another strong focus at TBD Fest. Touch Sensitive rocked an early evening day two set with some punchy disco, as did Cut Copy and Holy Ghost, though the latter two brought more of the electro-pop and less of the Freddie Mercury impersonations. Local sacramento legends Tycho closed out an 18-month tour with a beautiful set of organic instrumentation, nicely sammied between the not-quite-EDM of headliner Porter Robinson, Ratatat's screechy psych-electro, and the Nintendo bass of Wave Racer.
Pretty Lights hit the stage for an hour set as headliner of day two with a one man showing of electro-soul and atom-splitting bass. Beneath psychedelic LED disco balls and his classic flat-brim, he dropped one of the weekend's most jubilant sets. The festival also interestingly put focus on a variety of off-beat aggro rap stars throughout the weekend, like quasi terrifying Sacramento natives Death Grips, Tyler the Creator, Mobb Deep, as well as Chance the Rapper, and Ty Dolla $ign, the latter of which actually slapped da damn bass. Adding some nice balance to the beats, these performances all took place on the same stage, acting as either an escape, or catalyst to everyone's perpetual turnup.
As a New Yorker who had never once visited the city, it was clear after a mere couple of hours that TBD wasn't just in Sacramento, it was for Sacramento. Described by my Uber driver as a sleepy town where not that much fun happens, the festival acted as a place for residents and nearby neighbors to flex their pride, fun-ability, and appreciation for cool, on-trend music being lauded in bigger cities like LA and San Francisco. With a village of personable local vendors, as well as easy access between the cities downtown, and the festival's location aside the golden Tower Bridge, you couldn't help but feel the city's vibe.
Named "TBD" in honor of their shifting styles and thirst for an ever-evolving future as a festival, just like my new friend Kenny, here's to hoping that they keep on dancing.
Photos by Logan Donaldson.
David's rinsing that andouilledeep on Twitter.