New York's Best Play Northside Fest

by BILLY GRAY · June 22, 2010

Brooklyn is arguably the center of indie rock, a genre without a center. Its defining trait is that it's indefinable. Indie is just a catchall phrase for dozens of splintered subgenres. But this weekend's Northside Festival aims to outline Brooklyn's proudly hazy music scene, even as it spans musical styles and venues scattered across the borough.

Northside runs Thursday through Sunday, touching down in everything from scrappy South Williamsburg DIY spaces (Death by Audio, Glasslands) to riverfront playgrounds on Greenpoint's northern fringe (Newton Barge Park), from established clubs (Public Assembly, Europa) to huge concert halls (Music Hall of Williamsburg) to bowling alleys (Brooklyn Bowl).

It might not make for the most cohesive (or walkable) festival experience, but it's somehow comforting to view Northside Festival as a panoply of North Brooklyn's musical goings-on that brings it all together and keeps it diffuse at once. And the $50 festival badge lets your soak it all in at a ridiculous value. (You can buy the badger or individual tickets here.)

Organizers over at L Magazine definitely didn't spread the festival thin when it came to the lineup. OK, the 250 or so bands booked to play might suggest otherwise and overwhelm even the most discerning and cultivated indie rock connoisseur.

But there are a few key concerts and screenings to guide you through the 4-day event, even if getting lost in it might be your best bet.

Here's my stab at making sense of it all:

Big Names:

The idea of a big name act is relative when it comes to something like Northside. Miley Cyrus will not be throwing down a set at Trash Bar anytime soon. However, Au Revoir Simone have become media darlings thanks to the accessible and undeniably catchy "Sad Song" and the band's status as David Lynch muse. They'll play Greenpoint's Warsaw on Thursday night. The Fiery Furnaces and Les Savy Fav (known for kinetic and scantily clad live shows) are another two of Northside's bigger draws.

Ingenious Small Names:

Band names like Madison Square Gardeners, The Sutton Street Massacre, Albino Ghost Monkey and Planet Rump are incentive enough alone to give the music a try.

The Great Garden State:

Two of this year's most buzzed about bands spring from New Jersey. Titus Andronicus (right) peppers its fairly blistering punk rock with Springsteen (and Fung Wah bus!) references in addition to historical speech excerpts. On the mellower end of the Turnpike, Real Estate does the mercilessly mocked "chillwave" thing. But they do it well, really, with songs like "Atlantic City," "Suburban Beverage" and "Suburban Dogs" that are a feel good, then not-so-good, hit of suburban summer bummers.

Northside's movie offerings might not be as bountiful as the music, but Todd Solondz, the twisted bard of Jersey burb ennui (Welcome to the Dollhouse), will screen his latest, Life During Wartime, on Saturday night.

Get Way Ahead of the Curve:

We all have those friends, the cool kids who caught the newest band to sell out Bowery Ballroom back when they were playing their parents' basement. These days Pitchfork is the (oft-lampooned) bible of all big things "next."  And Male Bonding and Tame Impala are two bands currently on Pitchfork's sacred "Best New Music" list who'll grace Northside stages and grant attendees future "I was there first" bragging rights.

Catch James Franco In His Latest Act:

Fresh off a gallery opening on Wednesday night, James Franco will don yet another hat, this time as a director, when his short film The Feast of Stephen plays at Williamsburg's new (and only) independent theater, indieScreen.

See full festival schedule and venue info here.

Photo 1 via BrooklynTransplant, 3 via Chad Batka/NYT