[Event Review] Counterpoint Music Festival: Bright Lights and Good Times Down in Georgia
Last weekend I had the good fortune to travel down to Atlanta for Counterpoint Music Festival, my first festival of the year, and like the classic Ray Charles tune implies, I’ve got Georgia on my mind. From April 24-27th, the Peach State hosted one of the most remarkable music festivals I’ve ever attended, and everything was sweet from the people to the food and, of course, the music. MCP and C3 Presents joined forces to put on one of the most well-organized, friendly, and community-minded festivals in America. In what was only its second year of operation, after debuting in 2012 and skipping its run in 2013 in order to accommodate Tomorrowworld, Counterpoint blew my expectations out of the water in every facet.
This year Counterpoint moved to its new home at Kingston Downs in Rome, Georgia, where the Atlanta Steeplechase is held annually. This lush and expansive swath of picturesque Georgia wilderness was a welcome sight for this weary, windblown, frostbitten northerner. The beautiful rolling hills of Georgia served as the perfect setting for a weekend of spiritual renewal and reconnection with nature. Massive Eastern White Pine trees rimmed Kingston Downs and provided a scenic backdrop, which enveloped the festival grounds for an enchanting atmosphere, as dazzling lasers streaked through the forest from every direction. The pristine Etowah River encircled the camp grounds and added an even more serene aspect to the already gorgeous landscape. Throughout the weekend, Kingston Downs nestled its way into a very special place in every campers’ heart, and I personally gained a deeper appreciation for the wholesome beauty of the south.
As soon as my friends and I arrived at Kingston Downs on Thursday afternoon, we were welcomed by some of the most courteous security and information attendees I’ve ever had the pleasure of interacting with at any musical event, large or small. It took maybe twenty-five minutes to get our tickets, have our vehicle searched, and arrive at our campsite, making this the easiest festival entrance experience I’ve had to date. Once our campsite was pitched and the sun set, we wasted no time and got ourselves to the B4 Bash, where Exmag was welcoming the early birds who couldn’t wait till Friday to get to Counterpoint. As we climbed up the hill to where the merchandise vendors, food vendors, and stages were located, I could hear other groups around me all saying the same thing “Wow; we’re here!”, “I can’t believe we made it to Counterpoint!”, “This is epic!”. The air was full of electricity and at the top of the hill a massive bonfire was roaring as my favorite Mancunian DJ, Star Slinger was about to hit the decks.
For some reason, this festival in particular felt like a journey that we had all been waiting for; it felt like the adventure everyone needed to melt away the frigid and unforgiving months of winter and propel ourselves into a fresh and hopeful summer. Unlike other festivals, Counterpoint is situated right at the cusp of spring and summer, and we all know how hectic this time of year can be with school coming to an end and summer vacations not quite in full swing yet. For that reason, we all really had to put our lives on hold for a few days to make this trip, and trust me, it was more than worth it.
Star Slinger slayed the eager crowd with his trademark genre-blending style, slicing through heady layers of bass music, R&B, breaks, garage, and hip-hop, creating an amalgamation of sound that only he is capable of unleashing. Star Slinger dropped some of his most soulful tracks including his sultry remixes of Miguel’s “Adorn,” Ellie Goulding’s “Don’t Say A Word,” and his own jazzy tune “III/IV,” which features an outstanding sample of Sade’s “Smooth Operator.” The U.K. native, who was largely unknown to the crowd prior to his performance, was welcomed warmly, and at the end of his tight hour and a half mix, he was showered with applause and admiration. Star Slinger took time at the end of his set to reciprocate the love that he enjoyed from his newly inducted fans and family. It was clearly evident from all of the smiling faces and shouts of jubilation that the B4 Bash was a huge success.
After a very enticing first taste of Counterpoint, we awoke on Friday eager to get back up to the stages and enjoy our first full day of music. As the day progressed, word around the campgrounds began to spread that a very special surprise guest would be making an opening appearance, and as we speculated who it could possibly be, our excitement continued to grow. When we finally found out that it would be none other than New York glitch-hop masterminds Break Science, my entire campsite packed up and made a b-line for the Steeple Stage. As a regular attendee of Camp Bisco, I believe a festival isn’t complete until Break Science goes on stage, and their performance was the perfect way to get things started on Friday. The dynamic Pretty Lights Music duo showed the crowd exactly why they are one of the most well-respected acts in dance music. Keyboardist Bohram Lee crafted some gorgeous melodies and dropped some absolutely filthy bass, as drummer Adam Deitch did what he does best, shredded a drum kit better than anybody else in the world. The tandem played a mix of their older, well-known tracks as well as hits off of their latest album Seven Bridges, including the oh so sexy “Way I Feel” featuring Danielle Parente and the high energy trap-style banger “Trapeze” featuring CX. They closed out their performance with the crowd favorite “Who Got It” featuring the infamous Redman.
Friday’s insane lineup showcased just how diverse the Counterpoint roster really was. Throughout the first day, I caught a jazzy set from hometown Atlanta natives Deep Cotton, turned up for a few tracks with west coast rapper School Boy Q, and raved with the scintillating electro duo the Pegboard Nerds. After a whirlwind day of jumping from stage to stage, it was time for one of the most highly anticipated acts of the weekend to hit the stage. Big Gigantic threw down one of the heaviest sets I’ve ever seen the twosome perform. As the air filled with the soulful melodies of the talented Mr. Dominic Lalli, the crowd at the Blu Freedom Stage was thumped with hit after hit as the sun set behind the rolling green hills of Rome, Georgia. Some of their biggest highlights were “Fantastic,“ “It’s Going Down,” and of course their amazing remix of Aloe Blacc’s “I Need A Dollar,” but I have to say, the crowd went especially crazy for the duo’s latest collaboration with Cherub on the funky title track of their newest EP, “The Night Is Young.”
Partner’s in sex and music, Matt & Kim brought their glossy, infectiously upbeat tunes to the Hillside Stage for a relatively intimate crowd. The couple’s amazing stage chemistry and hilarious commentary made their set feel like a mix between a musical performance and a comedy show. The crowd was full of diehard Matt & Kim fans, who sang along intently with every song, which made their hour-long show an absolute pleasure.
The time finally came when all the lights in festival area were effectively shut off and everyone in attendance knew who was finally about to make his return to the Counterpoint stage. Derek Vincent Smith, better known as the one and only Pretty Lights, took the stage with his most elaborate stage production I have seen to date. Accompanied by a full live band, Pretty Lights proceeded to lead the tens of thousands of awe-inspired ravers on a journey of mind-blowing sonic and visual excellence. The entire main stage was engulfed in a sea of technicolor lasers as Derek and his band brought to life some of his best songs. I saw “Yellow Bird” bring multiple people around me to tears, and in that moment, I realized that everyone present was touched in an incredibly spiritual way. As only he can, Pretty Lights flowed in and out of songs with a deft touch and dazzling ease, sliding from his jazzier tracks like “Finally Moving” and “Press Pause” into his heavier tunes like “I Know The Truth” and “Around The Block” featuring Talib Kweli. About half way through his performance, the sky was lit up by a thunderous firework display that lasted about ten minutes and literally shook the ground. By the time Derek concluded his set, I can say with confidence that he changed the lives everyone around me, and that’s why we do this. That’s why we go to these festivals, to connect with the people we love while experiencing the music that shapes who we are.
After an utterly mind-altering first day, and with Outkast still to come on Sunday, I actually went into Saturday assuming that I would be very underwhelmed, so I set my expectations a little bit lower. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be so wrong. I started my day with the colossally positive vibes of yes wave pioneers, Rubblebucket. The Brooklyn-based seven-piece band filled the air with joyful sounds, and their on stage demeanor had the crowd loving every second of their set. As the beautiful Georgia sun hung in the sky, I found myself absolutely entranced with the energy of lead singer Kalmia Traver. Her gorgeous voice carried sweetly over the picture perfect scene filling everyone present with light as we jammed barefoot in the grass. The crowd was intimate, but almost everyone present knew every song and sang together in a harmonious makeshift choir. Rubblebucket played just about all of their songs, including some of my favorites like “Six Hands”, “Patriotic”, “Silly Fathers” and “Pain From Love.” The group closed out their awesome performance by parading through the crowd, with instruments in hand, playing the title track of their latest EP “Save Charlie.” This was definitely one of the most personal sets of the weekend, and it was truly special to connect with musicians who so vividly live their music.
Next up California-based experimental bass music shogun, Thriftworks, threw down an insanely intricate and technical set that showcased his space age sound. No one I have ever seen sounds remotely like Thriftworks, and his unique sound attracted a huge crowd of intrigued concert-goers. Thriftworks also brought along the immensely talented dance crew Dragon House to add an impressive visual element to go along with his next generation beats. The scratch master, A-Trak, threw down one of the best sets I’ve ever seen from him. Honestly, I’m usually of the opinion that A-Trak cuts the music out to showcase his turntable skills a bit too much for my liking, but on Saturday I think he found the perfect balance of turntablism and crowd control. The Fool’s Gold label head threw down some Duck Sauce hits as well as a healthy mix of trap and hip-hop that had everyone in the diverse crowd enjoying themselves. After I ducked out of A-Trak, I caught the unbelievably funky Kill Paris, who had the crowd feeling some type of way over at the Steeple Stage. The OWSLA standout showed everyone at Counterpoint why he has steadily grown in popularity since his debut in 2009. Kill Paris kept the pedal to the floor with a high energy, synth-driven set that included some of his trademark tunes like “I Do Love You,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” and tracks off of his new Foreplay EP including “Falling In Love Again” featuring Marty Rod & Alma, “Float” and “The Walk.” I was pleasantly surprised when Corey dropped the insanely catchy Wave Racer remix of “Always” by Panama towards the end of his set, as well as playing the theme song for Bill Nye The Science Guy in a bizarre twist . This was my fifth time seeing Kill Paris, and he never ever fails to provide awesome funk-filled shows full of good vibes. His performance went perfectly with the gorgeous pink and purple clouds as the sun went down in Georgia on another amazing day of music.
After Kill Paris, I ran over to the Blue Freedom Stage and made it just in time for the beginning of my favorite J. Cole song “In The Morning.” After he took a few minutes to vibe with the crowd and gave his band some much deserved praise and shine, J. Cole finished off his set with two absolutely electric performances of “Can’t Get Enough” and “Power Trip.” As a fellow St. John’s alumnus, I felt a particular sense of pride and satisfaction watching J. Cole kill the main stage. He definitely lived up to the hype and is now on my list of artists not to miss next time they swing through New York. After Cole world was finished, STS9 was gearing up to hit the Hillside Stage. It was in this moment that I thought to myself “How many other festivals could I possibly see STS9 play a set right after J. Cole?”
The answer is ABSOLUTELY NONE.
There was a particular excitement buzzing around the crowd before STS9, and it was for two reasons: firstly, just like Outkast, this was a homecoming performance for STS9 and their Georgia fans were definitely showing them tons of appreciation, and secondly this was one of the first performances with the band’s newest member, bassist Alanna Rocklin. Although she had some very sizable shoes to fill replacing the legendary David Murphy on stage, Miss Rocklin did more than just hold her own; THIS LADY CAN SLAP SOME BASS!
This was my first time seeing an STS9 performance from start to finish, and they more than delivered the goods. I’ve seen few bands so technically refined before. They played with such style and precision that I couldn’t even leave for a bathroom break. Throughout the set you could hear elated voices screaming “We love you Tribe!” and “Sound Tribe for life!”. During “EHM” the entire crowd got involved belting out communal WOOOHS at every appropriate break in the music. It was definitely an eye-opening experience, and afterwards I felt as though I had just been inducted into a beautiful new community. If you want to download their entire Counterpoint set for yourself, it’s available for download right here.
At the end of STS9, I got my running shoes back on and made it over to GRiZ just in time to catch him rip the Steeple Stage apart with his smash hit “Gettin Live”! This song has a special place in my heart, and I was unbelievably stoked to be able to catch the last track in what I heard was another amazing set from Grant. One of the awesome things about Counterpoint was the close proximity of the stages. They were close enough that you had the option to run over from one stage to another with relative ease, but far enough part that you didn’t have to suffer through the dreaded sound pollution that plagues many other music festivals.
After GRiZ satisfied my soul with that righteous sax, I was able to catch my breath at the calmest headlining set of the weekend, Foster The People. The main stage area was spattered with folks laying in the grass and enjoying the relaxed psychedelic charm of these indie rock superstars. In anticipation for Counterpoint, I listened to their latest album Supermodel just so I could be familiar with their new music. I was shocked to find myself so emotionally invested in their performance. Foster The People gave the crowd exactly what it needed: a contemplative journey through epic instrumentation and soul-defining lyrics. The crowd went wild for a few stand out songs like “Helena Beat,” “Pumped Up Kicks,” “Pseudologia Fantastica,” “Coming Of Age,” and my personal favorite “Best Friend.” At the conclusion of Foster The People’s set, another spectacular firework display illuminated the sky.
Due to sickness, OTT was unable to perform, so when I arrived at the underground stage The Polish Ambassador was still on stage curating an awesome funky, disco-inspired performance. TPA was accompanied by singer Ayla Nereo and trumpeter SaQi, and the combination of Ayla’s heartwarming voice and SaQi’s virtuoso jazz skills made their performance an immensely enjoyable experience. When TPA wrapped up his soulful set, it was time to make a decision I had been dreading all weekend: whether to go and be blessed by the trance gods Above & Beyond or witness the mad genius of psychedelics himself Simon Posford, a.k.a Shpongle.
My decision was essentially made for me as soon as I caught a glimpse of that iconic pheasant feather adorned fedora that Posford traditionally wears at each performance. I don’t know what it is about this guy Simon Posford, but once he gets on stage, it’s like nothing else in your life is of any importance; all you can do is focus on him. Before they delved into their set, Simon addressed the crowd letting us know that because of OTT’s illness they would be playing an extra long set for us special few. What happened next was two and a half hours of complete sonic perfection.
This was my first time seeing Shpongle, and even though he didn’t have his live set up or the Shpongletron with him, Simon Posford showed everyone in the crowd why he is a goddamn genius. No artist I have ever seen can control a crowd like Shpongle can. It’s literally as if he is a puppet master pulling the strings of everyone in the crowd, hypnotizing you into dancing without rest, not that you can feel yourself getting tired anyway. The manner in which he deconstructs songs down to their most basic components and then rebuilds them into completely new entities is revolutionary. His remarkable set seemed to be like taking a magic carpet ride around the world, exploring the sounds and dialects of far away cultures and societies all at once.
During Shpongle’s performance, I saw a guy that I distinctly remember seeing on crutches with a broken ankle the night before jumping around and having the time of his life, completely devoid of any pain or discomfort. I was baffled by how connected the crowd seemed. You could hear shouts of “Shpongle is god!” and “How is he doing this?” springing up from the excited audience. When Simon played crowd favorite “Divine Moments of Truth,” it felt as if we were all floating through time and space together with this crazy man in a weird hat steering us through the universe. I’m not sure if magic is real, but someone needs to investigate whether or not Simon Posford is a wizard, seriously.
After two tremendous days of sun-soaked revelry, mother nature thought it would be a good idea to spice things up. On Sunday massive storm clouds rolled in and blanketed in Kingston Downs with an ominous darkness. Before I had the chance to make it up to the stages, I could see a mass exodus of festival-goers leaving the stage area. Security and information personnel came around the campgrounds politely letting us know that unfortunately due to severe weather conditions and tornado warnings, we would be unable to enter the main festival area for a few hours. Although the news did disappoint many campers, it gave my friends and I the opportunity to really enjoy the company of our stellar neighbors.
What set Counterpoint over the top for me was the palpable feeling of love and community that was evident throughout the weekend. Everyone bonded while the rain came down in sheets. We all hunkered into our tents together and shared stories, laughs, passions, and hopes for the future. During our darkest hour, when it seemed that the last day of what was an already incredible weekend could be ruined, we simply grew closer and stayed positive.
Our positivity was rewarded when the rains finally subsided and the air filled with the lovely scent of petrichor. On Sunday my friends and I joined forces with our neighbors so that we could rage in one giant family of BASS for the last few performances of the weekend. In expert fashion, the good people at MCP and C3 Presents readjusted the schedule and had the party back up and running smoothly. Never have I witnessed an event of this scope weather a storm of this magnitude and fire back on all cylinders. The folks at MCP and C3 presents as well as all of the security personnel and volunteers deserve a serious round of applause for their swift and courteous actions.
The first performance I caught on Sunday was the impressively original duo Phantogram from Saratoga Springs, NY. This was my first time seeing this twosome, and their brand of mysterious, sultry dream pop was refreshing. Their powerful rhythms and thought-provoking lyrics created the perfect sound to follow the storm that had ravaged Kingston Downs only a few hours prior. Next up we split the difference between Major Lazer and Flosstradamus, who had to be scheduled simultaneously in order to satisfy time constraints. Major Lazer’s awesome dancehall vibe got everyone’s energy level at an all time high once again. Bangers like “Watch Out For This” and “Jah No Partial” ripped through the crowd with reckless abandon, turning the muddy fields into a sea of convulsing madness. Flosstradamus hit the Steeple Stage for their shortened set, but they definitely made it memorable, throwing down one of the heaviest performances of the festival. Their bass rattling trap style was a welcome sound, because thankfully trap hadn’t been overplayed all weekend. Floss had everyone put their warning signs up as they dropped favorites like “Roll Up,” their remix of “Original Don” and DJ Snake’s global phenomenon “Turn Down For What?”.
Finally the time had come. Everyone in Counterpointville began to make their merry way to the main stage to witness history. Outkast was about to make their triumphant return to a Georgia stage. As the crowd gathered together, you could feel the importance of the moment and the significance of what was about to transpire before our very eyes. After their lukewarm reception at Coachella, Georgia was ready to welcome home their legendary native sons. Once the curtain fell on their massive stage setup, the crowd went hysterical. As the first few lines of “Bombs Over Baghdad” became audible, the entire Counterpoint Festival began to rejoice and recite the bars with gusto. Outkast was visibly moved by the crowd that had assembled in front of them. We were all one big happy family for their performance – black, white, hispanic, asian, it didn’t matter – we were all living in the glory of the moment. Outkast proceeded to vibe with the crowd, voicing their appreciation and excitement for their joyous homecoming. Their performance was groundbreaking, playing all their hits, like “Aquemini,” “So Fresh, So Clean,” “The Way You Move,” “Rosa Parks,” “Hey Ya,” “Ms. Jackson,” and “Elevators” – just to name a crucial few.
The atmosphere during their set was amazing, and the chemistry between Big Boi and Andre 3000 was impeccable. You could feel the joy beaming from person to person as we all stood side by side enjoying every second. For their finale, Outkast performed their classic hit “The Whole World” as the sky was set ablaze once again with the most spectacular firework display of the weekend.
After witnessing Outkast reunite for a legendary homecoming performance, all I wanted to do was drift away into the surreal twilight of Tycho. Scott Hansen has the ability to create some of the most positively breathtaking ambient melodies that I’ve ever heard. As many festival goers made their way to rage at Flux Pavillion, my friends and I chose to enjoy the enchanting visuals and blissful ambiance of Tycho instead; it was the perfect end to an outstanding festival.
Counterpoint completely lived up to its hype and then some. Everything about this festival was on point. From the music to the atmosphere to the venue, it all felt well thought out and choreographed to perfection. Sometimes a festival can feel like too commercial or even unsafe, MCP and C3 presents figured out how to construct a musically diverse, all inclusive, and affordable experience for an outstanding crowd. I’m already counting down the days for Counterpoint 2015 – see you next year!
Enjoy our photos by Kyle Cannarella from Counterpoint Music Festival: