Festivals are fucking crazy — especially when measuring a musician’s reach and buzz.
It’s the only place you get a real-time barometer of how hot someone is at that moment. From the set time placement to what stage they’re playing on, a new or rising act has a fair amount of time between when a lineup poster and that festival’s set times come out.
Think of Anderson Paak at Coachella 2016. One of the bottom names on the lineup when it dropped in January, his name was so hot by April that he got an early-evening tent slot. How did he handle it? By bringing out Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, T.I., and Gary Clark Jr over two weekends, and it’s been off to the races ever since. I remember seeing Halsey at 2 or 3 in the afternoon on one of the smallest stages at Hangout in 2015, also one of the bottom names on the poster. Six months later she was easily selling out two nights at the Fonda Theatre.
I saw plenty of bands that have a lot of potential, or were at least interesting enough that I’ll check them out when they come to LA. But there were a few that delivered transformative or unique performances, or showed tremendous growth from fest to fest. Maggie Rogers cemented her rising star status with a basically hometown performance in her debut festival set at Firefly. Kaleo drew bigger and bigger crowds from weekend to weekend all spring. Mondo Cozmo brought the house down week after week.
Here’s a list of 11 acts I saw over my 11 festivals in 11 weeks trip that I don’t expect to be playing in daylight festival slots for much longer. The only criteria was that I had never seen any of these bands before seeing them at a festival this spring. There’s a Spotify playlist at the bottom of this feature with a good mix of tunes from each act in this story, check it out!
Where I Saw Her: Firefly
Future L.A. Shows: Teragram Ballroom (8/10), Fonda Theatre (8/11)
Listen If You Like: Tei Shi, Meg Mac, Wet
Maggie Rogers was easily one of the buzziest acts I saw the last few months. Firefly 2017 was her first festival performance and Dover, Delaware is not far from her Easton, Maryland hometown. The smile on her face and disbelief at the massive size of her Thursday crowd was magnetic. Her perfectly crafted pop songs instantly put everyone in a good mood. Rogers made Firefly a little more special by bringing out her old schoolmate FLETCHER for a cover of “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls, and later joined SOFI TUKKER during their show for a song and dance into the crowd. She’s a sure bet for Coachella 2018 in my mind. If you’re hitting Lollapalooza or Outside Lands, you can catch her later this summer.
Where I Saw Them: Coachella, Bonnaroo, Firefly
Listen If You Like: Radiohead, Explosions in the Sky (but with vocals)
As more and more legendary bands begin to hang them up, a search for future prominent rock-heavy acts becomes more important. If there’s any band just getting their start with the potential to one day top a festival bill, Amsterdam’s Klangstof have the pieces. Lead singer Koen van de Wardt has fantastic stage presence and his sometimes maniacal faces are a perfect match for the face-melting solos he’s capable of dropping. They were one of the first bands to play on the Coachella schedule, and even though it was hot as balls, they crushed it. Van de Wardt delivered a killer solo during “Amansworld” with the craziest faces, and their crowd had grew considerably over the length of their set. I’m jealous of anyone who saw them open for the Flaming Lips.
Where I Saw Them: Coachella, Bonnaroo, Firefly
Future L.A. Shows: The Wiltern (8/26)
Listen If You Like: The Black Keys, Barns Courtney, Hozier
While Klangstof has that Radiohead quality to them, Kaleo is Iceland’s answer to The Black Keys. One of my friends during Firefly: “Who would have ever thought the best southern bluesy rock band would come from Iceland?” But they’ve perfected the formula and Kaleo frontman Jokull Juliusson’s unique and gravelly vocals are a dagger. I also can say I heard comparable shrill screams from girls as though they were watching some pop heartthrobs. It was crazy to see how much they’d grown in just two months. They packed out the tent they played at Coachella, and by Firefly they were already closing a big outdoor stage Thursday night to a huge crowd. They clearly know how to make an impression. By the next album cycle, they’ll be pretty high up festival bills.
Where I Saw Her: Coachella, Middlelands, Firefly
Future L.A. Shows: Hammer Museum (FREE, 7/20)
Listen If You Like: The love child of Charli XCX and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Luna Shadows, FKA Twigs
Elohim was a perfect fit for the DoLaB at Coachella weekend one. In subsequent festival performances I’ve seen of her, she’s done a great job of drawing people into her sets after starting with small crowds. She’s already the lead vocalist on a huge song she co-wrote with Louis the Child, so there’s a good chance you’re hearing her voice at festivals even when she isn’t performing. She’s unique in that she produces and sings at a high level. I’m excited to see if her visual show scales alongside what I expect to be a quick climb into playing bigger and bigger venues pretty soon. She has crossover possibilities as she’s someone who can appeal to both mainstream EDM fans and the more indie electronic crowd. CRSSD Fest should serve as a great litmus test for her this fall. If you’re in LA don’t miss Elohim’s free show at the Hammer Museum on July 20.
Where I Saw Them: Shaky Knees
Future L.A. Shows: FYF Fest
Listen If You Like: Tame Impala, late-stage The Beatles, Claypool Lennon Delirium
There were few bands I was more excited to finally see live during my festival run than Temples. The British rockers have been pegged as Tame Impala imitators by some, and while it’s easy to see the comparison, they’re definitely onto something of their own. Their 2017 record Volcano is one of my favorites of the year so far. At times it can make me feel like I’m in Willy Wonka, and their psychedelic vibes made me feel high even though I was sober as hell when I caught them early one day at Shaky Knees. Along with FYF Fest, you can catch them at Lollapalooza, Osheaga, or Outside Lands.
Where I Saw Them: Hangout, Boston Calling, Firefly
Future L.A. Shows: KCRW: Sound in Focus (FREE, 7/22), El Rey (9/26)
The only way to not see Mondo Cozmo perform this year is if you outright dislike them. They might set the record for most festivals played in a year at the pace they’re going at. The good news: It’s a really fucking good band. From the first moment walking by their stage at Hangout and hearing a bit of Soundgarden in tribute to Chris Cornell, I was a fan. Their cover of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” is arguably on par with the original when performed live. They’re confident on stage and had good banter between songs. And already they have the ability to write the kind of music that can become a summer singalong anthem. Their song “Shine” is the Weed Song of 2017, and festivals are some of the largest gatherings of stoners in America. Not in LA? Catch them at Forecastle, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, and Life if Beautiful.
Where I Saw Him: Governors Ball
Listen If You Like: Dancy side of M83, St. Lucia, Daft Punk, Duran Duran
I was bummed I missed out on seeing Roosevelt at The Echo in LA this year, discovering his music a week after he played. I didn’t read anything about his live show before finally getting a chance to see him perform at Governors Ball. His self-titled 2016 album was one of my favorite debuts of the year. It blew me away to discover that he had a full band setup and wasn’t just up there by himself. Their performance was early in the day and the whole crowd was really feeling it. It’s Daft Punk with a dash of the dancier side of M83, fried in St. Lucia. The soundscapes they create in the studio are intoxicating, and the way it translated live was pretty seamless. Unfortunately he’s not touring the States at the moment, but make sure to catch him next time he comes around.
Where I Saw Her: Governors Ball, Bonnaroo
Listen If You Like: ’90s R&B (think Brandy + Monica) meets today’s pop
You see a LOT of rising pop stars in the early part of a festival’s day. Some of them never make it past daytime, and others shoot up the bill so fast that you’ll never see them around less than 1,000 people ever again. Dua Lipa possesses that kind of potential. Her debut album dropped a day before her Governors Ball performance, and somehow many of these girls up front knew words to some of the newest songs. She’s got a unique range, going from a deep almost Amy Winehouse-bluesy sound to a more pop-favored pitch. The huge song “Scared to Be Lonely” she’s on with Martin Garrix is a massive club hit and we’re into Vegas pool season. By the time she plays Life is Beautiful this September she might already be playing after sundown. She’s got a sound that blends ’90s R&B with today’s pop.
Where I Saw Them: Bonnaroo
Future L.A. Shows: Bootleg Theater (8/17)
Listen If You Like: Band of Horses, The Shins, The Head and The Heart, Lord Huron
I’d been seeing a friend of mine post about Mt. Joy for a while and finally was able to catch their show at Bonnaroo at one of the smallest stages. They packed the stage despite there only being three songs to their name on streaming services at the moment. I got a pretty heavy Band of Horses vibe when I saw them, but they really match up with any of the best indie folk bands of the last 10 years and they’re just getting started. I’m interested to see how they do at the Bootleg in August, considering this Philly-born band has been calling Los Angeles home for a bit.
Where I Saw Them: Firefly
Future Shows: El Rey (6/29), ALT 98.7 Summer Camp (8/19)
Listen If You Like: Miike Snow, a not cheesy Imagine Dragons, Night Riots
At Firefly, Los Angeles indie rockers Sir Sly were the only band on at the same time Thirty Seconds to Mars was on the main stage. Their crowd started out meager in size, but quietly over the course of their set grew to a really admirable size. Frontman Landon Jacobs is magnetic. At one point in the set, he played a song from their upcoming album Don’t You Worry Honey due out June 30, and at the conclusion of it was pretty emotional and turned away before collecting himself. There’s a real poignancy with the songwriting from the new songs they were playing, and a lot of it comes from the way Jacobs delivers it on stage. Sir Sly have a vibe similar to Imagine Dragons but without the corniness.
Where I Saw Them: Coachella, Firefly
Future L.A. Shows: STAPLES Center (opening for ODESZA, 10/20)
Listen If You Like: Bob Moses, Autograf, Goldroom
I had no idea what I was stumbling into when I caught SOFI TUKKER in an early-day tent slot at Coachella. I had no clue they played actual instruments, let alone instruments with an international flavor to them. Their brand of jungle pop stands out on any festival bill they are part of. The song “Drinkee” is that earworm that nobody knows the fucking words to but hums and dances along to anyways. They’ll be impossible to avoid this summer, with festival slots at Panorama, Osheaga, Lollapalooza, Splash House, Outside Lands, Bumbershoot, Life is Beautiful, and an opening slot for ODESZA’s big upcoming tour. They’re also just a blast to watch, as they seem to maximize the fun they’re having.