The Hopscotch Music Festival, hosted over four days each September in Raleigh, NC, is the ultimate in festivals that emulate the South by Southwest model while still having it’s own clear cut personality. The festival employs twelve downtown Raleigh clubs and venues to host over a hundred of the most musically diverse acts, both in the national festival circuit and from Hopscotch’s home state of North Carolina. Here you see experimental electronic performances, indie rock, hip hop, jazz, noise, metal, punk, folk, R&B, a drone choir and everything in between. The 2017 installment of Hopscotch will take place September 7-10 and boasts festival favorite headliners the likes of Solange, Run the Jewels, Future Islands and Angel Olsen. But with a fest that hosts so many acts of so many varying degrees of fame and magnitude, it is the undercards, or the names lower down on the poster, that give Hopscotch its true character.
serpentwithfeet @ Nash Hall 12:00 Saturday
Since the release of his blisters EP last September, serpentwithfeet (a.k.a. Josiah Wise) has been gaining steam as one of the most magnetic and original musical artists working today. The EP consists of his jazz-trained, Nina Simone-esque voice simultaneously caressing and cutting through subdued classical arrangements. That’s part of the great beauty of serpentwithfeet, this is a blend of classical and soul music coming out around the peak of digitized media, and it’s working to a T. Wise has a deeply diverse musical upbringing and you can hear it very clearly in his studio work. He has delved into gospel, opera and soul on separate occasions before finding a marriage of all three and more on blisters, a sound which he calls “pagan gospel.” There’s tenderness, holiness and ominous intimidation all brewing in each note that Wise sings, and to see that in person is going to be a transcendental experience to say the least. He’s going to be opening for Grizzly Bear on their North American tour along with playing the Brooklyn leg of the Afropunk Festival at the end of August. If you want to see him in an intimate setting this may be one of your last chances because serpentwithfeet’s star is only going to rise from here.
Rafiq Bhatia @ Fletcher Opera Theater 11:00 Saturday
A native of Hickory, NC, Rafiq Bhatia has a definitive sound that is difficult to categorize, which is probably just how he wants it. He fits in with the rest of Hopscotch’s experimental electronic acts while also being the closest thing to a bonafide jazz act on the bill. Regardless of what kind of genre you want to put him into, what matters is that he makes colorful, spacey, saxophone and guitar filled music that will translate beautifully to a live show. Some may know Bhatia as one third of Son Lux, and he has also recorded with acts like Lorde and Sufjan Stevens. In 2012 he released and EP entitled Strata and an album called Yes It Will. Both of which showcase the influence of just about every school of jazz on Bhatia’s sound, with rampant drum solos, screeching saxophones, bleeping keys, whirling guitar and an oboe every now and again. We do not know what kind of setup Bhatia will have onstage, but regardless, his show is going to be a factory of ear candy.
Busdriver @ Red Hat Amphitheater 5:00 Friday
Hopscotch always has an undeniably diverse lineup, but if there is any fanbase that has a right to feel a little shortchanged, it is the hip hop heads. To be fair, the festival does boast both Run the Jewels and Big Boi in its first two rows, which no one should be complaining about. But after that there’s an undeniable lack of rappers on the bill. Despite that, Busdriver is an outstanding way help fill in the missing piece. For almost twenty years Busdriver has been a dark horse in the world of alternative/underground rap with his brilliant employment of samples, his clean voice that teeters on cartoonishness and the tight, instrument-like flow with which he raps. His first album, Memoirs of the Elephant Man was released in 1999 and naturally his following and skill have only increased since then, and in recent years he has garnered features from fellow rappers Danny Brown, Anderson .Paak, Milo, Del the Funky Homosapien, and Aesop Rock. His Hopscotch set is also before Run the Jewels and Rapsody (whom you will read about later in this article) at the Red Hat Amphitheater on Friday for a stacked three hours of rap.
Boy Harsher @ Kings 10:30 Thursday
Boy Harsher’s Bandcamp page puts them under the genre of “coldwave,” which is a fitting denomination for their musically sharp but tonally gloomy electronic music. The Massachusetts duo has had a steady output of new music over the last year, releasing their first full length album Yr Body Is Nothing in June of 2016 and a new EP entitled Country Girl due out in October. Their haunting, but grooving minimalist beats fall into the breed of dark electronic music that is easily accessible and even danceable, similar to acts like Glass Candy or Grimes’ Visions album.
Alessandro Cortini @ The Basement (Raleigh Convention Center) 10:00 Saturday
For over a decade now, Italian born keyboard/synth virtuoso Alessandro Cortini has been a key cog in the machine that is Nine Inch Nails. Since joining Trent Reznor on NIN’s “Live:With Teeth” Tour in 2005, Cortini’s playing and brooding stage presence has become a fan favorite about the band’s live performances. For fans of Nine Inch Nails, seeing Cortini at Hopscotch is a gimme. But for those who are not Nails devotees, Cortini will provide a set of dark, ambient electronic music in the vein of something you would come across at Moogfest. He has released five LPs under his own name along with two LPs with his side project SONOIO. Don’t expect him to be pulling out any NIN covers, but for anyone looking for spacey electronic music at Hopscotch and to witness a performance by one of the great synth artists working today, Cortini’s set is going to be one you can’t miss.
John Saturley @ Fletcher Opera Theater 8:30 Saturday
Better known as the lead singer of the psychedelic indie rock group Zack Mexico, John Saturley has an extensive catalog of solo music that he’s been building upon since 2014. In his solo recordings the, North Carolina native tends to stray away from the blues based, seventies influenced alternative rock of Zack Mexico in favor of experimental, bedroom pop odysseys, and no two of his solo projects sound exactly alike. In fact, sometimes the duration of just one of his projects does not have any sonic continuity. His twenty minute single “Coricidin Cough & Cold” evolves from a gentle ambient opening to savage indie rock guitar shredding to electronic noise music and ends with a quiet acoustic lo fi number. No one knows what Saturley will bring to Hopscotch, but with home state support and a wide variety of material at his disposal, his set promises to be a good trip.
Hoops @ Deep South 11:30 Friday
The boys from Bloomington, Indiana are continuing their ascent in the indie rock circuit behind the release of their debut full length album, Routines, which dropped in early May. In the past year they have played at Shaky Knees in Atlanta, toured with Whitney, and received high praise from publications including Pitchfork and The FADER. The band is known for their synth heavy, guitar laced power pop style songs with a good helping of reverb and smooth vocal deliveries. We can also report firsthand on how good they are live, as we ranked them as “The Best of the Fest” at this year’s Savannah Stopover Festival back in March. And that was before Routines was released. Now that the band has the album under their belt and has had time to play the new material live, Hoops is poised to deliver a stellar Hopscotch set.
Rapsody @ Red Hat Amphitheater 6:30 Saturday
Like Busdriver, Rapsody is a powerhouse underground rapper (and coincidentally a fellow Anderson .Paak collaborator). Another North Carolina native, Rapsody’s music is a perfect middle ground between rap and soul, mostly through some outstanding sampling/instrumentation and the sweet choruses that she drops into her songs. Her bars are unapologetic and always come with a bite as she rips into the often overlooked female side of relationships in hip-hop and grounded (but fierce) depictions of black America. She has been recording albums and mixtapes since 2012 and seems to have fully hit her stride with her 2016 release Crown. There is a constant hunger in her rapping, and we cannot wait to see it translated to the stage.
Arone Dyer’s Drone Choir @ Nash Hall 9:30 Friday
The name alone should have you interested in this one. But if that’s not enough, all you need to know is that Arone Dyer’s Drone Choir is a group of all female singers who harmonize into waves of sound that can only be described as otherworldly. Arone Dyer herself is half of the experimental duo Buke and Gase. Dyer is an incredibly versatile singer on her own, so accompanied with a dozen or so other outstanding voices is going to be something to behold. There is not a whole lot else to say about Arone Dyer’s Drone Choir, solely because they are fittingly hidden from the internet. They have no studio recordings and only one YouTube video of a performance. Due to their lack of internet presence and seemingly few live performances, the opportunity to see them is something that Hopscotch goers ought to capitalize on.
Kayo Dot @ CAM Raleigh 9:30 Thursday
Like many of the most intriguing acts at this year’s installment of Hopscotch, Kayo Dot is almost impossible to squeeze into genre classification. They are one of the more established bands not listed in the first few rows of the festival’s bill. They formed in 2003 and have been going strong since. Their music combines the influence of metal, jazz, goth, prog rock and a little bit of everything in between. They also have approached each of their albums/EPs with a distinctly different sound. 2013’s Hubardo was a raucous blend of heavy metal and experimental jazz while Coffins on Io (which was released only a year later) sounds as if it could have been made by a 1980’s goth group. The excitement of seeing Kayo Dot comes from the unpredictability of how the band is going to approach a live show. Unlike other Hopscotch genre benders (such as the aforementioned serpentwithfeet and Rafiq Bhatia), Kayo Dot is a full band that has years of touring and recording behind them. Given the energy that Kayo Dot always puts into their music, their set is sure to please festival attendees who are looking for both an exciting time and and something that’s sonically captivating.
Hopscotch 2017 takes place Sept. 7-10.
Tickets can be purchased through the festival’s website