As the dour pair of philosophers, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, once observed, in their Dialectic of Enlightenment, “the culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises…all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied by the menu.” While reckoning the promise of the Enlightenment with the horrors of the Second World War, it is safe to say that, in some spiritual sense, Messrs. Horkheimer and Adorno have seen the horrors of a music festival lineup. While the rest of the world was busy celebrating the possibilities of the other sex in the movie theater, the music festival remained a safe space for old men and Governors Ball was no exception: Flume or Chance the Rapper! Phoenix or Donald Glover! Wiz Khalifa or Tool! The possibilities were endless.
But another choice loomed over festival goers this year. “Panorama just had such a chill vibe,” one mattress-salesman told me while passing me joint. “It was so much better organized,” confirmed a South African journalist who had been to them all. This was the first Governors Ball to occur right alongside the specter of potentially better choices. Even the sponsored graphics on the jumbotrons seemed to agree: ads for the Meadows Music & Arts Festival ran at all hours. Like Gov Ball, the event is run by Live Nation but transpires in a parking lot in Queens instead of an island in the middle of the Harlem River. At times, I wondered if the wi-fi would be better there. Or if I’d rather catch Jay-Z instead of Wiz Khalifa. Like a dating app constantly reminding you that you could, in the words of one band on Sunday’s lineup, be having it so much better, a fear of being somewhere else hung like the clouds that threatened a repeat of last year’s canceled festivities.
Would better bathrooms really exist at next month’s Panorama Music Festival?(Andrew Karpan)
Also absent this year’s proceedings was Kanye West, the centerpiece of both New York festivals that Live Nation ran last year. His first appearance was canceled because of fears of a lighting storm that never ended up happening and the second had been cut short when Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in Paris.
For this reason, perhaps, the festival programmers had elevated Chicago’s other famous rapper, Chance, to Kanye-like prominence. Lines were set up, as they had been last year, for Chance-only merchandise and, when the time came, Lil Chano From 79th rolled on stage in his retro-hip motorcycle and begun a communal singalong to “Mixtape,” the track from Coloring Book that celebrated his accomplishments in the world of releasing mixtapes. In a sense, this is framed as an accomplishment of the American Dream’s individualist fantasia; “How can they call themselves bosses/when they got so many bosses,” Chance asks of his peers. But the presence of the absent Mr. West could still be felt, Chance performed a set of three songs from West’s The Life of Pablo–concluding with”Ultralight Beam,” the track where Chance was the first voice heard when millions tuned into West’s record for the first time last year.
Chance, interestingly, wasn’t the only act covering “Ultralight Beam” this weekend. Two days later, the LA’s Local Natives performed their cover of the song, originally released last December in a singles series for the streaming giant, Spotify. Turning Kanye’s gospel choir into a Beach Boys-esque exercise in harmonics striped the song of some of its church session power but, accordingly, makes it into something more likely to be played at a Target.