As indie rock fades from edgy and subversive to a form of palatable background music, fests such as San Francisco’s Outside Lands — which built its brand on being a bastion of indie culture — must evolve along with changing popular taste. The mostly white and male indie band lineups of yore no longer cut it in most people’s books. While Outside Lands has been fairly un-eclectic in past years, the 2016 lineup seems to have taken cues from popular demand for more of the genres, female musicians, and artists of color that they love.
Aside from the obvious acts not to miss — such as headliners Duran Duran, Radiohead, and Lionel Richie — we put together a guide to who to see during the weekend-long fest taking place from August 5-7 at Golden Gate Park.
And a couple pro tips: Wear layers to avoid freezing on the foggy park grounds, and of course, don’t be caught dead in a culturally appropriative festival look.
Friday, August 5
“J.Cole went platinum with no features,” a reference to the rapper’s chart-topping 2014 album (which didn’t rely on guest verses to boost its popularity), has become a running joke on Twitter to poke fun at “real hip-hop” heads who reject unconventional rappers such as Young Thug and Lil Yachty in favor of traditionalists such as Cole. But there’s no reason why we can’t appreciate both lyrical bars and avant-garde flows. Indeed, J. Cole broke rap chart records with 2014’s Forest Hills Drive, a project rife with lush instrumentation, gorgeous soul samples, and storytelling rhymes about coming of age and striving for success. His aggressive flow is poetic and pensive, and the emotive qualities of his voice are what make the album so compelling.
For a long time, Montreal, Canada singer-songwriter Grimes struggled with how to adapt her GarageBand-bedroom-pop to a higher production value. Her 2012 album Visions rapidly propelled her to international acclaim, but in interviews, Grimes seemed noticeably uneasy about taking on the role of a pop star. However, with her latest album, Art Angels, she found a happy medium between lo-fi and pop. The LP retains the outsider appeal of her early work — with her signature helium-pitched vocals — but her production evolved to include more intricate layers of instrumentation and elements of disparate genres, such as surf rock, house, and even folk, that still mesh with the project’s over-all electro-pop palette.
Saturday, August 6
Twins Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz were born in Cuba and raised in France, and their music as Ibeyi contains influences from both cultures as well as their Yoruba heritage. The Yoruba people of Nigeria have a polytheistic faith with prominent female deities that are closely linked to elements of nature, and that spiritual influence resonates throughout Ibeyi’s self-titled first album. The sisters’ late father was a Cuban percussionist, and they juxtapose Caribbean rhythms, jazzy piano, and elaborate, experimental vocal harmonies in English and Yoruba. If their strong debut is any indication, the twins have no shortage of musical talents and vision. They’re definitely artists to watch.
Singer-songwriter Fantastic Negrito got his start busking in downtown Oakland, and is now one of the most well-knock rockers hailing from the East Bay. His unique brand of roots music has garnered him attention from mainstream music outlets, and he famously won NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert contest in 2015, which thrust him into the national spotlight. His latest album, The Last Days of Oakland, is a sorrowful blues-rock meditation on the Bay Area’s issues with gentrification, displacement, police brutality, and systemic inequality. Unfortunately, last year, Fantastic Negrito was falsely arrested outside of festival grounds and his Outside Lands performance was cancelled. Luckily, the artist is back again this year to reclaim the spotlight that was taken from him in a situation that reeked of racial profiling.
Sunday, August 7
Chance the Rapper
While drill, the scene that birthed Chief Keef, reigned over the Windy City for years, Chance the Rapper unexpectedly became the face of Chicago hip-hop with his feel-good, jazzy 2013 mixtape, Acid Rap. Since then, Chance has proven to be one of the most innovative and experimental rappers working today. He started a jazz band, Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, with several of his childhood friends in 2015 and put out a collaborative freestyle mixtape with Lil B the same year. 2016 has proven to be his biggest year yet, though, with a prominent feature on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo and his critically acclaimed, soulful new project, Coloring Book.
Kehlani made a strong debut when her mixtape Cloud 19, and her follow-up project You Should Be Here quickly rose to national acclaim in 2015 and even received a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album — even though the singer (rather humbly) considered the release a mixtape. Aside from her syrupy voice — which easily pirouettes to acrobatic highs and lows on any beat — Kehlani is equally incredible for her willingness to be publicly vulnerable. She’s candid about the challenges she has overcome to get where she is today (she struggled with homelessness as a teen in Oakland) and speaks openly about her life’s difficulties to give hope to her youthful fans. Even though Kehlani was in the spotlight for unfortunate reasons this year (what appeared to be a suicide attempt), the singer has held her head high, releasing two fire new singles ahead of her upcoming album, and using her platform to educate her audience on mental health issues.