[nggallery id=afropunk_roughtrade]
I’d like to propose a restructuring of live shows. Reverse line-ups. None of this “save the best for last stuff.” Because when there are five acts playing on a Tuesday night at a show that doesn’t start until 9, (9-ish) and the final act is great, really great, but also mellow and calm, that final act is going to meet a crowd of people whose ear pleasure is in direct combat with their sleep pleasure. But let me start from the beginning.
Last night was the Red Bull-sponsored, Afropunk Fest-curated kickoff party for the experimental, outsider-championing Brooklyn festival. The line was down the block by the time doors opened at 8—despite a hot July wash of rain—but once inside, the venue seemed appropriately crowded, not uncomfortably packed. Julianna Huxtable DJ’d from the side of the stage, spinning clipped mash-ups of tracks from Danny Brown, Young Thug, J Cole and A$AP Ferg, though the crowd didn’t need any help getting excited.
H09909 (“Horror”) opened the show, immediately solidifying their place in the lineup with an onslaught of hoarse-throated rock-rap and flippant expletives. The NJ duo, who go by The OGM and Eaddy, would end up being responsible for the most exciting moments of the night, challenged only by Cakes Da Killa’s later set. During their last song, a physically aggressive blast of noise, Eaddy, shirtless, flung himself from the stage up onto the railing of the wraparound balcony and let himself dangle there for a good five minutes, periodically showcasing his upper-body strength with multiple chin-up reps. A blond, well-coiffed man, either working with Afropunk or the venue, appeared by my side and stared at Eaddy with a look of terror usually reserved for very, very bad situations. Nothing happened.
Princess Nokia’s set, though she appeared happy to be up on stage, didn’t sound great. There seemed to be some mic issues, and maybe some live band issues, but her vocals were out of time with the music and her croon, while bubbly and confident recorded, sounded slightly worn in the live setting. After Princess Nokia’s last song, she fell, backwards, into the audience for one last lap around the venue as the crest of a crowd-surf wave. The neo-soul duo Denetia & Sene didn’t have any vocal troubles. Denetia’s was voice clear and supple, Sene sporadically barked a feigned falsetto into a megaphone. People danced.
Cakes Da Killa took the stage sporting a leather cycling cap and floral tee, joined by a pair of dancers who moved seductively, but almost militantly, to Cakes’ hyped, spit-fire flow. Barely stopping to breathe, the NJ rapper ran through one long megamix of tracks, and then a few stop-and-start singles, including Truth Tella and Paid & Published off his recent Hunger Pangs mixtape. The crowd seemed to wake up at this point—and how could they not? Cakes was running around on stage, dancing and rapping with equal aplomb, spandex-clad dancers jockeyed for position and there was even one loooong handstand split.
SZA hit the stage around 12:30, saying she hoped the audience didn’t mind if she “kept things chill.” They didn’t. “If you guys are familiar with Z,” she said, referring to her recent LP, “then I can really, really sing these songs.” And she did, moving slowly, with an almost jammy level of vocal meandering, through album cuts like Child’s Play, Wings, (off her S EP) and Sweet November. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: SZA brought Willow Smith on stage to perform an unreleased song called Domino. Here’s that:

Afropunk Fest takes place August 23-24 at Commodore Barry Park in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
Photos by David Velásquez.