August is usually when summer starts running out of steam. Not so local music. This weekend, both the Starlab Festival in Somerville and the BEAN Festival in South Boston share a goal of showcasing some of the city's finest talent.
2015 marks a new chapter for the Starlab Festival, now entering its sixth year and its first in a new location. Thankfully for organizer Matt Price and sponsor Starlab Studios’ small staff, change is a good thing: After Starlab’s previous home was claimed for the forthcoming Green Line extension through Union Square, the studio relocated to a new space this year and expanded its range of services to include video production and audio engineering. That spirit carries over into the festival, to be hosted in an empty lot on Poplar Street with room for two stages, by expanding to include more than just music. Local comedians, filmmakers, and visual artists will be sharing their work and helping to create the kind of all-encompassing arts festival that speaks to a vibrant local community.
“This neighborhood is such a concentrated area of young people that are interested in creative culture,” says Price. “I think Starlab in general and especially the festival can only happen because we are in Union Square.”
For the team behind the first-ever BEAN (Boston’s Entertainment and Arts Nirvana) Festival, geography played as important a part in creating the event as the talent itself. “Residents from all parts of Boston don’t usually get to enjoy a space like Lawn on D,” says Sidney Baptista of TreeHouse Entertainment, who collaborated with CLLCTV Boston to assemble a roster featuring artists from every area of the city (and one, rapper/producer Latrell James, from Brockton).
Organizers hope that the combination of diverse lineup and Lawn on D’s inviting atmosphere will help stitch together Boston’s often disparate neighborhoods and music subcultures, if for just one day.
Here are some of the acts featured at the two festivals:
Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. At 10 Poplar St., Union Square, Somerville. Tickets: $10 advance/$12 day of show, www.starlabrecordingco.com
The self-professed “stoner punk” band has hardly been slacking lately. The trio of Matt Ford (guitar), Max Levy (drums), and Ian Grinold (bass) had set the stage for a strong 2015 at the end of last year by releasing their third album “Sundream,” an LP awash in sludgy, navel-gazing guitar riffs and lo-fi aesthetics injected with bursts of thrashing drums and roiling vocals. But their recent performances — most notably their title-winning run through this year’s Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble — confirm the best way to hear Zip-Tie Handcuffs is live.
The sister act of Laura and Nina Ganci look primed to be one of this festival’s breakout acts. The pair have only released a handful of tracks since 2013, but their early output — a mix of alternative pop and folk styles fueled by the Gancis’ warm and distinct vocals on tracks like “Merge” and “Hell Shepard” — suggests that the best is yet to come.
ESH the Monolith
The rapper’s moniker is a bit of a misnomer; he’s many things, but ESH is certainly not a man unto himself. The Rhode Island-born lyricist has proven to be one of the local hip-hop scene’s most versatile talents. The company he keeps isn’t bad either; ESH has bolstered his solo work by collaborating with like-minded artists such as the Arcitype and Brooklyn’s Grey Sky Appeal, with whom he authored the new album “Moon Balloon.”
Metal-punk outfit Luau’s last record was 2009’s four-track EP “Heat,” with subsequent years spent putting in time on stage at local venues rather than in the studio. Time, however, hasn’t dulled the potency of heavy headbangers like “New Year’s Resolution” and “Birds of Paradise,” though Starlab could also be the perfect setting to debut new material.
Old School Game Show
This year’s Starlab Fest has a playful side, offering free classic arcade games courtesy of Bit Fest as well as the “Old School Game Show,” a kitschy vaudeville-style live show that bills itself as “Boston’s alt-trivia variety experience.” Guests are plucked from the audience “The Price Is Right”-style to compete for prizes among a parade of scripted characters, live musicians, and guest comedians. If you viewed your average pub trivia quiz in a funhouse mirror, it might look something like this.
Yvng Paul + Big Bear
It’s no surprise to see these two DJs rocking afternoon time slots on the bill; not only are they among the founding members of CLLCTV Boston, but they’re used to spinning while the sun’s out. As resident DJs at The Wave, their monthly Sunday afternoon party at Middlesex Lounge in Central Square, the pair have established themselves as purveyors of progressive dance, hip-hop, and electronic music. If there’s a vibe to be felt, these guys will be the ones providing it.
Tyler Kershaw’s synth-pop solo project is one act that should benefit from performing outdoors on a (hopefully) sunny afternoon. Led by the buoyant single “Gardensong,” the new album “Body Is Dead,” available on Aug. 28, showcases Kershaw’s expansive and expressive style. Fans of Wild Nothing and Toro Y Moi, take notice.
Despite steady gains over the past two years, including European tours, Vundabar still feels like one of the local scene’s best-kept secrets. They charmed listeners on their 2013 debut “Antics” with frontman Brandon Hagen’s dry wit and clever songwriting, but their new album, “Gawk,” finds the trio exploring different sonic territory, injecting a grittier edge to tracks like “Bust” and the lead single “Ash in the Sun.”
Trap Music Orchestra
If Gucci Mane ever decided to front a 25-piece orchestra, it might sound something like this. Founded by Berklee grad Ryan Easter, the Trap Music Orchestra, made up entirely of musicians under 25, is equal parts Duke Ellington and Mike WiLL Made-It, reworking Southern rap bangers into bold big-band numbers.
Originally from Roxbury, rapper Michael Christmas drops in for his headlining performance from his new home in Los Angeles, an indication of how his stock has soared since releasing his 2014 debut “Is This Art?” Alternately comparing himself to Michael Cera, ex-NBA player Vinnie Johnson, and an “overweight Drake,” the 21-year-old’s bawdy wit and broad sources of inspiration belie his impressive lyrical skills; he can turn an ode to cheap Mexican food into a funky summer cruise anthem (“Taco Truck”), or a mundane daily routine into hilarious running self-commentary (“Daily”).Martín Caballero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @_el_caballero.