This August, everyone’s favorite alcoholic swill is putting on their yearly music festival at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It’s Portland’s biggest music festival, and at this point, one of the best in the Pacific Northwest given Sasquatch’s recent descent into madness. But Project Pabst has managed to wrangle great line-ups year after year from Ghostface Killah to a recently-reunited Ween. The festival itself walks a great line between scale and obscurity with enough genres in its lineup to have a little something for everybody. Overall it feels like a very “Portland” festival, and this year is no different.
I’m essentially much writing this as a guide for a couple of friends who are interested in the festival but unfamiliar with some of the artists in this year’s lineup. While it’s written with them in mind, I also hope this guide can double as an entry point for introducing yourself to these artists you may or may not know.
The Last Artful, Dodgr
Alongside Illmaculate and 2017 XXL FreshmanAminé, The Last Artful, Dodgr is one of the few artists holding down the Portland rap scene. In 2013 Alana Chenevert quit her job and wrote “Sway” which served as her mission statement and road map to stardom. A prophecy that came true in 2016, proving that if you put it out into the universe with enough confidence, you have the power to materialize your own destiny. That moment of transformation from graphic designer to rapper isn’t (quite) a story old as time, but serves as a perfect example of the explosive creative scene that is Portland.
Choice Track “Squadron”
People love to claim that rock is either dead or in the process of dying. It’s too commercial. Other genres have become more exciting. The legacy acts are getting too old to “rock out” in the same way they used to. Fuck that. White Reaper is a symbolic middle finger towards the non-believers. White Reaper is part of a new class of rock along with acts like the poetically-named Diarrhea Planet. They’re not a sub genre, they don’t have an asterisk, and they don’t give a fuck. They are just pure, unadulterated, rip-ass rock. With fuzzed out guitar, catchy choruses, and snarling vocals, they’re living proof that rock is far from dead in 2017.
Choice Track “Make Me Wanna Die”
An alt rock supergroup comprised of Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Kurt Bloch and Scott McCaughey (the Minus 5), Bill Rieflin (King Crimson), and occasionally Krist Novoselic (Nirvana). It’s a murderer’s row of 90’s icons (and one prog figurehead) that formed in 2012 with the simple goal of covering David Bowie songs. The group has since evolved into a fully-realized politically-charged entity as they queue up to release an album the day before Project Pabst.
Choice Track “The Arrival”
PUP is a Canadian group comprised of four lifelong friends who make throat-shredding punk… And I use ‘throat-shredding’ as an adjective, but also as a reference to lead singer Stefan Babcock’s diagnosis at the end of 2015 that extensive touring had damaged his vocal chords beyond repair. Despite the doctor’s claims that he’d never sing again, the band released the impeccable “The Dream is Over” in 2016 (the title itself a reference to a quote from the doctor.) The band packs a ton into the album’s 30-minute running time, but the opening track “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, Then I Will” does all the explaining for them. PUP is here to stay, and their struggle is a testament to artistic resilience.
Lizzo is a singer who fuses R&B, hip-hop, and gospel into one absurdly-dancey package. It’s pure, soaring, feel-good music that’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Lizzo somehow manages to make this mix of genres feel familiar yet fresh at the same time. Her most recent release Coconut Oil feels like something that can only be a by product of the times we live in; a celebration of all things strong in which the listener hopes that even a fraction of Lizzo’s confidence rubs off on them.
Choice Track “Worship”
Every once in awhile you’ll make a discovery in the least-expected place. FIDLAR is a skate punk band in the same vein as Wavves or Cloud Nothings, and while their sound technically falls in-line with the sunny skate punk genre, the band manages to bring something special to the table with a unique brand of drugged-out rock. I first discovered the band through Grand Theft Auto V’s in-game indie station which featured the band’s breakout song “Cocaine.” While the group’s blistering self-titled debut remains their best, their 2015 follow-up Too is admirable for its attempt at a darker, more dynamic aesthetic. Tracks like “Overdose” prove the band has more to say than ‘partying rules,’ although their breezy ‘fuck it’ songs remain the most engaging in their catalog.
Choice Track “Wake Bake Skate”
Father John Misty
Father John Misty (aka Papa John Misty, aka Father Jah Mystery, aka dozens of other absurdist nicknames) is the irony-riddled folk alter ego of Josh Tillman. While Tillman has a storied history of releasing solo projects under his own name, drumming for Fleet Foxes, and writing for pop acts like Beyoncé, he’s recently found success with this indie-parodying pseudonym. While his out-of-music escapades are too many to count, he first came to my attention in 2015 with his biting love record I Love You, Honeybear. It’s a grand, beautiful, and honest album about love in the smartphone era, that has since become one of my all-time favorite records. More recently he dropped Pure Comedy a sprawling album about the cosmic joke of life in a post-Trump world. It’s not as fun of a listen as Honeybear, but it’s just as honest. It also manages to raise some tough questions, even if it doesn’t try to give any answers.
Choice Track “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)”
To describe Die Antwoord as “out there” would be a disservice. This South African hip-hop group began making waves at the end of the aughts with their otherworldly songs and the ballistic music video accompaniments. While a semi-watered-down version of the duo made it into Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie, they are probably best introduced in the same way I stumbled across them: the music video for “Evil Boy.” Once you watch you’ll know why I have such a hard time formulating their description into words. The group currently plans to disband this fall following the release of their fifth album, so Project Pabst may be one of the last chances to see the group in all their weirdness.
Choice Track “I Fink U Freaky”
What can be said about Iggy Pop that hasn’t been said before? He’s the godfather of punk. From the world-changing debut, his flawless sophomore solo album, or his later career classics like Beat Em Up, Pop has proven himself to be an enduring figure worthy of his title. He’s survived a sea of drugs, dozens of self-inflicted lacerations, and somehow made his way to his 70’s despite himself. In 2016 he released his final album: Post Pop Depression, a dark desert rock epic that’s a beyond-suitable send off for the aging legend. He’s one of the last true rockers, and to see him live before his retirement is an honor.
Choice Track “Sunday”