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I listened to a song by every artist at Upstream Music Fest

Beat Connection performing on the Upstream main stage in 2017. (Courtesy of Upstream Music Fest)

The playlist featured 176 songs and it was more than 11 hours long. Every Upstream Music Festival act had an equal shot to impress me.

Why subject myself to such a time-consuming task? Upstream is secretly Seattle’s best music festival. Capitol Hill Block Party can be a little pretentious, Bumbershoot somehow suffers from the opposite problem, and neither festival uses their space well.

Upstream is pleasantly spread out over the entire Pioneer Square neighborhood, you can get comfortably close to most acts with only a few exceptions.

The problem with Upstream is their lineups don’t always blow away the casual music listener. Organizers prioritize local acts and they seem to err on the side of the obscure. Convincing friends to attend can feel like pulling teeth; the names on the poster just don’t engender the “I have to see that” response like some others do. That’s why I took the time to listen to as many acts as possible to figure out which ones are actually worth everyone’s time.

Here was my methodology: I selected the most played song on Spotify for every artist I could find. I figured by listening to the most popular songs I could best evaluate quality.

I do have to admit two things. There were a handful of artists I couldn’t find on Spotify but I promise I tried to find every one.  Also, once I got about half way through the list I started to lose my patience and if I knew I hated a song I skipped it after about 30 seconds.

Here are the results, organized by day.

FRIDAY

Miguel

The song I listened to: “Skywalker”

For all her faults, I do have to thank Lena Dunham for exposing me to Miguel. The Grammy-winning singer is also the man behind that “shockandawe” song the NFL used all last season and he’s one of the few Upstream acts with some legit name recognition. His songs are addictively listenable and I’m interested to see how his heavily produced discography translates to the live context.

the moving pictures

The song I listened to: “Song 81”

the moving pictures is the kind of weird, experimental act that I love Upstream for. The Olympia band is described as an abstract indie pop group, whatever that means. I ended up listening to three of their songs and each one led me to ask myself “woah, what is this?” but in a good way.

SUPERDUPERKYLE

The song I listened to: “iSpy”

I’m a little embarrassed  I’m recommending KYLE. It’s unabashedly bubblegum pop but it’s executed well and I think it’ll be a fun set.

Little Dragon

The song I listened to: “Wildfire”

Little Dragon is the kind of act some people are probably more familiar with than they think. Lead vocalist Yukimi Nagana’s been featured on tracks by SBTRKT and KAYTRANADA. I’ll watch Little Dragon mainly because other artists I enjoy clearly appreciate her voice and it’s probably worth my time to try to figure out what they see in her.

Colleen Green

The song I listened to: “Deeper than Love”

Green’s beats are simplistic, but maybe that’s because she’s investing so much time crafting eminently relatable lyrics.

Dear Rouge

The song I listened to: “Boys and Blondes”

Listening to Dear Rouge for the first time, I was annoyed this was my first exposure to them. The Vancouver-based duo swirl a classic rock energy with some more modern soundscapes and they should be more famous than they are.

Seiho

The song I listened to: “Do Not Leave Wet”

Seiho won’t perform until 12:30 a.m. Friday morning, which is far too late, but if I manage to stay up it’ll be my second time witnessing a performance by the Japanese electronic/dance artist. He was in Seattle a few years ago at The Crocodile opening for Sophie, I remember the set because he poured milk into a flower pot and then drank the milk — the whole thing was very strange. Beyond the one onstage gimmick, his music is interesting too. “Do Not Leave Me Wet” is a pleasant Baths-esque pastiche of organic sounds and mechanical twirps and whirrings.

SATURDAY

Kristen Marlo

The song I listened to: “Time Waster”

I first heard Marlo’s acoustic stylings at North End Social Club and she sounded worthy of a bigger stage than the back of a random Tacoma bar.  She’ll be busking in Occidental Park at 4 p.m. before any of the other acts start if you’re looking to kill time.

Tacocat

The song I listened to: “I Hate the Weekend”

I really enjoy Tacocat’s music, but I’ll admit their live show can be underwhelming. Still, they’re colorful and silly and I listened to the music of all the other acts also playing at 5 p.m. on Saturday and they still sound like the best bet.

Great Grandpa

The song I listened to: Actually, all of them.

I’ve seen Great Grandpa perform four times, and this will be my fifth. Sleeping on this local foursome is such a mistake, especially if you’re even the slightest bit nostalgic about Seattle’s grunge era.

Lushloss

The song I listened to: “St Marco”

This is by far the Upstream act I’m most intrigued by. On the first half of her debut album “asking/bearing” Olive June intersperses her discordant beats with interviews with her own mother. The whole thing is deeply personal and listening feels voyeuristic. I have no idea how she’ll translate it to a live context, but I’ll absolutely be there to find out.

Jawbreaker

The song I listened to: “Boxcar”

I’ve never heard of Jawbreaker, but they’re one of the headliners and Zak Burns said it was one of his favorite bands so now I feel like I have to go.

Special Explosion

The Song I listened to: “Fire”

In an attempt to convince my roommate to attend Upstream with me I played him “Fire” by Special Explosion and within the songs first 30-seconds he had already exclaimed “wow, who is this?” Most of the songs start real slow, but they build to some really exciting crescendos.

SUNDAY

The Brodcast

The Song I listened to: “Somewhere”

The name “The Brodcast” is really hard to google so it was hard to learn anything about this band. Spotify suggests most of their listeners are in Seattle, Tacoma and Federal Way so I’m presuming they’re local. But beyond that, all I know is they have a pretty unique sound. If I had to describe it’s genre I guess I’d slate it as hip-hop, but on “Somewhere” the lead vocalist sounds like he’s rapping over a Freelance Whales track. Whatever, ungooglable and undefinable, I’m still really liked what I heard and I’ll be prioritizing their set on my schedule.

Whitney Ballen

The Song I listened to: “Rainier”

Ballen is certainly not for everyone. I wouldn’t say her high-pitched, childlike wail going on about coldbrews and Mt. Rainier has mass appeal. If that’s your thing though, she’s the perfect musician to shame your other hipster friends for not knowing about.

Lena Raine

The Song I listened to: “Resurrections”

Raine is most famous for creating the soundtrack for a game called “Celeste,” which I have never played. Evidently this is so much apart of her appeal her listing on the Upstream lineup reads “Lena Raine (Celeste).” Her 8-bit inspired tunes are alternately foreboding and uplifting, I assume in order to reflect whatever is going on in the game. No idea what a live show for this kind of music looks like, but I’m curious enough to find out.

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