The Stanford Stadium is not anyone’s favorite piece of architecture. It’s a stadium, with all the logistical requirements implied in a venue of its size and stature — big concrete pillars, uncomfy seats, copious astroturf — and so it on its own, as just a building, is a dead, rigid place. It takes people — screaming crowds, electric athletics — to turn into something more than an industrial-sized corpse. And Saturday night, for five-or-so hours, the stadium, host to 2018’s Frost Musical Festival, came alive. The festival — the premiere offering of the Stanford Concert Network, now in its 7th year — was a wildly energetic affair, animated by the uniquely fluid styles of Monte Booker, Ravyn Lenae, and most of all Glass Animals, who closed out the night with a effortlessly inventive headlining set.
While Frost’s non-student headliners defined the evening’s tone, the two student performers set the mood nicely. First up were Sister Supply, a bluesy five-piece group. They led the late afternoon crowd in a spirited mix of original songs and covers, delivering a classic rock-influenced performance under blue skies. Son Kuma (Barron Montgomery ‘19) was next, with the L.A-based rapper delivering a trap-tinged fusion of hip-hop and R&B touching on a range of topics centering on feeling some “type of way” about the world, from the lovesick ramblings of “Obsessed” to the money and fame talk of “Indica.” These aren’t necessarily new topics in rap (or in popular music in general), but Son Kuma brought a unique perspective (he’s the only rapper I know whose stage name comes from both Dragonball Z and Japanese language class) and most of all an incredible energy to his material. In the words of attendee Spencer Robinson ‘20, “the Stanford community was wholly unprepared for the intensity of Son Kuma’s spectacle.”
Even the energy delivered by Stanford’s very own, though, could not be matched by Frost’s headliners, who each brought fluid, genre-bending sets that spanned moods and styles with ease. Monte Booker, the Chicago-based producer who you may know from his work with acclaimed rappers like Noname and Smino, started the second stage of the festival off with a free-wheeling dj set that seemed to work as one constantly moving organism, with individual beats seeming to merge seamlessly into one another. He mixed his original compositions and beats made for other artists with an endlessly supply of remixes — from Estelle and Kanye West’s “American Boy” and Justin Timberlake’s “Rock My Body” to Crystal Waters’ 90s house classic “Gypsy Woman.” That last choice was telling — though the Chicago rappers that Booker is most associated with don’t exactly make dance music, Booker wore the history of Chicago music on his sleeve, including the deep roots of Chicago house.
Booker’s Chicago roots were also on display as Frost’s next performer joined him on the stage — not only is Ravyn Lenae another member of the loosely defined alt-rap/R&B scene bubbling up in Chicago, but Lenae and Booker’s rapport was clear as she began her set. While her music was perhaps more straightforward than Booker’s DJ set, Lenae’s voice lent the experience an otherworldly feel. It’s a magnificent instrument, sighing and drawing out lines and feelings in a way that almost felt superhuman. It was the perfect complement to the beats on songs like “Sticky,” a hard-edged piece of groovy funk produced by L.A R&B wunderkind Steve Lacy, who produced all of Lenae’s most recent EP. A less inventive vocalist would be tempted to go straightforward in vocal performance, especially in the high-pressure environment of a festival set. But Lenae stood firm to her style, giving us a performance that needed to be experienced live in all of its glory.
Yet it was Glass Animals, the night’s final headliners, that embodied the night’s spirit of fluidity to its fullest. From the first seconds of their set, the English four-piece group made clear that their music was difficult to tie down. Not quite electronic, not quite rock, with hints of hip-hop and dance music seeping in, the band lies in a sort of no-man’s land increasingly carved out by canny groups seeking to appeal to a large an audience as possible in an increasingly fragmented music atmosphere. It’s dangerous territory — witness the creative barrenness of Imagine Dragons or Post Malone — but Glass Animals, especially in a live setting, handled it well. It helps that their stage show was one hell of a spectacle — while their openers sufficed with relatively bare setups, the night’s headliners brought a full-on light show, complete with a TV set, an arcade game projection, and an enormous glowing pineapple. The band’s infectious energy, especially in frontman David Bayley, was perhaps their greatest asset — even hardened critical cynics like us were moved to dance to songs like “Pork Soda.”
As a whole, this year’s Frost Festival was not one to have missed — an unforgettable mix of genres and styles that absolutely should not have worked on paper, brought together by the pure energy of its performers and their sheer commitments to the weirdness of their music. Whoever comes next year will have a high standard to live up to (but if you’re reading this at SCN, definitely book a female headliner).
Contact Jacob Kuppermann at jkupperm ‘at’ stanford.edu and Dylan Grosz at dgrosz ‘at’ stanford.edu.