Festival Diary – PDX Pop Now

Aaron Sharpsteen / July 24, 2017
Young people having a good time at PDX Pop Now. All photography by Aaron Sharpsteen

Please note that this is not a “review” in the traditional sense, this is a recap of the experiences that were had at this year’s PDX Pop Now festival.

The need for money meant that I was only truly able to commit to one night of PDX Pop Now this year, with the other two days being more sporadic and limited. I chose Friday night as the time to cut loose and dig in. This required some preparation, as the festival usually includes a beer garden/beer ticket situation which is, to put it bluntly, for suckers. Just pre-plan and walk around with your liquor like an adult. After hitting up the 7-Eleven down the street for three boxes of very cheap Vendage wine and some cash back for a joint, I was well on my way to good times. All that I needed was an opaque cup full of ice, provided by La Merced, and I was free to roam around the festival getting low-key wine drunk and occasionally stopping to puff a bit.


With all that preparation in mind, the first band I saw was Cockeye, an in-your-face queer punk band with songs about Grindr (from what I gather, a kind of Tindr for gay dudes) and stage banter about cum and dicks and anuses. Fair enough. They were probably the least polished band I saw during the weekend, but those rough edges had a certain charm.

Ah God

Up next was Ah God, a band that I had heard about for a long time but had never seen. What a fool I’ve been. I was working well into my second bottle of wine at this point and was pretty stoned as well and Ah God was the perfect music for that mindset, combining psychedelic explorations with an unyielding groove and stoney melodies. They also played into a pattern of bands during the night with a visual flair, this time provided by some projected kaleidoscope backgrounds and a TV at the front of the stage with weird static playing throughout.


I wasn’t planning on seeing Turtlenecked, and honestly before reading about them in another publication’s preview I had never heard of them. As I retreated to a Honey Bucket to fill up my cup with the last box of wine I had and randomly ran into someone who gave me a free beer, their sounds pulled me in. “Who the fuck IS this?” And then I went to the stage and saw infants playing instruments. I jest, I think all of the members are at least old enough to serve in the army, but I’m old enough now that anyone under about 28 looks like a child to me. Either way, there is almost nothing that can top a singing drummer in my book, and Harrison Smith is one of those, so Turtlenecked vaulted to the top of my “bands I need to listen to right now” list. I even went and read the Pitchfork review of their latest album the next day. Complete horseshit (the review, the album is pretty good).

Ice Princess

After Turtlenecked was Ice Princess, the metal band of the evening, where I drunkenly told the lead singer that the spotlights were too bright (I’m always worried about the lighting when I have to take photos) even though I had clearly heard her say to her guitarist literally seconds before “I think these lights are too bright.” Maybe I thought I was confirming her intuition but I realized that I was treading the line on being “that guy” (which was not my intention, I just didn’t want to shoot a metal band with spotlights as bright as the sun). Their set was an awesome cavalcade of classic metal that made me wish I had long hair so, so much. I wanted to gather a group of everyone that had long hair that was around me and lead them to the front of the stage and show them what exactly they were supposed to be doing. There was one thing that I couldn’t stop chuckling at, however, and that is the name of the mythical villain that the Ice Princess is battling. It is Scrotiam. Let’s be honest. That is really close to Scrotum.


Reptaliens were next, another band that I have heard a lot of hype about recently. I discovered why very quickly, as their smoother, calmer psych combined with theatrics to create an atmosphere that completely sucked me in. They had an extra member that wore a raptor’s mask along with different outfits that morphed into a weird humanoid alien with extended arms and a newspaper that said “Reptaliens Rule the Earth.” The music fit all the strangeness with expansive passages and slower, more thoughtful tempos that allowed the mind to wander. My mind wandered so much that my camera died, in fact.

The last act of the night was Rasheed Jamal, who crushed it. Starting the night off with a dance crew once again made up of children (when they were introduced later in the night, they all made sure to mentioned they had just graduated), and continuing to spit hot fire until closing time, Rasheed demonstrated the kind of lyrical skill and consciousness that impresses even the most hardened haters. Inviting the dancers back every once in a while was a nice touch, as he clearly cares about the future of the Portland hip-hop scene and wants to make sure it is thriving as well. That is the whole point of PDX Pop Now, both the organization and the festival, making sure that people who are going to be on the stages in 3-4 years are involved in the music now.

My three-boxes-of-wine-and-a-joint night was over. Over the rest of the weekend I saw some other great bands, including Piss Test, Disenchanter, EMS (Eat My Shit), Drouth, Public Eye, and Sunbathe. You can check out an album with all the pictures I took at the festival here.


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