The process of putting together the MidPoint Music Festival guide is a monster task for us here at the ol’ CityBeat. A few all-nighters — writing and editing the blurbs on every act performing at the festival — have more than once taken their toll on our mood/sanity over the past decade and a half. But, much like the festival itself, it’s also an enjoyable and rewarding project.
The amount of time it consumes is partially due to all of the research and listening involved, as we attempt to summarize an artist’s essence in three to four sentences as best we can (this year, “we” was myself and longtime CityBeater Brian Baker), but it’s also because I am easily distracted by good music I haven’t heard before. Occasionally I’d find myself two albums deep into a discography before realizing it’s taken me three-and-a-half hours to write 150 words on one band.
The festival that began as an unsigned-only event in 2001 scattered throughout Greater Cincinnati is now located on four stages within one block of Cincy’s downtown (inside Taft Theatre and the neighboring Masonic Center). The Cincinnati artists performing at MPMF this Saturday and Sunday are especially strong, so check out our full guide (at citybeat.com, which has been updated to reflect several recent schedule changes) to read what we wrote about them. As for non-locals, here are six touring acts playing before sundown during MPMF that really grabbed my attention and were partly responsible for my sleep-deprived hallucinations.
Akron, Ohio | Indie Folk Rock | Saturday, Masonic Cathedral | 2 p.m.
After dropping out of Kent State and traveling around playing music for change, singer/songwriter/guitarist Erik Urycki returned to Northeast Ohio to form a band. Launched in 2007, The Speedbumps developed an acoustic sound informed by a love for both contemporary Roots artists and Indie Rock, releasing its first album in 2013 and earning praise from a variety of outlets. When the band decamped to an isolated cabin to make the follow-up to 2015’s Soil to the Seed, The Speedbumps began a musical transformation sparked by Urycki’s discovery of the joys of the electric guitar and a general desire to shift gears. Released in July, When the Darkness Comes is a more full-bodied and vigorous collection of songs that lean more in the direction of rich, emotive Indie Pop and Rock than Americana, still centered by Urycki’s raspy voice and captivating melodies, but delivered with a renewed sense of energy.
You’ll Dig It If You Dig: Artists unafraid of drastically reinventing themselves after establishing a successful formula, like Wilco and Radiohead.
Los Angeles | Indie/Electronic Pop | Saturday, Taft Theatre Stage | 5:05 p.m.
Indie Pop trio DYAN came together when the film-scoring duo Alexis & Sam (whose work can be heard in various feature films and TV shows like Animal Kingdom and Sesame Street) decided to write a more traditional song to use over the main title sequence of a movie they were scoring. Inspired, Alexis Marsh (singer/guitarist/bassist) began writing more songs, eventually decamping to Cincinnati to form an album. Dan Dorff Jr. (once a regular presence in the Cincinnati music scene who went on to work with Jim James and Ray LaMontagne) joined Marsh while recording in Louisville, Ky., adding drums and piano. Marsh’s scoring partner Sam Jones (guitarist/synths) came in during the album’s mixing, marking the first time the three members of DYAN worked together. The trio’s sparse but warm, visceral mix of synths and electronics with enchanting melodies and textural guitars and cello exhibited on DYAN’s 2016 debut, Looking for Knives, hit a nerve, garnering attention from popular music blogs and traditional music-press outlets while notching 500,000 spins of the title track on Spotify in just its first month available (its now nearing 1.8 million streams).
YDIIYD: Sylvan Esso, Purity Ring, The xx.
Austin, Texas | Indie Folk | Saturday, Taft Theatre Stage | 6:15 p.m.
Singer/songwriter Adam Torres’ life so far has been pretty fascinating, in and out of music. Born in New Mexico and raised in the Cincy exburb West Chester, Torres found his musical footing in Athens, Ohio, where he performed as a solo artist and as a member of the regionally popular band Southeast Engine. Torres put out his first album, Nostra Nova, DIY-style in 2006, then carried on with his life, still writing music, but quitting the band, focusing on college and traveling to Ecuador to do volunteer work. Ending up in Austin, Texas in 2011 for graduate school, Torres later worked on a project to improve the water quality of the Rio Grande River, all the while hearing the music calling him back. Since leaving Athens, Nostra Nova had become a cult favorite, earning a widely praised reissue in 2015 and building up anticipation for Pearls to Swine, Torres’ debut album for the respected Fat Possum label, a year later. Now entrenched in the latest unexpected phase in his life, Torres kicked off 2017 with the EP I Came to Sing the Song, then headed out on the road for new adventures, playing shows all over the world.
YDIIYD: Neutral Milk Hotel, Jeff Buckley, Bon Iver.
Austin, Texas | Dance/Pop/Electronic | Sunday, Taft Theatre Stage | 3:55 p.m.
If you are in the groove to move at MidPoint, let Sphynx be your full-service disco (light-up dance floor not included… probably). The MPMF veterans’ entertaining live show and deeply funky, playfully retro ElectroPop sound made them one of the more popular live entities in Austin, Texas — one of the biggest music towns in the world — before the musicians decided to take their glammed-up show on the road, sprinkling clubs and festivals across the country with Sphynx magic dust. To crank up the party vibes, the group is known to pull out an ironic crowd-pleasing cover song or two, but after spending much of 2016 writing and recording new material, the current focus is on the new jams featured on the recently released Golden Garden album and a companion EP, Spacecamp. Still, you’ll never know if Sphynx would have played Steve Perry’s “Foolish Heart” at MPMF if you don’t yell it out.
YDIIYD: Chromeo, MGMT, Daft Punk, Jamiroquai.
Akron, Ohio | Indie Rock | Sunday, Masonic Cathedral | 6:30 p.m.
Akron, Ohio might seem an unlikely musical hotbed to the uninitiated, but the onetime rubber capital of the world was key in shaping the sound of Alternative Rock, giving the world DEVO and Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. Current arena-fillers/Akronites The Black Keys were the latest reminder to the masses that Akron has an active music scene, but another powerful contender to represent the city’s current music-makers is Ledges, a very promising Indie Rock trio potentially on the verge of a big breakthrough. Though first emerging in 2014 with an EP release, Ledges underwent a reinvention of sorts over the next two years, developing not only the storyline that would become the basis for the trio’s debut full-length album, the just-released Homecoming, but also a richer, soaring sound with an alluring emotional depth and atmospheric layers that craftily incorporate elements of “Alternative” music from the ’80s into the dreamy soundscape. The band’s latest music also has a magnetic Pop pull to it that, mixed with the emotional relatability of the lyrics and vocals, could take Ledges’ music well beyond Akron’s city limits.
YDIIYD: Smallpools, The Neighbourhood, The 1975.
Los Angeles | Electronic Pop | Sunday, Masonic Cathedral | 5:30 p.m.
The moody, dreamlike sounds of L.A.-based singer B.Miles caught on almost as soon as it caught some ears. In 2015, she released a three-song EP, the result of an extended recording session with some friends, which instantly became a music-blog favorite and shot to the top of Spotify’s viral charts in four countries. The EP’s “Salt” — which became the theme song for the Netflix Spanish-language show Las Chicas Del Cable — has earned more than nine million plays on Spotify. B.Miles’ soulful, seductive voice wraps around chilled beats and airy electronics to even greater effect on her latest release, a much-anticipated self-titled EP that was released to even greater fanfare in March. With a four-piece backing band, she has hypnotized crowds with only a select few shows since the EP’s release, making her MPMF appearance a rare treat.
YDIIYD: Vocals that evoke smoky vocal sculptors like Sade and Billie Holiday twisted through a 21st-century Trip Hop filter.
For tickets and full MIDPOINT MUSIC FESTIVAL details, visit mpmf.com.