The Best of the Tiny Fonts in Governors Ball’s 2015 Lineup

The most underrated acts to converge on a little town called New York City this weekend


This weekend, the festival-going masses will converge upon the tiny town of New York City, ballooning its population by something like .001% for the annual Governors Ball Music Festival. Will the fair hamlet be able to handle such demands upon its infrastructure? Only time will tell.

Held on Randall’s Island, pinned between Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx in the East River, Gov Ball is one of the smaller, newer festivals on the circuit, having only been around since 2011. But that hasn’t stopped them from snagging some amazing big name acts like Drake, Florence and the Machine, My Morning Jacket, and Bjork. Originally just a single-day festival on Governors Island, Gov Ball has expanded to a full three-day celebration of music, and they’ve filled out those two additional days with some fantastic smaller bands. The fonts on the poster may all be the same size, but here are some of the best of those bands that fill the bottom half.


The Districts

Friday, 12:15 p.m., Honda Stage

This year’s Governors Ball doesn’t miss a moment, kicking off the weekend early on Friday with a fantastic indie rock band from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Districts may not have any members who are legally allowed to crack open a cold one, but their particular brand of indie rock is the kind you’d expect to hear pumping out of a hip Williamsburg bar stereo circa 2006. Their first record calls to mind Band of Horses with its lazy rhythms and heartfelt howling, but their brand-new album, A Flourish and a Spoil, rocks harder, with touches of the Walkmen or Cloud Nothings, who just happen to share a producer with them. What a way to start a weekend!

People Under the Stairs

Friday, 12:45 p.m., Gotham Tent

Though they’ve been around for almost 20 years and count among their fans Chuck D, Biz Markie, and Trey Anastasio, Los Angeles rap duo People Under the Stairs have never escaped the underground — and they couldn’t be happier about it. The nine studio albums they’ve released in the past two decades are both beautiful and uncompromisingly personal. This is classic hip-hop at its finest, with top-caliber musicianship, inspired sampling from obscure soul, jazz, and psychedelia tracks, and lyrics that avoid grandstanding or posturing. Think Jurassic 5 or Dilated Peoples. Fun fact: PUTS was one of the acts at the very first Gov Ball in 2011, sharing the stage with Girl Talk and Das Racist.


Friday, 1:30 p.m., Honda Stage

Three in a row! On the first day? Not bad, Gov Ball, not bad at all. Brooklyn’s DIIV may be a better fit for a late night in a smoky club, but the local band will be hitting the stage mid-afternoon and bringing with them their combination of spacey krautrock and dreamy shoegaze. Every couple of years someone tries to take on the Ian Curtis legacy and give us a new sad, dark band we love to dance to, and now that Interpol is old and boring, it’s nice to see someone interesting and worthwhile step up to the plate. Especially because Zachary Cole Smith and his bandmates owe as much to Neu or Can as they do to Joy Division.

Friday, 3:45 p.m., Gotham Tent

Denmark’s is probably best known for her vocals on Iggy Azalea’s “Beg for It”, which is kind of a shame, considering the massive amount of talent the vocalist has. She’s already won four Danish Music Awards for her debut album, No Mythologies to Follow, which is filled with beautiful, minimalist electro-pop that, at times, even borders on witch house. Ha, remember witch house? Point is, MØ is on the ascent. By next year, with any luck, she will be closing out a night at one of these summer festivals.

Charlotte OC

Saturday, 12:15 p.m., Honda Stage

In just as fittingly unfitting a time of day as MØ on Friday afternoon, British singer-songwriter Charlotte OC takes the Honda Stage at just after noon on Saturday. The Blackburn native says she is equally inspired by Alicia Keys and Lou Reed, and her vocal style belies a love for both the soulful and the strange. Much like MØ, Charlotte OC is one of a new cadre of vocalists who toe the line between pop stars and something more, the kind of singers who eschew duets with boy band heartthrobs for concept albums with David Byrne. Charlotte’s electro-soul is inspired and original and a welcome alternative to modern pop.

White Lung

Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Honda Stage

Punk music gets a bad rap these days. It’s alright if you add a modifier to it (everyone loves noise punk, garage punk, and dance punk), but the kind of thing that would have made it onto Epitaph Records circa 1998? We’re over it. Thankfully, Vancouver’s White Lung are woefully behind the times. They’re a little bit noisy and wild, but with such a direct and forceful pop sensibility that you can’t help but bob your head and think back to driving around in your buddy’s rusted-out, old tan Volvo while listening to your scratched copies of Punk-O-Rama 3. Vocalist Mish Way even channels the best of that era of punk in her delivery, sounding a whole lot like Tilt’s Cinder Block.

The Picturebooks

Sunday, 12:15 p.m., Honda Stage

The Picturebooks don’t sound anything like their name would suggest. When I first heard them, I expected something poppy and light, their name a possible reference to the Kinks song that made it into that Hewlett-Packard ad a few years ago. Boy, was I wrong. The German duo from Gütersloh make the kind of filthy, lo-fi blues rock that the Black Keys have nightmares about. The music is as simple as it is savage, and the long-haired duo wear their equally simplistic obsessions on their sleeve: motorcycles, skateboarding, hot babes, making out with said hot babes. With such a mud-drenched, feral sound, The Picturebooks may be a surprise for everyone kicking off Sunday’s performances.

Strand of Oaks

Sunday, 1:30 p.m., Honda Stage

Philadelphia-based rock outfit Strand of Oaks are impossibly familiar. They sound like a band you first heard on your dad’s eight-track, one you discovered at your college radio station, and still, one that just put out their first single last month. There is something so timeless about the comfortable, driving rock music that Timothy Showalter and his band create that is hard to pin down. Showalter has the melodic sensibility of Elton John, the groove of The Band, the gritty passion of Bruce Springsteen, and, somehow, Lee Ranaldo’s guitar chops — but don’t take Strand of Oaks for just another folk-rock band. There is something care-worn and natural about their music, complete with its ’80s-tinged, glistening synths, and they may be the best hidden secret on the Governors Ball bill. Don’t miss them.

Chronixx and the ZincFence Redemption

Sunday, 2:15 p.m., Big Apple Stage

Something about reggae music makes it perfect for a festival atmosphere. Whether it’s the syncopated rhythms, the lyrics about love and harmony, or all that … smoke in the air, it’s a perfect music for enjoying outside in a crowd of swaying people. And Chronixx is one of the best in the business right now. The Jamaican artist is the son of famed reggae artist Chronicle and in the past few years has been making in-roads into the American mainstream with help from featured spots on releases by Major Lazer and Joey Badass. A great way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon on Randall’s Island.