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The Best of the Tiny Fonts in Lollapalooza 2015’s Lineup

Ten smaller acts you won't wanna miss in Chicago's Grant Park

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This Lollapalooza 2015 coverage is presented by the JVC XX Elation

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Lollapalooza was created by Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell in 1991 and continued through 1997 as the nation’s only major touring festival, touching down in cities all across America. When it was revived in 2003, organizers tried the touring formula once more, but since then have turned the festival into a typical weekend format located in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Since its inception, Lollapalooza has championed bands that wouldn’t typically make it onto a festival roster, helping early on to expose acts like Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, and Babes in Toyland. This year, the lineup is thick with unknowns who will be sharing the stage with such industry veterans as Paul McCartney and Metallica. Here are 10 of the best of those bands for you to enjoy during your time in Chi-town.

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Spookyland

Friday, 12:00 p.m., Sprint Stage

Spookyland is the project of Australian singer-songwriter Marcus Gordon, a rock ‘n’ roll quartet that deals in heartland sounds that wouldn’t seem out of place sharing the stage with John Cougar Mellencamp or the Boss. The band’s first album, Rock and Roll Weakling, is a well-produced, beautifully written (and perfectly named) collection of songs that touches down somewhere near the weight and theatricality of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. That kind of naked, emotional rock ‘n’ roll is captured in Gordon’s idiosyncratic voice as he caterwauls over stomping drums, hammer-plucked acoustic guitar and wailing, ghostly harmonica, like he’s channeling Jeff Mangum, Joanna Newsome, or a young Lou Reed. It isn’t for everyone, but those who open their ears will find a lot to love about the Sydney band early on Friday afternoon.

SZA

Friday, 12:45 p.m., Samsung Galaxy Stage

No relation to RZA or GZA, SZA is the stage name of neo-soul singer Solana Rowe. Part of a burgeoning genre of modern, indie-laced R&B, SZA delivers her twisting, ethereal vocals over minimalist electro pop that focuses on mood and atmosphere over thumping beats and samples. Though her sound is decidedly modern, SZA counts among her influences Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, making a conscious effort to bring a jazz-influenced sense of musicianship and vocal control to her music. The combination is stunning, marrying the best parts of soul, chillwave, and ’80s R&B.

The New Pacific

Friday, 1:10 p.m., BMI Stage

There was a moment sometime in 2002 when suddenly pop-punk ran headlong into screamo, put on a pair of big boy pants, and started taking itself seriously. Top scientists believe that it had something to do with Jesse Lacey’s girlfriend breaking up with him, but the world may never know for sure. It is with that historical context that we consider Los Angeles band The New Pacific, with their two-fisted fighting stance of catchy punk and noisy howling. The quartet’s poppy hooks and grinding guitars call to mind the days when you could catch Glassjaw on MTV late at night. Simpler times. Ah, to be young again.

The Pop Ups

Friday, 2:30 p.m., Kidzapalooza

Of all the many stages at this year’s Lollapalooza, perhaps the most interesting one is Kidzapalooza, presented by Lifeway, the makers of probiotic yogurt drink kefir. Go ahead and read that sentence again. Kidzapalooza is, as you’d guess, a stage for children’s performers. But being Lollapalooza, you won’t see The Wiggles or Raffi. Instead, the acts taking the stage are fittingly hip and, in the case of Grammy-nominated Brooklyn duo The Pop Ups, actually worth a watch for the potty-trained set. The undeniably catchy synth-pop band hits the stage on Friday afternoon and again on Sunday at 4:05 p.m. bringing with them songs about costume parties and shapes that would give Hot Chip a run for their money.

BORNS

Friday, 5:40 p.m., BMI Stage

Originally from Michigan, Garrett Borns has had quite a varied career under his belt for a young man of only 23. By age 10, he was performing as a professional magician, and by 13 had won a National Scholastic Art Award and college scholarship to Ferris State University’s Kendall College of Art and Design. Now, calling Los Angeles his home, BORNS plies his trade as a slinky, sexual psych-pop songster with a killer falsetto. His specific genre of catchy psychedelia is part T-Rex and part MGMT, with his velvety voice the centerpiece, soaring above fuzzed-out guitars and Gary Glitter drums. And yet I wouldn’t quite call it rock music. It is definitively pop, and the best kind on offer of late, sharing similarities with Lorde or BORNS’ own tour mate Charli XCX.

Beat Connection

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

Seattle indie-pop quartet Beat Connection takes the Palladia Stage early in the day on Saturday, and for once, a band has never been more suited to soak up the sun. They may be from one of the nation’s most overcast cities, but their bubbly electropop is a sunny afternoon jam of the highest order. On record, Beat Connection skews toward ethereal with light touches of synths and airy drums. Live, the band is tight and far more driving, like a poppier iteration of Q and Not U or Supersystem. Their energy is just what is needed to kick off Lollapalooza’s second day in the right way.

Hippo Campus

Saturday, 1:10 p.m., BMI Stage

Somewhere deep in Brooklyn, Ezra Koenig is preparing a cease and desist letter, because Minnesota indie pop band Hippo Campus is most definitely jocking his grind. Luckily for them, the mail will accidentally be delivered to that other Hippo Campus (an actual college for hippos) and the breakout quartet will be able to keep making their pitch-perfect, danceable pop music. Really though, vocalist Zach Sutton is a dead ringer for the Vampire Weekend frontman, and their happy, beachy vibes and syncopated, clean guitars lend credence to the comparison as well. Catch these four recent high school grads (seriously, class of 2013) after Beat Connection wraps on the Palladia stage and keep dancing your afternoon away.

Lion Babe

Sunday,12:50 p.m., Pepsi Stage

Lion Babe is the brainchild of vocalist Jillian Hervey and multi-instrumentalist Lucas Goodman, and they’re already racking up famous fans like Boy George and Childish Gambino, who is featured on their fantastic single “Jump Hi”. The duo are well versed in the R&B and soul of the ’80s and ’90s, capturing the sounds that made artists like Erykah Badu and Lauren Hill famous, but with the energy of a rock outfit like The Ting Tings. The New York City duo only put out their debut EP last summer, but it’s not hard to see the potential they have for something great as they continue putting out music together.

Zebra Katz

Sunday, 1:10 p.m., BMI Stage

Every time someone tells me about how groundbreaking and original Kanye West is, I spend the next 48 hours with my eyes stuck in the back of my head from rolling them so hard. Thirty seconds spent with Zebra Katz is worth the past 10 years of “the greatest living rock star.” Ojay Morgan, the man behind Zebra Katz, considers his stage persona “the dark rapper, the dark villain, the dark lord of the fashion world,” and in his artistic vision he does not pull any punches. Like an art-house horror version of his queer hip-hop contemporaries, like Cakes da Killa and Le1f, Zebra Katz combines the grim delivery and production of Tricky and the bombastic visual aesthetics of Busta Rhymes to launch his art to unbelievable, uncompromising heights.

Bully

Sunday, 5:40 p.m., BMI Stage

Lifted straight out of the ’90s alt-rock playbook, Nashville’s Bully sound a whole lot like a bunch of bands that I swooned over as a kid. It seems, 20 years later, nothing much has changed. Bully is all about off-set guitars laden with grungy fuzz, but the real star of the show is vocalist Alicia Bognanno’s saccharine-sweet voice that can turn on a dime to a Courtney Love howl. Not to mention they’ve got the all-important Steve Albini Seal of Approval all locked up — Bognanno interned for him at Electrical Audio. That’s more than my little nostalgic heart can handle. Fellow fans of Veruca Salt and L7, take note: Your new favorite band takes the stage at 5:40 p.m. on Sunday. Don’t miss it.

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