With Twin Shadow, Trinidad James, Purity Ring, and many more
The Overthrow Castle, Miami
Saturday, December 8, 2012
Better Than: Getting stuck on the wrong side of the entrance ropes.
While most of Art Basel Miami Beach week involves outsiders swooping in with dollars and largesse, trying to show everyone how to party, Basel Castle is a true homegrown success.
The Overthrow crew's annual blowout started in 2010 as a (very, very fun) rough-around-the-edges affair, powered by warm beer and underground artists. Since then, the event's exploded, along with hype and demand.
On Saturday night, Basel Castle had morphed into an all-out twisted, artsy street carnival and block party with a full gauntlet of promotional sponsors, multiple stages, and lines on lines on lines to get in.
The Castle's gates opened at 6 p.m., and as organizers warned, bodies started filling the place almost immediately. As with previous years, The Overthrow gave would-be revelers a free RSVP option. But that came with the caveat that they'd have to show up before 8 p.m. to get access to the Castle itself, and not just the block party.
Even that wasn't guaranteed, though, if the Castle filled up first with party people who secured their spot by buying $25 priority tickets. Guess what happened? Yes, things filled up quickly, and not a single extra soul was going to squeeze in, thanks to watchful fire marshals posted up everywhere.
After early-evening sets by locals ranging from Jacuzzi Boys to hip-hopper J Nics, the event reached critical mass by around 11. Straggling rave kiddies danced to L.A. Riots on an outdoor stage while other attendees inexplicably lined up by the dozens for a PBR- and Pollo Tropical-sponsored coloring booth. Artist-designed midway games lined the street next to artists painting live, giving off the distinct scent of aerosol paint fumes.
Then past another line, there was the main party and stage inside the Castle itself, where the run of major headliners started with former-South-Floridian-made-good Twin Shadow. As the "band" is really sort of a solo project by George Lewis Jr. -- one of a few Dominican-Americans rising in hipster-y music circles! -- his live appearances in Miami have varied wildly in quality. During last year's Basel, for instance, an outdoor Twin Shadow performance at an Asbolut vodka pop-up venue was marred by spotty sound and slightly off-key singing.
Not so at Basel Castle, where Lewis showed up backed by a fully fleshed-out band and livelier stage patter. All the requisite hits, from "Five Seconds" to the older "Slow," coasted on the sleek, synth-y sound of the recorded versions, with just enough meatier low-end to keep things interesting. Lewis, in between, hammed it up like a pro. He waxed nostalgic about his South Florida upbringing at one point, and urged audience members to strip off their shirts and wave them in the air at one another.
There's probably not a weirder juxtaposition than following a Twin Shadow set with one by rising Atlanta rapper Trinidad James, but such is the Basel Castle booking M.O. Taking the stage around 1 a.m. (almost early for a rapper), James benefited from a turnt-up crowd lubricated by Bacardi and beer and OK with getting a little ignorant for an hour.
The 25 year old's a lightning rod for critics and rap-watchers right now, and it's easy to see why. His songs are unapologetically not for sober listening -- his viral hit "All Gold Everything" repeats lines like "Popped a Molly, I'm sweatin" ad infinitum. Nor is James particularly literate or nuanced. Over the course of the set, we learned he hustles, hates snitches, and loves Asian and white women.
Still, there's a time and a place in which certain styles of music make sense, and the wee hours are good to James. His set bore all the hallmarks of a typical party-ready rap performance in a club. There was the performer himself rapping over his own vocal tracks, booming bass, and dozens of entourage members with no defined role all onstage, yelling the last words of every line. At one point toward the end of the set, James himself wasn't even onstage anymore, instead running shirtless through the crowd while his crew yelled his lyrics for him.
When James finished his slot and left, a chunk of the crowd followed, but the most drunk diehards got rewarded with a cerebral 2 a.m. set by Purity Ring. Again, what a transition -- with Trinidad James getting loose and aiming for the far corners, Purity Ring's music is almost fiercely turned inward. It's also almost purely electronic, which may not bode well for the best live-performance spark.
Still, members Corin Roddick and Megan James managed to pull off an arresting performance, largely on precise playing, smooth segues, and the strength of James' voice. While Roddick triggered some samples in real-time and did some live drumming, James commanded attention with the same high, spooky chirp that appears on the group's albums. That, combined with Roddick's minor-key atmospherics -- and of course, the fact that we were partying in an actual, gargoyle-dotted castle on the Overtown/Wynwood border -- served as an appropriately creepy cap to the evening's festivities.
Personal Bias: I haven't missed a Basel Castle yet.
The Crowd: Goth-y Tumblr girls, PeachFuzz types, lots of people in hats emblazoned with capital-letter slang words, artistes, randoms, Ron English.
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From the Stage: "Who loves Miami? I've got a better question. Who loves drugs?" -- Trinidad James
Overheard in the Crowd: "This is my bitch and her sister."