The crowd came in steadily throughout the night, peaking around 10 p.m. There were five stages spread throughout Mana with art and food sprinkled in between. Last year's hero Shake Shack has returned to stuff our bellies and there was an indoor racetrack sponsored by BMW that was taking attendees on laps inside Mana's main building. We're still not totally sure what was up with that, but you best believe we're checking it out today.
Day one brought headliners Nicolas Jaar, Neon Indian, and Warpaint among others. There was also no shortage of impressive locals: Kazoots, Robb Bank$, and Virgo shined bright. Day two will be stacked, bringing Run the Jewels, Ghostface Killah and Doom (sort of), and Toro y Moi to Wynwood.
But, for now, let's recap last night's action.
Taking on the task of being one of the first acts to open a music festival, especially one geared toward those who come out at night, is for brave, dedicated types with strong stomachs. So when the sun had yet to set, and Kazoots, consisting of four Haitian-American twenty-somethings, took to the stage, I was a bit concerned that the audience hadn't arrived. (7 p.m. in Miami is 7 a.m. anywhere else in the country.) But Kazoots was pretty much grooving from the get-go. The set floated out over the quickly growing audience like a soulful, upbeat sermon, guiding us toward Zion through smooth '90s indie rock moments with psychedelic effects and African-influenced rhythms. Lead singer and guitarist Inez Barlatier was the conductor of this orchestra with a pair of pipes that trumped all other instruments. To compare voices seems crass, but we shall; she sounds like Adele was schooled in Amy Winehouse's style and presented with the full emotional power of Tracy Chapman. Barlatier sang two hypnotic songs in Creole, and I truly hope I heard a Gordon Lightfoot "If You Could Read My Mind" cover mixed in there. By the end, Kazoots was having fun, smiling and chanting, encouraging the audience to clap to their rhythm — one that's easy to follow and will certainly gather a significant and dancing following. — Liz Tracy
Standing on the stage in all white, Virgo practically looked ethereal. At the same time, her wardrobe seemed to serve as a protective shell as graphics seemed to envelop her body completely. She ran through staples like “Virgo” and “ISS” as a crowd of about 300 people nodded in approval. One guy stumbled toward me and said, “I just wanted to let you know that I came to check out her set on your recommendation and you were right.” Despite her newbie status to the Miami music scene, Virgo is taking her new career path seriously. On stage, it was just her and her Virus TI synthesizer, and she easily drew in the crowd and commanded attention. It will be interesting to see how a few more years of growth and exploration will help her develop as an artist and perhaps bring her some much-deserved national attention. As she closed out her set, the projection of a blue flame consumed her dress, which seems only appropriate as she’s poised to burn brighter from here on out. — Jose D. Duran
Last time I saw the Field in Miami was at LIV in 2009. Yes, I shit you not — LIV. It was the most WTF booking I probably ever witness, but Axel Willner was opening for the Juan MacLean back when the venue was taking risks thanks to a bad economy. Overall, it was a pretty bad experience since no one at LIV could really appreciate Willner’s minimal approach to electronic music. That being said, even at III Points his music isn’t exactly something you expect to hear, but thanks to a more receptive crowd, the Field’s set really came alive. That’s not to say that his set was any more approachable. It basically started as a wall of sound that he carefully deconstructed and then rebuilt into a groove you could jerk your body to. The lighting matched the mood, starting out very subtle and growing alive as Willner ventured chillier melodies and into warmer basslines. It was a wonderful and great introduction to III Point’s Main Frame stage. — Jose D. Duran
Miami’s local altar boy gone bad was as mystically powerful as ever as he took the Sector 3 Stage Friday night. Dressed head-to-toe in all white so as to glow under the eery lights and smoke, he performed a string of old hits from his earliest releases, from “Velvet” to “Believer.” Armed with nothing but his piano and his haunting vocals, he won over his early audience despite competing with the noise of nearby stages. Paul’s music is best appreciated in more intimate settings, and sandwiched between bass-heavy DJ sets, he worked extra hard to bring listeners to his level, though the energy was well worth it for those who stuck around. He moved his way from piano to guitar as he finished his set, suddenly flanked last-minute by ethereal dancers on either side. His 30 minutes were a welcome repose from the constant dance beats and heavy bass of the weekend, and I left feeling equal parts sinner and saint. — Kat Bein
The odds weren’t exactly in Surfer Blood’s favor. First, their set was at 8:30 p.m., a time when most of Miami is just waking up. And second, though Surfer Blood are South Florida natives, Miami ain’t really their demographic. West Palm Beach (the band’s home and native land) couldn’t be any different than Miami. Well, it could, like if one had dinosaurs or mountains made out of greek yogurt, but you understand what I’m saying. For these reasons, Surfer Blood’s crowd was small. And some minor feedback issues thinned them even further. Still, they put on a good show. The band played a mix of old and new during the 50-minute set. The new, which were cuts of Surfer Blood’s latest album, 1000 Palms, really worked well. After a disappointing second album (Surfer Blood themselves admitted this), 1000 Palms finds the West Palm Beach boys rediscovering an authentic sound all their own. And on stage, that sound is refreshing, introspective, and fun to watch. The jabber was kept to a minimum. Lead singer John Paul Pitts only thanked the crowd a couple times, said it was good to be back in Florida. There was no mention of Thomas Fekete, Surfer Blood’s original guitarist who is currently battling a rare form of cancer. The band has been raising money for his cause since the diagnosis. — Ryan Pfeffer
"Damn, that nigga bleeding! Word up," Coral Springs-native Robb Bank$ mused over his by turns rowdy, by turns too stoned crowd at the Sector 9 stage. "I need everyone bloody at the end of this shit, you feel me?" The young rapper, who's gained a hearty local following as well as some bigger notoriety as displayed by his nearly 70 thousand SoundCloud followers, admitted he was "so tired" as he went in on his 11:30 p.m. set, but tried his best to keep up the energy, instructing the crowd to "open up the pit," and warning all the "bitch asses" to get out the way. Despite the heat and the late start, he maintained his charisma and stage presence, shirt off, dreadlocks pulled back and swinging. While Bank$ was able to hype the crowd during a few moments — in particular during his bigger tracks like "On Me," "Snap," and Chainswing" — several fell a bit flat, like "Sensational." Things unraveled a bit after a small fight broke out and police started getting involved, leading to some confusion. Instead of spurring on the kind of excited, violent energy that altercations at young rap concerts might, the show fizzled, perhaps due in part to the mugginess of the outdoor stage, leaving Bank$ to wonder, "Do y'all know who I am, or are y'all just on ecstasy?" — Falyn Freyman
Whether it was nerves or the humid air outside, it took a few songs for the singer Lorely Rodriguez, who goes by the handle Empress Of, to give the crowd any eye contact. The New Yorker shook her shoulders and alternated looking at her drummer or stage right at the digital screen that was counting down the 40 minutes allotted to her set. She seemed a bit uncomfortable. "It's hot. I'm not used to this heat," she told the crowd. Acceptance of her humid fate loosened her up as she went into "Standard," a track off her debut full-length Me and she showed off a vocal range that almost reached Mariah Carey levels. She went into some upbeat electro dance songs that had her jumping up and down, but it was her final song, "How Do You Do It," where her vision became clear. In her black dress, with the smoke machine and neon pinks and blues lighting her up, she transformed fully into a Goth disco queen. — David Rolland
From the first tribal drumbeat, it was clear the four women who make up the rock band Warpaint came out to party. "What up?" guitarists Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal asked Miami as they alternated the lead vocalist duty. The laid back opening chords of "Undertow" drew audible cheers of recognition from what was probably the biggest audience of the night on the outdoor Mind Melt stage. The quartet commented on the weather like nearly every out-of-town act, but it didn't stop them from working up a sweat and owning the stage as they harmonized, belly-danced, and even mentioned that they found time to check out Bonobo on the Main Frame stage before their 11:30 set. As their hour-long performance continued, the crowd thinned out some, probably to check out Nicholas Jaar, but the band didn't notice, or at least acted like they didn't, and continued to ride the desert grooves they brought east from their home in Los Angeles. — David Rolland
As a plume of blunt smoke and e-vapor swirled in the air, a light beam projected video of latex-clad women, bald, naked and gray-skinned alien women, bright red Maraschino cherries, lips plastered with rainbow sprinkles, snakeskin and snake eyes and hundreds of heads rolling and bobbing like marbles, flashing like subliminal code — all while Panda Bear (Animal Collective's Noah Benjamin Lennox) manipulated the knobs and buttons of his sequencers, his voice echoing high, and clear over the hypnotic beats. The music of Panda Bear is meant to be experienced in a very specific way: like this. The experimental video art of collaborator Danny Perez is the inherent backdrop to Panda Bear live, who played a nearly full-hour set at the Main Frame stage, bent over his tower of gadgets like the captain of a musical spaceship, the rainbow tentacles of his mixer spilling out in front of him. The dense, oppressive heat inside the Main Frame warehouse almost worked in his favor, adding to the disorienting effect of it all, extreme physical conditions tending to coax out mental effects otherwise achievable via mind-altering substances. The audience was attentive, even when their eyes were closed, swaying, bouncing and wriggling their bodies like obedient glow worms. Panda Bear ran through the majority of his latest album, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, with mesmerizing singles like "Boys Latin" and the opener "Mr Noah" standing out amongst peaks and valleys of rhythmic, tribal breakdowns. Like Arthur Russell on some really strong acid, Panda Bear live is more than just music — it's an experiment, a tapping into the psyche, letting those who allow it to wash over them come out on the other side drenched, cleansed and euphoric. — Falyn Freyman
This is the second time Nicolas Jaar has played at Mana. The first time was in 2013, when III Points brought him and Dave Harrington to Miami together to perform as Darkside. In a way, his Friday set at III Points mirrored that 2013 one. Both had excellent production values, the sound developed as the set went along, and simplicity — at least perceived — seemed paramount. While this was strictly a DJ set, Jaar still managed to stun the crowd as his silhouette cut through the smoke and lights. I last saw Jaar performed a solo live set during Ultra 2013, but despite being a DJ set, his III Points stint was vastly superior thanks to a receptive crowd and none of the sound bleed that happened at Ultra. Jaar kicked things off with Steve Reich’s 1966 cut “Come Out.” For about ten minutes the track just looped as the vocals sang, “Come out to show them/come out to show them/come out to show them” ad nauseam, really testing the crowd’s patience. But as his set went along, he moved into more danceable and even funkier grooves that really showed Jaar’s talents behind the decks. — Jose D. Duran
“I’ve only waited six years to see Neon Indian perform live,” I thought waiting for the Texan synthpop hero to take the stage, “What’s another 20 minutes?” An extended delay couldn’t kill my vibe, though it definitely had the rest of the crowd at the Mind Melt stage and me feeling restless. When he finally did work his way through a track, the sound was just a little too lo-fi, even for him. “Miami, I’m sorry, we’re obviously having technical difficulties,” he told us. “I care too much about this show to not play it right.” After another couple of minutes of adjustments, technical factors finally fell into place, and Neon Indian gave me the set I’ve always wanted — except they played mostly new songs from the upcoming album Vega Intl. Night School. Judging from the sound of his set, the latest LP sees him playing up his glam rock roots. Some tracks featured reggae-esque upstroke guitar, others echoed early Bowie or T. Rex. Unfamiliar as they were, the crowd jammed right along with the new songs as well as the handful of old favorite peppered in for good measure, and you know he had to give us a taste of “Deadbeat Summer” before he said his last goodbyes. — Kat Bein
The last set of the festival is an important moment. You’ve got to go out with a bang, which is usually no hard task for twisted trap-lord NIko Javan. He cooked up an extra-special hour of original singles, mash-ups, and edits for the Sector 3 crowd gnarly enough to keep heads bouncing till the bitter end. The second half felt like a free-for-all local love fest as he brought some of the night’s earlier performers back for live collabs. His work with producer and singer Virgo left me blown away, and his tracks with the Loft were as sinister as they were sexy. Javan’s greatest strength is his stylistic diversity, and he let every facet of his musical personality have its moment in the sun. It reminded me why I always get excited to see what he’ll do next, and it definitely left me energized for the afterparty. — Kat Bein