They might be hundreds of miles apart, but this year's Governors Ball Music Festival was a tale of two cities: Atlanta and New York. The latter was represented by a wave of early 2000s hometown indie rock, including Interpol, TV on the Radio, and the Strokes, while the former of course is home to Outkast, who continue to barrel their way through their 40-date reunion tour. With last year's inclement weather a distant memory save for the freshly-planted patches of grass, the third year of the festival in its current Randall's Island location saw its largest attendance to date and sunny weather all three days.
Nobody represented this union of East Coast and Dirty South better than Run The Jewels, a.k.a. Atlanta's Killer Mike and Brooklyn's El-P. It's been a year since the duo's free, self-released album came out, but El's one liners and Mike's shuffling dance moves were enough to entertain the crowd, with a cameo from Queens, New York rapper Despot (#TrueDetectiveSeason2 anyone?) to put their high-octane early Friday afternoon set over the top. Over at the Gotham Tent, rising New York rap crew Ratking proved why they're an act to watch, playing a scrappy set of tracks from their debut album So It Goes. Emcees Wiki and Hak might be teenagers, but they have a commanding presence and had a saxophonist accompany their more experimental material. Another native ATLien, Janelle Monae captivated the crowd with her retro-futurist R&B, with her main stage set inspiring plenty of shimmying.
Both Monae and Mike would later join Outkast, the former to lead a dance squad made up of female audience members Andre 3000 picked to bring onstage during "Hey Ya!" and Dungeon Family member Mike to close out the show with "The Whole World." Emerging from a red tent with the 1-2 punch of "B.O.B." and "Gasoline Dreams," Andre wearing a jumpsuit emblazoned with the words "Art or Fart," the duo tore though a set that included something for everyone from casual listeners to the diehards carrying flags printed with the album cover of Stankonia. An airtight backing band? Check (the horns during "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" were a highlight). Solo mini-sets from both members? Yes, with the edge going to Big Boi, though any trace of past nerves on Andre's part seemed to be worked out. Hook maestro Sleepy Brown popping in and out to assist on "The Way You Move" wearing a silk robe? Sure, why not? Finally, there were the hits — "Ms. Jackson," "Roses," "So Fresh, So Clean" and UGK's "International Players Anthem" to name a few — iconic anthems responsible in many cases for introducing words and phrases into the English lexicon. While there's no denying the financial motives of the reunion (see also: the duo playing an invite-only Adult Swim party in New York a few weeks earlier), there's no question Andre 3000 and Big Boi were having fun Friday night, and their joy was infectious.
Day two started strong with Nashville punks Diarrhea Planet playing a raucous set, ending with a sloppy but spirited cover of "Hey Ya!" as one of the band's members climbed to the top of the stage's scaffolding. In the weekend's most unintentionally hilarious scheduling, San Francisco post-black metal band Deafheaven played before festival favourite Chance The Rapper, causing many festival-goers to clench their ears. Drawing heavily on Acid Rap, Chance had the crowd eating from the palm of his hand, and later made an appearance during Childish Gambino's set (where Three Stacks himself was in attendance). Meanwhile, if there were any doubts that London duo's Disclosure's pop-friendly dance music had reached audiences on this side of the Atlantic, the fact that they drew one of Saturday's biggest crowds put those concerns to rest.
Despite playing a muddled set with his new band the Voidz, and looking slightly worse for wear, Julian Casablancas was in high spirits for the Strokes' homecoming New York show. After ending with "Last Nite," whose sing-a-long echoed across the grounds, they returned for an encore of "New York City Cops." Acknowledging the Strokes on numerous occasions, Saturday night headliner Jack White played a career-spanning set that included White Stripes standards "Seven Nation Army," "We're Going To Be Friends" and "Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground." While his newer solo material didn't fare as well (his forthcoming Lazaretto contains some of his laziest songwriting to date), White's band added muscle to the performance, and the country-tinged numbers benefitted from backing vocals courtesy of Lillie Mae.
While Sunday's line-up was comparatively lighter when it came to boldface names, Earl Sweatshirt's rhymes felt as relentless as the mid-day sun, and he was joined by Odd Future partner-in-crime Tyler, The Creator (before sprinting across the field and returning the favour during Tyler's set). J. Cole's set suffered from inane banter and his sampling of classic songs (Outkast's "SpottieOttieDopaliscious") only highlighted his deficiencies as a vocalist (ironic that a rapper with a song titled "Let Nas Down" would play the same stage the man himself played last year's Governors Ball). The Kills and Interpol, fresh off playing Toronto's Field Trip the previous night, dug deep into their discographies, while James Blake's set was decidedly more pared down and ended with the U.K. artist looping the crowd's cheering for a song. Finally, after a long weekend, Vampire Weekend's closing set was the perfect gentle comedown, the final notes of fan favourites "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" and "Diplomat's Son" ringing clear into the summer breeze and across the East River.