(Scroll down for more photos)
Brooklyn | 17.00
The 8th annual Afropunk Festival happened this weekend at Commodore Barry Park. At a glance, it is basically a celebration of alternative black music and culture (that is, a culture of black youth that is something other than R&B/hip-hop or reggae–that is, rock, metal, corner of the room weirdness . . . but they do throw in some hip-hop as somewhat of a concession, by booking someone like Danny Brown who is super hype but still maintains enough weirdness to keep the festival legit). While it would’ve been nice to have acquired a photographer’s badge to capture some of the headlining acts from the weekend, that didn’t happen and I came down with an illness that limited my participation to Sunday, leaving me to my best devices for the blog. In a way, it worked out for both of us . . .
(Long, personal music tangent: I did my growing up in the 90s, attended 3 high schools in 3 different cities and, barring just a couple of exceptions, I was the kid of colour who had a known, public affinity to rock music. I got into playing guitar because of Jimi Hendrix and Prince, but I started writing songs and developing my style from The Edge, Billy Corgan and Jonny Greenwood. I’d argue that Pearl Jam was a better band than Nirvana, Blur better than Oasis–OK, I was wrong about that, and that Tidal and Ok Computer were the two albums that had the most profound effect on me as a teenager. I was listening to The Crash Test Dummies one hit at the moment a friend relayed to me that Kurt Cobain died. . . . See, when I was growing up, I had the alternative culture, but basically I was the only one like me in it. In fact, I didn’t meet another person of colour who was as into the same bands as I was until I travelled to California on Christmas holiday during my sophomore year of high school. I ran into her at a record shop . . . and still remember her name almost 20 years later because it was such a revelation. The thing about that alternative culture though, was that it worked both ways: I was the only kid like me, but there weren’t really any bands like me, either. Living Colour were for Generation X and from the 80s; Sevendust was a couple of years past my personal apex. Sprinkled in there were a couple of talented black drummers for bands like Yellowcard and Local H. After I graduated high school and with the emergence of the internet entering every household, I started seeing more and more afro-punks creeping up, but at first they resided on the goth side of the fence. It remained like that for a long time. Looking back, I’m sure there were more kids out there like me, dealing with identity issues based on something as simply and non-sensical yet incredibly important as music, but without social medias and forums and the internet community as a global community the way it is now, how could I have ever hoped to find them? It was impossible. So, I had Prince.)
There are three things I can’t get past about Afropunk: One, the festival has gone from a place once dominated by true black punk heads to now being almost wholly diverse and inclusive. This year there were just as many whites as blacks, just as many novices whom I’d swear didn’t know who 85% of the acts were but were just along out of curiosity or hype or the want to discover something new–bless them–and the general mood wasn’t that of any music festival, there was this feeling of . . . happiness . . . that could not be quantified. Second, Afropunk has turned into the premier event for fashionable black youth. On the train ride home, a group of young white people who had been at the festival were describing the experience to a man who’d asked (he saw one boy wearing an Afropunk tank), and at one point the boy stopped and thought about it, and he said, “Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many different cool sneakers in my life before.” The last thing I wanted to mention about Afropunk, and perhaps this is only of slight, personal importance, I saw so many aspiring, young photographers out there. Okay it’s a festival–of course there’s going to be a ton of people running around with camera, but I know the difference between a person with a camera and photographer on the hussle. It was significant. American governments can continue to talk about progress and change and equality and what have you, but when I see so many young people actively out empowering the idea of progression, I know that we’ve come a long way since the days of sitting in my room listening to “1979”.
*One last note: the photos in this spread do the best to capture the overall feel of the festival itself. Since I didn’t receive a commission to cover the artists I didn’t, although I want to mention that the band Vintage Trouble really killed it on Sunday. I actually took many more great street style than are in this post; I’ll be posting them as standalone portraits throughout the week.