Juice Jam 2017

Juice Jam 2017 proves to be a mixed bag

Review: The Diplo-headlined music festival started strong, but petered out as the audience dwindled.

By 11 a.m. buses full of glittery girls in crop tops and boys in partially buttoned Hawaiian shirts and started the trek to South Campus. The lineup at Juice Jam 2017 consisted of Diplo, Ugly God, MØ, Smallpools, and Jeremy Zucker. The first three sets would’ve been enough to fill the fun day of music most students were looking for, but Ugly God and Diplo’s sets left something to be desired.

Photo: Abby Rose Sugnet
Popular EDM artist Diplo headlined at Juice Jam 2017.

Jeremy Zucker took the mainstage to start off Juice Jam around 1 p.m. He started his set with “Shut Your Mouth” from his EP Motions, showing off his dancehall and R&B influences with tin drum synths and smooth slow vocals. The outdoor concert setting was the ideal backdrop for his crisp melodic vocals, which are usually at least a little digitized in his recordings. As the audience responded with cheers, Zucker seemed to relax more on stage, grinning and dancing himself. Halfway through his set, he pulled out a guitar for “Flying Kites” and a purely reproduction-style cover of James Bay’s “Hold Back the River.”

He did such a nice job channeling the beach feeling with just his simple guitar riffs and voice that it was almost a shame when he went back to relying on his prerecorded backtrack and synth pad. While he excels in Dirty Heads style summer jams, he seems determined to be the vocal chorus highlight of rap tunes. Zucker played a prerecorded rap verse by Blackbear in “Talk Is Overrated” and brought friends Daniel James and Benjamin O out for his finale “Bout It.” While these songs still have the power to transport audiences, they weren’t being transpoted to relaxing islands, and found themselves in smoke-filled clubs instead. After inviting out Daniel James and Benjamin O, the trio performed almost exclusively at audience level, in the space between the barricade and the stage, and they clearly enjoyed that level of interaction. Despite the slow-tempo of his catalogue, Zucker was a great opener, setting the tone for a fun day with his 9-song set.

Only a few minutes after Zucker finished, Smallpools took the side stage, seducing a chunk of the main audience. The trio, joined by their touring bassist, started the set with “Over and Over” off their first album Lovetap!. Smallpools made the most of their tiny stage. Singer Sean Scanlon danced behind his keyboard and guitarist Mike Kamerman jumped and grinned as he tore through riffs. The band was, however, met with a hiccup not long into their set with the sound cutting out completely at the end of their second song, “Mason Jar.” The audience was extremely forgiving starting a chant of “Drum solo,” since the barely miked instrument still cut through the crowd. Smallpools, however, weren’t quite as forgiving, saying, “We are the professional band, Smallpools… It’s a joke because that was something that happens to unprofessional bands.”

They kept the party going with a mixture of songs off their debut Lovetap! and their recent EP The Science of Letting Go (“Passenger Side,” “Million Bucks”) taking advantage of Scanlon’s twangy bubbly vocals and Beau Kuther’s snappy dance drum beats. Crossing into grunge, they did a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” making it their own with keys and polished vocals while keeping it slow and sad. The only thing keeping them from sounding just like their recordings were the slight cracking of Scanlon’s voice whenever he headed for falsetto and the hasty mixing, which let the keys and guitar overpower the vocals in half the band's choruses. By the end of the set, the whole crowd was bouncing and singing along. One concertgoer even brought a blow-up whale that was tossed around during Smallpools’ song “Killer Whale.” They ended their forty-minute set with their hit “Dreaming.”

The show reached its pinnacle with ’s set. Starting with her hit “Cold Water,” MØ grooved slow as she sang and danced as hard as the audience. While her singing voice has a powerful timbre, her speaking voice is timid and betrays her modest personality. At least a dozen girls in the crowd had convinced someone to put them on their shoulders and they screamed every lyric back at No Mythologies to Follow but she made sure to include brand new tracks like “Nights with You” off her much-anticipated sophomore effort.

Throughout songs like “Final Song” MØ dove straight into the audience, dancing and crowd-surfing. She seemed to be having just as much fun as the audience which showed in her stellar performance and the crowd’s overwhelmingly positive response. Giving a nod to the headliner, Diplo, MØ ended her set with “Lean On.” After her set was over, small packs of satisfied audience members started the trek back to Skytop Apartments.

The Juice Jam Look

SU Students at Juice Jam 2017

Students at Juice Jam 2017 (Photos: Emily Elconin and Abby Rose Sugnet)

The remaining audience was subjected to the disgusting, misogynistic stylings of Ugly God, who came out on the stage chanting, “Face, titties, booty, and toes.” Ugly God, also known as Royce Davison, relied so heavily on his backtrack he frequently faded into lip-syncing his own raps or would be outshone by his recordings. It was like watching someone perform karaoke. His lyrics sounded like a collection of millennial buzzwords as seen in the song “Bernie Sanders” which consist of “Wrist game, Bernie Sanders / Trap, trap Bernie Sanders / Dick game, Bernie Sanders / Swag, swag Bernie Sanders.” The majority of his lyrics consist of language that shouldn’t be quoted.

His biggest achievement as a performer was realizing people just really like screaming, and his narcissism abused this as he had the audience chant “Thank you, Ugly God” at the abrupt end of every track. He was backed up by a DJ who barely touched the DJ equipment set up in front of him. The epitome of audience interest came when Ugly God asked them to chant a certain curse word for almost five minutes and later when he asked them to flip him off and curse his name (the opposite of what he had them do the rest of the set). He also took time to ask the audience “an honest question”: “If you beat your meat, make some... noise.” This led into his classic “Beat My Meat” which tells the story of a man who masturbates despite being able to have sex with whoever he wants and is backed by an extremely generic ringtone on repeat. He finished off his set with “Water,” about ejaculating on the women he sleeps with. His 40-minute set was painfully long.

Diplo finally hit the stage around 4:30 p.m. By 5 the audience had halved with swarms of students dancing off towards Skytop Apartments and the busses that’d take them back to campus. The screens that’d bounced between audience footage and the artists was split with Diplo’s setup between the two making him look like a floating torso with headphones floating among animated black and white dinosaurs, seductively dancing women, and striped skulls. His set ranged from Kanye West to Red Hot Chili Peppers and his ability to read the audience fluctuated. At times he nailed it, telling them to bounce or raise their hands, at other times he’d make a quick switch to a slow song, and lose the audience he had left.

For the most part, though, he turned the outdoor festival into the best basement dance party anyone’s ever been to. The difference was, this time, there was plenty of room to dance, and students took advantage of it, kicking up the gravel and grooving through the dust. The only problem was, there was only so much of a difference between dancing to his set and dancing to the front-of-house music between acts, which made his set feel overlong. The highlight of the set was when he acquired a sloth head that someone in the audience had been wearing and wore it while playing “Lean On.” Diplo ended with a high note playing Vengaboy’s “We Like to Party!” and encouragedthe audience to keep partying and, possibly, skip class the next day.

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