Governors Ball 2012 Recap

<p> <a href="features/features/governors_ball_2012_recap/" target="_self"><img src="" alt="Governors Ball 2012 Recap" /></a> </p> <p> In 2010, New York City's Governors Island (<a href="reviews/venue_reviews/governors_island/" target="_blank"><b>QRO venue review</b></a>) opened up to concerts...
Governors Ball 2012 Recap

Governors Ball 2012 Recap

In 2010, New York City’s Governors Island (QRO venue review) opened up to concerts with ‘Gone To Governors’ free concert series.  It didn’t come back last year, but instead there was the one-day regular, electronic festival Governors Ball (QRO recap).  And in 2012, Governors Ball did come back – but not to Governors Island, but instead moving from south of Manhattan to northeast of it, on Randall’s Island.  More importantly, the festival doubled in size to two days, Saturday for electro similar to the inaugural year, but also Sunday for more indie-rock, June 23rd & 24th.

Governors gates

Randall’s Island actually proved pretty easy to get to by bus from 125th Street (it was also pretty easy to spot others who we’re gonna take the bus, as they seemed to be the only white people at the 125th Street Harlem subway stop), at least if you were heading there before noon – though there were no signs after you were let off on Randall’s Island; literally had to wander until you saw some tents (after realizing that the people you were following also didn’t know where to go…).

Randall's Island ferry

Governors fanGovernors familyThe festival grounds itself wasn’t massive, about the distance of a football field (or pitch) between the two stages (‘Honda’ and ‘Hype Machine’) – that had likely made necessary what Governors Ball billed as a positive, that there were no overlapping sets, as the two stages were too close together for two bands to be playing simultaneously.

Randall's Island


Fosters oil canBetween the two stages lay your usual line-up of food stalls, and even some food trucks, beer sellers (including twenty-four ounce Fosters ‘Oil Can’ – though not every beer stall had it, but the ones that didn’t would cheer whenever you tipped), Camelbak watering stations, trash/recycling cans (usually with someone from watching to make sure the right stuff went in the right can), port-a-potties (guys, kick the seat up before you pee…), and merch tent, as well as games like croquet and cornhole.

Governors fans


tan Governors fanGovernors skyHowever, there wasn’t much shade on what turned out to be two beautiful, but very sunny & hot days – one’s best bet to stay out of the sun was to go to the far side of the area, up a grassy incline under some trees near the food trucks, or duck under the big tree near the Hype Machine Stage.  Right near that tree, Ben & Jerry’s was giving out free samples of two new flavors of Greek frozen yogurt, Raspberry Chocolate Chunks and Banana Peanut Butter – both team-ups of good flavors that probably were better left alone.

find some shade!
Governors fans




K. Flay, 11:45 AM

K. Flay

K. FlayClick image for full gallery

In the unenviable task of playing very first on Day One was rapper K. Flay.  Considering that her set started before noon, and just fifteen minutes after gates opened (the ‘no overlapping sets’ also meant that Governors Ball had to use every minute it could), it wasn’t surprising that there wasn’t a big crowd.  Still trying to figure out what her accent is…

K. Flay


Art Vs. Science, 12:15 PM

get out from behind that kit!Click image for full gallery

get a keytar!Shiny silver suits came on the boys from Sydney, Art Vs. Science.  Playing the second-to-last date of their U.S. tour, on which they’d gone through seven of those silver suits, AVS were a nice surprise.  They had energetic electro-rock with mock-horror elements – only wish that they weren’t tied down to their keys (even the drummer broke free from his kit for a moment); somebody get these boys some keytars!

Art Vs. Science



Walk the Moon, 12:50 PM

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Walk the MoonA band with a guitar!  And with face paint.  Walk the Moon were upbeat, but also modern disco-ish, and had the crowd rocking.  There were definitely some people there for the band (you could tell by the face paint), thanks to their killer single “Anna Sun” – which the group of course ended with.

If K. Flay was the unfortunate first act of this festival, Art Vs. Science the nice early surprised, then Walk the Moon was the set worth showing up early for.

Walk the Moon


Penguin Prison, 1:25 PM

Penguin Prison

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And Penguin Prison was the first set to draw a serious crowd.  But why?  Their modern electro-disco wasn’t a standout, and it felt like they went on for a while.  That’s a significant problem with a ‘no overlapping sets’ festival – if you’re not into the band playing, and there’s always going to be some at a festival, you’ve got nothing else to watch.

Penguin Prison


Big Gigantic, 2:10 PM

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But nobody felt like they went on as long as Big Gigantic.  Drums + saxophone + some remix-style beats?  They certainly had a big crowd, but do they do anything more than this?  Apparently not.

Big Gigantic


Santigold, 3:00 PM

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Also making Big Gigantic seem like went on too long was that they were playing before perhaps the most anticipated set of Governors Ball, Santigold.  Things have been getting very big for the dance/hip-hop/world/more diva; it was kind of surprising that she didn’t play higher up on the bill.  One could call her the ‘next M.I.A.’, but that overrated, overexposed celebrity only wishes she was as good as Santigold.

SantigoldAfter some sound problems during her first song (or at least she seemed to think she had sound problems – it is annoying when artists stop playing because of sound problems that no one in the crowd can hear), Santigold danced up a storm – including not only her own dancers behind her, but also inviting members of the audience on stage to dance (but warned them to give her girls some space).  Admittedly, that’s the same thing she’s been doing all year (like at South-by-Southwest – QRO recap), but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Santigold & dancers


Special Disco Version, 3:45 PM

Special Disco Version

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Any electro-heavy festival is going to have a DJ set.  Last year Governors Ball had Passion Pit doing one Murphy & Mahoney discuss(QRO photos), not a terrible choice, but there are very few artists who can do exciting DJ sets without special effects – Moby is one (QRO photos DJing), and Special Disco Version is another (maybe the only other…).  Formed by James Murphy and Pat Mahoney of the late, lamented LCD Soundsystem (QRO live review), Special Disco Version isn’t LCDS, and still wasn’t exactly fascinating to watch, but strong beats.

Special Disco Version


Major Lazer, 4:25 PM

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climbing the scaffoldingOn the other side of the vinyl record is Major Lazer, which not only had the beats from acclaimed spinner Diplo (QRO photos), but also excellent hype-man activities from Switch (QRO photos).  Not to mention dancers (one of whom climbed halfway up the scaffolding) and giant inflatable ‘M’ and ‘L’ – plus crowd-surfing dancers and Switch crowd-surfing in a plastic bubble (though Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips is the master of that – QRO photos).

Major Lazer had the crowd going from the start, not just hands up in the air or jumping, but demanding that the crowd take their shirts off and wave them in the air – and that specifically included the ladies…

Flaming Lips did it!
Major Lazer


Atmosphere, 5:25 PM

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Day One of Governors Ball had been leaning more towards electro than rhymes since K. Flay finished her set (see above), but the rhymes came back in the form of Minnesota’s Atmosphere.  They were a little more political/activist (t-shirt said “#FilmThePolice”), but also rhymed about smacking butts, “‘Cause we’re old school as hell!”  And security surprisingly didn’t care about girls getting on guys shoulders for a better view – stopping that is usually what security at a festival spends most of their time doing.



Chromeo, 6:20 PM

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Chromeo O-O!”  You have to admit that Chromeo know how to put on a show.  And they have been doing electro longer than most in today’s hot electro scene.  And the duo has back-up singers straight out of the classic video for Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love”.  And Chromeo were some of the first to bring back the eighties, not just the “Addicted To Love” video but also their homage to Dire Straits’ classic “Money For Nothing” video in Chromeo’s own “Bonafied Lovin'” video.

Chromeo played hits like “Tenderoni” and “Bonafied” in their only NYC show this year, and even had security dancing – plus said how much they love girls on shoulders…

you're addicted to Chromeo



Duck Sauce, 7:25 PM

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‘The set between Chromeo and Passion Pit’ was DJs Duck Sauce.  They did their song “Barbara Streisand”, and had a big inflatable duck behind them.  Other than that, was basically a chance to catch your breath.

Duck Sauce


Passion Pit, 8:30 PM

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Passion Pit are back!  The biggest indietronica band since The Postal Service had a massive hit in single “Sleepyhead”, and now they have to follow-up their debut Manners (QRO review) with Gossamer.  That’s a tall order, but new single “Take a Walk” has been doing a good job so far.  The new stuff wasn’t as sweet as “Sleepyhead”, but what is?  And that’s how the group ended their set, with an encore return going “higher and higher”…

Passion Pit


Kid Cudi, 9:50 PM

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Kid CudiFor some reason, there was still Kid Cudi to perform, even though Passion Pit were billed as the headliners.  Hey, let’s just be happy KC didn’t cancel like he so frequently does (such as at Montreal’s Osheaga Festival last year – QRO recap) – maybe that’s why he was scheduled last.  A lot of people left before/during his set, but those who were there for Kid Cudi – and he has a lot of fans – got to see their man.

Kid Cudi


Governors Ball



Turf War, 11:45 AM

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Day Two of Governors Ball thankfully kicked off with some rock ‘n’ roll in Atlanta’s Turf War.  They weren’t exactly wildly original garage-rock, especially this close to Brooklyn, but you’re not looking for original at the very start of a day of a festival.

Turf War


Alberta Cross, 12:45 PM

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Alberta CrossThe more country Alberta Cross didn’t start off too well, with a bit of a tiresome soundcheck, and the frontman clearly wishes he was Jack White (QRO album review) – and that his band were bigger/playing later in the day.  Still, they were good, if not inspired, country/rock, and got better as they went on.

Alberta Cross


The Jezebels, 12:50 PM

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Even before they started, there was too much bass in the speakers for The Jezebels, literally sending people in the crowd away from the stage.  Had kind of expected more from this group, who’s had serious success in their native Australia, but they were just a mildly electro pop/rock band.  Probably better if you knew their stuff, but in the Governors Ball Aussie showdown of Art Vs. Science (see above) vs. The Jezebels, the boys in shiny silver suits win.

The Jezabels


Freelance Whales, 1:35 PM

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There was a big crowd for Freelance Whales, and they deserved it, as they were really the first band to arrive for on Day Two.  The group had just finished recording a new album, so new songs were in their set list.  FW probably could have played later in the day, but had the right sort of spring/summer brightness for the time of day that they did play (and they can also do summer/fall, like on their WeathervanesQRO review).


Freelance Whales


Phantogram, 2:20 PM

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The darker indietronica of Phantogram fits more at night, or on Day One of Governors Ball.  Still, even if they couldn’t get the crowd raving, Phantogram could reach for atmospherics.  They mentioned that they recently moved to New York from Saratoga Springs, but there were some upstaters in the crowd, too.




Cults, 3:05 PM

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The very summery sounds of Cults played nicely to a very healthy crowd (including a long line for water and a packed tent for beer pong).  Cults aren’t exactly revolutionary, but sweet and cheerful, and do the neo-sixties girl-group better than most.  They also benefited from having more than one single, so could play “You Know What I Mean” in the middle of their set, and end with breakthrough “We Go Outside”.



Devendra Banhart, 3:50 PM

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Natalie Portman ex Devendra Banhart had a relaxed sound at Governors, but also kind of Jack Johnson-y, though funnier, more self-deprecating (this ain’t no Mellow Show…).  If this was as hippie-jam as Governors Ball got, that’s a million times better than most festivals.

Devandra Banhart


Built To Spill, 4:40 PM

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Well, there’s still Built To Spill.  They’re kind of an ideal band to have at your festival, because they’re established enough that people have heard of them, without being so big that they have to carry the fest; Built to Spillthey’re undoubtedly skilled and accomplished enough that they’re enjoyable to listen to, without being so much to one genre as to put other people off; they fit in indie, they fit in jam, they fit in rock.  Built To Spill are kind of meat-and-potatoes indie-rock, but they have been serving that menu for many successful years now.  Though did Governors Ball need yet another nice-but-not-gripping band?


Built to Spill


Cage the Elephant, 5:30 PM

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Cage the ElephantWhile both Turf War and Alberta Cross (see above) weren’t revelatory, at least Turf War had a kick-ass attitude, and Alberta Cross had some definite skill.  Cage the Elephant felt like the middle of that middling field – even less impressive.  Suppose that there was some psych-rock in there, but it was even less special.  There was a reason all the food stalls had lines during this set – people were getting their grub before Fiona Apple.

Cage the Elephant


Fiona Apple, 6:20 PM

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Fiona AppleThere were big cheers as Fiona Apple took the stage, and why not?  It’s basically her return to NYC (not counting small club shows she did earlier this year, put on by BrooklynVegan), as part of this year’s return tour behind The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.  And she started her set with a perfect choice, “Fast As You Can” – an old song, an old single, but not her most famous song; she ended with “Criminal”, of course (though didn’t play “Shadowboxer” – apparently she hates it).  Apple was less compelling when she was playing the keys, but that was just because she was more tied down.  She busted a move when not singing or playing, in response to the music – when it got slow/low volume, she went near stationary, only to get active again when the music did.

Fiona Apple


Explosions In the Sky, 7:25 PM

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The definition of post-rock – accept no substitutes.  Explosions In the Sky are more hopeful, less tragic than other post-rock outfits.  Like Built to Spill (see above), Explosions can fit in any festival – whereas as BtS overlap a lot of genres, EItS are primordial/original.  And you don’t have to worry about the vocal-less band not playing their hit single…

Explosions In the Sky


Modest Mouse, 8:30 PM

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Last year, Modest Mouse‘s Brooklyn show at Williamsburg Waterfront (QRO venue review) was rained out, forcing a make-up date, and singer Isaac Brock thanked the crowd for being okay with that.  He also joked about having Isaac Brockopened for Metallica the day before at Orion Fest in New Jersey (QRO Festival Guide) – Governors did face stiff competition from that festival happening the same weekend in the tri-state area, but NYC is better than NJ (and this comes from a Jersey native), and anything is better than Lulu (QRO review)…

And if even you didn’t get swept up in the Modest Mouse “Float On” indie-hits-it-big in 2004, you can still enjoy the group – and there were many in the crowd who’d come specifically for Modest Mouse.

Modest Mouse


Beck, 9:45 PM

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But they still ain’t Beck.  In a festival that had a number of welcome returns, none was more welcome than your favorite musical non-conformist.  After 2008’s Modern Guilt (QRO review), Beck shifted into producing other people’s records – great names like Thurston Moore (Demolished ThoughtsQRO review) and Stephen Malkmus (Mirror TrafficQRO review).  BeckBut all of that took time away from him making & playing his own stuff – until now.  2012 has seen a virtual ‘reunion tour’ for the artist, including getting the same bunch of musicians behind him he’s had all the way back to Odelay (QRO deluxe edition review).

And Beck didn’t shirk from Odelay or other old songs – he didn’t just do Odelay‘s “Devil’s Haircut”, but indeed did the song that broke him through, classic debut Mellow Gold‘s ultra-classic “Loser”.  However, he did seem to leave behind the party-funk of Midnight Vultures (no “Sexx Laws”) for his sadder fare like Sea Change‘s “Lost Cause”.  But Beck is the rare musician who can do numerous different styles and pull it all off.  Who knows what he’s going to do next, but you know it’ll be good.



Governors Ball

Governors mohawkWhereas Governors Ball 2011 was a sort of junior version of Electric Zoo (which happens over the three-day Labor Day Weekend – on Randall’s Island), Governors 2012 was sort of the East Coast version of San Francisco’s Treasure Island (QRO 2010 photos), with one day electro, one day indie.  It was also nicely situated in the city with easy access, but also outdoors on (almost entirely) green grass (the weather certainly helped out).  It wasn’t Coachella (QRO photos), but instead a nice, easy festival, giving you what you want, where you want it.


-words: Ted Chase
-photos: Derek Klevitz
Governors fans



Governors Ball

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