Two sold out Nights of Hassle Fest 9 at ONCE Ballroom, two photographers giving their perspectives on the cities best & only underground music festival thrown by us (who else?)! From the dopest rhymes in the city to avant lynchpins old & new to music that just makes you feel all warm & fuzzy inside, this years fest had everything. But before we get too excited about next year, let us revel one last time in the reality bending experience that was, Hassle Fest 9.
Words & Photo’s by Omari Spears & Ben Stas
It’s hard to emphasise in writing how much of a good time Hassle Fest 9 was. On November 10th and 11th musical acts representing a wide range of genres put on a series of sets, going back and forth between two stages at ONCE Ballroom in Somerville. I was able to experience Friday from start to finish and most of Saturday, leaving after Buck Gooter’s set wrapped up. Despite having been on my feet for hours, photographing different acts all night, I was still able to lose myself in every unique performance, become excited when watching some of my local favorites play and discover a bunch of new artists. My usual post-concert recap is “that was sick!” or sometimes if I’m feeling incredibly amped “that was super sick!” but I’ll try to describe Hassle Fest in more detail.
Friday was kicked off by the duo from L U C Y, starting their set almost the instant they touched the stage. They set the tone for the great assortment of acts and energy that the rest of the night would bring. Day one featured a handful of rappers, all with their own unique styles. Rex Mac and Nick Shea performed earlier in the day with more old-school inspired sets while Solo Sexx and Brandie Blaze, both supported by DJ lunamariposa, came through with a mix of upbeat and aggressive moods. Later in the day Ed Balloon brought some of that same energy back, dancing and dominating the stage with his usual brand of free energy. The day also featured the visually and sonically immersive sets of Viki and Trim, some of the first noise artists I’d seen perform live. Isabella’s electronic set was similarly immersive, the Boston-based electronic musician had everyone in the room dancing.
In addition to some of Friday’s upbeat sets there were some more intimate performances: A rare, but just as thrilling solo set from Xiu Xiu as well as Sidney Gish’s impressive use of loops and clever songwriting were both captivating. Erica Eso and Lost Dog added some great band performances to the mix, contrasting Friday’s solo/duo heavy lineup.
To wrap Friday up Dan Deacon took the stage, leading the audience through a colorful musical journey, with a healthy portion of audience participation. After the stellar lineup of day one I looked forward to discovering new artists on Saturday and having a similarly good time.
Even though I had to head out early on Saturday I was still able to have a blast. Salem Wolves and Leopard Print Taser got the ball rolling, both with incredibly passionate performances. The next performance by SEA set the room up for a heavier vibe, followed up by Mar who kept the mood going and showed off some mid-set instrument changes. Yahkel’s duo matched some of the day’s larger bands in terms of energy despite only operating with a guitar/bass and drums.
Saturday had a lot of faster, heavier hitting bands, beginning with Rejiem. The trios from Escuela and Goolagoon were some of my favorite from the entire weekend, both fronted by vocalists who put on top notch performances. The loud and explosive Diabolical Fiend set helped to keep this mood going, and later in the night Allston punks, Nice Guys added their punk style to the mix. Ak’chamel, The Giver of Illness and Lady Pills were a good reminder of the huge variety of performers at Hassle Fest, shifting things back towards a more psychedelic and ambient mood.
The last two sets that I got to see Saturday from Creative Healing and Buck Gooter were a good way to wrap up the Hassle Fest weekend. Compared to the rest of the acts I’d seen that day Creative Healing stood out as being uniquely jazzy, while Buck Gooter’s performance was more in line with the aggressive energy I’d settled into throughout the day.
As someone who has a blast at almost any live music event, Hassle Fest 9 was a dream come true. Being on my feet for hours, trying to get cool photos of a wide array of different genres and energies was something I loved doing. Getting the opportunity to learn about a lot of new bands by seeing them put on amazing on-stage performances helped to add to my endlessly growing list of favorite shows. Needless to say, Hassle Fest 9 was super sick.
If I’ve learned anything in four years of covering Hassle Fest, it’s to expect the unexpected. From both a musical and visual perspective, it’s like nothing else in town. This year’s 34 acts spanned everything from singer/songwriters to hardcore bands, noise acts, psych-rockers, post-punk legends, local rappers, techno producers and beyond – and that’s what makes the festival such a thrill as a photographer and as a music fan.
Returning to Somerville’s ONCE Ballroom after a 2-year stint at Brighton Music Hall, Hassle Fest 9 divided its genre-hopping madness into an electronic-leaning Friday and a guitar-heavy Saturday. Night one’s festivities were highlighted by an unnerving audience-interactive noise set from Trim, Ed Balloon’s manic energy and the always affable Dan Deacon’s weirdo dance party. Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart played my personal favorite set of the night, adapting to an absent bandmate by swapping out the duo’s usual noise pop for a gorgeous solo electric set. He warned that it could be disastrous; it was decidedly not.
Saturday, the 20-act long-haul of the festival’s two days, started off with the charming power-pop of locals Salem Wolves before delving into a heavy run of punk, metal and grind. Sea’s cosmic sludge and Escuela’s furious missives were standouts. Elsewhere, local fixtures Lady Pills showcased their continued evolution with a moody set evoking Warpaint (who they recently shared a bill with in town), while Mission of Burma’s Roger Miller showed off a nuanced side with his Trinary System project – and played a killer Suicide cover.
The night’s closing run was among the best of the past four years, featuring the hip-hop-via-garage-rock of Ohio’s Obnox, NYC no-wave revivalists Pill, the enduring institution that is Cleveland’s Pere Ubu and the enveloping psychedelic chaos of Sunburned Hand of the Man before closing out with Chicago’s Ono. A highlight of 2015’s fest, Ono were stellar once more with their singular blend of experimental post-punk gospel. The mononymous Travis, in robe and wedding dress, led a transfixing late-night performance to close out the weekend.
Hassle Fest is approaching a full decade of boundary-pushing, and its ninth edition showed no signs of slowing down. November wouldn’t be the same without it.