Three summer festival circuit’s must-see acts — ?Beast Coast, King Princess and Cautious Clay — spoke with Billboard about all things related to music’s favorite season, from pro-tips for first-timers (including themselves) to navigating the challenges of a putting together a larger live show.
The hip-hop supergroup Beast Coast, which features members of Pro Era, Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers, first toured in 2013. But when the act hits the road in May, including a hometown stop at New York’s Governors Ball, the group will perform music from its long-awaited, soon-to-be-released debut. Says Meechy Darko of Flatbush Zombies: “We owed this shit to our fans.”
What are the challenges of performing with so many members?
Joey Bada$$ (Pro Era): Having eight functioning mics. Another challenge is how to masterfully weave in and out of each other’s songs. When you’re one act and performing by yourself? OK, cool. But when you’re performing with another act that brings different energies and sounds, that’s definitely a challenge — but one we look forward to.
What advice would you give an artist playing his or her first festival?
Meechy Darko: Everybody prefers their own headline shows — it’s more intimate, the whole building is singing your songs. Festivals are more of a competition. I may be on the same bill as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but compared to them, no one knows us, so I got to make sure the crowd is going crazy when people walk by. If you don’t have good crowd control and good engagement, it’s not the most fun.
The group is signed to Beast Coast Media, with distribution by Columbia. How involved were they in forming Beast Coast?
Joey Bada$$: This one was all on us. Not discrediting the label and shit, but the label didn’t tell us, “Yo, form together and make Beast Coast.”
Meechy Darko: The label’s not in the group chat talking to each other. The label’s not the one up at 4 in the morning in the studio. All you artists out there: You got to do it yourself. Labels can only do so much.
Joey Bada$$: The label was an afterthought. We were like, “All right, we’re doing this.” We put our feet so deep in it that there’s no getting out. That’s the best thing the label did for us: Make it fucking work. — REGINA CHO
The 20-year-old Brooklyn native born Mikaela Straus frequented Governors Ball in high school (she was there in 2016, when Kanye West’s set was canceled due to severe weather). Although the alt-pop artist insists she’s “not much of a festival girl,” this year, she’ll be playing it, along with Coachella and some other major bookings, as she rolls out her debut album.
You’re signed to Mark Ronson’s Zelig Records. How has the label prepared you for your first major festival season?
[Dryly.] They cut my hair, forced me to dress like a woman, made me paint my nails — no, they’re just like, “Have fun!” They’re making sure that I’m good. We function as a very discussion-based team. We talk about shit, then we do our best to execute it with a budget. That’s how we roll. We started this fucking journey a year ago, and now I’ll be at fucking Coachella.
Who else has given you advice?
I ask Fiona Apple [the two collaborated this year on a new version of Apple’s “I Know”] a lot about what the fuck it was like to play festivals and what I’m supposed to do. Having people like that who are like, “I did this once, and it was really fucked up,” I can then be like, “Right, I’m not going to do that.” You get these war stories from your mentors about festival season, and it’s like, “Oh, shit!”
What is your goal for the festival circuit this summer?
I’m just trying to put on a fucking show. My biggest obsession in the world is high-budget pop-star shows. I went to see Lady Gaga when I was 13 years old in New Jersey and was like, “First of all, I’m gay.” And then I was like, “Oh, my God, this is movie magic put onto the stage.” If there’s a way to do a discounted version of that, an on-sale version, that’s what I want. — LYNDSEY HAVENS
Flute-playing Brooklyn soul singer Joshua Karpeh quit his real estate gig to pursue music in fall 2017. Just one year later, he was making his festival debut as Cautious Clay at All Things Go in Washington, D.C. Now, with his Table of Context EP arriving at the end of March, the 26-year-old independent artist is getting ready for another first: attending, and performing at, New York’s Governors Ball in June.
What are the benefits of playing a festival as an independent artist?
You know where things are going with your money. You can also plan out the way you’re spending your money. I have a lot of merchandise, so it’s just something I definitely think about. And I’m very particular about my setlist, so that’s cool.
What would it take for you to sign with a label?
A lot of money. But even then, I don’t need it, so it doesn’t really make sense. If you have a vision for what you’re trying to do, a label is literally just more people chiming in on your ideas. I’m sure there are labels nowadays that will be like, “We’ll sign you, you can do whatever you want.” But then you don’t own your masters — it’s just increasing their clout. I don’t need that right now.
Do you have a favorite touring memory?
Playing with my uncle [Kai Eckhardt] in San Francisco was really fucking special. He’s a legendary jazz and bass player. He used to tour with Billy Cobham and John McLaughlin — he’s very much in that lane. So I asked him to play with me at The Independent in San Francisco, and he was super down. I had never played with him before. I used to go to his shows when I was a kid; it was definitely full circle. — TATIANA CIRISANO