What do ambient zither player Laraaji, South African lo-fi gqom music and piano bar renditions of Gucci Mane tunes all have in common? Not a whole lot—save for the fact you can find all these sounds and more at this year’s edition of Red Bull Music Academy Festival. The month-long event returns to the city with its typically eclectic selection of the most innovative music around—from club DJs spinning the best techno songs and best house music songs to experimental ambient artists. And as always, you can expect more than just concerts. The fest also features lectures from the likes of groundbreaking filmmaker Werner Herzog and experimental music pioneer Alvin Lucier, as well as an art installation (and performance) from none other than R&B popstar Solange. Here are our favorite selections from the hefty calendar to get you started.
Red Bull Music Festival takes place April 29–May 21. Visit the official website to grab tickets and see the full schedule.
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Best acts at Red Bull Music Academy Festival
This Red Bull Music Academy event highlights the unique block party culture emerging in the favelos of Brazil: funk parties in the street known as fluxos, soundtracked by music blasting from car trunk stereos. Sharing strong similarities to Miami bass music, electro and cumbia, the music favors brazen aesthetics and explosive sounds. Here, hitmaker MC Bin Laden (of viral "Bololo Haha" fame) leads the party alongside MC Carol, Venus X (pictured), Leo Justi, Tom DJ and Detroit booty bass legend DJ Assault.
Red Bull Music Academy takes listeners on a 10-hour ambient odyssey, traveling through a hefty range of trance-inducing deep-listening experiences. Highlights include: Julianna Barwick's vast choral arrangements woven from her looped seraphic vocals; Brian Eno collaborator and multi-instrumentalist Laraaji conjuring mystical sounds from the zither; and Mary Lattimore's knotted, sparkling harp experiments. Also playing are Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith (pictured), Huerco S., Dorit Chrysler & Rob Schwimmer and a specially prepared performance by Chino Amobi & Johnny Utterback.
Red Bull Music Academy spotlights one of the city's most formative late ’80s music scenes. The term "mew jack swing” was coined to mark the crucial cultural moment in Harlem where hip-hop and R&B first converged in hybrid music, fashion and dance styles. Iconic DJs from the era like Brucie B and Kid Capri (pictured) take to the decks alongside contemporary legends like Just Blaze.
Armed with deconstructed samples of jazz, blues, funk and gospel, Moodymann (a.k.a. Kenny Dixon Jr.) helped re-invent Detroit house and techno music in the ’90s with his own grimy spin on the genres. Here the turntablist legend pays tribute to an idol of his own for Red Bull Music Academy, spinning nothing but Prince all night long—B-sides, unreleased tracks, party-starters, deep cuts and more.
At this afternoon club event, Red Bull Music Academy hosts the most innovative waves in the city's underground queer party scene, bringing together inventive DJs from various local collectives. Helming the decks you'll find: art-world luminary Juliana Huxtable; Brooklyn-via-Jamaica producer Tygapaw (pictured) of Fake Accent; stud1nt and FXWRK of local queer collective KUNQ; Discwoman's Bearcat; and members of Papi Juice.
A minimal, lo-fi version of South African house music, gqom—which means "hit" or "drum" in Zulu—is an emerging dance trend in the coastal city of Durban. The stripped-down, percussive genre has an avid fandom abroad. Red Bull Music Academy brings a number of the genre's primary creators—including DJ Lag, Rudeboyz and DJ Twitty—this side of the Atlantic for the first time.
Is Gucci Mane a clone? Ever since getting out of prison last May, hip-hop icon Gucci Mane has been dogged by conspiracy theories suggesting as much. Authentic or faux, whoever's going about as "Gucci" these days has some intriguing plans in store for this year's edition of Red Bull Music Academy: piano bar renditions of his tunes with fellow Atlantan producer Zaytoven.
With last year's landmark release A Seat at the Table—a pointed, expansive pop statement on black womanhood—Solange Knowles broke far beyond the confines of her older sister's shadow. Here the newly coronated R&B icon re-imagines those songs through an exploratory performance art endeavor at the Guggenheim that incorporates movement, installation and reconstructed musical arrangements.
For a decade now, Brooklyn label Sacred Bones has hosted an outré collection of sounds ranging from power electronics, noise-pop, psych-rock and experimental folk. Tying them altogether is a somber aesthetic vision that sits loosely between gothic Americana and post-post-punk. For Red Bull Music Academy, the label celebrates its 10-year anniversary with a bill of its most inventive artists: disarming, supernatural-sounding pop artist Jenny Hval, grandiose synth-maestro Zola Jesus (pictured), ethereal vocalist Marissa Nadler, punishing punk outfit the Men and more.