Over the past eight years, Gorilla vs. Bear has done something not many music blogs are afforded the luxury of: It's transcended its local roots and become a national tastemaker, often championing acts that will go on to ascend to buzz heaven (or hell, depending on whom you ask). In music blog years, that kind of endurance is essentially unheard of, as more and more people start up blogs, anoint themselves cultural critics and scream into the void along with everyone else.
Helmed by Chris Cantalini, the site ventured into the fest biz last year with a day-long event at the Granada Theater, which featured Grimes, Shabazz Palaces, White Denim and Pure X, among others. Despite some minor hiccups along the way, it was largely a success.
This year's festival, which takes place Saturday at the Granada, has scaled back a bit, but certainly seems a little more cohesive. It's especially interesting for its wealth of female-fronted acts: The cross-pollination of Portland's Glass Candy and Chromatics; Taken By Trees, the new project of Concretes singer Victoria Bergsman; the dream-funk of Brooklyn's Twin Sister, propelled by singer Andrea Estella; and one-woman synth experiment Laurel Halo, as well as local hip-hop duo A.Dd+ and house DJ Sober. Perhaps the lineup is notable because we don't get lady-centric lineups like this in Dallas that often.
Gorilla Vs. Bear Fest
Still, as the site has matured, so have Cantalini's tastes, progressing into more minimal, electronic and underground realms. I asked him a bit about that progression, this year's fest and how he stays on top of new music in a time when attention spans are practically non-existent.
What did you try to do different this year? Was there an effort to make it more cohesive? Were there things you tried last year that didn't work?
We had a few issues with timing and curfew last year, and everything felt pretty rushed toward the end of the night, so we obviously didn't want to encounter the same problems again. And this way, each artist will essentially be playing a full set, as opposed to the abbreviated festival-style sets we had last year, which felt too short to me in some cases. We kept the option of doing two nights open, and that's probably something we could have done, but we wanted to remain as selective as ever in putting together the lineup. There was no concerted effort to make this year's bill more cohesive. It just sort of worked out that way, and we're all psyched about the way it turned out, because I think the flow of the lineup is going to make for a fun evening.
I noticed the lineup is almost exclusively female-fronted bands, and I know GvB has always included a healthy number of female artists on the blog. Was that just the way it worked out? Did you have other bands on the list?
We certainly didn't go into the planning stages consciously trying to stick to a certain theme or type of artist. If anything, I'd initially hoped to include more hip-hop this year. We had names like Danny Brown, Nicolas Jaar, John Maus, Schoolboy Q, Clams Casino and Flying Lotus on our original short list, as well as plenty of other male- and female-fronted bands, but they didn't work out for whatever reason. Ryan Henry of the Granada and I started contacting artists to gauge their availability, and we had to make decisions based on our limited budget and time slots to put together what I felt was the best possible lineup.
How do you still find time to navigate all the new music?
I stopped trying to listen to everything a long time ago, and the amount of time I spend navigating new music sort of fluctuates depending on what else I have going on, obviously. But I will say that the majority of the songs I post grab me pretty immediately. There have been countless times where I've felt compelled to post something after only listening to it once or twice. In fact, that's probably usually the case.
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I'm also curious about the challenging aspect of a lot of music you feature. How do you decide what makes it onto the blog?
I don't generally think in those terms when I'm deciding what to post. I'll feature anything that elicits a visceral reaction or that I find conceptually or sonically interesting, whether it's a pop artist like Charli XCX or Usher or Tennis (who I've worked with on my record label), or something that's a little more out there and potentially challenging.
Did you sense an artist likes Grimes was going to be big?
While I loved her debut and thought it was brilliant, not many people (relatively speaking) seemed to love it like I did, so I didn't necessarily sense or care at the time whether she was going to be big. I felt like she was definitely capable of eventually creating something amazing as Visions, but I don't think I envisioned the pop music "landscape" or whatever evolving so much over the last few years to create an environment where a record like that could be so massive. That's probably happened a lot over the life of the blog. I just feel like it makes for a more honest and interesting site to just stick with what I love, as opposed to trying to predict what's going to be big.