Isle of Light 2017, Volt Phonic, The Cat Lady
Isle of Light 2017, April 1st, 2017
Maybe it’s Coachella’s fault. But ever since I first visited the Southern California festival seven years ago (how time flies) part of me has always believed that music festivals are meant to be difficult to navigate treasure hunts that—if you play it right—end in the seeing the perfect artist, at the perfect time, with the perfect people. (Read: Anyone who won’t talk over the set.) But while getting to Santo Domingo from my home in Los Angeles was tricky (hello early morning flight!) nothing about Isle of Light felt difficult.
Located on a strip of land called San Souci that juts up against some of the most jaw-droopingly turquoise water in existence, Isle of Light is easily one of the prettiest festivals I’ve ever attended. But the real selling point? The grounds only held three-thousand people (Take that Coachella!) The smaller atmosphere definitely gave off a cozier vibe. There was the zipline that cut across the entire festival grounds (file under: Things that would give U.S. promoters cold sweats), bunches of bananas hanging off trees, just in case festival-goers were in need of a snack, and a stray dog that worked its way into the proceedings and quickly became the de facto mayor of Isle of Light after someone put a flower crown around its neck.
Of the twelve sets and eleven artists that performed from 2pm until 3am nine hailed from Latin countries. With all due respect to headliner Crystal Castles (no one can wail like Edith Frances. No one.), and my fellow Los Angelenos Real Estate—they were the real stars.
Looking into a scene from the outside is fascinating. Even when the music resonates with your personal tastes it’s hard to figure out who the main players are. Afro-beat pop singer Riccie Oriach seemed to be a local hero (at least judging by the swooning audience), and I didn’t have to be a rap fan or speak Spanish to get that Puerto Rico’s PJ Sin Suela is a straight-up fun performer. And at this point I’m just waiting for Jack White to fold The Cat Lady into the Third Man Records family. (OH BASED WHITE STRIPE, HEAR OUR PLEA!)
I gravitated toward the electro pop acts which comprise a quickly emerging scene in Santo Domingo. Local producer Bacayne had the tricky job of opening the festival with a DJ set. But his sunny yet laid back vibe paired well with the actual sunshine—most of which people avoided by taking shade in the palm trees. (I ate one of the communal bananas during his set—a snack so delicious I’ve been forever ruined for any other fruit experience.) His album Azure Magic maintains the same Quaaludes in the tropics vibe—like the high-fi cousin of chillwave. Also a great surprise was Volt Phonic. The Dominican producer was joined on stage by a full band to better flesh out his ridiculously large grab bag of ideas. Lenny Kravitz swagger, Air like electronics, Funkadelic-style bass, a vocal croon that brings to mind a big-band leader—to properly chart his influences would require drawing a map across the whole of modern music…which makes for a fun trip.
Not electric but incredibly exciting was the Latin headliner Rita Indiana. The singer/songwriter had last put out new material six years ago. Despite the impact she made on the Dominican scene (openly gay, openly defiant of the conservative culture, and with catchy merengue/alt-rock tunes to back the message up), Indiana quit music in favor of becoming a novelist. (Umm…hello talent) Isle of Light represented the first time the musician had taken the stage since her quasi-retirement. Her dark new material transcends linguistic barriers, particularly new single “El Castigador.” (Translation: “The Punisher”) It would be nice to see the Anglophone embrace Indiana. (Girl can dream, right?) Side note: Rita Indiana’s mother was spotted dancing in the crowd.
No further commentary can be added to this observation other than a hearty RIGHT ON!
It’s rare that I end a festival feeling something other than exhausted and broken. (Perhaps the only area of my life where I embrace the “go hard or go home” mentality.) But I left the festival grounds at 3am wishing that there was another day. In addition to bringing headlining acts from abroad to local Dominican fans, Isle of Light does an incredible job of showcasing the depth and breadth of the modern Latin music scene. Here’s hoping that with any future festival expansions the event maintains its eclectic, well-curated charm.
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