If you're anything like me, the first few lines of this year's Lollapalooza lineup will make your eyes pop out of your head in cartoon fashion. Mumford and Sons. Kendrick Lamar. 2 Chaaaaainz!? Meanwhile, the bottom quarter of the entries blend together in their relative hipster obscurity. What's a Mowgli?
Then there's the wonderful middle ground.
Music festivals are successful, in part, because of their eclectic bills. And while platinum superstars make for great headliners, it's the burgeoning mid-tier acts that steal the show with the hungriest performances. This weekend's installment of Lolla is no different, and there's a handful of up-and-coming artists that will rock one of the biggest stages of their careers in hope of catapulting to greater fame.
Who should you watch out for this weekend? There's more to the lineup than the Cure and Phoenix. Here are five Lolla performers you need to get acquainted with.
1. Jake Bugg
Sounds like: Neil Young's cool hipster son, Ed Sheeran's less-polished friend
Performs: Sunday at 1:45 p.m., Petrillo Stage
At just 19 years old, singer-songwriter Jake Bugg wasn't even a thought when his noticeable influences, Johnny Cash, Donovan, and Oasis, were getting started. Still, the British indie soloist sings and composes well beyond his years, and his self-titled debut propelled to number one on the UK charts in 2012. He's starting to garner crossover appeal in the States, and it's time to catch him before he blows up.
Bugg was first inspired to make music when he was 14, and Don McClean's "Vincent" played on an episode of The Simpsons. Six of Bugg's singles have cracked England's top 100, and despite his undeniably British folk roots, he's perfect for an American audience that gobbles up the likes of Ben Howard and Ed Sheeran.
Bugg's an introspective, if not ironic, lyricist, who's just as danceable as he is relatable (try to sit still during "Lightning Bolt.") It's only a matter of time before Bugg sees himself at the top of an American festival bill; he opened for Noel Gallagher's latest tour.
2. Robert DeLong
Sounds like: A much, much, much better Owl City, your favorite pop-punk band but with dubstep
Performs: Friday at 12:15 p.m., Lake Shore Stage
Robert DeLong does something that's seldom seen in EDM: he writes lyrics. Good ones too.
DeLong explores everything from physicality to existentialism in his songs (seriously!), none of which are complete without bouncy synth and a dub drop or two. He's as charismatic as any DJ in the genre, and he uses live percussion, drum pads, and video game controllers in his dynamic sets. Those disillusioned with EDM artists who stand behind a computer will enjoy DeLong's engaging live act, while those true to EDM's roots will enjoy his catchy breaks and hooks.
DeLong gets singsong-y at times, but at the end of the day, he hopes to "make you f*cking dance." Mission accomplished.
3. Angel Haze
Sounds like: A grittier Nicki Minaj who can spit twice as fast
Performs: Sunday at 2 p.m., Perry's
Angel Haze can rap. There's no way around it. In contrast to the recent hackneyed caricature of female rappers as overtly sexual and over-swagged, and the use of poppy radio hooks, Haze demands attention for her lyrical dexterity and grimy subject matter. She's funny, she's talented, and she's a wardrobe change away from being as sellable as Azealia Banks.
Haze is a member of XXL's lauded freshman class of 2013, and her New York EP received rave reviews. She certainly isn't short on confidence or quotable lyrics, and after a turbulent upbringing that deprived her of letting loose, Haze gets wild for live shows. Her debut album, Dirty Gold, will be out soon.
Sounds like: Phoenix meets Japandroids, a garage-style version of the Shoes
Performs: Sunday at 2:15 p.m., The Grove
Skaters isn't a typical skate-rock group or some cliché punk act. With elements of grunge, electronica, and spunk pop, the New York trio can start a dance party just as easily as it can start a mosh pit. Raucous live shows and buzz from their debut EP, Schemers, has netted the band a deal with Warner Bros. Skaters is currently recording their next project at Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studio.
The band has its own art 'zine, and has lived in both Los Angeles and London. Their energy and hooks are contagious, and their lyrics are easy to pretend to know. Most importantly, and unlike most alt-electro acts, Skaters doesn't try to do too much.
5. Chance the Rapper
Sounds like: A much more relevant Pharcyde, Common's son, Kendrick Lamar's louder cousin
Performs: Friday at 6:50 p.m., BMI Stage
Where to begin? Chance has taken the hip-hop world by storm since the release of Acid Rap, his second mixtape in two years. Few artists can match his internal rhymes. His commentary on Chicago's crime culture and his struggles with growing up are heavy, but his cartoonish energy and fluctuating voice are a whole lot of fun. Chance has already emerged as one of rap's weirdest and most talented storytellers, despite being just 20 years old and having no full albums to his name.
Acid Rap may be the best release of the year, and its hyperlocality makes it perfect for Lolla. This is Chance's biggest homecoming yet, but as every major label is clamoring to sign him, Chicago fans can only keep him to themselves for so long.