*Photo by Felicita Garcia, additional reporting by Michael Nascenzi
The festival’s inaugural edition brought a delightfully chill, zoned-out vibe to San Diego’s Waterfront Park
FESTIVAL BEAT is a recurring column in which IMPOSE writers recap music festivals in all their rough-and-tumble glory. This recap: Bleached Fest in San Diego, CA
If there’s ever been a music festival to perfectly evoke the vibe of a hot summer day in San Diego, then Bleached is it.
This past weekend, FNGRSCRSSD and We Are Tight Knit threw a spectacular party at San Diego’s scenic Waterfront Park, where smooth, laid-back bands and artists from the indie, pop, electronic and R&B spheres took over to the delight of several thousand chill music lovers. I was one of them, and as someone who takes great pride in the San Diego music scene, I was thrilled to have another summer music festival come around and truly represent our city.
I made it out to Bleached on Sunday (day 2), and caught a series of excellent performances from the likes of Blondshell, BADBADNOTGOOD, Cannons, Maude Latour, Ethel Cain, Caroline Polachek, Yves Tumor, and JOJI. That stellar lineup of artists brought in a respectful, polite crowd who were delighted to groove the afternoon and night away. Wherever you went, there was plenty of space to dance, and attendees were happy to make way for die-hard fans to move to the front of their favorite sets. From start-to-finish, the vibes around Waterfront Park were sunny, relaxing, and zoned-out. Especially around sunset, those downtown views adjacent to the harbor and the Star of India ship will never not be incredible. How could you not have a great time?
Around the festival grounds, there was plenty to do and see. The record store had everything from records by the performers, affiliated artists or ones from tangential genres, and even some old school throwback offerings. The food and drink options were all terrific. Spicy Pie at a festival is always a must. And despite the high temperatures, there was plenty of shade to go around. Beyond that, all the sets we saw were phenomenal.
A decent crowd turned out early for indie rock up-and-comer Blondshell’s set. The musician from Los Angeles churned out one of our favorite albums of the year so far, and she played all her best tracks off that self-titled set with ease and aplomb. There’s no doubt that within a few years, she’ll be one of the most popular acts in her genre. BADBADNOTGOOD followed her on the Upstage, delivering their languid, hypnotic brand of jazz to a crowd eager to sway along. Over a decade into their career, the forward-thinking Canadian band continues to prove their mettle as one of the premier jazz acts of our day. This one-two punch of sets got the day started out on an ideal note.
Drawing one of the biggest crowds of the afternoon, alt-pop rising stars Cannons proved to be the band most representative of the Bleached vibe. Their breezy moods and effervescent, bubbling synth-pop sounds got the crowd shuffling and singing along in spite of the steamy 4 p.m. heat. Lead singer Michelle Joy is an infectious frontwoman, whose soothing vocals and majestic presence simply implored fans to lose themselves. By the time they played their big hit “Fire For You,” the band had everyone in the palm of their hand.
Back in 2019, we interviewed a lesser-known teen pop artist by the name of Maude Latour. She shared with us thoughts on her sound, her influences, and her dreams for the future. Based on her show at Bleached, those dreams are all coming true for her. Taking to the Downstage at 4:20, the New York singer-songwriter galvanized the crowd with her buoyant alt and dance pop anthems, cool banter, and glowing stage presence. Having already played big festivals like Governor’s Ball, Lollapalooza and BottleRock, the young Latour came across like a seasoned pro, proving that her future ceiling remains incredibly high. We’ll be keeping tabs on her for a long time to come.
Ethel Cain is one of my favorite artists in the game these days, and Preacher’s Daughter has been in my constant rotation since it dropped over a year ago. Even after catching her at back-to-back Coachella weekends, I was eager for more. Even as the day’s heat reached its peak, Cain brought her effortless cool and tormented slowcore indie sounds to a hyped crowd of die-hard fans, some of whom crafted signs and notes that she accepted throughout her set. She opened on the haunting ballad “House in Nebraska,” stunned with her affecting Americana-twang pop track “Thoroughfare,” and closed on the incredible one-two hit punch of “Crush” and “American Teenager,” even going up to the bar to interact with fans as she crooned those heartfelt, confessional lyrics. It was one of the more intense sets of the day emotionally, but it brought out the cathartic best in everyone in that crowd.
Before long, Caroline Polachek was steering the Bleached ship with her quirky electronic dance-pop magic. The crowd at the Upstage surged to life as she launched into “Welcome To My Island,” and from there, the energy did not let up from beginning to end. Desire I Want To Turn Into You tracks like “Bunny Is A Rider” inspired plenty of singing along, while older hits like “Caroline Shut Up” and set closer “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” had the crowd bouncing in unison. She was the perfect pop star to usher in the sunset golden hour.
Yves Tumor, meanwhile, might have been the most intense and energetic performer of the entire weekend, as his music is decidedly not that chill. But it was a perfectly rollicking change of pace though as Tumor and their band absolutely shredded out their shimmering alternative glam rock. “God Is A Circle” kicked things off in spectacular fashion, and from there, Tumor took things to stratospheric new heights with tracks like “Meteora Blues,” “Gospel For A New Century,” and more. Toward the end of the set, Yves jumped into the photo pit and inspired the crowd to thrash around them, even delivering an encore that brought everything to a dramatic close. In an age where rock music continues to simmer below the mainstream, Yves Tumor is doing their best to flip the script.
A wonderful inaugural edition of Bleached came to a thrilling conclusion thanks to 88rising superstar JOJI, whose off-kilter Japanese R&B played to the biggest crowd of devoted fans of the whole day. I’m not terribly familiar with JOJI’s discography, but the sheer stage spectacle brought out the best in his music. In that moment, there was no better headliner to anchor a day of eclectic, laid-back moods that wouldn’t quit.
With incredible vibes and great music to boot, Bleached was a rousing success for the San Diego music scene and beyond. We can’t wait for the next one.