Before we dive in, can we take a moment to just admire how remarkable it is that Treasure Island has even made it to 10 years? While press releases for this year’s lineup announcement assured everyone that despite losing their namesake location the festival would carry forth beyond this year, could you really blame the organizers if they’d decided to pack up their underappreciated event and call it a decade?
On Tuesday Noise Pop and Another Planet Entertainment revealed the lineup for their collaborative lovechild, which, as previously mentioned, is celebrating its 10th anniversary of bringing two days worth of the brightest names in indie music to the Bay Area’s beloved Treasure Island. It’s a milestone that is notable for its longevity in the face of an industry that is unkind to long-term sustainability — and subsequently for its implications of the impact the festival has had on Bay Area music culture. Treasure Island Music Festival is a fervently beloved institution to a niche group of fans, and it’s easy to see why. From LCD Soundsystem’s “final” run back in 2010, to Big Grams‘ first ever public performance this past year, Treasure Island has hosted its fair share of historic sets.
But beyond history, Treasure Island has managed to keep up a precedent of consistency. Where Outside Lands is a mass-appeal grab-bag that tries to compete with the national festival bigwigs by being a little bit of something for everyone, Treasure Island is dead set on being everything to just a few someones. Those within sight of the festival organizer’s vision usually have nothing but praise, meanwhile those out of their view can continue to ignore the event peacefully. And much of what makes Treasure Island valuable to those who fall within its targeted demo is not simply the high quality of the acts chosen, but the fact that a number of them rarely play other festivals. Whereby the alumni pages of most competitors are filled with the same stock photos of The Black Keys and The Red Hot Chili Peppers repeated year after year, Treasure Island’s archives induce nostalgia (or for those who didn’t attend, severe FOMO) from rare appearances by The Divine Fits, The Raconteurs, and The XX.
This year will be remembered similarly, with Young Thug an unheard of presence on the major festival circuit and Sigur Rós having announced not a single additional US festival date this fall. Ice Cube was largely ignored this season by the massive names in the game beyond Coachella, which is damn shame, but allows Treasure Island to step up where their competition remained seated. And even though I’ve had days to process it I still can’t get over the addition of Stormzy, a UK grime bulldozer who will hopefully increase in his stateside notoriety on the back of Skepta’s big breakthrough. While the exclusivity of certain festival sets can become the bane of concert-goers who treat radius clauses with the same level of fondness as they do the words “Only on TIDAL,” Treasure Island may be one of the few festival settings that can actually elevate a show beyond what you’d see in a proper venue. As the day turns to night and San Francisco sits dreamily behind you, watching James Blake serenade the sunset is a fairy tale for auditory euphoria.
Yet for all the highlights year after year, Treasure Island undoubtedly faces identity issues that can foster apathy amongst a would-be crowd. For every esoteric iconoclast the festival stuns with, they generally undo their steps by booking a twee synth-pop placeholder. To be sure, James Blake and Zhu both have their devoted audiences, but by splitting the difference in catering between the two the festival inevitably ensures that as a whole the lineup will be underwhelming for a majority. If you’re stoked for Kelela, you’re probably rolling your eyes at Mac DeMarco. What defines the quality of an artist isn’t for me or anyone else to judge, but music fans will inevitably do so, and thus offering a taste-making name alongside one that gets ridiculed by the underground is a recipe for both sides of the crosswalk to write you off entirely.
The unfortunate irony is that Treasure Island taken as a whole actually amounts to less than its component parts. Kamaiyah is a local star in the midst of her moment, Tycho is a long-established Bay Area legend that will never fail to be celebrated at a hometown show, and Car Seat Headrest just put out an album that already has me pegging them for the first of what will be this generation’s “classic rock” legends come three decades from now; but taken together they amount to a disparate shrug, none holding a sufficiently relevant base to raise the others through adjacency. Treasure Island has always had great taste — even the least-inspiring names this year don’t offend in the way some of the biggest duds do on Outside Lands lineups — but they’ve often stumbled at utilizing it to create a holistic statement rather than merely a collection of impressive, yet clunky vocab terms.
So while I really do like this lineup, and I truly love Treasure Island, I can’t help but feel dispirited. And that is totally unfair, because Hinds, Mura Masa, Neon Indian, and all the other names I’ve touched on above are absolutely great artists. Any reservations I have generally boil down to my own skewed criteria for some unreachable ideal of utopian lineup cohesion. Treasure Island Music Festival, regardless of the compilation of names that show-up, will always be worthwhile for being an exceptionally run, beautifully designed, and completely blissful weekend in celebration of music that is defining and exploring new spaces. If this actually turns out to be the year Treasure Island reels in the anchor and sails away, they are leaving having chosen a number of exceptional notes to sing them out. But I just wish those notes added up to a more harmonious chord.
The Bay Bridged originally stated unconfirmed information regarding Treasure Island’s ticket sales. We regret the error.