The Best Acts We Saw at Day For Night 2016

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-Us feels like a distinctly Houston version of David Bowie. He is a hometown glam-rock hero, bedazzling his Yellow stage audience in a white pantsuit besmattered with glitter and iridescent makeup. His set, sequestered behind the festival at the yellow stage, was a sight to behold: a bold, ambitious, pop-driven experiment filled with trap beats, sonorous vocals and a whole lot of style. -Us feels like the kind of act that could be at home on a much larger stage, with a much larger audience and much higher production values. I hope that a few out of towners wandered behind the venue to take some time on this set. It had so much more to offer than some of the overwrought main stages. -Us did Houston proud. KATIE SULLIVAN

I didn't know anything about Matmos before they took the stage and I'd argue that somehow I know even less now. What I do know is that someone told me they had a washing machine on stage and I got there as fast as I could. And yes, there was in fact a washing machine on stage that they manipulated to make some surprisingly good dance music, maybe the best I heard all weekend. From beating on it to scratching it, it was impressive to see what they could render from the appliance. Yes, I am a mark for people who use weird instrumentation, and this is the kind of stuff that made me glad that Day for Night exists. I can't think of anywhere else that would book this and something as mainstream as Travis Scott. Well played. CORY GARCIA

Richard D. James had it in for Houston from the word go and gave attendees everything they bargained for. The Red Stage’s visuals started pulsating with various maps of the world and a collision countdown for missiles landing on our fine city. Sounds of twisted laughing turned into screams and back to laughs through the stacks and stacks of speakers. Many people in the crowd were devoted fans; however, a majority of the D4N crowd seemed to be confused by the composer’s work and simply bought into the hype generated by true fans. In the land of big drops, Aphex Twin didn’t deliver those; he drove off-tempo beats and a mishmash of sounds. Even photographers in the pit waited for him to come out to make himself known to the crowd, but all the while he was hunkered down blending the next track behind the large LED screens.

Fat raindrops started to hit the crowd 30 minutes into the set, shortly turning into a steady downpour that was followed by a staggering drop in temperature. The crowd collective yelled and screamed in excitement as if it were part of the performance, but most scattered and scrambled for cover as acid techno blasted. If you know anything about Aphex Twin, you know that he is prone to trolling behaviors. He trolled the Bayou City during his set as the rain started to let up when video screens started to project some of Houston’s celebrities and Texas politicians with smushed-up faces (J.J. Watt, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Rick Perry, Texas senator Ted Cruz, the entire Dynamo team and others).

The unconventional headliner manipulated synthesizers and drum beats to fill the night air as he mixed Jlin’s creepy track “Guantanamo,” which samples the lines from the horror film The Ring, “You don’t want to hurt anyone” and the child’s response, “but I do and I’m sorry.” His music can be confusing and off-putting to those who are not familiar with it, but those who weathered the storm were rewarded by an incredible IDM set that might not be duplicated in the States for many years, if ever. JACK GORMAN

United Visual Artists' Musica Universalis is a paradox; the slow rotation of lights around ersatz "planets," coupled with reverberating, deep ambient sounds, makes for an experience that is equal parts meditative and menacing. Inspired by the concept of "harmony of the spheres," which interprets the movement of planets as a kind of conceptual music, this piece demonstrated that Day For Night is as intellectual as it is entertaining. In fact, it's turning those intellectual endeavors into a form of entertainment, opening up this kind of art to an audience who wouldn't otherwise seek it out. This is perhaps Day For Night's best feature: its ability to bring high art to the general Houston public in a way more traditional institutions cannot. KATIE SULLIVAN

It takes guts and determination to compete with the big stages at any music festival, and Day For Night's smallest, mostly local stage was no exception. In a calculated move, Day For Night hired one of the best stage managers in the business to helm the Yellow Stage, Houston native Josh Siebert of acclaimed Austin venue The Mohawk. Josh runs a tight ship, believing respect and hard work are the top fundamentals to ensure a smooth night on any stage he works. And even though the Yellow Stage was semi-hidden in the back corners of the festival, the crowd around it was always poppin'. A fun and diverse lineup featured some of the weekend's best sets, including a monster performance by Fat Tony, a super-sexy show by -Us (see above), and the dreamy electro-pop sounds of Night Drive. The best thing about the stage was the syrupy sounds of DJ Screw that played all day in between sets; this stage should have been called the Purple Stage. Props to all the bands and to Josh for an amazing experience. MARCO TORRES

Clams Casino's performance was nice and simple. No trees or masks to hide his face, just a guy in a beanie laying beats in a warehouse. One of the most sought out and influential producers, he has scored hits with Vince Staples, A$AP Rocky and Lil B. As expected, the set was heavy on tracks from his major label debut, 32 Levels. Clams is a track-layer and started fans on layer 1 when everybody in the darkened mailroom lost their minds to the samples of the viral sensation furious Christian mom reciting “Norf Norf." His instrumentals flowed from one track to another with the best fluidity and downbeats of the festival. The biggest negative of the Keyboard Kid’s 45-minute set was that it was too short; it could really have gone much longer and the crowd would have only grown. For a few moments, Clams "freed the world" for everyone inside the post office on the warm December afternoon. JACK GORMAN

My favorite act of the weekend was the one that surprised me the most: Blood Orange, my "let me catch this band because they have a cool name" pick. Looking at the artist-profile photo, I could see a cool, strong-looking black man with a piercing set of eyes. If John Carpenter was this year's Philip Glass, I assumed Blood Orange was this year's Death Grips, but could not have been more off base. As Dev Hynes took the stage sitting behind his electric piano, he proceeded to unleash a very smooth, moody, synth-fueled electric-heartbeat type of music that just plain made me happy to be there. Even as I sit here not writing about him and listening to his latest album, Freetown Sound, on Spotify, it's easy to hear why many music critics are adding it to their 2016 Best Of lists. Simply spectacular! MARCO TORRES

Nothing made me smile more over the weekend than film icon John Carpenter's yelling out, "Horror movies will live forever!" before kicking into one of the most iconic horror themes of all time. Onstage, Carpenter is a bit like the coolest grandpa ever; he was so clearly excited to be onstage and performing that his joy was infectious. What made the set even more enjoyable was listening to the crowd mark out any time something cool from one of his movies was displayed on the video screen behind him. The scenes from They Live felt more essential than ever. Beyond his own classic film scores, his other material is rock solid as well. Getting to hear "Vortex" live finally was a highlight, and makes me hope that someday someone will make a movie that deserves it. CORY GARCIA

Saturday must have been the fourth iteration of Welcome to Houston, at least, and I've seen all of them. I still look forward to it each time. Sure, "Still Tippin'" is beginning to feel a bit like old hat, but there was enough freshness this year to keep things interesting. While I might have preferred not to rush inside the festival the instant the gates opened, I wasn't willing to miss out on Lil' O, J-Dawg and ESG live on the big stage. It was a little strange to see and hear Michael Watts spinning a few DJ Screw classics (STILL earning money off Screw's name?), but at this point, he's part of the pantheon, too. And when he dropped the needle on "Still Tippin,'" my butt was still set in motion. There were several great moments, from Devin the Dude flying his drone out over the crowd to ESG's freestyle to Lil' Flip once again scoring the win with a terrific, dubstepped version of "This is the Way We Ball." Bun B teased a tour by the collective, but it wouldn't be the same. Welcome to Houston is a festival act, and it started Day for Night off with the perfect local flavor. NATHAN SMITH

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