A History of Siren Fest & 4Knots

The fourth annual 4Knots Music Festival is slated to wash ashore at South Street Seaport this Saturday, July 12th, and we couldn’t be more excited. The festival, curated by The Village Voice, gets better each year, with Dinosaur Jr., Mac DeMarco, Re-TROS, Dead Stars, Those Darlins, Speedy Ortiz, Radkey, Viet Cong, Nude Beach, and Juan Wauters slated to grace the 2014 celebration – and it’s all FREE. There’s also an after party at Webster Hall following the day-long extravaganza, and you can get $5 off tickets with the code VOICE by clicking here.

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Though 4Knots might seem relatively new, VV cut its festival booking chops on the now-legendary Siren Music Festival, held every summer at Coney Island from 2001-2010. As our anticipation grows for 4Knots 2014, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the best performers to grace 4Knots and Siren stages.

2001 – Peaches

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Peaches at Siren Fest in 2001

We’re sure Rainer Maria, Guided By Voices and Superchunk were all lovely, but come on… at the time, the gender-bending, sex-positive performance artist was riding on high on the release of The Teaches of Peaches, her debut album that featured hits like “Fuck the Pain Away” and “Set it Off.” The quirk and kitsch of Coney Island was a perfect backdrop for Peaches, who looked every bit the part of sideshow provocateur in her bright red lingerie.

2002 – Sleater-Kinney

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Sleater-Kinney in 2002

2002 was kind of THE banner year for Siren Fest, helped in part by the fact that there was a dance-punk renaissance happening in NYC. We can just picture Karen O smooching Angus Andrew at the top of the Wonder Wheel (they were deep in lurrrrv when their bands – Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Liars, respectively – played the fest), and I’m sure like-minded rockers Les Savy Fav, Mooney Suzuki, The Donnas, and Rye Coalition tore shit up, while The Shins mellowed crowds out with “New Slang” years before it rocked Zach Braff’s world. But Sleater-Kinney is the best band EVER, and their live performances were unparalleled. Even some dude who writes about music a lot agrees.

2003 – !!!

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At some point in 2003 !!! was on stage and this happened.

No, I’m not so excited about the history of 4Knots/Siren Fest that I’ve resorted to superfluous punctuation – !!! (usually pronounced Chk Chk Chk but otherwise represented by any three repetitive monosyllables other than Yeah Yeah Yeah since that was taken) gave every ounce of energy they had into converting a boring old rock show into a full tilt dance party. The band had a rotating, often huge lineup of talented musicians, fronted by lead singer Nic Offer, whose spastic showmanship mimed the outsized gestures of arena rock performers like Mick Jagger, but in a weirder, disco-punk context. !!! were known to encourage audience participation, adoration, and most of all satisfaction – you could rest assured they’d at least give you your money’s worth. But Siren Fest, just like 4Knots, has always been free.

2004 – …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead

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Trail of Dead’s Conrad Keely mingling with the concertfolk

TV on the Radio were still a baby band, Mission of Burma were already and aging punk dad band, Har Mar Superstar probably grossed everyone out (that was his thing), and Death Cab for Cutie probably made everyone too sad. Blonde Redhead is an amazing band that almost no one appreciated or remembers. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead smashed their gear and dove into the audience.

2005 – Dungen

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Dungen’s tambourine was probably made of pot

While Q And Not U kept dance-punk alive, and Spoon continued the mellow indie dude vibes set forth by Death Cab the year before, Swedish psych rockers Dungen, who had apparently just visited Other Music, like, that day, must have thrown the audience for a real loop. Ta Det Lungt had just begun to help them establish an international reputation, and even though none of their songs were sung in English, there’s no doubt the weed cloud hanging over the Cyclone after their set helped with the language barrier.

2006 – Scissor Sisters

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Scissor Sisters Siren Fest 2006
Scissor Sisters’ nearly full frontal frontman Jake Shears in 2006

I bet Celebration was so, so fucking badass that year because Katrina Ford is a goddess and I’m excited for their upcoming album and I’m excited for their show at Baby’s All Right on July 25th but Jake Shears literally stripped down to a Speedo.

2007 – M.I.A.

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M.I.A. in 2007

Just look at how sweet M.I.A. was before all the Vanity Fair hoopla, before the SuperBowl middle finger, before H/Bollywood got its hands on “Paper Planes,” before the trainwreck that was /\/\/\Y/\… M.I.A’s music has evolved a lot over the years, but she’s always been one of the “Bad Girls,” with enough swagger to last for decades. Though we couldn’t have known it then, her Siren appearance was a rare treat, free of backlash and media sniping and all about the jams. The Black Lips put on a great live show, and are also no stranger to controversy, having recently talked shit on Drake and Lorde, that one time Jared Swilley and Nathan from Wavves got into some fisticuffs in a Brooklyn bar… and oh yeah maybe they’re racist? 2007 Siren, you were a real breeding ground for dissension.

2008 – Times New Viking

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Times New Viking Siren
Times New Viking at Siren in 2008.

While Broken Social Scene is great at cramming a ton of talented musicians on stage, I have to hand it to my Columbus, Ohio hometown heroes Times New Viking for blasting such a huge crowd with their lo-fi gems. I have super fond memories of seeing them play dive bars and basements and living rooms, but their gloriously dingy pop songs harbor all the rickety charm of Astroland, where any ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl in 2007 might have been your last ride on anything, ever.

2009 – Monotonix

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Now that’s what I call crowd surfing.

When Monotonix crowd surf, they don’t just flop along in a sea of sunburned arms like most bands. First of all, these dudes get pretty much naked except for underpants, socks, and copious amounts of body hair. Second of all, they spend the majority of their set in the audience, as opposed to the casual one-and-done method of even the punkest punks. Third of all, they take their instruments into the crowd with them. These nutso Israelis played over 1000 shows in five years, 400 of them happening between 2006 & 2007, so fourth of all, setting themselves on fire and shit was routine for them.

2010 – Screaming Females

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Screaming Females Siren
“I even got to ride the Cyclone for free,” raves Jarrett of Screaming Females.

The thing about festivals is that sometimes they’re less than ideal scenarios for the bands that play them. It’s hot, it’s bright, and  the sound engineering can be really questionable. After insisting on using his own drums rather than the rented kit Siren provided, Jarrett led Screaming Females on a rambling pre-set jam session to ease any jitters. They also turned their monitors off, because according to this adorable blog post he thought it “better to have no mix than a crazy one.” Anyone who’s heard Marissa Paternoster playing guitar knows she shreds; I can’t imagine headliners Matt & Kim (the only band to play Siren twice!) played a better set than Screaming Females in their 2 o’clock slot.

2011 – Titus Andronicus

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We miss you Amy Klein.

Though it made everyone a bit sad when Village Voice moved their annual shindig from an awesome beachfront amusement park with tons of history to, well… a mall with an Uno’s Pizzeria, they at least had the respect for tradition to rename the fest 4knots (the speed at which the East River flows) and booked another expertly curated lineup, which included headliners Titus Andronicus. Their appearance came just after gaining tons of recognition for their intelligently rendered album The Monitor, loosely based on Civil War-inspired themes, not to mention their aggressive live shows. The lineup has since changed but our favorite incarnation of the band featured Amy Klein on violin and guitar. Ahhh, memories.

2012 – The Drums

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Jonny Pierce of The Drums repping New York with that shirt long before “normcore” was even a thing

We’ve always appreciated the swagger of Jonny Pierce, and his band’s beachy vibes practically scream outdoor dance party, so The Drums were a perfect fit with 4knots. 2011’s Portamento saw the group shift from surfy to synthy (the title is a tribute to the analogue settings Pierce and bandmate Jacob Graham bonded over as kids), so we couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming release of their latest album, slated for sometime this year.

2013 – Parquet Courts

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Parquet Courts at 4Knots last year.

There’s a reason these Brooklyn punks quickly gained a well-deserved reputation as one of the best live bands to see, and their ultra-sweaty performance at last year’s sweltering 4Knots is a perfect example. The two things I remember most about last year’s 4Knots were The Men covering Iggy Pop with a rousing horn section, and Andrew Savage extending “Stoned & Starving” with a ten-minute long rant about social media and commodified music that felt both prescient and tongue-in-cheek. You really never know what to expect from a Parquet Courts set except that it will be rowdy. Similarly, we never know what to expect from a Village Voice music fest – so make sure you’re at South Street Seaport on Saturday for this year’s 4Knots!

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