With over 100 musical acts booked for the 2016 edition of Middle of the Map Festival, the weekend of music returned to Kansas City this May with more of a presence than ever. Hosted by Ink Magazine and The Record Machine, the festival began as a regional gathering and has evolved over its past six years into an exhibition of forum, film, and music at venues throughout the city. Talk around this year’s lineup centered around the appearance of Portlandia’s Fred Armisen at Uptown Theater, the unveiling of the new recordBar, and a talented bill of national and regional artists performing at The Midland, CrossroadsKC, Mills Records, and many more.
Local acts dominated the schedule for the first few days of the festival with performances from the The Ovaries-eez and Nicholas St. James on Wednesday at Westport Saloon, along with Via Luna and Fullbloods at Californos. Thursday came quickly with an early evening show at Mills Records featuring High Dive artists Psychic Heat, The Conquerors, and Shy Boys. Other noteworthy locals to be found Thursday night were The Sluts, Your Friend, Spirit Is The Spirit, and The Philistines.
Friday night’s Midland lineup was not to be taken lightly as a stacked night of hip-hop and electronic sets reared its head in the form of some of the city’s finest beat ensembles, BLK FLANL and Ebony Tusks. Made up of Barrel Maker and Conductor Williams, BLK FLANL is fresh off its recent release, BLK FLANL II: For the Imperfect, for the Diligent, which dropped in late March. The duo also opened for Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs at The Granada less than a month ago.
Ebony Tusks, the trio of Marty Hillard, Nathan Giesecke, and Daniel Smith, followed up with a captivating set of chilling production paired with the potent poetry of Hillard. As a mainstay in the hip-hop communities of Lawrence, Topeka, and Kansas City collectively, Ebony Tusks never fails in taking earnest, critical, and conscious approaches to the genre.
D.C. R&B musician Christopher Gallant, known as Gallant, took the stage next starting at 8 p.m. As a label mate of ZHU on Mind of a Genius, he was in familiar company with Vince Staples and Steven Zhu himself to round out the night at the downtown venue. Gallant performed material from his recent April release, Ology, for majority of the 45-minute set.
Opting for a pair of red Converse Chucks instead of blue suede Jordans, Long Beach rapper Vince Staples brought his consistent, raw moxy to The Midland but was without the spry essence of his Liberty Hall performance of September 2015. Staples referenced Lawrence, his friendship with Perry Ellis, who was on stage for Staples’ show at one of the nation’s Top 100 Venues, and his love of the shopping found on Mass Street.
“They got a crazy Urban Outfitters over there,” said Staples.
Along with hits like “Norf Norf,” “Señorita,” and “Blue Suede,” Staples gave fans a taste of new music with the Flume production, “Smoke & Retribution.” The track, which features Staples and Kučka, appears on Flume’s upcoming May release, Skin. The night at The Midland then came to a vibrant close with ZHU’s set forging on for an hour and a half.
Saturday’s impressive finale lineup began in the afternoon with Lawrence’s best on stage at The Brick for the I Heart Local Music showcase featuring The People’s Punk Band, Dean Monkey and The Dropouts, Toughies, Major Games, and KJHK’s Farmers’ Ball champs, Real Adults. Red Kate, Heidi Lynne Gluck, and LIONMAKER were Saturday’s other standout local acts.
The focus returned to The Midland as Daptone Records artist and soul shaman Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires took the stage for an hour of soul and love. Bradley ended emphatically with the title track of his 2016 Daptone release, Changes; a call to action to stop the terror and change for the better as a collective being.
A quick migration from The Midland to the spiffy, new recordBar at 15th and Grand was an easy fix to a life without Com Truise and STRFKR. Born Seth Haley, the Ghostly International artist and New York native set the new-and-improved stage for STRFKR but provided a blissful height of the events Middle of the Map 2016 had to offer.
Photo credit: Cody Boston