This review previously appeared on Respect Your Youngers, an online music publication.


Once a year, the BBC utilizes its status as a media giant to boost local economies across the United Kingdom with BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend. This year the traveling festival descended on Middlesbrough, a post-industrial town in the North-East of England. For a town without a single high-capacity venue, this was the event of the decade. I spent two days covering the festival to experience what happens when you bring some of the biggest names in music to the backyard of average British communities.

Lewis Capaldi, the first act I watched, proved to be a stand-out. The self-proclaimed “chubby guy singing sad songs” took the stage for a half hour set. With the same spirit as unlikely pop-star predecessors like Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, Capaldi was sheepish, crass and vulnerable. After one ballad, he became tangential enough to warrant a backstage onlooker talking him out of swearing on national television. In the same breath he went on to sing a tear-inducing song about a lost love. Capaldi breaks conventions at every turn, proving that you can be funny without compromising your musical melancholy.

Later I watched Vampire Weekend flaunt their ivy-league vocabulary with showmanship to boot. While I certainly missed the presence of the departed Rostam Batmanglij, frontman Ezra Koening shined alongside a brilliant touring band. The tracks they played off of Father of the Bride felt lighter than they had in Contra and Modern Vampires of the City, reminding me of a more sophisticated version of their self-titled album. Their sound was polished, complex and layered in a way that it was only starting to become in 2008, a fitting coming-of-age for a band that met in university and went on to become international indie legends. If six years is the time that it takes to produce songs like “This Life” and “Harmony Hall”, I hope Vampire Weekend takes as much time as they need.

I began day two by watching Sigrid. Similar to Lewis Capaldi, she is unorthodox for a rising alternative hero. With tunes ranging from melodic pop anthems to synth-heavy slow songs, Sigrid has a dynamic and unparalleled range. Sigrid is a master at conveying the perils of young-adulthood, guiding her audience through the elation of being loved to the experience of going home with people to feel a little less alone. I particularly enjoyed hearing “In Vain” live. It had just as much raw, stylistic rasp as on the recording. Most remarkable of all was her lack of gimmick. She was comfortable – perhaps more confident even, taking the stage with a minimal set design and wearing jeans and a tanktop. While I love a spectacle as much as the next girl, her ability to capture an audience without relying upon flashy costumes or light designs spoke to her talent.

Afterwards, the crowd got unexpectedly rowdy and I experienced the enthralling and utterly terrifying Middlesbrough mosh. With Two Door Cinema Club as an unsuspecting host, the floor opened up for pure chaos set to the tune of classic, indie hits like “Undercover Martyn” and “What You Know.” In-between fending off body-slams I got to see the band play an eclectic mix of new and old, impressing me most with quick-witted singles like “Satellite”. While I had barely listened to a Two Door album since Changing of the Seasons, their live performance enticed me to do a post-show deep dive. I grow weary of the Orwellian commentary of modern life that seems to be all the rage right now, but holy hell, Two Door Cinema Club does it well.

When Ellie Goulding took to the main-stage she doted on her BBC Radio 1 roots and played hits dating back nearly a decade. I was pleased to hear “I Need Your Love” intermingled with more recent hits like “Sixteen” and “Love Me Like You Do”. While at times her performance appeared tired, no doubt a side-effect of countless hours on the road, the longevity of her career demonstrates excellent musicianship in itself. Goulding was first played on Radio 1 and her performance was proof of Radio 1’s capability to catapult rising artists to superstardom. Goulding has certainly achieved tenure.

The 1975 shined as the finale act. In addition to three records of alternative anthems, much of their appeal comes from their commentary. They recognize the capability of young people to be intelligent consumers and they understand their own positionality - not only as influences but as icons. At times they take active steps to combat, or deliberately entertain, the clichés that come with this classification. In a massive middle-finger to popstars and pop culture, frontman Matty Healy declared the finality of his reign as a Mick Jagger wanna-be: “we’re too self-aware as a generation to buy into the archetypes of rock n’ roll.”

Big Weekend came to a close with fireworks after a charmingly self-aware performance of The Sound. As Healy paraded around stage, the screen behind him displayed criticism directed at The 1975 through the years. Drawing attention to reviewers calling your music “robotic Huey Lewis tunes” is unexpected. Doing so while on national television is even more bold. It was ironic, pretentious even, to display such sentiments while performing to an adoring crowd – but I couldn’t help but find it endearing. There was something poignant about contrasting nuanced ‘expert’ opinions with obvious mass popularity.

Reflecting on BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend, I couldn’t help but circle back to the people of Middlesbrough themselves. One question stuck with me: did the BBC really do as much as they claimed for the community or was this all a display of media fortitude with little reward?

The BBC did a brilliant job at securing top-notch food and entertainment, but small businesses in the Middlesbrough town center appeared to be left out of the festivities. The owner of a local coffee shop that I spoke to estimated that his sales had dropped fifty-percent despite claims that the festival would boost the local economy. Upon further inspection, he seemed to be right. While the presence of a Chicken McNuggets stand was abundantly clear, the local touch seemed to be missing. In a town with such fantastic food (I had the best salad of my life from Bedford St Coffee), it would be no compromise to look local for catering.

All qualms aside, I would consider Big Weekend to be a smash success. Having never been to the North of England, I heard many things about Middlesbrough before I went there. Hearsay failed to capture the Boro spirit. The people were friendly, the banter copious and the excitement palpable. BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend brought me closer to wonderful music by some of the most prominent and up-and-coming talents, but it also introduced me to a remarkable community. I met girls immediately willing to share water, students eager to ensure that I had a good view of my favorite bands and families waving North Yorkshire flags with a ferocity I have never seen mimicked by some posh Southern counterparts. If the BBC can facilitate that much love among strangers, long live Big Weekend.

This review previously appeared on St Andrews Radio's digital publication - The Record.


With classes over and exams just around the bend, the Kate Kennedy Club Charity May Ball provides St Andrews students with a welcomed escape from the stressors of academic life. This year the ball touted a night out in the classic Kinkell Byre, complete with fairground rides and chart-topping talent.

Food and rides were interspersed outside, providing guests with plenty of opportunity to romp around a mini-fairground. I was particularly impressed by the quality of this event. Having only previously experienced the dodgy traveling funfair that occasionally stopped in my Chicagoland home, I was a bit of a carnival cynic. Kate Kennedy’s May Ball was far nicer than anything I had seen before; each element felt intentional, meticulous and upscale. It could have just been the extravagance of watching my peers drive bumper cars donned with paisley bow ties and satin gowns, but it was a classy carnival if I’ve ever seen one.

The catering was exquisite, with delicious and affordable options from Wild Fire Pizza, Unique Food and Leisure, and Hector & Harriet. Stealing gourmet chips and staring longingly at the pizza of friends felt far from the usual drunken Dervish escapades. My craving for chips, cheese and garlic sauce was nearly squelched when presented with an endless variety of late-night options – a miraculous discovery that made me wish St Andrews had street vendors every night.

Lost Frequencies, the Belgian DJ known for tracks like “Are You With Me” and “Crazy”, was certainly a highlight of the ball. St Andrews rarely manages to host top-tier talent and it was a welcome change of pace to see the crowd so enthused that they were willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to get a glimpse of an artist. It was as close as I can imagine getting to a St Andrews mosh pit and when I sustained an elbow-to-the-face from an overzealous fan hoping to catch De Laet’s attention, I was more charmed than I was disappointed. It was nice to see such pure, unfiltered excitement.

The VIP section was underwhelming. Although the environment was ravishing, with a two-tent spread of lights and extra dancing room, it felt like it caused an unnecessary divide between guests. It is understandable to be enticed to spend the extra twenty-eight quid for champagne and popcorn, but you would likely be just as fulfilled from stopping by Market Street beforehand for some tried-and-true Tesco’s Finest Prosecco and Butterkist. Or better yet, donate the money directly to local charities.

Overall, May Ball embodied the St Andrews spirit and provided a fantastic end to the academic year. While the VIP section seemed to enforce outdated elitist ideals without much culinary reward, the fairground rides and musical acts provided a much-appreciated sense of togetherness. I look forward to seeing what can be accomplished next year.

This review previously appeared on Alt Philanthropy, an online music publication active from March 2016 to April 2020. PITCHFORK MUSIC FESTIVAL, NAMESAKE OF THE INFAMOUS ONLINE MAGAZINE, TOOK PLACE IN UNION PARK FROM FRIDAY, JULY 19TH TO SUNDAY, JULY 21ST. Amidst record high temperatures, Pitchfork Music Festival worked to maintain the safety (and sanity) of its guests with copious amounts of free water and cooling vans - a ploy that, for the first time ever, had me thrilled to be sitting on a CTA cooling bus for hours on end. There was something poetic about sweltering heat coinciding with an event designed to bring together the Windy City's eclectic music scene, as if it gave Pitchfork an outlet to make  all of the Chicago nuances I have grown up with seem infinitely more charming. For a weekend, I practically survived off of Intelligentsia cold-brew and copious amounts of Connie's Pizza, all to a soundtrack of Mavis Staples and Whitney tunes.  Looking back, here are six acts that made the Pitchfork 2019 experience spectacular:


#1: Sky Ferreira After a multi-year touring hiatus, Sky Ferreira made her comeback performance on Friday afternoon. Her aspirations for a tenacious comeback were cut short when, after a performance full of technical errors, she was forced to leave the stage with only a parting wave to her fans. Despite it all, she performed beautifully - giving her audience her all amidst a situation that shined light on her candor and professionalism. While I would have loved to hear more from Sky, what she was able to give was more than enough to convince the crowd that she would return full-force. ​#2: HAIM Friday night I watched sister trio HAIM crush a discography that they have been curating for the greater part of the decade. All multi-instrumentalists, Danielle, Este and Alana began their set with a drum intro to "Falling" before moving onto old favorite "Don't Save Me". It was the first festival that they headlined, so bookers take note...HAIM shines, through original hits to Paula Cole covers.  To indulge trendy wording, these "left-of-center" folk icons will surely permeate the genre for many more years to come. This was their first festival headline gig but I am sure it will not be their last. #3: Clairo Bedroom pop queen Clairo stunned with a set of chill favorites, from star-making "Pretty Girl" to amply covered "4EVER" (loved by the likes of Alt Philanthropy staff favorites San Cisco and Sara King). Clairo provides a soundtrack to adolescence, engaging her listeners with stories of conformity, crushes and finding yourself. Growing up is hard enough to figure out and listening to Clairo make songs about what it means to be young is oddly comforting...as if a melodic 'we're all in this together' moment. #4: Whitney Watching Whitney, Chicago local legends and token soundtrack of my youth, was a pure delight. Fans were mesmerised by their set of both tried-and-true tunes from Light Upon the Lake and songs they debuted on the day. I am seldom touched by stage speeches, but I was particularly taken by an anecdote they told about "Follow" being about lost loved ones. I was touched by the emotional breadth contained in a song that I have sung, cheery and clueless, from the passenger-side of a friend's car since I was sixteen. I greatly enjoy that duality - and the idea that traditionally difficult subjects do not have to be met with melancholic piano ballads. #5: Charli XCX The Charli XCX name speaks for itself. From the get-go audiences expected a high energy set with stunning outfits and fearless dancing. These expectations were so palpable that, standing in line for the photo pit, I found myself rivalling another photographer to recreate her most iconic moves. Much to our dismay, our erratic arm movements looked nothing like the refined spectacle that Charli provided that day. And maybe that's just it. You can try to recreate the magic behind Charli XCX by wrapping yourself in extravagant trappings and filling your soul with as much girl-power as your chest can hold but she is above mimicry. At the end of the day, all you can do is watch and marvel. #6: Robyn With long-running hits like "Call Your Girlfriend" and "Dancing on my Own", Swedish pop sensation Robyn is an unparalleled talent. She brought her all to her Pitchfork set, surrounded by gaudy, flowing linens and background dancers that shined without detracting from her own splendor. Like Charli, Robyn is a masterful performer, gaining iconoclast status with edgy pop hits that seem to grow in notoriety every year. During some of her most well-known songs Robyn took a step back, allowing her audience to scream her lyrics into the dead, night air. The crowd lacked no enthusiasm and the space was quickly filled with a sense of spirit that replicated the feeling of dancing, unhinged in a European dive-bar. I've seldom felt that close to an audience. I was just as engaged as a reviewer as I would be if I was there with my closest friends. ​It takes someone like Robyn to curate that kind of magic, and it takes a festival like Pitchfork to sustain it. You can keep updated on next year's Pitchfork Festival here.

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Copyright © 2020 Emily Muller

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freelance photographer, music photographer, tour photographer