This weekend, May 13-15, marks the return of Atlanta’s annual Shaky Knees Festival, now in its fourth year. Amidst a busy summer landscape chock full of more events than ever, Shaky Knees shines as a beacon of well-curated, affordable weekend fun, counting acts like My Morning Jacket, At the Drive-In, Jane’s Addiction, Deftones, The 1975, Florence + The Machine, The Decemberists, Bloc Party, Against Me!, The Kills, The Front Bottoms, Atlas Genius, Beach Slang, and so many more among its 2016 performers. Tickets are still available right here, with both weekend passes and single day options available, and whether you live nearby or you’re looking for a totally drivable regional escape to kick off your festival season with a bang, we’d couldn’t recommend it any more highly. We’re road-tripping down to fest this weekend to bring you coverage, and, leading up to its kickoff, we’ll be bringing you a guide to our top performer picks, broken down by day with a special nod to Nashville artists at the end. Today, we’re getting things going with our top 12 picks from Shaky Knees’ stacked Friday bill. Be sure to download the fest’s official app to stay on top of your schedule, and add these performers to your must-see list!
#12: BLOC PARTY
Friday | Peachtree | 7:15pm
It’s been just over a decade since London-based indie rockers Bloc Party exploded onto the scene with their fantastic debut album, Silent Alarm. Initially heralded as post-punk revivalists, the group quickly pivoted to become much more expansive, exploring r&b, art rock, and dance music, and incorporating synths on top of their initially guitar-centric sound with subsequent releases. Shortly after their third album, the band announced a hiatus to explore side projects, returning in 2012 for a fourth effort, Four. Despite rumors that they might once again call it a day, Bloc Party have, instead, recruited a new rhythm section, and produced their weirdest, most eclectic album to date with this year’s Hymns. Not only does their pedigree and back catalogue make them a festival necessity, but their somewhat rocky path in recent years has us feeling the pressure to see them while we know we still can.
LISTEN | “The Good News”
WATCH | “Banquet” (Official Music Video)
Friday | Piedmont | 7:15pm
Though there are several worthy heavy bands on this year’s lineup (you also can’t go wrong with Baroness on Friday), Sweden’s Ghost might be the most intriguing, simply for their shtick. Influenced by classic acts like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, the band have adopted a doom metal sound with hints of death metal, progressive, and psychedelic rock, enhanced by their Satanic-for-show stage persona, which involves closely guarding their real identities (the members are only known as the anti-Pope-like Papa Emeritus III and five “nameless ghouls,” and they’ve altered their personas slightly with each LP). After debuting strong with 2010’s Opus Eponymous, the group quickly found an audience in Europe, soon bowing stateside with festival appearances and acclaim from within the metal community. Their sophomore LP, Infestissumam, debuted at #1 in Sweden, and earned the band a Swedish Grammis award, boosting their global presence, but it’s with their latest and best, Meliora, that Ghost have certifiably broken through in the U.S., earning a Grammy and landing in the Billboard top 10, making this the perfect moment to see them in action.
LISTEN | “Year Zero”
WATCH | “Cirice” (Official Music Video)
#10: WOLF ALICE
Friday | Peachtree | 3:15pm
Initially conceived as a pop duo between frontwoman Ellie Rowsell and guitarist Joff Oddie, English outfit Wolf Alice began to shift towards more grunge pop and alternative rock sounds after the addition of bassist Theo Ellis and drummer Joel Amey to their lineup. Formed in 2010 and cemented in 2012, the band began to release a string of tracks leading up to a pair of EPs, Blush and Creature Songs, in 2013 and 2014, earning praise from the British press, radio, and blogosphere. Heralded as one of the best alt rock outfits to emerge from England in recent years, Wolf Alice dropped their debut LP, My Love Is Cool, last year, and thanks to strong, dynamic, and hypnotic singles like “Giant Peach,” “Moaning Lisa Smile,” “You’re a Germ,” and fan-favorite “Bros,” they’ve quickly become the new band to watch.
LISTEN | “Moaning Lisa Smile”
WATCH | “Bros” (Official Music Video)
Friday | Boulevard | 1pm
A band we’ve recommended on numerous occasions, St. Louis rockers Foxing are part of the new wave of emo/indie that have caught steam in recent years, transforming the scene for the better (we’ll save the “emo revival” discussion for another day, but we’re just glad people are digging these authentic and talented artists again). With earnest, emotionally charged, and deeply personal vocal and lyrical prowess, noodle-y, mathy, instrumentation, and expansive, post-rock tendencies, Foxing are not an easy band to put in a box. What we can tell you though, is that their first full-length, 2013’s The Albatross, is one of the best debut albums in recent memory; haunting, heartbreaking, and gorgeous. Formed in 2011, and after an early stint of DIY touring, the LP enabled them to tour with legendary rockers Brand New, and, in recent years, Foxing have also shared the stage with the likes of Modern Baseball, mewithoutYou, The World Is A Beautiful Place…, and more. Their latest effort, last year’s Dealer, recaptures the raw, vulnerable spark of Albatross, building on its blueprint but pushing forward with more experience and focus, a truly fitting sophomore effort. Their songs are just as personal and effective live, and because of that, we recommend showing up early to see their Shaky Knees set!
LISTEN | “Night Channels”
WATCH | “The Medic” (Official Music Video)
Friday | Ponce de Leon | 6:15pm
Hailing from London, buzzworthy newcomers Savages are unlike any other group making music today. Influenced by post-punk and noise rock, the ladies’ sound is reminiscent of classics like Siouxsie and the Banshees and PJ Harvey, yet for all of their stylized, old school flair, they manage not to sound particularly nostalgic or ’80s, alternating between subdued, emotional rawness and frenetic, driving, noisy rock power, all with contemporary sensibilities. After immediate praise for their early singles, the band released their debut LP, Silence Yourself, through Matador Records in 2013, following it up earlier this year with an even more conceptual and fantastic effort, Adore Life. With punk spirit and poetic proclivities, Savages inevitably wind up on every “must-see” list when they make festival appearances, and for good reason; their live show is apparently stellar, and their style is a much-needed jolt of adrenaline to the largely stale post-punk landscape.
LISTEN | “Husbands”
WATCH | “The Answer” (Official Music Video)
#7: BEACH SLANG
Friday | Piedmont | 12:30pm
Led by frontman James Snyder, Beach Slang co-opt elements of punk, heartland, and indie rock, playing with an energetic earnestness that feels like a love letter to classic punk without entering the territory for full-blown nostalgia; their sound is both fresh and familiar, and it’s no surprise that they’ve racked up endless critical praise from so many tastemaking media outlets and punk fans. Formed in 2013, the group made an amazing amount of headway with only a few songs to their name, Synder’s style compared to the great Paul Westerberg, and, fueled by enough initial positive response, toured extensively long before releasing an album. Their genre-bending sensibilities have earned them a place in the more pop punk and emo-geared side of the scene, performing comfortably alongside both more contemporary and trendy acts, as well as more underground and old school ones. Beach Slang’s highly-anticipated full-length debut, The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us, arrived just last fall, and ranks among 2015’s best, most underrated gems. If they didn’t feel so new, we might’ve stuck them even higher on this list, but here’s the takeaway: you need to know Beach Slang if you love punk rock, and if you can get to Shaky Knees early enough to watch them kick off the show, you’re likely to witness one of the best moments of the entire weekend.
LISTEN | “Too Late to Die Young”
WATCH | “Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas” (Official Music Video)
#6: THE KILLS
Friday | Boulevard | 8:15pm
Made up of vocalist Alison Mosshart and guitarist Jamie Hince, indie duo The Kills have achieved something of near-legendary status throughout their 15 year run. Since their inception, a chance meeting in Jamie’s native England while both still part of prior projects, the group have gone through a number of phases, flirting with Velvet Underground-esque art rock, garage rock in the vein of The White Stripes, gothic earnestness, conceptual commercial accessibility throttled through their minimalist base, and, in recent years, more concise and beat driven song structure. After a five-year absence, during which they occasionally reemerged to perform live (Mosshart has also been busy with her other band, The Dead Weather), the duo are finally set to return with a fifth album, Ash & Fire, on June 3, their first in over five years. Continuing the electro-laced, beat-driven, riff-centric sound of 2011’s Blood Pressures, the handful of early singles seem to indicate that their latest will be worth the wait, distilling everything we love about The Kills and pushing it forward into a new era. Their scheduling conflict with Slowdive is one of the most brutal of the whole fest, but if, for nothing else, the energy and excitement of new music make The Kills a must-see performer.
LISTEN | “Cheap and Cheerful”
WATCH | “Doing It to Death” (Official Music Video)
#5: THE FRONT BOTTOMS
Friday | Boulevard | 2:30pm
New Jersey indie rockers The Front Bottoms have been reviving emo since before it was cool, composing criminally-underrated tunes across five fantastic full-lengths (three with label backing) and just as many EPs, most recently 2015 full-length effort Back on Top, the band’s first for Fueled By Ramen. The group’s earnest, energetic songs are overshadowed only by their magnetic live show, and, apparently, the rest of the world has caught on, because the band have scored spots on countless high-profile festivals throughout the summer (likely due to their new label, which also reps bands like twenty one pilots and Paramore, and because their latest LP definitely has the potential to break out as a sleeper success). Formed nearly a decade ago by core members Brian Sella (vocals, guitar) and Mat Uychich (drums), The Front Bottoms’ start was pretty typical of an indie punk band, marked with grassroots releases, DIY touring, and a loyal but modest early fanbase. Always beloved within the scene, the group’s 2013 effort, Talon of the Hawk, proved to be the catalyst for broader recognition, and with the newfound buzz surrounding their latest, we wouldn’t be surprised if The Front Bottoms were a household name by next near. To put it mildly, it’s a pretty exciting time to see them in action.
LISTEN | “Twin Size Mattress”
WATCH | “HELP” (Official Music Video)
#4: JANE’S ADDICTION
Friday | Peachtree | 9:30pm
Friday’s major headliner, legendary alt rockers Jane’s Addiction are more than equipped to close down the first night of Shaky Knees with their funky, heavy, and pioneering catalog of classic songs. Those of us too young to remember might not realize how important influential they were in their day, but in the post-hair metal world, the alternative scene, which ran parallel to grunge, helped kickstart a new era, and shaped much of ’90s culture, aesthetics, and music for many years after. Formed in the mid-80s, their rise to fame, fueled by first two albums Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual, in ’88 and ’90, not to mention their breakout, self-titled debut live album in ’87, was abruptly cut short when the group disbanded in ’91. Moving on to various other projects, singer Perry Farrell notably founding the Lollapalooza festival, the group would briefly reconvene in ’97, before making a proper comeback in 2001, releasing their first LP in 13 years in ’03. A few years off in the mid ’00s led to the return of original bassist Eric Avery in ’08 (he’s since departed once more), and Jane’s released a somewhat forgettable fourth LP, The Great Escape Artist, in 2011. These days, the group seem content with riding the wave of their early success, making festival appearances, and staying active with other projects, and that’s exactly what we want: classic, iconic, and energetic Jane’s Addition at their finest.
LISTEN | “Jane Says”
WATCH | “Been Caught Stealing” (Official Music Video)
Friday | Ponce de Leon | 8:15pm
As we mentioned, pioneering English dream pop/shoegaze outfit Slowdive, only recently reunited, are booked against The Kills on Friday. Oh Shaky Knees, why do you hate us so? We’ve ranked them a little higher on the list, and, while we wouldn’t dream of telling you not to see either of these acts, the urgency, relevance, and rare opportunity to see this band for the first time in 20 years makes them our higher priority. Ahead of their time, or at least at odds with their era, Slowdive were never particularly hailed by critics or understood by their label during ’89-’95 initial run. Formed by lifelong friends Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead, Slowdive erupted onto the scene while still in their teens, crafting sweeping, ambient, pop soundscapes that borrowed from ’70s progressive rock and the indie and shoegaze scenes of the late ’80s. Released amidst a boom of grunge and alternative, their debut, Just for a Day, failed to resonate with the cultural zeitgeist, yet, in retrospect, serves as a brilliant, dreamy, timeless moment in indie rock. Perhaps the band’s biggest masterpiece, 1993 sophomore effort Souvlaki, recorded partially in collaboration with Brian Eno, kept their layered, hypnotic sound, but added elements of art rock and post-punk, producing a gorgeous, personal, and perfectly-rounded distillation of their sound. By their third and final effort, Pygmalion, Slowdive, at odds with their label, still struggling to win over press, and only moderately successful with mainstream audiences, were faced with the departure of three of their five members, prompting Goswell and Halstead to entirely switch musical gears and rebrand as Mojave 3. For a time thought to be a misunderstand relic of a long gone era, the classic Slowdive lineup suddenly reconvened in 2014, performing a run of dates at festivals and throughout the world. It’s unclear just how long this reunion will last, but Shaky Knees serves as the single U.S. date the band have planned all year. Needless to say, if you’re a fan of Slowdive, or want to witness this reunited piece of musical history, you’d better jump a the chance while you can.
LISTEN | “Alison”
WATCH | “Shine” (Official Music Video)
#2: THE 1975
Friday | Piedmont | 9:30pm
If you need proof that English alt rockers The 1975 have ascended to the ranks of dominating the popular musical landscape, look no further than their timeslot: they’re booked squarely against Jane’s Addiction, serving as an alternate choice for younger fans, or festival-goers in search of something a little more contemporary (we’d are that The 1975 are vastly more relevant right now). Brooding, sexy, unabashedly catchy, and substantive, the band, who technically came together in 2002 in their early teens, released a series of critically-beloved EPs in 2012 and 2013, leading up to their self-titled, full-length, Gold certified debut LP. Propelled by the smash success of singles like “Girls,” “Chocolate,” and “Sex,” the band have managed to find huge, crossover appeal, with their blend of electro-infused, poppy, indie rock and emotional, earnest lyricism, not to mention the good looks and charm of frontman Matthew Healy. Certifiably a musical phenomenon, the group are remarkably self-sufficient, fiercely controlling and crafting their image and presentation to line up with their artistic sensibilities. The very black and white, surreal aesthetic of their first album cycle made the switch to colorful, pink-tinged branding for their sophomore effort, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, all the more effective, and recent singles like “Love Me” and “The Sound” are poised to propel the group to new commercial heights. Fantastic live performers, The 1975 have tapped into something most artists can only dream of, and, if you’re not watching Jane’s Addiction, you’d be crazy to miss their sure to be show-stealing set.
LISTEN | “Girls”
WATCH | “The Sound” (Official Music Video)
#1: AGAINST ME!
Friday | Piedmont | 5:15pm
It’s no secret that we’re huge fans of Florida bred bastions of punk Against Me!, but why make them our number one Friday pick? A handful of reasons, but, chiefly, it’s because the band, currently more relevant and reinvigorated than they’ve ever been, have spent the last eight months furiously crafting their highly-anticipated seventh album, and Shaky Knees marks only the the second show in their first tour of the year (meaning, there’s a very good chance we’ll be among the first people on the planet to hear some new tunes tested live). Formed in Florida in the late ’90s, Against Me!’s homegrown punk sound, anarchist ideals, and raw and aggressive performance style helped them quickly find an audience in their local scene. By the early ’00s, they were releasing full-lengths on popular indie punk labels like No Idea Records and Fat Mike’s Fat Wreck Chords, amassing enough critical and commercial success to begin touring the world, and eventually catching the eye of Warner Bros. subsidiary Sire Records. Their Butch Vig produced major label debut, 2007’s New Wave, took a poppier, glossier turn, polarizing some fans but generally helping catapult the band to a wider audience and earning near unanimous praise from critics, while followup White Crosses showcased more of the same, a drastic departure from their rawer Reinventing Axl Rose, Eternal Cowboy, and Searching for a Former Clarity of their early days.
However, some lineup changes, and, more significantly, frontwoman Laura Jane Grace’s public coming out as transgender in 2012, propelled the band in a new direction, returning to their rawer punk roots, and trading anarchist themes for a more socially conscious and personal focus with long-delayed 2014 masterpiece Transgender Dysphoria Blues. The last few years have been a whirlwind, comprised of countless tours, a newfound platform for Laura as a leading musical voice in the trans community, and increased punk cred as the band have largely moved back to DIY self-sufficiency, all the while achieving a wider range of press and a broader fansebase than ever before. Powerful, energetic, and unparalleled in concert, Against Me! are one of the best, most authentic, most important bands making music, and especially punk music, today, and their Shaky Knees set is sure to go down as a prologue to their next exciting chapter.
LISTEN | “Thrash Unreal”
WATCH | “Black Me Out” (Official Music Video)