Festival Frequency is a monthly look at music festival-related topics that step beyond the shadow of the Ferris wheel, discussing everything from the performances to the inner workings that make this a global phenomenon.
Julien Baker‘s music is a tidal wave. Over the course of two brilliant albums, 2015’s intimate Sprained Ankle and 2017’s more expansive Turn Out The Lights, and then solidified with her work with Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers on the Boygenius project, Baker has quickly mastered the art of overwhelming the emotions. Her songs can devastate, leaving listeners turned upside down and inside out through her unflinching vocals and open-hearted lyrics. Don’t be fooled by the gentleness of the arrangments, Baker does not write music in which to float. These are songs that could level buildings.
This week, the Nashville-based songwriter will expand her talents to include event curator as she presents to 2019 edition of Sled Island Music Festival in Calgary. The annual event has been a Canadian institution since 2007, turning the Alberta city into a music Mecca for a week in June, and Baker joins an esteemed group of past curators that includes Kathleen Hanna, Flying Lotus, Peaches, and Deerhoof. Baker’s selections to perform this year don’t necessarily mirror her own aesthetic — they include everything from hip-hop experimenter JPEGMAFIA to pulverizing rockers Bully — but many do reflect her own sensibilities in terms of creating ambitious, left-of-center, and brave music.
In a time when artists from Dave Grohl and Bon Iver to Tyler The Creator and Damon Albarn all have their own festivals, Sled Island’s history of artist curation feels prescient, tapping into the unique programming that can come when a musician is given the keys to the party. And in Baker, they found a creative that would take the task seriously, excited to share the music that both inspires her and by which she wants to be surrounded. The resulting festival feels like a snapshot to where the indie music world is heading, with more diverse representation than ever that gives a platform to people who may not have had it in the past.
We caught up with Baker by phone ahead of the event, and spoke with her about what went into curating Sled Island, along with how she maintains her intense music fandom and what’s coming next for her as a musician.
How’d you get involved with Sled Island?
They approached me, actually. They asked me if I wanted to be the guest curator this year and I said yes, even though that’s a huge and pretty daunting task. Or not daunting in a negative way, but just big.