The inaugural Hard NYC festival on Governors Island July 24 will feature hot topic M.I.A. as well as a lineup of emerging hip-hop and electronic acts with her endorsement (a few appear on M.I.A.’s label, N.E.E.T.). Here are the four you shouldn’t miss.
Who: New York–based noise-pop duo Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss, who were introduced by Krauss’s mother. “Derek was working at a Brazilian restaurant in Williamsburg, and my mom and I were sitting outside having some drinks,” Krauss says. “She’s super-friendly; Derek’s super-friendly. They struck up a conversation.” Miller had been living in New York for four months, working crap jobs, writing songs, and searching for the perfect girl singer to match the sound he was developing in his head. “When I told all my hater friends back home in Florida, ‘I’m going to go to New York,’ they were like, ‘How are you going to find a singer?’ I said, ‘I’ll ask everyone I meet.’ And I literally did that.” As a teenager, Krauss had been cast as the singer and bassist in a prefab all-girl pop band, and she later worked as a for-hire vocalist, all of which left her disillusioned with the industry; she abandoned music to become a teacher. When Krauss’s mom volunteered her as Miller’s vocal muse, she was horrified. “I said, ‘Oh, Mom!’ and gave her one of those looks.” But a week later, Krauss was sitting next to her future bandmate on a Brooklyn park bench listening to an early version of “Infinity Guitars,” Sleigh Bells’ breakout single. “My immediate impression was, ‘Wow, this is refreshing; I haven’t heard anything like it.’ ”
Sounds Like: The band’s debut, Treats, is a madcap collection of loud, violently joyful, mostly three-minute songs that layer Krauss’s pitch-perfect bubblegum vocals over Miller’s thrashing pop structures. “In the beginning, I was writing everything and producing to an absurd degree,” Miller recalls. “Down to, like, syllables.” Most collaborators would find this level of micromanagement oppressive, but not Krauss. Miller says he could throw the most abstract ideas at her, like “ ‘It’s gotta be more … sparkly,’ and she’d know exactly what I meant.”
Bring on the Backlash: Sleigh Bells have the kind of Hot New Band pedigree people love to hate. They’re connected: Spike Jonze played Sleigh Bells for M.I.A., who signed the band to her label, N.E.E.T., and hired Miller as a producer on her new album. They’re successful and critically adored: Treats reached the Billboard Top 40 and was well reviewed. “I’ll read stuff where people are like, ‘I can’t wait for this band to go away,’ ” Miller says. “And I just think, ‘I feel really bad for you, because we’re just getting started.’ ”
The One Thing You Must Bring to Their Show: Your mojo. “People getting laid is our No. 1 goal,” Miller says. “You can come to see us and maybe you’re not even facing the stage because you’re dancing with somebody and you’re both in such a good mood because the music is good and you go home together. For us, that’s mission accomplished.”