Mo Pop: so pretty, so boutique, and so niche

Mo Pop: so pretty, so boutique, and so niche
The festival last year. Photo courtesy of Mo Pop.

It’s sweet summertime in Detroit, as you might have noticed. It means music festivals are flooding the streets and parks all over the metro area. We’ve had Movement for years now, of course — a festival that encapsulates a music and style that Detroit helped to create in the first place. But until recently, something was missing from the summer festivals that inhabited Detroit.

We celebrate techno, and we celebrate the local garage-rock scene in myriad ways. But what about the national touring acts that dominate the alternative airways and blogoverse? Before, you had to travel to Chicago for Pitchfork, Death Valley for Coachella, or to Lollapalooza to see these bands. And now, you just hop over to West Riverfront Park for Mo Pop, which offers an amuse-bouche sampling of the bands and artists who are bringing us, well, more pop.

We talked to one of the festival organizers, Daniel McGowan from Pontiac’s Crofoot, about Mo Pop’s history and what we can expect from this year’s fourth anniversary.

“We started the festival out at Freedom Hill in Sterling Heights,” McGowan says. “It was a great location for when we started out. But we wanted to expand and make the festival more comfortable — we wanted an open field.” And that’s exactly what they got when they chose West Riverfront Park. Sure, Belle Isle would have been great, but the Orion Festival didn’t sound like anything to replicate. And Hart Plaza already has Movement. Last year, the festival found its home at the park, and McGowan says they’re never looking back.

So what can you look forward to when you hit the park this weekend? McGowan and his team have created little villages to explore when your favorite band isn’t taking one of the two stages. New this year is an old-school arcade area where people can play games like Pac Man in an air-conditioned (we repeat, an air-conditioned) tent, and a bar.

Adding to all of that is a “craft village” with cool, hip, artisanal vendors selling things like hand-made soap, a tech area that will feature some of Detroit’s coolest startups in areas such as virtual reality and drones, and a craft beer garden where you can drown your ambitions and gain some dance confidence for headliners like G-Eazy, M83, and Haim.

And speaking of the acts, McGowan says picking this year’s lineup was difficult and easy all at the same time. “We wanted acts like G-Eazy and the Head and the Heart that have been here before and have sold out shows,” he says. “But we also wanted acts that haven’t been here before, like Haim.

“There is something nice about having a boutique and niche festival.” With about 20,000 people in attendance, and a special after-party on Saturday, July 26, at PJ’s Lager House curated by must-see act Tunde Olaniran, Mo Pop is expected to be a great time to see all the bands that your favorite music blogs can’t get enough of.

Here are six acts you won't want to miss at this year's Mo Pop:

Most likely to make you wish you had a band with your siblings: Haim

What happens when three sisters pick up guitars and start their own band? Let us introduce you to Haim. Eldest sister Este slaps the bass and contributes vocals, middle sister Danielle handles lead guitar and vocal, and youngest sister Alana, aka Baby Haim, dances her way through guitars and keyboards. The sisters began playing their respective instruments at a young age with the help of their parents — who then turned the family into a cover band (appropriately called Rockinhaim) that played street fairs and charity events just for fun.

When the sisters became young adults, they decided to lovingly ditch the parents and become a full-fledged indie rock trio. Their debut album, 2013's Days Are Gone, came out to critical praise, and the sisters are busy in the studio finishing their sophomore release, hopefully coming out later this year. This is the band's first time playing in Detroit so we're hoping this will be a special show for Haim fans and the band.  

Haim performs 8:20 p.m. on Saturday, July 23 on the Fender Stage at Mo Pop.

Most likely to make you turn the fuck up: Tunde Olaniran

There is so much to say about Tunde Olaniran. The Flint native is often described as a rapper, but he is too talented to be given just one label. He raps, he sings, he writes, he produces, he plays. When Olaniran sings, he breaks into a Prince-like falsetto over thrashing beats and heavy bass. His latest release, 2015's Transgression, is so underrated it should be a crime. Olaniran gives insane whiplash to lyrics just like Danny Brown, but can slow things down to a soft croon like our office crush, Drake.

The best part about Olaniran is how he falls into other genres so effortlessly. One moment there are trap-like beats, and next the bass drops and you feel like you're at EDC in Las Vegas poppin' Molly with the best of the best. Plus, Tunde has always been one to show love to Detroit so we're pretty stoked to see this exciting artist.

Tunde Olaniran performs at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday, July 23 on the Fender Stage at Mo Pop.

Most likely to make the hipsters go wild: BØRNS

Ahh, BØRNS — you sweet, sweet mysterious man. If any new artist in 2016 represents the beautiful music festival culture that is alive and well, it's none other than BØRNS. The Grand Haven native, born Garrett Borns, released his debut album Dopamine late last year, and it's a bubblegum treat of psychedelic rock with pop synths and catchy-as-hell lyrics.

His biggest hit so far, "Electric Love," was named an instant classic by Taylor Swift (apparently that's a huge thing) but it really is a catchy jam. Another great thing about BØRNS is his mystique and sex appeal. We honestly thought he was a woman the first time we heard "Electric Love." There's a strange, androgynous appeal to him that makes him one of the most exciting performers of 2016.  

BØRNS performs at 6:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 23 on the Fender Stage at Mo Pop.

Most likely to make you want to move to England: Glass Animals

There are a ton of reasons to move to the U.K. (if we can really call it that anymore. Thanks, Brexit!) but indie rock band Glass Animals are sure enough reason for anyone to hop the pond. Though not as hard-hitting as other English indie rock bands, Glass Animals infuse psychedelic guitars and trippy lyrics to really chill things out. You'll definitely want a cold one and a blanket to lie on during their sundown set.   

Glass Animals plays at 7:10 p.m. on Saturday, July 23 on the Grande Stage at Mo Pop.

Most likely to make you dance your ass off: Matt & Kim

If you've never been to a Matt & Kim show, then please prepare your body. You will dance your ass off and head-bang your head 'till all the blood is there and you can't feel your legs. OK, don't go that wild, but rest assured Matt & Kim will be giving it their all. The pop duo has been traveling the festival circuit for a couple years now, and their shows just get wilder and bigger with every summer.

Matt & Kim perform at 7:20 p.m. on Sunday, July 24 on the Grande Stage at Mo Pop.

Most likely to inspire your hipster wedding: Father John Misty

Father John Misty makes indie hipster dreams come true, and we love him for that. Also known by his real name Josh Tillman, the former Fleet Foxes drummer went solo, donned the name Father John Misty, and the rest his history. His latest album, last year's I Love You, Honeybear, is a beautiful folk record that showcases a gorgeous voice and fantastic lyrics. He's the perfect act to play a late Sunday afternoon.

Father John Misty performs at 6:20 p.m. on Sunday, July 24 on the Fender Stage at Mo Pop.

The Mo Pop festival runs July 23 and 24 at West Riverfront Park, Detroit; starts at noon; General admission is $125, VIP tickets are $249. More information at

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