Rapper J. Cole performs Aug. 5 at the Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Cole performed hits such as "Crooked Smile" and "Power Trip" to tens of thousands last weekend at the annual music and food festival. (Courtesy photo/Ché Holts)
When it came to scheduling conflicts at last weekend’s installment of the Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate Park, promoters — knowingly or unknowingly — demonstrated a divide within the millennial generation.
Counterprogramming at festivals is when multiple events take place at the same time. For example, British art rock band Radiohead playing the main stage to end the festival’s second day while electronic dance musician Zedd played on the opposite side of the festival.
When that happened, a parting within the millennial set took place. It’s no stretch to say that the majority of festival attendees fit snugly into the generation ranging, according to some, from 1982 to 2000, making us range in age from 16 to 34.
I’m among that group, although it’s worth noting that if I had been born just three days earlier, in 1981, I would be considered Gen X, so I feel I relate well to both groups. When FX’s “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” (right) aired earlier this year, I was the right age to appreciate the modern program but also old enough to remember the events the first time around, including the hoopla about Marcia Clark’s hair.
I’m also old enough to unironically use the word “hoopla.”
So, like any older member of the millennial set who had their minds blown by the British band during the past two decades, the ’Head vs. Zedd conflict wasn’t much of one. I didn’t expect it to be for many other festivalgoers, but I underestimated Zedd’s appeal among the youngest of my generation. A sizable crowd flocked to the Russian-German dance musician’s act because some of them saw Radiohead, as someone recently told my friend, Cara, as a “mom band.”
Admittedly, the bar for enjoyment is easier to clear for uninitiated listeners for Zedd than it is for Radiohead. With a festival that lasts 30 total hours, every minute counts, so picking the EDM artist who virtually guarantees a fun, danceable time even if you don’t know any of his material is a safer bet than a quirky alt-rock band that has made its name by sitting at the plot point on the graph where experimentation meets accessibility.
While it wasn’t much of a choice for me, I don’t fault others. An 18-year window for a generation is pretty large considering I went to elementary school and played Oregon Trail on an Apple II while the youngest millennials had more powerful computers in their pockets as iPhones at the same age.
Radiohead vs. Zedd wasn’t the only place where this intragenerational divide cropped up. The night before, the elder millennials flocked to Friday headliner LCD Soundsystem, a dance-punk mainstay of the 2000s on a reunion tour, while the younger seemed to overwhelmingly chose North Carolina-based rapper J. Cole (left), who’s found success in this decade. I figured I’ll have another chance to see Cole, but “to tell the truth, this could be the last time” for LCD, as one of its songs goes.
Yet one more example came Sunday evening, when electronic group Major Lazer blared away on the main stage and rocker Ryan Adams played the nearby Sutro Stage. Like Cole and Zedd, Major Lazer’s success is more recent, with Adams career now spanning more than two decades.
“Somebody's got their laptop turned up so loud right now, man, it’s crazy,” Adams said to laughter as his crowd felt the bass rumble from Major Lazer’s set in the neighboring meadow.
I didn’t always make what seemed to be the “older millennial” choice, either. I certainly shook my booty and had fun during 22-year-old Jauz’s genre-bending EDM performance Saturday while Big Grams, a collaboration between Phantogram and 1990s/2000s hip-hop great Big Boi from OutKast, played the main stage.
To put the difference down as young millennials like to dance vs. old millennials are sophisticated would be a self-serving viewpoint lacking nuance. I think all of the acts mentioned offer something worthwhile. I was disappointed that LCD played at the same time as J. Cole.
Yet as far as attendance goes, the elder millennials are reaching an age when their music is becoming the classic or legacy acts. Radiohead has been making music longer than even some college-aged millennials have been alive.A panoramic look at the Polo Field as Radiohead performs "Burn the Witch" to kick off its headlining set Saturday at the Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate Park. (Daily Republic photo/Nick DeCicco)
This year’s Outside Lands showed the widening gulf between myself, a man in his mid-30s, and someone who is about to start their junior year of high school. We might be the same generation on paper, but our life experiences are entirely different.
It’s smart of Outside Lands’ promoters to appeal to both ends of that generational spectrum, but I wonder what it portends for future installments. Given the youthful vibe of the festival, I picture the older end of the millennial range aging out of festival culture as it approaches its 40s.
Then it won’t be long before the cycle continues again. It’s easy to imagine an Outside Lands 10 years from now in 2026 when someone like J. Cole is a headliner carting more than 15 years of hits playing the main stage as someone born after 2000 — Gen Z, the Founders, or whatever 21st century children are called — is the counterprogramming.