VIA Festival must-see acts

The VIA Festival is returning to Pittsburgh on Oct. 1–5, and it’s a pretty big deal. The event, which will be expanding to include events in Chicago this year, is one of the highlights of Pittsburgh’s cultural calendar and touts some of the most celebrated acts in independent music.

Spread out at different venues around the city, VIA is sure to get you hitting many of Pittsburgh’s greatest venues, cinemas, and more — maybe even the one and only Carnegie Mellon. Here are a few key artists and events that will prove that the cost of an all-access pass is totally worth it.

Real Estate
Oct. 1
Location: Altar Bar

As someone who grew up in New Jersey — actually in the next town over from the band members — I can attest that indie-surf band Real Estate sounds exactly like how it feels to grow up in Jersey. The guitars are dreamy and wistful, the rhythm section bounces along calmly and loosely, and the vocals wander off like a chain of thoughts while relaxing in a deck chair on a May afternoon.

Real Estate is an act not to be missed by fans of live indie music. With all confident players, the band’s songs sound as tight as they do on the record. If you’re standing in the crowd, just try closing your eyes and see if you don’t immediately feel transported back to those days when you were a teenager and you’d just gotten your license and you spent the entire afternoon driving around the neighborhood aimlessly only because you could. Real Estate has a way of doing that to people.

If you like Real Estate, other VIA performers to catch include Blue Hawaii, who will perform on Saturday, Oct. 4 at a yet-to-be-announced location, and Ellie Herring, who will be performing on Friday, Oct. 3 at Hot Mass on Penn Avenue. Blue Hawaii is a duo that make dreamy and chilled-out electronic pop, and Ellie Herring is an electronic producer who makes ethereal sounds in a style similar to more popular artists Odesza and Baths.

Diode Milliampere
Oct. 3 & 4
Location: Carnegie Mellon, TBA

Some people — and it must be awful to live inside such a narrow mind — believe that music can only be made with the types of instruments that have been available to humans for thousands of years. There are others, however, that believe that music’s definition doesn’t lie in its means, but rather in something else. Diode Milliampere is a perfect example of the latter.

Using outdated computer equipment and an MS-DOS (the Microsoft precursor to the Windows operating system) application called Adlib Tracker II, Milliampere is one of the rising stars of the chiptune scene. Given his ancient (at least in terms of a technological timeline) and digital methods, Milliampere’s music has a surprising amount of heart. Videos on his YouTube channel — including one of his ambient yet club-happy track “Aquarius” — give a peek into his unique songwriting process.

He will be giving a lecture discussing his work and methodology on Carnegie Mellon’s campus on Friday, Oct. 3 and performing on Saturday, Oct. 4.

If you like Diode Milliampere, other VIA performers to check out include L-Vis 1990 who will perform Saturday, Oct. 4 at a yet-to-be-announced location and Pittsburgh-based hip-hop producer Mr. Owl, who will perform Friday, Oct. 3 at Belvedere’s Ultra Dive on Butler Street. L-Vis 1990 is a London-based club producer that makes the kinds of songs that make you feel like you’re sticking your head out of the top of a stretch-limo while driving through a big city after having a few glasses of free champagne. Mr. Owl employs sinister, slithering bass and bouncing hip-hop drums to create beats that will give you goosebumps.

Cakes Da Killa
Oct. 4
Location: TBA

There are very few musical genres — dance and disco really being the only exceptions — that historically have been welcoming toward the LGBTQ community, and rap is certainly near the top of the list of offenders. That homophobia, thankfully, is beginning to lose its grip, and many of the most talented noisemakers in rap today have come up through the LGBTQ community. Cakes Da Killa, with his fierce personality, is certainly one of the most gripping faces of this emerging community.

Over EDM-inspired beats, Cakes Da Killa (Rashard Bradshaw) spits fast and furious rhymes with a large personality. Recent releases “You Ain’t Kno?” and “Naptime” feature booming 808 trap, while the older (five months) “I Run This Club” has the kind of throbbing bass that would be right at home in a Miami nightclub.

Cakes is very vocal about his sexuality as well, and it’s a welcoming change to hear the usual machismo and bravado in a new dress.

Known for his wild and energetic performances, Cakes Da Killa is definitely a face at VIA that isn’t to be missed. He will be performing on Saturday, Oct. 4.

If you like Cakes Da Killa, other VIA performers to check out include TT The Artist, who is performing Wednesday, Oct. 1 at Cattivo on 44th Street and Zebra Katz, who is performing Saturday, Oct. 4 at a yet-to-be-announced location. Both are unique and colorful up-and-coming rappers. TT The Artist also hosts The CW network’s “Keepin' It Real" TV show.

Undervolt & Co.
Oct. 4
Location: TBA

In addition to music, VIA will also feature visual artists. Of the many available, the big pop-up event on Saturday, Oct. 4 will be curated by Undervolt & Co., a label for experimental video artists. There will be a group lecture given at Carnegie Mellon followed by live visuals from Pittsburgh-based Undervolt artists Yoshi Sodeoka, Johnny Woods, MSHR, Sabrina Ratte, and JJ Stratford.

Check out the Undervolt website, undervolt.co, to get a sense of the kind of psychedelic-inspired videos created by the artists on the label.