Winter Soulstice 2020 delivers sultry vocals and smooth tunes

Lydia Tsou /HIGHLANDER

After weeks of anticipation, students lined up in front of the SRC for ASPB’s 10th annual Winter Soulstice, the premiere Rhythm and Blues (R&B) concert on campus. Doors were to open at 6:00 p.m. and performances officially began at 7:00 PM. While waiting in line, Riverside’s capricious weather struck, with light to medium rains pouring down on the waiting students. However, ASPB staff did not allow entry into the venue until around 6:30 p.m. The now wet and agitated students were then let through security and into the building. 

Upon entry, attendees were greeted by a large Urban Decay booth as well as a table offering merchandise of the artist UMI. At the Urban Decay booth, students lined up to receive a bag with a miniature version of Urban Decay’s bestselling setting spray. Students could also spin a wheel to win various promotional items that were printed with the Urban Decay logo decal and were able to take photos at a photo booth. 

Martin Lopez /HIGHLANDER

The concert opened with Troi Irons, an indie and alternative up and coming artist based in Los Angeles. Equipped with a single electric guitar, she performed dark and melancholic songs. Her eclectic musical style didn’t captivate the audience at first, as many attendees were unfamiliar with her work. Throughout her set, however, the crowd began to warm up to her alternative rock-inspired music. The absence of a musical accompaniment stripped her songs down of their gritty feel, appealing to a larger audience who may not resonate with punk and edgier composition of music. With passionate vocals, a clear technical understanding of music and cinematic tunes, her musical talent shined and impressed the audience, especially because she performed solo. Overall, her musical and emotional presence were prominent and held the audience hostage to her smooth vocals and hypnotising guitar riffs.

Martin Lopez /HIGHLANDER

Then transitioning to the midliner, UMI, the audience began to get restless as there was a large time delay for the artist to arrive on stage. While the crowd awaited the next performance, the musicians on stage, acting as her musical accompaniment for the night, appeared confused; there was much disorganization amidst the staff and concert hosts. After much waiting, the audience was ultimately greeted by UMI, a lo-fi R&B artist hailing from Seattle and currently a student at the University of Southern California. UMI, with her full female musical accompaniment, started off her set with deep breathing and meditation. As she progressed through her set, her performances represented the duality and blend of musical genres, gaining inspiration from neo-soul music and lo-fi alternative music. With her delicate vocals permeating the air and intermingling with the hum of the synth organs in the background, her peaceful and profound music was felt by the audience deeply. With a calm yet energetic stage presence, UMI performed music ranging from cover songs to works reminiscent of ‘90s Japanese soft-pop. As a whole, the anticipation for her set was justified, with an extremely talented musical accompaniment and peaceful vibes all around making up for the stage delay. 

Martin Lopez /HIGHLANDER

Entering the second half of the concert, direct support artist Kiana Lede arrived with a full musical accompaniment. Lede, a contemporary R&B artist native to Arizona, was highly anticipated by the crowd. The audience followed each note she sang, every beat that was dropped and every guitar string strung. With luxurious, sensual and sultry vocals, she truly embodied the intent of Winter Soulstice: drawing inspiration from contemporary R&B and alternative music. The crowd was emotionally vulnerable and moved by her beautiful tunes. However, technicality wise, the sound balance between the bass and the vocals was extremely off, especially closer to the stage. With an abundance of microphone feedback and reverb, as well as a painfully intense bass, the set was not as enjoyable as it could have been. Due to this imbalance, it was difficult to hear the annunciation of her words and led to disengagement from the audience. 

Lastly, headliner Brent Faiyaz, a jazz-inspired R&B artist hailing from Maryland, was greeted by the cheerful and excited screams of his fans. With clean vocals taking inspiration from jazz, funk, indie and hip-hop, his intimate and enchanting songs took a hold on the crowd. With smooth guitar riffs, deep keyboard chords and a steady drum beat, the composition was fulfilling and penetrated the hearts and souls of the audience. However, the sound balance was not fixed after Kiana Lede’s performance, furthering the auditory discomfort from earlier. At one point, the intensity of the bass became almost overwhelming; his set dragged on, eventually losing the full engagement of the crowd. Throughout his set, the crowd awaited his performance of “Poison,” his most popular song. Yet, to their dismay, he ended his set abruptly and did not perform the song. The audience was then asked to leave the venue immediately and workers of the event were strict on making students exit the gymnasium as soon as possible. 

This year’s Winter Soulstice was impressive as per usual, with high production value, incredible talent and an opportunity for students to relax and enjoy music at the convenience of their own university. However, considering that it was the 10th anniversary of the event, many attendees expected grandiose and engaging performances per set, which was not consistently the case.

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