A great photo doesn’t just capture an event, it takes you there. At Consequence of Sound, that power is so essential. Each year, we cover over two dozen music festivals, in addition to countless concerts anwed special events. Our writers work very hard to bottle up the energy, but much of that journey falls to the hands of our trusty photographers.
That’s not an easy ask and yet the brilliant minds you’re about to see commit to this task without question. As we reported last year, “It’s an unenviable task that’s sometimes dangerous, almost always tedious, and the death of your mind, body, and soul.” Personally, I lasted a year doing this until I finally said, “Son of a bitch, my knees.”
Once again, we’ve named this year’s top photographer, who follows last year’s inaugural winner: Ben Kaye. Following this, we’ve also included separate galleries for our many senior and rookie photographers with accompanying personal anecdotes. If you dig any of their work — and we don’t see how you couldn’t — do yourself a favor and start following ’em.
After all, the world’s much too big to see on your own.
Photographer of the Year
During the winter of 2012, Amanda Koellner started writing for Consequence of Sound. Her first assignment was an album review for Chiddy Bang. She wasn’t too into it, but she trekked on, penning review after review until she eventually shifted into live coverage — an area that clearly put a smile on her face. Who knew this young Master’s student from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism would become one of the site’s go-to photographers.
This year, Koellner’s been working full time behind the lens. She shot Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, Hideout Block Party/AV Club Fest, and various concerts for CoS, as well as Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, Riot Fest, and additional shows for various other outlets. Her eye is unique and she’s now developed a style that is truly her own. What’s more, you can tell these aren’t just gigs to her but adventures she cherishes. Just follow her on Instagram.
Lately, she’s been cutting her teeth as an editor for Alarm Press — a Chicago-based independent publisher that issues books and magazines on music and design. Over the last 12 months, she’s written a cover story on Phantogram, sat down with Sharon Van Etten to chat Goose Island, and traveled all the way to Tokyo for Design Bureau Magazine to cover Japan’s largest design exhibition.
Quite often she works alongside veteran Chicago photographer Joshua Mellin, who also contributes to Consequence of Sound. Although they’re quite dangerous left to their own devices, the two pair up to form the sharpest creative team anyone can find in the music industry. If there’s something hip going down in the Second City, don’t be surprised to see their eyes and ears nearby.
Bottom line: We love success stories. It doesn’t get better than Amanda’s this year.
Amanda’s favorite moment of 2014: “For last year’s top photos recap, I wrote about shooting our beloved Paul McCartney from the crowd at Bonnaroo (as I attended with just a media pass, no photo). My favorite moment this year echoes that experience, as it happened at the same festival (truly one of the greatest places on Earth). This time, however, I was equipped with a photo pass, Jack White was headlining, and I practically skipped into the photo pit at the main stage to photograph a headliner for the first time. We only got to stay for two songs, but there’s no feeling quite like that of briefly existing right between one of your favorite artists and 80,000 other people, if only for a few moments.”
His favorite moment of 2014: “Festivals are often both the best and the worst experiences for a concert photographer rolled into one. Long days/high heat/driving rain/and marathon treks from stage to stage can make one wonder why bother… But the chance to grab images of such a diverse group of musicians in a few days make it worth it in the end. One often gets to capture artists under less controlled conditions than their standard concerts, allowing for unique images. To see Disclosure blanketed in the fading afternoon sun rather than lasers, or Banks, notoriously light (and camera) shy, performing in the daytime where her natural beauty and stage appeal become easy to photograph makes festivals unique. And finally the chance to see and shoot acts who rarely tour such as the Bloody Beetroots Live can seal the deal-it’s all more than worth it in the end…”
His favorite moment of 2014: “My most memorable moment was when Win Butler ran into me at Coachella. He’s a big dude, it hurt, and I have not forgiven him. This wasn’t for CoS, but another memorable moment was when La Dispute cleared the photo pit to let me shoot them. That was dope. Oh, and shooting the Bangerz tour. That was great.”
Debi Del Grande
Her favorite moment of 2014: “I have better photos of Robert Smith at Bottlerock this year, but this meant a lot to me as we weren’t allowed to photograph The Cure at Riot Fest in the pit. I had planned on going out in the crowd after the three songs anyway as they are my favorite band and I wanted to hear their entire set (although mostly festival-type songs). They were the main reason I flew to Chicago. Robert has a myriad of facial expressions, depending on the song, and I have a variety over previous shows, but this photo of him just standing there with the negative space, crossing his arms, staring out in the crowd has emotion for me. It was really really cold that night — a perfect time to see The Cure.”
David Brendan Hall
His favorite moment of 2014: “Unless you’re Ross Halfin or one of his reputed rock photog peers, there’s a slim to none chance these days of landing a portrait session with Soundgarden. For good reason, too: they’ve had so many over the course of their decades-long career – they don’t really need ‘em. After a frustrating back-and-forth email chain between CoS editors and Soundgarden’s PR reps that comprised more nos and maybes than any definitive yes, it felt like that stance might prevail regarding my own prospective SXSW shoot with the band for the cover story on the 20th anniversary of Superunknown, which the seminal Seattle grunge group tackled in its entirety for the first time ever at the weeklong Austin music conference.
Finally, management conceded, and I was granted 15 minutes after the band’s lengthy interview with Nic Harcourt for a Guitar Center Sessions segment. I was to arrive two hours early, scope out the space – a tattered interior turned TV studio inside a nondescript downtown office building – then return for the shoot after the interview. When I walked in to scout around, Soundgarden’s manager wasn’t exactly the warmest dude. I got the vibe that – based on my relatively youthful appearance – he was a bit wary of my photographic expertise.
So yeah, there were some nerves when I popped back in a bit later, shook hands with each band member and began lining them up against a crumbling wall next to a TV studio light conveniently placed in perfect position. They were all smiles and relaxed for about the first 40 seconds, but then Chris Cornell remarked, “Can somebody turn off that fuckin’ light?” So I replied good-naturedly, “Not unless you want me to use a flash and make you look like shit,” which I’m pretty sure drew an amused grin from Kim Thayil. I was eager to try more angles, but after snapping a solid horizontal and vertical, their smiles had faded. They’d just completed a two-hour interview – they were ready to bounce.
So 15 minutes turned into two, and I said my thank yous and goodbyes. Feeling a bit sheepish and under-accomplished, I turned to leave … only to be stopped by their manager. “Dude, check this out,” he said, pointing to his phone. He showed me a photo that he’d snapped – unprecedented by any request – then asked for my number so he could text it to me. I guess he dug what I was doing … that in itself made it one for the books.”
Her favorite moment of 2014: “Stubb’s! SXSW! St. Vincent’s Digital Witness tour! I knew going in that it was going to be a “choreographed show,” though that was a bit of an understatement. The St. Vincent 2014 experience proved to be more like a trippy piece of performance art, and I was thrilled to capture it from the photo pit. The look on Annie’s face in this particular photo really sums up the essence of the show to me—the combination of her eerie, other-worldly stage persona with captivating guitar skills. It was such a memorable way to kick off my festival season this year!”
His favorite moment of 2014: “I’ve shot Deer Tick more times than I can count — hell, I’ve shot them at least three times this year alone, with one more still to come. But this was the first time I’ve ever shot their portrait, and actually only the second portrait session I’d ever done. (The first was like two hours earlier.) I was nervous as hell but they ‘know’ me now and were great fun. All I had to do was say, “Mess around with those cannons,” and they gave me more shots than I could’ve dreamed of. But my actual, all-time, end-of-the-day real favorite moment from 2014 in photos? How hard I found it to pull just my five favorites. That’s a good problem to have.”
His favorite moment of 2014: “Shows tend to blend together after doing this line of work for ages — but Arcade Fire always sticks out. They’re the band from our generation that will still be relevant in 30 years, and they delivered hands down my best live experience in 2014.
Coachella was an entirely different experience this year. The festival I grew up with is now dead and gone, which sounds cliché, but I don’t recall Aaron Paul and Jared Leto being paid by designers to roam the Polo Fields when I was a teenager. By the end of the weekend, I was pretty fed up with just about all of it. And then, as usual, Win Butler saved the day.
As the band warmed the crowd up with the beginning of “Reflektor”, Butler finally graced the stage to massive applause, and walked up to a microphone that was within spitting distance of me. He boldly took it and said, “Hi everybody, we know it’s kind of fucked up this year with all that VIP bullshit, but we want you to know…it’s not that cool in person.” And then the show began.
The photo here of him was taken within a couple minutes of that quote. I couldn’t help but feel that we were on the same wavelength.”
His favorite moment of 2014: “Photographing St. Vincent’s Hendrix-channeling set at Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago was a clear highlight of the year and beyond. The sunset time slot lent itself perfectly for lighting designer Susanne Sasic to show off the full power of the Digital Witness stage design, making for some incredible photo opportunities, as Annie Clark offered up one of the defining shows of the tour.”
Her favorite moment of 2014: “I think my favorite moment this year came when I had the opportunity to shoot a true idol of mine. I guess because of that I was a little nervous that night. I felt like my stomach was in knots. I kept on telling myself, ‘Calm down, it’s just a show.’ Thankfully, those feelings were replaced with goosebumps the minute Tori Amos’ hands touched her piano. It was a beautiful venue and the acoustics and crowd were amazing. It was truly a memorable night. It was also what I call a ‘pinch me’ moment.”
Her favorite moment of 2014: “Project Pabst filled the void that Portland’s Musicfest NW had created. All I wished for this new event was a unicorn of some sort, as marketed in the festival’s poster. Well, I got my horned horse in a form of a giant silver statue with a glowing spire and much more — a spectacular view without the bustle of downtow, the perfect balance of tranquility and excitement, and a good representation of diverse genres without the EDM overkill. Eighties UK pop hitters Tears for Fears and hometown rocking heroes Modest Mouse firework-ed a patch of SW Portland, all thanks to Pabst Blue Ribbon.”
Her favorite moment of 2014: “Every show I had shot prior to Katy Perry was of all male rock/alternative bands, which was quite the contrast to the mega pop star’s extravagant Prismatic World Tour. Katy Perry is the first female performer I’ve covered and she did not disappoint in excitement and energy. Aside from the challenges of shooting through crowds, from the far away soundboard, and heavy movement of the performers, every element of the show created a truly unique and electrifying experience to shoot. It was tempting to want to stop shooting and just observe the pop extravaganza.”
Her favorite moment of 2014: “I’ve shot a lot of festivals, but Pickathon took the cake this year, hands down. It’s a music lover’s dream hidden away in Middle-of-Nowhere, Oregon where 3,500 people and a family-friendly structure give everyone a chance to breathe, including the artists. There’s barely a divide between patrons and VIP, so if you think the dude next to you is Jonathan Richman, just ask; it probably is. Best of all, there’s a stage made entirely of branches in the middle of the woods. Angel Olsen and Destroyer’s intimate sets were natural fits there, but unlikely acts Parquet Courts and Mac DeMarco’s were just as welcoming, with DeMarco crowdsurfing all the way to the edge of the trees before floating back. The only downside is that it couldn’t go on forever.”
Her favorite moment of 2014: “My favorite moment from the year had to be seeing Montreal punk group PyPy play a tiny venue in a tiny mining town in northern Quebec during FME. They were always on the brink of unraveling as they played; even with a relatively traditional setup, they made sure that anything could go wrong at any time, and then thrived off of that danger. Shooting frontwoman Annie-Claude Deschênes was a dream. No one has so much raw, bizarre charisma; no one has ever seemed so thrilled to invert the way you look at her.”
His favorite moment of 2014: “It was initially highly disappointing when, at first glance, it seemed that OutKast’s “hometown” show for their highly, highly anticipated reunion run was going to be an early tour festival set at Counterpoint in April (located nearly an hour from ATL). Something didn’t sit right and after reading some initial reviews of the early shows (see their opening weekend comeback set at Coachella), I began to lose interest in even seeing them perform after over a decade of anticipation.
Alas, #ATLast was announced in early-summer and demand dictated that the initial one-night performance quickly turn into a three-day affair, and a festival built on the strength of the headliners and a surrounding cast of impactful and influential local artists turned this picture-perfect weekend into downtown Atlanta into something truly unforgettable. Atlanta is a sprawling and extremely diverse place, making broad-sweeping, positive coalescence almost impossible outside of a sports championship (which, if you’ve been rooting for the Falcons, Hawks, Braves or college teams in this millenium, is a laughable sentiment).
Far exceeding high expectations, The #ATLast event was more than a music festival. It was a rare-found unifying moment for the capital city of the South, bringing together all that is and can be good about humanity for a fleeting few days to celebrate our favorite local duo. People outside of the Southeast may have missed the magnitude of this event and it’s kind of a you-had-to-be-there thing to try and appropriately convey but I will say this: in all my years of seeing and covering music, I’ve never seen a happier, more peaceful and diverse crowd. It was a beautiful thing, and head-and-shoulders better than any of the other 100+ shows I’ve witnessed in 2014.”
His favorite moment of 2014: “I really like when performers show love to their fans and get them involved in the show. Earlier this year, I saw one of my all-time favorite producers, Mr. Carmack with Djemba Djemba. I remember Djemba Djemba taking my friend’s phone, who was filming the show, and running around the stage filming the crowd and DJing with the phone still recording. After a flawless show, the two artists stayed at the venue, chatting with fans that stayed until the end. We got a few things signed and shared music before they had to run to their hotel. Fun times like this create lasting memories and great connections with the people you are with.”
Her favorite moment of 2014: “My favorite part of live shows is not thinking. When you’re at a good show, you’re not thinking about unanswered emails, social media, or what to have for lunch tomorrow (probably a donut though). All the bullshit kind of melts away. I had some great moments like this the past year but one stand-out occasion was seeing Los Campesinos. It was cold in New York, I had been sick for months and I was not the most chipper camper. When the lights came up and the singer yelped through “As Lucerne/The Low,” I felt a surge of happiness—a high. There were dust particles and the backlights created a halo effect on the band. Even though I wasn’t feeling well, I knew in that moment why I’ll always be okay as long as there’s music.”
Her favorite moment of 2014: “While it’s hard to choose what my favorite experience has been while shooting for Consequence of Sound, that experience would probably be shooting Sweetlife 2014 at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. Although a few people, including myself, have called it a “bullshit overpriced salad festival with a 2012 lineup” and it ended up raining so badly that during Foster the People’s set I had to hide in the media tent, it was one of the first festivals I’ve ever shot and one of the shows that taught me how to operate as the only photographer covering a festival.
I learned that I had to pack tons of energy bars since there was no time to use the lunch vouchers and that I was likely to go home without a piece of my gear. (RIP lens hood.) I also learned that every single show I would ever go to at Merriweather would likely also rain and that I needed to carry rain jackets for my cameras. Also, I learned that I didn’t have any desire to shoot Lana Del Rey again. On top of everything, being able to shoot Capital Cities, St. Lucia, ASTR, and Chromeo taught me that I wanted to shoot them when they came back to DC again.”