Pitchfork (the media company, the brand, the behemoth) reminds me a lot of Coachella. Specifically: Most of the reasons people hate on it are totally valid, but after you accept all that; it’s still the dopest company in their field. Pitchfork Music Festival did not disappoint.
The main issue with so many city-based festivals is that they don’t accept what they are. They attempt to be a massive regional festival with little to no regard for representing what makes their city great.
Governor’s Ball and Outside Lands are the biggest fuck bois in this regard. For example; this year, Gov Ball had a Silent Disco—in the middle of the festival. Surrounded by music. Silent Discos are awesome in campgrounds because they allow late night parties while everyone sleeps. But, what the is the point to have a Silent Disco in the day, with no less than three stages blaring sound?
Pitchfork Festival knows what it is. It plays under the conditions. As such, they pass almost every festival diehards checklist flawlessly.
Doors opened Friday at 3pm. It was a nice tip of the cap to the many who wouldn’t get off work until around that time. It is a weekday afterall.
My day started out with a quick romp through the Chirp Records Fair. Dangerous waters, to be sure. Every major (and most minor) record label had booths selling everything in their catalogue. There were also a slew of local record shops represtenting. I wanted EVERYTHING. Cassettes, LPs, CDs, 45s, 7”s EVERYTHING. (Oh, hello Saddle Creek. What’s this? Every Single Bright Eyes EP and LP on 180 gram vinyl. Ohhhhh my knees are weak.)
It took everything in me to not drop my entire weekend budget in that tent. I settled for an obscure record called As Is that the boothman was very adamantly trying to sell me.
“This is a great record man. We’re calling it Beat Pop.”
“Yea, it’s got a lot of hip hop influences, but the foreground is more poppy. Something different y’know.”
“Yea, I’ll consider it I’m ju-“
“You want a beer, man?”
He was very persuasive. And I felt it was appropriate to procure a record that ‘you’ve probably never heard about’ at a festival whose publication made their entire brand on that phrase.
Natalie Prass, whose self-titled record you should be listening to if you haven’t already (fuck it, even if you have; listen again), translated beautifully in a festival setting. Her stellar “Birds of Prey” was the first song I heard at the festival and I wouldn’t have it any other way. She also played a beautiful rendition of Janet Jackson’s “Anytime, Anyplace.” Which you’ll remember as the source of the incredible sample from Kendrick Lamar’s “Poetic Justice.”
Jessica Pratt played serenely. As always, it felt sacrilegious to clap after she finished each song. As if the snap of palms broke the spell she so effortlessly weaves during her live shows.
After all the mellow music it was time to slide into something more hiFY. iLoveMakonnen worked perfectly. And if you think the transition from the ethereal Pratt to the party anthem Makonnen was a disconcerting one; you are mostly right. But the timing felt right, and Makonnen’s DJ introduced the kid with some serious bangers. A$AP Ferg’s “Work (Remix)” and several minutes of LOOKATDAFLICKADAWRIST, felt appropriate considering the amount of chefing that would occur on stage.
Makonnen can cook. That cannot be understated. Considering the kind of bad mojo the Based God has been laying on heretics, I sincerely hoped that Makonnen had filled out all the proper copyright paperwork on twitter. But, Lil B and Makonnen were set to co-headline a show later that night; so I’m sure it’s all good.
iLoveMakonnen’s music was live as hell. Hearing 2000 youngin$ singing “I don’t sell mollllllly no moe!” was just as goofy and intoxicating as it sounds. There was much cooking. Makonnen knows how to make a stew with the wrist. The crowd chef’d a buffet. At a point, Makonnen FaceTimed his mom, “Momma,” he said, pointing the camera out to the crowd, “look at all these people! I’m about to perform your favorite song. I love you.” TYBG.
Mac DeMarco, the Taylor Swift of Pitchfork Festival, got a roar of approval when he hit the stage. But, Since I had already seen Mac DeMarco somewhere like seven times, I went to check out Steve Gunn. As I walked away from the Red Stage the deafening roar of DeMarco Swifties was unprecedented. There probably isn’t any artist at this festival with such a diehard following. Probably because his output is so incredible, it deserves every hoarse voice.
I had heard of Steve Gunn solely through press releases that fill up my lovenbox like zombies. His PR had been pushing him extensively considering his upcoming show at P4K. I’d given him a spin but never really felt anything. It seemed slow, beautiful but lacking OOMPH.
It’s totally different live. Steve Gunn and his band are as tight as you could hope from a five-piece. And that’s important, because so much of the PUNCH of his live show stems from the uncanny telepathy of his drummer and lead guitarist. A slow burning rhythm turns into a storming sound tunnel at just the right moment.
Steve Gunn’s music is reminiscent of the War on Drugs and Kurt Vile, but his predilection for pushing a groove into loud and unwavering territory sets him apart. It was a powerful performance. One, that I am upset doesn’t translate into his recorded material. But, he is just starting out so we’ll see where it goes.
Tobias Jesso Jr was next on my list. He played at the same time as Panda Bear, but it didn’t feel like much of a competition for me. Jesso’s set was sweet. His music is the kind you can travel to. Not the kind of travel you do behind a wheel, but the sort you do behind your eyes. His is a solid soundtrack for reminiscing on past lives and past loves. Considering I’ve recently moved to New York and graduated college, I sort of needed that. So thanks.
My singular memory from Chvrches, predictably, amazing set had to do with a baby. To my left was a young mother playing with her new born on a blanket. Chvrches specialize in the sort of sky reaching pop that makes your throat tight. To have that music playing over this moment felt singular. As the crowd’s arms danced above their heads, a mother and child tussled in the grass. It was beautiful.
I moved to get a good spot for Wilco. The amount of people willing to wait two shows for a decent vantage was ridiculous. Or, well, not that ridiculous. This is Wilco. The same Wilco that has one of the three 10/10 pitchfork has ever granted. So I guess it makes sense. I was pretty far back, like far enough to lay down for a bit.
I passed out. It was a delicious nap, to be honest. When I awoke a group of guys tapped my shoulder.
“You good, man?” said one.
“Yea, we were making sure no one stepped on you,” said another.
“Oh, thanks,” I said as I stood up. To my surprise I was sort of in the thick of it. Whatever I thought was ‘far back enough to stretch out’ had turned into anything but. The entire festival had turned out for the headliners.
Wilco had released a new album, free of charge, Beyonce Surprise Drop-style, not 24 hours before their headlining show at the festival. Much to the chagrin of many, they opened with, and played through the entire new album, the oddly titled; kitty cat featuring, Star Wars. A lot of the songs were solid. I enjoyed them live a lot more than on the album. But with less than a day to digest it, the crowd didn’t really vibe to it and more or less waited for them to get on to, as one drunken dude described it, “Yankee Hoe Something or Fucking or Other” (direct quote).
They eventually finished up Star Wars. In hindsight it’s pretty cool that we all got to see them play it live for the first time ever, front to back. But, once they started in on “Handshake Drugs” the place finally burst forth. Everyone sung every word to almost every song from them on.
The played a lot of old favorites. “Impossible Germany,” “Via Chicago,” “Heavy Metal Drummer.” Watching people kiss during “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” was… something. Something powerful that I don’t really know how to put into words. It was a fitting way to end the day.
Words: Ziv Biton
Photography courtesy of Pitchfork