Monday, July 16, 2012

Pitchfork: the festival in review

Posted By on 07.16.12 at 06:04 PM

Some of the attendees who chose to get muddy
I just watched a video shot at the Pitchfork Music Festival this past weekend, and the sight of the festival grounds alone was enough to trigger a wave of somatic anxiety and exhaustion. Even for those of us who don't consider a policy of avoiding dehydration by drinking one bottle of water for every two beers to be "stupid," like some of the interviewees in this video, the festival weekend can be physically grueling.

Despite its inherent brutality, Pitchfork is still my favorite of Chicago's big summer festivals—partly because it's so well run and conscientious of its attendees. The rainstorms during the weekend only resulted in slight deviations from the planned schedule, and a phalanx of staff and volunteers managed to offset the rains' effects on the grounds to the point where the only people who got muddy were the ones who wanted to. And when the weather turned sunnier and hotter, there was free sunblock available—and the security guards in front of the stages gave free bottles of water to the fans dancing up front, who needed hydration the most. Given that Lollapalooza often resembles a strangely festive and hypercapitalistic refugee camp, these small gestures matter.

But obviously people didn't choose to spend their money on Pitchfork tickets just because of the free sunblock. While I heard some complaints that this year's wasn't the strongest lineup, I'm also fairly certain that I've heard the same about every installment since the second one. Ryan Schreiber excluded, probably nobody wanted to check out every single one of the 47 acts on the bill, but there were also only a couple of instances when, between the big Green and Red stages and the smaller Blue, I wasn't interested in anyone who was performing at any given time.

I spent all of Sunday reviewing bands on my Twitter using emoji, but I forgot to do an emoji wrap-up of the entire festival. It would be: umbrella, fire, umbrella, fire, music notes, music notes, speaker, speaker, rocket ship, smiling alien, smiling alien, smiling alien, skull, skull, thumbs up.

The good:

- Outer Minds, the Atlas Moth, and A Lull drawing respectable crowds despite each being the first act of the day on the Blue stage. They were also the only Chicagoans on the bill besides Willis Earl Beal, and Pitchfork's local choices have sometimes seemed like mere tokenism in the past.

- Danny Brown's frequent appearances throughout the festival and afterparties, without his crew (unlike A$AP Rocky and Chief Keef, who rolled dozens deep), fully down to hang out with civilian attendees, and at least as psyched as anyone in Union Park to be there—all of which prompted me to declare him the Bill Murray of the festival. I left the afterparty he was booked to DJ before he showed up, at which point he turned it into an allegedly phenylethylamine-fueled trainwreck—but friends who stayed attested to the fact that, as far as trainwrecks go, it was highly entertaining and extremely endearing.

- AraabMuzik, Flying Lotus, and Clams Casino proving that electronic-music performances built around samplers, sequencers, and computers can be every bit as soulful as any "real" band. I wouldn't be surprised if Akai saw a little uptick in sales of its MPC samplers following AraabMuzik's set, which was only a can of lighter fluid away from Jimi-at-Monterey levels of ridiculousness.

- The good vibes. I don't even care if you call me a hippie—it was a pleasant surprise to spend three days in a fenced-in field packed with people, many of them intoxicated, and not see anything even close to a fight breaking out. (In fact the closest thing I saw to violence was some third-party security guards getting a little rough with someone they were in the process of kicking out.) And the number of lighters held in the air (apparently completely sincerely) when Vampire Weekend played "I Think Ur a Contra" during their festival-closing set was a promising indication that irony's long reign as youth culture's default setting might finally, mercifully be coming to an end.

The bad:

- The Chicago premiere Saturday of Liturgy's new two-man lineup, in which drummer Greg Fox has been replaced by frantically oscillating synthesizer samples. The sound check went way too long and was way too heavy on the frantically oscillating synthesizer, and the performance itself wasn't strong enough to cut through the sheets of rain between the stage and the nearby Reader tent where I was taking shelter. To their credit, Liturgy vindicated themselves at an afterparty that night at the Hideout, where the acoustic environment was more flattering and where I figured out the industrial appeal of their new configuration. (I still miss Greg Fox, though.)

- Feist. Does anyone else think even the sound of her name is irritating? Feist. Ugh.

- Lady Gaga showing up to see Kendrick Lamar (and to be seen) and nothing else. Lady Gaga has the same right to show up at a music festival in a conspicuously unmarked truck, be let into the festival grounds through a secret entrance without paying, have security measures temporarily boosted to the toughest levels they'll reach all weekend, and see Kendrick Lamar as any of us, but the rule is that if you're going to do that you have to at least come onstage and do a little dance or freestyle a little rap—something to justify overloading Twitter's servers for 45 minutes.

The ugly:


Whatever this Freudian little nightmare is.

(For more literal looks back at the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival check out our photo slideshows for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.)

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