What we learned from girl-boy rock duos, mosh pits and organic food stands.
The mud’s still not dry on our shoes but we haven’t stopped thinking about the fun we had and great sets we saw at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. It was three days packed with memorable performances, driving rain, and more hipsters than we’ve ever seen in a single location. We came, saw and conquered, and here’s what we have to tell you*:
*We rated the festival’s sets using Pitchfork’s own 0-10 scale
Sleigh Bells: We guessed this would be one of the loudest, most exuberant sets of the weekend – we weren’t disappointed. Backed by 12 giant Marshall amps, the NYC noise-pop duo rocked hard as the raucous crowd grooved to faves such as “Crown on the Ground,” “Rill Rill” and “Comeback Kid.” We’ll give it a big 9.0.
Best Dance Party, Period
Grimes: The Montreal electro artist and Pitchfork darling drew a massive crowd to the festival’s intimate Blue Stage on Saturday night. We were expecting a madhouse — but it ended up just being an okay, if subdued, by-the-books set. We’ll give it a somewhat disappointed 5.4. (Girl who punched a guy in the face who wouldn’t let her move closer to the stage, you get a 9.2).
Worst Use of Volume
Real Estate: The New Jersey indie rockers delivered what was the most pointedly pleasant set of the whole weekend. On a warm, sun-drenched Sunday afternoon, they played their signature brand of airy, laidback pop, and we loved every second of it. It was less big city festival and more summer day in a friend’s backyard. 6.9.
Best Use of Rain-Free Day
Flying Lotus: The acclaimed DJ, known more for his vibrant, innovative electro beats than remixes, delivered a perfect set for this lyric-hungry yet party-ready festival crowd. Weaving his own smooth sounds into big, reinvisioned hooks (think Tyler, the Creator’s “Yonkers” and Waka Flocka Flame’s “Hard in the Paint”), FlyLo crafted an ideal, balanced Saturday afternoon set. We’re giving it a 7.8.
Best Artist Confession to Crowd (“Wait. I just realized I’m drunk as fuck right now.”)
A$AP Rocky The promising Harlem rapper rang in the festival with his bumpin’ Friday afternoon set. Reminding us just how young and strapping he is, A$AP roused the crowd into a full-on dance party. Rain or shine (but mostly rain), his dark, pulsating beats and quick-witted rhymes had everyone identifying with the word “trill” and periodically throwing their hands in the air. Not bad for a 23-year-old. 6.7.
Best Use of Monsoon-Level Rain
Hot Chip: Who’s LCD Soundsystem again? Hot Chip, the venerable UK outfit, proved that dance-punk is still alive and very, very well. Their set felt like a Best Of record, as they reeled off hit after hit, with sparkling and powerful renditions of “Over and Over” and “One Life Stand.” Bodies were constantly in motion, albeit ankle-deep in mud. 8.2.
Most Hit-Filled Performance
Vampire Weekend: The charming indie pop sweetheart is back. The band closed the festival with arguably the best set of the weekend. Mixing crowd classics like “A-Punk” with more theatrical numbers like “I Think Ur a Contra”, Ezra Koenig and his boys crooned and xylophone-d their way back into our hearts. With audience members swing-dancing even in the very back of the audience, Vampire Weekend proved their tiny pop sound sound could fill an outdoor music festival. A solid 8.1.
Best Instagram-Worthy Set
Dirty Projectors: No set better complemented the weather than Dirty Projectors’. Their graceful, daringly high-pitched harmonies shone just as bright as the sun warming up our poncho-clad bodies. Playing earcandy like “About to Die” and “Gun Has No Trigger”, the band stunned festival-goers with their whimsical lyrics and soul-stirring harmonies. We got chills for days. 7.6.
Catchiest Set (We were belting those notes long after the train ride home).
Ty Segall: We showed up at this Sunday afternoon set, not quite sure what to expect, only knowing that the word on this San Francisco lo-fi legend was that he could put on a hard rocking show. Five minutes later, we were knee-deep in one of the weekend’s best mosh pits. Segall and his big guitars put on a masterful display of garage rock power, replete with soaring garage rock hooks and huge vocals. Our favorite moment? Segall surfing the crowd, front to back, during the breakdown of a cover of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds.” An epic 7.1.
Best Display of Crowd Surfing Skill
Unknown Mortal Orchestra: One of the earlier Sunday acts, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s set the right tone for the seriously rock-and-roll-heavy festival day. For the uninitiated (read: us), the experimental rock band might seem intimidating or downright scary. Their set was delightfully accessible and newcomer friendly. We found ourselves dancing to just about every song, despite not knowing a single word. It’s nice to meet you, too. 6.2.
* Worst Name
* Best Pleasant Surprise
Cults: These long-haired babes came out on stage on Saturday and failed to impress. They played all the hits, including the forgotten crowdpleaser “Go Outside,” but the sound just fell short. The band’s saving grace was the bodacious Madeline Follin, whose brave and earnest crescendo in “You Know What I Mean” reminded us that the girl can sing. When she does her thing, she does it well — but it wasn’t enough to salvage this otherwise boring set. 4.0.
* Second Best Boy-Girl Duo
* Best Sleigh Bells Protege
Kendrick Lamar: In a weekend heavy on hip-hop, this energetic, talented LA rapper managed to seriously distinguish himself. In Sunday afternoon’s hot sun, he busted out spirited renditions of big-time hits like “Hol’ Up” and “A.D.H.D” with a vocal style more like a Brooklyn MC’s than the smooth-talk of the West Coast guy we hear on our iPods. He had an easy time holding the spotlight, despite the weekend’s biggest “Holy Fuck, I Can’t Believe That’s…” moments: Lady Gaga to the side of the stage, brew in hand, taking in his set. 6.4.
Best Audience Member Sign (“Eat My Asparagus,” referencing a “Hol’ Up” lyric)
Feist: Maybe some naysayers thought she wasn’t a right fit for the festival, but Feist delivered during her closing performance on Pitchfork’s Friday night. The songstress played riveting renditions of the hits from her latest album, but she also dipped into her older catalogue, playing new, reconstructed versions of “Mushaboom”, “My Moon, My Man”, and others. She did, however, refrain from playing “1234”, in any context. Ballsy move, Leslie, but somehow we admire you even more. 6.8.
Best Old Music, Revisited
WHAT WE LEARNED:
Less don’t mean a thing. Sizewize, Pitchfork Music Festival is not on scale with the bigger outdoor romps of our time, like Coachella (which has now been expanded to a cruise…), Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo. It has a smaller line-up and fewer stages. It’s contained in an urban park in a bustling city. Its carbon footprint is teeny. But we found all of these things made our experience at Pitchfork even more enjoyable. No more than two sets overlapping at any point in time, making each day seemed conquerable and stress-free. With this simplification, Pitchfork kept the spotlight on the music, not the spectacle. They made our three-day rumpus easier, and in return, we trusted them when their lesser-known darlings came on stage (although we still don’t get how Godspeed You! Black Emperor made the line-up). The decision to be adventurous always paid off — especially while in line at the Whole Foods produce stand. The organic cherries were worth the splurge.