Four years ago, before I knew anything about music I bought a ticket to Pitchfork Music Festival 2015 because Chance the Rapper was headlining one day. I knew a couple of the hip-hop names on the lineup A$AP Ferg, Vince Staples, and Vic Mensa but besides that I was basically going in blind. I chose Pitchfork because I had just graduated high school and had no idea who I was or what I liked and I was rewarded handsomely. I bounced from stage to stage discovering artists that to this day are some of my favorites. I got to see a Jamie XX dusk set, Future Islands into Caribou, and Mac Demarco at the suggestion of some friends found on Reddit. The beauty of Pitchfork Music Festival is in the curation. It’s not even necessary to know the lineup if you go in with an open mind you will witness some great performances. Every year the lineup is very diverse drawing from all genres but often leans too heavily on indie rock and some throwback headliner. It’s this curation along with the value (50-70 per day) that have pulled me back to the fest for the last four years. It’s not Lollapalooza with 8 stages and a half mile between stages, but consequently, conflicts are a lot rarer and when they do occur Pitchfork’s small size makes it easy to split sets.
[the rest of this review is a tag team effort between Natural Music founder Alek Prus and his brother Nick]
Friday we started the day off seeing Tierra Whack. My only prior experience with her was on my ride from Troy to Chicago with Alek. I was perplexed about the 1 minute length songs that always made me feel left out on a limb, always wanting more but always just stopping well before it feels like it naturally should. For some reason when seeing her live this impression was lost on me. I felt like the 1 minute song was the perfect medium for the story she was laying down. She was a very fun performer dominating the stage and pulling the crowd into each and every song. One of the most memorable of the weekend in my opinion.
Next we went to see Julien Baker. Her album last year, Turn Out the Lights, has been an album that I personally have kept returning to without fail as it just has this undeniable lure. Her voice is so stunning and she sounds the exact same live. When seeing a performance one of my favorite components is just seeing that the artist isn’t some superhuman but instead I just want someone to appear human. When it comes to this factor, Julien Baker hit a home run. She felt awkward and a little strange but in a cute way. It felt like she was personally thanking every single person in the crowd for coming out to watch her do what she loves.
I’d say my favorite of the day had to come pretty late in the night in the form of Mount Kimbie. [Nick]
Tame Impala closed out Friday night with a disappointing headlining set. Friday was the only day that sold out and it was very obvious that Kevin Parker was the reason. On our way over from Mount Kimbie to Tame Impala the crowd was so dense that we ended up stopped slightly back and right from the sound booth. The set was the same set Tame Impala has been playing for the past years and it's just grown stale at this point. The set was plagued with sound issues which at times caused a “Turn it up” chant to gain steam through the crowd between songs. I wasn’t even in a “bad” spot and it sounded like listening to headphones on half volume which just doesn’t work for the psychedelic sounds of Tame.
Circuit Des Yeux was the first performance we caught Saturday. Circuit des yeax opened the set with mesmerizing Brainshift, devoid of drums. Their sound at first felt strange but intriguing at the same time. The lead singer seemed to be so deep into the music that it was hard to not feel the music and lyrics as she spoke. She would often sing eyes closed and arms out palms outstretched to the sky. It was a very riveting show and when it finally ended I found myself a fan of Circuit Des Yeux where I hadn't been before. Like performance art holding her arms out and eyes followed during songs
Blood Orange stole day 2 with his midday set. He performed two songs off of his recently announced album “Negro Swan” set to release August 25th. Dev Hynes exudes an infectious confidence and swagger on stage as he takes turns between shredding on the guitar, singing and dancing, and playing the keyboard. I often found myself being lost in the collage of video featuring mostly African American street car and racing culture along with some old performance video which was displayed behind the band the whole performance.’
Irreversible Entanglements has been on our radar since the end of 2017 when we included them in our best of 2017 after finding the album in the music magazine, The Wire. The group is comprised of saxophonist Keir Neuringer, poet Camae Ayewa (a.k.a. Moor Mother) and bassist Luke Stewart along with trumpeter Aquiles Navarro and drummer Tcheser Holmes who joined the group after their first performances. They describe themselves as a “liberation-oriented free jazz collective” and there most listened to song has just 30,000 streams on spotify. Luckily streams seem to have an an inverse relationship to quality music (see Post Malone’s songs with 1 billion+ streams.) The performance was undoubtedly the most powerful and moving performance of the festival with Camae Ayewa taking on a trance-like state as she delivered the powerful spoken word speaking on topics such as slavery, police violence and other related matters. Neuringer, the saxophonist also has a suitcase covered in political stickers that say things like “fund schools not prisons”, “Film the Police” from which he unpacked bongos, tambourines and everyday items like cans which he uses as instruments. The playful unserious nature of a band playing everyday objects while making such serious music is a juxtaposition that works very well. In attempting to jot notes down during the performance I noted the line “I don’t want no justice, what I want is you alive” which undoubtedly caused my entire to body to erupt in goosebumps.
Next up, Kelly Lee Owens brought the electronic energy that the weekend needed. She began the set with three layers of clothes and calmer songs like “Lucid”. As the set continued and layers came off this calmness quickly gave way to unrelenting bass that persisted through the second half of the set. By the end of the set she commanded the stage and crowd like techno queen Nina Kravitz. She pushes songs like “Bird” and “Evolution” to new heights, in the latter she builds it up and cuts the music and whispers “Be the fuck-ing rev-o-lution” instead of “evolution” late in the song. The last couple songs transported me back to Movement festival in Detroit and Maceo Plex’s epic performance. Even in the middle of the day with no screen and minimal production KLO sensual, whispery voice managed to steal out heart with the best performance of the weekend.
Next up was Girl Pool, this was another band that I hadn’t had a ton of experience but I knew that in theory I should enjoy them based on who they were similar to and such. My favorite thing about the performance would have to be the chemistry that could be felt between the duo. Overall it was a good performance but compared to the following performance it was truly hard to stand out in my memory. The rest of the night was pretty lack luster with performances by DRAM, Chaka Khan, Alex G, and Lauryn Hill, but we were also just pretty tired at this point.