Pitchfork Music Festival
by Annie Lancaster and Hayley Anderson
While some of today’s festivals have become commercialized, image driven and pop-obsessed, Pitchfork Music Festival continues to make a conscious effort to focus on its variety of artists, showcasing the best of indie music and seasoned icons without indulging in too much mainstream appeal. Taking place in Chicago’s Union Park, the festival is made up of 3 stages (simply named Red, Green, and Blue), local food trucks, and a tented area filled with local record labels, printmakers, and artists. The following film photos and short recap provide a glimpse into three days packed with great food, fresh fashion, and unpredictable Chicago weather.
Filling in for Earl Sweatshirt after his set was cancelled, Tierra Whack brought the heat in an all denim outfit with rhymes over tracks that one couldn’t help but bop along to. “Toe Jam” was a fan favorite performance, featuring catchy mantra “crack kills if it don’t get you whack will.” At 22 years old, Whack burst into the music scene this May with her experimental and self described “visual and auditory project” Whack World containing 15 one minute songs. The visual album is jam packed with a variety of songs and styles; Whack goes from singing, to mumble-rapping, to rapid-fire spitting lyrics all accompanied by surreal visuals. Between her eccentric call-and-response chants and her gleeful sense of humor during her Pitchfork performance, it will be no surprise when Whack is seen on more lineups in the near future.
Saba, a Chicago native who made his name known when he was featured in Chance the Rapper’s “Angels,” played through the rain in front of a touching backdrop which imitated his grandmother’s kitchen. While energetically performing without a backing track, Saba rapped about drug wars, violence, police brutality and everything in between while the crowd paralleled his energy and powered through the downpour in vibrant, plastic ponchos. To end the show, Saba had the packed crowd going insane as he brought out the whole Pivot Gang, a group of independent rappers originating from the west side of Chicago, to give a dynamic encore performance of “Westside Bound 3.”
Currently on tour for her album Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett ruled the Red stage. Through “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch,” Barnett delivered an energy only matched by those who felt the same rage of gender-based maltreatment as she absolutely shredded the guitar. On record, Barnett sounds mannered and reflective, but on stage every song is played as an anthem. Her presence was explosive as she flipped her hair around and ripped through songs from her pair of full length albums Tell Me How You Really Feel and Sometimes I Just Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.
The headliner and finale Tame Impala opened with “Nangs,” their typical starter for many of their concerts. Led by songwriter and producer Kevin Parker, the Aussie psych-rock group has developed a cult-following over the years, releasing their most recent album Currents in 2015. Playing a mix of songs from each of his three albums, Kevin Parker delivered everything a Tame fan could have asked for. He joked about the anxiety Chicago weather gave him, a familiar feeling amongst the festival goers. The closing song (pre-encore), “Alter Ego,” expanded into a psychedelic jam with wild visuals and lights that reached across Union Park, leaving the audience in a trance. Encoring with “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” it was a magnificent performance that left the crowd in a dream-like state.
Opening up day two at the Green Stage, Paul Cherry made his Pitchfork Festival debut to a small crowd of early-risers. His dreamy psych-pop set layered a blend of maracas, bongos, synths, and guitars. Cherry stopped mid-performance to tell the audience, “Last year, I was here thinking, ‘I’ll never play this.’ This is crazy. We’re here to play some nice songs for you.” Cherry’s voice rivaled his studio recordings as he played through the entirety of his latest album Flavour released earlier this year.
One of the more anticipated acts of the day, Dev Hynes, who records under the name “Blood Orange” graced the Green Stage and gave the crowd an adrenaline-charged performance. Their background visuals included old interview footage with Outkast and new-wave edits like street racers popping wheelies on dirt bikes and old music videos from artists Lil Bow Wow and Jada Pinkett. Every song was greeted with more excitement than the last. A fan favorite, “Best To You,” revived a tired audience as each member grooved in unison to the song’s infectious beat. Presented as a preview for his new album, Blood Orange debuted a new song “Nappy Wonder.” During the song Hynes transitioned into a distorted shredding while his vocalists brought the hook and chorus. Hynes and his band closed their performance with the song “E.V.P,” and their hard earned joy reflected back at them in the crowd’s excitement.
While many were camping out for a good spot for Fleet Foxes, a lucky bunch got to experience Kelela’s early evening slot on the Blue Stage. When she first stepped on stage, Kelela and her two vocalists moved together with perfect precision; every hand gesture and step was in sync as multi-colored lights filled the stage. After every big note she hit in songs like “LMK” and “Take Me Apart,” the audience cheered. “If I weren’t brown, I’d be blushing,” she told the audience at the end of her set. Kelela earned her right to close the night, accompanied by synchronized vocalists, silky, white outfits, and majestic vocals.
Even on Sunday when most festival-goers were sore and sluggish, Chicago native Kweku Collins kicked off the day by jumping around the stage with contagious excitement and energy, riling up the crowd as he spat meaningful lyrics. He shouted out his high school friends, a sweet gesture that reminded the audience that just a few years ago he was sitting in a high school classroom just like many of them. Sporting a jersey embroidered with lyrics from his song “Stupid Rose,” Kweku told the audience how Pitchfork Music Festival had ‘been [his] thing:’ “the festival I went to in high school and, after I graduated, that’s my hangout when it comes summer time… That’s the one I rush to get tickets for. Like, ‘Pitchfork tickets are on sale? Bet, we lit.” He took time in his set to talk about his songs - how “Stupid Rose” was made in his bedroom in high school over soured relationships, explaining why many of his tracks feel like bedroom-level reflections of common human experiences. With this intimacy and Collin’s interaction with the audience throughout the performance, the crowd felt connected to the show, a major achievement at a festival.
Michelle Zauner also known as Japanese Breakfast opened their set by cheerfully yelling “We’re Japanese Breakfast, and we’re from Philadelphia!” Pairing a vibrant Kenzo jersey and a shiny skirt with black leather boots, Japanese Breakfast gave an engaging performance full of catchy bass lines and synth-driven anthems. The familiar opening guitar of “Road Head” lit up the faces of fans in the audience, and nearly everyone joined in dancing to the crowd favorite “Everybody Wants to Love You.” Zauner’s melancholic lyrics were masked in a celebratory glimmer; there was hardly a moment when she wasn’t smiling or jumping around on stage.
(Sandy) Alex G opened with “Kute,” a surprising choice for him as he has rarely played songs from the album Trick during previous festivals. Alex has been making music since 2011 but captured the hearts of many with his album Rocket released in May. Touring together in 2017, he brought out Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast to reunite for a lovely and unexpected, rendition of “Brite Boy.” At one point during his set, Alex strolled over to the piano, only to yell into the mic which incited a brief mosh pit full of sweaty and emotional fans. Alex’s guitar playing was stellar, and his vocals were perfectly imperfect. His jagged compositional edges and slightly pitchy vocals emphasized the raw emotion in the lyrics, making his performance thought provoking and a little bit twisted.
The weekend came to a close with the wonderful and iconic Lauryn Hill. The legendary artist has been known to often cancel shows or show up extremely late, however after much anticipation Hill only showed up 23 minutes late and sang almost all of the songs from her groundbreaking album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The massive LED panels behind Hill set the mood for each song; during “That Thing” archived clips of Hill performing invoked a mellow nostalgia in the audience. During her set, Hill spoke emotionally about the struggles she had faced after leaving her former group, the Fugees in the late nineties, and her experience when doing her own solo project The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, released in 1998. Her performance was heartwarming, vulnerable, passionate, and fun as hip-hop fanatics and first-time listeners alike got to celebrate her album’s 20th anniversary. Singing along to nineties classics like “Doo-Wop” and “Ex-Factor” just might be the best way to end a festival.