Pitchfork… P i t c h f o r k, baby… the festival. We came. We saw. We heard (but couldn’t make out the words). We looked at each other. We tanned. We drank drinks bought with carnival tickets. We yawned. We danced (imperceptibly). We sat on the ground and got dirt on our ass. Pitchfork Media presented and I experienced. How was it? Well, since you asked…
At 3:01 p.m., I was through the press gate, stomping into Union Park with the humble aim to see everyone and everything. First sighting: a new, previously unannounced stage in the main field, forming a triangle with Red and Green, but this turned out to be an enormous and confusing promotion by Ray-Ban wherein one could sit on a fake stage and get a free haircut, probably replacing the gusts of baseball-diamond sand with thick, airborne tufts of hair. Hundred Waters kicked things off on the Red stage, part-trial run before the bigger acts played on that massive stage, part-low-key welcome to the hordes streaming in, part-reminder to fans they’d be standing in the beating sun all fuggin’ day. “Our first festival: fact,” the lead singer said between songs. And though anything even gesturing toward the experimental at a summer festival has my full attention, the gloopy shapes and twinkling keys managing delicacy despite the 50-speaker columns pointed directly at our ears, I couldn’t hang for long. Slow-build electronic pop can be intoxicating and rewarding, but it depends on what ends it’s building toward, in some cases stretching out, dampening, or breaking open the form, and in others more like layering synth squiggles on top of a finished song. Hundred Waters sounded like a bit of both, capable but taking the easy path, full of wonder but never quite surprised.
So I shoved off and headed to the tucked-away Blue stage to catch Factory Floor. They too were working with a slow build and background synth clouds, but this time all was in rigid lock-step, bringing me back to long drives battering the steering wheel to the machine rhythm of DFA Compilation #2. But it was as if 10 years had indeed passed and the extended mix was still going and perhaps it was time to move on to something else. I skipped Neneh Cherry and
drill rapper RondoNumbaNine jazz duo RocketNumberNine to spend a little time in the record tent, where neither Byron Coley nor Father Yod could be found and which was somehow more crowded than last year, but less to see, fewer labels taking up more room, men in pairs staring placidly into space in front of email-signup clipboards. Beyond the tent were the Hostess Girls, Band Poster Alley, the Jim Beam Sealed Chamber, and the Chipotle Bone Zone. I leaned against a tree with my slice of pizza and cup of beer, all-American and already dizzy.
The Haxan Cloak
Thankfully the Union Park iPod Shuffle stopped next on The Haxan Cloak, a relief in that it was an atmosphere to sink into and not another 10 songs to process in the sun. The sun was still out, unfortunately, which more or less blows for any band, but was especially ridiculous for the pitch-black mood of Haxan Cloak. (I did, however, appreciate the pink Lil B bandana held up at random.) Like a screwed memory of last year’s Andy Stott performance, Haxan + drummer drew out the quaking, tentative intro until it was just the song, nothing to arrive into, making the occasional arrival of a riddim-explosion seem unnecessary, like they were showing all their cards too early or disappointing someone expecting a big drop. Heavy, churning, lengthy; all good zoning material, but something about that sudden, descending sub bass blackout is like HD comfort food now, the shock drop used 15 times in all movie trailers, a visual of Godzilla smirking instead of whatever darkness is being peered into. With that said, I’ll leave the final assessment to the guy talking to his friend behind me: “Saw this band open recently, y’ever heard of Forest Swords? Yeah, it was exactly the same thing… I’m into it.”
For the rest of the evening, I pinged around every which way: caught Sun Kil Moon moaning, Avey Tare howling and slashing, SZA saying “TDE” and nodding, Giorgio Moroder remixing Iggy Azalea while recreating this video as webstream cameras on cranes panned by overhead. Then it was proper nighttime and out came Beck, who made sense as a headliner not so much for the nostalgia, but for the $$$, honey. Remember the all-out promo deluge for Morning Phase? You could just smell someone gaining something from this transaction, because they definitely weren’t gaining any cred. Beck started things off with “Devil’s Haircut,” which I can in fact say was the same song he started with in 1998, my first concert, a shared bill with Third Eye Blind, Garbage, Goo Goo Dolls, Cake, Soul Coughing, and Everlast. “Black Tambourine” was next, and I was on my way to the Metra station.
A new, Beck-less dawn. I drove into the city with broken A/C and no parking and missed Circulatory System, but caught some of Empress Of, a band I’d seen twice before in Chicago as an unknown opening act. I was surprised to hear they’d blown up enough to land on the P4k Hot 100… and I’m not really understanding why. They’re a pleasant-enough electropop-indie-dance opener, but to me the songs weren’t sticking or standing out at all. I couldn’t tell you if any of them were played last time. So more time passed, more daytime beer was consumed. Pusha T was late, Kelela’s sound was off, Danny Brown was sick (the good kind) and clearly knew this was the Metacritic score of festivals — and to the detriment of this article, my friend failed to pass out or come to any other physical harm. I tried my best, but the low energy of Friday hadn’t been dispelled. Everything seemed louder but muffled.
FKA twigs, however, was great. Flanked on all sides by three synchronized dudes drumming on pads, twigs’ songs sounded like album versions already, and they must have been close, because every bass hit and pad slap was set to smooth glides and quick contortions, intense choreography but bodily instead of theatrical. The worst thing I could say is she knew exactly what she was doing; I am sick of performers dazzling audiences in a one-way, starstruck exchange. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say she’s a perfectly polished product, even as the timing of the P4k appearance was right on schedule (EP2 lighting the fire, “Two Weeks” getting out the gasoline, LP1 advertised on the jumbotrons, pretty much already awarded Best New Music before the promos were released); there was a certain vulnerability to twigs, which is easier to see when it’s fake, and in that way there was a mutual exchange, a dialogue wherein she decided to whisper the first song and the crowd chose to STFU, and that ain’t nothing. Gotta say I was impressed. Plus I still remember “Pendulum” a week later from a single listen.
The final act of the night: Neutral Milk Hotel. Heard of ‘em? Yep, I went through that rite of passage just like everyone else, and I have embarrassingly specific memories tied to those songs, too. But so what? Something about them is good, lyrically, musically, sonically; the cream of the Elephant 6 crop, private and inspired… like how Jeff Mangum would have to stop while recording Aeroplane and actually ask people, “Am I crazy? Is what I’m doing insane?” I love that — to make something and just not know. In truth, the show was not good. I couldn’t stay the whole time and listen to their sound, all amped-up and trying to pass for a stadium headliner, 20th anniversary-warmup-style. But: bless Jeff Mangum, forever.
Today I showed up late again. ;o) And you know what, on Day 3 I was done trying to see and think about every little thing, or almost anything. I enjoyed my beer and my pizza slice, and as I watched Isaiah Rashad, Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q, and Jon Hopkins perform, I harbored no thoughts whatsoever about them. They played their music, the audience knew their music, smiles were produced; they all were real people rather than holograms or elaborate media hoaxes. I can confirm this much. But it was all killing time waiting for DJ Spinn.
While checking out Majical Cloudz, a band I’d never heard before, things became interesting as the show fell apart from technical issues — all sounds save the singer’s voice and two ambient loops had ceased to work and the problem was not going to be solved during the set, forcing a little freestyle entertainment instead. One audience member told a joke about a scarecrow, another beat-boxed, but then he took the mic back and just sang a few times, usually unaccompanied, slamming his right fist down stiffly for emphasis. As of this writing I still don’t know what we were supposed to hear, but his voice was powerful, beautiful even, and the show was captivating. Ninety percent of the audience stayed, knowing there was no chance of hearing a proper song. The singer thanked everyone and counted down to the other member raising and slamming his broken equipment onto the stage.
One act was left for the weekend, as far as this report is concerned: DJ Spinn. For a half-second, I wondered if he might have a more stripped-back set than last year’s P4k appearance with Rashad and extended family — and then double the number streamed onto the stage. Spinn brought Teklife, Treated Crew, Hollywood Holt, Earl, Gant-Man, rappers, full rows of synchronized footwork dancers, and people spilling out from the wings on both sides, a full party demonstrating how to properly listen. No downtime, no stage focus, no fucks given, it was a Rashad tribute and, more movingly, it wasn’t — as P said, “We shouldn’t need affirmation or closure when it comes to DJ Rashad, because his music was always on the move, thriving on its openness to hybridization and collaboration.” His creations weaved in and out of Spinn’s continuous mix, rushing forward and one-upping the energy each time, spilling into and infecting the music of his best friends, as present and real as anything. Mourning Rashad was both a formality and a distancing, and thus not needed.
[Artwork: Katelyn Eichwald]