Pitchfork Music Festival 2015 “Looping visuals played on the screen, with pink-dressed Death beckoning the audience toward the hypnotic fuzz.”


10 dollars for acid
9 bus to Lake
8 acts from Chicago
7 rap acts
6 minutes of torrential downpour
5 encore bows
4 fainting bros
3 shoutouts to moms
2 Rihanna remixes
1 crowd-surfing trashcan

“Aesthetic,” I overheard someone say. “That’s the only way to describe this place. Aesthetic.” The crowd was health goths, Wilco bros, indie-curious normies, hip-hop heads, bloggers, sadboys, and, last but ubiquitous, cool teens. Union Park seems smaller every year, but maybe that’s what growing old is. It’s been six years since The Flaming Lips blew my own teen mind, and I’ve made it back to the festival as much as I could. Pitchfork tends to open the day with local performers, but this was the first year that each day was bookended with Chicago artists, which filled me with misplaced geographic pride (I’ve only lived in the city for two years).

It’s a testament to Pitchfork’s brand control that the three stages remain nominally unsponsored (even if the screens beside them featured ads for Topman and Ray-Bans and albums from Kurt Vile and more). Green, Red, and Blue, on a consumerism continuum from Spotify to SoundCloud, became my patchwork home for the weekend. This year marked the tenth anniversary of Pitchfork Music Festival, and my fifth Patfork.

I remember why this weekend retreat was worth the re-treat, and how everything ended up muddy.


When I first walked through the hallowed media check-in at the northwest corner of Union Park, excitement bubbled up in me at the memory of festival life, and then boiled over when the media rep said, “We love you guys!” of Tiny Mix Tapes (which felt akin to the prom king flirting with a mathlete). I skipped into the park and immediately looked askance at a structure giving away carpet squares. These FLOR™ mats would soon cover hundreds of square feet of the festival grounds, and become the weekend’s most prominent accessory, like an absurdly adaptable designer virus. I continued to wander Union Park, but skipped on all the free shit to remain unburdened but for my little walking notebook and ballpoint pen.

The day’s crowd slowly trickled in slowly as it usually does Friday, which meant for a less hyperdense listening environment, one that eased me into the lineup. Chicago’s Ryley Walker (and band) played Bob Weir-esque jams to a mostly seated crowd at the tree-covered Blue stage. People applauded to the movement of the improvisations, but the noodling never really hooked me. I stayed sitting in the shade for Jessica Pratt, who played one of those barely there, low-key folk sets that usually seems out of place at festivals, but was scheduled early enough that everyone seemed content to shut up, listen, and relax. To beat the heat, she suggested, “Put in an ice cube in your pocket,” which got a good-natured laugh out of us, and then it was back to the quietly piercing guitar music.

Pitchfork crowd (top); iLoveMakonnen (bottom)

I overheard someone say, “Makonnen is gonna be banging,” [Chicago pronunciation: mack-uh-nin], which reminded me to hustle over to Green stage before missing one second of the delightful iLoveMakonnen. I didn’t know what to expect live, but “the best thing going” delivered a flawless performance, his velveteen drawl moving as gracefully as his red high-tops across the length of the stage. “I Don’t Sell Molly No More” got a bigger response than twice-teased “Tuesday,” and I realized how huge the singer had become in just a year since that radio smash. He was aware too, pausing for a moment to FaceTime his mom and bask in much-deserved admiration. The DJ walked us out to “I Don’t Like” and “All Day,” and then it was time for me to get folky again with the breezy guitar of Steve Gunn. Gunn had a stoic stage presence (read: he was wearing big, amazing sunglasses) and announced all his song titles. It was “Way Out Weather,” with its slide guitar unspooling as the sun lowered behind the trees, that I’m going to remember.

The last time I caught Panda Bear live was when he was performing unreleased Tomboy tracks to a Red stage audience. I wrote down “bring the hex,” which I don’t fully understand, but maybe refers to Panda’s trance-y, transfixing loops that had most of the Green stage crowd around me silently nodding. The sound was mixed well, the bouncing delay of “Boys Latin” and stomping drone of “Come To Your Senses” translating better live than on record. Noah Lennox’s vocals were retching and abrasive till he settled into a trippy rendition of “Alsatian Darn.” Danny Perez’s looping visuals played on the screen, with pink-dressed Death beckoning the audience toward the hypnotic fuzz. The deathshead makeup reminded me to catch the dourest Danes in the world over at Blue stage. Iceage were returning crowd favorites, hella young punks with a Cullenesque glare. They thrashed and sweat on and on, high hats ringing like church bells. And then, “They’re cutting us off. Goodbye.” It’s hard to imagine a better bow for such a grumpy, too-cool band.

Panda Bear (top); Ought (bottom)

Almost everyone at Blue stuck around and moved up for Ought, young (post-?)punks themselves, but otherwise the anti-Iceage. The band was cute as hell, with glam lead singer Tim Beeler Darcy’s gestures bringing everything together. The David Byrne-esque spoken-word interludes and talk-singing all clicked when Darcy wagged his finger playfully at the audience with a wild gleam in his eye. It felt like a smaller show, and at the same time like maybe the biggest the band had played. All told, Ought delivered one of the best festival sets I’ve seen, even doing new songs (“Beautiful Blue Sky”) so well-received it didn’t slow their momentum. Night lowered like a canopy over the band, the pink sky silhouetting the leaves and a single dead tree right of stage. By the time the title track from More Than Any Other Day charged into its joyous, collectivizing finale, the whole crowd was in a frenzy. It was one of those wide-smiling, energetic shows that made me want to listen to the album again, and even more, catch the band live again. Darcy said, “I think we’ve got something special here,” and it was easy to see and feel.

Walking toward the gates after the set and sharing “wows” with the Blue crowd, I decided to sit in on Wilco for a couple songs while I figured out the night’s plans. The Chicago institution apparently performed their new album Star Wars in its entirety before launching into some of the same classics that put me to sleep at a show back in 2009. I caught a couple before leaving Friday night, almost getting swept up in the skylights and faraway lightning over the skyline, but then they kept playing Wilco songs. I left to spill Old Style on the Beauty Bar dancefloor to the sound of Chief Keef and Britney Spears.


Mr. Twin Sister

I awoke on Saturday not knowing where I was (it was my couch), and that sense of displacement carried through the afternoon downpour until my night’s end at some Belmont bus stop. I showed up to Blue stage in time to catch Bully power through a fixed-speed breaknet set at growling volume. It took about 1.5 songs for the moshing to begin, and the party didn’t stop from there (until the next set). It’s hard to follow-up a downer announcement (Vince Staples’ set would be delayed due to travel, and then cancelled by The Saturday Downpour), but Mr. Twin Sister eventually kicked their mellow chillwave into gear. It was when the stormclouds rolled in and let loose on the crowd that we started smiling and moving.

I stuck it out in the drizzle for the “authentic” festival experience, as if rain-run ink would make for better notes.

I retreated from the rain to the press tent after Mr. Twin Sister to regroup with Ze Pequeno, who sheltered my soggy notebook in his bag. I was smalltalking with other press about how cute and ferocious Ought were when a P4k rep busted into the tent: “Pack up, everybody! We’re evacuating the park. Let’s go! Let’s go!” Almost immediately after the announcement a torrential downpour opened around us. I watched through the sheet of mist hundreds pouring out of Union Park, running down the street for cover like a scene out of Cloverfield. By the time we caught our breath, the rain had let up, and a tweet told me the park would reopen at 4:20 (haha).

Fallen banners, botched equipment, and mud everywhere: The rest of Saturday suffered, but eventually recovered, from the evacuation.


Two fucked-up individuals rolled natural 20s on their agility check and climbed the tree at Blue stage for A$AP Ferg, where they could watch from on-high a trashcan crowd-surf and open up on unsuspecting fans. People escaped the pit like it was a burning building, lit by Ferg’s super energetic performance, who persisted despite the speaker system being half-incapacitated. Then it was another downer announcement (SOPHIE would also cancel due to weather) before Shamir wowed us with charismatic vocals and a show-stopping ballad for the dead.

With two Blue stage acts cancelled in one day, it was up to Save Money to save the day. Chicago rapper Towkio, who used to hop the festival fence with Vic Mensa, blasted through a short set to fill SOPHIE’s slot and get us hyped for what would be the best set of the day. Mensa ran through Innanetape, performed a new track that I can’t wait to hear again, and takes on Chance (“Cocoa Butter Kisses”) and Future (“Codeine Crazy”). By the time he closed the show with his whole squad on stage, I was worn out and smiling ear to ear. Oh, you mad, huh?


Bitchin Bajas

Chicago’s Bitchin Bajas opened the day in an easy way with spacey ambient in the vein of Mountains. A woodwindist threw some flute and sax textures into the drone mesh, and lulled me into a groovy, comfortable headspace before the smoke started gathering on Red stage to usher in Viet Cong. The seemingly hungover band played behind the smoke cover, dragonflies hovering and chasing each other overhead, and stirred the crowd with the same ferocity Women did back in 2009. Album-closer “Death” was dragged out to 15 minutes of Swans-level brutal absurdity.

Waxahatchee’s mid-tempo rock felt like a decided come-down afterward, though Katie Crutchfield’s songwriting is stellar. Crutchfield told us none of her music would be possible without Kathleen Hanna, and then told us to check out The Julie Ruin instead. So I did. Hanna was hella-quotable (“Feminism is about making things better for everyone,” and, “Young people — I sound like a camp counselor”), and motivationally energetic: a force of positivity and radical belief who I’m glad I saw, and I hope the crowd listened to.

Madlib & Freddie Gibbs

Madlib & Freddie Gibbs put on one of the most dynamic shows of the weekend. Gibbs, when he wasn’t rapping breathlessly past Madlib’s oft-used killswitch, made the show intimate with heartfelt storytelling about his life in Gary, Ind., and baby daughter. He was also “drunk as fuck,” and called out Pitchfork for curating a lot of fuck-rappers before having him back, and for setting him up in a “children’s room” backstage. Madlib played almost entirely live drum machine beats that could’ve knocked me out, while Gibbs rapped with fire and precision.

From Red, I watched Courtney Barnett at Green deliver a stunner power trio set, with songs that broke down and rebuilt themselves into blazing anthems. After losing myself in Jamie XX’s “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” with smiling strangers, I reluctantly dipped out to secure a spot at Blue. Before I could get energized with PC Music’s brightest, I endured Clark, whose cracking beats sounded like they were made by Jamie XX’s archnemesis. The aggro arpeggiated synths had someone clutching their hair, maybe to keep their head from going Scanners.

A. G. Cook

The TMT-readership-looking crowd moved in (one was sporting a cap that read “Futurism” in Futura, so help me god) and some amazing souls started an impromptu a capella performance of “Hey QT” that at least 20 people were in on. I loved them all. A. G. Cook was the most animated DJ of the weekend, but the sequencing and rhythm were (deliberately?) disorienting: a straight continuity error. Before a punishing(ly brief) dubstep blast that would make Spring Breakers blush, he dropped the most improper remix of Rihanna’s colossal “BBHMM” on us, the verses rendered almost unrecognizable through the wonky bass and ratcheting synth cascade. When he closed the set with “Hey QT,” I felt an uncanny alienation: a bunch of kids jumping and belting a jingle, while A. G. Cook took pulls from a can of QT. It was like a fucked-up funhouse reflection of #p4kfest ideals, maybe the affective opposite of that earlier, spontaneous crowd rendition of the song.

I headed to the mud-brown interspace between Red and Green, where I could still take in Run The Jewels and snag a comfy vantage for Chance. I wish I’d been close enough to bounce with everyone, but the duo’s set was commanding even from afar. And then it was Chance The Rapper’s show: whose set was staged like a stadium-Broadway-gospel spectacle. He ran from feature-verses to Surf to #10Day, and a whole lot of Acid Rap. One standout was a revamped “Hey Ma” that cut up Kanye’s “Hey Mama,” after which Chance took the time to talk to his mom in the crowd. Hundreds knew the words to every song, all from an artist without a “proper” album.

I dipped after “Cocoa Butter Kisses” to hit Smart Bar, where I missed Sicko Mobb and embarrassingly bragged that I was writing about #p4kfest for Tiny Mix Tapes.


What stayed with me, other than the quiltwork FLOR™ mats that turned the park into a chimera dancefloor, was the smiling man covered in mud staring dead ahead at the stage under the high summer sun, blood dripping down his neck. I think everyone assumed he knew what was going on, or that he felt safe, and that we should all feel safe too, because we just smiled right back and stared at the stage, lifting our feet in and out of the sticky ground trying to keep the beat.

[Photos: Ze Pequeno]

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