It was a grayish and unseasonably cool July evening in Chicago as the Pitchfork massive assembled in Union Park for the kickoff of Pitchfork Music Festival's brand-new "Write The Night" Friday kickoff, featuring fan-selected playlists from Tortoise, the Jesus Lizard, Yo La Tengo and Built to Spill. Previous years had the festival rolling out the All Tomorrow's Parties Don't Look Back series, in which musical favorites performed their seminal album from start-to-finish (like Public Enemy performing It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in 2008). With the famed "L" tracks to the north, and every discernible semi-usuable bike park sign-post, parking meter, fencing and tree being used to create an ever-growing sculpture of handlebars, milk crates and U-Locks, the dulcet tones of Tortoise greeted all anxious arriving attendees with dubby rhythms, xylophone kisses and the occasional "thank you!"
Yo La Tengo played next, as attention shifted to the nearby stage—their unconscious vocal harmonizing and Velvet Underground-influenced, feedback-charged jams provided the perfect counterpoint to Tortoise's esoteric, heady instrumentals. And then Jesus Lizard thundered to the stage, with front man David Yow making like Iggy Pop while looking more like Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs and dispensing an expectedly distasteful joke involving a dog, its ass and his semen (and yes, the bombastic rhythm section and Yow's stage-diving antics were still intact despite the decade-long layoff). The night concluded with Built to Spill's soaring sonic buildups of surprisingly controlled emotive eruptions from grizzled sensitive guy Doug Martsch.
Photo credit: Clif Reeder / Michigan Daily
With Friday's '90s rock revival concluded, Saturday saw a glut of the indieverse's latest/greatest playing early. Though the skies would darken and continually threaten, leave it to the electronic flourishes and handclaps of Yeasayer's "Sunrise" to finally coax the sun out and cease the brief rain that never made another appearance. With the sun finally shining in its early evening sky, the sounds of masked hip-hop eccentric Doom echoed across the park, while at the smaller Balance stage, the first true electronic artist took to the stage; Norwegian disco don Lindstrøm. He prepared for the sun, peering at his MacBook from behind dark sunglasses and a wide-brimmed straw hat. He was also prepared to wait until he was completely ready to perform, moving with little urgency as a handful of the minutes rolled off the scheduled start time, calmly sipping a Goose Island ale, finishing his smoke with a deep exhale and eventually, casually, tapping his MIDI, twiddling a few knobs, and starting a buzz saw of noise which would fade into weird choral voices and formless, high note-holding synth keys.
With the audience now at attention, Lindstrøm was the first to move—his subtle head nod, exaggerated by the width of his brim, served as a precursor to the slowly building tinkering melody from "Where You Go I Go Too," the near half-hour title track from the masterful album released earlier this year. Finally a beat drops—a typical Lindtrøm disco-gaited, BPM-restrained ass-shaker—and the crowd immediately eats it up, shimmying, clapping and even cheering. Cutting together pieces of his impressive catalog, the highlight of his set arrived as Lindstrøm added in a nasty dose of acid squelch to the familiar off-kilter melody of "The Contemporary Fix." The kids loved the squelch, and when the beat dropped out, the dirty 303 remained to enthrall the crowd and invoke the Ghost of Pitchfork's past. What happened to the Adas and the Fields and the Ghislain Poiriers and the Matthew Dears of 2006 and 2007's festival? Why have electronic acts become endangered species over the last couple of years?
Photo credit: Angeline Evans
As Sunday rolled around, New York's DJ/Rupture dropped what was sadly the only DJ set at the festival, cutting up ODB and just about every beat under the sun, from baile funk and house to dubstep. As Rupture pitch-shifted and cut and selected with fearless aplomb, a full on dance party erupted...from behind the sound tent. It was then that the realization of sadness occurred. The bands selected this year were phenomenal, but if you're going to try to book as diverse of a festival as possible, what better talent to utilize than DJs?
DJs play records of people who make music. It sounds simple enough, but when Rupture unleashed an insane, afro-punk-step dubplate of "She's Lost Control" (Moleke Mbembe "He's Lost Control" if you're wondering), you couldn't help but think of last night's headliner the National, who owe as much to Joy Division as their preceding forever-to-be-compared rivals in Interpol. And his devastating mix of gypsy accordion beats seemed a direct link to the earlier performance of Beirut. And dropping Nina Simone? Who wasn't a "Sinnerman," dancing in the shadow of the of the landmarked First Baptist Congregational Church's towering gothic steeple in Union Park on the Sabbath? But for this year, save M83's shoegazetronic freakout, Pitchfork belonged to the Pet Sounds of Grizzly Bear and the Wonka-like spectacle of the Flaming Lips sincere, life-affirming wonderment. Maybe next year, they'll let the electronic kids come back and party again, too...