This has been an amazing music festival so far. Lots of diverse acts, great fans, and good times have been had. Pitchfork has long been a source for new and under the radar music and it’s been exciting getting the Chicago experience along with all this great tuneage. But I think I’ve learned something about myself; I’m not a festival person anymore. Not that I ever really was. There’s something about being in super close-quarters with total strangers that puts my perception mechanism into overdrive. It’s like walking into a hoarder’s house -- way too much stimulus to make sense of anything. But I also like the excitement of always having something on the horizon. My drug is anticipation. Compared to our own Loufest, I think Pitchfork could learn a couple of things from the Gateway City:
Litter. The fest was set for johns, but not for trash receptacles. I only counted a few. Back alley style trash cans with a small recycling bag duct-taped to the side. As a result, trash was everywhere in Union Park. It was filthy. I couldn’t imagine how long it would take someone to pick-up. In St. Louis, we have a trash table with a trash coordinator, who takes your trash and separates the proper recycling into the proper tubs. It’s amazing. It’s clean. And it’s smart.
Time Slots. Festival producers book lots of bands in order to sell more tickets. What that means is that on a series of stages, bands are required to play simultaneously in order for everyone to play. Which also means that if two of your favorite groups are playing at the same time, you have to make a decision to see one or the other, or miss a little of each set in order to see both. I found this happening quite frequently and it got obnoxious fast (You’re telling me I have to choose between seeing Perfect Pussy and DIIV?! How dare you, sir!). I know it’s going to happen at LouFest, especially since we’ve added another stage and, of course, I’m still going to go (I’m sorry Ms. Jackson!) but I don’t have to like it. I am for real.
But there were a couple of things that Pitchfork Fest did right:
Side Stages. These were only for VIP members, but each stage had its own side platform directly across from it, rather than one big VIP only platform out in the middle between two stages. I was so close to Deafheaven during their set that I could have picked their pockets. It was also cool that the main stages were labeled Red, Green and Blue and not sold to corporate sponsorship.
Extras. The shopping booths that sold silly tchotchkes and hipster gear were highly unnecessary, but the best time spent away from the stages were at the Flatstock Poster Show series presented by the American Poster Institute and The CHIRP Record Fair. Flatstock is a showcase of independent designers and printing presses that create stunning music posters and other unique works of art. The CHIRP Record Fair was two tents full of vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and other music swag. An unprecedented collection that would have kept me busy for hours. Had I time…
When I arrive by cab to the festival, I am dropped off on the opposite side of Union Park. Press check-in is on the north side. I see an opening with no line so I go up to the nice young man. I show him my press badge and ask if it’s ok I go in this way and cut through, so that I don’t have to walk around the entire length of the park. He says yeah no problem, man. This man would end up being my hero for the day.
When I walk through the opening, I realize that I am in the VIP area. I look around. There are cheap food booths, beautiful Chicagoans handing out Goose Island beer, Jim Beam whiskey, Kind granola bars and flowers, Ketel One coffee drinks, veggie drinks, bottled water, and so much more. I’ve died and gone to rock and roll heaven. I wandered up the back pathway, behind the two stages. I caught glimpses of Real Estate. Of Grimes. All within arms reach. The stages have side platforms for VIP members to see the band up close and personal. Of course, there are only two stages connected to the VIP area, which means to see any performers on the Blue stage, I have to leave VIP. I ask myself, “What would Pusha T say?”
“Every hero got theme music, I guess I need me some drums.”
It suddenly occurs to me that I am not leaving the VIP area. It will take a band of sniveling Pitchfork volunteers to drag me out. I resign myself to the fact that I will only cover Red and Green stage acts and Blue stage acts will have to suffer this time. I wonder at the possibilities of cloning myself. The world could use a little more me. I keep my gaze on the ground, never daring to make eye contact lest my ruse should be discovered. I help myself to several VIP freebies. Several times. My apologies to all of the Blue stage acts for my selfish and shameful display. It was a moral imperative.
1:30 | MUTUAL BENEFIT
Fanciful, introspective and otherworldly, Mutual Benefit blends sound samples from soft-spoken planes of existence. I was impressed with this opener’s kinship with bands like The Shins and Bon Iver. It’s nice for a Sunny afternoon. I wish more people would are here to listen and give these band their due, but stragglers really don’t start showing up for another hour. There is ample room on the side platform for me to dig.
1:55 | DIIV
Wow. What a great show. And a great sound! I am two for two so far, and my guilt for infiltrating VIP is slowly starting to melt away. For starters, I am able to enjoy DIIV’s entire set. When they rip into “Douse,” the crowd starts shifting and roiling in waves. A terrific blend of indie, shoegaze and west-coast wave pop, DIIV puts on a great live performance and the music translates well to festival goers looking for a sound to mitigate their hangovers from the previous evening.
2:30 | DEAFHEAVEN
I am very excited to see Deafheaven, as well as the rest of the crowd, as they pack-in tightly to see the metal band perform. There is a kind of clarification that needs to be addressed: Deafheaven is metal, and is typically classified as black metal, but there is an urgency, a hopefulness that takes the band from out of the confined shadows of black metal and into incandescent metal. Mixing elements of heavy, fast beats, thrashing chords and visceral lyrics, the band is something of a welcome anomaly in a genre that is increasingly becoming more uniform by the day. It’s also worth noting that they were really the only sort of band playing this kind of music for the festival. Which made them even more important to see.
3:33 | EARL SWEATSHIRT
Day three of Pitchfork is definitely dominated by hip hop and rap musicians. Earl Sweatshirt kicks off today’s mantle like a pro. He’s a hip-hop boy wonder, taking control of the stage and the crowd that has now doubled in size since this afternoon. He raps intelligent lines that are at times psychological, at times preternatural. He kicks out the song “Chum” singing “Too black for the white kids and too white for the black / From honor roll to cracking locks up off them bicycle racks.” It seems strange and somewhat unfair that a man this young can rap about such deep and complex experiences. He a promising young talent who promises not to squander it. Not bad for not being old enough to drink.
4:17 | SCHOOLBOY Q
Schoolboy Q rocks it like no other. There seem to be even more fans now at the Green Stage. From VIP, I can see them all, waving hands, phones, cigarettes in the air above their heads, in perfect rhythmic unison with the Q. “This song’s so fucking dope,” he sings the hook before rapping out morphine-induced sex lyrics. There are quite a few kids making out to this and it’s easy to hear why.
5:15 | REAL ESTATE
I make sure to grab a steady spot on the VIP platform to catch these guys. I’m not alone. It feels like it might topple over. Fans have already been lining up all day in the crowd just to get a good seat for these guys. Their patience has finally been rewarded. RE comes out on stage, nice and tight, kicking off with their exquisitely crafted dream-pop. “Past Lives” is played and I’m transported to out of mind.
6:15 | SLOWDIVE
Much like Neutral Milk Hotel the night before, everyone is looking forward to the return of Slowdive. People leave the Real Estate set early in order to grab good vantage points. I follow suit. The band broke up in 95, after releasing a handful of highly acclaimed albums. Slowdive is straight navelgaze. Large, expansive chords soaked in reverb, with little distortion over top. I’m reminded of a less fuzzy version of My Bloody Valentine or The Daysleepers. Singer Rachel Goswell leans out over the crowd as best she can. You wouldn’t think that their music would be conducive to festival going, but the crowd is so into the reunion aspect, it doesn’t even matter.
7:25 | GRIMES
It’s too late to get good VIP seating for Grimes. Everyone is on top of their game and have filled up every available good seat. I make friends with a fellow Chicagoan as we peel down some of the tarp covering a railing and create our own view. We actually can see the stage pretty damn good, so we decide to stick with it. Grimes comes out on stage and immediately kicks off with bass beats and distorted synths behind a DJ table. She comes front and center and dances a bit. Two other dancers join her on stage and begin twirling about in a kind of 80s, ‘In Living Color’ sort of way. It’s slightly confusing, but the music is infectious. Dance electronica with Grimes’s child-like singing layered over top. Haunting yet catchy. I get the impression she’s trying to be the next Lady Gaga. She might have a handle on that.
8:30 | KENDRICK LAMAR
Kendrick Lamar is a hip-hop great, on his way to becoming a hip-legend. Flanked by a full band and incredible film slides that appear on the screen. Kids begin making out to this like crazy-- there was no stopping them. One couple had just unrolled a blanket and started going at it. I watch in awe as fans raise their hands in unison to the mad beats. I’ve seen his show before but he is even better here, spurred on by the energy of the festival and the gorgeous night that has unfolded in front of him. He plays almost everything from his debut album, “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” and it seems like the show is too good to end. “Bitch don’t kill my vibe,” he sings. I am thinking the same thing, Kenny. He holds a commanding presence over the band, the crowd and the festival at large. A proper headlining act, now and for future sell-out concerts.
11:00 | EPILOGUE
My plane, scheduled to depart for home at 11 p.m., has been pushed back 3 hours. I don’t make it home and in bed until 3:30 a.m. And then I’m back to work at 8 a.m. I’m getting too old for this shit. But that’s rock and roll, baby. Burnout. Fade away. No sleep. Late deadlines. Lost luggage. Hip replacement. Whatever. As long as you have a killer time. Thanks, Pitchfork Fest 2014!
By Kevin Korinek