With the ninth annual Pitchfork Music Festival set to begin on Friday, Kenneth Preski, Keidra Chaney and Robert Loerzel preview the top storylines and debate the must-see acts in advance of their live, weekend-long coverage on music.newcity.com
What’s the most intriguing storyline at this year’s festival?
Preski: This year, only two of the forty-four acts billed at the festival are from Chicago, a number that cuts local representation in half from the past two years. In 2011, the same year the entire Pitchfork editorial staff moved to New York, the festival had just one artist from Chicago. This is in contrast to the formative years in 2006 and 2007, which featured six Chicago acts apiece. To what extent is Pitchfork truly a Chicago company, and how is the city represented during the festival?
Chaney: The first Pitchfork-curated fest back in 2005, Intonation, was definitely of and for Chicago and had the intent of supporting the Chicago music scene. I think Pitchfork had national aspirations from the moment of the Pitchfork/Intonation split, it just evolved slowly. But then, I am also of the opinion that Pitchfork stopped being a creation of the Midwest—and Chicago specifically—a couple of years before the company moved to NYC. There are other festivals, like AV Club Fest and Hideout Block Party that I feel are “of Chicago” and do a bit more to represent locally, so it doesn’t surprise me that Pitchfork has moved away from featuring Chicago-based acts. It sucks a bit, because it’s grown to be such a big and influential event to boost the profile of many acts, but I think that it was inevitable that PF would go this route.
What stands out for me this year in particular is the feeling that Pitchfork Music Fest feels … mature. Like Pitchfork is the Lollapalooza for music fans that get all crotchety about Lolla’s EDM stage. (I don’t mean this as an insult.) Nearly a decade old, Pitchfork feels like one of the big boys, the kind of fest that supports bigger acts that may still be too small for Lolla but are still a major draw. So while there was a point where Pitchfork felt like the young, fresh upstart festival that has your future faves, I think smaller fests around the country like FunFunFun fest in Austin or FYF Fest in LA have taken that crown. And that makes sense too; Pitchfork’s average readers are aging, so the festival’s mindset will as well. It’s not trying to be an edgy fest, but the lineup is solid. I am also happy to see the percentage of women artists in the lineup; it’s better than most.
Loerzel: I suspect that Pitchfork’s poobahs aren’t deliberately shunning Chicago artists, but it does seem curious that so few are in this year’s lineup. That isn’t a big deal for festgoers from Chicago who already see local bands all year-round: Now’s your chance to see the kids in Twin Peaks rocking out … but um, if you live here, you probably should’ve seen this awesome band already by now. But the fest also pulls in out-of-towners, including a whole pack of music critics, who could stand a little more exposure to our city’s scene. Maybe I’m biased, but I think Chicago’s always bubbling over with interesting music.
There seems to be a lack of controversy this year—nothing like 2013’s hubbub over the booking of R. Kelly or 2011’s protests about Odd Future. It’ll be a relief if this year’s fest doesn’t feel quite so much like an angry comment thread. And sorry, EDM fans, I must confess I’m a bit of a rockist, so I’m hoping the ratio of guitars-to-laptops remains high this weekend. I worry that this lineup needs a bigger jolt of garage rock.
Who are the must-see acts?
Preski: Bracketing a profound discussion of EDM and garage rock’s mutual origins in rhythm and blues (EDM from disco; disco from soul; soul from rhythm and blues; which also birthed garage rock), and putting aside the debate between concertgoers over the use of recorded samples versus live instrumentation, let’s get down to business! After the three-day passes sold out, tickets for Sunday were the next to go. The crowd has voted for Kendrick Lamar, and I suspect Schoolboy Q and Earl Sweatshirt, who both perform that afternoon. My picks in the R&B category are actually Aaliyah-heiress Kelela, who is sure to seduce the entire park through the speakers on Saturday, and Neneh Cherry, who will be weird and wonderful on Friday.
Chaney: I am definitely here for Kelela, looking forward to seeing her, and also really looking forward to St. Vincent, as I am a big fan of her latest album. I also co-sign Ken’s rec of Neneh Cherry—has she ever played the U.S. before? That should be awesome. The metalhead in me is pretty much obligated to see Deafheaven, even though I can’t say I’ve glommed onto them with the same enthusiasm as the rest of the music-critic world. Maybe I’ll be won over. Also looking forward to Factory Floor, because I am such a sucker for noise. I tend to be rock-inclined myself but I am actually OK with the lack of garage rock at Pitchfork this year because it’s reflecting the changing tastes of music fans, and frankly, traditional rock has been pretty uninspired lately.
On the food end of things, I am pretty stoked for Chubby Wieners.
Loerzel: I already mentioned Twin Peaks, but they’re worth touting again—as evidence that garage rock, or whatever you want to call this stuff, is alive and well. I will heartily jump onto the Neneh Cherry bandwagon—this is only her second concert ever in the U.S., making it a rare chance to see a singer who has such a strange and charismatic presence on her records. I’m also excited to see Slowdive, one of those classic shoegaze bands I never saw back in the day. And yeah, you have to see St. Vincent, who has a phenomenal stage act these days: posing and moving like a bloodied windup doll, with outbursts of furious guitar soloing. And those old Neutral Milk Hotel songs can be pretty transcendent in concert. Expect a major singalong in the park. (But c’mon, Jeff Mangum: could we please take a photo of you this time?) And after all these years, I still think Beck’s cool. But what I’m really hoping for are some surprises from the artists I don’t know as well. Would someone please do something weird?
July 18 through 20 at Union Park, 1501 West Randolph. Gates open at 3pm on the 18th, and noon on the 19th and 20th. $60 for the 18th, $50 each day for the 19th and 20th. All ages.
Follow along all weekend long at music.newcity.com and on twitter: @fromnecessity (Kenneth Preski), @kdc (Keidra Chaney), @robertloerzel (Robert Loerzel), and of course @newcity