Almost at the end of their second decade, Pitchfork Media has changed the way we find, listen, experience, and most importantly, talk about music. The largest force in the music industry of the last 20 years save file-sharing websites and Kanye West’s twitter account, Pitchfork is more consequential to the development of the independent scene than any previous media entity, Rolling Stone and associates included. For starters, there has never been a Rolling Stone Music Festival.
The Eighth Annual Pitchfork Music Festival was a weekend of exploration, a theme consistent with the mission of the site. We drifted through 29 shows at Chicago’s Union Park, led by the promise of indie pop, grunge revival, electronica, hip hop and all things “post-“, and while performances were largely inconsistent, the rewards were greater than the detractors.
The clear purpose of the Pitchfork Music Festival is to create a live music experience that is consistent with the online experience of the publication. In most ways, they succeeded. By bringing acts such as Ty Segall, Beach House, Dirty Projectors and Kendrick Lamar, all with the online stamp of approval “Best New Music”, the Pitchfork Music Festival organizers managed to present up-and-coming artists (to the layperson) as established and largely successful. All of these artists can thank Pitchfork Media at least partially for their growth over the last few years, so it would make sense that they would be given the opportunity to represent the publication’s real life counterpart.
However, it’s possible their journalistic integrity could be compromised by their assumed role of festival organizers and promoters. After all, the goal of the fest is to sell tickets. Is it right to use their considerable influence as music journalists to sell tickets to their own curated festival? Or better stated: Is their coverage of these bands influenced by the fact that they want to sell tickets? Obviously, the role of a media entity has changed in recent years, due in part to the success of Pitchfork Media, but do the old rules of impartial coverage still apply?
Working for a small shop like ours, it’s easy to envy Pitchfork Media. With an expanded staff, accommodating resources and a revenue flow, Pitchfork churns out review after review, feature after feature, announcement after announcement, and so on. The FP skeleton crew busts their ass to bring you daily essays, recipes, photo journals, lists and of course, reviews, all (we hope) with the signature FP seal of quality. This isn’t to say their editors and writers don’t work hard or that they don’t employ quality standards, it’s just that the economies of scale are clearly in their favor. What is more difficult is to give credit where credit is due.
Pitchfork Media and its subsequent Music Festival are evidence of our new era of music consumption and enjoyment. Due in part to the hard work of creator and owner Ryan Schreiber and his staff, the joy of seeking out new music is not only shared by record store employees and nerds like us, but everyone. While it’s clearly not democratic (we don’t choose what they report on), Pitchfork Media has opened the door for so many listeners and artists alike. And for that, they deserve credit.
Below is a complete list of all the acts we saw this weekend.
-Willis Earl Beale
-A$AP Rocky - That Pretty Motherfucker = PMF = Pitchfork Music Festival. Coincidence?
-Dirty Projectors - Burning off the release of Swing Lo Magellan, Dirty Projectors provided the most satisfying and stimulating performance of the day. Their show succeeded most in its humanity and reality, two traits missing in too many of this weekend’s performances. David Longstreth’s attention to detail is as apparent live as it is on the record, but his left field approach to pop songwriting is more digestible and enjoyable when experienced in person.
-Cloud Nothings - Marred by a downpour and an early set time, Cloud Nothings exposed several issues in the organization and production of the event, most notably in sound. The excellent live band battled the elements with their newest record, Attack on Memory (our #1 album of the year so far), only to be cut off just before “Wasted Days” reached its cathartic peak. Safety is always key, of course, but why couldn’t it have poured through Atlas Sound’s miserable set?
-Flying Lotus - On the bill for virtually every festival this year, FlyLo is obviously a dude who loves to play his (and other’s) music for crowds. Fortunately, the crowd loves it too. Despite rising temperatures and a mud soaked field, attendees head nodded, shimmied and moshed to the sounds of tomorrow. Highlight: “Hard In The Paint”.
Ty Segall/The Men @ The Empty Bottle Aftershow
Oh my God. The Pitchfork Aftershows are certainly where it is at. Yes, these are probably my two favorite artists and live performers of the year. And yes, they continue to blow my mind. Too much happened at this show to get into it all, so I’ll at least relay the moment that keeps looping in my brain: For the last song of his encore, Ty decided to play AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” for a second time, only this he played from inside the pit. After raging impossibly hard through no doubt the best AC/DC song, he proceeded to stage dive, and attempt to swing from the lighting rig and disco ball, both hanging just feet above the sold out crowd. Rock Gods Among Us. If I never go to the fest again (which is unlikely), you will certainly find me at the aftershows.
-Thee Oh Sees - Due to the size of the grounds, the frequency of disinteresting performances and overlapping times, rarely did we sit and enjoy a full set. Thee Oh Sees were the exception. We were content to get down with these Bay Area psych-punkers, whose set ranged from spastic to spacey. Their title as one of the best touring bands is upheld.
-AraabMuzik – The greatest surprise of the weekend. After what seemed to be a scheduled dinner break, attendees were split between Onethronix Point Never and AraabMuzik. We couldn’t have made a better decision. With homespun and handmade beats, AraabMuzik showed everyone how an electronic and beat performance should be: an actual performance. Extra points for bringing out Chief Keef at the end of the set.
-The Field - Another great surprise of the weekend brought the festival to a close for us, except the two Vampire Weekend songs we caught, The Field solidified the notion that electronic music live needs to be a performance. Bringing a bassist and a drummer, Swedish techno artist Axel Willner chilled the crowd with soothing loops and warm synths.
-Vampire Weekend - We elected to rush to catch the Season Five premiere of Breaking Bad over seeing Vampire Weekend. So sorry, Brooklyn.
Mark Meatto (photos) is the director of How To Grow A Band, a documentary about Chris Thile and Punch Brothers, which screened during Pitchfork weekend at the Gene Siskel Film Center. For more of his festival photos, see Shiny Pitchfork People.