Preview: Pitchfork Music Festival 2013
by Ben Stas (English/Journalism), published July 8th 2013
Independence Day has passed us by and summer is in full swing, which means that Chicago’s annual Pitchfork Music Festival (July 19-21) is right around the corner. Sure, it’s a long trip from Boston to Union Park, but this year’s particularly eclectic lineup will make it well worth your while. What other festival could bring you the likes of Björk, R. Kelly, Swans and Lil B the Based God in a single weekend? Read on for a day-by-day breakdown of this year’s must-see sets.
Gates open at 3 on Friday afternoon, and Brooklyn’s Frankie Rose will get the ball rolling with the weekend’s first set on the Blue Stage at 3:20. A veteran of multiple buzz-worthy rock bands, Rose released her first proper solo album, a dreamy affair called Interstellar, in 2012. Check in early for a laid-back start to a long weekend.
For a complete reversal of those vibes, stick around the Blue Stage for Sacramento’s Trash Talk at 4:15. The band specializes in furious bursts of hardcore and notoriously rowdy live shows. Prepare to mosh, or at least to constantly dodge flying bodies. If you’re in the mood to keep things easygoing, Mac DeMarco’s jangly, amiable indie rock (Green Stage, 4:35) would be a worthy alternative.
Ty Segall associate Mikal Cronin, who is a certifiably excellent garage-rocker in his own right, performs on the Blue Stage at 6:15, but my recommendation for this timeslot has to go to post-punk vets Wire. Responsible for a trio of classic albums in the 1970s and capable of compelling work even in the fourth decade of their career, Wire are restless experimentalists and veritable legends. Catch them on the Green Stage at 6:25.
Friday’s final slots offer up two of the festival’s more notable bookings this year. Both Joanna Newsom (Red Stage, 7:20) and headliner Björk (Green Stage, 8:30) have very few U.S. dates scheduled in the coming months, so Pitchfork may be your only chance to see them in action this year. Newsom’s harp-driven brand of avant-folk is truly one of a kind, and should make for a captivating live show. The same goes for Björk, the impossible-to-classify and endlessly fascinating Icelandic singer and songwriter with a proclivity for weird fashion and high-concept performances. Definitely not one to miss.
Gates open at noon on Saturday, and the music will begin with a trio of furious sets. Canadians White Lung (Green Stage) and KEN Mode (Blue Stage) will go head to head at 1:00, presenting a quandary for fans of the fast and loud. White Lung’s female-fronted punk rock is both kickass and compelling, while KEN Mode’s raging, serrated bitterness threatens to tear apart everything in its path. Whichever you choose, make sure to report to the Red Stage immediately after to catch Pissed Jeans. The Pennsylvania-based foursome is one of the most flat-out entertaining punk bands around, due in no small part to the theatrical stage presence of vocalist Matt Kosloff.
Saturday afternoon is where this year’s schedule gets particularly hectic. Phosphorescent, the folksy project of singer/songwriter Matthew Houck, will offer a respite from all the punk bludgeoning on the Green Stage at 2:30, and end in time to catch either venerable post-hardcore band …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead (Red Stage, 3:20) or much-buzzed-about post-punk shoegazers Merchandise (Blue Stage, 3:45). A tempting third option, however, would be to stake out a good spot for the 4:15 Green Stage set by austere Brits Savages, who are touring their arresting debut record with what is evidently a killer live show. Metz present another wrenching conflict with their 4:45 set on the Blue Stage, countering Savages’ tense post-punk with frenetic noise rock. Good luck with these couple of hours; the choices are going to be tough.
A 5:15 Red Stage set from Swans will undoubtedly be one of the day’s more challenging performances, but likely one of its best as well. Though the band has touched upon everything from no-wave to neofolk over the course of its many years and iterations, Michael Gira’s behemoth of a rock band currently favors lengthy, crushing songs that blend post-rock, noise and drone into an intense maelstrom of sound. They are surely not a band for everyone, but they come highly recommended if you’re up to it.
Things will lighten up a bit as Saturday winds down. The Breeders will perform their classic sophomore record Last Splash in its entirety on the Green Stage at 6:15, which will be worth seeing even as a casual fan of the newly post-Pixies Kim Deal. Slowcore pioneers Low will gently rock the Blue Stage at 6:45, and a set from experimental electronic producer Andy Stott at 7:45 would be worth sticking around for.
Belle and Sebastian will cap off Saturday with a headlining set on the Green Stage at 8:30. The Glaswegian indie-pop band is the perfect festival act for a summer evening. They’ve got a vast discography of charmingly catchy songs to pull from, and it’s tough to go wrong with that. Should be a lovely way to end the day.
Sunday’s lineup largely does away with Saturday’s punk leanings, presenting the majority of the weekend’s pop, R&B and hip-hop bookings together. If you’re headed in early, the psychedelic pop of the increasingly volatile Foxygen (Red Stage, 1:45) would be an entertaining way to start the day. The band may be increasingly prone to meltdowns, but when they’re on, they’re great.
A one-two punch of sets from rap’s latest inseparable partnership, Killer Mike (Green Stage, 2:30) and El-P (Red Stage, 3:20), will be a definite Sunday highlight. The MCs were responsible for two of last year’s best hip-hop albums in R.A.P. Music and Cancer 4 Cure, and they’ve recently teamed up as Run the Jewels for a freely available self-titled record. Expect much crossover between the two sets, in what will likely amount to one 90 minute, two-stage event.
On the Green Stage at 4:15, legendary New Jersey indie rockers Yo La Tengo will perform. YLT have continually proven themselves one of the most versatile and inhumanly consistent bands around, equally versed in whispered ballads, scorching noise-rock epics and pretty much everything in between. Their latest, Fade, is largely on the quieter end of the spectrum, but rest assured that they’ll crank up the volume for at least a few of Ira Kaplan’s physically aggressive guitar solos.
At 5:15 on the Red Stage, Pitchfork will do something I’ve been secretly hoping they’d do for years: host Internet pseudo-deity/hyper-positive guru/unspeakably prolific rapper Lil B. Trying to make logical sense of The Based God is an exercise in futility, but all you really need to know is that his live performances bring the non-sequitors, the mixtape hits and boundless positive energy. Whether you’re a based devotee or a just curious onlooker, you certainly won’t be bored
The chilled-out electro-pop of Toro Y Moi will take over the Green Stage at 6:15, lulling the crowd into a state of relaxation before M.I.A. undoubtedly shatters the illusion from the Red Stage at 7:25. Maya Arulpragasam’s increasingly divisive electronic/dance/hip-hop concoctions are nothing if not attention grabbing, and, like Newsom and Björk, Pitchfork marks one of M.I.A.’s only U.S. appearances this year. Love her or hate her, she’ll be one of Sunday’s most talked-about sets.
Closing out the festival on Sunday will be…R. Kelly? Yes, the Chicago native and R&B legend is one of Pitchfork’s biggest and most left-field headliners to date, but it’s an impressive booking for a modestly sized festival. Plus, your next chance to see R. Kelly in a setting like this is likely far off in the distance.
This year’s Pitchfork Festival hosts many more artists than I could mention in any detail, and you can check out the complete list and schedule here. In addition to performances, the festival will also hold its annual CHIRP Record Fair (an absolute must for vinyl geeks), Flatstock poster exhibition, Coterie Craft Fair, Book Fort exhibition and more. The festival is absolutely stacked this time around, and the good news is that individual passes for all three days are still available. Don’t count on them to last long though.