Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pitchfork Music festival report: Friday

Pitchfork is one of my favorite festivals because of how different it is than most I go too. It is small by comparison (about 15k) and with only 3 stages there is minimal overlap and it is easy to see nearly every act you really want to. I went to the first one back in 2005 (back when it was the Intonation fest curated by Pitchfork, which changed the following year) and have been every year since except for 2009 due to some family issues. If you aren't aware of Pitchfork Media I urge you to check out their site, it is a great place to find out about awesome new music. They also put on a damn good festival, it is hard to rank all of the years but this definitely has to be near the tops as I believe they had one of the most solid lineups I'd ever seen for the festival from the headliners to the obscure bands that started each day.

Friday however started with fewer obscure bands as it was a shorter day. We arrived a little late and caught the end of Gatekeeper on the smaller stage, an electronic duo I had never heard of before. Their sound was rather dark compared to a lot of electronic music, it was an interesting scene because the crowd was pretty big but mostly just standing around. Just as we were getting into it though they abruptly ended, so we headed back to the field with the two main stages.

Battles was one of the main acts we wanted to see, but I was upset to find out Tyondai Braxton was no longer a member of the band. If you don't know Battles they're a so-called "math rock" band, almost entirely instrumental experimental music that is very rhythmic. Their album Mirrored is a classic, and Braxton was in many ways the defining member of the band. I had seen Battles play several times and my favorite show of theirs was at Pitchfork in 2007, and in the same setting minus their most crucial member it was hard to compare. Nevertheless they blasted through several of their most popular songs as well as material off their new album Gloss Drop. I enjoyed it but couldn't shake of the loss of Braxton, especially when they sampled vocals that he used to perform, loop and mix live. Here is an awesome old live clip of them from that time to give you an idea. If you haven't checked out Battles I strongly recommend checking them out:

Next we wandered back to the smaller stage to see Curren$y perform, a rapper I have mentioned a few times on this blog and have actually filmed a show of in Nashville. Pitchfork always has a few hip-hop acts each year that they are big fans of so Curren$y fit right into the lineup this year. Having seen him several times I knew what to expect, lots of wordplay about living the good life set to chill beats. His shows are less hype than most hip-hop shows I normally see, there's no shoutouts with the crowd or calls back and forth, just a stream of rhymes coming at you constantly. I knew a large portion of the songs but there were a few I had never heard before off his recent album Weekend at Bernie's so that was cool to hear. It wasn't my favorite show of his but  great time nonetheless. Here's an old video I filmed at Phat Kaps in Nashville last year:

Das Racist was up next on the same stage, so we scooted up to get a better view of the wackiness that was about to ensue. I just found out about these guys this year and was really excited to see them. They're kind of a joke rap group except they're actually really talented. The songs are stream of consciousness in parts and often very tongue-in-cheek but still though-provoking in strange ways. I don't think they are for everyone, I can easily imagine fans of hip-off who would be turned off by their kookiness, but in this day and age after seeing the same thing so many times they are a welcome breath of fresh air. Their show was a blast and while they didn't play all of my favorite songs that was basically a given with their short festival set. Would love to see a full show from these guys, check out one of my favorite videos of theirs below:

We had worked our way up so close at the small stage that we decided to stay put and wait for the next act, James Blake. He recently caught my attention with his minimalist, evocative self titled album. It's a rather incredible debut record, full of introspective lyrics set amidst electronic arrangements with some elements of guitar and piano in there. It is definitely not the type of record you'd expect from your average singer-songwriter, and James Blake was rewarded for his efforts for a nomination for the Mercury Music prize, which is essentially the UK's best album award. Yes he's British if I didn't mention that, and you could definitely tell when he played. His voice comes out soft but runs right though you and hits with a lot more power you would think a soft-spoken Englishman capable of.

Despite the use of electronics in nearly all his songs Blake is a strongly opposed to the use of computers on stage, so it was very interesting to watch him and his 2 band mates get by without their use. He uses looping amazingly effectively, especially in the haunting "I Never Learnt to Share" which repeats the same line over and over again with James Blake singing on top of himself. Unfortunately the original version of that song is nowhere to be found on youtube (you can find a decent live version though from the SXSW pitchfork showcase which I actually attended but left before Blake took the stage) but I did pull up a video for another of my favorite tracks of his. This was my favorite performance of the day, and knowing how new to the scene this guy is I think we can expect some great things to come from him.

Last but certainly not least was the headlining performance from Animal Collective. This is one of the reasons I love Pitchfork so much, it is among the very few that a band like Animal Collective could headline. I've been a big fan for a long time and have seen them on numerous occasions, but they are by no means an easily accessible band. Their sound is strange, almost tribal at times, and with the different movements crashing into each other it is often hard to tell where one song ends and another begins. This has especially been true of their latest tour, which has seen the band playing lots of new material amidst a few of their older songs. Animal Collective are known for doing this, fleshing out material in a live setting before committing it to an album. Sometimes it can be a bit alienating as a fan, for instance their Coachella performance this year left many scratching their heads. Perhaps it was because many we just waiting for Arcade Fire or to hear their favorite AC songs, but only a few recognizable tunes were heard. Combined with the psychedelic visuals that obscured the view of the band on the screens it didn't capture the audience's attention in the same way I had seen at previous Animal Collective shows.

The Pitchfork show on the other hand was a different story entirely. Everyone in the crowd was there to see Animal Collective, the only performance remaining in the evening. Full attention was given despite the small amount of recognizable material. The stage was set with a strange backdrop , and the crazy visuals were back but with the screen to the far side of the stage they were way less distracting. The ebbs and flows of their music led the entire crowd through a literal kaliediscope of sound, punching up the energy way beyond the last show I had seen of theirs. No more so was this apparent during the Merriweather Post Pavillion closer "Brothersport" which caused a rush of the stage. Other classics like "Feels" brought out the good vibes to, a welcome familiarity amongst the weirdness. But weirdness is what Animal Collective does best, and in this environment it was perfect. Despite my lack of knowledge with their new material I think it even surpassed their Pitchfork show in 2008 (which was also a headlining slot). Fantastic ending to the day, check out this video I found for "Brothersport." Quality is not great but it paints a good picture of the show:

One bad thing with a festival like this is that it ends early, so by 9:45 the music was done. Another was the memory card for my camera failed and I lost everything, so no pictures from that day. At least it wasn't something wrong with the camera itself I guess. But with all the great music these are easy things to overlook. My favorite show of the day had to be James Blake, followed by Animal Collective's awesome performance. But this was just the beginning of a long weekend of music to come.


  1. Hey Rob, I could'nt attend the festival but your post really updated me on it. Thanks for sharing. Thumbs Up !

  2. Very nice report on pitchfork music. Great essay with lots of information. Good music soulful in a festival. like it and loving it