So you’re planning to attend the 2016 Pitchfork Music Festival. Congratulations! You have made a very wise choice. It promises to be a great time in a great city with a great collection of artists. Speaking of those artists, one of the challenges with any music festival is looking over the schedule and trying to figure out who to see when. In the cases where you only like one artist performing at a particular time, the choice is easy. In the cases where you like two artists performing at the same time, the conflict can be tragic. But what about the artists you’re not familiar with? There’s always at least a few at any large festival, and even the most avid music fan has some knowledge gaps. The great news is that it’s easy to learn, and maybe just a little easier to make a crucial decision about a conflict, if you’ve got some outside help. Welcome to the first of three installments of the 2016 Pitchfork Music Festival Preview Guide! Here you can find out information about every artist on the lineup, and see recommendations on who you should be seeing at any particular time. So if you wouldn’t mind, please join me after the jump to check out the comprehensive guide to who’s performing on Friday. Let’s go!
Artists are arranged by set times. The color of their names indicates what stage they are performing on.
** = don’t miss this artist
^^ = see this artist if you can
3:30 Car Seat Headrest**
Will Toledo is the man behind the Car Seat Headrest moniker, and he’s been making music on his own for several years now. He’s still a really young guy in his early 20s, but has more than a dozen releases to his name over on Bandcamp. His profile has been on the rise these last couple of years since signing to Matador Records, where 2015’s Teens of Style collected some of his best early works while this year’s Teens of Denial cleans it up a bit and elevates his music to a whole new level. In fact, it’s one of 2016’s finest albums so far this year. Somehow he manages to excel at this sort of epic slacker rock sound, where songs twist and turn down fascinating avenues that often run beyond five minutes in length. If you can make it out to Union Park right when gates open on Friday, he and his band will have nearly an hour-long set without any other acts performing against them. It promises to be the perfect way to kick off the weekend, and quite possibly one of the best sets of the entire festival.
If you’re looking for the perfect summer album, you couldn’t do much better than Whitney’s 2016 debut Light Upon the Lake. The band has an impressive knack for crafting hazy, folk-tinged melodies that crawl into your ear and refuse to leave. They’re not particularly complex or innovative, but they absolutely don’t need to be. Distilling an art form down to its purest elements is enough, provided the quality is high. It helps that Whitney’s two primary composers Julian Ehrlich and Max Kakacek have previous experience in buzzed about bands Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Smith Westerns, respectively. They’re also based in Chicago, so this represents a great opportunity to celebrate some local talent at one of their first (of many) hometown festival shows. Find a shady spot at the Blue stage, kick back and enjoy.
4:35 Julia Holter^^
One of the things I love most about Julia Holter is her ability to always sound distinctive no matter what sort of music she’s playing. Over the course of three albums, she’s defiantly evolved from obscurist and insular avant-pop to something much smoother, broader and sunnier. Yet underneath the dynamic hooks and confident vocals of her most recent album Have You in My Wilderness are small flourishes – some odd reverb here, an orchestral movement there – that remind you Holter is truly a one-of-a-kind talent who is as much committed to making art and storytelling as she is crafting three minute pop gems. There’s something internally captivating about her live shows too, drawing you in with a surface sheen while simultaneously and subtly prodding you to color just a bit outside the lines. If that’s not a good enough reason to check out her set, I don’t know what is.
5:15 Moses Sumney^^
Moses Sumney has the sort of voice you only get once in a generation. It’s effortlessly smooth and soulful, capable of incredible emotional depth and octave range. When you hear him sing, you sit up and take notice. As a result, the man has been consistently in demand for the last couple of years, with everyone from Solange to Sufjan Stevens looking to collaborate with him or simply have him play an opening set at their shows. The most recorded material we’ve ever gotten from him at this point has been a self-recorded EP released in 2014, along with a couple of singles that have been teasing a full-length that’s apparently recorded but still TBA on the release date. Guess that means if you check out his set you’ll get to hear plenty of new, unreleased music. Not sure if he’ll be performing solo with loop pedals or with a full band (he tends to favor the former), but either way the experience should be revelatory. From a genre perspective, Sumney falls into the folk singer-songwriter pool, with a few left turns to keep it interesting. He’s been compared to Bon Iver and Grizzly Bear, if that helps. Though he might not be an ideal artist for an outdoor festival, rest assured that he’s not to be missed no matter when or where he plays.
5:30 Twin Peaks**
Chicago’s own Twin Peaks are a relentlessly interesting and engaging band. They’re hilarious and fun on stage and off, their ebullient garage rock output perfectly matching their personalities. It also makes them the perfect band for music festivals, which is why they’re playing Pitchfork for the second time in three years. Yet there’s something about their latest record (Down in Heaven), their third in four years, that seems to suggest that they’re calming down and maturing quite a bit. They’ve traded in much of the sloppy and carefree melodies of their early material for something sweeter and more introspective. It’s the sort of self-reflective adjustment that many artists undergo after many years of hard partying and music industry bullshit, and the fact that Twin Peaks have reached this stage in such a short period of time simply implies that they understand these pitfalls and don’t feel the need to give in or be hardened by them. They’re above all that, and better for it.
6:15 Mick Jenkins
Chicago hip hop has been in a bit of a renaissance period these last few years, with more and more new faces becoming known names and revolutionizing the genre. Some would argue that it’s always been that way, but if you lived through the East Coast vs. West Coast hip hop wars you know that’s not the case. Enter Mick Jenkins, who has been following a path similar to Chance the Rapper on his way to stardom. He’s put out five mixtapes since 2012, and his hotly anticipated official debut album is expected to drop at some point later this year. From a lyrical perspective he’s poetic but doesn’t shy away from harsh truths, injecting plenty of pathos and pain into exceptional wordplay. As dark and as serious as Jenkins can be, and with the tragedies of last week still fresh in everyone’s minds, his set might be a little more subdued than it traditionally is. Still, for hip hop fans this should be one of the more meaningful and important sets of the entire festival.
6:25 Carly Rae Jepsen**
Following the mainstream success of “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen didn’t so much retreat from the spotlight as the spotlight retreated from her. That says more about the fickle nature of the music business, where you’re somebody one minute and then nobody the next. I’d argue that at least one, if not two of the singles on her latest album E•MO•TION were played on the radio, they just failed to ignite with mainstream audiences quite the same way. What’s been fascinating is how the indie community has embraced Jepsen in the last year, praising the ’80s-inspired pop songs that populated her most recent record. There’s something very Cyndi Lauper about it, and I mean that in a complimentary way. Like most pop stars, Jepsen is fun and lively on stage, so her early evening set should definitely get the festival crowd amped.
7:15 The Range
Brooklyn-based producer James Hinton is the man behind The Range. He does a remarkable job blending a variety of different styles and genres into some genuinely fun and upbeat instrumental electronica. His latest album Potential is an impressive collection of styles and singing samples largely culled from homemade YouTube videos (for which he’s giving credit and paying royalties to every artist involved). He utilizes those voices to add some additional musicality behind the beats and melodies he composes, giving them the sort of weight reserved for salt and pepper on a main dish. That is to say they’re not essential, but they make something that’s already good sound even better. The playful nature of it all brings a certain energy that will likely keep people dancing, particularly in the shade of the Blue stage as the sun begins to set.
7:20 Broken Social Scene**
It’s been a minute since Broken Social Scene came around. Five years, specifically, since their last show in Chicago and their last major tour. It’s been six years since they’ve released any new music. The collective’s many members have been laying low for the most part, crafting solo efforts or simply spending time with family. You might say they’ve been on a bit of a hiatus. Of course their lineup has changed so much in the last decade and a half, it’s a little difficult to even determine who’s in the band these days. Sure, Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning are and will always remain the linchpins of the group, but we’re also a long way from the You Forgot It In People era, when notables such as Feist, Emily Haines (Metric) and Amy Millan (Stars) were primary members as well. To this day, the BSS show at Lollapalooza 2006 with all members present was one of the greatest live shows I’ve ever witnessed. It sticks in my mind as a crystalline memory. The handful of times I’ve seen them since simply can’t compare. Will we get any special guests in Union Park this year? Probably not, but one can hope. Will we hear any new music? That’s a good possibility. Will it still be thrilling to hear classic indie rock songs like “Stars And Sons” and “Almost Crimes” performed live? I can only assume so. I’m excited for this, and you should be too.
Shamir is one of the rare Pitchfork artists to perform at the festival two years in a row. What’s fascinating to me is that he hasn’t released any new music since then, nor has he particularly grown in popularity (from what I’ve been able to gauge). Still, that debut album Ratchet is a killer slice of dance pop, and he’s proven himself to be a very capable live performer. Those eager to see him at last year’s fest might have been put off a bit by the 45 minute soundcheck delay tacked onto what wound up being a shortened set, so ideally things are going to go off without a hitch this year. What’s likely to happen is that a bunch of people who are bored or generally turned off by Beach House’s sleepy (no offense) headlining performance will wind up bouncing over to the wild party happening with Shamir on the Blue stage. If you want to end your night with fun and high energy, don’t miss it.
8:30 Beach House^^
The thing about Beach House is that they’re absolutely wonderful and make gorgeous music, but it moves at a glacial pace. You can’t dance or mosh or even do a whole lot of head bobbing/toe tapping to anything in their catalog. And that’s okay! The two times I’ve seen them at previous Pitchfork Fests (2010 and 2012), I stood in the hot sun of Union Park glazed in sweat, just wanting a nap. They’re not really a band built for music festivals. Yet here they are, headlining Pitchfork in 2016. The good news is that it will be dark and a little cooler for their set this time, which means their essential fog and lighting effects will actually add to the mystery and atmosphere. They thrive underneath a starry sky, where you can just lay out in the grass on a blanket, pondering life’s big questions or maybe even making out with a special someone. If you’re looking to decompress from the day, it’s good for that as well. Having seen Beach House already twice this year, I can tell you that in the right circumstances they have the potential to move you to tears. If you watch them, I hope they do! We all could use a good cry every now and then.