Back in February, a new program based in the EU called Keychange, which is focused on helping women transform the music industry, announced that they had partnered with 45 different music festivals from around the globe in a pledge to help create fully gender balanced lineups by 2020. Considering how lopsided the current festival landscape is, with major festival lineups like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza averaging somewhere around 20% female, committing to a 50/50 split will certainly take some work. Unfortunately most large festivals haven’t joined Keychange’s pledge, so the numbers will likely remain skewed for the foreseeable future. The folks behind the Pitchfork Music Festival also didn’t agree to have a gender balanced lineup by 2020. Instead, they’ve done it by 2018. Pitchfork is only one of two festivals (the other is Panorama) to do it this year, and while there’s been very little attention given to this fact, it’s absolutely worth noting and celebrating. Will they choose to continue booking lineups this way in the future? I guess we’ll find out in 2019 and beyond. For now though, it’s heartening to know that Pitchfork is taking the lead in helping to create a more progressive and hospitable festival experience for persons of all genders and types. There’s a whole lot of talented women and men set to perform at Pitchfork on Saturday, and if you’re interested in learning more about them and who you should make an effort to see, read on below.
Before we get started:
Click here for a playlist of the entire Pitchfork Music Festival 2018 lineup
Click here for the Friday Preview Guide
Click here to buy tickets to the 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival
Check back tomorrow for the Sunday preview guide, plus coverage of the festival all weekend long!
** = Recommended
Paul Cherry [1:00 – 1:40]**
As with every day of this year’s festival, Saturday officially begins with a performance from a Chicago-based artist. This time it’s Paul Cherry, who’s known as a very DIY, lo-fi type of artist who specializes in smooth, often psychedelic, pop. There’s certainly a lack of polish on most of his recordings, including his new album Flavour, which came out earlier this year. His sensibilities are strange and just a bit unexpected, which is great for originality, while he simultaneously manages to come up with fun and addictive melodies that stick with you long after they’re over. His set may not be the highest energy way to start your day, but it likely won’t be boring.
berhana [1:45 – 2:25]**
If you pay close attention to the music cues on the FX show Atlanta (a show you SHOULD be watching), you might have heard berhana’s song “Grey Luh” as it soundtracked a taxi ride in the third episode of the recently concluded second season. It’s one of a few high profile places you can hear the R&B singer, who’s been making some real waves since he first emerged in 2016. All this success with only an EP out, along with a couple of randomly dropped new singles so far this year. You’d be wise to show up early on Saturday to catch his set, in part so in a couple years you can say you’ve been a fan since his “early” days.
Zola Jesus [2:30 – 3:15]**
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith [2:45 – 3:30]
One of the most powerful singing voices you’ll hear all weekend will come from Nicole Hummel, aka Zola Jesus. A former opera singer, she’s managed to become a master of grandiose, gothic pop over the course of five excellent studio albums and a couple of EPs. A little bit new wave, a little bit post-punk, and a little bit orchestral pop, there’s the sense that she can take her vision in any direction she pleases. Her most recent LP Okovi was one of 2017’s finest, and managed to tackle difficult subjects like depression with striking beauty. Those interested in an injection of energy might be wise to give into the rhythms that Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith will be dishing out over on the Blue stage. While much of her electronic music has an intricate quality that rewards close listening as a myriad of styles and instruments flutter in and out of just about every song, there’s also a colorful buoyancy that manages to lift your spirit and your feet. While her set won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, those that embrace the auteur’s unique sensibilities should have an absolute blast.
Nilufer Yanya [3:20 – 4:10]**
Technically speaking, British singer-songwriter Nilufer Yanya only has a handful of songs out, and her EP Do You Like Pain? only features two of them paired with some remixes. Like most artists touring without a debut album however, it’s probably safe to assume she’s got a whole bunch more material to fill the set time. If those tracks are at all similar to what she’s already released, we’re in for a real treat. Her sound is a mixture of styles that, while primarily rooted in rock and new wave elements, also incorporate glorious hints of jazz, soul, and pop. It’s incredibly catchy and should be a perfect mood setter for a sunny Saturday.
Circuit des Yeux [4:00 – 4:45]**
Moses Sumney [4:15 – 5:10]**
In my mind, this is the biggest conflict of Saturday, and perhaps the entire festival. Both artists are insanely talented innovators who have played the festival before, but have grown so much these last couple of years. Let’s start with Circuit des Yeux, which is the project of Chicago’s own Haley Fohr. She has a four octave vocal range, and sings in a deep baritone that’s unique and highly compelling. Her compositions are equally magnetic, best classified as experimental folk. Last year’s Reaching for Indigo pushed her sound to a new pinnacle, and it certainly ranked high on my Best Albums list. Then again, Moses Sumney’s debut LP Aromanticism ultimately ranked one position higher on that same list. His voice is also extremely impressive and expressive, able to stretch and bend with his dynamic and soulful songs. In many ways he feels like the future of R&B, and often pairs his voice with simple melodies to push more of the focus on his vocals and lyrics. On stage he often uses looping to build songs from scratch, which is highly engaging to watch even if they can be slow and somber at times. When choosing between Circuit des Yeux and Moses Sumney, it’s important to note that both artists fare much better indoors with fully silent crowds. While Union Park won’t be the ideal environment for either one of them, they’re both worth checking out if you have the chance.
Raphael Saadiq [5:15 – 6:10]**
Girlpool [5:15 – 6:00]
Raphael Saadiq is an R&B legend. He earned his stripes as a member of Tony! Toni! Tone! for a decade from the late ’80s to the late ’90s. He came into his own as a solo artist in the early 2000s, and generated a number of hit singles while simultaneously producing and collaborating with dozens of huge names, including A Tribe Called Quest, D’Angelo, Lionel Richie, The Roots, Snoop Dogg, Erykah Badu, and so many others. Even if you don’t know a whole lot about music, you would probably recognize a few of his greatest hits over the years. It will be great to have him belting out the classics at Pitchfork this year. Feeling just a little bit sorry for Girlpool, who will be competing for attention with Saadiq while on the much smaller Blue stage. They do offer a great alternative to R&B if that’s not your thing. The primary reason that Girlpool have been so fantastic and critically acclaimed over their two studio albums in the last couple years is because of the dynamic between Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad. The two of them seem connected on a deeper, more cerebral level, to the point where their vocals will sometimes bounce back and forth as they finish one another’s lyrics. Their songs are mostly about growing up and falling in (and out of) love, which can be a very awkward experience that’s also highly relatable. That awkward mojo may also seep into their live shows, so if you want to check them out be prepared to feel a variety of emotions, uncomfortable being one of them. I’m kidding of course, but only kind of.
Blood Orange [6:15 – 7:15]
This Is Not This Heat [6:30 – 7:15]**
For three albums as Blood Orange, Devonte Hynes been creating music that blends genres including rock, funk, soul, R&B, synth pop, and more. The results have been staggeringly great, particularly with his ability to mine classic and recognizable influences but twist them into something that feels wholly new and original. His lyrics play a large role in that, particularly relevant during this time where race, police, and gun issues dominate the news headlines. Oppression was a major theme on his 2016 record Freetown Sound, yet he still managed to make most of the songs uptempo and even danceable. It really helps to make his live shows that much more engaging and entertaining as well. Even though it’s only been two years since Hynes last performed at Pitchfork Music Festival and he hasn’t released much new music since then (aside from two songs this past February for Black History Month), he’s just announced his fourth album Negro Swan will be out at the end of August. You can probably put money on hearing some brand new Blood Orange music in Union Park this weekend. Count This Is Not This Heat as the legacy act that Pitchfork booked this year even though they aren’t particularly well-known or popular to U.S. audiences. They are underground/cult heroes, and likely influenced some of your favorite bands today, particularly in the post-punk, progressive rock, and noise rock genres. This Is Not This Heat is technically a revived/zombified version of This Heat, who operated and released three records between 1977 and 1982 before calling it quits. An attempt to get back together in 2001 was quickly shut down following the sudden death of founding member and multi-instrumentalist Gareth Williams. Remaining members Charles Bullen and Charles Hayward have since decided to press on and play some of the old tunes under the slightly different name, resulting in some critically acclaimed European shows in 2016 and 2017. To my knowledge their Pitchfork set might be their first time in Chicago, which makes this a VERY special occasion. If you’re not familiar with them, please take some time and listen to a few songs. It really is masterfully weird stuff that uses tape loops, organ drones, off-key guitars, and other pieces of dissonance to create something wholly obtuse yet beautiful.
The War on Drugs [7:25 – 8:25]**
Kelela [7:45 – 8:30]
Not sure what to say about The War on Drugs at this point, except that if you haven’t yet seem them perform live, it’s something you must correct immediately. They are a masterful band both in the studio and on stage, and given the right environment they will make your jaw drop in awe. Adam Granduciel is the driving force behind the band, which sounds like classic rock for the heartland in many ways and has earned them many comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty (/The Heartbreakers). Most of their songs don’t quite have the pop hooks and head bobbing energy of those artists’ greatest hits (despite some radio airplay), but the craftsmanship and attention to detail is second to none. Melodies sparkle like light refracted through a window, and the guitars flow with the smooth peace of a wooded stream. they’re the sort of band that will throw an 11-minute song on the middle of their album just because, and it’ll somehow feel like four minutes every time you listen to it. Their last two albums have been very highly acclaimed, and 2017’s A Deeper Understanding even won them a Grammy for Best Rock Album. If you ask me, they deserve to be headlining this festival. Maybe next time. That almost makes me feel bad for Kelela, who is an amazing R&B artist in her own right and is coming off an amazing 2017 following the release of her debut album Take Me Apart. It was one of my favorites from last year, and contains some ridiculously great and catchy songs. She performed on the Blue stage at Pitchfork back in 2014, at which time I commented that “she worked the stage with total confidence and control” and her set “was equal parts upbeat, sensual, and intimate”. That’s likely going to be my reaction again when she returns to the Blue stage on Saturday, though she’s grown so much as an artist these last four years it’ll be fascinating to see how her performance style has evolved. Definitely give her a shot of the wispy guitar solos from The War on Drugs aren’t your cup of tea.
Fleet Foxes [8:30 – 9:50]**
When Fleet Foxes last headlined the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2011, they were riding high off their successful second album Helplessness Blues. A couple of years later, they’d go on hiatus as Robin Pecknold chose to pursue his education full-time. When they finally returned last year with their third LP Crack-Up, it in many ways felt like a different band. They were also dealing with a different musical landscape, as times and trends changed. While Crack-Up was critically acclaimed and well received overall, it failed to yield much in the way of singles and the band’s profile felt a little diminished because of it. Yet here they are, returning to headline Pitchfork once again like conquering heroes. My reaction to their set seven years ago was that it was pretty good, but also a little plain, as band members stood in a line across the stage and faithfully recreated their songs without much showmanship. Those harmonies though, are enough to make anyone weak in the knees when you hear them done live. So yes, Fleet Foxes aren’t the most exciting or sexy band in the world, but they make great music, and hopefully their 2018 set will find a way to boost the energy just a little bit.