Let me use today’s introduction to offer a few festival tips and tricks to help you survive the weekend at Pitchfork Music Festival. Six years of coverage has helped me get this down to a science, so if you follow my lead I guarantee everything’s gonna turn out great for you (you know, within reason). First, the general outdoor festival stuff. Stay hydrated. Drink at least 3-4 full bottles of water each day. That is a minimum. I know it’s tempting to have a few beers, and you realistically still can, just don’t make that the only liquid you drink all day. You’ll sweat tons in the 80+ degree heat and will be on your feet pretty much all day, so those fluids need to be replenished unless you want to wind up in the medical tent. Next up, sunscreen and bug spray. Use both liberally. If you get sunburned on Friday, the rest of the weekend will be painful. You also don’t want to scratch a bunch of bug bites either, so protect yourself.
Don’t overexert yourself. There’s a temptation to go hard and try to see just about every band. It’s possible too! Union Park isn’t that big, and with three stages you won’t need to do that much walking. Just remember to take breaks and sit down from time to time. Eat food – probably more than you’d otherwise have – to maintan energy while you burn calories. Explore! There’s plenty of fun things to do, including the CHIRP Record Fair, the Flatstock poster sale, Book Fort, Craft Fair and Kids Area. A bunch of brands have tents/booths where free food and merch is given away. Lifeway frozen kefir bars are typically being given away near the basketball court, so that’s a nice cool treat on a warm day. You can probably screen print a t-shirt for free too, if that’s an interest. If you’ve got some down time or don’t like any of the artists performing, wandering around the festival grounds can make for a great time.
So that’s about all I’ve got in terms of tips. Well one more – be good to others! In my experience, everyone at Pitchfork is very chilled out and friendly, so treat them in kind. Join me past the jump for an in-depth, hour-by-hour look at the schedule for Saturday. There’s plenty of great stuff to recommend.
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
1:00 Circuit Des Yeux**
Saturday begins in a similar fashion to Friday, in that an artist gets to play a full set completely unopposed. It also is another great reminder to show up early, because Circuit Des Yeux is not to be missed. It’s the project of Chicago’s own Haley Fohr, who crafts strange, experimental music that’s anchored by her unmistakably operatic baritone. It’s a bit difficult to describe, but that’s the intention. Many have called it avant-garde folk, which I guess works if you need to establish some sort of sonic baseline in your head. Last year’s In Plain Speech record was her finest to date, and when you combine those songs with her intense and confrontational performance style it becomes positively mesmerizing.
1:45 Girl Band**
1:45 RP Boo
Ireland’s Girl Band seem prepared to set Union Park ablaze with their obtuse, experimental brand of post-punk. Their debut album Holding Hands With Jaime was largely written during singer Dara Kiely’s mental breakdown and recovery. He journaled relentlessly during that time, and upon his release from the hospital, paired those words with the the jagged Liars-esque melodies the rest of the guys had composed in his absence. It’s often a strange, discomforting and at times perilous experience listening to their music, and watching their performance will undoubtedly evoke similar feelings. Though it has the potential to be a shit show, there’s a much greater chance it’ll wind up being weirdly brilliant and one of the more memorable sets of the festival.
If you’re looking for something a little less loud and guitar-centric, perhaps the dance tracks of Chicago’s own RP Boo will be more up your alley. Kavain Space is the man behind the name, and he falls into a similar category with DJ Rashad and Spinn as being a godfather to a certain style of sample-based electronic music. He can chop, screw, twist and remix with the best of them, and his nearly two decades of work as a producer fully reflect that. The man’s a legend in certain circles, though for whatever strange reason he hasn’t been quite as popular as many of his peers. Still, if you’re looking for quality beats and to get your groove on early in the afternoon, you can’t do much better than RP Boo.
2:30 Kevin Morby^^
2:45 Royal Headache**
Kevin Morby has released one of the year’s finest folk records with Singing Saw. It’s the sort of effort that feels like a reward for everything he’s done previously, both as a solo artist and in other bands like Woods and The Babies. His growth as a songwriter is clearly evident, and there’s finally the sense he’s found a groove that goes beyond channeling ’60s and ’70s classics from notables like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. A more apt modern-day comparison would be to Kurt Vile, particularly in his lackadaisical yet confident approach. Expect a strong and assured set from him, though it’ll be interesting to see if he can bring the playful energy required to engage an audience in the sweltering 80+ degree sun.
If you want energy and audience engagement, Royal Headache will absolutely deliver that in spades. They’ve had shows shut down by police thanks to overzealous audience members who climbed on stage just to party and sing along with the band. Their brand of brash garage rock is fueled by pure sweat and fire, as their relentless assault leaves nothing left on the stage except maybe your jaw. There will be many screams/shout-alongs. Lots of liquid tossed into the air. Fists pumping. Crowd surfing. Probably a mosh pit. Royal Headache are true to their name, in that you may walk away feeling traumatized to a degree, but on such a proverbial High that you won’t particularly care.
3:20 Digable Planets**
3:45 Jenny Hval^^
In case you’re not familiar, Digable Planets are a jazz-influenced hip hop trio comprised of Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler (Shabazz Palaces), Mary Ann “Ladybug Mecca” Vieira and Craig “Doodlebug” Irving. They released a pair of albums to great critical acclaim back in the early ’90s before breaking up in 1995. They’ve had a couple of short-lived reunions since then, but really they’ve rarely been active these last 20 years. Their presence at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival represents a great treat for hip hop fans. Listen to the last couple of Kendrick Lamar records or Chance the Rapper’s collaboration with Donnie Trumpet on Surf with the understanding that Digable Planets were pioneers in their effortless blending of jazz and hip hop. Now feels like as good of a time as any for them to return.
The last time I saw Jenny Hval perform, she walked out on stage wearing a brown track suit, blonde wig and glasses. A silver exercise ball was often used as a prop while she sang through a set filled with experimental synth-pop. By the time it was all over, her entire look had changed – the track suit, wig and glasses removed to reveal a black spandex body suit and shaven head. The transformation was akin to a caterpillar emerging from a cocoon as a butterfly, finally free to fly away from the trappings of our sexist, patriarchal society. Yes it’s weird and maybe even uncomfortable, but this sort of provocation is also refreshing and challenging societal norms. Who knows how well it’ll work in an outdoor festival environment, but I’m very interested to find out.
4:45 Martin Courtney
I’ve seen more than 40 live shows in the first half of 2016, and of the bunch I think my favorite might have been Savages at Metro. Two albums in, they’ve gone from a great band to an essential one. Their songs grind with grit and intensity, which manifests itself physically when they’re on stage. Jehnny Beth thrusts her arms into the air and climbs atop audience members seeking a connection under the auspices that we all suffer together just as we all love together. It is loud and powerful. It also thrives in darkness, which there won’t be any outside at 4pm, but what the setting lacks in atmosphere will more than make up for in energy. There’s a very good chance Savages will deliver one of the best sets of the entire festival, so maybe don’t miss it. And keep an eye out for the mosh pit. There’s always a mosh pit.
In case you didn’t know already, Martin Courtney is the frontman for the ultimate summer chill band Real Estate. The music he makes as a solo artist sounds…a lot like Real Estate, but maybe with more acoustic guitars and slightly less reverb. It’s good, but it’s also even quieter and more relaxed than anything he’s done previously. There’s a particular charm to a mid-afternoon nap in the shade of the Blue stage with Martin Courtney providing the soundtrack, so if you’re feeling a bit tired or overheated that’s probably the spot to go.
5:15 Blood Orange**
5:45 BJ the Chicago Kid^^
Devonte Hynes is the man behind the Blood Orange name. You may also have heard of him previously as Lightspeed Champion or perhaps as part of the punk band Test Icicles. For three albums as Blood Orange, he’s been creating music that blends genres including rock, funk, soul, R&B, synth pop and more. The results have been staggeringly great, particularly in Hynes’ 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 is a major theme on his brand new record Freetown Sound, and as such the album falls in line with notable recent releases from artists such as Kendrick Lamar, D’Angelo and Kamasi Washington. It sounds more depressing than it actually is, but assists from Empress Of, Nelly Furtado and Blondie’s Debbie Harry at the very least lighten the mood and are paired with some strong beats you can dance to.
What Chance the Rapper is to Chicago hip hop, BJ the Chicago Kid (Bryan James Sledge) is to Chicago soul and R&B. That is to say he brings a unique and distinctly local perspective to his music, which often goes beyond genre conventions to refresh a classic sound. It’s exciting to hear, and friends such as the aforementioned Chance as well as Kendrick Lamar and Big K.R.I.T. all offer contributions to tracks on his major label debut In My Mind that came out earlier this year. Having high profile guests is one way to get people’s attention, but the tender and playful way Sledge sings about women and relationships clearly comes from a genuine place and makes him a rising star all on his own. It’ll be interesting to see how all of that translates in the late afternoon on an outdoor festival stage. I’m assuming things will be pretty laid back, but if he brings some high profile special guests out things could get wild pretty quickly.
6:15 Super Furry Animals**
Prepare for things to get very weird in Union Park when Super Furry Animals take the stage at Union Park. The Welsh psych band employ all kinds of techniques to make their live shows match their impossibly strange yet pop-inspired records. Imagine a cross between Tame Impala and Of Montreal with a heavy dose of vocal harmonies and you’ve got a solid idea of what to expect. You can dance to most of it, which is great for the outdoor festival atmosphere. Their liberal use of lighting effects and lasers probably won’t be great in the sunlight, but anticipate other imaginative visual aids to keep the crowd visually engaged. This will be the first Super Furry Animals show in Chicago since 2008, following a six year hiatus. It’s a privilege and a pleasure to welcome these Britpop legends back. If you’ve never had the opportunity to see them, now’s as good of a time as any!
Jlin and RP Boo were originally paired together on the Pitchfork lineup, and that included the schedule too when it was initially released. But as things got shifted around in the weeks leading up to the festival, the two became separated and were given their own individual time slots. That’s probably for the best, because though they both specialize in the house music subgenre known as footwork, each stands alone when it comes to quality contributions. If you’ve ever wanted to dance atop samples from films like Mommie Dearest and Carrie, Jlin has you covered. There’s an aggressive nature to many of her tracks that gives the impression she’s asserting her dominance over the genre while simultaneously pushing against conventions, which is remarkably invigorating and places her in the top echelon among her peers. Overall it should make for a really fun and active festival set. Expect a Holly Herndon guest appearance as well, since they collaborated on a track from Jlin’s excellent 2015 debut Dark Matters.
7:25 Brian Wilson**
7:45 Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals**
Undoubtedly, Pet Sounds is one of the greatest albums of all time. It turned 50 this year, yet The Beach Boys classic still somehow manages to feel fresh and ahead of its time. Credit for that belongs to the one and only Brian Wilson, who spent extensive periods of time in the recording studio pulling together a hodgepodge of elements that still managed to come across as sunny pop music. On the surface the record is a deceptively simple listen, but close examination reveals small tweaks and strange noises that add incredible complexity and depth to the glossy exterior. At this point in time, any opportunity to hear such an incredible record performed from start to finish by its primary contributor is a gift that should not be ignored. Wilson says this current tour marks the final times he’ll be playing the album in full, so that makes this an even bigger treat. Granted this isn’t the original Beach Boys, who carry on after Mike Love essentially kicked everyone else out of the band, nor is Wilson apparently in good enough shape to do much beyond play piano and sing on a few songs while the rest of his band does the heavy lifting. Still, this is about as good as you’ll get in 2016. Take advantage while you still can.
It’s a shame that what’s likely to be one of the best sets of the entire festival is facing off against someone as essential as Brian Wilson. West Coast rapper/singer Anderson .Paak has been attracting attention these last couple of years for his contributions to a number of influential albums, most notably last year’s Compton from Dr. Dre. Of course .Paak also has carved out a formidable solo career beyond mere guest vocal spots, and his latest Malibu marks his most personal and confident release to date. The lyrics are honest and soulful as he reflects on a particularly painful chapter in his life, yet he also makes it a record about inclusion by collaborating with a multitude of friends and other influential artists. On stage .Paak is a bit of a live wire, brimming with equal parts energy and compassion. You’ll have fun and dance throughout his set, but also have your heartstrings pulled a few times. It’s kind of like life itself.
8:45 Holly Herndon
8:30 Sufjan Stevens**
Holly Herndon crafts what feels like the next evolution of electronic music. She takes a variety of random, everyday sounds like water flowing, fingers tapping and crickets chirping, then blends them with synths, guitar and her own looped vocals. Knobs are twisted and distortion gets added, and suddenly this Frankenstein of a song sounds nothing like the elements it’s comprised of. From a cerebral standpoint, it’s incredibly stimulating and inspiring to hear. You can definitely dance to some of it, but probably not all of it. On stage things can seem a bit static, which is why Herndon features projected screensaver-like images behind her and one of her bandmates routinely dances at the front of the stage. In a sense she’s like Grimes but far more instrumental, less pop-oriented and generally obtuse. Her Pitchfork set should be fascinating to watch, but not necessarily in the fun outdoor party sort of way.
We’re a long way from the Sufjan Stevens heyday that was his Illinois album back in 2005. In the 11 years since, he’s taken a sharp sonic detour into the world of experimental electronica, then pulled a u-turn by returning to stripped down folk on last year’s excellent Carrie and Lowell. So the question becomes: What version of Sufjan will show up at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Given the man has already performed at several different music festivals so far this summer, all indicators suggest a wealth of big moments and emotional swells interspersed with quieter, more intimate detours. Will he surprise us all and honor the state he’s in by playing Illinois front to back? Doubtful. Will he go off on a 25-minute electronic sojourn that is “Impossible Soul”? Definitely don’t count that out. Will he close the night with “Chicago”? Bet on it. No matter what he chooses to play or how he chooses to present it all, it’s sure to be a powerful way to end the evening.