Now feels like a good time to cover some of the extra “things to do” at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival that don’t revolve around standing in front of a stage and watching an artist play their songs. Obviously there are food and drink tents where you can get all kinds of different delicious things. If you’re a fan of limited edition craft beer, you might want to check out the Goose Island booth, where they’ll be offering Wit Awake, a collaboration with the band Parquet Courts that will be sold exclusively at the fest. All proceeds from those beer sales will go to the Freedom for Immigrants charity. Other spots you may want to explore in Union Park include the Flatstock poster fair, where artists showcase and sell various concert posters they’ve designed. There’s the CHIRP Record Fair, where you can find a whole lot of limited edition LPs for sale. If you’re bringing young children under 10 with you there’s also a Kids Zone featuring some fun distractions. And new for this year, Pitchfork Radio will be broadcasting live from the festival grounds. You’ll be able to watch some special live performances, DJ sets and interviews with artists on the lineup, and a few other things. Check out the full programming schedule and drop by if you’re looking for a break from hanging out at the stages. Oh! One last thing. All weekend at the Blue stage in between sets there will be live poetry readings from the Young Chicago Authors Louder Than A Bomb Poets. I love a good poem, so that should be lovely. So there you go. There are plenty of distractions to be found at Pitchfork if you’re looking for them. And I’m not even including some of the clothing vendors, environmental activist booths, and sponsored free giveaways of food and merch. It all adds up to one unforgettable weekend. I hope you’ll be there! Here’s the link to buy tickets if you still need to do so. The Sunday lineup this year looks particularly special, and I’m excited to see and hear how it all plays out. Check out the hour-by-hour guide below, once again noting that any starred (**) artists are the ones I’m recommending most. In case you missed them, here are links to the preview guides for the other days as well:
Chicago rapper Dreezy deserves better. More specifically, she deserves a better career where she’s earning the kind of buzz generated by Cardi B and Tierra Whack. Despite being given the title “Princess of Chicago Rap,” signed to a major label, showing up most of her male peers at hip hop festivals like Rolling Loud, and getting invited to J. Cole’s highly restrictive rap summit, she’s not yet a household name. The closest she’s come to a hit was her 2016 track “Body” with fellow Chicagoan Jeremih, which wound up going platinum. Now Dreezy gets the first slot on the Sunday of Pitchfork, when people tend to be at their most tired and hungover. So you’re damn right she deserves better. But I hope she makes the most of it and turns in a wild set, just as I hope that fans show up early to check her out. She’s worth the trouble.
I’ve heard some people describe the Washington D.C. band flasher as “punk,” which feels like a purposeful catch-all because many of their lyrics are political in nature and ultimately punk rock is about that rebellious spirit. Their sound is much more diverse than that though, to the point where it’s probably easier just to call them genre-less. Songs on their 2018 debut album Constant Image veer between new wave, grunge, college rock, shoegaze, and yes, punk. I’m sure there are some other styles mixed in there too. It’s a lot of different things, yet they make it all work rather brilliantly and seem to have a whole lot of fun doing it. Did I mention it’s catchy as all hell too? You’d be wise to show up early and catch their Pitchfork set, which will hopefully be a blast.
**black midi [2:30-3:15]
There are a lot of artists I’m excited about on this year’s Pitchfork lineup, but only one I’m completely obsessed with. The London four-piece black midi are one of the most thrilling and inventive rock bands to come around in quite awhile, and if you’re not already paying attention to them you need to start immediately. After a few random singles, they finally unleashed their debut album Schlagenheim last month. It’s a wonder of twisted and twitchy songs that consistently evolve and change direction on a dime as if guided by some unseen force. One minute they’re hammering you at full force with heavy, high speed distorted guitars, and the next there’s a lull where a pleasant acoustic melody gets strummed out before descending once more into the breach. There aren’t really choruses or hooks, just musicians so perfectly in lockstep with one another you can’t figure out where they’re headed next but things might fall apart at any second and it’s exhilarating. Drummer Morgan Simpson is a superstar and the not-so-secret weapon of the band, while singer Geordie Greep’s warbly vocals stand out for their ability to go from a mumble to screaming incoherent nonsense in the blink of an eye. If you see black midi perform at Pitchfork, you will remember it. You will rave about it. I can’t recommend them highly enough. Which makes it just a touch disappointing that a great, low key artist like Tasha has to go off against them. The Chicago singer-songwriter’s debut album Alone at Last came out last fall and provided a collection of songs that were deeply intimate, beautiful and loving, placing an emphasis on self-care in the face of our dark and unforgiving world. We need artists like Tasha in the world to remind us of our humanity and that it’s okay to be gentle and express joy. It’s also wonderful to be in her presence and hear her play those songs on stage. If you need a breather and maybe some shade, otherwise known as self-care, park yourself over by the Blue stage for her set.
JPEGMAFIA, aka Barrington Hendricks, learned how to put a beat together while serving in the Air Force. He’d mess around with production software and other gear during his down time, and became quite good at crafting fun yet experimental compositions. His work as a producer fed into his passion for hip hop, and the combination of the two have been nothing short of fascinating. JPEGMAFIA’s 2018 album Veteran taps into the collective mood of our digital and political age. The beats skitter past hurriedly one minute, then pound with the force of a hammer the next. There’s a frantic, twitchy anxiety that serves as an undercurrent to his lyrics, which openly attack politicians and pundits in addition to ripping on celebrity culture and the inherent value of “art”. He’s not afraid to be confrontational or controversial both instrumentally and lyrically, and that freedom exposes our own ugliness as a society while demanding that we do better. It’s high energy and immensely magnetic, which should make for a great live performance too.
When translated from Yoruba to English, the word Ibeyi means twins. And indeed, the music duo Ibeyi consists of Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz, who are the twin daughters of French-Cuban percussionist Miguel “Anga” Diaz (from the Buena Vista Social Club). Over the course of two excellent albums, they’ve managed to pull together a wild array of styles and sensibilities that might best be described as world music because that’s where they pull their influences from. Anything is up for grabs and open to interpretation through the lens of soul, jazz, R&B, hip hop, tribal music, psych-rock, downtempo electronica, and beyond. They’ll chop up audio of Michelle Obama for one track, stage a poetry reading in the middle of the next, sing in a non-English language after that, then follow it up with a saxophone guest appearance from Kamasi Washington. Together as a unit they form two halves of a singular whole, in complete symbiosis with one another by matching skill for skill. In short, they’re very talented and make the sort of music you can’t hear anywhere else. While Clairo’s (Claire Cottrill) songs might stay firmly within the realm of modern pop, that doesn’t make them any less potent or important. Like so many members of Generation Z, she started out as a teen playing acoustic guitar and singing covers of pop and R&B songs on YouTube. Eventually she started writing her own material, and had a breakthrough in 2017 after her song “Pretty Girl” caught the attention of the right people (notably, Chance the Rapper’s manager). It’s been a steady drip of material since then, including an EP last year, a couple of one-off singles, and a debut album due out next month. Expect her Pitchfork set to be packed with new material, including the two excellent singles she’s released recently. It’s entirely possible she’s the next big thing and will ascend to mainstream pop stardom by this time next year (Pitchfork is certainly betting on her), so jump on board the hype train now or risk getting left behind.
**Amen Dunes [5:15-6:00]
What’s most fascinating to me about Damon McMahon’s work as Amen Dunes is how it’s evolved over time. His 2009 record DIA provided an introduction to the project that was a little similar to Bon Iver’s origin story in that he recorded the songs on his own while locked away in a cabin. But the music of Amen Dunes was much more obtuse and experimental in comparison to Bon Iver’s, with a psychedelic and occasionally aggressive edge that pushed it into the territory of bands like Spacemen 3, Robyn Hitchcock, and The Velvet Underground. Each new Amen Dunes release has also gotten bigger and more accessible than the one before, and with the expanding palette has come contributions from members of Iceage, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor to help add new wrinkles while also cutting into the beating heart of the intimate and familiar. His fifth album Freedom was one of the best of 2018, and crafted a seductive atmosphere of songs that shimmered like sunlight catching a piece of tin foil. Slightly hazy, remarkably smooth, and politely insistent, Amen Dunes makes the perfect soundtrack for a chill summer music festival. Take a breather with Damon and his band on the grass by the Blue stage. For a different kind of relaxation, the instrumental psych-rock stylings of Khruangbin should do the trick. Actually, they’re a great pairing with Ibeyi if you want to schedule them that way. Psych-rock might be a bit of a reductive way to describe Khruangbin’s sound though, because it does pull from Caribbean, Indian, and Middle Eastern styles of music, resulting in this dynamic and intoxicating mixture that will keep your head bobbing. If you can imagine a funkier version of Thievery Corporation with more of a trip-hop vibe, that’s pretty much their wheelhouse. Last week they released Hasta El Cielo, which is a dub (reggaefied remix) version of their 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo. It’s fun to hear those remixes, even if it makes many of the songs a little more lethargic. If you happened to sneak a little bit of weed into the festival and can find a nice spot in the shade, take a seat, light up, and enjoy Khruangbin.
Neneh Cherry [6:30-7:15]
The long and short of Whitney’s story is this: They’re a Chicago band featuring former members of Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Smith Westerns. Whitney’s 2016 debut album Light Upon the Lake was a positively lovely collection of folk-adjacent songs that were beautiful, catchy, and most importantly, earnest. It’s good road trip music to put on while driving across the countryside some time around sunset. The band has essentially been MIA for the past several months however, holed up in studios recording their follow-up album. That will officially be out this September, and the band has already given us two new songs to enjoy that are just as gorgeous as what came before. Pitchfork will mark their first live show in close to a year, and it’ll be a joy to see them again with new material to play. They don’t have the most exciting stage presence, but there’s simple joy in watching drummer Julien Ehrlich sing lead vocals at center stage from behind a drum kit. As she’s been making music since 1989, Neneh Cherry is now a music industry veteran with several prolific records under her belt. She was a genre-blending pioneer back in her early days, and her 2018 album <i proves she still hasn’t lost that touch. It’s her second album in four years actually, both of which were produced by Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden. They complement one another nicely, tamping down their respective excesses and delivering more minimalist yet personal songs. Not all of the material is a home run, but then a track hits in just the right way it can be glorious. The same can be said for her live performances, which ebb and flow with just the right mixture of energy and experimentation. Oh, and she’ll run through her hits as well, though not always in the way they sound on record. Neneh Cherry is a bit of a legend, and it’ll be great having her back in Union Park.
**Charli XCX [7:25-8:25]
**Snail Mail [7:45-8:30]
This is a real Sophie’s Choice moment at Pitchfork, though it’s not so difficult if you think about it logically. Charli XCX loves to party. I feel like most of her songs are about partying, like a pop star version of Andrew W.K. The last few years she’s never really taken any breaks or stopped making music even though her last proper LP Sucker came out in 2014. There’s been an EP, two mixtapes (that might as well have been albums), and a series of one-off singles all released over the last five years. They’ve all been pretty good, and most of them were made in collaboration with PC MUsic stalwarts AG Cook and Sophie. This fall she’s preparing to release her next proper album, titled Charli, and has already been kind enough to share a couple of excellent tracks from it. Those songs, plus maybe one or two other new ones should be a real thrill to hear, but honestly her back catalog is so good the entire set will just be people dancing and singing along with choruses. It seems highly likely she’ll bring a special guest or two out on stage as well. Above all else, Charli knows how to work a crowd. I’ve been waiting several years for Pitchfork to finally book her, and now that it’s happened I’m ridiculously excited. A perfect warm-up for Robyn’s headlining set. So Snail Mail made one of my absolute favorite albums of 2018. It was called Lush, and if you haven’t already heard it that’s something you need to take care of right now. Stop reading this sentence and hit play on your preferred streaming service immediately. Snail Mail is the project of Lindsey Jordan, a young singer-songwriter who uses sincerity like a weapon. Her songs are immensely relatable, echoing sorrow and disappointment in a relationship for example, but also clear-headed and armed with the sense that these frustrations are only a minor bump in the road. She writes with the wisdom of someone at least twice her age, and therefore given young adults someone to learn from and admire. I’ve seen Snail Mail perform three times over the last couple of years, and each one has been a marked improvement over the last. A then-unknown Jordan attended Pitchfork Fest back in 2014 and was caught by the cameras passionately singing along to St. Vincent’s set right up against the barricade. Let’s hope the next Snail Mail will be standing at the Blue stage barricade this Sunday evening, singing along to every word with a giddy smile on his/her/their face.
Robyn is a pop star around the globe, yet I’d argue that not enough Americans know her and her music. She hasn’t had a song on the primary U.S. charts since “Show Me Love” in 1997, which is pretty wild. I can’t recall the last time I heard a terrestrial radio station play one of her songs. If I gathered my extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins and asked all of them to name a single Robyn song, maybe one out of 20 would be able to do it. Yet it’s not their fault. Robyn hasn’t had lasting U.S. mainstream success because she doesn’t want U.S. mainstream success. I’m serious. She’s had major labels knocking at her door since the mid-90s, but chose to start her own label instead and has never looked back. Her fan base remains massive. Songs like “Dancing on My Own” and “Call YOur Girlfriend” have become modern-day anthems still regularly played at clubs and bars. In 2014 she sold out Chicago’s Millennium Park as part of a split bill with Royksopp. Earlier this year she sold out the Aragon Ballroom as well. This is part of her tour in support of last year’s Honey, her first proper solo album since 2010. I loved it to the point where it closed out 2018 as one of my favorite albums. It’s a little bit of a slow build, but eventually becomes an intoxicating dance record packed with emotional resonance. The same can be said about her live show, which is wholly artistic, visually stimulating, and incredibly fun despite the minor bit of patience you need to have at the start. I’m very much looking forward to taking in that spectacle once again.