The third and final day of the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival was just as incredible than the first two, if not more so. After the jump, enjoy the visual odyssey that was Sunday with photos of R. Kelly, M.I.A., Yo La Tengo, Chairlift, Sky Ferreira, Waxahatchee, Run the Jewels, Killer Mike and Foxygen. For complete coverage of everything related to this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, simply click here.
I’m pleased to be wrapping up this week-long adventure into coverage of the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival with a quick look back at the weekend that was. Having attended the festival for the last few years, you really get used to how things are run and where you need to go for everything from water to food to restrooms. So as you return in a sense it’s like coming home, and that’s comforting. I never once felt out of my element or like I had no idea what I was doing over the three days. Of course I didn’t quite see everything I wanted to see and hear everything I wanted to hear thanks to traffic delays and one too many hits of the snooze button, but what I missed was miniscule compared to what I saw. Hopefully you’ve read all about those adventures in my daily recaps (Friday, Saturday, Sunday). That should give you a pretty good idea of the best and worst of the music side of things this year. But just for fun, I put together a little list of superlatives, helping to highlight some of my favorite and least favorite musical treats from the weekend. Check that out:
Most surprising set: Killer Mike
Most disappointing set: Yo La Tengo
Set that best lived Up to the hype: Savages
Band that sounded better live than on record: Parquet Courts
Most openly fun set: Solange
Most likely controlled the weather during their set: Bjork
Set that proved punk rock is alive and well: Metz
Veteran act that still has “it”: Wire
Veteran act that has lost “it”: The Breeders
Band whose set would have been far more popular in a different decade: Chairlift
Band that felt so right in the middle of a sunny afternoon: Phosphorescent
Quietest set (artist + crowd): Joanna Newsom
Funniest set: Mac DeMarco
Most gratuitous use of the word “SWAG”: Lil B
Flashiest performance with the least amount of genuine substance: M.I.A.
Most pathetic attempt to attract attention: Foxygen
Outside of those superlatives, I want to talk for a brief minute about how things went overall. Since we’re on the topic of music, let me say a few words about this year’s lineup. To me, it felt just a little bit weaker than in the last few years, though all of the headliners were certainly nothing to sneeze at. Perhaps that’s where most of the budget went this year. I suspect it was telling that unlike the last couple years, the festival wasn’t a total sell out this year. Sunday was sold out, most likely due to obsessive R. Kelly fans who camped out at the Green stage for much of the day just waiting for him. But Friday and Saturday didn’t sell out, as far as I’m aware. I did keep hearing that there were a “very limited number” of tickets left for Friday, so maybe that eventually sold out too. When I look at it, I like most of the artists on the lineup for this year, but I’m not overly passionate about a lot of them. It made for another fine festival overall and I’m glad I saw what I did, but for whatever reason it sometimes felt like something was missing. Not a whole lot of artists really jumped out and grabbed me by the ears, so maybe that’s what it was. If I were put in charge of naming one act each day that was my favorite, the list would be the following: Friday – Bjork, Saturday – Savages, Sunday – Killer Mike. Of all the days, I’d classify Friday as my least favorite, primarily because many of the artists that performed that day were either relatively bland (Woods, Mikal Cronin) or didn’t quite feel like they belonged at an outdoor festival (Angel Olsen, Joanna Newsom). Perhaps I should have made it to Union Park in time for Trash Talk, I heard their set was crazy.
Music aside, let me comment on the amenities this year. Considering the capacity of Union Park every year, festival organizers have gotten everything at just about the right levels to make things comfortable. The restrooms are plentiful and you’ll never wait too long for one. The food booths offer a wide variety of cuisine for even the most sensitive of palates or dietary restrictions. I had some amazing tacos on Sunday. The return of Goose Island as the provider of alcoholic beverages was an inspired move. The availability of key beers like 312 and Green Line was nice, but even nicer was the special Goose Island booth that had a rotating cast of different beers from the brewer’s catalogue, not to mention two beers crafted exclusively for the festival. I tried both of the fest-exclusive beers, and they were delicious. The singular gripe I have, and it’s basically always been a problem, is with water fountains. Union Park has a distinct lack of water fountains, and therefore the few it does have resulted in long lines. There’s nothing that can really be done about that, but I’ve got to hand it to the volunteer crew at the festival for often walking around with cases of bottled water, handing them out to anybody that wanted one. A lot of people were likely spared a trip to the medical tent as a result of such gestures, though I did see at least a few people go down due to heat exhaustion and dehydration. On the whole, this year’s festival went rather swimmingly, where the sets all started on schedule and the lines were never astronomically or annoyingly huge. It’s a sharp reminder that no matter what the lineup might be, this is one of the best-run music festivals in the country. As I stated in my earlier coverage, Pitchfork Music Festival weekend is my favorite weekend every single year I attend. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true again by the time we reach the end of 2013.
Phew, what a weekend! As usual, I’m feeling quite a bit drained from three long days of experiencing the dizzying highs and physical tolls of attending a music festival. It doesn’t get any easier as you get older, I can tell you that. Judging by the average age of the attendees this year, I’m beginning to fall on the older half of the spectrum. In spite of this, I’m never less than excited to attend the Pitchfork Music Festival each year, as I consistently claim it is my favorite weekend of the 52 that take place annually. So I may be tired and writing about the festival in a timely manner has brought its own set of unique challenges, but I’m not anything less than satisfied with how everything turned out. I’ll have my final set of thoughts on how I think the festival went this year, along with a massive photo set from the entire weekend, coming up in the next few days. In the meantime, please enjoy this summary of all the acts I saw perform on Day 3 of the festival, aka Sunday.
Tres provocateur! Nobody’s ever accused M.I.A. of being subtle. If you honestly believe she ever has been, well, you really don’t know Maya Arulpragasam. Her first two albums “Arular” and “Kala” both proved that she most definitely doesn’t shy away from topics she feels are important, primarily when it comes to war and famine and genocide. Compared to other artists at the forefront of the hip hop, R&B and the laundry list of other genres that somehow fit into her complex music, M.I.A. doesn’t buy into the whole “money, guns and hos” standards of everyone else. It’s one of the big reasons why she’s risen above the fray to gain respect among music bloggers and critics across the globe. The mainstream success of the song “Paper Planes”, with its strategic placement in movies such as “Pineapple Express” and “Slumdog Millionaire”, has now catapulted M.I.A. to a whole new level of popularity. And despite the weight of expectation and record label investments on her shoulders, M.I.A. hasn’t backed away from anything or anyone. When the New York Times ran a piece on her in preparation for her new album, they weren’t exactly kind to Maya. In addition to misquoting her and saying she has some sort of vendetta against Bono, there were also words suggesting that today’s M.I.A. is a rich, upper class woman who only uses the poor and war-torn people as props in her songs. As it did seem to reflect poorly on her, M.I.A. took to writing angry missives against the article and even provided enough evidence to cause the NYT to issue a small retraction on a portion of what was written. Call it just another day in the life of Maya Arulpragasam. Well, her third record, painstakingly titled “/\/\/\Y/\” (henceforth to be referred to as “MAYA” for obvious reasons), is out next week, and no matter how controversial her personal life may get, many are waiting with nervous energy to hear if M.I.A. can keep her streak of brilliant and progressive records alive.
If you’re not living steadfastly in the digital age only, you may have taken notice of the cover art for “MAYA”. It features an apparent cut-and-paste job of a number of YouTube timeline bars, with M.I.A.’s face buried behind them, her eyes being the only thing clearly visible. Below that fray is M.I.A. written in stacked gold bars and surrounded on both sides by brick walls that are falling apart. The reason the cover is worth paying attention to is because it says so very much about what this album has in terms of content. Unlike her first two records, which were made under severe financial constraints, M.I.A. now has plenty of money and producers begging to work with her after “Paper Planes” came off huge. Whether or not this success has changed her is up for debate. What “MAYA” is, to many degrees, is a record about technology and how our world is affected by it. This theme is apparent right from the get-go, when on the opening track “The Message”, she claims that Google is being used by the government to spy on people. There’s paranoia like that surrounding technology all over the album, and while much of it can seem crackpot and flat-out wrong, that doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating or good. Additionally, to back all this up, much of the record is comprised of electronic samples, strung together by her various producers (Diplo, Switch, Rusko, Blaqstarr). Compared to the world music and tribal elements which so dominated her first couple albums, this evokes a sharper contrast with the very technology M.I.A. is railing against being the same things used to help make her songs. This metaphor extends even beyond the context of this album, and between her controversial personal life, also shows how M.I.A. herself is a contradiction in so many ways. It’s also in this same way that you get tracks on typical M.I.A. subject matter such as terrorism and genocide in Third World countries while later on you’ll hear her go on about her iPhone or the amount of money she has in the bank. All of these things are quintessential Maya Arulpragasam, while at the same time they are not. And looking back to that technology-stricken cover, not only is there a computer cut-and-paste mess everywhere along with the bars of gold, but simply examining the way her face is framed with only her eyes peering out at you both suggests she’s hiding behind these elements while at the same time making a reference to the Muslim world in which a face-covering Burka is traditional garb for women. Whether or not any of these ideas splayed out on the cover are actually intended to function as such is a topic for debate. After all, it could be just some slapdash attempt to look cool – though that’s never really been M.I.A.’s style.
Specifically speaking for the songs and how they sound overall, things are darker and heavier on “MAYA” than they’ve ever been before. After the fuzzed out and dark minute-long intro of “The Message”, the first noises you hear on the track “Steppin’ Up” are that of chainsaws and power drills mixed with some heavy bass drum beats. It’s the start of what will eventually be an industrial-heavy record with occasional splashes of pop in between. Compared to the world music and African-based sounds of her previous two albums, this is a big change. While that could be viewed as a positive thing that prevents M.I.A. from continuing to play off a unique sound that might have started to get a little stale, plenty of others might not see it that way. Combine these hard-hitting new sounds with a number of songs that use beats you’d hear in your average hip hop record today and suddenly it’s easy M.I.A.’s originality into question. Of course she’s not the one crafting these beats, her producers are and she’s just writing lyrics off of them. But a track like “XXXO” functions as a perfectly marketable pop song, complete with Jay-Z on the remix, because it’s got a hook that’s easy on the ears. That’s not something you would have expected on a record like “Kala” or “Arular”, so given that slice of disingenuous pie you have to wonder what else doesn’t work as expected. Perhaps the biggest risk that M.I.A. takes on “MAYA” is with the song “Lovalot”, which is by most accounts a terrorism love song. To be clearer, the song isn’t about a love of terrorism, but rather about two terrorists that fall in love. This sort of controversial topic is nothing new for M.I.A., but between the unique sound the song brings forward combined with her vocal stretching of the oft-repeated phrase “I really love a lot” so that it sounds closer to “I really love Allah”, it’s understandable why it’s getting so much attention. The good news is that despite the extreme challenges that track presents, it’s also probably the best song she’s done since “Paper Planes”. Elsewhere towards the end of the album you get a few rip-roaring guitar cuts in the form of “Born Free” and “Meds and Feds”. Suicide’s song “Ghost Rider” is sampled on “Born Free” and originally debuted as a very controversial music video you can watch online should you know where to look. Many are saying the song loses quite a bit when the context of the video has been taken away from it, but if you haven’t seen or refuse to watch said video, you should like it just fine. As far as “Meds and Feds” goes, it samples a guitar riff from the Sleigh Bells song “Treats”, and much like that track, this one’s also a delight. It’s fascinating to hear M.I.A. get so dark and gritty in these instances, and not only is it something she’s never done before but it’s something that few hip-hop related acts have the balls to even consider attempting. That she pulls it off quite well is testament to her strengths as an artist. “MAYA” ends on the anti-gravity relaxant of “Space”, which sounds just like the area outside of our planet’s atmosphere. Freed from all the noise and prying eyes of today’s technology, M.I.A. gets a moment to finally relax and take some personal time. It’s as if she’s cut loose the tethers we’ve all become attached to and has returned to a simpler time when all of life’s burdens weren’t thrust upon us by our own nature. For a record that so rabidly attacks the digital age, “Space” functions as the calm after the storm.
There’s a strong reason to believe that “MAYA” will sharply divide M.I.A. fans, that is if her dischordant personality hasn’t already. Her music has always been challenging, and though in some aspects this new album relies on old hip hop and pop stereotypes at times, this could be her most difficult record to date. From a purely compositional perspective, there’s plenty to like about it, and it’s definitely easier on the ears than much of the obscurist world music fare that was pushed forwards on those first two albums. Lyrically, the frequent criticisms of technology may very well provoke anger among the many technophiles that are certainly fans of hers, but that anger can probably be taken with a grain of salt. After all, M.I.A. is all about her Twitter account, and she almost assuredly owns an iPhone, so to say that she’s technology-averse because her lyrics say so is just another one of those big contradictions that defines Maya Arulpragasam. She’s a woman of many layers, and “MAYA” is able to present another bit of that to those who will listen. There’s not exactly another crossover hit like “Paper Planes” on the album, but in the darker, more industrial-based corners there’s still plenty compelling about it. You’d be wise to sample it and make your own determinations as to if it’s worth your time.
M.I.A. – Tequkilla (Lost my fone out wiv Nicki Minaj Remix) (ZIP)
M.I.A. – Haters