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Pitchfork Music Festival 2011 Recap

So originally I wasn’t going to do a writeup or anything of my experiences at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011, but then I wrote a 50+ tweet novel about it, and I decided that I had some thoughts I wanted to share. I apologize for the cell phone pics below, that’s all I had except for my Polaroid camera, which took the cool photo above.

Notes:

1. Even though I met up with a ton of friends throughout the three days, technically I went to the festival by myself. And that was a great decision for me personally. Being able to go to what shows I wanted to go to, stand where I wanted to stand, leave when I wanted to leave, etc, made the festival so much of a better experience for me.
2. I wanted to clarify the stages for those of you who didn’t go. The Green Stage was probably the main stage, even though it was a similar size and in the same area as the Red Stage, but the Green Stage is where all the headliners played. Those two stages were basically in the same field together, and they would switch off with bands playing so that there was never overlaps. The Blue Stage, which became the most popular stage cause of the shade, was the smaller stage on the southern side of Union Park. That whole area got frustrating late in the day because the space would fill up for bands and would be littered with people getting food/beer, but I still saw some amazing shows there.
3. Thanx 2 Ben for letting me crash at his crib, and also to Bucky for letting me sleep on his floor.

Friday

Prior to Friday, my original plan was to get to Chicago in time to catch James Blake and Animal Collective, and try to make it in time for tune-yards at 4:30. But I got into town much earlier than I expected (thx Central Time), and I was able to get over to P4k around 4:30, right in time to get over to the Blue Stage to catch tune-yards. I wasn’t too close for that show, but I really didn’t need to be. I could see frontchick Merrill Garbus’ smile from the back as they ran through tracks from her new album. My favorite part of their whole set was the bass during “Gangsta,” the effect was so mindblowing that I couldn’t help but laugh. After they finished, I was walked away from the stage and heard a bit of Battles absolutely murdering the Green Stage. Even though I’m not too into Battles (which is strange to even me), I kind of regretted not catching some of their set.

The next thing that I did I had been planning for a long time, I went over to the Record Fair to stock up. My plan was to pick up some LPs from some of my favorite indie labels that I could get way cheaper cause it was directly from them. I wanted to do more digging through old bins, but I just stopped at the Sub Pop, Polyvinyl, Merge, Dead Oceans, and Hozac tables. and I still spent way too much. Here’s a picture of all the LPs I got, and I think it totaled up to $86, which is an absolute steal.

I went back over to the Blue Stage cause I was gonna try to get a solid spot for James Blake at 7:30, and Thurston Moore wasn’t luring me at all to come check him out. So I got back to the Blue Stage when Curren$y had about ten minutes left. I had only listened to a couple of his tracks, but one thing’s for sure, the dude has mad talent. He went off on multiple a Capella rapping session for minutes at a time, and the crowd absolutely loved it.

So in my decision to wait at the Blue Stage, that meant that I was gonna see Brooklyn’s Das Racist (again). The Wednesday before, I saw Das Racist perform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Summer in the City event. It’s this free show that goes on literally right outside the Rock Hall. When I saw them there, not too many people were into it and Das Racist showed about equally as much enthusiasm about being at the show. So I was hoping that with a ton more people and probably more booze, the dudes would put on a stellar show. Well I was about right. They were exploding all over the stage during hits from their mixtapes and new songs from their upcoming debut album, Relax. Including one track from the new album which sports a chorus of “MICHAEL JACKSON/A MILLION DOLLARS/CAN YOU FEEL ME?/HOLLA!” Any festival crowd is gonna eat that up. The only similar thing between the Rock Hall show and their Pitchfork performance was that they didn’t play “Combination Pizza Hut/Taco Bell,” which I thought was so funny. I knew that there was probably a ton of people that only knew that song by them, but it shouldn’t have mattered to them cause they ended with “You Oughta Know,” which was so fun.

Before I say anything about the James Blake set, I’ll let it be known that it was the best show I saw all weekend. I was moderately close to the stage, and the place erupted when he came out. I didn’t see it, but the crowd had to be enormous, which is fantastic considering he played his first festival like two months before. He opened with “Unluck,” and at first it sound off (and not James Blake off), but about halfway through, he and his two other Brits hit their stride and everything sounded huge. I think that there was a bunch of dubstep dousche bags at the show expecting Skrillex bullshit. It was the greatest when these two dickheads right next to me said after two songs, “This is just fucking drone music, fuck this!” and then they left. I wanted to run up on stage and give Blake the biggest high-five ever. He had some unique moments in his set when he looped the crowd’s jeers into “I Never Learnt to Share,” and Neko Case became all too audible during “Lindisfarne I.” But the greatest moment of the set, and possibly the festival, was when Blake’s guitarist starting tapping his way in “CMYK.” They ran through the track in a 7-minute fashion and it sounded absolutely massive. It’s safe to say everyone was freaking out.

After being utterly blown away by Blake, I made my way over to see headliners Animal Collective. I wasn’t planning on getting close at all, since I was still tired from the six-hour drive out. But I sat down in the middle of the field just to absorb the organic music, and I found a barren phone on the ground. So I spent most of my AnCo experience getting a lost phone back to its owner, for which I was successful. After the delivery, I looked over at the glowing stage with four dudes and to be completely honest, I was bored. So I left, ending my first day at Pitchfork.

Saturday

I made my way over to P4K somewhat early on Saturday. Doors opened at 12, and I got into the ground right around 1. Julianna Barwick was over on the Red Stage right as I walked in, and I decided to check out a song or two. But I didn’t even get that far. I’m not a huge fan of her new album, The Magic Place, but I respect the type of music she makes and the intense looping that she does. In the live setting though, it didn’t translate at all. Frankly, it was boring as shit. I don’t care if you can put 20+ vocal loops on top of eachother, it was as dull as the dirt I was standing on.

The main reason I had shown up semi-early was to catch Sun Airway at 1:55, but there was a quick DJ set by Chrissy Murderbot with accompanying yell-man MC ZULU (wearing a MC ZULU tee). I’m generally not too into this type of music, but it was care-free and fun and way too easy to dance too. That bacame apparant when ZULU’s son got up on a huge speaker and at his father’s command, started dancing by humping the air, which it was totally okay and awesome.

By the time Sun Airway hit the stage, the temperatures were soaring, and my 3 liter jug of water came to my needed aid. Their blissed-out electro pop was ready for the weather we were all standing in, but Sun Airway really never took off. Their big hit “Oh, Naoko” sounded like a B-side, and even my personal favorite, “American West,” really came off weak. It was a bummer, but I still imagined the soaring synths in my head, so it didn’t get to me too much. I had heard a couple Woods songs before Sun Airway took the stage, and they were sounding fantastic even from across the entire grounds. I had convinced myself that they were only there cause they were touring with Kurt Vile, and that their folksy lo-fi wasn’t going to translate well. Well I was wrong. I caught the last two songs of them, and I would’ve never guessed it was Woods. A pleasant surprise.

After Woods had finished, I made my way up towards the front to grab a good spot for No Age at 3:20. While I was waiting in the awful sun, goth synth-poppers Cold Cave took the Green Stage across the field. I could see their black leather from where I was sitting, and I don’t know how they were breathing, but they and everyone were having a great time. The best stage banter all weekend came from them, as the main guy said, “I can’t remember the last time I left my apartment when it was this early.” It was like 3:00.

No Age had been on stage for a while figuring out some sound issues, I think Dean had a noise pedal that wasn’t going through the system at all. When it hit 3:25, they were obviously annoyed, Randy’s body language said “Fuck it,” and then he actually said, “We’re No Age,” and they ripped in “Ripped Knees.” That immediately got people moving around, but it was hard to compare it to when they went into “Teen Creeps” right after. The pit was so goddamn fun, a mix of people dancing, jumping, chanting, pushing, head-banging, and so many other things. The guy in front of me kept using the railing we were on to jump as high as he possibly could. And then during the chorus of “Fever Dreaming,” he turned around, grabbed my shoulders, shook me, and screamed “FEVER DREAMING!!!” Another favorite moment from the festival. The front of the stage turned into a virtual water park, as security were throwing water at people to keep them cool, everybody was soaked. At that point I saw a kid with an arm cast on in the pit, and I tweeted about it and eventually got retweeted by Pitchfork, which was pretty awesome. They played through like 15+ songs, and ended with first album screamer “Everybody’s Down.” Dean threw the setlist, then a security guy picked it up and handed it me, which I still got giddy about like a teenager (here’s a pic). Looking at it, I realized they played a ton of stuff off Nouns, which was amazing!

I was gonna make my way over to the Blue Stage to get a solid spot for the Radio Dept. and Twin Shadow, but I went over to the Green Stage to meet up with a friend, and Gang Gang Dance took the stage. I didn’t stay too long, but I saw them two years ago, and it didn’t seem much different. So I went and got some food, and was able to hear Wild Nothing ending on their best song, “Summer Holiday,” which was very pleasant.

By the time I got to the Blue Stage, OFF! had taken the stage and were tearing through their barely one-minute long songs. The one thing I noticed was how the average crowd age from Wild Nothing to OFF! must have gone up by at least ten years. But it was pretty awesome to see a bunch of older people going apeshit to OFF!’s heavy punk, onstage and off! (

As the Radio Dept were setting up, I couldn’t help but notice how Swedish they looked (cause they are actually Swedish). I was surprised when they set up without a drum set, obviously relying on a drum machine. The first couple songs they played were just okay, they were hard to catch onto and extremely underwhelming. Even songs that I loved from last year’s Clinging To A Scheme just didn’t have the effectiveness that the album had.

The Blue Stage kept the pop going with Twin Shadow following the Radio Dept. This was a completely 180 from the set before, they came out sound big and surprisingly confident. This is a band was barely known a year ago, but songs like “Castles In The Snow” and “While We’re Dancing” almost made them sound like an arena act. I don’t know if their set got cut down, but they never played “Slow” which was a minor disappointment for a bunch of people (including myself).

So when I made my way over to the Green Stage, I was faced with a decision. I had seen Fleet Foxes in the past, and I wasn’t totally into Helplessness Blues, so I wasn’t sure if I should stay. I eventually said to myself, “Eh why not?” I tried to make my way up front to friends, but there was no way. But I was still decently close, and I settled and waited for 8:30 to come around. My God did I make a good decision. When I saw them two years ago, most of the band was sitting down, and they mostly relied on their harmonies to wow the audience (which totally works for them). But now, they were almost a completely different band. Robin Pecknold was standing and pretty much jumping around as much as you could for folk show. Even though their stage show had gotten noticeably better, the meat of their show is still the songs. Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the new album, “Battery Kinzie” and “Sim Sala Bim” gave me big goosebumps. They ended with title track “Helplessness Blues,” and I realized again, Thank God I stayed.

Sunday

I had been planning to get to the festival on Sunday a bit early cause I wanted to get to the spot I had during No Age for Yuck and Odd Future. I knew that a lot of the reason Sunday sold out was because of Odd Future, there were definitely people coming only because they were there. As I waited outside the gates, the heat was awful. I took this past weekend to make me realize that I hate summer. Coincidentally, a reporter from the Chicago Tribune came up to me while I was in line to talk about the heat and how I was preparing. I told him I had worn a white tee on purpose, brought a 3 liter jug, cursed my hair on days like this, and then talked about how I saw some idiot the day before in a black sweatshirt (not kidding). Here’s the article, thanks to Lindsay for pointing it out to me!

The Red Stage already had a bunch of people waiting, and it was all because of OF. Even though I was also waiting for OF, I was also there because Yuck were on the same stage before them. Some dude asked in a shitty way, “Is anyone here actually here for Yuck?” And told him that I was, and he backed off. There were a bunch of nice people around me, and we talked about Yuck and other things. I don’t know think anyone around knew who they were. The Fresh and Onlys were over on the Green Stage and they sounded awesome. It’s always hard to tell if a garage band will translate to festival, cause I guess the Smith Westerns didn’t the year before, but the Fresh and Onlys sound full and extremely tight.

Yuck went on at 1:55, and started with their album opener “Get Away.” For people who knew what they sounded like, they were probably expecting big fuzzy 90s indie rock, but instead we got something much different. I really hate to say this, I really do, but Yuck sounded boring. None of the four members moved around or even changed their facial expressions, and it seems only one of them actually had a personality. I absolutely love the slow jams on their self-titled, but “Shook Down” and “Suicide” Policeman” were their set low points. They did hit a mid-set stride with “Holing Out” and “Georgia,” but then ran into equipment problems on “Operation” which had them completely falling apart mid-song. They finished with “Rubber,” their big album closer, and even though it took about four minutes to build up, they finished relatively strong in the climax. Even though I relatively enjoyed their show, I kept thinking about how Cloud Nothings could have been in Yuck’s place and totally killed it. Eh, maybe someday.

About one minute after Yuck had finished, the pushing and shoving and “Wolf Gang” chants began. But thank god that all stopped because it was too hot to waste energy. I held my place on a weird part of the fence, and I kept my backpack on with my water jug and Polaroid camera to help take the blunt of pressure from people behind. Odd Future were planned to hit the stage at 3:20, and at 3:10 people saw their manager on the side stage and started cheering. I mean seriously, a bunch of midgets dressed as Tyler could have come out and started the set and everyone would have gone crazy. The whole day I had been thinking, why am I waiting for this? As much as I have enjoyed Odd Future for the past year, the fad is beginning to wear on me. And being surrounded by a bunch of idiots who think the most offensive lines are the best lines on Goblin really got on my nerves. And it’s got on my nerves for the past couple months. But my reasoning for getting so close for them was that I’m probably never going to see Odd Future again. Hell, I might not even still be into them in a year. So I wanted to be a part of their crazy ass shows when I was still a kid who would enjoy it.

At 3:20, the Odd Future parade began with Sid coming out and basically hitting play on her Mac, which played like two songs. Then Hodgy and Left Brain came out first and did “64” off their newly reissued album BlackenedWhite which sent the crowd into a frenzy. One of the best parts of their show was Left Brain, who came out with an intensity that none of the other members could match. Then all the rest of the crew made their way out, with Tyler, still on crutches cause of a broken foot, coming out last. I don’t exactly remember the order of songs, but I know they played “Transylvania,” “French,” “Yonkers,” “Sandwitches,” “Tron Cat,” a surprise with Domo Genesis’ “Rolling Papers,” and ended with “Radicals.” I can totally understand people looking down on their lyric content, cause there’s some bad stuff that even I don’t like. But the one thing that nobody can deny is their ferocity on stage. Tyler had a broken foot in a cast, and he still did two stage where he had to clear about six feet of security clearance. You don’t see that kind of energy anymore. And I think that’s why I still have a good amount of respect for these kids. Despite their lyrics, these are a bunch of kids who have insane amounts of talent and wanna have as much fun as possible, and I like that.

So the show ended, and I took off my backpack and realized that somebody had opened it all the way and taken everything out of it. I didn’t care at all about the water, but I was pretty upset that someone took my Polaroid camera. I fucking loved that camera.

At that point, I was mad about the camera, was covered in other people’s sweat, felt gross cause I hadn’t showered in two days, and it was still so awfully hot out. So I made the decision to leave Pitchfork at that point. I regret leaving when I think about it right now, but I’m saying that while I type this in my air-conditioned home (and I showered today). If I went back to moment again, I’d probably make the same choice. But I would’ve liked to see Ariel Pink’s freakout, Baths, Deerhunter, and Cut Copy, but none of them were musts for me.

All and all, Pitchfork Music Festival 2011 was a great success. Despite my camera getting taken, which was a huge bummer, I still had such a fun time roaming around and running into a ton of friends. Ever since I had bought my tickets way back, I had been craving to get back to a festival setting, and P4K didn’t disappoint.

For all you kids who went (or didn’t), tell me some thoughts.

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