Saturday, July 19, 2014

This Is Where We Play A Death Grips Cover Right?- Day 1 at Pitchfork


Day 1 of Pitchfork's annual music festival is a nervous rush for me, as it usually is. Though this year's ninth incarnation might've seen me at my most jittery. Approaching the main gate from a fresh patch of sidewalk on Randolph Street, I'm waiting in the longest line of attendees I've seen waiting to get into Pitchfork. The El could be heard in the distance letting off dull grey roars; horn honks and street vendors yelling "water for a dollar" pepper the sunny afternoon air. There's a small breeze blowing and the map I'm dutifully reading nearly blows away. A small panic mounted in my brain as I heard opening act Hundred Waters piping over the chain link fence I was craning my neck over. As soon as my bags and been checked and I'd been handed the must have book of activities, I trotted over to the red stage to see the Gainesville, Fla. quartet. 

Hundred Waters

A sprig of white flowers is hanging off of the "fragile" Nicole Miglis' mic stand as I approach. She's gingerly rubbing her hands together as she lets out a pained whisper-shouts that have earned comparisons to Björk. When Miglis finds the pocket in the experimental electronic/R&B group's snaking instrumentals, her fingers carefully walk across the keys. Even her terrific Death Grips joke is diplomatically tempered "this is where we play a Death Grips cover right?" The most ferocious she ever gets is in the midst of 2014 Moon Rang Like a Bell standout "Seven White Horses," where alien bleeps mix with Zach Tetreault's frenzied drumming. Her vocals smear together and contort into howls that pierce the thin layer of pot smoke in the pit. Once she reverts to quieter cries, Taylor Tryon's pounding AKAI drum machine and Sam Moss' percussive sprinkles can be heard. She doesn't have to continually shout to convey the torture in these songs. One yell surrounded by so much silence sends the message just fine.

"Cavity"- Moon Rang Like a Bell

Factory Floor

I see a dingy cardboard sign that reads "feelin' Spacey" held up near the front right of the crowd as I trod towards the festival's Blue Stage, which is fitting for the trance-y disco-punk groove the London trio Factory Floors lock into. Though they only have a 2013 LP to their name, they play like a band that's been strutting around since 2005. Gabriel Gurnsey's drum rhythms are dense, but danceable. He dives right into fills without a bit of hesitance as the band tears through their sole LP, 2013's Factory Floor. Lead Nik Colk saws at her electric guitar with a bow like a seasoned professional, not once considering the damage it'll do; only the alluring shrieks it'll emit. If anyone in the band showed their prowess though, it was mod-synth player Dominic Butler whose synthesizer squiggled like a giant worm in the dirt during "Two Different Ways." The post-industrial, dance music they trade in desperately depends on a strong electronic presence and with Butler, Factory Floor have just that.

"How You Say"- Factory Floor

Neneh Cherry & RocketNumberNine

As I trekked from the shaded Blue Stage towards a Sun-soaked Red Stage, the method of dance was transformed. Gone were morose hi-hat tics, replaced by the splayed drumming of Neneh Cherry's backing band RocketNumberNine and warm keyboard chords. Tightly clasping the microphone, the Swedish-born Cherry was pure spectacle. She'd laugh like a hyena during interludes and scatted "who took the cookies from the cookie jar?" between tracks. "S*** we've only got 10 minutes left," she kindly informed a sweat caked crowd before tearing into her collabo with Swedish electro-pop singer Robyn. Swept up by the rush of "Out of the Black"'s muted horns and full-steam ahead drumming, Cherry let her arms swing freely and grinned like a Cheshire cat on acid. The grin remained for closer "Buffalo Stance" which calmly threatened "better not mess with me," atop cresting electro waves. If nothing else, Cherry's set was a reminder audience members aren't the only ones having fun at a festival.

The Haxan Cloak
The Quietus

Then darkness engulfed the grounds of Union Park as the Haxan Cloak unleashed their unrelenting strain of dark ambient upon the crowd. When I listened to Bobby Krlic's 2013 record Excavation in my blue Scion with two friends, everyone was put on edge. I'd like to pretend it was the endless traffic we hit on I-88 coming into Chicago, but I know it was the pummeling bass and hair-raising screams. Live the "band" was more unnerving as Krlic stood behind his effects table with the rigid posture of a Buddhist monk and drummer Robert Heneke sporadically attacked his kit like a rabid lion looking for food. Few in the crowd were smiling, save for a bearded 20 something man with grungy auburn hair who stood next to me and nodded in hypnotic approval.
Unlike an oppressive black metal group (a la Deafheaven) there were no blast beats or power solos to save the crowd. Just a dense tangle of shifting knobs and lacerating static. Rarely is the sound of a slow and painful death so beautiful.

Giorgio Moroder
New York Times Red Bull Music Academy Performance

Fortunately the next full-act I was able to see was Giorgio Moroder, whose set cleansed my palate of the stale taste of death left by the Haxan Cloak. He began with his affable introduction "my name is Giovanni Giorgio, but you can call me Giorgio" which immediately fed into a revved up version of his 1975 Donna Summer collabo "Love to Love You." While a muscular electro bassline prattled under the disco queen's pillowy vocals, the 74-year-old Urtijëi, Italy native clapped along and giddily led the crowd in a wave. A TV-screen to his left projected fractals of electric red-yellow triangles swallowing one another up, until a romantic montage culled from Top Gun devoured them all. An MDMD dosed "Take My Breath Away" (penned by Giorgio and Tom Whitlock) burst like a dam from the Red Stage's speakers as the grandfatherly Giorgio meticulously tinkered behind his Macbook laptop. "Hot Stuff" followed the revamping trend and showed off four on the floor moves that only a sped-up Summer sample could keep pace with. The first dozen rows clapped in euphoric unison with the dance radio comfort food Giorgio was ladling out to them. With his silver hair blowing backwards in the evening air, he was simultaneously a terrific nostalgia act and a restless forward thinker. 

The two moments that most adeptly proved his bend towards the present were the steely handclaps of the "Bad Girls" rework which I'd swear were yanked from burgeoning R&B act Kelela. Those brief bits of "futurism" fully mechanized for Giorgio's reconstruction of Iggy Azalea's summer smash "Fancy." Synthesizers whooshed over the song's rubbery, ratchet bassline like an SR-71 Blackbird in flight. My friend Dylan couldn't help but yell "yeaaaahhh" as approval of the remix and I similarly concurred by uproariously applauding. More than 40 years after he first played at the Scotch Club in Aachen, Germany, Giorgio proved he could still hold sway over a crowd of complete strangers.

Check back in tomorrow at the same time for the Saturday review and follow AllFreshSounds on Twitter for updates throughout the day.

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