Heading into the third and final day of the 9th iteration of Pitchfork Fest, I am physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. I'm largely underfed (my own personal problem so I'll take no pity) and bags are starting to form under my eyes from a general lack of sleep. As I shuffle my black Nike basketball shoes across the crowded sidewalks of Halsted and turn on Randolph towards the festival, I'm infinitesimally "better" than I was the day before. Rosemary-garlic hash browns, grapefruit juice, and duck bacon are resting in my stomach. The scenic bubblegum trap rave of Grimes' summer jam "Go" is pumping through my tiny iPhone earbuds and swirling around in my brain. Despite any calamities, I've negotiated a temporary peace with the city of Chicago.
It doesn't last long. As I approach the festival grounds, I hear two scalpers yelling at an attendee for how he's trying to rip them off. "I'm only making $10 off of that," one firmly insists. Crossing Randolph, or Ogden (I'm awful with directions no matter how many maps I look at it) I'm forced to come to a dead stop as a dingy ambulance goes zooming by. I'm not sure if the grey sidewalk I'm standing on or the response vehicle is drabber, but I know for sure the vehicle is louder. The yelling continues as I impatiently wait in line. My right foot nervously taps a bit faster every time I hear "people with no bags go to the middle line." By the time I get to the front of the line, the "hunger" is back and I'm hating everyone who doesn't think to turn out their bags until it's their turn to go.
Instead of dealing with any of the above problems in a rational manner, I race to see Syracuse quintet Perfect Pussy leave the shaded Blue Stage in electro-punk squalor. For once a sound check problem is a blessing, it allows me to wriggle through an already sweating crowd and get a front-row seat to the carnage. The sweat trickles faster when lead singer Meredith Graves' steps forward and begins screaming at the top of her lungs. Even without Garrett Koloski's piercing drums or Shaun Sutkus' keyboard manipulations; she'd be this impassioned. When attendees trapped in the pit aren't chaotically hurling into each other, their genuinely applauding Graves' staunch commitment to the material. After the particularly lacerating "Bells" Graves breaks "character" and lets a smile swallow up face as fans applaud. Her makeup is smeared and she has the look of someone who's just cried, displaying both the appreciation she has for the receptive crowd and the emotional toll this kind of music takes on a performer. As Graves steps over the indigo flowers and empty water bottles that rained down on the stage, she lets go of one final smile. Though Perfect Pussy could be considered an "angry band" it's far from the only emotion in their tool belt.
"Interference Fits"- Say Yes to Love
After what I've just witnessed, San Francisco band Deafheaven's experimental set of hazy shoegaze, yearning post-rock, and exacting black metal is just the comfort food I needed. Though I'd seen them once before, I was equally excited to see them replay their genre reconfiguring 2013 LP Sunbather. Lead singer George Clarke's all black attire is seemingly cultish than when I saw him before, which only ratchets up my excitement.
Deafheaven's most memorable set moment continues to be when Clarke's deathly screams are inaudible in the heavily arpeggiated "Dreamhouse." As the band obliterates decibel levels, he's silent. The most painful thing of their set isn't seeing a bewildered Green Stage crowd of headscratchers not know when to mosh; its this stark moment. Everyone is forced to see what kind of suffering "sober restlessness" is, but can't hear it. Those moments of exacting silence are what make Deafheaven such a marvelous band. They only magnify the surrounding loudness.
Rapidly crisscrossing through the crowds gathered on the dirt infield and maneuvering around the steadily growing masses in the food gallery, I make it back to the Blue Stage to see Isaiah Rashad. He carries over the energy from Perfect Pussy's blitzkrieg of a set, but in a different way. As the most recent signer to TDE and its second youngest member (after R&B crooner SZA), Rashad displays the hunger of the "runt" of the litter. The Tennessee native waves his arms when rapping "damn that Vince Vaughn is a funny cat" in his unmistakable Southern accent over plinking piano keys. His showmanship is minimal, but that intensity is what carries him. It's the same intensity Kendrick Lamar unleashed on the same Blue Stage two years ago; intensity that brought him to headline the festival this year. Somewhere in the midst of "RIP Kevin Miller"'s seizing bass he completely won the crowd and them chanting in unison the song's simple hook ""y'all live for b****es and blunts, we live for weed and money." Not so bad for someone with one EP to their name.
"R.I.P. Kevin Miller"- Cilvia Demo
At 20 years old, Odd Future's Earl Sweatshirt is one of Pitchfork Fest's youngest performers, but remarkably seasoned. He trolls the crowd by playing Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," and dismissively shakes his head when they enthusiastically join in. Without missing a beat, he and O.F.'s resident stoner Domo Genesis rip the rug out from everyone's feet with Radical cut "Blade." The song's weathered drums kick like an angry mule and adeptly frame Earl's promise to be "throwing chairs and killing s***." From there he's "crushing motherf***ers like moths in a moshpit," during Earl highlight "Kill" and warns "n****s is coming" as Domo Genesis "goes insane" over "Sam (Is Dead)"'s decayed keyboard ripples.
It's not all a brag fest. "Sunday" offers a welcome break from the dizzying laconicism. "Why we argue a lot?" he intimately raps in detail of a rocky relationship. Atop decrepit keys, he let a crowd of complete strangers collectively act as his therapist in "Chum." "It's probably been twelve years since my father left, left me fatherless, and I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jest, when honestly I miss this n****, like when I was six," he boldly raps. "Lyrical rap" often doesn't translate well to festival crowds, it requires far too much attention on the part of the audience. But when someone with narrative skills of Sweatshirt is talking, people stop and listen.
ScHoolboy Q's set immediately following Earl largely eschews "storytelling" and trades heavily in indulgence. Tracks from February's Oxymoron come fast and furious from the former Crip member. Drug consumer "Collard Greens" mercilessly slaughters the crowd with its frenetic MPC drum machine mashing and Kendrick Lamar's manipulated vocals. Though K. Dot wasn't around yet to enact his bilingual blood fest, Q filled in nicely with an out of character mile-a-minute flow. Oxymoron's most sedate number "Studio" even drives people to bad behavior. Off to the left in front of me, grubby dollar bills go flying in the air and have people scrambling to pick them up. "Gangsta" did the best job of bringing out the inner-hedonist in the crowd. At least one younger couple in front of me used the lurching snarler as an excuse to pull out their best twerking moves. The TDE wrecking ball’s music is all about destroying inhibitions and "Gangsta" in particular left those inhibitions in a million pieces.
"Collard Greens"- ScHoolboy Q
DJ Spinn (w. Teklife & Treated Crew)
After three plus hours of sustained energy my friend Robert, his friend Deon, and I were in "dire need" of a break and a bite to eat. As we headed towards one of the festival's several burger stands, Deon was still repeating "I put everything over yellow rice," disappointed that 2 Chainz' adlib heavy verse in "WHat THey Want" wasn't allowed to ride out during Q's set. While I was wolfing down cornbread and guzzling watermelon lemonade, I nearly choked from laughter as he continued to big up Chainz. Fortunately I avoided choking and we were able to make our way back over to the tree lined Blue Stage for a homecoming set from Chicago's DJ Spinn and the Teklife/Treated Crews.
Since Friday night I'd insisted DJ Spinn's set to the Chicago crowd would be one of the must sees of the entire festival. Three months after the death of Teklife's highest profile member, DJ Rashad, at least 20 of his friends and protégés crowded the stage to pay homage to the pioneering footwork-artist. Homage though doesn't begin to describe how they honored Rashad. Yeezus marauder "On Sight" kicked off the set and was sped up beyond all recognition. It was the first of an endless wave of footwork competitions, won by the group's largest member P-Top, who looks more like the hypothetical son of The Wire's Proposition Joe than a dancer. The rest me, Robert, and Deon took was much needed as we all attempted to keep up with the group's cheetah like pace. By the end of the set, after an hour of hopscotching in place to skittering drums my feet were throbbing and my voice was raspy from yelling "Who is DJ Spinn??" along with Deon and Robert. Other than humbly thanking Rashad for the tremendous opportunities he provided in life, the massive crew never seemed to tire. Playing to your hometown can be a rejuvenating experience and considering the last few months, it was exactly what DJ Spinn and company needed.
"Do It Again"- We On 1
Electronic/post-dubstep producer Hudson Mohawke was stuck in the unenviable position of following Spinn and overwhelmingly succeeded. One-half of the currently on hiatus TNGHT, he won the crowd over with moaning, pitched-down vocals and some of the most impeccably timed bassdrops in dubstep. Had he asked the crowd to travel with him to a densely packed room for an impromptu Boiler Room set, they would've followed him like the Piped Piper.
Speaking of impeccable basslines, having the chance to hear Grimes' song of the summer "Go" made the entire day worth the price of admission. Live "Go" is more entrancing. Grimes' dreamy whispers lulled the crowd into stark quietude before plummeting them into a well of bubblegum trap-rave. While her haunted 2012 effort "Oblivion" has rightfully assumed a place near the top of the indie music world, "Go" is still ascending the mountaintop and with high-profile sets like these the track will soon be there.
Epic. Killer. Showstopping. Breathless. Ferocious. I'm not sure I could stop using enough favorable words to describe "King" Kendrick Lamar's headlining set at Pitchfork this year. Despite being battered and bruised, Robert, Deon, and I managed to push to a spot dead center in front of the Green Stage's soundboard. After kidding with standers-by that Drake is a far superior rapper to K. Dot and insisting "Kendrick's got a lot of fans" to explain the suffocating environment, all joking stopped when Compton's son stepped out to the familiar strains of "Money Trees." Though he arrives in a plain grey t-shirt and nondescript jeans, his performance is dazzling. Keeping with his opening dates for Kanye West's Yeezus tours, he barrels through the monolithic good kid, m.A.A.d city. "Backseat Freestyle"s "rin-tin-tin" opening provided the perfect sing along and had fans pogoing in delight to "damn I got b****es." The arguable peak of gkmc, "m.A.A.d. city," nearly created a Frankensteinian mob as backpacked twentysomethings bounced like Superballs into each other. When the band settle into "Compton"'s lush, Just Blaze groove the crowd calmed down and clung to Lamar's laudatory words about his birthplace. One scraggly bearded kid behind was slack jawed in amazement about Lamar's dense verses and I can't imagine he was alone. I've had the extreme fortune of seeing Lamar perform four times in the last two years and his headlining set was unquestionably his best. Many of those in the tightly packed crowd may not have thought much about Kendrick before his set, but they'd be leaving with him on their minds.
I'm still physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted as Pitchfork ends, but not defeated. In the six years I've attended the festival, I've rarely seen such a consistently energetic set of performances. That knowledge is oddly comforting and the only thing I'm left worrying about as me, Robert, Deon, and my friend Dylan walk down Randolph is who exactly was DJ Spinn.
(Thank you everyone for following my coverage from this year's incarnation of the Pitchfork Music Festival. I'll be back for next year's 10th anniversary and regular coverage will return to the blog tomorrow.)