[EVENT RECAP] Pitchfork Music Festival
The small Dutch-looking building suspended over Chicago’s busy Ashland Avenue breathes swarms of twenty-somethings into the sidewalk below. The crowd is buzzing, comparing artist schedules, and calculating which record tables to pillage. This scene will reoccur twice more before the weekend is over.
The scale of the Pitchfork Music Festival is manageable. Upon entering, patrons are met with the dueling Red and Green main stages. I breeze past that zone, in search of the elusive Blue stage. A place fabled to soon host Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks. I venture past a canopied record store village into a wooded area. SZA is just wrapping up her set under a mass of renaissance fair-looking Pitchfork flags bannered across the Blue stage. By the time I muscle my way to a decent spot in the crowd she is gone.
Bummer. I draw a caricature of what I remember SZA looking like last time I saw her perform. (Later I compare her illustrated likeness to an Instagram photo from Pitchfork. Whoops, looks like she chose afro pigtails, not the lion’s mane fro.) Well-positioned for the Blue stage’s next performance, I spend the sound-check drawing the crowd.
The first thing I notice about Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks is how pumped the drummer is. The dude is really hitting the drums hard. Like, Animal from The Muppets, hard. It's a bit jarring for how chill the music is, but totally welcome. The young lady performing on the keys is celebrating her birthday on stage, which leads to the audience yelling happy birthday, and a song dedicated to Pisces (Though I think she’s a Cancer?). I overhear someone mumble “Play the single”. This is not the last time I hear that mumbled.
Pitchfork’s lineup is an eclectic collection of acts that range from rising and obscure artists, to heavy-hitting single-machines who’s work has influenced generations of new artists. Giorgio Moroder, is the guy doing the monolog on the new Daft Punk album. His performance is more like a history lesson than a booty-clapping, neon-millennial rave. Which is cool. People still dance, but without fear of receiving an album-promoting cake-in-the-face.
The lyrics falling out of my mouth throughout Beck’s set startle me. I can sense that others in the crowd are having the same reaction. Collectively, we are excited to have unearthed a new arsenal of fallback karaoke material. “Loser” was a highlight. He also covered “I feel Love”, likely as a shout out to Mr Moroder.
Saturday and Sunday are spent surviving an avalanche of sets. I robotically repeat a pattern of manoeuvring through tightly packed crowds to draw near the stage. As I’ve already expressed, the venue is manageable, so it’s not a quest. Sunday’s crowds are noticeably more docile; a majority of them are sitting or laying down. One person is developing a Twinkie-shaped tan line on his face, after passing out with the dessert shielding his eyes from the sun.
Kelela manages to charm the audience into believing that everyone is together in a fuzzy, dimly lit champagne room. Despite the sun, which is still hanging relatively high in the sky, she has somehow got the whole crowd feeling sexy, and grinding to her fragmented bass-heavy beats and soulful vocals.
Earl Sweatshirt is focused on this one dude in the audience named Brett. Brett is too cool to chant, when prompted to yell lyrics along with the rest of the crowd. He just stands there judging, arms crossed, in his aviator sunglasses. The rest of the crowd is impervious to Brett’s negative vibes. They are shielded by tin-foil Supreme hats, and they are crowd-surfing because Fuck You Brett.
Before Kendrick Lamar begins, the loudest girl on the planet pushes her way through the audience demanding that everyone within ear-shot dance with her. “It’s not that hard you guys. I’m telling you it gets more fun as you get older” she says. Her obnoxious, incessant dance commands make her invincible, and she blazes through the sea of tightly packed bodies with almost no resistance. Nobody wants to be next to a yeller. I consider adopting her technique.
FKA Twigs announces (in an adorable English accent) that she is pursuing an education in vouging. By the looks of it, she is working on her doctorate.
Stephen Hawking introduces St. Vincent with a plea to not record her digitally. I’m happy that drawing her performance is allowed. She begins her set by using her foot to welcome the pile of photographers pressed against the stage. She scores at least two goals by knocking the cameras out of paparazzi hands.
Tune-Yards harness the glittery energy of an art school block party. I see a dude dancing like he’s trying to water a tall flower, that is held within an abstract vase, but there’s a dragon that keeps spilling the water, preventing him from accomplishing his job.
Grimes is such a G that she can drink hot coffee from a metal travel mug, whenever she wants. To her, powering through a catalog of dance-invoking internet-pop, over the white noise of thousands of spazzing Tumblr users, is essentially the same thing as your morning commute.
Majical Cloudz runs into technical trouble with the keys. Their self-deprecating personality makes the troubleshooting time a mixture of painful and hilarious. Pandering to the audience for time-filling suggestions, they resort to audience comedy, beat boxing, an acapella version of a song, and poetry. With each glimmer of a resolution, the audience was encouraged to count down from five. With a mighty jump off the monitor, the countdown is received with nothing. Then a laptop appears, and we are treated to a musical set.
Deafhaven sounds amazing, but their disjointed stage persona is distracting. A handsome pallbearer is militantly gesturing his lyrics before the audience. His actions are not unlike those of a professional wrestling heel. The rest of the band is dressed casually and indifferent to their singer’s aggressive flexing.
Schoolboy Q brings the party. People in the audience are flashing titties, and throwing dollar bills into the air. One kid doesn’t like that security is spraying everyone with water, so on behalf of everyone who would like to remain dry, he gives security the finger. But this security guard prefers his audience wet, so he replies by cracking open a fresh bottle of water to hose the kid’s face away.
By the end of Sunday night, Chicago is tired. The park is covered in a thick film of water bottles and debris. The bars near the festival grounds are empty, and the exiting concert-goers are slowly herding back toward the Dutch-looking building above Ashland Avenue.
For more photos and illustrations by our talented buddies, have a look through the photo gallery below. And be sure to head over to their websites to check out the other cool creative stuff they're doing.
All photos were shot on 35mm film by Jaime Salazar, a Brooklyn-based photographer.
All illustrations are part of a project called Show Drawn, where Miami-based illustrator Brian Butler (aka Upper Hand Art) attends shows and draws the experience live.