Hitting the Long and Winding Road to Pitchfork: A Journey, a Destination, a Delight (Part 4)

Day 3:

photos by Makeda Sandford

By the final day, we were well-versed in what to expect, how to get in, and how to move from stage to stage. It seemed that the rest of the crowd was in this mood as well, as the day had a comfortable mood right from the start. I had packed protein bars (as I had not really had a chance to eat the day before and wanted to avoid this) but they took them away! The security guard expertly combed through all my possessions and found my camera, but didn't even give it a second glance. Instead, she prevented me from taking my coconut-granola Nutri Thin or some healthily-titled shit into the venue. Strange rules indeed.

Viet Cong

This was an especially exciting day, as we were offered the opportunity to interview and photograph the band Viet Cong in the media tent. Their set started at 1:45, so we had arrived early, around 1:15 to be exact, to ensure that we had good spots so we could talk to them about their performance later.

Based on interviews I had viewed of the band on Youtube, and a conversation I had had the day before with a photographer who had met them, they seemed pretty chill and unassuming. Normally, I get nervous before interviews with famous people, but I was pretty excited to talk to them in person and just soak up their weird energy.

A triumphant admission by the lead singer that the band was up "'till five in the morning last night drinking tequila" was not surprising, but yet, given the voracity and the zeal that the band possessed when they played, it was quite incredible that they had not toppled over.

A rabid excitement had invigorated the crowd, and I had the impression that people were just not here because they were another band on the bill. The audience seemed like genuine Viet Cong fans.

Lead singer Matt Flegel has a raspy yet anthemic voice that sounds like a hybrid of Joe Strummer and Janis Joplin. Guitarist Scott Munro was perhaps the most entertaining of all because he is not only a vicious musician on stage, but he also looks like a wooly mammoth. As he was navigating the spacey but intense riffs that outlined the blueprint of their punchy set, his course, brown hair had completely covered his face and remained that way for about 15 minutes. Munro also growled and roared while doing this. Yes. It sounds quite scary, but I promise you, it was cool.

Sadly, the band failed to show up for their interview later on that day in the press tent. Thus, all of the questions and crazy thoughts I had about how our interaction with Viet Cong would go will never be answered.


Aside from a security guard that was discussing the concept of "piss bottles," an apparently all-too-frequent occurrence at festivals years prior in which audience members filled water bottles with their urine and threw them at guards, Waxahatchee's set was relatively nondescript.

Lead singer Katie Crutchfield, clad in a dainty tangerine dress, has a voice like a crow, perhaps similar to "Exile in Guyville"-era Liz Phair. The rest of the band's sound falls perfectly into the temperamental, edgy 90's chick vein as well. They have a style and mood that, if enhanced, could have fit very well in the riot grrrrrrl scene after time. But after Sleater Kinney's performance, no other performers would come close to capturing the essence of the era. Overall, the set was punchy, pleasant and enjoyable.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

            I was expecting hyped hilarity with this set, and indeed, the crowd was ready for this show. Having listened to Gibbs' raw, unfiltered lyrics before the festival, I was also intrigued. Right off the bat, he let loose on Pitchfork's hipster reputation.
            "They brought a real nigger back to motherfucking Pitchfork!" he declared while the audience broke out in cheers. "They had a couple of niggers they shouldn't have." *cough Future Brown cough*
              What I like about Gibbs is that he isn't the typical cacophonous trap rapper. He incorporates classic hip-hop beats reminiscent of the early 90s that happen to actually be enjoyable, and he speaks about real-life issues growing up in a rough-and-tumble environment.
             The material and the way he encouraged the audience to respond was similar to that of A$AP Ferg, as he had everybody chanting "fuck the police" while waving their middle fingers in the air.
            "I'm drunk as fuck. That's why I'm talking," he stated comically at one point.
             Luckily for Gibbs, nobody in the audience minded in the slightest.

Perfume Genius

              Seeing Mike Hadreas was another aspect of the festival I was looking forward to, so halfway through Gibbs' set, I took off to the blue stage.
               Hadreas is frail, ghostly, and his piano ballads evoke a certain type of emptiness and despair. I had up until this point thought his music consisted of brooding synths tinged with his ghostly, Sufjan Stevens-like voice, but he performed a lot more acoustic balladry than I was expecting.
              Surprisingly, however, although his songs are melancholy, there is a soulful quality to his music that didn't stand out on the record. This is in contrast to his shy demeanour and awkward dance moves.
            Overall, Hadreas' set displayed the strong amount of versatility he possesses as a musician, which ranges from distorted, drawn-out power pop to piercing, bouncy synths. The only downside was the amount of people meandering backwards through the crowd during the set. By this point, it was just ridiculous.

How to Dress Well

               I didn't catch much of Tom Krell's, aka How to Dress Well, set, having only stayed for the amount of time photographers were allotted to snap in the pit. He is similar to an extent to Perfume Genius, in the sense that he also performs haunting, electronic ballads that build themselves forward with silent but strong energy. However, his music is a bit more upbeat and has more of a positive spirit than that of Hadreas.'
                The only ironic surprise in Krell's sense was his appearance vs. his stage name. On this day at least, in my opinion, he wasn't really dressed that well.

 Jamie xx

             One of the sets that absolutely rocked the festival was that of Jamie xx, member of the insanely popular British minimal-synth band, The xx. Yes, the xx of "Crystalised" and "Intro."
             By this point in the day, the sun was glaringly hot, and I only hoped that the no-doubt Molly-induced crowd clung preciously to their water bottles. Jamie's fabulously hip, dark-beat disco beats coupled with clips of Motown-esque soul and doo-wop were delightfully surprising, as was the nice, kind-spirited crowd.
             Slightly more experimental than his mother-band, Jamie xx sounded like a mix between The xx and the 90s electronic group Underworld. Halfway through the set, he had members of the audience shouting "drugs drugs drugs," which no doubt was the impetus behind one person grabbing his head and shouting "oh my god, OH MY god" later on on a particularly riveting tune.
            What struck me most about Jamie xx was the amount of versatility he displayed as well. The pulsing, bassy synths building in strength and excitement created a beautiful dreamscape through which the audience soared mentally. And in some regards, the funky, soulful beats he incorporated drew out a trace of sassiness similar to the wildly experimental group Of Montreal.
             As the disco ball he installed above the stage glistened and twisted, Jamie xx silently stated that this wonderful genre of music is anything but dead.

              After this, I decided to go grab the most unusual combination of refreshments ever: lemon sorbet and beer. Following the sorbet with a fairly bitter beverage from Urban Pale Ale, which is native to Chicago and the only place I have ever seen anyone drink it besides myself at parties, was not exactly the tastiest option, but oh well. 
              My hands were fairly sticky after eating the gelato, and it was gross and awkward being in the hot sun, but all-in-all, the afternoon had been fairly delightful so far.


                   While I was grabbing the food stuffs, Dan Snaith, aka Caribou, had begun his set. From what I could hear by the side of the stage, the crowd's energy and support for the electronic musician was pretty strong.
               The stage background was the colourful mosaic of pastel crystals that decorate his latest release, Our Love and the music itself seemed to also be a mosaic of sorts.
               As the sun set beneath the earth and purples, reds, and a hazy grey filled the sky, Caribou's enthusiastically slick, big electronic beats seemed to be the perfect goodbye for the day. The ending was especially memorable, as he drew out the last song over-and-over-again, but managed to do so in a way that was not tiresome, but breathtaking.

Run the Jewels

              No doubt propelled from the brilliance of Jamie xx's set, if you were moved over to the audience awaiting Run the Jewels, you would think that a major celebrity like Kanye West was about to appear, and there was indeed a rumour circulating that he might do so during Chance the Rapper's set later that night.
               I had never heard of El-P and Killer Mike, aka Run the Jewels, but apparently pretty much everybody in the crowd had. The performers knew and seized upon this enthusiasm and threw the crowd into their bombastic music right from the start.
            "This song is dedicated to everybody who would rather just smoke a lot of weed than deal with reality," they declared before launching into their hardcore, trap-heavy set.
                Run the Jewels really are not my cup of tea musically, but I respect them from an artistic point of view. An especially poignant moment was when they spoke out against the police brutality rampant in the country at the moment and dedicated a song to Michael Brown and Eric Garner, with an American flag flying emphatically above the crowd throughout.
               My favourite moment from their set was when one of them encouraged the audience to put one arm in the air. "I bet we can make it feel like an ocean in the middle of Chicago!" he roared.
                Their music is sonically aggressive and in-your-face, as the lyrics to one of their songs proves. "Lie, cheat, kill, steal, win. Lie, cheat, kill, steal, win!" shouted the rappers at the audience. The chants of "fuck shit up" were also ascending into the crowd at one point, and I think this phrase summarizes the ethos of RTJ best.

Chance the Rapper

          We left fairly deep into Run the Jewels' set in order to get (relatively) good spots for Chance the Rapper's set, which had been set up as the highlight of the festival. I, too, was excited to see him, having actually listened and enjoyed his music, particularly "Cocoa Butter Kisses."

           I was expecting it to be as packed as Wilco, but surprisingly, there was actually a little bit of moving space (and by little bit, I mean one step on either side of me). It was a weird audience, as a fight broke out about 30 minutes into the music, which is ironic, considering that Chance is all about bringing people together. That being said, Chance's set also spurred make-out sessions amongst the audience, so to say there was a definite contrast between moods would be an understatement.

         The words to describe Chance's set more than anything would be heartfelt and enjoyable. It is simply just fun to see him perform, as his genuine enthusiasm and love for being a musician shine through brilliantly. Halfway throughout the set, he brought out gospel singer Kirk Franklin, for his grandmother, who was a huge fan of Franklin's and was in attendance that night.

        Chance said at one point in the set that he was doing everything he could to make his performance longer, as Chicago is his hometown and he felt especially connected to the audience there. It is this quality of sharing is what makes him distinctive as an artist. He wants to give and share joy, love, music and art and is a true role model for those who are looking for an example of humans at their very best.

An Afterward

As we joined the troupes of sweaty, smelly humans slugging themselves away from the park into the night, there was nothing to feel but refreshed. Somehow, Chance's set had breathed hope and positivity into an already great day (well, aside from Viet Cong bailing on the interview) and I had survived my first festival. No lost teeth, possessions, or sanity :)