A lot of rock music is expressly designed for the nighttime – it takes a whole lot of stage presence to successfully carry over the moody gloom of music meant for dimly lit bars into the blaring summer sunlight of a music festival. Savages, the British female punk quartet, successfully pulled off that feat Saturday, casting an eerie mood over the afternoon with their dressed-in-all-black post-punk fury. With her tightly-cropped hair and convulsive, possessed-by-spirits dance moves, lead singer Jehnny Beth often seems like she’s channeling Ian Curtis (save for the pronounced brown heels, of course). But there’s more aggression to her stage vibe – she prowled around the stage during the set in a low crouch, waiting to pounce as the band’s tight rhythms (fueled by the stunningly intricate bassline of bandmate Ayse Hassan) built towards a release. All this was paired with the psycho-sexual feminist drama of their lyrics, which tell stories about romantic disillusionment and taboo desire (“I want my face stepped on”, Beth howled in a mid-song interlude.) It was an impressive display that got a major reaction from the crowd – and a particularly stunning showing when you consider that the band has only been together for 18 months.
“It’s hotter than a two-peckered goat out here,” announced Daughn Gibson early on in his set, setting the vibe at the opening of this year’s Pitchfork fest – specifically, the vibe of an unusually talented alt-country band screwing around at “your favorite shit-house bar”, as one song put it. The scruffily handsome singer-songwriter, with his proto-mullet and cutoff sleeveless rock tee, seemed to have tongue planted firmly in cheek throughout most of his set (he made a big show of introducing his drummer as “Reefer” and his guitarist as “Big Jim and the Twins”). But if the between-song banter gave the sense that Gibson’s riffs on country songwriting archetypes (his characters stand “underneath the neon lights of a corner bar”, lamenting that they’re “old [men] in a young girl’s world”) were in some part parody, his mournful Johnny Cash-aping baritone did not. Paired with a smattering of synthesizers and vocal samples, the actual music itself felt like a modern and fresh tribute to legends of yore.
Say what you will about Pitchfork as the maybe-obnoxious, maybe-essential taste-making music conglomerate that it has become, but it’s hard to deny one thing – every July in Union Park, they put on one hell of a music festival. The Pitchfork Music Festival avoids a lot of the pitfalls that plague many major festivals – the total dominance by in-your-face corporate sponsors, the attendees more interested in their own drug trips than in any musical performances, the fact that you might have to camp next to said attendees, etc. Pitchfork has done a great job of making sure that their festival is first and foremost about the music, with line-ups that pair mega-stars and fascinating newcomers without skewing the focus too much toward either.
I’ll be live-blogging the festival for the Advocate all weekend. I probably don’t have to say too much to introduce headliners R. Kelly, Bjork, and Belle & Sebastian (though Aziz Ansari has the essential primer on R. Kelly in case you need it). Here’s a quick preview of some of the lesser-known performers on the lineup this year:
Complementing the mega-stardom of R. Kelly on the lineup this year are an array of fascinating synthesizer-driven indie pop acts. There’s the melancholy synthpop of Sky Ferreira, who channels the swagger of Debbie Harry on tracks like “Everything is Embarassing” (above). There’s also the Italo Disco revivalism of Portland duo Glass Candy, favorites of Drive director Nicolas Refn (who featured their track “Digital Versicolor” in his earlier film Bronson). And there’s the cathartic wailing of Autre Ne Veut, who performs impassioned, irony-free tributes to 90s R&B on tracks like “Play by Play“.
California composer Julia Holter creates intricate, home-recorded wonders of layered drones and echoing vocal tracks – her “Marienbad” is a good example. Brooklyn folk-rockers Woods create their own swirls of psychedelic sound on tracks like “Rain On“. And laid-back indie rocker Mac Demarco sounds like a “Walk on the Wild Side”-era Lou Reed surveying suburbia on tracks like “Cooking Up Something Good” (above).
Andy Stott creates ominous, hypnotic bass music that’s an eerie counterpoint to operatic vocals of singer Alison Skidmore (his album Luxury Problems is available in full here). Ryan Hemsworth creates his own brand of wistful, nostalgic electronica mixed with hip-hop on tracks like “Charly Wingate“. And DJ Rashad is one of the pioneers of juke music, the supercharged-BPM dance music that has become on the hyperactive signatures of Chicago music (above). .