For twelve years Pitchfork Music Festival has taken over Chicago’s Union Park for a three-day weekend in July. The festival showcases a wide assortment of artists from up-and-coming indie acts, to darlings of the mainstream. Without adhering to one particular genre, each lineup celebrates diversity in the music industry. Being relatively smaller than neighboring festivals such as Lollapalooza or Riot Fest, Pitchfork gives attendees the opportunity to discover something they may have overlooked otherwise.
Discovery remains one of the most important aspects of the Pitchfork Music Festival and for good reason.
While the hypothesis of a music festival is to cater to a wide audience, Pitchfork took it a step further. The 41 performers make it one of their most interesting line-ups in recent years. With this year’s headliners LCD Soundsystem, A Tribe Called Quest and Solange, each day was more interesting than the last. I knew making a game plan would be pointless.
On day one, I started my day by waiting for the D.C. punk band Priests to take the stage. Next to me to stood a family of four. A Dad, a Mom, and two teenage daughters. The Dad was making small talk and revealed he was a big fan of Priests while his daughters had no idea who they were. During the set, the entire family looked to have just as much fun as I did!
Age rarely defines taste in music these days, but this unity was somewhat of a reoccurring theme throughout the rest of the festival.
I was shocked to stand next to teenagers during William Tyler’s set as well as Thurston Moore’s. Teenagers who were not lost on each artist’s respective guitar wizardry. Even more shocking was the people my parents’ age rapping along with Vince Staples and Danny Brown. The next day, I stood next to kids half my age in front of George Clinton of all people. I asked one of them why they were seeing this particular set. “Mostly out of curiosity.” he answered. It was beautiful. I saw a grandpa-aged man tapping his foot during Nicolas Jaar’s psychedelic EDM set. I saw a teenager bobbing her head during NE-HI’s set while camping out for Solange’s performance.
While not particularly a fan of LCD Soundsystem, I gave them a proper chance during their set. There was so much excitement between the young and old there, I almost felt bad I wasn’t in on this party. The songs were fun and the band put on a fantastic show, but it was the energy of the audience that really drew me in. Something I’m sure founder James Murphy could tell you more about.
My personal goal was to take in as many up-and-coming artists as possible.
Pitchfork’s lineup made that goal easy obtainable. From the start, I was mesmerized by activist/artist Madame Gandhi. Between jumping behind a live drum kit and preaching the gospel of feminism, she set the mood for the entire weekend. I couldn’t turn away from Kilo Kish, who tore up a newspaper and smashed a briefcase on stage, it was so odd in the most beautiful way possible. Indie rocker Vagabon gave a stellar rock performance and is certainly on my radar now.
It was Side One Dummy rocker Jeff Rosenstock who gave one my favorite performances of the entire festival. He dropped self-aware remarks about corporate sponsors, as well as revealing he was paid $7,500 to perform! Seeing Rosenstock hilariously use his guitar to smash a Drumpf pinata was just an added bonus.
As much as I pride myself in trying out new artists, I was there for quite a few of my personal favorites as well.
Seeing Angel Olsen live for the first time was a personal highlight for me. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t blush when I sheepishly waved at Weyes Blood in the press section and she politely waved back. Love connections aside, nothing was satisfying as being front row for British noise-rock legends Ride. Hearing “Leave Them All Behind” in person has been on my bucket list since I was 12 years old. You could probably imagine the geeking I did when meeting and asking them to sign my Weather Diaries LP afterward.
With my favorites being a combination of new and nostalgic, where do I fit in within Pitchfork’s demographic? This question popped up throughout all three days. Early on I was blown away by young people being into classic acts, and parents excited for the modern ones. While thinking about my own personal taste in comparison, it was clear the officials behind Pitchfork Music Festival are well aware of this seemingly shrinking generation gap.
The set from A Tribe Called Quest was the epitome of multi-generational fellowship.
From the second Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White took the stage, the entire park of 20,000+ people forgot the boundaries of class, race, and age. With an empty mic representing the loss of the late Phife Dog, the surviving members of Tribe never missed a single beat. Songs that not only inspired the genre but defined a generation.
They rapped about class warfare, spin tales of street life, and even poked fun of their age during a beat box session. After an encore of “We The People”, Q-Tip chanted the title repeatedly before closing it out by saying “Resist!”
The message didn’t come off as politically charged as much as it was about love, tolerance, and togetherness. Something we should all get behind regardless of politics.
In that respect, I think the shrinking generation gap could be a byproduct of tolerance. There’s a lot of civil unrest throughout the country and I feel a lot of people are turning to art as a release. More so than usual. We all listen to music we relate to on some level, so it’s only right we seek out new things to make us happy. The focus on diversity and discovery is one of the reasons Pitchfork Music Festival remains one of the most important events in the festival circuit. This year confirms it.
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.