When I departed Minneapolis for Chicago last weekend to attend the three-day Pitchfork Festival, I already knew that I was going to dig seeing Beck headline Friday night’s festivities and have a blast singing along to tUnE-yArDs and St. Vincent, both of whom have played Minneapolis this year. But I was also looking forward to checking out some new music, especially from bands who haven’t yet made as big of a splash in the Twin Cities.
Before I get into some of my favorite new discoveries, a quick note about the festival itself: This was my second year attending Pitchfork, and I knew I wanted to go back for this year’s event before the full lineup was even announced. Simply put, Pitchfork is a super laid-back festival and they make it incredibly easy to get around, sample different acts, and experience things at your own pace. At one point my husband commented that the event felt revolutionary in that way, and I replied, “I know: It’s like they actually want you to have a good time.”
Additionally, the lineup was one of the most inclusive I’ve seen. While the term “eclectic” gets thrown out a lot at these multi-stage events, it was obvious that the event’s organizers wanted to do more than just showcase a variety of genres; there were far more women on the bill than I remember seeing in the past and a wide range of ethnicities and backgrounds represented across the three days of music. More than a few of my favorite acts traveled from outside the country to perform at Pitchfork.
Easily one of my favorite acts of the weekend, British R&B artist FKA Twigs (a name referencing the fact that she was formerly known as Twigs and changed when she discovered another artist using that moniker) performed tucked away in the back of the festival on the smallest blue stage, but she had the stage presence and demeanor of a pop artist who should be playing in front of thousands. FKA Twigs occupies that exciting terrain between hip-hop, trip-hop, neo-soul, and R&B music that’s being explored by a lot of artists these days, but I didn’t spend much time thinking about genre while watching her perform—her music sounds distinctly like her and she performs it with a commanding swagger. Hopefully she’ll come to the Twin Cities while she’s still new enough to play one of the smaller clubs.
I missed Perfect Pussy when they came through town earlier this summer and was eager to see them at Pitchfork, so I ended up racing across the festival grounds early in the afternoon on Sunday to catch the last half of their set. The Syracuse punk band has already gotten an incredible amount of attention in the year or so that they’ve been touring, and they definitely lived up to the buzz. I spent the first few songs trying to figure out whether lead singer Meredith Graves’ microphone was cutting out, whether it was off all together, or if her voice was intentionally kept buried deep among the squalor of her three bandmates’ instruments, and I’m still not sure what to make of the way they sounded coming out of such a high-quality sound system. But in the moments when the band would screech to a halt and her screams would win out momentarily before being washed away again, I got a glimpse at what’s so intriguing about this pace-quickening band. Is it weird that I’m actually hoping they’ll come back and play somewhere with a sub-par PA?
Kelela isn’t the kind of artist that hurries from one thing to the next. Her songs simmer and smoke, linger in the air and then settle down into your skin. It was the perfect kind of music to see on Pitchfork’s smaller stage, if only because it was quiet enough and calm enough for her chilled-out neo-soul music. The Los Angeles-based artist has already made her way to Minneapolis once this year to play Macalester’s SpringFest, but I’m hoping she’ll come back through again soon.
I saw someone on Twitter describe rapper Earl Sweatshirt as the last glimmer of hope for the once-promising Odd Future collective, and it was a sentiment that rang true while watching him perform on Sunday afternoon. There’s something undeniable about the energy that is created at an Odd Future show—the audience breaks open like a wound and kids crowd-surf, mosh, slam-dance, and otherwise fling their bodies through the air and toward one another with giant grins on their faces. Earl Sweatshirt had the crowd in a frenzy throughout his set, but he also had more than a few songs that stood a chance at rising above the rest of his crew’s antics. With a natural, easygoing stage presence and silky smooth flow, Earl stood out as one of the most polished hip-hop acts of the festival aside from masterful headliner Kendrick Lamar. (Video contains explicit language.)
Ok, so this one wasn’t exactly a new discovery for me—it was actually my second time seeing the Canadian producer and performer, and her song “Genesis” was my jam back in 2012—but it was my first time hearing any of her new material live. Pitchfork gave Grimes a prime slot at the fest, booking her on one of the main stages just before Sunday night’s headliner, Kendrick Lamar, and it was clear that people were ready to cut loose and dance by the time she took the stage. Lucky for us, her new songs are bass-heavy and instantly gratifying, especially the Blood Diamonds collaboration “Go.” The crowd didn’t need any prompting to get down to this massive dance track.