Local Current Blog

2019 Pitchfork Music Festival: Six artists worth watching

CHAI, one of the more than 40 artists to perform at Pitchfork Music Festival this year, perform their song "Choose Go!" (YouTube)

With the conclusion of this year’s sizzling Rock the Garden performances, we can direct some of our festival excitement about 400 miles southeast to another jam-packed open-air event, in Chicago’s Union Park.

On July 19-21, Pitchfork Music Festival will host up to 60,000 music fans of all ages and a total of 42 acts. Since its inception in 2006, the annual independently run event has featured hundreds of artists spanning genre and career-moment — from up-and-comers like Cherry Glazerr to legends such as Ms. Lauryn Hill, who headlined last year’s festival.

This year’s line-up is similarly diverse in age and ilk, with HAIM, Robyn, and Motown mainstays the Isley Brothers performing as headliners. Other artists set to grace the park’s three stages include English pop sensation Charli XCX; activist and gospel/R&B singer Mavis Staples; rapper Pusha-T; Duluth’s own Low; Kurt Vile; Snail Mail; Stereolab; and Whitney.

In addition to the music, the festival highlights local Chicago vendors; and features a record sale, craft fair, poster fair, and even a book fair. Chicago-based talent such as rapper Ric Wilson, singer/songwriter Tasha, and the Great Black Music Ensemble infuse the weekend with local pride.

Heading to Pitchfork and overwhelmed by the task of coordinating which acts to see? Read on for a list of highlights-beyond-the-headliners from this year’s sea of talent, with a suggested listening environment to preview each artist’s recorded oeuvre as you prep for the fest.

Standing on the Corner, Friday, July 19, 2:30 p.m. on the Green Stage

Roommates Gio Escobar and Jasper Marsalis lead Standing on the Corner, a Brooklyn-based group that has mastered the art of dodging genre labels. Their latest release, Red Burns, consists of just two tracks (if you can call them that), which clock in around half an hour each and sketch spliced visions of modern life via a synthesis of funk/jazz/rock and a range of samples — from Helene Smith to Drake. “We’re not just in our f–ing rooms making beats,” Escobar told Pitchfork. “We’re very much influenced by the outside world and our conversation with it.”

Recommended listening environment: Find yourself a crowded beach and plop down somewhere among a mass of sunbathers. Press play on Red Burns and let yourself drift into a light sleep. When you awaken, you’ll be part-way through “Side Y,” and the sun will have shifted to dabble new shadows on the faces of those around you.

Rico Nasty, Friday, July 19, 2:45 p.m. on the Blue Stage

“I might sell out but I ain’t no sellout/ The kids stay around even though the doors let out,” Rico Nasty raps on the hook off “Sell Out,” the eighth track on the 21-year-old rapper’s latest release Anger Management. Rico garnered a following after the release of two mixtapes — Sugar Trap and The Rico Story — and has since debuted two records on a major label, the most recent of which is a joint-release with friend and producer Kenny Beats. Rico’s rapping is adrenaline-inducing, direct, and confident. She harnesses rage to propel her message forward, buoyed by emphatic synths and popping drumbeats — a sound she calls “sugar trap.”

Recommended listening environment: The sun has set and you’re still coding on the couch. It’s the final stretch, and you’re about to engineer the perfect program. Time to turn up “Countin Up.”

CHAI, Saturday, July 20, 2:30 p.m. on the Green Stage

Pop/disco/hip-hop/rock band CHAI is four women — Yuki, Yuna, and twins Mana and Kana — who are redefining kawaii (a Japanese word and cultural phenomenon meaning “cute”) one synchronized dance move at a time. “‘NEO KAWAII’ means that all girls are pretty from the moment they were born, and that there is not a single girl who is not KAWAII,” reads the group’s website. “Our insecurities make us who we are. The insecurities become art.” The first song CHAI ever wrote, “Gyaranboo,” is, in part, an uproarious salute to body hair; their only love song, they say, is about dumplings.

Recommended listening environment: Consume a large amount of watermelon, or other sweet summertime fruit, and feel it slosh in your stomach as you dance around the kitchen.

Tirzah, Saturday, July 20, 2:45 p.m. on the Blue Stage

I would not be surprised if Tirzrah Mastin’s songwriting process consisted of penning detailed love letters, crumpling them up, and leaving them out in the rain — later deciphering lyrics from the remains. Her debut full-length release, 2018’s Devotion, is a series of “straight-up love songs,” she says, comprising what sound at times like fits and starts. But by virtue of the album’s experimental roughness, listeners are invited into an intimate experience with Tirzah as she stumbles through reckoning with the love she feels.

Recommended listening environment: It’s Sunday evening after an unsettling week, and there’s nothing else to do but lie in bed with the windows flung open. Below on the street, people pass by talking in murmurs, unaware that you can hear every word.

Cate Le Bon, Saturday, July 20, 3:30 p.m. on the Red Stage

The fresh, eerie indie pop arrangements on Cate Le Bon’s latest release Reward were composed over the course of a year spent living in solitude in a cottage among the mountains of England’s Lake District. Known for her eccentric guitar riffs and complex compositions, the Welsh musician has collaborated with the likes of Tim Presley and Perfume Genius throughout her decade-long career. Listen intently to Le Bon’s lyrics, and you’ll find yourself immersed in an uncanny landscape populated by ghosts and deferred dreams.

Recommended listening environment: Walk down a tree-lined street in a dense, urban environment and look up and observe the staggered trees passing in casual staccato. You’re the main character — a neighborhood adventurer — and those trees applaud you on your solitary errand run.

JPEGMAFIA, Sunday, July 21, 3:20 p.m. on the Red Stage

On “Williamsburg,” a track off JPEGMAFIA’s 2018 album Veteran, Travis Scott’s “Butterfly Effect” floats by ominously distorted, as if it’s emanating from a radio dropped into a pool. Barrington Hendricks has made a mission of positioning his music closer to the revolutionary roots of hip-hop, and away from the commercial production of the rappers (Scott, for example) who orbit today’s Top 40 radio.

After serving in the Air Force, Hendricks built a music career which consistently confronts toxic, racist views in American politics and culture.  But as with the aforementioned Travis Scott sample, Hendricks also uses that sound as fuel to propel his message forward; integrating it into challenging soundscapes, which in turn rail against and satirize bigotry.

Recommended listening environment: After watching the evening news, unplug your TV and remove it from the wall. Step outside into the cool night air and listen to JPEGMAFIA as you jog around the neighborhood. When you arrive home, take note of the empty space where the screen used to hang.

Lydia Moran is a music and arts writer in Minneapolis.