by Raj Ranade
Depending on who you talk to in the world of music journalism, the word “Pitchfork” can either be a token of taste-making authority or an obscenity. Pitchfork Media began as a scrappy fanzine that railed against the music coverage of mega-media institutions like MTV and Rolling Stone, but it’s fast becoming a music-world monolith itself. The online music magazine now runs its own online TV channel, a music-based video-game site, and two large music festivals in Chicago and Paris.
There’s a lot to be said about Pitchfork’s effects, positive and negative, on music culture today, but there’s one thing that even many Pitchfork critics tend to agree about – that Pitchfork’s annual Chicago festival is one of the best-run, most satisfying music festivals in the country. This annual Union Park event has an honorable dedication to staying environmentally friendly, trying to avoid gouging its attendees (relatively speaking, anyway), and generally melting minds with a lineup of excellent, ecletic acts.
I’ll be covering 2012’s festival for the Ace Weekly, with live-blogging during the festival and a comprehensive wrap-up afterwards. Here are some of the types of musicians that you can expect to hear about this weekend:
That (Somewhat) Old-Time Rock and Roll:
The core of the hipster heart has always belonged to scruffy dudes with guitars, drums, and a penchant for inventive songcraft. That kind of (relatively) old-fashioned contingent is well-represented at this year’s festival. You have the Vancouver two-man band Japandroids, who manage to conjure up the energy of bands many times their size with their raucous punk-inflected pop energy (check out “Nights of Wine and Roses”). Then you have the decidedly un-Google-able band The Men, the cheerful lo-fi rockers with a retro garage-rock appeal (“Open Your Heart“) .On Sunday, Vampire Weekend will headline the festival, showcasing their perky brand of ska and Afro-pop (“Giving Up the Gun“). Finally, legendary 90s indie rockers Olivia Tremor Control are performing one of their few reunion tour shows at the festival – the wall of sound that these spiritual descendants of Brian Wilson generate is a must-see.
Arguably, the least feisty lady performing at Pitchfork is Feist herself – the mellow rock sounds of her headlining spot on Friday night should temporarily convert the festival into a tasteful open-air coffee-shop (“I Feel It All“). More interesting stuff comes from synth-pop chanteuses like Grimes and Purity Ring, who channel the synthesizer sounds of 80s New Wave while adding a dash of otherworldly modern weirdness (Grimes – “Vanessa“, Purity Ring – “Lofticries“). And the wild must-see from this bunch is Sleigh Bells, who pair the lovely coo of frontwoman Alexis Krauss with an onslaught of heavy-metal guitars and hip-hop drums.
The Knob-Twiddling Experimentalists:
Pitchfork’s festival always finds time to support musicians at the cutting edge of musical innovation, like hip-hop beatmaker Clams Casino, who layers together oddball samples and head-bobbing drums to create dazzling maximalist soundscapes (“Motivation“). At the other end of the spectrum is Nicolas Jaar, the 22-year-old Chilean-American DJ who creates dazzling, spacey minimalism (“Space is Only Noise If You Can See“). Not that these innovators all are aiming for futuristic sounds – Dirty Beaches uses hip-hop sampling and sequencing equipment to instead generate a brooding brand of 50s style rockabilly, aided by a haunting Roy Orbison-style croon (“Sweet 17“). And then there’s AraabMuzik, who creates a more traditional hip-hop sound in a decidedly untraditional way – the DJ plays the complicated drum patterns of modern hip-hop by hand on his sampler, with a finger-speed that has to be seen to be believed.
Raj’s Ace Pitchfork Coverage
Read Raj’s 2012 Pitchfork Festival Ace Wrap-Up here.
Read Raj’s Pitchfork Festival Preview here.
Read Raj’s Pitchfork Festival Live Blog here.
Read Raj’s interview with The Olivia Tremor Control here.
Read Raj’s interview with Alex Zhang Hungtai of Dirty Beaches here.