Bill Meyer: One of Pitchfork’s pleasures comes early each day, when local up-and-comers get a crack at a big stage. Since two-thirds of the Bitchin Bajas—an instrumental trio that has drawn the right lessons in trance induction from Terry Riley, Alice Coltrane, and Cluster—perform seated before analog synthesizers, visual spectacle was not on the agenda. But they made glorious use of the Green Stage’s sound system, bathing listeners in richly layered tones and textures to transport them from a muddy field to a state of sound-induced serenity.
Another benefit is the way the three-stage format facilitates testing out music like you would dishes on a tasting menu—take a bite or two, then move on. Two acts that left particularly strong impressions were the Julie Ruin and Courtney Barnett. The former’s stage banter was laced with 12-step jargon and questions about how to cope with attraction to toxic people, but the band’s mix of buzz-saw guitars and “Rock Lobster” rhythms gave the answer: dance this mess around! And scrappy rocker Barnett delivered the coldest line on a hot afternoon when she slipped in this day-after dis: “It’s not that I like you, it’s just that it helps me get to sleep.”
Kevin Warwick: I’m listening to the faint celestial electro sounds of Caribou while writing this, and though it’s a perfectly fine ambiance for the third and final early evening of the Pitchfork Music Festival, it makes me even more appreciative of seeing Viet Cong. The Calgary-formed foursome have been riding a wave of hype this year, and their intricate postpunk is so tightly seamed that it’s surprising that it can also be so relentless, which was a nice change of pace during a weekend ruled by slightly chiller sounds (I’m commenting here on the extra lack of heaviness and low-down grime this year). The dudes trade off misshapen, tricky riffs on one track—that eventually build to a tense crescendo—and then on the next track loop a droning riff into oblivion. It was still pretty damn toasty during their 1:45 PM set—and front man Matt Flegel admitted to being up till 5 AM drinking tequila—but Viet Cong lived up to all the chatter.
After watching Waxahatchee for 20 minutes—and completely appreciating Katie Crutchfield’s commitment to wearing a retro orange-pastel polyester dress in oppressive heat—I decided to heed my own advice and head to the Blue Stage for the Julie Ruin. In case you were unaware, Kathleen Hanna is 46 years old (she made the point to remind us) and as energetic and magnetic as she was in Bikini Kill way back when she became the mouthpiece for the riot-grrrl movement. She bounced around the stage and showed off not only her one-of-a-kind, upper-register vocals, but her graciousness (at one point she let the crowd know, if it didn’t already, that it was a “beautiful day to be alive”). The set was colorful, fun, a little wild, and excellent fuel to push you through a tenth Pitchfork Sunday. Over and out.
Brianna Wellen: Within the first 15 minutes of arriving at the festival I met my idol, Kathleen Hanna. Even though I was awestruck at the moment, only an hour later I was dancing my heart out in the shade of the Blue Stage while Hanna and her band the Julie Ruin performed with every ounce of energy they had and then some. When Madlib’s bass threatened to drown out the last two songs of the band’s set, Hanna just screamed a little louder. I’m sure some other stuff happened, but it doesn’t really matter because I’ll be living off my Hanna encounter for the rest of my life.
Drew Hunt: Entering Union Park on Sunday, the grounds were far less ravaged than I had expected, though the Julie Ruin’s lively set kept the Blue Stage nice and sloppy. Kathleen Hanna and company played some of the most genuinely danceable tunes all weekend, and they more than made up for last year’s cancellation. As glad as I was to watch them, I was eager for some hip-hop after being underwhelmed by A$AP Ferg and missing Vic Mensa (a decision I by no means regret). Thankfully, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib delivered. Big time. The legendary producer and nimble rapper make an excellent pairing, and together they ripped through the highlights from their collaborative LP, Piñata. The bass rattled for miles.
For some straight-up rock ‘n’ roll, it’s hard to do better than Courtney Barnett. Sounding alternately bluesy and grungy, she commanded the midday crowd, the perfect music for double-fisting No Collar and baking in the sun. After her set, there was barely a guitar sound heard for the rest of the day, unless you count the electro jams produced by Caribou. The live instruments fleshed out Daniel Snaith’s trademark spacey sound, and the band was a nice precursor to Run the Jewels, who absolutely blew the doors off. It was one of the weekend’s most energetic sets, a perfect one-two punch alongside Chance the Rapper, whose infectious charisma, onstage theatrics, and unique flow closed Pitchfork with a bang. The hometown boy was all smiles Sunday night; here’s hoping his infectious energy makes our Monday morning a little easier.
Philip Montoro: Sunday’s show from the Julie Ruin was my first Kathleen Hanna sighting since a mid-90s Bikini Kill concert on a roller rink in Springfield, Oregon. (She sang the whole set in rental skates.) Tragically, I’d misremembered their start time and caught only three songs, but it was still great to see Hanna’s bratty sass and fire-alarm voice basically unchanged 20 years later. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Beavis and Butt-Head watching the video for Sonic Youth’s 1994 single “Bull in the Heather,” where Hanna messes with the band as they try to mime their way through the performance segments: “Who’s that five-year-old girl that keeps bouncing around?” (For the record, she was in her mid-20s at the time.) Hanna also pointed out my favorite T-shirt of the day, worn by a gentleman on the VIP platform: “That’s a cool shirt. ‘You Make Me Feel Like Danzig.'”
Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, sang the hell out of his lovely, graceful songs, and I was especially touched by his endearing defiance of the norms of festival performance—the ones dictating that an artist dance as though he’s being watched, not as though he’s trying to sort out what his body will do and what it feels like. Afterward I had a long chat with Pitchfork managing editor Brandon Stosuy, who seems like a pretty great guy (and I’m not just saying that because I know he has good taste in metal).
Run the Jewels turned in a much tighter and livelier set than I’d seen at Metro in November, when they performed twice in one night and seemed winded and ragged for the late show. Plus they brought out Boots for “Early,” Gangsta Boo for “Love Again,” and Zack de la Rocha for “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck).” The colossal blocks of bass set my eyeballs to vibrating from 150 feet away—and incited in the group’s most devoted fans the kind of rambunctiousness that I don’t tend to appreciate when I’m packed asshole-to-elbow with thousands of my fellow humans and can’t execute evasive maneuvers. My friend Jeremy Lemos was working sound, and if you stood near the booth, directly in the PA’s line of fire, you could hear the full frequency spectrum of El-P’s beats at the sort of apocalyptic volume usually associated with building demolition.
Chance the Rapper had the biggest crowd of the weekend for his radiant homecoming set. “Hello Chicago!” he shouted. “I used to play basketball on this court!” His bonkers stage rig included two ten-foot risers that doubled as video displays, with part of his band perched on top—a drummer, a keyboardist, a horn section. He brought out contemporary gospel giant Kirk Franklin, a throng of dancers, and a choir of backup singers; Jamila Woods of M&O appeared to sing her hook on the heart-melting “Sunday Candy.” Chance spent a lot of time insisting that his Chicago fans had earned this feel-good spectacle—that they deserved it—and he led Union Park in a chant of “This is my show!” His positivity struck me as his way of telling his audience what he would’ve wanted to hear were he in their place—that they’re loved, that they matter, that they’re part of something. And that’s especially important because this city is still telling the kids Chance grew up with they’re expendable when it isn’t insisting they’re criminal.
Leor Galil: It’s hard not to feel like the closing night of Pitchfork is a momentous occasion: three days of nonstop music, sweat, and a brief downpour culminating in Chance the Rapper, who proclaimed his own performance historic. His voice slightly cracked as he, in his own words, bid good-bye to a part of his life so far. I’m not sure anyone there was ready to bid it adieu, and I’m not sure I was ready for the weekend to end. I slogged through the crowds and capped off each day by wistfully gazing at the main stage from afar with a goofy smile on my face. I took in the furious caterwauling of Single Mothers, heard a distant, lovely, gut-wrenching performance from Waxahatchee, and shouted “get the fuck outta here” with seemingly every other person who was in earshot of Run the Jewels. And when the sun began setting and Chance came out the air felt just right—after a cold, rainy June it finally felt like summer.