Since the Pitchfork Music Festival’s launch in 2006, its organizers have ensured that approximately a quarter of the lineup consists of artists from outside the U.S. This year is no exception, with nine international acts out of 41, including four of the top-billed performers: Robyn, Charli XCX, Belle & Sebastian, and Stereolab. (London singer-songwriter Tirzah canceled at the last minute.) Along with headliners from abroad, the fest is packed with lesser-known bands from around the world who are just as worthy of fans’ attention and time.
Sat 7/20, 2:30-3:15 PM, Green Stage
Cate Le Bon
Sat 7/20, 3:20-4:10 PM, Red Stage
Sun 7/21, 2:30-3:15 PM, Green Stage
Sun 7/21, 4-4:45 PM, Blue Stage
Cate Le Bon spent her first 30 years in the UK, but she doesn’t necessarily think of herself as more “international” than her U.S. contemporaries. “I think most artists that tour are international artists,” says Le Bon, an attitude that reflects an increasingly globally integrated music community. After 12 years and five albums, Le Bon took a hiatus from performing in 2017 and enrolled in a furniture design and building workshop in the UK’s sleepy Lake District. “I just needed some time away from music to check in with my relationship with it, because I have been doing it for so long, and make sure my motives were in check,” says Le Bon. “To really have the space to do that, I needed to fill my time with something else intensive.” In woodworking, Le Bon found a sense of patience and deliberate action that she brings to her most recent album, Reward (Mexican Summer). Clear and steady, Reward has the ease and pace of a walk through the countryside.
London-based indie-rock four-piece Black Midi, whose members are just 19 and 20 years old, released their first single on Bandcamp in 2018 and followed it this June with their debut full-length, Schlagenheim (Rough Trade). On the album, singer and guitarist Geordie Greep nasally sermonizes over a twitchy backdrop that sounds as though the band were electrocuted midsession due to a miscalculation in power-supply wattage. Though the recordings carry the chaos of Black Midi‘s live performances, “The album is very intense, but also very delicate,” says Greep. “We always try to have drama, theatricality. Tension and release, that’s the name of the game.”
Ibeyi, French-Cuban twins you may recognize from Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade, are among the acts this year who perform in multiple languages. The Diaz sisters’ soulful, percussive songs feature lyrics in English, French, Spanish, and Yoruba, letting the melody dictate which language feels best. “It kind of happened really organically,” says Lisa-Kaindé Diaz of the band’s use of language. “I think it’s because we are all of this—we are French, and Cuban, and we have strong Yoruba culture that runs in our family. We are all of that, so really naturally our music is a reflection of what we are.” Lisa says Pitchfork and the shows immediately following it might be Ibeyi‘s last performances for a while featuring just the two sisters, as their writing is shifting toward more complex arrangements that will require lineup changes. If fans want to see them before that happens, now is the time.
Another of this year’s multilingual performers, Chai, write in Japanese with additions in English, despite not speaking the language fluently quite yet. The band have always sought a global audience, with sights on winning a Grammy—a rare mind-set in the Japanese music scene, according to bassist Yuki. “A lot of Japanese music tends to only cater to the Japanese market, instead of worldwide,” she says. “Other Japanese artists are overly catering to the overseas audiences and lose their identity.” Chai occupy a space between the two extremes, looking outside their home country while retaining a sense of their individuality as a Japanese group. “I want to cherish anything that brings me energy,” says drummer Yuna. The band cite boba tea, colorful clothing, and houseplants as inspirations for their playfully saccharine style of rock.
Though this year’s Pitchfork lineup maintains the festival’s typical ratio of international to U.S. artists, the unusually high proportion of headliners from abroad puts a sense of global connectivity at the forefront in a way previous years have not, reflecting an increasingly globalized contemporary music scene. These artists are the next wave of new music that everyone will be talking about—and Pitchfork is giving you the chance to make sure you’re along for the ride. v