The best dance-music performance I’ve ever seen at Pitchfork was in 2005, the festival’s inaugural year, back when it was the Intonation Music Festival. At the end of the last day I sauntered into a tent where I heard a DJ mixing Brazilian booty bass, southern rap, and indie rock (most memorably Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon”). People were losing their shit. I looked down at my program and saw a name I recognized from an M.I.A. mixtape: Diplo.
If Diplo did a DJ set at Pitchfork today, I doubt it’d be as successful as that one. He’s too well-known to generate the same sort of surprise, and mashups have exhausted their ridiculous charm; on top of that, his current sets are usually geared for lunkheaded EDM festivals. But that doesn’t explain why almost nobody else has DJed at Pitchfork for years. Why not give a lesser-known disc jockey two hours on the small stage to win people over? It’d probably be less expensive than booking a bigger-name electronic act who can’t engage a festival audience—as much as I love Oneohtrix Point Never, the Range, and Nicolas Jaar, their Pitchfork sets weren’t lively, focused, or fresh enough to move midday crowds who wanted to dance their asses off.
Many of this year’s electronic-music acts invoke the sounds of a past era: cosmic Krautrock drone (Bitchin Bajas), disco (Todd Terje), electro (Shamir), IDM (Clark, Jamie XX), or a diluted mix of them all (Caribou). I expect the standouts to be Terje and Caribou, because like successful electronic groups of Pitchforks past (Hot Chip, Out Hud) they benefit from performing their digital music on live instruments. Shamir has a ton of personality, so he ought to be able to carry his set with charisma even without a band. But I’m worried for Clark and Jamie XX, whose tracks are ideal for headphones and bedrooms but not so much for 45-minute festival sets. —Tal Rosenberg
When Billboard asked London electronic producer Sophie to identify the genre of his music, he replied with one word: “advertising.” That might sound like a joke—or it might sound uncomfortably on-the-nose, given that Sophie’s song “Lemonade” was just licensed by McDonald’s to sell, well, lemonade. But his tracks mimic the mechanics of advertisements, even when there’s no product to be sold. Along with A.G. Cook, who’s also playing at this year’s Pitchfork, Sophie makes music that snaps with the promise of pleasure for pleasure’s sake. It’s bright, bubbly, and intoxicating, full of purely synthetic instrumentation and borderline creepy pitch-shifted vocals.
The style championed by PC Music, a UK netlabel that’s home to A.G. Cook and certain Sophie side projects, could be called “accelerationist music”—that is, it begins with the aesthetic workings of capitalism and extrapolates to their logical endpoint. These acts aren’t the only ones at the festival to try out that sound: LA collective Future Brown also fixates on advertising as a vessel for music about progress and community. Their video for “Vernáculo” plays as a makeup ad, albeit one that subverts Western beauty standards by training the camera on women of color.
Given that resisting capitalism outright is no longer possible for most working musicians, maybe the next step will be for them to expose its absurdities from the inside by magnifying them to cartoonish proportions. Most visions of the future or the posthuman are closely related to utopian advertising campaigns that promise a better world to anyone who consumes the right products. Sophie, A.G. Cook, and Future Brown arrive at their vision of future music by following the channels that advertising has already carved out in contemporary culture. Though nostalgia seems to dominate the zeitgeist, they propose to escape it by speeding through it. These three artists aren’t looking to history for their cultural capital—they’re exploiting shiny promises of a future that never really comes. —Sasha Geffen
Saturday, 2:30 PM, Green Stage
Saturday, 6:45 PM, Blue Stage
Saturday, 7:45 PM, Blue Stage
Sunday, 1 PM, Green Stage
Sunday, 5:15 PM, Red Stage
Sunday, 5:45 PM, Blue Stage
Sunday, 6:15 PM, Green Stage
Sunday, 6:45 PM, Blue Stage
Sunday, 7:45 PM, Blue Stage