The Pitchfork Music Festival is in its ninth year—tenth if you count the 2005 Intonation Music Festival, curated by Pitchfork—and its increasingly diverse lineups have earned it a reputation for eclecticism. The 43 acts playing Union Park this weekend range from avant-garde R&B to ethereal shoegaze, from raunchy rap to aspirational black metal, and from confessional indie rock to whatever you’d call Grimes these days. Many major summer festivals in the States have disappointingly similar lineups, sharing acts the way unchaperoned teenagers swap spit, but Pitchfork stands out—where else can you see Circulatory System, Deafheaven, Pusha T, Neneh Cherry, and Giorgio Moroder?
That said, Pitchfork also seems to have figured out a formula, or something approximating one. Quite a few of this year’s artists have played the festival before, including Cloud Nothings, Tune-Yards, Danny Brown, Grimes, Real Estate, Sharon Van Etten, and Schoolboy Q. Just as last year, the great majority of the hip-hop acts (including half the Top Dawg Entertainment roster) perform on Sunday. The headliners also follow a pattern familiar from 2013: Kendrick Lamar replaces R. Kelly as the biggest rap or R&B act, Beck replaces Bjork as the heavyweight from the 90s alternative era, and Neutral Milk Hotel replace Belle & Sebastian as the indie darling probably better suited to headphones listening.
Pitchfork has refined its bookings to a T, but its organizers continue to face setbacks—thankfully, though, nobody on this year’s bill has drawn the kind of fire that R. Kelly did in 2013. (Kendrick Lamar, who’s pretty much universally loved, is a much safer choice.) This roster is down three acts from last year’s 46, in part due to unexpected cancellations—that is, if you can call Death Grips breaking up “unexpected.” (They announced July 2 that they were calling it quits.) In May the Julie Ruin canceled their tour (their Pitchfork appearance included) after front woman Kathleen Hanna suffered a relapse of her Lyme disease. And footwork icon DJ Rashad, who was booked to play the fest again (this time with fellow Teklife leader DJ Spinn), died in April. Spinn will play solo on Sunday, though it wouldn’t surprise me if other Teklife producers show up.
Pitchfork hosts only two Chicago acts in 2014—Spinn and garage band Twin Peaks. Given the festival’s long-standing habit of booking four locals, this is an unwelcome change. Pitchfork’s relative affordability and its many Chicago-centric offstage attractions help it feel more connected than most big music festivals to the communities outside its fences, so it’s a shame the lineup doesn’t reflect that better. Of course, lots of people playing Pitchfork this year have recently collaborated with Chicagoans, and surprise cameos are always a possibility—we might yet see more neighbors onstage. —Leor Galil
Pitchfork Music Festival
Fri 7/18 3 PM-10 PMm, Sat 7/19-Sun 7/20 noon-10 PM, Union Park, Ashland and Lake, $60 per day, Sat 7/19 and Sun 7/20 sold out, three-day passes sold out, pitchforkmusicfestival.com. All ages.