By the time Chicago showman Robert “R. Kelly” Kelly took the stage on Sunday night of the weekend-long Pitchfork Music Festival, I felt with certainty that I’d collapse. No, I hadn’t indulged in any recreational on-trend party drugs that I’d learned about from the New York Times, and yes, I’d remained adequately hydrated by way of H20 and sweat osmosis that happened every time I brushed arms with another festival attendee—I was just a tuckered out little nugget of a human.
Festivals—despite all the promise of fulfilling your lifelong dream to catch a glimpse of Björk’s toenail—aren’t always what they seem. They’re dusty and full of unsupervised teenagers and loud and distracting and there is always someone trying to give you a bag of free organic potato chips you don’t really want. It has long been a concern of mine that people who have an affinity for Cracker Barrel also seem to find themselves among the throngs at “hip” festivals, wearing crusty shoes and hand-tapping along on their jorts to the warped sound. And here I was, exhausted, blistered, and ready to indulge in an hour and a half of a man who allegedly peed on a teenager. No shade, but a girl’s gotta sleep.
My favorite part about being a writer, besides the constant orgies and daily delivery of solid gold bricks to my secret beneath-the-sea water vessel, is that I get to carry around and write in a notebook that makes me look important. However, I've heard recently that most writers don’t do that anymore and instead, don’t write things at all. They just compress all of their mind-notes down into GIFs and stock photos to make up nostalgic, one-sentence lists. I’ve heard this is the new wave and that by being such a sucker for good old papyrus and sheep’s ink, I’m falling behind my peers; my writing isn’t getting the pageviews that a simple fifty words would when accompanied by funny pictures of lonely people. And as a writer who was exhaustedly watching a pioneer and legend of rhythm and blues groove around on stage with a million-dollar microphone and a gospel choir, I wondered if 2 Chainz could really have been so justified in touting that he is different. Didn’t I want my Pitchfork Music Festival coverage to fit in? To be the same? Are words the friend or the enemy?
You embarrass me. –Me to me
As R. Kelly enveloped Union Park in Chicago with his smooth vibrato and whirligig pleading for a towel to wipe his face, I tossed my notebook and its scrawls to the side. I’m not different, 2 Chainz, I thought, angling my eyes toward the night sky in search of a sign. Who is going to read my 3,000-word essay on the best jokes Pissed Jeans made at their sweltering 1pm set? I knew what my Pitchfork Music Festival coverage had to be, and when I returned back to New York on Wednesday morning after a long weekend of not partying, I found the sign I was looking for: R. Kelly’s 38-song set list. (Thank you, based Noisey music blog.) Instead of writing about the highs and lows and imagined altercations I had with teenagers in neon trucker hats, I’ve framed every musician I saw through the title of an R. Kelly song that was performed on Sunday night. It’s like a listicle that had a dream and was birthed into a new listicle.
“Walk in music / Count down”: Frankie Rose
As the first act to perform on Friday afternoon, Frankie Rose was exactly like “walk in music” because, well, it was. That’s not even an R. Kelly song, which perhaps debunks this unnerving setup before I even begin, but needless to say, Frankie stunned with her shiny melodies and new live band, who had only practiced together six times before the show.
“Livin’ On Top of the World”: Mac DeMarco
Mac DeMarco and his incomparable diastema took to a very large stage in the afternoon heat on Friday to woo the crowd beyond even a shadow of a doubt. (By the way, have I said that it was Hot yet? Capital H.) Not only do he and his band craft perfect stage banter, they play exceptionally well. And when Mac played an edition of his song “Still Together”, he brought his girlfriend onto his shoulders as he played. Joyful and prosaic, Mac DeMarco really is a guy you can imagine living on top of the world.
“You Remind Me of My Jeep”: Björk
Everyone has already tweeted that Björk got rained out early on Friday night, and there’s no doubt that you know she was dressed like a globe of deified light in gold lamé and a luminescent wig. Old news. Björk’s performance on Friday reminds me of my Jeep because I don’t have one and I wish I did.
Meet me in space, Björk's toenail.
“Strip For You”: Pissed Jeans
Pissed Jeans were the most fun set at the Pitchfork Music Festival because one of the first things Matt Korvette did was loudly proclaim they were excited to be making money. They barreled through some of their greatest songs, and also there was Heat, and between every song, Korvette would take another jab at the crowd, the performers, the festival, whomever. The highlight was his announcement to the audience that we could all stop liking music now because “we did it, we just had the best set in all of history.” Korvette also ripped off several layers of Tito's Vodka tank tops until he was forced to ask for someone from the sidestage to give him a new one.
“When A Woman’s Fed Up”: Savages
We all know how I feel about Savages and no, my mind hasn’t changed.
“Down Lows”: Merchandise
Merchandise’s Carson Cox may have been wearing a bindi and face paint over his eyebrows during their crowd-pleasing performance on Saturday afternoon, but it didn’t prove to be enough to get the man to feel warm. As he guiltily pleaded for the crowd to dance, he claimed that “we know it’s our fault.” Am I the only one who sees the Brandon Flowers comparison here? Is that some sort of indie cred sacrilege?
“Feelin’ On Yo Booty”: Ryan Hemsworth
Our favorite DJ wore sweatpants during his performance, which is the best garment to wear if you want to expose yourself to having your booty felt. I also only caught a third of his set, and then a little at the end, at which point Hemsworth said, as he left behind a crowd of bewildered festival attendees thinking they were here to watch four-pieces and guitar solos, “I’m Asher Roth, check me out on SoundCloud.”
“Heaven I Need A Hug”: Belle and Sebastian
I was sitting in the grass to the far, far left of Belle and Sebastian, and I’ve never been huge fan of theirs, except for a weird painful time in high school, but from what I heard later, Stuart Murdoch made a classless gun joke. Twee isn’t so sensitive after all.
“Flashing Lights”: Boiler Room Afterparty featuring Jacques Greene, Ryan Hemsworth, and Nicolas Jaar.
The Boiler Room afterparty was, in typical form, complete mayhem. There were people waiting around the corner to get in, no real logic to who actually made it through the door, and then in the center of the large renovated warehouse space was a DJ booth and some cameras that were completely flanked on all sides by masses of people. Everything was shrouded in red light and very few people were dancing. There was a steampunk chandelier and buckets full of Heinekens that emptied themselves at an alarming pace. It went late and there were a dozen or so thirsty young white men fawning over Ryan Hemsworth. I also left that night with a rolodex full of DJ names in my iPhone notes and I have no idea how they got there.
“I wonder if they can tell I'm wearing sweatpants underneath this table.” –DJ Ryan Gosling
“I Wish”: Foxygen
As in “I wish Foxygen were a good band.”
“Wonderful”: Killer Mike
Hands down the best set of the entire festival came from Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, who I swear to you, couldn’t have been a more benevolent, generous, beatific source of positive light on stage. I don’t think even the Based God could touch Mike’s shine. In between takedowns of Reagan and strip club anthems, Killer Mike would let loose beautiful soliliquys about the state of America, how we need to “take care of each other,” and that we need to have “sympathy and empathy for other people who are suffering.” I won't lie when I say I was so close to tears during his performance that I had to check myself.
“Fiesta”: El-P featuring Killer Mike
El-P may have began his set stranded on an island without his benevolent companion, but it didn’t last long. My favorite moment in El-P and Killer Mike’s Run The Jewels on-stage collab was during “DDFH”, a song with the lyrics “Do dope, fuck hope,” I watched an irritable security guard practically flee into the crowd looking for people who had just lit up. Narcs aside, Run The Jewels as a team onstage was the most electrifying party of the weekend. El-P and Killer Mike should really be optioned for a twelve-part buddy comedy movie series—their familial charisma is charming and their stage presence completely dominated.
“Happy People”: Lil B
With one of the largest crowds I’d seen all weekend, Lil B convinced the unruly swarm to chant “I love life!” into droning oblivion. #Based.
“My Mind’s Tellin’ Me No”: Sky Ferreira
I didn’t want to end up at Sky Ferreira’s set, but then I did. It was predictably awkward and ungainly. To my surprise, the entire crowd of tweenagers in crop tops were blasting along the lyrics to Ferreira’s record that I didn’t even know she had.
“R&B Thug”: Evian Christ
Evian Christ is best known for making the beat to Kanye West’s “I’m In It”, a song written about looking for something to eat in the refrigerator late at night. His DJing was subtly weird, which is the best kind of weird, and trappy in a way that TNGHT has now perfected and standardized. This all coming from a man who I had dismissed for using the tired trick of breath-as-beat in “I’m In It”. I walked away a convinced fan.
“Freaky In The Club”: TNGHT
Bombast beyond bombast and airhorns warped into punctuated beats, TNGHT are one of my favorite duos in the production game. Though it was a tough decision to make, I skirted away from R. Kelly’s set for a short while to catch some of TNGHT, and found that I had made a mistake. Some jabroni hadn’t turned the volume up loud enough, and people all around me were complaining. The point of TNGHT is to be as loud as possible so that no one can think about the neverending malaise of life on this planet—but no dice. Things did nary get freaky enough.
“I Believe I Can Fly”: R. Kelly
R. Kelly let off hundreds of dove-shaped balloons during the closing song of his set. A guy walked passed me as I watched and said, “This is what dreams are made of.” Though I’ve always thought equality for all races and the abolishment of global poverty should be the sought-after dreams of our lifetime, I had to concur: a smaller dream, but a dream nonetheless.
I do fuck with this.