Chicago’s annual three-day alternative music fest, Pitchfork Music Festival 2016, was as zany as hectic as ever.
There were big names — it’s a festival after all — but the smaller and mid-table acts brought the experience together. The relatively small location of Chicago’s historic Union Park and vendors of all kinds didn’t hurt either.
A mixed crowd came with mixed genres. For the most part, attendees sported looks from stores like Urban Outfitters or from local thrift shops. Along with the unusual and interesting fashion, the crowd emitted a friendly and safe vibe. Many attendees sported body positive and non gender-conforming clothing.
One of the most notable aspects of the festival was the sense of intimacy, or even intrusion. The contained space and the close proximity of each stage caused a distinct layering of artists from different sets. Despite the small noise bleed, each performer was still able to draw in a crowd that could have silenced noise even a foot away.
Unlike attendees of other festivals, Pitchfork-goers did not attend simply to get intoxicated, half-listen to music and meander with friends. Believe it or not, attendees were wholeheartedly there for the music — imagine that! Not only did they come out to see their favorite acts, but they also strolled the grounds seeking new music. Between sets, some festival-goers could be seen resting on picnic blankets with reasonably-priced beverages in hand and sometimes even reading books to pass the time.
With a pleasing crowd thirsting for tunes alone, Pitchfork was a ripe environment for any type of musician and fan. Here are the top 10 acts we found as we strolled through Union Park.
It was almost as if Beach House tip-toed onto the stage. On vocals and keyboard, Victoria Legrand donned a black, hooded cloak. She looked delightfully spooky as she pressed her mouth to the microphone, brunette locks framing her facing and her eyes peering into the crowd. The show had begun.
The dream pop’s whirring synth pierced the air with the sweet thrill of the night to come, gathering cheers and applause as captivated Pitchfork attendees welcomed Beach House onto the stage. Paired with a mesmerizing light show and crisp sound, the band’s trance-like performance was a festival highlight.
Chicago native Jayson Mick Jenkins, commonly known by his stage name Mick Jenkins, could be the Windy City’s next big contribution to the ever blooming hip-hop scene. With a production style reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and a quick, witty flow, Jenkins stands out against the growing Chicago drill scene.
Instead of glorifying “Chiraq” culture, as many Chicago rappers have done in the past, Jenkins stands out in his lyrics in that he challenges authority and social norms. During his set, he encouraged audience members to “drink more water” — a recurring line from his 2015 debut EP The Water[s] — and to “unlearn” what mainstream media teaches. Unlike other rappers who promote drug and alcohol use, Jenkins wants his audience members to question their surroundings and stay informed.
But that isn’t to say he didn’t want the crowd to have a good time. Playing some of the major hits from The Water[s] such as “Jazz” and “Drink More Water,” it was impossible to not bounce around during his set. During his final song, the crowd thanked Jenkins for a great time in the form of a mobile moshpit.
With an album set to release at the end of summer 2016, Mick Jenkins is definitely an artist worth looking out for in the future.
Jehnny Beth, frontwoman of Savages, flaunted bold confidence and a sleek look for a late afternoon performance. Chest glistening in sweat, Beth and the rest of the London-based, post-punk revival band delivered a high-energy performance with, quite frankly, savage charisma. Whether it was the band’s polished, black and white wardrobe or sultry vocals, Savages demanded the crowd’s attention, much of which was awaiting Blood Orange’s early-evening performance.
Near the end of their set, Savages performed “Fuckers,” an electric combination of delightfully blaring guitar riffs and a resounding line: “Don’t let the fuckers get you down.” A performance highlight, the track was an appropriate reflection of the band’s badass, rebellious aesthetic.
Performing under the alias “Blood Orange,” Dev Hynes’ diverse musical background of songwriting, singing, composing and producing was evident in his performance versatility and soulful dedication. At the Red Stage on Saturday evening, Hynes delivered a lively performance with his distinct blend of rhythm and blues and electronica. Whether he was on vocals, keyboard or guitar, Hynes’ musical flexibility seemed to never end, taking the crowd by surprise with the breadth of his talent.
Midway through his set, Blood Orange announced he was bringing a friend on stage — Carly Rae Jepsen. The unlikely pair teamed up to perform “Better Than Me.” Jepsen had performed Friday and her appearance was a bit of an awkward moment for the crowd — but they couldn’t deny the high energy and performance compatibility of the unexpected duo.
BJ the Chicago Kid
Chitown native BJ the Chicago Kid took to the stage to deliver a soul-filled, hip-hop performance that both mesmerized and entertained the crowd. As part of his “In My Mind” world tour, BJ graced the crowd with his beautiful vocals, impressive drumming skills and throwback hits that landed him on the Pitchfork stage in the first place.
The South Sider pulled a majority of his set’s songs from his 2016 release In My Mind. With popular songs like “Church,” “Wait Til the Morning” and “Love Inside,” the audience helped BJ keep the night alive by singing along to hits.
Teasing the crowd a bit, he honored his good friend and fellow Chicagoan Chance the Rapper by performing “No Problem.” Along with the popular summer hit, he played back “Studio” — the song which earned him and SchoolBoy Q a Grammy nomination.
Even though BJ later came back onstage later to perform with Anderson .Paak, crowd members were sad to hear his voice fade away at the end of the set.
Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals
If there is one show everyone should make an effort to attend once in their lifetime, it’s an Anderson .Paak show.
When the hip-hop/funk/rhythm and blues/soul artist arrived onstage, he already stood out against typical hip-hop sets by bringing out a live band, The Free Nationals, to accompany his performance.
There was never a moment when an audience member, one of The Free Nationals, Anderson .Paak or even security stood still. Everybody in attendance was dancing. Every mouth was singing along to Anderson .Paak’s many hit singles off his second studio album, Malibu, such as “Come Down” and “Don’t Get Me Wrong.”
During “The Waters,” he brought out BJ the Chicago Kid to serenade the crowd — as if they weren’t in love with the set already.
With incredible stage presence and showmanship, Anderson .Paak wasted no time dancing, singing and even playing the drums to keep the crowd riled up.
Passionately throwing the drumsticks into the crowd at the end of his set, crowd members were a little disappointed that an hour was all they got with the multi-talented, energetic Anderson .Paak.
Sufjan Stevens wore neon, glow-in-the-dark outfit accents when he stepped onstage to close the festival Saturday night. But the eccentricity of his outfits would go above and beyond his first, transitioning from giant, feathered angel wings to a finale ensemble consisting of balloons. If anyone knows how to immediately draw eyes and ears to the stage, it is Stevens. Not only was his wardrobe bold, but his sonically vibrant performance was upbeat and excellent.
Of course, Stevens couldn’t leave Pitchfork without performing “Chicago,” selecting the song to close his own set. As audience members expected to depart, Stevens interjected with one final song — a cover of Prince’s “Kiss.” While Stevens’ light, carefree set came as a surprise, his name continued to escape the lips of awed attendees the next day.
The Texas-based alternative band delivered an erotic, psychedelic performance courtesy of frontman Alan Palomo’s sexy dance moves and the group’s neo-funky, synth pop set list.
Palomo and the rest of the band entered the stage with a “let’s get down to business” vibe (by “let’s get down to business,” they meant “let’s get funky”). They spent no time giving introductions because to them, each moment not spent rocking or dancing was wasted time.
With a majority of their singles coming from 2015 release VEGA INTL. Night School, audience members swayed back and forth to familiar tracks like “Annie,” “Slumlord” and “C’est la vie.”
There was never a moment where Palomo stopped dancing or passionately singing into the microphone — even in a 80-degree heat wave.
While most of the singles came from the band’s most recent release, toward the end of the set they brought it back with “Deadbeat Summer” from their debut album Psychic Chasms.
Neon Indian went well over their allotted set time, and even when Palomo told them managers were asking them to leave the stage, fans were still begging for more.
The rapper’s set began rather strangely — and without him. The sound of a ham horn bellowed through the air and the crowd screamed for Jeremih — but it was only to introduce Jeremih’s DJ, who played “One Dance” and “I Gotta Feeling.” When Jeremih finally came out, he began his set with some “old shit,” performing “Down On Me” and “Birthday Sex” with live percussion, which was actually pretty cool.
The show was entertaining, yet there was something deeply unsettling about the backup dancers and their hyper-sexualization. But when Jeremih unexpectedly brought Chance the Rapper to the stage, Pitchfork lost its mind — or so it would seem from the shrieking and near-weeping. Jeremih brought his mother on stage for a charming dance number to close his Green Stage performance.
Jeremih’s performance in itself was decent, but unfortunately would not have made our Top 10 if not for Chance the Rapper’s guest appearance. Maybe lose the DJ intro track and the frightening backup dancers.
Miguel could have simply exhaled into the microphone and the crowd would have swooned into a state of mind reserved for the steamiest, yet classiest, performers. It’s no secret that Miguel’s angelic vocals are au naturel, but his impeccable, sultry dancing may have been a little-known fact to many audience members. Nevertheless, the Red Stage crowd was thoroughly impressed, eyes glued to Miguel and his expressive instrumentalists — shout-out to that lead guitarist.
Near the end of his set, Miguel took a second to address the crowd and speak for the black community. “How many black lives?” he sang, drawing a meaningful silence as the crowd reflected on his sentiment of solidarity. Audience members put their fists up in the air with Miguel — a memorable Pitchfork moment.