Tomorrow, the Pitchfork Music Festival will once again rock Union Park in Chicago for the 6th straight year. Growing from an upstart hipster-friendly e-zine in the late ’90s, Pitchfork has expanded its online taste-making influence into a successful destination summer music festival that has not only become the measuring stick for showcasing emerging independent music, but also served as the right of passage to the mainstream. Many acts that have played Pitchfork have gone on to play in front of thousands of fans at Lollapalooza the following year.
This year Pitchfork boasts the most diverse and controversial lineup yet. To explain the back story and inspiration behind the three-day celebration of taste-making mix of indie-rock, rap, electronic and pop music, we spoke with Pitchfork President Chris Kaskie to get his take on what’s most important to him and how they’ve been able to make the festival one of the most unique, community-based and fan-centric live music experiences around.
BC: You guys have been putting on the festival since 2006. What do you guys love the most about putting it together? What are you most excited about this year?
We’re excited about this year because it’s the most unique lineup we’ve ever had. There’s not one band on the bill that my mom would recognize. And that makes it more exciting than nerve-racking because that speaks to people’s desire to experience music that’s more left-of-center. We enjoyed creating that type of personal festival experience because it’s more like we created it ourselves, which makes it not like another festivals. That type of uniqueness also represents what we are as a magazine and what Pitchfork means to people.
You have experimented with specific features on Friday nights in previous years like bands playing their classic albums and fans picking the set list. But the last two years, and this year, you’ve chosen to just have bands play without any specific theme. Was there a reason behind that?
In past years, we’ve partnered with All Tomorrow’s Parties to celebrate other artists and their albums, but we decided to make the most of the festival time and showcase as many bands as possible, since that’s what we and the fans love and want the most.
What makes the festival unique beyond just the music experience?
Music is the most important thing to us and the next is the cost. We try very hard to keep our tickets affordable. We want to provide the best experience but not gouge fans beyond what is reasonable and the best value. Our goal is that when fans walk into the festival they don’t feel inundated with corporate sponsorship. We try out best to integrate the sponsorship and keep it low key with the focus on the music. And we want fans to be able to come here and enjoy show without having to worry about buying an $8 bottle of water or a beer that’s too expensive. Celebrating the local artists with Flatstock and inviting arts and crafts groups is also a natural part of the festival. Like the picking the music, having those types of integrated experiences is something we work hard to do too.
We’ve all been to music festivals as fans ourselves and we pay close attention to what we enjoy and to what works. By going to festivals as fans you really get a good chance to see how the attendees and fans behave. And by watching them and listening very closely to what Pitchfork fans tell us, we make the necessary changes each year. Overall, we don’t really hear a lot of fans complaining about much, so for the most part, fans won’t notice the changes we make because they’re not that big or noticeable. And that’s part of the plan. We want to keep the experience just the way the fans like it and change the things they don’t.
You guys are expanding with a festival in Paris later this year. Are there plans to expand the Chicago festival next year?
What we’ve created in Chicago is something we love and don’t want to mess with. We wanted to do something international without recreating the Chicago experience so we decided to start a festival in Paris. Pitchfork Music Festival as an overarching entity can mean more than one thing, and whether that means Chicago grows or Paris grows, or it becomes another festival somewhere else. Either way we want to recreate the experiences in a way that people know what the Pitchfork Festivals are and will always be. We really enjoy putting on festivals and we feel that we do a good job. And, in the end, we’re only putting on festivals that we would want to go to.
How have some of your favorite concert experiences influenced the creation and evolution of Pitchfork?
I’ve had a lot of great memories at Pitchfork over the years. But one non-Pitchfork festival memory that I’ll always remember is watching fans freaking out the Primaveria Sound Festival in Barcelona. And besides that moment, I always love watching a band play Pitchfork and seeing them get so excited before, during and after their set. Seeing that all unfold from our perspective is really an awesome feeling.
What Bands Are On Your List?
Over thirty bands will play Pitchfork this year, so here’s a quick rundown of some of our top picks for each day. And stay tuned for more updates during the weekend as we report on all the live music action and then wrap it all up with a full review next week.
Friday Top Picks
4:30 (BLUE) tUnE-yArDs – The music that Merrill Garbus creates with her band TuNeYards evokes a brilliant, seductive and immersing mix of love, joy, pleasure and pain. I love the surges and throbs that are induced as her emotive incantations and beautiful ballads flow through me. And I’m certain her sophomore album Whokill will be on my “Best Of” list in December. And with each passing performance, she’s demonstrating why her gorgeous and cunning blend of afro-pop, soul, funk, experimental rock, and luscious crooning — that somehow simultaneously channels Prince, Sam Cook and Captain Beefheart – is not to be missed live.
4:35 (GREEN) Battles – The stage is still rumbling from the last time Battles righteously prog-rocked the heck out of Pitchfork in 2008. Now it’s time for part deux with new tracks like “Wall Street” via their latest offering Gloss Drop. Cue the thunder. The lightning is about to strike again.
Saturday Top Picks
8:30 (GREEN) Fleet Foxes — Coming back for the second appearance at Pitchfork, the Pacific Northwest indie-folk band of has a new batch of songs from Helplessness Blues with which to entrance ears and hearts. Union Park will never be so harmonious and lifted on a warm mid-summer night.
7:25 (RED) DJ Shadow – As one of the masterminds and pioneers of instrumental hip hop, Josh Davis (aka DJ Shadow) brings with him a whole crate of tricks and pleasures. His wizardry of mixing obscure samples and blending unexpected beats into groundbreaking, cinematic sonic portraits will culminate on Saturday evening as he dishes out fresh creations from his forthcoming album The Less You Know, The Better.
Sunday Top Picks
8:30 (GREEN) TV on the Radio – A magnificent melodic melee of palpable post-punk, electro-rock and experimental jazz is what this NY-based band specialty. And when they take the stage you can plan on strange and wondrous things happening all around you when the current of beautiful chaos begins to rush forth from the speakers on Sunday night. And don’t be surprised if you see fans hurled into glorious oblivion as they tear through tracks from their latest gem Nine Types of Light.
3:20 (RED) Odd Future – Expect a live shock-rap therapy session from this Southern Cali hip-hop crew. Led by the infamous rapper Tyler, The Creator, and a series of collective’s viral self-released mixtapes, they’re causing a raucous on the touring circuit, garnering praise in the minds of the young-folk, and receiving a host of mixed reviews from haters, doubters and championing critics. But don’t take their nasty rhymes that are filled with misogyny, rape, violence and juvenile deviance too seriously. They’re only playing a role and having fun mocking and mirroring society. None of it’s real they say. Oh, but we shall see…
Ticket Info: Sunday tickets are officially sold out; and the final batch of tickets for Friday and Saturday can be purchased here.
Watch It Online: Select sets will be available via the Pitchfork webcast.
Download the Pitchfork Mobile App: Yes, 2011 Pitchforkers are mobilized with the official Pitchfork Mobile App (iPhone only. Sorry no Android version this year). The app’s got all the social goodies and slick functionality you’ll need to navigate and keep tabs on the music all weekend. Go get it here.
Download eMusic free Pitchfork sampler.
2011 PITCHFORK MUSIC FESTIVAL SCHEDULE:
FRIDAY, JULY 15 – gates at 3pm
8:30 (GREEN) Animal Collective
7:30 (BLUE) James Blake
7:20 (RED) Neko Case
6:30 (BLUE) Das Racist
6:25 (GREEN) Guided By Voices
5:30 (BLUE) Curren$y
5:30 (RED) Thurston Moore
4:35 (GREEN) Battles
3:30 (RED) EMA
3:20 (BLUE) Gatekeeper
SATURDAY, JULY 16 – gates at 12pm
8:30 (GREEN) Fleet Foxes
7:40 (BLUE) Zola Jesus
7:25 (RED) DJ Shadow
6:45 (BLUE) Twin Shadow
6:15 (GREEN) The Dismemberment Plan
5:45 (BLUE) The Radio Dept.
5:15 (RED) Destroyer
4:45 (BLUE) OFF!
4:15 (GREEN) Gang Gang Dance
3:45 (BLUE) Wild Nothing
3:20 (RED) No Age
2:50 (BLUE) G-Side
2:30 (GREEN) Cold Cave
1:55 (BLUE) Sun Airway
1:45 (RED) Woods
1:00 (BLUE) Chrissy Murderbot Feat MC ZULU
1:00 (GREEN) Julianna Barwick
SUNDAY, JULY 17 – gates at 12pm
8:30 (GREEN) TV on the Radio
7:40 (BLUE) HEALTH
7:25 (RED) Cut Copy
6:45 (BLUE) Toro Y Moi
6:15 (GREEN) Deerhunter
5:45 (BLUE) Kylesa
5:15 (RED) Superchunk
4:45 (BLUE) Baths
4:15 (GREEN) Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
3:45 (BLUE) Shabazz Palaces
3:20 (RED) OFWGKTA
2:50 (BLUE) Twin Sister
2:30 (GREEN) Kurt Vile & the Violators
1:55 (BLUE) How to Dress Well
1:45 (RED) Yuck
1:00 (BLUE) Darkstar
1:00 (GREEN) The Fresh & Onlys