Features | Festivals

And Pitchfork Brought Us Together 1: Day 0

By Mark Abraham, Conrad Amenta, Chet Betz, Peter Hepburn, Dom Sinacola, & Edgar White | 1 August 2006

Six of the Glow’s staff were present for the first eponymous Pitchfork Music Festival. Their coverage will run in three parts. Part I isn’t really about the festival at all; it’s about them meeting and making fun of one another. If you are only interested in their thoughts on the festival, their discussion of Day 1 can be read here. If, however, you want to know more about carbombs, Windwaker_, Mark and Dom’s eating habits, and Spencer Krug’s mustache, read on._

Days -5 to -2

Mark: This is what hot Chicago is like in the summer.

Boom and Karl are a fucking institution, an actual sitcom. Karl’s got kayaks and snowboards and bicycles and lifejackets outside his bedroom door like a trail of breadcrumbs leading to the “Inspiration” poster that may very well hang on his wall. Boom’s first words to me were “my fucking hands are bleeding,” and they were; he injured himself trying to unlock the front door to the apartment complex. Boom likes beer and electronic equipment, Karl likes carabineers, and Dom completes this Triforce of personalities like the Zelda he is—all sweet and indie and thoughtful, wedged between a skydiving act and an ordered pizza lying half eaten on the dining room table.

Dom: Mark spent a half an hour chasing a pig on Windwaker only to throw it into the lake in a failed attempt at killing it. A good morning was black coffee and Gamecube, a better morning—which extended until evening—was a late lunch of smothered hotdogs and Mark sonically illustrating Dave Bidini’s transformation into a guitar marvel. Mark is very tall. His beard is better groomed than mine. He concludes, along with Becca, ma dame significative, that I have no fashion sense, although the first time we meet we are both wearing magenta. The waitress at Goose Island points this out and takes our order of three appetizers. As our meal. Fucking precious, really, for the week begins to unfold as a charming preamble to a sweaty weekend. It’s probably worth mentioning that I say the word “poop” a lot and that Mark hates that word.

Mark: I get my own room, an interloper in this cosmic balance of at-odds personalities, safe only because I love video games and philosophy and…well, I don’t really like anything Karl likes, since I haven’t exercised since I was 21, except maybe Mountain Dew. But so I live like this for a week, a Canadian smiling at American ideas about Canada (“we could watch Strange Brew if you’re homesick”) and meeting Dom’s world and generally feeling like it’s four years ago and I’m just finishing my undergrad and not spending the week trying to complete research on LGBT street theatre at Gerber/Hart two subway stops away. At night we all drink carbombs and I don’t really like them but hey—when in Chi-town, right?

Dom: Mark gets the sunroom, a futon, some conspicuously untended plants, and pillows with Huskies on them in the style of those shirts worn by that kid in grade school you knew with a rattail and an acrid odor, y’know, a wintry scene and austere canine poses, epic but not. A giant, matted photo of me as a baby watches over him while he sleeps. He doesn’t much care about animals, so my cat eyes him formidably.

Wednesday night at the local bar, Mark bought a bunch of us carbombs. A carbomb is a dubiously named concoction of a Jameson/Bailey’s shot dropped into half a Guinness, then chugged. Mark became hero for the night, remembered not for sucking at arcade bowling, but for not giving a shit that he sucked at arcade bowling. And for building an impressive tab while shaming us non-Maritimers. And alcoholic brotherhood and Pitchfork inch closer together.

Mark: Becca teases Dom and I and her friends Denise and Matt and Chase for days that Indierockapolooza sucks. I keep patiently trying to explain that I don’t really like indie rock, and that Os Mutantes and Mission of Burma aren’t indie rock. She doesn’t care, which is why she rocks. Edgar is bland and wilty. I ask why he doesn’t write more. He shrugs it off and goes to the stereo to replace Milton Nascimento with Led Zeppelin.

Edgar: Whatever. I’m never going to Brazil.

Mark: It’s a good point, I guess, because it’s all about what you like, right? Which is why I am excited about this festival. As much as I’ve been known to give them guff, I like Pitchfork generally; it’s fairly rare that they get behind something I really dislike, and when they back a band, they get behind them, even if things fall apart, which is nice, because a lot of these bands deserve the recognition they wouldn’t get otherwise. Intonation 2005 was the natural extension of this idea; pick some faves, give ‘em a duel stage venue, and let ‘em shine. And, most importantly, let them do so as part of a community-based cheap two-day festival that emphasized music and people, and not as part of some Pitchfork love-in.

Dom: The furious drop in attendance at this year’s Intonation, while a secret pleasure of mine, held dark omens for the glut of hype around Pitchfork’s festival. We knew there’d be a huge hunk of people at Union Park, that it’d be hot, crowded, and, frankly, packed to the gills with every manner of asshole; we had no qualms about the fact that five (six if you count Edgar, but, y’know.) of CMG’s writers would finally meet on the soil of a “rival.” The ubiquitous love/hate popularity of Pitchfork follows around any critical mass, financially successful or not, and why wouldn’t we want to be like Pitchfork? Well, OK, many reasons, but there’s no doubting that Pitchfork brought us together. Even in the first place, before we ever met. We won’t mince words about forebears.

Eternal Indieness Quandary: A million-dollar festival draws hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world. Publicity for the event hits most popular print mediums in Chicago, and in probably many other locales. Everyone you know or care about is going. And this is “independent” music we got at work? How much of this is image pandering? Even CMG must deal with obligatory genre coverage and all the chastisement that comes with it. “Indie” is small label pop-rock, anti-corporatism, kitschy t-shirts, and so much more, drowning in its own ambiguity. Perhaps, at least, the Pitchfork Music Festival could finally manifest the strongest EIQ of our generation. It was also suspicious that Pitchfork never mentioned one damn thing about Intonation, instead disguising the Jon Brion performance in a little concert review.

Edgar: Do you have a fucking point?

Mark: I’ll admit I was slightly afraid that the Intonation/Pitchfork schism would dissolve the sweet nexical creamy center of last year’s event, and the twenty-foot stage banners that simply had the PITCHFORK FESTIVAL logo scared me when I first saw them. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our festival started at the Gene Siskel Film Center; we were to watch a PF-sponsored presentation of Screaming Masterpieces. Moment of the night? Dom walking to the ticket counter and saying, very confidently at first, “I’ll have one for.uh.” and then, awesomely, defeated, “the Icelandic film?” Sweet. I mean, I didn’t know the name, either, but I got away with a demure “I’ll have the same.” I giggled at Dom, and promptly spilled my jug of watered-down Coke all over my Pinkerton Security shirt.

Dom: As Mark asserted to anyone that asked, “we learned that Iceland has a music scene.” That was about it. Also: Bjork thinks Bjork is pretty great; Iceland didn’t have much of anything in the way of recorded music or even recorded “culture” until the 20th century, and this simple statement is used by the film to justify bloated talk of how Icelandic music is somehow more experimental or “ahead” of whatever else is happening in the world; fashion, interaction, indulgence, and experimentation in Icelandic music is similar to everywhere else in the world; Jóhann Jóhannsson is delicately spoken and overlooked; Dave Grohl’s a cool dude; sweeping tundra shots and chintzy bird vignettes do not satisfying interstitial footage make. Mark and I created an imaginary band where I would play trombone, he would cradle a ukulele, and Chet, when he arrived the next night, would strum an upright washtub bass.

Day -1

Chet: So my damn washtub bass wouldn’t fit in my damn trunk. But 600 miles, a melding of sweaty back with dirty driver seat (because I have no AC), and (because I have no CD player) about 436 excruciating listens to “Snap Yo Fingers” later, I had arrived. I knew Dom, Mark, Peter, and Edgar were still at the Metro, watching Sunset Rubdown and not appreciating Sunset Rubdown nearly enough, “enough” being how much I appreciate Sunset Rubdown, mustachioed Spencer or no; I fully expected to just sit out in front of Dom’s place and read the only book I ever read while traveling, the one I keep on my dashboard at all times, On The Road, my parking permit to the world.

Peter: I never mentioned to Chet during the course of the weekend that I took off from the Metro before Sunset Rubdown could even play. All the same, he seemed standoffish and surly the whole weekend. Perhaps it was the hangover and the heat affecting him, but more likely Edgar ratted me out. Fucker.

I did have good reason to leave early, though. I had flown out from DC earlier in the day, meeting up with a crew who had driven out from New York. Pitchfork was serving as the first stop on a long-overdue and all-too-short summer vacation, and I fully intended to make the most of it. Still, I was tired and needed to make it back to the south side where my Krug-hating friends were hanging out, so Sunset Rubdown ended up being a no-go. I made it back only to watch a friend get mugged and have his tickets stolen. It was a bad way to kick the weekend off.

Conrad: The other CMG writers are assembling in Chicago by way of various interesting routes and paralleling, respectable justifications: “I must go to the Pitchfork Festival because I am already in Chicago performing academic research.” “I must go to the Pitchfork Festival because I live in Chicago and this is no shit for me, it’s, like, festivals every weekend.” “I am in Chicago because I live a drivable distance from it and so can’t excuse my absence.” (This one is particularly awe-inspiring for Canadians who aren’t living in or interested in driving to Toronto or Montreal. If I were to drive a comparable, Ohio-to-Chicago distance from Ottawa to anywhere else in Canada, odds are I’d end up somewhere in the ninety percent of the country covered in trees, far beyond the point of admiring the country’s epic majesty, the only imprint of civilization being mirages of highwayside Wendy’s/Tim Horton’s cresting on the horizon.) The other CMG writers are bonding, finding connections now obvious in the novelty of each other’s mannerisms, jokes, and virtual bowling. Not me, though; I have family in Chicago. From the airport I’ll be picked up by my mother in a purple minivan to drive to the suburbs where we can make thinly veiled observations about the way each other live. (“Why doesn’t Naperville have sidewalks, mom?” versus “Why don’t you have a bed frame, Conrad?”)

Mark: We were really worried about how late Sunset Rubdown would play because we were really enjoying it, but we were worried because we knew Chet might be stuck sitting outside Dom’s apartment building. But we were really enjoying Sunset, which was important, after suffering through the kind of shitty sound for the Joggers (who loped through a crazy enthusiastic set including a ripped cover of “Long Distance Runaround”) and the horrible fashions of Voxtrot.

Becca: Doesn’t he understand that you have to be sleeved or sleeveless?

Mark: I know! It’s like the ’80s powersuit in t-shirt form. Ick.

Peter: You’d think this would be a non-issue, but it was really hard to enjoy the sugar-coated set when one band member was wearing a t-shirt that declared his hatred for Japanese Punk and another seemed in the midst of his sleeves molting. Plus, it really is hard to follow up a set from the Joggers that includes such a dead-on Yes cover.

Chet: I thought I might as well give Dom’s place a shot, and when I buzzed, there responded a voice so full of youth I thought Dom a liar, a forty year old man, a pa to some son cherub. Or imp: “Who is that?” “It’s Chet.” “Who that?” “Chet Betz from the website.” “If you don’t say something, I’m not letting you in.” “My name’s Chet, I’m one of Dom’s.” I hesitated. One of Dom’s.friends? Editors? Alter Egos? Mad partners in this ridiculous thing we call music criticism, when it’s not really criticism, it’s the pouring out of a fraction of our generation’s neuroses and bottled-up words and subbacultcha mitosis and all that screwed, wired, perm-pressed and loose-tie insight, drenching some poor, poor bands and rappers who sure as hell never asked for it? Who just wanted to get their shit reviewed, not flipped, gutted, and re-organized? They were helpless, but so were we, and we still are, and I was feeling helpless at that point too, standing forlornly in the dark middle of Chicago with a disembodied, distrustful child-voice barring the way. “I’m here to see Dom.” A cherubic, impish face (who I later found out was Boom, who wasn’t Dom’s bastard kid or even a kid at all) shot out of the window way up above me. From behind the window and Boom’s head, a girl’s voice: “Who is that guy?” “I’m Chet.” Boom blinked at me three or four times. I half-hollered, “I’m here to see Dom. We write for the same website. Cokemachineglow.” The door hummed, and I entered.

Conrad: It will all happen at the festival, I’m sure—worlds colliding, neo-cosmopolitan threaded strangers brought together by a mutual desire to get to say that we saw Os Mutantes or Silver Jews. It’s all gonna fucking happen in Chicago, at the Pitchfork Festival. Except that for luggage I’m using a bag I used to go camping three weeks ago, and I didn’t check all the pockets before I packed, so the knife in there quite easily shows up on airport security’s X-ray machine. “You have knife in your bag,” the officer says, matter-of-factly, implying with his lead eyes that he’s not paid enough to catch such bumble-headed, B-list saboteurs. The prevailing symbol of my week in Chicago immediately morphs in my imagination to a light blue rubber glove being snapped over a hand with fingers spread so as to appear larger than it actually is.

Dom: “Hey, guys, do you ever get the feeling that maybe Conrad’s being molested at an airport somewhere?” (At least I recognize more songs from Voxtrot than I did the Joggers. Is it pathetic that a lot of my fun at a show is based on how much of the setlist I can knowingly nod to? Of course it’s pathetic, and it’s not fair to anyone, and pretty selfish; aren’t we in the ground zero of sorts for all critical/label mongering? The sweating concrete floor stacked with sticky plastic cups? Like, all right, I’m not moving enough. Maybe I should shuffle my feet a bit. Wave my shoulders to and fro? I wonder if I’m off the beat. I bet that looks pretty dumb. Yeah, shouldn’t snap the fingers. Shake my head? I wish I were as tall as Mark, then I wouldn’t have to tippy-toe. Cripes, I’m so goddamned awkward.) “Hey. Hey, guys, remember when the dude from Joggers hollered, ‘Woo! That was awesome!’ and pumped his fists after a song? That was awesome.”

Mark: Play “Horsemen!”

Spencer: Have you seen my mustache?

Edgar: Did he tell us to look at his lust patch?

Mark: Shave your mustache and play “Horsemen!”

Dom: They never played “Horsemen.” That sounds so ominous, really, but it wasn’t. The band was just as demure as I expected, Spencer as reluctant to open and loosen up. During “Us Ones In Between,” Spencer sensed a lull and made a move to stretch his voice a tad. He donned a Rambo headband, Camille took a step into the spotlight to hit a better spot on her piecemeal hi-hats, and reluctance never seemed to have been a part of the proceedings at all. The schedule was behind and after an hour Sunset broke curfew. Aziz Ansari never showed, leaving an Aziz-Ansari-shaped hole in the hearts of some fans. He wasn’t dead, just the victim of a transportation mishap. An embarrassing, disemboweling transportation mishap. Just kidding.

Chet: Inside, Boom apologized fifty times for being a cock, and I assured him forty-nine times that he wasn’t and that it was perfectly understandable. Boom’s girlfriend muttered to Karl, “He’s cute,” and that’s when I knew for sure that these people were already drunk. I went to the bar with them; I watched them play virtual bowling, something I believe in even less than real bowling; I listened when Maggie, the sister of Dom’s girlfriend, told me she was named after the Rod Stewart song (at which point I gave my condolences), and I listened every time she commanded that I drink another beer. Somewhere back in the middle of that last sentence we’d returned to Dom’s, and when Dom, Mark, and Edgar walked through the door, it was like that scene at the end of Excalibur with the knights on white horses charging through the blossoming tree groves and shit. Don’t act like you don’t know.

Mark: When we walked through the door, Chet was barely paying attention to us, following Maggie in a haze. I suspected there may have been carbombs involved. Chet is…well, if there is one thing about Chet you should know, it’s that he likes movies even more than he likes music, but what is even better is that he’ll just randomly insert stuff about movies into conversation, like:

“Hey, Chet!”

“Have you ever seen Audition?”

“Would you like some coffee, Chet?”

“I’m a massive fan of Claire’s Knee!”

“Chet! Nice to meet you!”

“You guys walking through that door is like this scene in Excalibur. Have you seen that?”

Dom: Chet shook my hand and called me that “Danielson-loving motherfucker.” Tingles of pride zipped through my spine. Chet was tall, but not as tall as Mark, and the kind of guy that, according to Tyler Durden dogma, you wouldn’t want to fight. He assumes a lot of effort and attention to take down.

Edgar: Chet pretended like I didn’t exist. After an hour he still wasn’t listening, so I challenged him to a bare-knuckle boxing match in the alley behind the apartment building. He punched the bejeezus out of me.

Chet: Edgar was running his mouth, so I fucked him up. Rubbing his cheek, prodding at his nose to check if it was broken, he lobbed an insult at my departing backside: “I prefer Bark Psychosis to Talk Talk!” Back inside, Maggie compelled me to drink more cheap beer, which seemed brilliant because I was feeling like a man feels when he feels like a man. Her legs were pinning me into a sitting position on the couch, so Mark took the opportunity to play the new Rhymefest and explain to me why I should like it and also what parts not to like, and Karl kept talking about how he’d like to go to Pitchfork Fest just and only for Chicago Underground Duo. Dom had left around the third time Karl mentioned them. Somewhere Boom was being eaten alive by his girlfriend. I noticed the window and asked, “Is that fucking light out there?” Mark checked the time. 5:00 AM. I’m a rail, my weight loss regime could have played the lead in The Machinist. I melted myself out from under the sleeping girl and went to my designated couch for some very necessary shut-eye. Maggie woke up and came over to cuddle, which was nice for an hour or two, and I’m sure we were downright adorable, the half-conscious, chemically affectionate two of us, but I had to get out of that whole unsleepable scene, so I returned to the couch we’d both forsaken. She asked what I was doing. I told her I had a music festival to go to.

Pt. 2: Day 1