Features | Festivals

Pitchfork Music Festival 2011

By Clayton Purdom | 10 August 2011

:: Photo by Nate Smith

The big, startling revelation that I doddered out with, sun-baked and hungover, after a weekend at Pitchfork Music Festival this year is that—behold!—there was no big, startling revelation. I looked for one, believe me: I have a reputation to uphold. But alack, the clouds never parted; the shows that I thought would be good were, for the most part, good; Destroyer played the saxophone; Heineken was served throughout. I saw some people I knew and said hi to them. Everybody seemed to be having fun.

Well, there was the crowd. My girlfriend likes to quote a guy she overheard declaring that hipsters are ruining Lollapalooza, and we, as hipsters I guess (this is a joke) all await Pitchfork’s eventual transformation along those lines. On Friday, no doubting it, there were scads of shirtless dudes with cargo shorts performing gazelle-like frisbee tosses, sipping beers with their elbows at right-angles from their bodies (the preferred beer-drinking stance of the North American Bro) and, once drunk, cheering bands sarcastically. Animal Collective, the only headliner I was interested in seeing, opted to utterly shit the bed in front of this crowd, out-douching them (as it were) by farting around with their instruments for the majority of their set and deflating every moment of good will, like the rousing mid-set “Brothersport,” with a total put-off, like whatever the fuck they played after “Brothersport.” Nonplussed, I would’ve left early, but Animal Collective beat me to it, bailing when they still had twenty minutes left. They could’ve played “For Reverend Green” at this juncture and sent the kids home happy, but hey, that’s not what being in Animal Collective is about. I doff my cap to your dickishness, A-Col.

The next two days, though, the crowd felt less cockish, or at least younger. The kids, presumably bussed in en masse from Naperville, et al. had on facepaint and those tiny headbands—and you know what? They seemed okay. I’m sure they were awful during Odd Future, as were (and continue to be) the throngs of serious thirty-something white dudes whose sad fever dreams created Odd Future, but I wouldn’t know; I heard Odd Future only through a thick veil of literal human excrement, waiting for the sublime Shabazz Palaces to take the side-stage behind the port-o-potties. That duo didn’t disappoint, exactly, but their sensualist brooding would’ve benefited from the dark of a club. (I hear they slaughtered the previous night at Lincoln Hall.) Indeed, of the weekend’s many sadly relegated rap acts—there was no Big Boi or Clipse or Doom dominating the main stage—only G-Side burst vibrantly through the confines of the side-stage. They recalled, in fact, the Clipse themselves, with Young Clova prowling the rear of the stage like a sneering Malice and ST 2 Lettaz diving mic-first into the crowd, whipping those who made it into a frenzy.

In general affability, they were one-upped only by DJ Shadow, who seemed to be, just, a terrific guy. He’s caught some shit for the malfunctioning stage show, but sonically he couldn’t have been more on-point, rattling rib-cages and sternums with some seismic woofers and an almost cosmic understanding of 4/4’s appeal. Classic tracks, like “Changeling” and “Organ Donor,” were treated as living things to be fucked with intently; and, indeed, almost every beat brought with it a new sonic embellishment, a rewarding, nascent variety of thud. Tyler was three when these tracks first dropped but they obliterated the crowd without a shred of the respectful head-nodding that often accompanies old-man rap. When Shadow dropped a Weezy verse into his set, Weezy himself might as well have shown up, given the crowd’s reaction and the masterfulness with which it was built up. The man is a walking genius, one of the (say) five greatest turntablists ever to live, and so the casualness with which he introduced and closed the set stood in stark contrast to the liquefying sheets of sound he sent out. A quick Girl Talk diss, a friendly thank you, and a wave. You got the impression that afterward he was gonna go look after his niece or read up on homebrewing or something.

Moments later, of course, came the twinkling musical senility of Fleet Foxes. People spread out their blankets, became at one with some fetishized, antiquated notion of what their parents used to like, and, well, sat around. High-tailing out of there, I wanted to shake them and exclaim that it doesn’t have to be like this!

I biked the half-mile home for the fourth consecutive year, watching the throngs stream into the same gas stations they always stream into, imagining a Pitchfork Music Festival where Fleet Foxes came on stage to reveal they were actually old, that they didn’t just sound like it. Where Odd Future confessed, sincerity palpable in their every word, they were from Naperville. Troubled by the complete lack of surprise I’d had this year, it dawned on me that I’m just getting old, and that true surprise becomes a bit more infrequent. And so that sense of trouble washed away like the dirt eventually did from my shoes. I’ve been looking into buying a nice charcoal grill.