by Daniel Martinez and Ilene Palacios. All photos by Daniel Martinez.
Chicago is about halfway through music festival season and Pitchfork didn’t disappoint this year. Pitchfork always does a good job of booking popular musicians and musicians on the verge of success (or that had a taste of it in the past), who are staying true to to their craft. This year had a healthy line up that balanced out hip-hop, indie rock, R&B and folk music.
Vince Staples, Danny Brown, Dawn Richards and Kamaiyah started of the festival with high energy, right from the start. Vince Staples, who hails from Long Beach in California, performed songs off his latest album Big Fish Theory. What really drove the crowd wild, though, was his cover of “Ascension” that folks recognized from the new Gorillaz album Humanz. Pitchfork is not exactly known for their flashy aesthetics and light shows, so a basic orange background LED screen sufficed just fine for Vince Staples, whose intense, outspoken, truth-speaking ways resonated throughout his whole performance.
Danny Brown, who hails from Detroit, is a unique performer in the hip-hop world. He walked out onto the stage in his black Carhart jacket and aviator sunglasses with the devil horns up, Black Sabbath playing in the background. He commanded the stage walking from one side to the other like a linebacker looking for a sack. Each rhyme was delivered with his unique high pitch tone of voice that every fan recognizes, and they were given a performance to remember. As the photographers were leaving the photo area, a mosh pit had begun to brew, and fans eyes were twinkling in anticipation of the beat drop. After no time at all, there was a magic moment of Brown and the moshing crowd coming together in unison, like a symphony.
Kamaiyah and Dawn brought a strong feminine presence to Friday’s lineup. Kamaiyah from Oakland, CA, was a part of the 2017 XXL freshman class, representing the underrepresented yet significant women in hip-hop. She had a diverse crowd that knew all the words to her songs. Her energy was at 100. Dawn former member of Danity Kane moved in unison with her backup dancers to the infectious rhythms of her music. At first, it was surprising that she drew such a large crowd so early in the day, but after her performance, it became clear why her fans were so passionate about her.
On Saturday the power of music was on display during Mitski‘s afternoon set, even bringing a fan or two to tears. The beauty of the music and moment was overwhelming. Mitski was overcome with emotion as well when she told the audience that performing for large crowds was her dream and that she hoped that everyone in the crowds dreams come true as well. Later on we saw one particular young woman who had shed tears during Mitski’s set at the Chicago Dine and Daniel talked with her about why she was crying. She said, “I really relate to her music because she’s a young Japanese-American woman.” This hit close to home because Latinos and Latinas have a similar experience, not often seeing enough Latinxs being recognized for the cool and inspiring things they do. For this generation, social media has opened doors to discovering like-minded individuals and those who share our backgrounds, so we could find reflections and representations of ourselves.
Another most notable peformance was by Madlib who performed a DJ set that ages. He played off Stone Throw Records’ underground hip-hop classics, and was possibly one of the best bookings of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. Madlib has been producing hi-hop classics for over 20 years and it was great to see him being recognized in this space. This was a gift to all the hip-hop heads in Chicago.
Speaking of hip-hop legends, this really unknown group called A Tribe Called Quest closed Saturday night. In all seriousness ATCQ have been a golden era staple to all hip hop fans and their set of classic and new songs did not disappoint. They had one microphone on stage for Phife Dawg who passed away in March of 2016, and honored him several times throughout the set. Anytime one of his verses came on the crowd rapped all the words. Q-Tip, probably the most commercially successful individual of the living members, was charismatic and energetic. His camo print jacket and attitude made him seem like he was going into battle for 90 minutes. They closed the night with the classic tracks, “Can I Kick It?” “Bonita Applebum,” and their new anti-fascist song “We the People,” during which Q-Tip made the crowd repeat “We are all one!” reminding us that Saturday night we should all be united for love, music and moving forward.
Chicago local artists were, perhaps, represented to the fullest on Sunday. Derrick Carter spun a sublime set of House music to kick off the day. Kevin Koval and The Young Chicago Authors started early, too, with a poetry showcase that featured poetry from Fatima Asghar writer of the Emmy-nominated Brown Girls web series that started on Open TV and will soon be on HBO. Her poetry spoke of the Muslim-American experience. That theme seemed to resonate through the whole showcase. Jose Olivarez spoke of the Mexican-American experience. Raych Jackson and Eve Ewing–both educators, poets and women of color–showcased their work as well. Raych is a CPS third grade teacher and Eve is a professor at the University of Chicago. Chicago staple Kevin Koval delivered a poem called “Molemen Beat Tapes” about his love for Chicago and hip-hop.
Joey Purp and Jamila Woods gave us glimpses at a new movement of nouveau Chicago R&B music. Due to the Avalanches’ last minute cancellation, which was a disappointment to some, Jamila Woods was able to step up and take their spot at the much larger Green Stage. It was symbolic and, perhaps, prophetic moment was for her as well-loved artist on the brink of mainstream success. The fest producers had to scramble and redo the soundcheck that they had completed an hour earlier, but Woods’ performance made it worth everyone’s time–and then some. From the moment she came out onto the main stage, she seized the moment and oozed confidence, style, soul and beauty through her voice and demeanor. Songs like “Blk Girl Soldier” and others from her critically-acclaimed album HEAVN.
The festival closed out with Solange, whose album A Seat at the Table has put her on all of our radar and into our hearts. She started off her set with the first few songs of that album in a row, a great choice for those in the audience that appreciate that record’s flow. “Losing You” was perhaps the song that brought the house down, with some fans being brought to tears, but others like “FUBU” was the track that made the space feel, for us.
Unlike at most bigger music festivals, people of color and women were quite well-represented among the artists and could feel more at home in the audience than was perhaps possible in past years where “indie” meant only rock & folk genres dominated by white men. This openness and intention on the part of Pitchfork was a true success of the weekend and, hopefully, indicative that the best self-made artists will rise to the top and make space for all of us to enjoy the ride.