Smile Politely

A C-U guide to Pitchfork 2016

It’s that time of year again when we preview Chicago’s best summer music festival, Pitchfork. I don’t think that’s an arguable statement — Pitchfork is one of the best festivals in the country. From indie to hip-hop to electronica and more, Pitchfork Music Festival provides a home for those breaking out, those innovating, those heralding classics, and those that are just continuing to do what they do best. It’s a place for all things alternative in music — all the weirdo stuff. That’s not to say that everything there is inaccessible, no no. It’s an all-inclusive environment. Pitchfork is a place to let your freak flag fly while you high-five all the other freaks dancing around you. And it’s all in the name of some really kickass music.

Here are what we consider some of the best acts of the Festival, accompanied by their Champaign-Urbana counterparts. If you’re into these locals, you might enjoy these Pitchfork players. — Julia McAnly

FRIDAY, July 15th 

Car Seat Headrest (Red Stage), 3:30 p.m.

I personally will be opening up the festival in real time – no “fashionably late” for me. The very first act of the fest is well worth the early arrival. Car Seat Headrest have become indie music darlings since the release of Teens of Denial, their second through Matador records and first of totally new material. CSH is the project of Will Toledo, an awkward and perpetually “Nervous Young Man” who spent an outrageously prolific five years spitting out new material and putting it up on bandcamp. (He put out four albums in as many months.) Toledo’s songwriting is authentically vulnerable. It’s emotional, but not whiny. The 23-year-old evokes adolescence with fresh scars, but his themes of youth are not crafted through naivety.

If you needed another reason to see Car Seat Headrest, you may recall that they are scheduled to play C-U’s own Pygmalion Festival. Catch a preview of what’s to come in the fall.

C-U Counterpart: Elsinore

Twin Peaks (Red Stage), 5:30 p.m.

The Twin Peaks “dudes” played The Accord back in March, and if you were there, you’ll remember how much fun they were. That’s their main motivation — to have FUN – and they aren’t ashamed of that. Chicago’s Twin Peaks have a garage rock, power pop sound that just plain feels like summer. They are the soundtrack to getting drunk in the sunshine while watching a crazy band play. (See what I did there?) They embraced a bit of maturation with their second LP Down In Heaven, where they stepped back a bit and added a touch of complexity to their lyrics. But, these guys don’t pretend to be what they’re not, and what they are is a riot.

C-U Counterpart: Decadents

Broken Social Scene (Red Stage), 7:20 p.m.

Broken Social Scene is the name for a fluid project consisting of about twenty different people, all of whom have come and gone in constant fluctuation since 1999. The experimental indie band was founded by mainstays Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, and almost all of the artists have other groups or projects. Because of this, the music of BSS is truly eclectic, sounding like a crowd of people coming together with myriad instruments, song styles, themes and aspirations. The members manage to work well in this format, and their styles coalesce into an intricate sort of pleasant discord. Their 2002 album You Forgot It In People was a key contribution to the flourishing of the indie and alternative music scene in the early 2000’s. I’m looking forward to this show because I’m not sure what or who I’ll see or hear, other than something loud and interesting.

CU Counterpart: Tara Terra

Shamir (Blue Stage), 8:15 p.m.

Shamir sticks out of the musical community like a sore thumb, and I mean this in the best sense. He is an alternative/hip-hop/pop musician and just a plain weirdo. No, not plain – anything but. His show is going to be unlike anything you’ve seen before, I promise.

CU Counterpart: Bones Jugs (In spirit)

Beach House (Green Stage), 8:30 p.m.

Ambient rock duo Beach House are Friday’s closer. Their spacey variety of experimental rock is laced with reflective, poignant vocals, and their live shows are immersive and hypnotizing, and reputedly pretty spectacular. This show will wrap up the evening quite well, and probably be just enough to push your mind over the edge of full blown.

C-U Counterpart: Motes

Acts not listed that are also playing on Friday: Whitney (4:15 p.m.), Julia Holter (4:35 p.m.), Moses Sumney (5:15 p.m.), Mick Jenkins (6:15 p.m.), Carly Rae Jepsen (6:25 p.m.), The Range (7:15 p.m.)

SATURDAY, July 16th

Kevin Morby (Green Stage), 2:30 p.m.

If you’re just now arriving at your second day of Pitchfork, a good way to start things off would be with Kevin Morby. Heavily influenced by Dylan and Cohen, Morby processes these influences through a modern filter and with a more polished sound. And what kind of music festival patron doesn’t love a good Dylan/Cohen slow sway-dance?


Royal Headache (Blue Stage), 2:45 p.m.

I would be checking out the Kevin Morby show if it weren’t for the pure awesomeness of Australian punk/garage rock band, Royal Headache. One of the most enjoyable things about music festivals is exploring a whole bunch of new music all at once in preparation, and it never fails that this process results in a massive discovery each time – when you stumble upon something big. For me, Royal Headache is the best kept secret of Pitchfork 2016. The guitar-driven punches of music found on their 29-minute sophomore effort, High, are the kind that leave you wanting another thirty seconds added on every time. This show will help you shake off the last of Friday’s hangover by smashing it out of you with a good old-fashioned mosh pit.

C-U Counterpart: Withershins

Digable Planets (Red Stage), 3:20 p.m.

If you were a 90’s kid, you’ve probably heard the song “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat).” Even if you’re not, you’ve probably still heard it along the line somewhere. It’s a catchy-as-hell hip hop song with that horn hook, and Digable Planets tear it up with that one. Take a trip back to the 90’s and check their set out.

C-U Counterpart: Trouble Chasin’

Savages (Green Stage), 4:15 p.m.

Savages are a post-punk band that take riot grrl rock music and rip it a new one. “Post-punk” fits this all-female British band fine, but you can hear streaks of goth and metal music in there as well. They managed to top their 2013 debut Silence Yourself with January’s thorny Adore Life and its dark, sneering single. They also know their shit when it comes to instrumentation, and they wail on their guitars so angrily that you might take it personally.

C-U Counterpart: Euriah

Blood Orange (Red Stage), 5:15 p.m.

Devonte Hynes is a recording artist, singer-songwriter, and producer, with hundreds of projects that can be attributed to him. Generally labelled as “alternative,” he fits the literal definition of the word, changing projects and titles as often as he changes sounds. He has recorded three albums under the moniker Blood Orange, and has also written songs for musicians such as FKA Twigs and Carly Rae Jepsen, both of which are also playing Pitchfork this year. 

C-U Counterpart: Frank Leone

Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds (Red Stage), 7:25 p.m.

So this will be the biggest event of Pitchfork this year. What can I say about Brian Wilson? He’s the brains and main creative force behind the surf/classic rock group the Beach Boys, one of the biggest, most influential bands in American history. Their album Pet Sounds regularly makes lists of the best albums ever recorded. Ever. It is one of those quintessential releases of the 1960’s – full of idealization and warmth, and obsession with love. It also possesses themes of doubt, confusion, and loneliness, and chronicles the plight of its creator. Pitchfork itself rated “God Only Knows” number one on their list of the best 200 songs of the 1960’s. Yeah. Brian Wilson has had quite the life, and been through a lot, so I’m not really sure what to expect from him for this show, but it’s still the must-see of the weekend.

Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals (Blue Stage), 7:45 p.m.

There is no chance that I will see this show. I will be so deeply locked in my hopefully somewhat close spot for the Brian Wilson set that there is no way. However, if the Beach Boys aren’t your thing, that’s absolutely fine. A lot of people don’t like surf rock, or just aren’t into that band. If rap and R&B is more your vibe, then the Anderson .Paak show will be a great place for you to be. His 2016 release Malibu has earned high acclaim from critics in the rap world, and he’s a force to be reckoned with.

C-U Counterpart: Mother Nature

Sufjan Stevens (Green Stage), 8:30 p.m.

Sufjan will be the culmination of the event (for me). Since I’m not attending Sunday, this will be the last set I see, and it’ll be perfect. Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens burrowed a warm little hole in my heart back in the early 2000’s. His quietly picked banjo and delicate story-telling finds me rapt to this day, and I hope that’ll never change. He broke the indie music scene wide open back in 2005 with his fifth album, the fantastic Illinois, and his charming state project, in which he planned to make an album for every state in the Union. Not surprisingly, that plan didn’t come to fruition, but it helped him gather a cult following like lightning. Sufjan has had peaks and valleys in his career, leaving his classic sound for something more experimental. Last year’s release, Carrie and Lowell, saw him return to form, and it struck a chord with fans and critics alike. Don’t let the softness fool you, though – Sufjan is known to put on a hell of a show, one that is both comprehensive and wildly entertaining. If you’re at Pitchfork, you are probably at least partially a fan of indie music. If this is true, then you’ve got no excuse not to see this indie music icon.

C-U Counterpart: The Fights

If soft singer-songwriters aren’t your thing, don’t worry — Sufjan has joyful anthems, too. Here’s (arguably) his best one.

Acts not listed that are also playing on Saturday: Circuit Des Yeux (1:00 p.m.), RP Boo (1:45 p.m.), Girl Band (1:45 p.m.), Jenny Hval (3:45 p.m.), BJ the Chicago Kid (3:45 p.m.), Martin Courtney (4:45 p.m.), Super Furry Animals (6:15 p.m.), Jlin (6:45 p.m.), Holly Herndon (8:45 p.m.)

SUNDAY, July 17th

Homme (Blue Stage), 2:50 p.m.

To this day, I still maintain that former Chicago hip-hop/indie band Kids These Days were one of the best things to shake up music in a long time. Now, however, they’ve been broken up for a couple of years, and a ton of their members have gone on to do massive things (Vic Mensa and The Social Experiment, namely). Homme, however, features the vocals and instrumentation of Macie Stewart, one of the most integral parts of KTD. Now she, too, is doing big things by playing Pitchfork in her hometown. That must feel pretty awesome. (BH)

NAO (Blue Stage), 3:45 p.m.

There’s just something about London-based musicians right now that has them leagues ahead of the rest of the world in terms of electronic production. NAO’s voice complements this style almost effortlessly, and her recently-wrapped-up U.S. tour with Mura Masa sold out nearly every show, proving that she’s truly set for indie fame. Her new album, For All We Know is due out on July 29th. (BH)

C-U Counterpart: B0ycut

Empress Of (Blue Stage), 4:45 p.m.

Empress Of is, much like N.A.O., a singer who excels greatly when paired with electronic production. Unlike N.A.O., however, her work takes a more strident, anthemic tone. Regardless, it surely is unique, and I can’t wait to see how something like this translates to a live setting. (BH)

Jeremih (Green Stage), 6:15 p.m.

I don’t know much about Jeremih, except that he is a frequent collaborator with Chance the Rapper, who arguably dropped the best album of the year this year. And honestly, that’s enough for me to give this guy’s show a shot. (BH)

Others performing on Sunday that aren’t listed here: FKA Twigs, Miguel, The Hotelier, Kamasi Washington, and many more.

You can find all the information about schedule and such over at Pitchfork Music Festival’s website.

All contributions by Julia McAnly and Boswell Hutson.

Related Articles