After spending the weekend in Chicago’s Union Park, former “Hip Hop Hotdish” hosts Paul Jensen (K.K. Slider) and Eli Hammarsteen (DJ B.F.E.) sat down with fellow attendee Connor Campbell to discuss some of their highlights and favorite moments from this year’s installment of Pitchfork Music Festival
Paul: Connor, would you mind introducing yourself and giving a bit of your background for those unfamiliar?
Connor: I’m Connor, I’m a music business major at Columbia and I work in the live music scene right now, so I’m coming from the perspective of the festival as an overall music experience, and not just the quality of the performances
Paul: So what did you guys think of the first day of the festival?
Connor: We saw Open Mike Eagle first, he’s good, he’s always good though. He’s from South Side Chicago and it’s always great to see him play here. His has a unique alternative approach to hip hop, which is cool and very fitting for a festival like Pitchfork.
Paul: After Open Mike Eagle, I caught a bit of Saba. That was great. I wasn’t very familiar with his music but I really enjoyed it and had a great time.
Connor: It definitely helps having a Chicago local play the festival, who is really beloved by the community, especially coming off such a strong record. I thought he sounded good, the energy was there. Overall I think there was a lot going for that performance.
Paul: I was a bit disappointed that Earl dropped from the lineup, let alone the week before the festival, but I think they did a good job of re-arranging the roster accordingly. There wasn’t a noticeable absence or gap in the festival like there typically is when artists drop.
Connor: Yeah, I think they adjusted it well.
Paul: After that we saw Syd. That was great. She previewed some songs off of the new Internet record that had dropped that same day.
Eli: That was cool.
Connor: Yeah, the Internet stuff was tight. They all came out for a couple songs and it was a lot of fun. It was an odd choice to have them share a set with Syd, considering they were all in town for the release party of their new record, but whatever.
Connor: Mount Kimbie was one of my favorite sets of the weekend.
Paul: Absolutely. They had a really great energy.
Connor: That was just a really tight set. It was paced very well. It felt like a DJ set. I thought it was great how they started with their lower BPM tracks and kept increasing the energy throughout the set. It’s interesting because the songs really hold up well without the original vocals, like “Blue Train Lines” featuring King Krule, so that really impressed me. It’s always cool when a group like that can translate electronic music into a great performance.
Paul: Then there was Tame Impala headlining that first night.
Connor: It’s odd to talk about because it felt like one of the most underwhelming sets of the whole weekend because of the sound issues. Pitchfork is not the type of festival equipped to hold a large volume of people. Based on location alone, based in Chicago as a city festival, there are only so many things you can do in terms of noise ordinances, and keeping all these people, extreme crowding, that's another issue of them not having counter programming against the headliners, at least not anymore. Everyone ends up at the same stage, and especially with an act like Tame Impala, you’re going to have a lot of problems trying to wrangle all of those people and have it sound great across the whole field.
Paul: It didn’t sound terrible from where I was, but when I noticed a similar problem the following night, so I could see the issue. But on a strictly performance level, what did you think?
Connor: It's as good as I have seen them, they are playing a lot of music that is three years old or older for the most part, so they can put on a great performance, technically, and they sound good but it was a bit of an underwhelming choice for a headliner at this point, considering they didn't have any new music.
Paul: I’ve always wanted to see them live and I enjoyed it but I do agree that there wasn’t anything new to the experience. It did very much feel like a dated tour set.
Paul: Pitchfork Day Two, Saturday we started with..
Connor: Moses Sumney! That was one of my favorite sets of the weekend. Overall, it just sounded great.
Paul: Agreed, his stage presence, I just think he translated his music really well into a live performance.
Connor: Which is interesting, because I think his sound is one that can so easily be disadvantaged by a festival setting, there are so many quiet moments on those tracks, and he has a very intimate sound. But overall, I left very impressed.
Eli: Yeah, everyone seemed to be very receptive to his performance, everyone was very respectful.
Connor: Blood Orange was a another highlight for me on Saturday.
Connor: The whole package of his performance for really.
Paul: The visuals, his setlist, their chemistry as a band.
Connor: The new tracks sounded great. He also announced his new album, “Negro Swan,” at the performance. Really just the whole performance as a package was incredible. I think Pitchfork does a great job of bringing a diverse roster that really caters and speaks to a lot of different demographics, and I think this year was a great example of this.
Paul: I would definitely agree. I feel like that speaks to this year’s lineup very well.
Paul: We missed This Is Not This Heat, which I was incredibly bummed about. That would have been a lot of fun.
Connor: We did catch Kelela though.
Paul: That was one of my favorite performances of Saturday. I had a lot of fun at her show. Her experimental production really shown through at her performance and overall it was a very enjoyable performance.
Connor: I thought that Fleet Foxes’ headlining performance on Saturday was great. The rain was a cool factor that worked in their favor.
Paul: It felt like it was almost summoned in a way (laughs). They had visuals of a winter
Connor: I thought it was a gorgeous performance, and the inclimate weather definitely added an element to their performance.
Paul: I loved their stage setup and I think the festival really utilized the group’s unique brand of chamber folk to the most of its capabilities.
Paul: Ok, Sunday. Pitchfork Day 3.
Connor: Three was a whole day, a whole lot of music. We started with Kelly Lee Owens which was great.
Paul: I really liked her set, I always love when Pitchfork is inclusive of house music in their lineup.
Connor: After that we saw Smino.
Eli: I really liked Smino’ set.
Connor: He covered (T-Pain’s) Chopped and Screwed, so just off that alone, a great set (laughs).
Paul: Yeah, there were a lot of covers throughout the weekend, Japanese Breakfast covered “Dreams” by the Cranberries, Raphael Saadiq covered Solange.
Connor: Noname was great.
Paul: That was probably my favorite performance on Sunday. Her “Telefone” mixtape is one of my favorites from that year and her live arrangements added a lot to the music. I was thrilled to hear her previewing new music and her energy throughout the set worked well.
Connor: She’s also just a very funny personality.
Paul: Agreed. Then we went to Alex G.
Eli: Yeah, Alex G was very good. It wasn’t a total sadboy set like I had expected.
Connor: I think his live sets are great in that the arrangements are a bit more upbeat considering how lo-fi his music typically is. And he always throws in more high energy songs like “Brick” which helps to show off his diversity as an artist. His stage presence is funny to me, because he is reserved, but very comedic every time that he talks.
Paul: What about Japandroids?
Connor: I loved their set, that was honestly one of my favorites of the festival. Its great festival music. I jammed and danced and it was a blast. It was just a huge party rock dance party. As a closing set to a weekend, it was a pretty great way to go.
Paul: Wrapping it up, Lauryn Hill was great. She was actually pretty early considering her track record with being late.
Connor: She only ended up being about 20 minutes late, and she also played about 20 minutes past the noise curfew.
Eli: Pretty good for Lauryn Hill though! (laughs)
Connor: It was interesting because her live arrangements of her music sounded a lot differently than the studio versions.
Paul: Which is fairly similar to what she did at Soundset last year.
Eli: She played her whole “Miseducation” record for the most part, minus a few tracks, with the tracklist scattered throughout.
Paul: She had a great speech at the end, one of the most wholesome moments at the festival, describing working towards that record, what it means to her, and a retrospective look at it twenty years later.
Connor: It was a great note to close the festival on.
Paul: Wrapping up the entire festival, what was your guys’ thoughts?
Connor: It was good, I’ve gone three times to the festival, it wasn’t my favorite year but it definitely kept the Pitchfork legacy going. I would say Sunday was my favorite day.
Paul: Me too.
Eli: Sunday was a good one.
Paul: Headliners, what did you think?
Connor: I think next year they could probably have a bit stronger or a more relevant lineup.
Paul: What did you make of the location?
Eli: Union Park was a great location, everything was spread out, and easily accessible. It was also a very easy commute.
Connor: I can’t see it moving many places because locations similar to that in Chicago are fairly limited but I think it's the perfect spot for the festival.
Paul: Agreed, I think Union Park is Pitchfork Fest.
Connor: And in terms of alternative entertainment at the park (the poster sale, the record tents, all the promotional vendors). All in all, it's a lot of fun.
Paul: It was great, it was good, not as relevant or noteworthy in previous years in my opinion. Considering this was my third year, I think it was their most diverse lineup so far, but I don’t think it was necessarily as encompassing for 2018 as the festival was for previous years. It was a very enjoyable experience though. I plan on returning.
Eli: First year. Would go back, I hope the headliners are a bit more relevant in the future, all of the Blue Stage shows were really good.
Connor: The Blue Stage is always incredible.
Connor: I would say none of the highs this year met the highs in other years.
Paul: I 100% agree. In previous years, after the headliner would play, I felt like there was a sense of conclusiveness at the end of each night, and I didn’t necessarily feel that as much this year.
Connor: The Blue Stage performances we caught before the headliners each night honestly were more enjoyable to me than the headliners.
Connor: What are your hopes for headliners next year?
Paul: More forward thinking and progressive artists. More hip hop acts similar to what they have done in previous years. This year I think they went a little bit too much on the alternative hip hop side of things. I also think in 2018, you have to have more hip hop on your roster considering it's the most relevant genre in music right now. I get that its Pitchfork, and they are a driving force in indie rock, but I feel like they have incorporated hip hop more effectively in previous years so I hope that they continue to do so.
Eli: If Earl was there, I feel that it would have rounded out the festival well.
Connor: Biggest hope for a headliner next year?
Paul: Frank. Hands down. Frank Ocean.
Connor: I’d love to see Against All Logic play, and considering the festival’s history with Nicolas Jaar, I don’t think it’s necessarily out of the question.
Eli: Beach House would be great, considering how enjoyable their last record was. And they are very much Pitchfork’s crowd. Lil B would be great (laughs).
Paul: All in all, it was a great time and I look forward to what the festival has to offer in future years.