When it came time for her set, Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast practically jumped her way on stage. Her undeniable energy was also exhibited in her outfit, consisting of a long-sleeved racing top, sparkly skirt, and space-buns hairstyle. Originating from Philadelphia, Zauner showcased her multi-instrumentalist abilities by switching from guitar to synths to just vocals throughout the show. Backing her up was her band, consisting of a guitarist, bassist, and drummer who provided vocals at times. The set was a good mix of Zauner’s dark, dreamy tracks (“Heft,” “Boyish,” “The Body Is a Blade”) contrasting with her happier, synth-driven songs (“The Woman That Loves You,” “Everybody Wants to Love You,” “Machinist”) that proved perfect for dancing. The band also surprised the audience with a hard-rock cover of “Dreams” by The Cranberries at the end of their set, resulting in an entire-crowd sing along.
“Chicago! Wassup wassup wassup WASSUP?!” were the first words out of Noname’s mouth as she took her place on the Red stage. Announcing that she was “a little bit high,” Noname first played some new tracks off of her upcoming album, words coming out of her mouth faster than one could comprehend them. However, she soon stopped, saying that she had smoked too much and thus forgot the lyrics. After playing her hit “Diddy Bop” off of 2016’s Telefone, she stopped her set to ask for the photographers to clear out of the photo pit before continuing on with her set, rapping her verses on Smino’s “Amphetamine” and Mick Jenkins’ “Comfortable.” Throughout her set, Noname enjoyed using the audience to enhance her music, having them adlib various “oo’s” and playing some call and response games. For her last two tracks, Noname played “Forever,” during which Ravyn Lenae (who had performed at the fest earlier that day) and Joseph Chilliams came out. This was followed directly with “Shadow Man,” during which Saba and Smino (both performers at the fest as well) contributed their verses. Despite some hiccups, with Noname’s guest appearances and conversational demeanor, her performance had the crowd swelling with Chicago pride.
(Sandy) Alex G and his band members walked on the Blue stage to the tune of Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is A Highway,” giving their set an ironic start. However, it soon got serious as singer Alex Giannascoli led the band’s moody instrumentals with his soft, melancholy vocals. After playing through “Forever,” “Proud,” and “Bobby,” which the crowd chanted and swayed along to accordingly, Giannascoli welcomed Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast on stage to sing “Brite Boy” with him. Harder songs such as “Brick” and “Horse,” played toward the end of their set, started a mosh pit in the middle of the crowd, but by “Sportstar,” the audience’s eyes were once again glued to the stage, bodies swaying along. After the last chords of “County” rang out, the crowd immediately demanded “One more song!” most likely because the band never played their most popular track, “Mary.” This was enough to get Giannascoli back on stage, but only to scream “HEY, SHUT UP! WE CAN’T DO ONE MORE SONG!” before mumbling a meek “Thank you” and exiting for good.
Although Japandroids are only two men strong – Brian King on guitar and vocals and David Prowse on drums – they built a wall of sound during their set at the Blue stage. Opening with “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life” off of their 2017 album of the same name, the crowd began moshing and singing along immediately. King’s speak-singing and Prowse’s insane drumming skills made for the perfect environment for this. After playing straight through “International” and “Heart Sweats,” King announced that “The boys are back in fucking town!” and then dedicated “Younger Us” to their original Chicago fans. Basically every song in their set was melded together with seamless transitions and formidable breakdowns and builds, making it an exciting listening experience. Naturally, they ended their show with “The House That Heaven Built,” inspiring several crowd surfers and lots of head nodding.
Stopping at Pitchfork during her 20th anniversary tour of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Ms. Lauryn Hill made sure that everyone was aware of her star power. Dressed in a wedding gown with a collared shirt over top and asymmetrical makeup, Hill sang through every song on the album, even though it meant going nearly 30 minutes over when her set was supposed to end. Her band consisted of a brass section, guitarist, bassist, drummer, two keyboardists, a hype man, and three backup singers with matching outfits down to their shoes. Perhaps the climax of her set was “Forgive Them Father,” during which videos of police brutality played on the monitor and Hill broke down crying. Also notable was when the cameras flashed to Chance the Rapper singing his heart out during “Nothing Even Matters,” drawing a large response from the crowd. Although Hill appeared to be having issues with her mic stand as well as her band – she kept on pointing to certain members and requesting that things be turned down or adjusted – nothing could stop her set from being as meaningful as it was. Before playing her hit “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Hill made a speech about the album: “There was a tremendous amount of resistance when I made this album… [but] I felt a responsibility to soldier through the adversity to speak for my generation… God and the universe blessed this endeavor and blessed people through this music. It was so huge that I had to step back from it… I just wanna thank you. Thank you for sharing this moment with us. If this album touched your souls, it’s because the universe gifted you this music and just used me as the medium.” Despite the slight technical difficulties, these words from Hill brought her down to earth and made for an awe-inspiring moment.
Chicago native Paul Cherry opened the second day of the festival. His yacht rock dream pop fusion of a sound provided good vibes and had the crowd swaying in agreement upon the first song, “Hello Again.” While Cherry played guitar, his extremely talented band backed him up on drums, bass, and keys. His set consisted of every song off of new album Flavour, except for an impromptu cover of John Martyn’s “Couldn’t Love You More.” Cherry’s excitement to be performing at Pitchfork was clear, and the crowd reciprocated his enthusiasm by jamming out, even to instrumental track “Cherry Emoji.” WNUR also got the chance to interview Cherry after his set – check that out here!
As soon as he walked on stage, Berhana’s raw talent was undeniable. Opening up the set with the groovy “Janet,” the crowd began moving and singing along immediately. His voice was incredibly smooth, running over intricate riffs with unbelievable ease. His DJ backed him up, playing intriguing samples before tracks and turning the bass up so high that you could feel it in your throat. With an infectious smile in between every song, Berhana played his cover of “Whole Wide World,” “Brooklyn Drugs,” and “80s,” intermixed with a few new songs including the just released “Wildin’.” He claimed he wanted to try out these new songs on the audience, and asked for everyone to put their “phones away for a second and just listen.” Berhana closed the set with his most popular song “Grey Luh,” sending everyone away with a smile and sense of relaxation.
London-based rocker Nilüfer Yanya started her set alone except for her mint green guitar, and was then met with her band – a saxophonist (doubling as keys) , keyboardist (doubling as bass), and drummer. Her rich Alanis Morissette-esque vocals complimented the jazz rock instrumentals nicely, providing soft jams and slow builds. Yanya played all of the tracks she has out, along with a few new songs (“Angels” and “Heavyweight Champion of the Year”) and a Pixies cover. Although her sound was intriguing, it did grow a bit repetitive over the course of the set – but for someone just starting out in the U.S., Yanya is well on her way to becoming an indie-rock darling.
Grunge-rock duo Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad took over the Blue Stage Saturday afternoon along with touring members Ross Wallace-Chait and Kevin Boog. As I listened to other audience member’s conversations, it seemed that the biggest topic in discussion was singer and guitar player Tucker’s current transition from female to male. Specifically, the group of girls next to me were wondering how Tucker’s voice change would alter their sound, once notable for the high-pitched harmonies between Tucker and Tividad. However, as they played through their set, it became apparent that Girlpool had not lost, but gained something. Tucker’s now octave-lower voice added a more rounded sound to their slow-building discography, introducing new harmonies and a pleasant rasp. More than anything, it was clear how much passion both Tucker and Tividad still had for their music, playing through “It Gets More Blue,” “123,” and “I Like That You Can See It,” “Ideal World,” and “Your Heart” as if it meant the world to them.
As soon as Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes stepped out in a Kangol driving cap and tiny glasses, it was apparent this performance was going to be old school. As vintage-looking footage of cars, an old interview with Outkast, and 90s music videos played on the screen behind him, Hynes proved that he is indeed a talent to behold. Switching from playing keys to guitar and back to keys, Hynes dove into his discography with the voice of a 70s crooner, à la The Commodores or early Prince. Highlights of his set included “Desirée,” “Best to You,” “You’re Not Good Enough,” and “E.V.P.” He also played a few tracks off of his forthcoming album that was just announced to be released on August 25th. However, the real star of Blood Orange’s show was his band – his two back up singers stunned with chill-inducing voices, and his saxophonist, drummer and bassist provided intricate funk-driven instrumentals. In addition, everyone on stage seemed to be having so much fun and bouncing off of each other’s energy. At one point, Hynes even broke out into dance, making the crowd – and his band – go wild. It was truly a feel-good set for everyone involved.
Seasoned rockers The War On Drugs seemed to bring everyone together. Teenage girls were in the crowd amongst married couples, 50-year-old men, and boys in their 20s. Frontman Adam Granduciel delivered his signature rasp and complicated guitar riffs in a leather jacket and Slowdive t-shirt, while the rest of his band followed along in perfect time. As they played through hits such as “Pain,” “Strangest Thing,” and “Brothers,” a combination of happy dancing and air guitar took over the crowd. Although not all of their lyrics can be described as joyous, The War On Drugs’ music seemed to put a look of peace and contentment on the faces all around me. The last third of their set was the highlight, playing “Red Eyes,” “Under the Pressure,” and “Burning” back to back. The combination of those three builds was enough to leave anyone in awe.
Our first set of the day was Tierra Whack, the rapper that Pitchfork booked after Earl Sweatshirt canceled on Monday. Whack was accompanied by her DJ, Zach, who warmed up the crowd by playing hits such as “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley and “Feel Good Inc” by the Gorillaz. After about 15 minutes, Whack came on stage, bursting with energy. Sporting a denim bucket hat and denim dress, she led the crowd in several call and response chants, including “Crack kills if it don’t get you Whack will” before playing “Toe Jam.” Her signature super fast flow was definitely impressive, but her efforts to get the crowd moving didn’t seem to be working. After playing “Pet Cemetery” off of her newest project Whack World to little response, she asked the crowd “Alright y’all, what do you wanna hear?” A group of people yelled back “Fruit Salad,” and Whack obeyed. Luckily, this helped to boost the crowd’s energy for the remainder of the set.
From the Westside of Chicago, Saba was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd (a “Saba” chant even broke out before he came on stage). Wearing his own merch and Adidas track pants, Saba flashed his charming smile and announced that this was “going to be a special show.” Saba opened with the first track on his new album Care For Me, “BUSY/SIRENS,” and the crowd sang along to the chorus. He then told the audience that this was his first time playing in Chicago this year, explaining why the show was so special. After playing a few more tracks off of Care For Me (“BROKEN GIRLS,” “CALLIGRAPHY,” “FIGHTER,” “SMILE”) he switched to his 2016 album Bucket List Project. “Stoney” was the highlight of the set, with Saba’s energy on stage being matched by the crowd. Towards the end of the set, he also made a tribute to his cousin and fellow member of Pivot Gang, John Walt, who was fatally stabbed last February. He ended the set with “LIFE,” which got the crowd jumping and yelling for more – resulting in him playing one more song to appease them.
“Today is all about Chicago and all about The Internet,” Syd said as she came on stage, winning lots of applause from the crowd. Although she has her own solo music, Syd is also a part of the band The Internet alongside Steve Lacy, Matt Martians, Christopher Smith and Patrick Paige II, whose album Hive Mind came out yesterday. However, at the start of her set Syd focused on her latest album, 2017’s Fin. She dedicated “Got Her Own” to “all the independent women out there,” and crooned her way through “Bad Dream/ No Looking Back.” Her performance was simple and effortless, and she even sat down on stage at one point to sing “Shake Em Off.” She then focused more on her collaborative projects, which was something I was not expecting but was grateful for. She played her hit song with Kaytranada, “YOU’RE THE ONE,” and even sang a little bit of “Take Me Away,” her feature on Daniel Caesar’s album Freudian. But this was not the biggest surprise that Syd had in store – after singing “Come Over” off of the newest The Internet record, Steve Lacy came out on stage to perform “La Di Da” and “Roll (Burbank Funk),” during which the rest of The Internet joined them. It was an extremely exciting end to an already impressive set, making it one of my favorites of the day.
Mount Kimbie performed at the blue stage, which felt like a whole different world compared to the crowds at red and green. The people waiting to see Mount Kimbie were a little bit older and more serious looking than those I had seen at Syd or Saba. You could tell they were purely there for the music. Mount Kimbie had an extremely impressive set, their ambient beats casting a spell over the crowd that resulted in a lot of head bobbing and trance-like dancing. The highlight of the set was “You Look Certain (I’m Not So Sure),” which was one of the few songs they played that involved vocals. The rest kind of all blended together, but in the best way. Their set definitely provided a much needed break from the crazy crowd that seemed to be the norm earlier in the day.
Speaking of a crazy crowd, pretty much everyone who was at the festival gathered shoulder to shoulder to see Tame Impala – and it was definitely a show. Tame Impala’s usual trippy visuals were heightened with lasers and strobe lights, and the band themselves played on a platform on the stage. They opened with “Let It Happen,” and an insane amount of confetti was released during the drop. However, after the excitement of that died down, some of the crowd began to get upset because the band’s equipment was pretty quiet. This sparked a “Turn it up!” chant that echoed throughout the crowd, but alas nothing was changed. As misty rain began to fall, they played “Mind Mischief,” “Elephant,” “Yes I’m Changing,” “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?” and “Eventually.” During this, I witnessed a fight, a person wearing a panda costume crowd surfing, and an adorable 6-year-old boy sitting on his Cool Dad’s shoulders. Although all seemed right again when Tame played “The Less I Know The Better,” I couldn’t help but feel a little disconnected from the band itself. They didn’t stray far from their recordings, and the extra platform on stage and poor sound quality didn’t help.
Photo by Eli Watson
Pitchfork announced on Monday that Earl Sweatshirt has canceled his set at their festival. The elusive rapper also called off his European tour in June due to his struggles with depression and anxiety. This change comes just days before Pitchfork Fest begins on Friday, July 20th.
As a result, the set times of Saba and Syd have been shifted and rapper Tierra Whack will now be taking Sweatshirt’s place at 4:15 on Friday. You can find the updated schedule here.
Whack released her first album in May of this year, Whack World. With 15 songs each lasting a minute, to say the project is a wild ride would be an understatement. One would think that with such short tracks the album would play more like one cohesive song – but surprisingly, each is different enough to stand alone. From the silly “Cable Guy” to the more serious shift found in the following song “4 Wings,” Whack is able to show off her versatility in just two minutes. In fact, placing contrasting songs next to each other is a pattern throughout the album. However, that’s not to say that the songs don’t flow together well; Whack provides several impressive transitions, most notably in between “Silly Sam” and “‘Fruit Salad.” It’s as if she is trying on many different hats, never quite deciding on which one to choose. Almost all of the songs are intriguing, making the minute they last somewhat of a tease – but perhaps that was Whack’s very intention. To make the project even more interesting, she also released an audiovisual version on YouTube (view it below).
Although festival-goers are sure to be disappointed about Sweatshirt’s cancellation, Whack stepping up to the plate is definitely something to be excited about.
Courtney Barnett by Finn Hewes
Saba is just one of many Chicago-born-and-raised artists to be featured at the festival. After releasing several mixtapes, Saba made his debut with 2016’s Bucket List Project and collaborated with Chance the Rapper on “Angels” in homage to Chicago. On 2018’s Care For Me released in April, Chance returned the favor by featuring on standout track “LOGOUT.”
Listen if you like: Chance the Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Noname
Fav tracks: “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME,” “Photosynthesis,” “LIFE”
Even if she hasn’t been singing on them, it’s likely that some of your favorite R&B tracks were produced by Syd. Starting out as an audio engineer, she was apart of Odd Future until 2016, then becoming the frontwoman of supergroup The Internet with former Odd Future bandmate Matt Martians. Although she is often collaborating with Tyler, The Creator, Daniel Caesar, and Steve Lacy, Syd put out a solo album in 2017, Fin. Up next for Syd is the release of The Internet’s highly anticipated comeback album, Hive Mind, on July 20th – the very day she is set to perform at Pitchfork Fest.
Listen if you like: Odd Future, Steve Lacy, Daniel Caesar
Fav tracks: “Body,” “Dollar Bills,” “Come Over” (The Internet)
One of the scene’s most elusive rappers, Earl Sweatshirt is making his return to the stage at Pitchfork Fest after canceling most of his recent European tour due to his battle with anxiety and depression. Like Syd, Earl was also a member of Odd Future and has since collaborated with the likes of Frank Ocean, Flying Lotus, Tyler, The Creator, and Vince Staples. With his last studio release being 2015’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, rumors have been swirling for a while now about a possible new album in the works. His set at Pitchfork should prove to be quite telling on that front.
Listen if you like: Kevin Abstract, Frank Ocean, Vince Staples
Fav tracks: “Sunday,” “Wool,” “Sasquatch”
Alt-rock darling and Pitchfork favorite Courtney Barnett is making a stop at Pitchfork Fest after touring her new album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, for the past few months. (We were fortunate enough to review her Chicago show in May, check that out here). Before her latest solo album, Barnett worked with Kurt Vile on a collaborative record, Lotta Sea Lice, released in 2017. The straight-to-the-point crooner is set to be a crowd pleaser at this year’s fest.
Listen if you like: Kurt Vile, Snail Mail, Angel Olsen
Fav tracks: “Over Everything” (with Kurt Vile), “Pedestrian at Best,” “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch”
Known for their lo-fi beats and unique instrumentals, British duo Mount Kimbie came to be known from 2010’s debut Crooks & Lovers. 2013’s Cold Spring Fault Less Youth saw collaboration with King Krule, and their most recent release, Love What Survives, features King Krule as well as James Blake on select tracks. Their chill vibe might prove perfect for laying on the grass and taking a breather from the fest.
Listen if you like: King Krule, James Blake, Bibio
Fav tracks: “William,” “You Took Your Time” (ft. King Krule), “We Go Home Together” (ft. James Blake)
Psych-rock legends Tame Impala are set to be headlining Pitchfork Fest’s Friday lineup. Amid a hiatus in 2017 and rumors of the band’s disintegration, Pitchfork will be Tame’s first show in the U.S. since last summer’s Panorama Festival. Although their latest album, Currents, came out in 2015, the band’s members have been keeping busy on side projects and released a collaborative single with ZHU titled “My Life” in March.
Listen if you like: Beach Fossils, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Pond
Fav tracks: “Yes I’m Changing,” “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” “Mind Mischief”
Another hometown artist, Paul Cherry’s bedroom-pop aesthetic is all the rage right now. On his first full-length work, Flavour, released in March, Cherry has seemingly become more experimental with his sound. Tracks like “Like Yesterday” and “This High” include jazz and pop influences while still sticking somewhat to his quirky roots. Cherry also appears to enjoy commentating on the struggles of everyday millennial life dealing with social media and relationships, which is portrayed perhaps most prominently in the final track of Flavour, “Cherry Emoji.”
Listen if you like: Triathalon, Clairo, Mac Demarco
Fav tracks: “Hey Girl,” “Like Yesterday,” “Cherry Time”
Although he only has one self-titled EP under his belt, Berhana has made a name for himself via his infectiously sweet voice and style. The LA-based artist recently released his own rendition of Wreckless Eric’s 1977 hit, “Whole Wide World,” giving it his own twist with slow, simple piano and delightful backing vocals. With several festival dates on the radar for him this summer, including Pitchfork, Berhana is definitely one to watch.
Listen if you like: Yellow Days, Mac Ayres, Masego
Fav tracks: “Janet,” “Grey Luh,” “Brooklyn Drugs”
With an incredibly powerful voice and an even stronger sense of lyricism, Moses Sumney has all the makings of an up-and-coming R&B superstar. 2017’s Aromanticism has some insanely beautiful songwriting, and his newest single “Make Out in My Car” has been remixed by James Blake and Sufjan Stevens. Proving to be perfect for both emotional nights and sunny summer days, Sumney’s set is guaranteed to be breathtaking.
Listen if you like: Kevin Morby, Sufjan Stevens, serpentwithfeet
Fav tracks: “Don’t Bother Calling,” “Plastic,” “Make Out in My Car”
Punk duo Girlpool is known for their soft garage-rock sound, honest lyrics, and often raw vulnerability. Reminiscent of 90s femme rockers such as Letters to Cleo, Girlpool has two LPs already under their belt since forming in 2013. They returned in February of this year with single “Picturesong,” a collaboration with Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), a seemingly unlikely combination possibly signalling a forthcoming change in sound.
Listen if you like: Frankie Cosmos, IAN SWEET, Adult Mom
Fav tracks: “Chinatown,” “Blah Blah Blah,” “Picturesong”
Singer, writer, and producer extraordinaire Dev Hynes has collaborated with A$AP Rocky, Haim, Solange, and Willow Smith among others. His own solo project, Blood Orange, has seen success with its 80s electro-pop flair and political commentary. A set of two singles titled Black History released in February has been Blood Orange’s most recent solo endeavor since 2016’s Freetown Sound. Also an accomplished dancer, this set is guaranteed to be a full-out performance.
Listen if you like: Toro y Moi, Perfume Genius, TOPS
Fav tracks: “Christopher & 6th,” “Instantly Blank (The Goodness),” “You’re Not Good Enough”
Dad-rock favorites The War on Drugs, formed in the early 2000s by Kurt Vile and Adam Granduciel, deliver consistently soft yet hard-hitting rock ballads. After Vile left the band in 2008 to pursue his solo career, Granduciel took over, releasing the critically acclaimed album Lost In The Dream in 2014. With their latest release, 2017’s A Deeper Understanding, The War on Drugs have continued to reign supreme amongst music fans.
Listen if you like: Dawes, Band of Horses, Deerhunter
Fav tracks: “Pain,” “Red Eyes,” “Thinking Of A Place”
Folk-rock champions Fleet Foxes are the headliners for Saturday’s lineup. Earning popularity and critical acclaim alike with their debut self-titled album in 2008, Fleet Foxes have since released two more albums, the most recent being 2017’s Crack-Up. Known for soothing vocals and harmonious instrumentals, their set should prove to be a calm end to Saturday’s madness.
Listen if you like: Iron & Wine, The Shins, Alt-J
Fav tracks: “Oliver James,” “Crack-Up,” “Lorelai”
Evanston’s own Kweku Collins has been a part of the Chicago music scene since 2015, producing music in high school and now having released an EP and two LPs – Nat Love and Grey – in the past three years. The singer and rapper seems to be a favorite of Pitchfork, having earned a rating of 8 on Nat Love and Best New Track for “Stupid Rose,” so it only makes sense that he’ll be playing their festival.
Listen if you like: Topaz Jones, Duckwrth, Jalen Santoy
Fav tracks: “The Continuation,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Love It All”
An alumnae of the Chicago High School for the Arts, 19-year-old Ravyn Lenae also started making music in high school. In 2017, she released EP Midnight Moonlight and featured on tracks with Noname, Mick Jenkins, Saba, and Smino. Collaborating with Steve Lacy, she put out EP Crush in February of this year and even stopped by Northwestern to preview it (check out the Daily Northwestern’s coverage of it here).
Listen if you like: Steve Lacy, Kali Uchis, Jamila Woods
Fav tracks: “4 Leaf Clover,” “Computer Luv,” “Free Room”
Japanese Breakfast, aka Michelle Zauner, provides a mix of lo-fi beats and indie pop accompanied by her sugary-sweet voice. 2016’s Psychopomp put her on the map, shortly followed by 2017’s Soft Sounds from Another Planet. Zauner’s songwriting touches on themes of heartbreak, death, and celebrities, resulting in high levels of young-adult relatability.
Listen if you like: Alvvays, Car Seat Headrest, Soccer Mommy
Fav tracks: “Till Death,” “Road Head,” “Everybody Wants to Love You”
Chicago-born R&B powerhouse Noname got her start performing slam poetry and made it big after featuring on Chance the Rapper’s “Lost” in 2013. Her one and only release, 2016’s Telefone, features fellow Chicagoan colleagues and Pitchfork festival performers Saba, Smino, and Ravyn Lenae. With it being two years since Telefone, Noname has been hinting at new album Room 25 on Twitter, but no release date has been given yet.
Listen if you like: Saba, NxWorries, Goldlink
Fav tracks: “Sunny Duet,” “Diddy Bop,” “Shadow Man”
Alex G, or Alex Giannascoli, already has an extensive discography, having released five albums within four years. His brooding,“sadboy” sound gained him a loyal fan base, and his undeniable guitar talent resulted in him playing on a few tracks off of Frank Ocean’s Blond. His latest work, Rocket, was released in 2017 via Domino Records.
Listen if you like: Spencer Radcliffe, Florist, Starry Cat
Fav tracks: “Mary,” “Sandy (Bonus Track),” “Forever”
Seasoned garage rockers Japandroids returned in 2017 after a five year hiatus with eight-track album Near To The Wild Heart Of Life. Beforehand, they released three full-length LPs between 2009 and 2012. Known for their rowdy, DIY approach to live shows, Pitchfork fest is just one of many stops for Japandroids on their tour of the new album.
Listen if you like: Cloud Nothings, Wolf Parade, The Walkmen
Fav tracks: “The House That Heaven Built,” “Press Corps,” “Younger Us”
Queen of Soul Ms. Lauryn Hill is set to headline Sunday’s lineup at Pitchfork fest. Although it is her only LP, 1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill proved to be a smash success. Nominated for 11 Grammys and taking home five, the album soon became a classic. Hill has not put out any solo music apart from a MTV Unplugged live album in 2002, but listeners may recognize her song “Ex-Factor” as the sample on Drake’s hit single, “Nice For What.”
Listen if you like: Aaliyah, Brandy, Mary J. Blige
Fav tracks: “Superstar,” “Ex-Factor,” “Doo Wop (That Thing)”
To escape via daydreams from the Week Seven blues, Chicago’s North Coast Music Festival announced today the full lineup for the 2018 festival. Taking place in Union Park from August 31-September 2, “summer’s last stand” will be one to remember, with international headliners and a deep lineup that will keep you at the park all day long.
Starting out the weekend will be a pair of headlining names that made my jaw drop: Miguel and Axwell ^ Ingrosso. The former, Miguel, is well known for his hip-hop jam “Sky Walker” with Travis Scott, and his most recent album includes collaborations with Rick Ross, Kali Uchis and J. Cole, among others. One of my personal favorites is “waves – Tame Impala Remix” from his 2016 EP. The latter, Axwell ^ Ingrosso, is one of the biggest teams in electronic music today. Formerly members of the eternally important Swedish House Mafia, the duo has, both independently and together, played a huge role in shaping the genre for the up and coming producers of today.
Saturday brings DJ Snake in from France to headline. DJ Snake is a music festival favorite who has played Lollapalooza, Coachella, Ultra and the like. You’ll know him for both major throwbacks — “Turn Down for What” with Lil Jon (can you believe this came out in 2013??) — and slightly more recent throwbacks from his 2016 album “Encore” — “The Middle” with Bipolar Sunshine; “The Half” with Jeremih, Young Thug and Swizz Beatz; and “Let Me Love You” with Justin Bieber. DJ Snake will be joined Saturday by Vulfpeck, The Revivalists and RL Grime.
Finally, Sunday will close out the festival with U.K. legends Jamiroquai, a band that has been around since before I was born. They had a huge hand in the creation and exploration of the “future funk” genre, and will be returning to the United States for the first time in over a decade for a small grouping of tour dates, including North Coast. With a huge discography grown through decades of performing, be sure to check out Jamiroquai to get ready to get down on Sunday.
In addition, a heavy hitting group of four supporting headliners will help Jamiroquai finish the weekend on a high note. Yellow Claw and Gramatik are strong on the trap electronic music front, although Gramatik often brings out live musicians and has jazz roots in many of his tracks, while Mura Masa blends EDM with instrumentals and R&B influences. Finally, the band Moon Taxi will round out the group with upbeat hooks and a poppy, alternative rock sound.
Other artists I’m personally excited for include Snails, Two Friends and Bryce Vine on Friday; The Strumbellas, Robert DeLong, Cashmere Cat and Tauk on Saturday; and Jacob Banks, NoMBe, Maddy O’Neal and Cofresi on Sunday. The lineup also features Chicago-grown EDM favorites Porn and Chicken, 2FAC3D, Bentley Dean, Diz and more in a “Chicago’s Most Wanted” series of B2Bs. Tickets for the ninth-edition of the festival are on sale now, so proceed to checkout so you can check out this lineup of incredible artists with me this summer.
Donations for Sportsathon 2017 are now open! CLICK HERE to leave your contribution. Please ensure that your gift is being directed to WNUR Sports by clicking on the “WNUR Sportsathon” option under gift designation.
The Seventh Annual WNUR Sportsathon is set to kick off Friday, November 10th, at 6:30 PM and continue until Saturday, November 11th, at 9:00 PM. The event is over 24 straight hours of sports programming on WNUR 89.3 FM and WNURSports.com. This year’s Sportsathon will include live coverage of four different Northwestern sporting events, including a women’s soccer NCAA Tournament match on Sunday, November 12th.
For more information, including a full programming schedule, visit wnursports.com
October is a month jam-packed full of bands touring through town with their latest releases. To help you cut through the noise, we’ve put together a list of our concert recommendations for the upcoming week.
Monday, October 23rd: Boris at Thalia Hall
I’ve never seen Boris live, but someone told me they “shred” and it takes something very real to get a total stranger to vouch for you that hard. The Japanese experimental band are decades into their career, and with over twenty-four albums under their belt, it’s pretty impressive that they continue to churn out projects that have staying power in the “drone” circles. For this show, they are celebrating the 25th year of existence and touring their new record Dear, a mix of nostalgia and adventure that is bound to manifest itself pretty intensely in a live setting. 8:00 p.m. at Thalia Hall, 1807 S Allport, $20, thaliahallchicago.com
Tuesday, October 24th: Chelsea Wolfe and Youth Code at Metro
It’s the spookiest week of the year, and there’s nothing spookier than the piercing misery that goes into Chelsea Wolfe’s songs. She’s always been on the darker side of gothic chamber rock, but her latest album Hiss Spun is a dismal exercise in purging the psyche only to torment it. It’s also her heaviest, which means she will be performing with a very newfound aggression. Fresh! 8:00 p.m. at Metro, 3730 N Clark Street, $21, metrochicago.com
Wednesday, October 25th: Girlpool at Logan Square Auditorium
Wednesday, folk punk duo Girlpool is descending on Logan Square Auditorium with Philly rockers Palm and local trio Lala Lala in tow. While Girlpool is headlining the event, Wednesday offers a dynamic triple bill with groups spanning from angular rock to dense grunge punk. On tour for most of Fall, guitarist Cleo Tucker and bassist Harmony Tividad of Girlpool are building on the abrasive roots they laid with their debut Before the World Was Big by bringing a drummer into the mix. Powerplant, Girlpool’s sophomore release, offers a more expansive version of the caustic, candid punk for which they’ve become known.
6:30 p.m. at Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 North Kedzie Ave; emptybottle.com
Wednesday, October 25th: Making Movies at Schubas Tavern
Making Movies, an American band, is playing their third album I Am Another You, at Schubas on Wednesday, October 25. Based out of Kansas City, MO, the group consists of two sets of brothers. I Am Another You is replete with unique Afro-Latino rhythms and represents a form of protest, featuring the message: We Are All Immigrants. The album has received positive reviews from Remezcla, Clrvynt, and American Songwriter and was listed on NPR’s Alt.Latino “Favorite Music of 2017 (So far).”
8 p.m. at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave; $12, www.lh-st.com
Thursday, October 26th: The Lemon Twigs at Thalia Hall
Long Island sibling duo The Lemon Twigs are bringing their brand of 70s’ rock to Chicago this Thursday. With their most recent EP, Brothers of Destruction, out September 22nd, the D’Addario brothers continue to expand their repertoire of quirky pop with songs that range from smart to saccharine. Still a young band (Michael and Brian D’Addario are 17 and 19, respectively), The Lemon Twigs are sure to light up Thalia Hall Thursday with their signature flair and unbridled energy.
8 p.m. at Thalia Hall, 1807 S Allport St; $16; thaliahallchicago.com
Thursday, October 26th: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith at Schubas Tavern
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is playing her newest album The Kid at Lincoln Hall on Thursday, October 26. Smith integrates mellow vocals into synthesized sounds representing organic processes including rustling leaves and weather. She further used visual aids as a catalyst for her work or creates imagery to match her compositions. Her fifth studio album Ears was received well by the music community, featured in end-of-year album lists by sources including NPR and Norman Records.
8 p.m. at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave; $15; www.lh-st.com
Friday, October 27th: Nai Palm at Lincoln Hall
This Friday, the Melbourne-based band Hiatus Kaiyote’s lead singer Nai Palm will be debuting her solo album, Needle Paw. On this very day, the self-taught composer, instrumentalist, producer, vocalist, and poet will be performing at Lincoln Hall, Chicago along with a special guest, who has yet to be announced. Nai Palm, who championed the world over and musical icons like Questlove, Erykah Badu, Anderson Paak, and the late Prince, will be showcasing her new sound: the end result of a self-imposed challenge to explore immortality and timelessness within music by stripping away production to spotlight what she believes to be the core of the human soul, the voice. Fans can expect extremely honest, beautifully transparent, and complexly vulnerable arrangements of her guitar playing and layered vocals —Homebody and Crossfire/So Into You, the two singles from Needle Paw already out, are exactly that. About the main message behind this album, Nai Palm proclaimed, “I want to remind people that there are humans behind the music. Not just compression and reverb. The urgency for accuracy is not human. The exposed process is human, without the cheat codes.”
8 p.m. at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N Lincoln Ave; $25, www.lh-st.com
Saturday, October 28th, Ariel Pink at Thalia Hall
If you’ve thought about Ariel Pink as a presence even a little bit, it’s hard not to have a strong opinion about him. If you’re like me, you’d think the absurdist pop deconstructions that exist in sketch-like forms on albums like the essential Pom Pom or the more recent Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, it must be fascinating to see how his clammy, lo-fi melts into the air in a bright space like Thalia Hall. 8:30 p.m. at Thalia Hall, 1807 S Allport, $26.75, thaliahallchicago.com
Sunday, October 29th, A Thrilla Music Festival at Subterranean
Sunday night, a collection of local artists is descending on Subterranean for a night packed with fresh Chicago music. Jean Deaux, R&B singer and collaborator with top-notch talents like Mick Jenkins, Mykki Blanco, and Smino, leads the event, supported by equally as exciting local artists like rapper BIGBODYFIJI and up-and-coming singer Sundé. With a bill that is as deep as it is wide, A Thrilla Music Fest makes for a unique opportunity to see a collection of promising local talent in one place.
7 p.m. at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave; $5-15; www.subt.net
Sunday, October 29th, The Courtneys at Beat Kitchen
Sometimes music is nice. Nice music is nice to hear live. Especially where it’s jangly, it has some twang to it, it’s clearly reaching for some sort of simplistic bliss. It’s a good time, and it sounds an awful lot like what seeing Vancouver ban the Courtneys at Beat Kitchen this Sunday would be like. The singer is the drummer! Wild. 8:30 p.m. at Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave, $12, www.beatkitchen.com
This year marked my first experience at the Electric Forest Music Festival. While day one and two didn’t agree with our campsite, (it was rained out and my tent collapsed), the weather did not overshadow the tremendous impact that E-Forest had. The art instillations, musicians, diversity of stages, and beautiful setting made it feel like fiction. Above all, my interactions with artists made it a worthwhile weekend. Among those, our team was given the chance to interview the kingpin of Dirtybird Records, Claude Vonstroke. While starting in San Francisco, Dirtybird has made large waves within the house scene, through Claude’s distinctly funky sound, the famed Dirtybird BBQs, and the label’s rich roster of talented artists. Claude was as friendly as he was brutally honest, within regards to his relatively unexpected career trajectory, emerging projects, and the struggles associated with becoming a fulltime artist while developing a label. Our discussion is below.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Marc: Cool, well first off man it’s great to meet you. Thanks for speaking with WNUR. I’m originally a Bay Area fan so it’s special for me.
Claude: Cool, thank you.
Marc: So, for our listeners, I’m just going to briefly describe what you do (and your background). You have Dirtybird, which has been very successful, with an exceptional roster of artists from many different countries. From Eats Everything, to Justin Martin, to Nick Monaco for a time, (who is also from SF). You’ve also had the Sirius XM station the Bird House, which I tune into when I drive, and you have the Dirtybird BBQs.
Claude: Right, and now it’s (grown to) a campout festival.
Marc: So setting the stage, you have your fingers in a lot of different areas, as an artist, as a curator.
Claude: And we have the Birdhouse stages.
Marc: Yes, and bringing other artists out using your platform. So I wonder what was it like for you in SF right at the very beginning? Right when you were starting off?
Claude: So I started off in Oakland, and my roommate went to high school with me, and he was kind of a techy guy, nerdy kinda, doing math and stuff. And he taught me how to build PCs. He had taught me over the phone before I moved to Oakland, but then I started really doing it. So I was able to make these really cheap PCs that were really fast. And then we would get all this bootleg software from China and I was able to have a much better rig than I should have. So I made a documentary about how to become a famous… Well not a famous DJ, but how to become a DJ that gets gigs. I interviewed all like the most famous people at that time, so like Paul van Dike, Orbital, Derrick Carter, and Derrick Main.
Marc: I believe Derrick Carter actually used to play at our station. He had a residency.
Claude: Cool that’s awesome! Ya, so I got all these people on it, and I edited it, and directed it, did everything on these bootleg rigs, and then I (chuckle…) ran out of money completely. So I had to make all the music, because you need music to play under the interviews, so we just remade songs that sounded like the people who were on the interviews, and I used some songs from other people as well. But then by the end of it, basically, I knew how to make house music. Then I moved to SF. The whole time I was working in SF, at an editing place, video editing. But I was going out all the time too.
Marc: Damn that’s really interesting, I know SF has a music scene with a lot of culture and history, but it’s not the music central area. It’s not LA or New York…
Claude: So it’s not, I have this thing, like it’s a great place to have a clique. It’s like, really cliquey, and awesome, if you’re in one of the cliques. So I really liked Drum and Bass when I first got there… I could not get into that clique. Like forget it. I’m sure some people say the same thing about us.
Marc: What were some of the venues you went to? I’m just curious?
Claude: Cat Club, eventually they had it at a Pizza Place.
Marc: DNA Lounge?
Claude: No I’m talking about the Drum and Bass Party. They had it at a Pizza place upstairs, then they had it at Cat Club. Ya I went to DNA Lounge, I went to the Top every Wednesday. Justin had his thing there.
Marc: And what year was all this? What was the timeframe?
Marc: Word… DNA Lounge is closing. The owner mentioned it had been there since the first .com boom but that they’ve run out of funding.
Claude: It is? It had a good room. Are they selling it to some giant computer company? It’s not a bad room. I’ve had some good nights in there.
Marc: Good to hear, so you’ve kind of jumped into my next Q which is what it was like as an emerging artist in that area. I was wondering if you had any SF influences based on cultures that inspired you, from the Hyphy movement to funk?
Claude: Ya, I mean I was from Detroit, and if I had done straight Detroit music I don’t think it would have been as eclectic. So there was kind of this extra element of, hippie, slash funny weirdo, like hip-hop head, lower height vibe that got snuck in there.
Marc: That’s awesome. Another question I have, a bunch of our listeners as well as quite a few members of our station are students. Many of us are aspiring artists as well. What advice would you give, or impart to someone who is at the beginning of their career as a musician? Also what is it like starting a label?
Claude: It’s two different kinds of advice. It’s like, be realistic, and be unrealistic (more chuckles…). So be unrealistic but don’t be stupid. The only way that I was able, I’d figured out that I really wanted to do it, so I had to make a plan to do it. Not just like, “I’m just gunna DJ everywhere and smoke a bunch of weed, and hope that something happens.” You have to make a really hardcore plan about where you want to go and how you’re going to get there. Even if it seems completely ridiculous just do it anyway. Really like, don’t quit your job from like another six months to a year from when you think you should quit your job. Also get just a tiny stockpile of money, so you can actually survive not getting booked for six months. Do you know what I’m saying?
Claude: Just get a little bit of a nesting before you go full on. That’s good advice. Otherwise you can just burn out, two months. Be like, nahmean, we used to eat mustard sandwiches. Which is just like two pieces of bread with mustard, and sh** like that just to make it. If you get to the mustard sandwiches in the first two months, you’re not gunna be a DJ.
Marc: That’s really useful advice.
Claude: You gotta be able to go a little bit longer than that.
Marc: One thing I wanted to ask as well… I think often using the general umbrella term of House, there’s often not equal representation within both gender and marginalized communities. Which is kind of ironic because House and Techno started from marginalized groups. (Speaking towards gender) I know you have J.Phlip on your roster, and I’m wondering what you think about this issue?
Claude: Ya that’s a very big question. This is something I really also noticed after last year’s Campout. I just looked at the lineup and I was like, “Man, I think we f** up” (laughs around the room…). So now I booked 8 women, and all kinds of people. I just definitely, I’m not gunna have like, this only really (male dominated). I made a concerted effort this year, but I really think, it’s not like you need to try hard. There’s so many good people that it’s pretty easy, you just have to not be an idiot.
Marc: Do you think it’s improving, that there’s more representation now?
Claude: I think that also, a couple people in the higher range of events, like Garry Richards, even though he made a crazy video. He is thinking about it, and booking more women and stuff now. There are a few people that are doing it, and then there are always a few people that don’t give a f**. Just like how life goes forever right?
Marc: So one thing, I saw you at Bonnaroo, and your alter-ego project, which is actually just your name Barclay. So I was wondering if you wanted to talk about how that started?
Claude: That was originally what I wanted to do when I was eleven, was be a rapper. All that stuff was basically from when I was like eleven to fourteen. I had a flap hat, I had a jam box, I wanted to be RUN DMC. It was just like, I was from a different planet. I made up, technically, I said I would never admit that I was actually (from) another planet. But anyway, all that stuff is from my childhood, and I just thought that was what I was gunna do, but I just got really good at making House music… So I just said that I need to go back because that was so fun and interesting, and I just still want to do it.
Marc: So it’s your passion project? That’s really cool. So this is my last Q and then I’ll let you fly, no pun intended. But I was wondering, personally, who illustrates the album covers for Dirtybird because they’re crazy!? The animal morph combinations.
Claude: OK, this is also a passion project of mine. So every year for the last five or six years, we were just doing sh** art, for a long time. Like that little bird that I drew, it was just like, really bad. For someone who likes art I was like, “Uggh why are we doing such bad art”. So I just said why don’t I get all the best people that I can possibly find to do the art. So every year, I hire one person to do all the Dirtybird art, but it’s a different person every year. It’s always low brow pop surrealism, which is my favorite kind of art. It’s always weird as f**. So… this year’s guy his name is Dolk, and he’s from Spain. Last year was Dan May from Michigan, with the fuzzy monsters. The year before that was Rahul Delilo, from the Netherlands, with the combined animals. And then the year before that was Bram Carter, who’s just a really cool illustrator from Brighton, England. So they’re from everywhere.
Marc: Awesome we’ll that was my last question, so to close I just want to say thank you.
Claude: Oh ok perfect (timing).
The Frequency Series began in 2013 as a weekly Sunday night show curated by Peter Margasak at Constellation focusing on Chicago’s burgeoning new music scene. Since that time both the scene and the series have grown and flourished with new venues, musicians and festivals continually popping up throughout Chicago. This year the Frequency Series Festival will take place over six days at three venues and feature the music of seven exciting and important artists in new music. The festival kicks off tonight with Chicago-based music/performance ensemble, Mocrep, at the MCA presenting a program of identity, chaos and translation. Tomorrow night the festival continues at the Bond Chapel at the University of Chicago with Denver contemporary pianist R. Andrew Lee. Thursday thru Sunday Constellation will host the Morton Feldman Players, Bill Orcutt & Austin Wulliman, Olivia Block & Quince, and Ensemble Dal Niente.
It’s an eclectic and well curated mix that in my opinion explores the relationships between performer, ensemble and composer while also presenting a wide scope of both acoustic, electric and mixed new music performance. No venue in my mind, presents consistently well-curated shows like Constellation and the Frequency Series Festival is a logical extension of that. Tickets are available for the individual shows, some are free and you can pick up a pass to all seven shows for only $40. More information on performers, locations and time here.