Despite the extreme heat and being caught in the downpour that forced a fairly significant evacuation, I had a really great time this weekend at the Pitchfork Music Festival. While music festivals are normally not my thing, I usually give Pitchfork a pass. It feels fairly small to me compared to some of the other music festivals in the area, I get in for free, and I know a bunch of friends and colleagues who attend as well. Despite the crowds that can accumulate throughout the day in preparation for that day’s headliner, I can break away and explore other options like perusing vendors or finding a quiet spot under a tree. All in all, it is a very good time.
Whenever the lineup for Pitchfork gets announced, it is a reminder of how uncool I can be when it comes to new, underground, and independent artists. I usually only know a few names and they are typically the headliners or the acts that play right before. I’ve discussed this before. It isn’t that I actively avoid new, hip music. It just takes me a while for it to get on my radar. I just have other things that take up my time and attention and there is always a bunch of new music coming out. More and more every year and it is too much to absorb.
So, leading up to Pitchfork, I try to do some homework. I’ll read recommendations from several music publications and critics, or I might sample some of their tracks on Spotify. However, if I know I will not have time even for that, I can always just show up and check them out. Showing up to a performance without any knowledge or preconceptions is an absolutely exciting way to experience an artist for the first time. And there were plenty of new experiences for me this year.
Unlike previous years I’ve attended Pitchfork, I’ve never gone all three days of the festival. At most, I go about two because I usually have other things going on and music festivals can be exhausting. However, since I missed last year’s festival due to a vacation, I was going to make up for it. I was determined to attend all three days and check out new sounds.
The artists I experienced for the first time at Pitchfork were Sky Ferreira, Julia Holter, HAIM, Cate Le Bon, Parquet Courts, Clair, Khruangbin, Amen Dunes, Ibeyi, Nenah Cherry, Snail Mail, and Whitney. This fest was my first exposure to these artists, and I had a great time at each set. While some sets resonated more with than others, I still had an absolute blast and walked away with mental notes on who to explore further. While I had so much fun at Mavis Staples, the Isley Brothers, and Robyn, all sets I really wanted to see and whose music I was familiar with, I want to talk about the set from the list of artists I didn’t know previously that impressed me the most.
I had not heard of Khruangbin until they were announced to play at this year’s festival, and I didn’t bother look them up prior to their set. They were performing on the third and final day of the festival, the day I was debating on attending (I know I said I was going to make an effort to go all three days, but extreme heat and storms do force you to rethink your decisions), and I was so happy I went. Khruangbin’s hypnotic blend of soul, dub, and psychedelia with a wide variety of global music added an experience to the festival that I felt was lacking in the prior two days.
Their music was entrancing and easy to lose yourself in. I could’ve just stood there and swayed to their funky, down to earth psychedelic jams, but I was also entranced on the band members themselves in addition to the music. The energy between Laura Lee on bass and Mark Speer on guitar was so intimate. It exuded a level of sensuality that seemed almost private, but was shared with an audience as part of the experience of Khruangbin live in a festival setting.
Since that performance left the biggest impact on me from all the artists I experienced for the first time at Pitchfork, I’ve spent today listening to their studio releases. Released in 2019, Khruangbin’s latest studio album Hasta El Cielo is a really funky treat. With the opening track “With All the World,” you are immediately coasting through an atmospheric dub with spicy, lingering guitars and an echoey drums. It all feels very ethereal, but earthy as well. It strikes a delicate balance between reaching for cosmic limitations and remaining firmly grounded and comfortable with one’s self. It is a great opening track that sets up the tone and theme for the album.
It can be difficult to explore new music. You must remain open to idea of exploring new things. And worst-case scenario is you don’t like it. Just move on and find something else. There’s plenty to explore.