Pitchfork Festival 2012: Grimes, Danny Brown, Sleigh Bells & More

At ginormous festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, it’s pretty tough to craft a narrative — when there’s something like 200 bands playing over a weekend, it’s next to impossible to really sew a singular thread through the weekend’s performances. Pitchfork Music Festival is much smaller — 45 bands in three days — so, it’s a lot easier to derive the daily theme. And while Saturday brought forth another occurrence of Friday’s soaking, poncho-industry-fueling rainstorms, Saturday’s lineup also featured a few tack-worthy talking points, with Grimes going head to head with Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Flying Lotus and Sleigh Bells catering to the youth’s culture’s unquenchable thirst for electronic music, and more understated, but brilliant, acts Nicolaas Jaar and Chromatics playing to crowds larger than they are normally accustomed. Check out Carmelo Espanola’s photos up top and read more about Saturday below.

Hairy, loud acts like Psychic Paramount, the Atlas Moth and the ever-energetic Cloud Nothings got things going Saturday, but the interesting juxtaposition of Lotus Plaza on one stage and Atlas Sound on the other attracted most of the early attention. Lotus Plaza’s set showcased Lockett Pundt’s increasing confidence as a performer, while Bradford Cox hammed it up hard in the rain, using his set as both a platform for his reverberating solo work and as a lectern for his freewheeling rambles (“Get her room temperature water, not cold water,” Bradford Cox said as he spotted someone having some trouble in the audience. “Cold water will put her into shock. That’s something I learned in Boy Scouts before they kicked me out for being a queer.”) The green stage is probably the best-sounding stage at the festival, for whatever reason, and that fact set up Flying Lotus and Sleigh Bells for bombastic sets; both artists are basically in their natural environment, with respect to the audience, at Pitchfork Festival, with Sleigh Bells’ drawing the day’s biggest crowd. Though I don’t think Flying Lotus’s show benefits from the hypeman (is this a thing he does now? “Were we in Africa just now?” the hypeman screamed as FlyLo dropped something vaguely tribal-sounding) he gets bonus points for leaving the vocal of “Headlines” untouched and sampling other drug-addled, festival-approved production in his mixes, tracks like “I’m God,” “Yonkers” and his well-known “I Feel Like Dying” remix of Lil Wayne.

The Blue Stage hosted acts that got less attention from the festival at large, but arguably drew the most passionate fanbases. Nico Jaar showcased a sharp set of electronic music, establishing an interesting tension between the digital aspects of his sound and his band’s jazz-leaning acumen. Schoolboy Q riled up the crowd, playing the class clown, attempting to namecheck the Chicago neighborhoods. “Who’s from the north side? Who’s from the south side?” he asked, before realizing it was pointless. “Who’s from the good part of Chicago? Who’s from the bad part of Chicago?” he asked, laughing, before dropping the line of the set, “I fuck with white people.” Q passed the torch to Danny Brown, who has, in the course of two years or so, gone from a notable, if not memorable, performer to one of rap’s most entertaining live acts.

As it was growing closer to 8:30 when G!YBE and Grimes were set to perform, the grounds very much seemed like a two-way thoroughfare with people in stuffed-animal backpacks going one way, and older fans, several with toddlers in noise-cancelling-headphones, going the other (we’ll let you do the work there). Last year’s festival saw venerable acts like Superchunk and Guided By Voices stand out among their younger, less-experienced peers. One could certainly argue that those bands have a lot more at stake — Guided By Voices eventually used the momentum from that performance (and others) to successfully tour again and record a new album. With respect to that theory, Godspeed! You Black Emperor sounded pristine, the audience along for every step of the group’s entrancing, dark build. But across the field, you could hear peals of Grimes, who was charming her way through one of her best performances ever, complete with Grimes-look-alike dancers and a more fully-wrought live setup and sound thanks to help from pal Blood Diamonds. When her set ended, though, Godspeed! was entering their final movement, and together we went into the darkness.