With its yearly parade of skinny-jean aficionados and bin-diving beardos, Chicago’s annual Pitchfork Festival is nothing if not an indie-rock institution. Since 2005, the site’s editors have gathered the greatest acts of the moment alongside legends and unknowns alike. Resist as they may, even haters have to admit that the festival offers a pretty impressive cross-section of what’s going on.
While each year has its own charms and Best New Music moments, certain memories stand above all others. For your chance to see the best of this year’s fest, enter to win free tix from RayBan and their all-new Aluminum Clubmaster sunglasses. In keeping with the spirit of exacting criticism and decimal-point perfection, we give you the best ten moments of P4K, measured against each other.
Yoko Ono Channels John Lennon: 8.6 Band-splitter and avant-garde icon Yoko Ono is an elusive beast indeed. Summoning dissonance from an older age, she paired with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore at Pitchfork 2007 to perform the deeply personal “Mulberry.” A chaotic homage to time in Japan spent amidst WWII, she had only done it two other times: once each with John Lennon and her son Julian. Pocketed between a slew of more palatable indie acts, the power and deep meaning of this moment was sadly missed by many.
A Reunited Pavement Punk Their Own Audience: 7.9 In 2010 Drag City impresario Rian Murphy delivered a scathing commentary on the nature of mainstreaming in art. From the stage, he alleged that Pitchfork was working in collusion with Lollapalooza, endorsed stealing music, said the audience members were sell-outs, and spoke unflinchingly over the angry chants of the audience. We’re still not sure if this was a tribute to Andy Kaufman or an earnest diatribe. Either way, the tension he built over seven minutes in his rambling introduction to Pavement’s performance made their long-anticipated emergence all the more amazing.
Os Mutantes Emerge From Obscurity: 9.1 Kurt Cobain worked every connection in existence, but even his enormous sway wasn’t enough to bring lost Brazilian legends Os Mutantes out of retirement. After severing ties in the mid-’70s, the group’s members were far too angry and burned out to even consider it… until Pitchfork came calling. In their second US performance ever, the band blew the top off the 2008 audience, capping it all with a sing-along featuring none other than illustrious freak folkie Devendra Banhart.
Les Savy Fav Dumpster Dive: 6.8 While Flaming Lips’ crowd-surfing hamster ball offers safe passage to anyone inside, Les Savy Fav believe in a more punk-rock approach. Tim Harrington is infamous for beer-belly hijinks of the highest order, and in 2009 he Sesame Streeted á la Oscar, riding a trash can all the way to the back of the audience. Good clean fun? We’re not so sure…
Jens Lekman Cranks Up the Cute: 7.4 Uke-toting hugbear Jens Lekman is adorable on his own, but paired with a ten-piece band the love grows exponentially. Swaying in long white dresses, chorus girls gave him the appearance of a Swedish soul star, while the horn section added new depth to his subtle orchestrations, revealing a genius on the edge of explosion.
Robyn Lets Her Body Do the Talking: 7.9 While the off-kilter pop of Swedish superstar Robyn had already entranced many Americans, her trifecta of Body Talk EPs was something else entirely. In a 2010 performance that came in between the first and second release, Robyn teased us with the greatness to come, singing sweetly over the pound of club beats 70 times her size. Not even the most crusty, arms-crossed snobs in the audience were able to escape.
Conscious Hip-Hop Stages a Comeback: 8.2 While the Pitchfork Festival has certainly featured its fair share of up-and-coming MCs – A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, Odd Future — the roots of rap have proved equally important. In 2007, De La Soul upped the ante with the scratch mastery of Prince Paul. In 2008, Public Enemy was up, scolding the powers that be with the still-scathing cry of It Takes a Nation to Hold Us Back.
Aziz Ansari Bombs the Backstage: 7.7 A send-up of the commodification in indie, Human Giant’s “Clell Tickle Indie Marketing Guru” sketch was filmed backstage at the fest in 2006. Featuring appearances by Ted Leo, Devendra Banhhart, and Tapes n’ Tapes, the Aziz-driven bombshell is capped by a threatening, profanity-laden intro in front of an actual festival audience.
Kanye Crashes Brooklyn Bowl: 8.5 While Chicago is its home, the Pitchfork Festival does have outposts beyond its borders. Splintering out with Brooklyn’s 2010 #offline incarnation, the fest hosted three days of warehouse darlings in Williamsburg. Kanye West was in on the event, popping up for a surprise performance at Brooklyn Bowl. Indie may have ruled all weekend, but Ye was still the winner.
Sonic Youth Remind Us That We Aren’t as Cool as We Think We Are: 10.0 At the height of the aughts, Pitchfork was a cred-bearer of such enormity that it seemed there was nothing cooler in existence. That is, until Sonic Youth humbled it and everyone gathered around with a heart-blasting performance of classic Daydream Nation in its entirety. With the band’s recent split, it seems even less likely that any of us (founder Ryan Schreiber included) will ever bask in such bright light ever again.