I discovered this weekend one of the most important qualities that comprises my personality: I am not the Music Festival Type.

I had always thought (or maybe hoped) that I might be—that I would feel OK and possibly even thrive in being outside all day. That the rules of basic human biology wouldn’t apply to me and I would be able to go a whole day without having to use a porta-potty. That I would have tolerance for adults who wear flower crowns and ponchos that may or may not be ironic, who even cares anymore. But none of that is my reality, and that’s why this weekend’s Pitchfork Music Festival was a nightmare.

Look, if you are the type of person who enjoys outdoor music festivals, I’m sure Pitchfork would be a complete dream. While it may have been filled with garbage and dirt, Chicago’s Union Park is actually a really nice place to be. It’s massive, but not overwhelming due to the festival’s accessible layout, and there is a surprisingly good view of the city’s skyline way off in the distance. This year’s festival featured one of the summer’s most diverse lineups, including headliners Beck, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Kendrick Lamar, and offered plenty to do besides standing at one stage for an entire day in the hope that you’ll be able to see Jeff Mangum’s weather-inappropriate sweater up close. The CHIRP Record Fair and the Book Fort were among the most popular attractions. At CHIRP, you could shop from a huge selection of records, CDs, and cassette tapes from over 20 record stores in the Chicagoland area. The Book Fort, a modest set up near the back of the park, was maybe a little less exciting, but featured readings from Chicago Tribune music critic Jessica Hopper and senior editor of This Recording, Britt Julious.

There was also an impressive, albeit somewhat obnoxious, selection of local food vendors. There was gelato (not ice cream) from Black Dog, vegan hot dogs from Chicago Diner, and watermelon mint salad from the Rice Table. If carrying around a plate of salad while looking for a spot during Earl Sweatshirt isn’t your thing, there were also a couple free sample booths. The most notable was the Hostess Cakes booth, mainly for how entirely out of place it was. It doesn’t make much sense that, among the plethora of healthy and organic options, they were also handing out Twinkies, which legally shouldn’t be considered food. It makes even less sense that there was a man dressed as a character named Twinkie the Kid (a Twinkie who was a cowboy, though I’m sure you already knew that) who had to be led around the park by a another person because his costume didn’t have eye holes, but he was there nonetheless. Woozy from dehydration and low on cash, I opted for the Twinkie. While my choices weren’t healthy, my sense of shame was and I was too embarrassed to eat it out in the open. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything more dehumanising than trying to find a private spot in an overcrowded park to eat a free Twinkie. 

The main thing I took issue with isn’t necessarily unique to Pitchfork, but just an inevitable factor of any large-scale outdoor music festival: the performances are rarely worth the effort it takes to see them. There’s a disconnect between the performer and the audience that doesn’t happen at a regular concert where everybody has come to see that specific musician. I think it’s safe to say that the vibe is a lot less intimate when half of the crowd is made up of people who just wandered to the stage after eating an artisanal corn dog. Also, the festival got off to a rough start this year, mainly for reasons beyond its control. In April, one of Sunday’s headliners DJ Rashad passed away and then, less than a month later, Kathleen Hanna’s band the Julie Ruin cancelled their set due to her relapse with Lyme Disease, causing a last minute scramble for replacements. Perhaps the biggest hit taken was the sudden passing of intended opener Death Grips, forcing the flute-laden synth-rock band Hundred Waters to take over. The zen kick off to the fest set the energy off balance, especially as it was followed by trip-hop throwback Neneh Cherry, the folksy Sharon Van Etten, and the now aggressively ethereal Beck.

One of the few exceptions I witnessed was St. Vincent, Saturday’s secondary headliner, who blew the lid off of what had started as a slow weekend. Annie Clark and co. pulled out all the stops, with a light show, expansive set list, and, most importantly, Clark’s wicked guitar-playing and bonkers choreography. I think it was the first time the crowd truly lost it that weekend. It was as if the official kick off happened two days into the festival, and it was well worth the wait. Unfortunately, nothing quite lived up to it. Neutral Milk Hotel played immediately after, a buzzkill in the truest sense of the word. The band requested that all of the monitors projecting the stage be turned off to create a more intimate atmosphere, which was fine because who wants to see a 43 year old man sing about how he loves Anne Frank anyway? It was quirky when he was in his 20s, and now it’s just unsettling.

To pretend that I’ve actually read a David Foster Wallace book, I would classify this experience as “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”. I don’t think Pitchfork was bad—it may have had some rough spots, but overall it’s still one of the most revered music festivals, and for good reason—it just wasn’t made for me. I think I can live with that.

New: SBTRKT - “New Dorp, New York” (featuring Ezra Koenig)
Ol’ Ezra K is making quite a name for himself as a hired hand. In the last few years, the Vampire Weekend frontman has popped up on albums by Chromeo, Major Lazer, The Very Best and Theophilus London, as well as the Oscar-nominated “The Moon Song” with Karen O, but now here he is popping up on the first single from SBTRKT’s highly-anticipated second album Wonder Where We Land. It’s a definite evolution of the sparse dubstep of SBTRKT’s eponymous debut, a little bit funk in places, a little bit These New Puritans at parts, and a big bit of Debbie Harry’s rapping in “Rapture”. It’s weird, but good weird.

If you’ve heard of J Mascis, chances are you are a fan. Not only did the guy make some of the best alternative rock albums of the 1980s and early 1990s with his band, Dinosaur Jr, but his idiosyncratic method of rock songwriting influenced countless noise rock, shoegaze and grunge bands. On top of this, he is one of the few aging alternative icons to manage to grow old gracefully. Given that he is 49 this year, he is still incredibly prolific, dropping a succession of albums with Dinosaur Jr, and a few solo efforts, all of which stand up as equals to the material from his heyday, while still making progressions in his signature sound. If you haven’t heard of J Mascis, I would like to kindly enquire after what the fuck you have been doing with your life? Stop what you’re doing and go and listen to You’re Living All Over Me and Bug right now. Then sit in silence and think about all the time you have wasted not listening to Dinosaur Jr.

Still, when your resume looks as good as J Mascis’, then the pressure is always on to keep up the quality of his work. Luckily, the enigmatic guitar hero doesn’t seem to give a second thought to this, and has knocked out yet another meticulously crafted album in a way that sounds completely effortless.

When it’s stripped down, the elements that make up this album are recognisable to anyone who is familiar with Dinosaur Jr’s work. Mascis uses simple, but effective, pop-rock chord progressions, and layers them with his signature “how the fuck does he make it sound so good?” guitar tone. The upbeat lead single “Every Morning” uses this to great effect, turning four chords, a snare and a hi-hat into a blissfully catchy number with some typically singular electric guitar solos from the man himself. Meanwhile, the closing track, “Better Plane”, is a fantastic little alternative rock ditty transposed into a sleepy folk song. Elsewhere, the masterfully paced “Heal The Star” would sound right at home on any recent Dinosaur Jr release. The little flares at the end of the phrases sound built to have some kind of effect pedal turn them into a squealing mess; however, in this more stripped down environment, you realise how magnificent some of the songwriting on their records really is.

This is not to say Mascis is simply repeating old tricks. There are several moments on Tied To A Star, just as on his other solo records, where he displays his unexpected ability to write beautiful folk leads. The opening track, “Me Again”, is a perfect example of this. The riff twists and turns and weaves its way throughout the track, providing a perfect backdrop for Mascis’ murmured vocal performance. Wide Awake repeats this, but adds strings and a female vocalist into the mix, which gives the track a perfect amount of texture to keep you interested, without becoming overbearing. Things are also shaken up on the strangely danceable “Drifter”, which sounds like an instrumental soundtrack to dancing drunkenly around a fire, which is certainly something you can’t say about many Dinosaur Jr tracks.

Of course, there are certain drawbacks to hearing Mascis step away from his pedal board. For one, his voice takes more of a central role on his solo albums, and some potential problems with it arise. His voice may have a love it or hate it quality to it: if you’re expecting dam-busting Freddie Mercury like performances, it’s probably best to look elsewhere (a Queen record would be a good place to start). The higher ranges of his voice are often utilised on this album, too, which may grate some. In essence though, most people don’t come into folk or grunge records expecting explosive vocal performances, and J’s mumbled tones often fit the weary content of his lyrics perfectly. One could imagine the refrain of “how much can I take?” in “Trailing Off” would lose some of its impact if it was delivered with any gusto.

Another potential pitfall with this album is that it relies on a certain formula; although it has to be said, this formula often works. The key to Mascis’ solo material seems to be to start off a song with sparse arrangements, and then build to a crescendo in the middle of the track. This works absolutely blissfully in some places. In “And Then”, when the electric guitar kicks in, it offers an expected change of pace that adds so much to the track, and to the album as a whole. This is also done perfectly on the aforementioned taking off, when the accelerator is suddenly hit and Mascis delivers the most blistering solo of the album over a frantic performance from the acoustic, before returning to its previous pace as if the track was embarrassed about the outburst. However, on tracks like the awkwardly placed and overly long “Come Down”, this becomes an underwhelming chore. It’s difficult to deny that J is good at what he does, but on repeated listens, this can become a tad predictable.

Overall, though, Tied To A Star is yet another beautiful listen from one of the most underrated songwriters of his generation. J Mascis has a wonderful way of not overstating things; from taking the simplest of chord progressions and carefully building them into something memorable and unmistakably individual, to his guitar solos, which always stop before they become unnecessarily overblown. If you’re a fan of this man’s work, this is an essential album for your collection. If not, you better get started on listening to those Dinosaur Jr albums I recommended. Like, right this second. There really is no excuse not to.  Get cracking.

The power of M.I.A. as a pop personality is to turn every moment that surrounds her into a microcosm of righteous political anger. The world is full of chaos and violence, so her live show is full of chaos and violence. Halfway through her scheduled 75-minute slot, she invites members of the audience on stage. They’ve got the message, they dance violently, and yet full of life. They are liberated. Just as M.I.A. kicks off “Boyz”, the already poor sound cuts out and the lights go off. Boos from the audience are heard as the clearly frustrated singer has no choice but to leave the stage. Five minutes later, she returns for “Double Bubble Trouble” and, of course, the big ones: “Paper Planes” and “Bad Girls”. She has no choice but to cut the set short due to technical failures, but you’ve still witnessed one of the most important pop stars of, frankly, all-time at her most powerful yet.

As it turns out, the sound cutting off wasn’t security expressing anger at the stage invasion, but just some berk onstage kicking out a cable. But, as said, M.I.A. can take any small moment and make you focus, make it a moment, a moment of political frustration. Her show is a celebration of solidarity, and a celebration of protest. When she comes on-stage (bringing her five-year old son along with her for a moment), hundreds of glowsticks are ejected into the audience amidst the sound of trap sirens, before she rips into the adored “Bucky Done Gun”, a celebration of rap culture as well as a commentary on the Sri Lankan civil war. M.I.A. makes the party political. Trap sirens are a constant feature throughout the show, along with seemingly random samples of Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks”, along with dancers jumping about the stage, dancing aggressively and in the name of liberation, some wearing the now infamous “Free Tamil” shirts. “Y.A.L.A.” is a parody on the “Y.O.L.O.” phrase popularised by Drake; she turns a contemporary Internet slogan into a reference to Hindu reincarnation, and it goes down a storm. The industrial grind of “Bamboo Banga” sees her jump into the crowd, as she is held up like the icon she rightly deserves to be celebrated as.

The sound throughout is poor, and sometimes M.I.A.’s rapping can barely be heard. What the audience can hear is her saying to the people on the side that she “can’t hear my own beats”. It’s a frustrating display of amateurism from the technical team behind the festival (especially such a large one), and it clearly takes its toll on the singer, who ends the night by angrily throwing her mic over her shoulder. But the sheer chaos, energy and excitement, from both the stage and the audience, makes up for it; this is what the audience came for, and besides, the songs are strong enough to stand on their own. “Paper Planes” is nearly seven years old and has already been namedropped amongst the greatest songs of all time by Rolling Stone and The Guardian, and despite the iconic gunshot effects being muted, it still goes down a storm, as does the massive “Bad Girls” (which, by the way, has the greatest music video of the 21st Century).

So while the whole show has a bittersweet side to it due to technical failings, for the hour it lasts the audience are treated to a dazzling and spectacular hype show all in the name of solidarity and liberation. It manages to be an event in of itself, and when M.I.A. storms off at the end, you know it’s only made her hungry for more.

The Xcerts - Shaking in the Water

The Scottish trio are finally back with a song that will sound familiar to many already. It’s got the big riffs that we’ve come to expect of the boys but with a bit more of a pop edge. Perhaps trying to follow in the footsteps of their fellow countrymen Twin Atlantic?

What’re your thoughts?

Song of the Day
SOUND THE *CERTIFIED HIT KLAXON* ONCE AGAIN! Dan Croll’s teamed up with The Very Best to create this huge track “Nobody Knows”. It’s out this week alongside the deluxe edition of his debut record Sweet Disarray. Go have a dance in the sun and forget all of your responsibilities for a few glorious minutes.

Track of the Day
Rae’s set at Leefest was utter beauty and our review later this week will hopefully put that into more eloquent words, but for now enjoy “Cold”, one of Rae’s more upbeat tracks featuring vocals from FRYARS.

So I go on Reddit and invariably end up clicking on ‘GoneWild’ posts. It’s always girls taking naked pictures in the mirror, and their room behind them is a disaster. If I were a guy, I would not be turned on. I would be like, ‘Make your bed!’
Whilst decoding her tweets in an interview with Glamour Magazine, everyone’s favourite young non-Jennifer Lawrence actress Anna Kendrick let slip that she’s a covert Redditor, and a regular visitor to the nudity-happy r/GoneWild subreddit. So now you know if you’ve ever submitted phots on there, it’s possible Anna Kendrick has seen your boobs/butt/genitals/untidy room. Knowing the internet as we do, that’s more of an encouragement than a deterrent…

With Monty Python currently wrapping up their career with a month of live shows at London’s O2 Arena, it might just be time to put the group’s sole American member Terry Gilliam out to pasture as a film director too. His latest film and his first since 2009’s ill-fated The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, The Zero Theorem is a sad grumpy shambles, a parody of the ideas and themes which built Gilliam’s reputation as a true auteur.

Set in the brightest digital dystopia you could think of, The Zero Theorem centres on agoraphobic office drone number-cruncher Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) tasked by his shadowy corporate overlords with coming up with the mathematical equation of “zero equals 100%”, whilst waiting on a mysterious phone call to explain the meaning of life. He’s surrounded by a cavalcade of obfuscating technology and consciously zany characters, from Melanie Thierry’s manic pixie cam-girl to David Thewlis’ jittery toupee-wearing supervisor and Tilda Swinton’s app-based shrink. But for an excellent-on-paper cast and potentially fertile ideas at play, The Zero Theorem ends up as a weak pastiche of a genre Gilliam helped to codify; a film created by old men worried about people’s use of technology and how they don’t understand it - Gilliam has even explained in an interview that the film acts as “a warning against the perils of a digitised existence” - the kind of worldview that Monty Python likely would’ve satirised were they in their youthful prime today.

There’s just so much weak symbolism and so many rote metaphors floating around in the film; “The Church of Batman The Redeemer”, haha yeah coz people “worship” pop culture and celebrity and stuff. A crucified Jesus statue, but with Jesus’ head replaced with a security camera. A all-powerful corporation called Mancom, which is repeated until it sounds suspiciously like “mankind” by the end of the film, and Qohen’s insistence on using “we” instead of “I” and correcting a colleague how persistently gets his name wrong. This is a film which is transparently about the meaninglessness of life and the lack of any higher power and how religion and belief is silly and atheism is clearly the only way to go and how big business is bad and… really the only way to convey the major thematic ideas of The Zero Theorem is with mouth farts. It’s just that lumpen and undercooked.

I was genuinely shocked to find its writer Pat Rushin is a creative writing professor because his script is a) duller that an Ikea instruction manual and b) crammed with ideas that should barely make it past a sixth-former’s rough story notes. It was, however, less of a shock to discover this was Rushin’s first ever screenplay, written in ten days with  ”no idea what [he] was doing” and using “several screenwriting books and screenplays out from the UCF library, including Terry Gilliam’s Brazil”. There you go, kids; if you pen a sub-par script directly inspired by a director’s masterpiece, he’ll eventually direct the adaptation of what you’ve written. It boggles the mind how the likes of Waltz, Swinton and Thewlis - actors who’ve all been in classic films with top-tier screenplays - read this and didn’t immediately reject it. To their credit, they all do the best they can with what they’re given and are still immensely watchable.

To be fair, it’s hard to lay much blame at Gilliam’s door. His world-building is second to none, and whilst the future dystopia he creates isn’t entirely original, it does feel like a fully fleshed-out place from the cumulative fifteen minutes or so we see of what’s outside Qohen’s dilapidated church dwellings. A meld of the smokey industrial gloom of 1984 and the bright saccharine hedonism of The Hunger Games’ Capitol, with a dash of omnipresent advertising, news, and tech, this future doesn’t feel so outlandish as to be a clear departure from the world we live in now. It’s actually worryingly prescient. But the fact that a filmmaker of Gilliam’s talents couldn’t at least polish a turd of a script into something interesting, if not, thrilling, is a real disappointment.