The first thing you hear when Perfect Pussy take the stage is a solid wall of noise, and the last thing you hear when they leave the stage is a solid wall of noise. Perfect Pussy aren’t innovative or breaking new musical ground, but what they are is very, very angry. On record Meredith Graves screams to be heard yet she is drowned out by the whirlpool of feedback. Live she just screams into the abyss, and the abyss keeps going for about twenty minutes, only stopping to breathe. Some people eat it up, some people stare on. Perfect Pussy are just there, and they’re really good.
Meanwhile, Joanna Gruesome just rip the void open with their incredibly sweet noise pop, frontwoman Alanna cooing about pulling teeth out amongst guitars that rage as much as they swoon. The music is as nice as it is furious, their set not lasting long at all. In the brief time they shine, songs off last year’s brilliant debut Weird Sister are torn through amongst new song “Jerome (Liar)”, which will appear on a split 12” with Trust Fund in late September. People dance, people cheer, everyone smiles. Then once the set is over they’re joined with Perfect Pussy and support bands Martha and The Spook School for a rendition of “You Belong With Me” to end a bloody good night.
It feels like a brave thing to hold your debut headline show in a city, without any proper support act. It also feels like a brave move to have your stage set-up consist of a three-piece band of electronic drums beat programmers and a solitary guitar, and a dozen lights or so. You’ve got to be one hell of a performer to combat such starkness, but fortunately for FKA twigs, she’s possibly the most charismatic popstar of the moment.
In waiting an hour and a half before the star of the show appeared, the Dancehouse Theatre’s atmosphere was somewhere between an audience waiting for a play (a feeling helped by the theatrical red curtains) and a club where dancing was forbidden. It was so rammed with people, I was sweating more than Snoop Dogg going through customs. The choice of a hip-hop/trap mix from Mancunian DJ Juicy as pre-show entertainment was an strange one, given that - whilst sharing a few sonic similarities - those genres are kind of at odds with the music FKA produces. As fellow Hitsvillian and companion for the evening Ivan noted, a more appropriate warm-up would’ve been Bjork’s discography.
Eventually striding on stage in all white - tube top, oversized sleeveless shirt, baggy boxing shorts - and a gold body chain, twigs has a presence which defies her diminutive stature. Throughout the set, she moved with the swagger and confidence of a veteran, truly hypnotic. Her dance moves were beguiling, smooth without feeling overly choreographed (if choreographed at all), whilst the lighting helped set moods and tones perfectly. Musically, the whole show was on point, although it had no help from the rather lacklustre sound system more becoming of a high school talent show, than a professional pop concert. That said, nothing can really dint the power and quality of a one-two punch of “Papi Pacify” and “Two Weeks”, songs which verge on transcendent when heard performed in person.
Despite not exactly being an Alex Turner-esque master of between-songs banter, twigs had the crowd in the palm of her hand regardless. After admitting she never thought this would happen, she mentioned her first time playing Manchester was as a support for James Blake. The mention of the dub wunderkind’s name drew a single boo from the sea of cheers, which was met by an ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek “Boo? Don’t boo. James Blake is sick, bruv”. It’s this off-the-cuff charm which belies the slightly distant and removed air of FKA twigs’ music, and should hopefully see her remain a fixture of pop music for a long time to come. Should you get the chance, you positively need to see twigs live. You won’t regret it.
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.
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.
Photo via Caroline Hayeur
In the terrifying future we find ourselves living in, Anno Domini 2014, there are no shortage of pundits weighing in to remind us of how much we’ve ‘lost it.’ As life goes from being dominated by computer technology until there is no life left to dominate but the machines continue piling up and out of factories in China for consumers in America we find ourselves in dizzying and unsettling existences. Some people even yearn for the simpler times of the – get this – early 2000s. Thus we have the many -wave genres and their accompanying theories and aesthetics. From this miasma rises Daniel Lopatin, known as Oneohtrix Point Never. All preceding hyperbole is the long way to describe that he makes electronic music which references computers a lot.
One of the most common criticisms against electronic music as a live performance is that it’s just “laptop music.” It’s not entirely unfounded, with a large portion of electronic acts electing to play to their strengths and play DJ sets rather than live performances of their music. Lopatin instead plays, or rather triggers, his music live from a setup that is unseen by the crowd. As he stands motionless (occasionally bobbing his head) and generates the music from his station on the right of the stage, a mesmerizing and at times deeply uncomfortable series of images and visual abstractions are projected onto a screen behind him. The visuals, created by Nate Boyce, function largely the same as the music. They form a type of noise that communicates feelings and vague ideas rather than concrete emotion or objects.
On record, Lopatin’s music is notable for the precision and careful composition of the tiniest details. It is all a carefully ordered disorder. In a live setting it’s hard to make this exciting and so Lopatin changes things up by reinterpreting and remixing his own works to the point where they are nearly unrecognizable. Trance arpeggios and heavy trap bass are brought in and layered over the drones and stuttering beats. Everything is mixed hot yet the sounds created are uniformly cold and somewhat menacing. Synths build and the beats get heavier and Lopatin processes and distorts his music until it is replaced by ear-piercing noise punctuated by bass hits that knock the breath from your lungs. The result is something that can only be described as EDM From Hell But In The Future. Over the course of his short set, Lopatin builds and releases tension by following the louder and more aggressive sections with short chillout passages of calm drones and loops.
OPN’s latest two records have functioned around vague theses about alienation from post-modern society. Replica was composed of stitched-together samples from infomercials cut up and processed to become unrecognizable. R Plus Seven was based around cheap midi sounds (most notably vocals) and ultra-crisp sounds of new age music and computer technology. The result of both is an experiment in communicating ideas that don’t quite have words, or at least no words the average person could understand. None of this matters to the average if they aren’t nice to listen to, but luckily they are. The OPN project stands then, at an interesting crossroads between experimentation and pop accessibility.
Despite starting his set late and finishing it a bit quick, Lopatin put on exactly the show his music demands. How to translate his music into a live environment is no easy task. How to communicate material so thick with ideas and messages to a crowd of drunk, high and/or tired festival goers at midnight in around 40 minutes is daunting. The experience of seeing Oneohtrix Point Never live is fascinating and definitely worth it for the reinterpretations of his fantastic material.
Hitsville Recommends: ”Stay High (Habits Remix)”
Stream Tove Lo’s album Truth Serum in full HERE
Hitsville Recommends: “You (Ha Ha Ha)”
Hitsville Recommends: “Get On”
Catfish & The Bottlemen
by Braden Fletcher