Pitchfork’s up-and-comers

Despite a top-heavy lineup, Pitchfork still boasts a worthwhile undercard.

Major Lazer hype man Skerrit Bwoy jumps into the crowd during their Sunday performance at Pitchfork Music Festival.

Jules Ameel

Major Lazer hype man Skerrit Bwoy jumps into the crowd during their Sunday performance at Pitchfork Music Festival.

by Raghav Mehta

Ten years ago, Pitchfork was nothing more than a microscopic blip in the world of music journalism. Facing Goliath-like competition from well-established rags like âÄúRolling Stone MagazineâÄù and âÄúSpin ,âÄù Pitchfork lacked the access and exposure to have any real impact on popular culture. But, at the turn of the century, the emergence of the Internet, coupled with Indie rock’s burgeoning popularity, saw the once-obscure web-based publication treading less precarious waters. Hipster bashing aside, Pitchfork has evolved into one of the most influential and hard-to-please media outlets in the industry. Its success has never seemed more apparent, given the top-heavy lineup of this yearâÄôs festival. But as Pitchfork climbs the commercial ladder by drawing more high-profile artists, the festival hasnâÄôt been stripped of itsâÄô Indie credibility. Remember that Pitchfork can make or break a band and their festival continues to serve as an ideal venue for undercard acts seeking to showcase their work before an audience thatâÄôs constantly scrambling to discover the next big thing. And this year Union Park saw no shortage of ambitious up-and-comers. While Friday was light on music, the festivalâÄôs Balance stage enlisted stand up comics for attendees who were either too drained from their morning commute to scamper the grounds or just waiting for Modest Mouse to perform. Prior to Michael ShowalterâÄôs now infamous train wreck of a routine, Wyatt Cenac of âÄúThe Daily ShowâÄù lent Pitchfork his comedic stylings to poke at hipsters, racism and misguided animal rights activists as Swedish pop songstress Robyn broke into her set in the distance. Despite being of âÄúThe Daily ShowâÄù ilk, Cenac isnâÄôt so widely known quite yet. He acknowledged the hurdles that confront a comedian at festivals. âÄúItâÄôs weird doing it out in the open, just because you can hear the other music,âÄù Cenac said. âÄúI kind wanted to see RobynâÄôs show, so itâÄôs weird because IâÄôm hearing it and then I remember, âÄòOh, I need to be telling jokes.âÄô âÄù The remainder of the weekend delivered a disparate roster stacked with hip-hop, Indie mainstays as well as breakthrough artists of all sounds and stripes. On Saturday ChicagoâÄôs Netherfriends kicked it off with the festivalâÄôs early birds on the Balance stage. Produced and written by Shawn Rosenblatt, NetherfriendsâÄô debut LP âÄúBarry and SherryâÄù is a shimmering cross between Animal CollectiveâÄôs electro-pop and the crafty backwoods folk of Fleet Foxes. Rosenblatt wrote the record himself, but he reproduces his synth-based sounds with live instruments alongside a backing band. With only one EP and a soon-to-be-released LP under his belt, Rosenblatt said he wasnâÄôt expecting to perform at the festival. âÄúIâÄôd always thought IâÄôd be playing at a smaller festival like Wicker Park festival. I never thought anyone at the Pitchfork festival would ask us,âÄù Rosenblatt said. While some acts donâÄôt stray too far away from your typical Indie fare, L.A. DJ DâM-FunK and his backing band Master Blaster really do stand out among the sea of plaid shirts and skin-tight jeans. DâM-FunKâÄôs five-disc debut album âÄúToeachizownâÄù is a two and a half hour buffet of space-themed synth funk that harkens back to the early Prince records and sounds as fresh as it does smooth. Accustomed to performing in the club environment, DâM-FunK admits heâÄôs still relatively new to the festival circuit but admires the sceneâÄôs passion. âÄúYou know, sometimes a lot of those concerts I go to, they get dressed up to go to and they wouldnâÄôt dare step in dirt,âÄù DâM-FunK said. âÄúBut I love getting used to Sasquatch and Pitchfork and these kinds of things because itâÄôs not about looking good, itâÄôs about enjoying the music. And thatâÄôs what it’s all about for me as well. So big up to the festivals, IâÄôm down.âÄù ThereâÄôs been much hubbub about the legitimacy of Pitchfork. Whether itâÄôs their obnoxiously meticulous rating system or the essay-like format of their album reviews, the publication has received its fair share of flack. But there was no teeming presence of smugness or elitism at the festival âÄî just a collective enthusiasm for music, and all kinds of it. For a genre (Indie Rock) constantly stigmatized for being insular, the Pitchfork music festival offers a rich mixture of sounds and sights. It might lack the sprawling weirdness of Bonnaroo and the powerhouse headliners of Lollapalooza, but for a publication that was nothing but a dot in cyberspace a decade ago, Ryan SchreiberâÄôs 15-year old creation is an impressive feat thatâÄôs only growing more influential by the year.