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August 4, 2006
Editor's Note: When it comes to "indie rock" there are as many things baffling as there are remarkable. Publicists keep mailing lists and contact information under lock and key like carefully guarded government secrets, bands profess their difference from the norm while sheepishly following the script of music videos, commercial endorsements and mySpace pages that everyone before them has written, and somehow there has developed an intense sense of competition between magazines, record labels, publicists and bands. Is this a high-school basketball tournament, or is this the counter-culture that it professes to be? Where are the love, the support, and the positive vibes? Can't we all just get along and let our inner hippies breathe?

I will be the first to admit that Pitchfork's condescending and hipper-than-thou attitude can be rather off-putting, but I'm not so naÔve to not realize that the pervasive attitude is simply their gimmick. I've only met Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber once, years ago, when he responded to an invitation to attend one of my record label's showcases in Chicago. By the time he arrived, just before the first band's set, the bar was swelling with people and there was no more room to be had, and although generally affable he seemed rather perturbed that his companion wouldn't be allowed on the guest list. Aside from that, and the magazine's regular (perhaps simply coincidental) policy of ignoring solid releases by smaller artists in favor of hipper ones, I personally have no beef with Pitchfork, which I affectionately rib by referring to as Bitchfork. And neither does LAS magazine. Why on earth would we?

The fact is that Pitchforkmedia.com has done more for online magazines than any other single entity that I can think of. Back in 1998, when I first started assembling articles and reviews under the name Lost At Sea, there were a host of small potato publishers kicking out record reviews for anyone who would read them. Since then sites like Rocket Fuel, Splendid, Basement Life and countless others have sprung up and, sooner or later, died. But Pitchfork has been a constant and in the wake of their continued commercial success countless other magazines like Tiny Mix Tapes, Stylus and Junkmedia have sprouted wings. How many of them will survive more than a year or two or however long it takes the person running it to graduate from college and find a "real" job, only time will tell. But through it all I can pretty much guarantee that Pitchfork, like LAS, will keep on motoring.

Sure, the Pitchforkmedia.com website looks like a little digital Times Square with all of its flashing commercialism and tacky advertising, but even a few years ago most companies, music or otherwise, were reluctant to pry open their coffers to purchase advertising on a website that didn't have eBay or some other corporate behemoth as a parent company. Through savvy marketing, detailed identity development and a strong work ethic, Pitchfork changed all of that, at least in the indie rock sphere, and I can assure you that it has had an impact on many an aspiring online publisher. Sure, most everyone at Pitchfork, like LAS, works for free or peanuts, but someone is making money off of independently publishing on the web, and that is a fairly rad accomplishment. Simply put, it has opened doors that have helped publications like LAS stay afloat (believe it or not, the more people read your publication the more it costs to operate it), and I'm all for that. Besides, what would be the point in wasting time and energy hating on someone who is doing something that isn't punching a time clock for some faceless board of directors? To me such jealousy is not only ill-spent effort, it is also akin to shooting oneself in the proverbial foot. Sure, our focuses are quite different, but it is obvious that the more boundaries an independent online publication pushes - be it LAS, Pitchfork, or anyone else - the easier it is for others to expand. And LAS is totally down with that.

And so it was that in that spirit of non-combativeness LAS sent two staff members to report on the goings on during the first (and what we assume will be annual) Bitchfork Music Festival. Jon Burke's report on the festival, or at least what his bowels could stand of it, is below, and Josh Zanger's pictorial essay is also posted for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy.

---

Pitchfork Fest 2006, Or What I Saw of It.

Wow. Talk about dropping the ball. I really blew it last weekend. The oppressive midwestern late-summer heat, combined with some gastro-intestinal hijinks brought on by festival food, left me bed-ridden for the second day of Pitchfork magazine's inaugural summer music festival. In lieu of an expansive overview of the festival, not all of which was even that noteworthy, allow me to recap what I view as highlights of Saturday's performances, focusing on Band of Horses, The Mountain Goats and Art Brut. For a visual recap of some highlighted performances from both days, check out part two of the festival coverage with photos from Josh Zanger.

To preface the story, one thing must be said - Biz 3 fucking rules, and is simply one of the greatest assets the Chicago music scene has going for it. The Biz 3 tent was consistently cranking out the best music to be heard at the festival, from the most diverse group of artists. I was fortunate enough to find a backstage perch from which to witness the incredibly complex set put on by Matmos. There was a tuba and samplers and a tent packed with writhing, grooving hipsters - a sharp contrast to the predictably immobile, too-cool-for-school gaggles of indie hipsters flanking the main stages. The Biz 3 tent was, in a word, glorious. From talking to other festivalgoers I heard Tyondai Braxton put on an incredible performance shortly before Spank Rock decided to turn the tent into their personal hip-hop jungle gym. Diplo and A-Trak wowed audiences with complex exercises in turntablism. From now on I am making a point to get to more Biz 3 events and pick up jams from more Biz 3 artists. Any company that can assemble a roster of such talented artists is worth paying attention to.

I arrived shortly before the Band of Horses set to find the festival set up was much the same as Intonation - two stages, festival food, cheap beer (although no Sparks!) and assorted indie wares for sale in tents. The most notable difference between Intonation, which Pitchfork curated last year, and their own festival was the turnout. Intonation had a large but manageable crowd that allowed the audience room to breathe and spread out. Pitchfork's crowd was much larger, more crammed together and more pretentious - although I did spot a guy sporting a brand new Tom Petty hat. Water was cheap to buy and apparently free to refill, which was a nice humanitarian touch considering the crippling heat.

Band of Horses (BoH) are among the growing collective of current indie darlings (My Morning Jacket, Neko Case, et cetera) who utilize noticeable amounts of echo and reverb effects in their music. Frontman Ben Birdwell, whose meaty, enormous voice does not match his frail frame, spends much of his performances seated in front of a pedal steel, which only adds to his almost invalid appearance. When Birdwell's voice is combined with the echo/reverb effect on his mic the spectacle becomes almost comical - an unshaven, gaunt little man, seated and belting out tunes like "The Great Slat Lake" and "Monsters." BoH's seemingly performed every song from their debut album, Everything All the Time, in rapid-fire succession. The set was really well done but, given Birdwell's seated vantage point and the haste of the performance, there was little opportunity for the Horses to connect to the audience. While the songs were executed with technical proficiency the performance itself was sterile - which, to be fair, is not dissimilar from listening to the album.

When it comes to the Mountain Goats, it should be known that I am a fan of John Darnielle and firmly believe that his 4AD masterpiece, Tallahassee, is one of the strongest albums of the decade. With that bias stated, I loved his set. Darnielle interacted with the audience, mumbling stories about his songs and life, and going so far as to prompt the crowd to pogo during "Southwood Plantation Road." Musically speaking, I have no idea why listening to Darnielle endlessly strum away on his guitar is appealing but, for whaever reason, it is, and the audience was equally enthused to hear him perform. The set was bare, featuring only Darnielle and his bass player running through many songs the audience recognized and some new songs from the forthcoming Get Lonely. John Darnielle possesses the uncanny ability to say the most ludicrous things in the most sincere and believeable way. Lyrically, Darnielle possesses both Bob Dylan's ability to tell listeners "The Truth" and Leonard Cohen's beautifully savage wit. Despite the outdoor locale and the size of the crowd The Mountain Goats' performance was intimate and easily one of the weekend's most satisfying.

Several good but not "great" acts later I found myself positioned directly in front of Art Brut. Upon seeing lead singer Eddie Argos I was reminded of the scene in Spinal Tap where they describe one of their former drummers as "a great tall blonde geek." Argos resembles Ian Curtis with a sense of humor, rambling on comically about sex, drugs and rock & roll. At first his cockneyed stories were mildly amusing but, within the span of a couple songs, Argos had the audience hanging on his every, lazy word; when he recounted a story about erectile dysfunction, "The Rusted Guns of Milan," that, when combined with the band's grinding, pounding bluster, brought the house down.

In the beginning of the story, Argos is a virgin on the verge of losing his purity but, as luck would (or would not) have it, there were some problems with his "equipment." Channeling The Little Engine that Could, Argos began chanting: "I think I can, I think I can Ö" while the band plodded along with him. Apparently thinking positively didn't work because Argos next demanded: "Leave the lights on! Leave the lights on!" Humiliated that even the well-lit sight of the naked female form failed to rouse his dragon, Argos issued an apology and a request: "Don't tell your friends."

Art Brut was subjected to the most oppressive sunlight of the entire day and, despite the fact that they were visibly overheated (and most certainly blinded as well), the band persevered and pulled off Saturday's best set. Freddy Feedback, Art Brut's bass player, was able to escape the sun behind her punk hairdo, but otherwise there was no shelter to be had. Throughout the performance, Argos flailed his arms around, motioning to other band members and reeling across the stage, dripping with sweat and bolstered by the cheers of the audience, who clearly enjoyed the spectacle. I felt a pang of pity for Ted Leo, who had the misfortune of following Art Brut's high-octane set.

Before heading for the gates I stopped in to hear The Walkmen play "The Rat" and "We've Been Had," but the New York quintet simply couldn't crank out enough juice to prevent me from calling it a day. Drained and ready for shade and a drink I waved farewell to Pitchfork's first festival and wished them better luck with the weather next summer.

SEE ALSO: www.pitchforkmusicfestival.com
SEE ALSO: www.biz3.net

--
Jon Burke
A contributing writer and a Chicago resident who will not be goaded by LASís editor into revealing any more details about his potentially sordid affairs.

See other articles by Jon Burke.

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