Recapping Pitchfork 2011: OFWGKTA and TVOTR

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Peace, love, and Odd Future
I'm not the biggest Odd Future fan. I think Earl is brilliant and Goblin has a bunch of bright spots, but I'm still hesitant to cosign anyone who glorifies violence toward women without a couple of serious qualifiers, even though I don't think Odd Future are a bunch of rapists or that those lyrics come from anywhere but the raging id of a teenage boy—given that I was a teenage boy myself at around the same time Tyler was first putting together syllables, it looks kind of familiar. (Though as Marge Simpson pointed out once, "Boys will be boys" is an extremely tired tautology.) And in terms of musical experiences at this past weekend's Pitchfork Music Festival, I don't think Odd Future even made the top ten.

On the other hand, there wasn't anyone else on the bill who was even close to being as fascinating as Tyler and his crew. For better or worse, Pitchfork (the festival and to a much greater extent the website) has been one of the major forces in rounding off the sharp corners that indie rock inherited from punk and hardcore, thus making it palatable to the vastly wider audience that it has today. Some aspects of that makeover are great—it's hard not to enjoy seeing bands like No Age and Ariel Pink, who still hold tight to punk's freak flag, performing in front of tens of thousands of people. The downside is that an operation like the Pitchfork Music Festival, with not just those tens of thousands of festivalgoers but also a small army of corporate sponsors to keep happy, tends to play it a little safe. If this means sacrificing some of the free-floating potential for chaos that permeated the DIY punk fests that the Pitchfork festival counts among its ancestors, so be it.

Tyler, the Creator meets fans backstage
  • Tyler, the Creator meets fans backstage
Which is why hands-down one of the best experiences I had this weekend was standing by the main entrance gate to the grounds during Odd Future's set, watching teenage boys—mostly black, unlike the average Pitchforker—take turns trying to run the gauntlet of security guards posted there and into the dense crowd swarming the nearby Red Stage where OF was performing. Though I saw a smattering of fence jumpers throughout the festival, they tended to come one at a time, lacking these kids' community and purpose.

It's hard to imagine someone willing to risk a flying tackle from a security guard for, say, Fleet Foxes. OF is an organization that apparently considers "creating free-floating chaos" one of its prime directives. Consequently they were one of the only groups on the bill where you could legitimately say that no one knew what was going to happen once they took the stage. It turned out to not be the anarchy some of us expected. The group's DJ, Syd tha Kid (a woman, actually), opened the proceedings with a couple of verses each of Bob Marley's "One Love" and the Black Eyed Peas' "Where Is the Love?" in what seemed to be a response to the group of protesters OF had attracted to the festival site. It wasn't clear whether the gesture was meant as provocation or genuine apology. Syd's half-cocked smile suggested it was maybe a little of both.

Then the rest of the crew came out and did what they're best at: getting a bunch of people, mostly too young to drink legally, to jump up and down and yell shit. It didn't matter that the music itself was kind of a mess. Tyler's stage dive into the crowd, despite having a leg in a cast, was really the whole point of the performance: action, excitement, and creating a moment that will be hard for anyone seeing it to forget.

After the set Tyler was swarmed backstage by a group of young female fans who wanted to take pictures with him and a slightly larger group of older, mostly male industry types taking pictures of them taking pictures together.

I like TVOTR even more now that theyve decided to be a punk band.
  • Leor Galil
  • I like TVOTR even more now that they've decided to be a punk band.
TV on the Radio, on the other hand, was supposed to be a known quantity. Its members are all well into their 30s, and though they're known to be occasionally cranky they aren't prone to confrontation, never mind rape lyrics or inciting riots. In fact their compatability with mainstream indie's artsy lifestyle aspirations is one of the things that earned TVOTR a spot closing out the festival on Sunday night. Their set began within expected parameters: fan-friendly choices from the band's catalog, rendered with the precision and gusto they're known for bringing to the live setting.

But eyebrows started going up throughout Union Park as it became apparent that the band were increasing the intensity and speed with each consecutive song. After a wrenching rendition of their apocalyptic ballad "Young Liars," TVOTR attacked "Staring at the Sun"—still probably their most popular song—like an extremely weird hardcore band doing a cover version, upping the tempo into whiplash territory and basically just beating the shit out of it. And it kept going that way. They ran through three more of their songs with just as much ferocity until finally, as if to underline what was up, they broke into Fugazi's "Waiting Room"—provoking shit-eating grins in even the most jaded corners of the VIP section.

After that they closed out the set with another old song, "Satellite," again shot through with this uncharacteristically wild streak. Then they walked off the stage, leaving a sweaty, thoroughly exhausted but immensely excited crowd to wait for an encore. The group didn't give them one.

I don't know, maybe punk's not so dead after all.

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