Since it began in 2006, Pitchfork Music Festival has been one of the most consistently forward-looking festivals of the summer season. Where other fests follow a time-tested pattern of Popular Headliner plus thousands of other bands, the Pitchfork festival operates outside the rules. It’s less interested in showcasing familiar names as it is giving a platform for artists with a distinct artistic vision.
This year, the festival’s sonic reach is wider than ever, encompassing everything from churning art metal to spry, buoyant hip-hop, with stops off at just about everything in between. Whether you like the spare synth ballads of Youth Lagoon, the roaring rock of Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall or the stirring sounds of Beach House, there’s something here to satisfy your taste, and to introduce you to your next favorite band. Here are the acts our editors think you should check out in Chicago this weekend. (And don’t forget to download our free 29-song sampler, too.)
Who He Is: Austin-based songwriting prodigy who mashes together every single kind of bad attitude rock 'n' roll has invented: pomade-greased biker-rock menace meets bratty pop-punk sneer meets booger-flicking grunge self-loathing, spiked with some teenage garage-band adenoids.
Why He Matters: Because his guitar sounds are so loud they are frightening. Because he looks like he might fly apart in all directions when he tortures that shredded squeal from his voice-box. And because for a whole lot of young rock 'n' roll-loving kids, he is a one-stop-shop song machine.
Who They Are: Baltimore's Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand make woozy, mysterious synth-pop.
Why They Matter: This spring they released their fourth album Bloom, which only strengthened the overcast dream-pop aesthetic they've maintained since their 2006 debut. Even though it's a perfect headphones album with lots of details, their songs are huge live.
Who He Is: The sleepy-eyed, silver-tongued, intellectual prince of West Coast rap, Kendrick Lamar has been handed the mantle of Next Great Hope crown by none other than Dr. Dre himself.
Why He Matters: Because with his slippery, darting flow, easy way with sung hooks, and quizzical mind, he is feeling his way around all of the roadblocks to originality that keep his peers stuck in place. Right now, there is not a rap fan on Earth that is not eagerly watching what Kendrick Lamar will do next.
Thee Oh Sees
Who They Are: The demented cult leaders of San Francisco's art-damaged psych-pop scene.
Why They Matter: Because they have built a fanatically devoted fanbase through their leering, neon-bright records, which mix saccharine sweetness with a poisonous dash of punishing noise, like a Jolly Rancher melting in rat poison.
Who They Are: New York bruisers with an equal fondness for The Stooges and Beggars Banquet-era Rolling Stones
Why They Matter: Because their live shows are nothing less than a massive wall of noise, a terrifying barrage of guitars and hollered vocals that is awesomely impenetrable from the first note to the last. And while their latest album, Open Your Heart read like a People's History of Rock 'n' Roll, with stop-offs in whiskey-bar country-rock and lean late-'70s groove, live they are the world's biggest wrecking ball, aimed directly at your skull.
Who He Is: Alice Coltrane's nephew, though nepotism isn't how Steven Ellison's evolved from a Stones Throw internship to the pole position of L.A.'s long-running beat-head scene. His bewildering productions — in many ways, a future-shocked extension of Coltrane's spiritual jazz legacy — are.
Why He Matters: FlyLo's last record (2010's Cosmogramma) was mailed as one long, winding song suite to critics. Which makes sense: His albums are long-players in every sense of the word. With a new one on the way later this year, Coachella may be the first place to catch the next logical progression in what's quickly becoming one of electronic music's most intriguing 21st-century careers.
Who They Are: Lo-fi pop fronted by 20-year-old Dylan Baldi.
Why They Matter: The band's latest, Attack on Memory, contains a lot of recognizable Cloud Nothings DNA — speedy riffs, forebrain-hugging melodies — but it grafts them onto a monstrous-sounding framework, courtesy of engineer Steve Albini. Baldi's ostensibly straightforward power-pop numbers are stretched out and bulked up so efficiently, it feels like he somehow jumped three records ahead in less than year.
Who They Are: New Jersey kids making golden-hued, autumnal jangle-pop shot through with innocence and pathos.
Why They Matter: Because they have made jangling and jamming cool again. And, judging by the appearance of new bands like DIIV, their self-titled debut was influential enough to serve as some kids' Is This It?
Who They Are: The U.K.'s clown princes of club music for indie kids.
Why They Matter: Every year, the Pitchfork Music Festival presents a band that completely discredits the idea that — and we're quoting the Rapture here — "people don't dance no more/ they just stand there like this/ they cross their arms/ and stare you down/ and drink and moan and diss." Cut Copy and LCD Soundsystem did the honors the past couple years; it's now Hot Chip's turn.
Who They Are: Brooklyn's Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss, the reigning king and queen of cheerleader pop.
Why They Matter: With their debut Treats, they deployed a series of small explosions that threw off shrapnel from such divergent source material as DMX's "Gonna Make Me Lose My Mind," the Fucking Champs, Funkadelic and white-girl R&B that's more Belinda Carlisle than Debbie Harry. Their music is made for festivals — the duo's sophomore album Reign of Terror even kicks off with the roar of an audience and some foot-stomping and hand-clapping.
Who He Is: Trevor Powers, an early-20-something from Idaho who makes sad, lovely pop songs in his bedroom.
Why He Matters: Youth Lagoon's debut LP The Year of Hibernation is made up of woozy synths and drum machines, fronted by Powers's tiny voice. Many of the songs are devastating, telling the story of a young person trying to fit in with the rest of the world. In opening track "Posters" he sings, "You make real friends quickly/ But not me," and on a more encouraging note, there's "17," with the anthemic chorus of "When I was 17 my mother said to me/ 'Don't stop imagining, the day that you do is the day that you die'."
Who They Are: Danish cut-ups with a fondness for stentorian vocals, stalactite riffing and 20-minute sets.
Why They Matter: Because the blood has been drained from punk rock for too long, and because someone needs to grab it by the jugular and throttle it back to life. And Iceage, devil love them, are just the band to do it. Blending the dead-eyed nihilism of Joy Division with roaring wind turbines of guitar, Iceage are the violent sound of moral collapse.
Who He Is: A peerless master of ambient noise and cathartic, blizzard-like conditions.
Why He Matters: Because his towering laptop sets are often more intense than a six-member heavy-metal band.
Who They Are: Dead-earnest Vancouver bros who are here to re-pose the Almost Famous query "Do you remember laughter?" in a series of increasingly life-affirming punk anthems.
Why They Matter: Because 2012's Celebration Rock is a joyous, transcendent gangly-limbed whoop powerful enough to reinvent punk for a new generation of 12-year-olds.
Who He Is: Rather than go the political route like the acclaimed multi-medium pieces of his father (celebrated Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar), Nicolas Jaar has spent the past couple years making heady dance/downtempo music and studying comparative literature at Brown.
Why He Matters: Because he's done more by the age of 22 — including launching his own label/production company and largely improvising a special five-hour set at MoMA's PS1 space — than most producers/performers that are twice his age. And considering he can't seem to sit still between his own music and a promising side project called Darkside, there's literally no telling what he'll deliver next.