Prairie Pop: Pitchforked

Photo by Benjamin Franzen

My editor assigned me to find out, in his words, “Is the Pitchfork Music Festival still fun?” As luck would have it, I’ve been perfecting an algorithm that calculates the objective quality of the festival experience using the Pitchfork website’s well known rating system, from 0.0 to 10.0. Heat is a deciding variable, and this year offered a perfect controlled experiment because the weather went from sunny and mild on Friday to off-the-charts oppressive by Sunday. Other calculations include: quality of the music and its appropriateness for the open air; the effects of drugs and/or alcohol; and, of course, one’s age (a negative coefficient).

Pitchfork did have many highlights–tUnE-yArDs, No Age, and Off! all spiced things up–but there were a few aesthetic atrocities. The most heinous crime was programming DJ Shadow in the daylight. I was lucky enough to catch his set two days later at the Blue Moose and it was like, er, night and day. Back in Iowa City, the darkened venue stage became a quasi-holographic spectacle, with Shadow performing inside a rotating ball on which mesmerizing animations were projected. It was the most visually stunning and innovative performance I’ve ever witnessed in a rock club. But at Pitchfork it was like watching Star Wars without any of the special effects, in the frying heat. These variables conspired to turn a 10.0 set into a lackluster 2.3.

By the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, some dazed audience members looked like they had been pummeled by Mike Tyson. It was only with the setting of the sun and the light electro-pop of Cut Copy that the crowd got its second (or fifth) wind. Soon, people all the way back to the food tents were dancing. Even the angry-looking macho man at the furthest edge of the grass–whose T-shirt read “TWO WORDS: SUCK IT”–was nodding his head. After TV On The Radio’s powerful closing performance, the festival’s overall rating crept back up to a 7.1.

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