As has become July tradition, I spent last weekend in Chicago’s Union Park for Pitchfork Music Festival, Pitchfork’s annual showcase of rising underground acts.
This is not your average festival. It’s an event where major-label rapper Kendrick Lamar opens for brainy sound collage artist Oneohtrix Point Never, where photographers climb all over each other to shoot Beach House, where Japandroids constitute rock royalty.
None of those cracked my top 10 list, though.
10. Schoolboy Q: I expected Kendrick Lamar, whose prodigious talent had Lady Gaga watching from the wings, to rule. But his Black Hippy associate Schoolboy Q outdid him on pure hustle.
9. Grimes: I turned off Grimes’ “Visions” because it was so unpleasant. Her live show — a burlesque cheerleading expo with synthesizers — proved she has promise after all.
8. Danny Brown: Don’t let this man near your children.
7. Cloud Nothings: The Cleveland band barreled through “Wasted Days” in the rain with determination that suggested electrocution might be worth it.
6. Feist: Describing Feist’s approachable music as “uncompromising” seems strange but apt. She plays folk-pop like a boss.
5. The Psychic Paramount: The most intense moment from your favorite song repeated to the breaking point, then exploding into noisy nothingness. If you showed up early to see them — at Pitchfork or when they opened for Dirty Projectors in Columbus last week — you win.
4. Dirty Projectors: Speaking of Dirty Projectors, I think I’m in love. Who sounds like this?
3. Willis Earl Beal: Don’t bother listening to his underwhelming records. Just go see the self-proclaimed “black Tom Waits” howl over bizarre soundscapes from a reel-to-reel.
2. Hot Chip: I thought these aging dance-rock geeks were washed up. Nerp. At a festival where everyone seems worried about being cool, they were shamelessly doing what they love and doing it well.
1. Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall Band and The Men: This is a cop-out. I don’t care. You try choosing between these garage rock titans, all of whom put their own spin on the genre while vying to top each other with consecutive sets Sunday.