Faster Than Sound: Every Artist From Pitchfork Festival Headed to Austin This Year
My trip to Chicago is your summer-to-fall ticket-shopping opportunity
I meant to listen to Philadelphia band Spirit of the Beehive upon a friend's recommendation and even had their local March gig on my calendar, but never made it happen. Finally focusing on the rock experimentalists' bubbly use of unexpected, industrially edged sound design at Chicago's Pitchfork Festival last weekend, all I could think was: Damn, this would have been amazing in Austin at the Ballroom!
To spare you the regretful, meant-to-listen-to moment, I offer a rundown of artists from the fest incoming locally. All have tickets awaiting your penciling-in. Now, you're probably wondering: Rachel, you're a local music reporter – what are you doing hobnobbing at a festival put on by a publication that never accepted any of your freelance pitches?
Well, a few Chronicle-ers are attending the Association of Alternative Newsmedia Convention hosted by the Chicago Reader this week, and I figured I'd use the opportunity to attend my very first outside-of-Texas music festival. I really enjoyed existing outdoors below 107 degrees Fahrenheit and hopping between three close stages with minimal set conflicts. On Sunday, I enjoyed Toro y Moi essential "Who I Am" in the middle of Union Park while listening for Cate Le Bon to start up behind my back. It made me miss Fun Fun Fun Fest and wish Austin could have a midsized on-site fest again.
Aside from convenient public transportation, other splendid experiences included Portugal-born Danish singer Erika de Casier's first time playing an American festival, hearing Monaleo's viral "We Not Humping" live, and Tirzah's wonderfully off-kilter instrumentation, as crowd members who only wanted "Holding On" thinned out. With ACL and Levitation wrapped in October, I hadn't attended a fest since the Astroworld tragedy, and found headliners extremely attentive to fainting crowd members with multiple midsong stops for raised hands.
Plenty of Austin faces, like photographers Daniel Cavazos and Pooneh Ghana, Ground Control Touring agent Timmy Hefner, and side-stage production extraordinaire Monica Skinner, made me feel not so far from home. Although I did feel like quite the oddity when my British hostel roommate asked if Pitchfork was a "hillbilly music" festival, maybe a mix-up compounded by my Texan status and frilly outfits.
KainaAug. 29, Mohawk with Helado Negro
RIYL: pillowy R&B and uplifting rock exploring positivity and persistence
Alongside Chicagoans CupcakKe and Noname, Kaina Castillo represented her hometown at the fest after launching on area artists Nnamdï and Sen Morimoto's Sooper Records. The singer's standout voice set a soft, moonlit tone for the calm resistance explored on March's It Was a Home – best accompanied live in waves of Latin jazz and droopy semi-psychedelia, rather than the bandmates' occasional heavier rock interruptions not present on record. The Venezuelan Guatemalan artist's lyrics merged beautifully in a velvety Spanish-and-Japanese duet with keyboardist Morimoto of their 2019 song "Could Be a Curse." The duo looked extremely tender gazing at each other from half a stage length away.
Indigo De SouzaSept. 1, Moody Theater with Courtney Barnett and Ethel Cain
RIYL: spiky indie rock catharsis from a superhero singer-songwriter and band
Even in the pouring rain, a long line happily waited to meet Indigo De Souza after her electric afternoon set. With a lightning-bolt-marked guitar and sky-high curls, the guitar-slinging and hopping bandleader stood poised as a charismatic indie rock superhero – fully embracing the grungier, high-energy side of her formerly folktronic recordings. The Asheville, North Carolina-launched artist maintained a cutting, clear-eyed delivery of catalog selects spanning vulnerability and rage release, especially with the shout-along title line from 2018 track "Take Off Ur Pants." I also heard serious pent-up potential in the "Bad Dream" repetition: "Girls are fighting/ I'm having a hard time sleeping."
Ethel CainSept. 1, Moody Theater with Courtney Barnett and Indigo De Souza
RIYL: pregaming for the gig with haunted small-town imagery
Ethel Cain's elaborate Southern Gothic universe of gunne sax dresses and face tattoos manifested on stage in mismatched Alabama and Georgia university sweats. Unadorned, the rural Alabama-based pop figure looked like she just escaped a religious compound, with drummer and guitarist and cinematic backing track in tow. The singer presented a more restrained, dreamy edition of where iconography-integrating singer-songwriters Lana Del Rey and Chelsea Wolfe have tread. The subtlety would make for a strange mainstream pop set, but that's likely where her culty online following is headed. Tattooed hands never left the mic stand, leaving room to remark on serious country-singer-level talent on "Family Tree." Other than a brief harmonica intro to "Crush," I left with no more personal insight on the enigmatic Cain than before.
Magdalena BaySunday, Oct. 9 & 16, ACL Fest
RIYL: a sampling of synthesized pop shades sung through a Britney Spears mic
With the clarity of a children's television character, Mica Tenenbaum told horizontal musical partner Matthew Lewin: "Matt, wake up; we're at Pitchfork." I'd followed the duo from placement on Luminelle Recordings, record label of Texas-based music blog Gorilla vs. Bear, while many fans routed via surreal green-screened social media clips. Experiencing some Eighties synth-pop overkill of recent years during "Dawning of the Season," I warmed up by the grittier Y2K turbulence of "You Lose!" Leotard-donning Tenenbaum's voice easily wrangled buoyant choral liftoffs with guitarist/producer Lewin and a live drummer, humanizing the group's shiny PC Music inspiration. The singer's stage presence, between fairy and aerobics instructor, furthered the welcome party.
Japanese BreakfastSunday, Oct. 9 & 16, ACL Fest
RIYL: keeping up with transcending of-the-moment cultural figures
I'm not sure Japanese Breakfast requires any introduction, as principal Michelle Zauner continues a breakout rollout of 2021 bestselling memoir Crying in H Mart (film adaptation incoming) and Grammy-nominated 2021 record Jubilee. She's absolutely earned the next-level acclaim with years of fruitful alternative pop. (Here I'll shout-out my friend Tyler Andere, Austin-based A&R rep for Father/Daughter Records, who booked all three Saturday Pitchfork headliners – Lucy Dacus, Japanese Breakfast, and Mitski – back in 2016 at an East Austin South by Southwest house show for their music blog Portals. We should all obviously trust their taste.) JBrekkie went über-Chicago with a guesting Jeff Tweedy for "Kokomo, IN" and Wilco's "Jesus, Etc." – which Zauner has cited as inspiration for her recording's strings. A jump-along saxophone solo on "Slide Tackle" set up the Korean American icon for a triumphant finale, sure to delight at Zilker.
SpelllingOct. 20, Mohawk
RIYL: eerie and exuberant pop compositions from a former elementary school teacher
Friday's falling rain felt most appropriate for radiant, theatrically minded pop spirit Spellling, outlet of Oakland-based Chrystia "Tia" Cabral. After twirling vigorously enough to knock over her Korg, the singer broke the anachronistic spell of her progressively ominous music with a contemporary reference: "I feel like I need to do a Hillary Duff cover," with a line of "Come Clean." A violinist and two backing vocalists supported the live re-creation of the grand orchestration on 2021 album The Turning Wheel. Set time allowed for only a handful of the extended expeditions, like the almost-six-minute "Little Deer," and I'd love to hear more at her Austin headline.