The Pitchfork Music Festival – now winding into its third and final day in Chicago – is, like we said in our first-day post, a carefully curated and smallish affair. The genres represented span everything from hip-hop, to ambient electronic music, to indie rock, the only real common thread being that these are artists who will start to appear on bigger festival bills next year. In other words, this is where you go to say “I told you so,” a few months down the line and further along in the hype cycle.
It’s also a festival whose lineup, like most festivals, for better or for worse, is fairly male on its second day. Yet despite a headlining (and middling-energy) set by indie rock gods (and sadboy favorites) Neutral Milk Hotel, the most electrifying performances of the day came from women. Two of our favorites came courtesy of performers on opposite ends of the hype cycle: one, fka Twigs, on the ascent, and another, St. Vincent, enjoying her continuing reign as an art-rock queen.
Tahliah Barnett, the musician known as fka Twigs, took the festival’s blue stage, its smallest, as the sun finally started to fade. That was fitting for her sound, anchored by slow R&B that you basically have to describe using the word “slinky.” But rather than the super-compressed, watered-down-dance music that passes for current radio R&B, Twigs ratchets her tempo down to a slow grind. Her breathy falsetto churned over a small live band clattering through spare, low-end heavy beats.
At its best moments, the set presented an update on the great trip-hop acts of the ‘90s and ‘00s. Twigs is English, so it makes sense, as R&B has nearly always entwined with dance music in the U.K.—and not just in the cheesy David Guetta way. It’s a welcome refreshment for U.S. listeners, even those into the so-called new wave of tastemaker R&B (the Weeknd before he blew up, PartyNextDoor, How To Dress Well). That media-created conglomerate has, again, been heavily male—so fka Twigs and another day two Pitchfork performer, Kelela, provide some much-needed female gaze.
On the nearby and much larger Red Stage, Annie Clark, who performs as St. Vincent, delivered one of the most complete experiences of the festival. Rather than just amble onto the stage and play, Clark came with a full-on show, complete with a set designed like a futuristic runway and a backing band that was evidently also trained to dance in time.
The St. Vincent live sound is unabashedly excessive and layered—nothing stripped-down here!—full of crunching guitars, synths, and syncopated drumming. At times, Vincent’s guitar fuzz really sounded heavier than any of the dude bands all day before her; other times, the whole thing was influenced by a bit of R&B swing. No matter what, it was impossible to look away from Clark herself, who towered over her bandmates in a ruffled gold getup and impossibly high heels, in which she managed to shimmy and shake without falling or missing a beat.
Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.