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Festival season, also known as summer, is an exciting time—bands and fans come together to rock out in the sunshine or really, really unwelcome rain. To make it through the festivities with all your toes intact, here’s an abbreviated music festival survival guide.Stay hydrated. Beer doesn’t count.Drinking water beforehand is essential, but you should keep chugging (H2O, not booze!) during and after the festival too. And keep an eye out for the symptoms of dehydration: dizziness, heart palpitations, and little cartoon flames inside your eyes all indicate that something’s not right. You’ll want to get some shade, water, or help from a first-aid tent, lest you topple over onto someone else’s picnic blanket.Don’t be so quick to dismiss the value of steel-toe boots.If you’re lingering toward the back of the masses, it might be safe to wear flip-flops, but if your plan is to get up front, closed-toe shoes are the way to go. Hobbling to the medical tent is a lousy way to miss the encore.Keep your wits (and friends) about you.Remember to indulge with moderation, pace yourself, and have a blast, but not so much that you can’t make smart choices (or operate Instagram properly). Failing all else, use the buddy system: make sure you and a friend are keeping an eye on each other or sharing a pair of three-legged pants, and arrange for a place to meet up at the end of the evening in case you get separated.Trash cans are a hot spot for The Enemy. Bees love trash cans. They love trash cans, and they hate you. This cannot be overstated. Get in, deposit trash, get out.Illustration: Jess Snively, Groupon.Read More
Compared to previous years’ rainstorms and heat waves, 2014’s Pitchfork Music Festival was all sunshine and cool breezes. The idyllic weather helped set the vibe for the 43 performances spread over the three-day event. Here are our highlights of the festival’s best moments (both musical and non-musical): Musical Best Headliner: Beck Neutral Milk Hotel delivered an intimate set to loyal fans and Kendrick Lamar ended the fest on a bombastic note, but Beck’s Friday-night showmanship proved hard to top. He showcased well-known (aka funky) hits—“Loser” and “E-Pro” among them—as well as the softer, more introspective side exhibited on albums like Sea Change and this year’s Morning Phase, reminding fans of his status as a true genre chameleon. The constant hopping from hip-hop to blues to country all built to a maximalist encore that included a wicked harmonica solo, an early-career medley of “Where It’s At,” “One Foot in the Grave,” and “Miss You,” not to mention an impressive amount of dancing. Best Finale: St. Vincent The bewitching St. Vincent owned the Red stage on Saturday with her ferocious guitar playing and raw choreography. There were no straight-up dance routines, but Annie Clark practically glided across the stage, moving in synchronicity with her backup guitarist to give the show a near-cinematic quality. Clark (whose gold-embellished dress would look at home on any red carpet) ended her set by rolling around on the stage and smashing her head into a bass drum—her post-show icing was well-deserved. Best Brass: Neutral Milk Hotel It’s not every year that a tuba takes center stage at Pitchfork. Then again, few things about Neutral Milk Hotel’s set were conventional—the lack of photo and video coverage, for one, and the fact that the crowd felt “Holland, 1945” was moshing music. All shoving aside, the band delivered an emotional set that was true to the antiquated sideshow spirit of their cult album In the Aeroplane over the Sea. A heavily bearded Jeff Mangum sang in his broken-boy yowl while Scott Spillane blew the brass until his cheeks were purple and Julian Koster shredded his bow on a musical saw. Best Near-Disaster: Majical Cloudz The weekend was not without its glitches—the most severe of which was a complete keyboard failure for Majical Cloudz. Whereas Pusha T delayed his set by 30 minutes to wait on a late DJ, the electro-pop duo decided to power through their technical difficulties with a largely a cappella set, drawing on the audience for handclaps and making a few jokes along the way. Things ended dramatically with an onstage demolition of the busted keyboard. Best Rookie Rapper: Isaiah Rashad Recently signed to Top Dawg Entertainment—home of fellow Pitchfork Fest MCs Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q—the 22-year-old rapper drew a loyal crowd to the small Blue stage, no doubt recruiting some new fans in the process. Rashad laid his spitfire verses over subdued, jazz-like melodies. The end result was a fusion of West Coast party vibes and the gruff Southern style of his native Chattanooga. Best Collab: Sharon Van Etten and Goose Island Beer Near the end of her downtempo yet emotionally powerful set, Sharon Van Etten dropped in a plug for the dry-hopped kölsch she helped make for Goose Island Beer Company. “They asked me if I wanted to collaborate on a beer, and I said ‘Yeah, if you want it to be disgusting,’ but it was really good!” Indeed, the SVE Kölsch was a hit, though you won’t find the limited-edition brew outside this year’s Pitchfork Festival—yet. Non-Musical Best VIP: Marnie the Dog The 12-year-old Instagram celeb hit the festival hard, snapping selfies with fans, shopping for vinyl, and cuddling with Dum Dum Girls, DIIV, and Perfect Pussy. Best Festival Perk: Free Haircuts Tyler Scott and Will Valentine of Joe’s Barber Shop gave out more than 200 free haircuts at the festival this weekend. The catch? Their clients had no say in what kind of style they received. “I made a girl cry,” Scott said. “I shaved half her head.” Nonetheless, most festival-goers left happy. “It’s a free haircut. You get what you get!” Best Artwork: Geometric Village from Johalla Projects Johalla Projects debuted its newest public art piece at Pitchfork: a duo of tent-like structures designed by collage artists Heather Gabel and Chad Kouri. The two contrasting pieces created a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure depending on who was playing the nearby Blue stage. Kouri’s vibrant, simple prints and upbeat slogans paired well with the carefree electro-pop of Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, while Gabel’s stark black-and-white images included a human skull and a coyote torso that complemented the darker, more contemplative compositions of Jon Hopkins. Best Craft: Mia Weiner’s Custom Embroidery In the craft tent’s sea of chunky plastic earrings, flower-adorned sunglasses, and ironic T-shirts, Mia Weiner’s booth stood out for its direct connection to the music. Her custom-embroidered pieces—each taking untold hours to complete—offered a truly unique souvenir: hand-stitched flags and pins of the festival’s featured artists. Request your own custom piece from her online shop, How Could You?. The next Pitchfork Music Festival won’t be for another year. In the meantime, check out more music in the Windy City with these deals for concerts in Chicago. Photos: Jessica Lehrman (Beck, crowd); Tom Spray (Isaiah Rashad); Ebru Yildiz (Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent); Andrew Nawrocki, Groupon (non-musical categories)Read More
We asked the programming director of the Balkan Spring Festival for a crash course in Balkan music. He gave us this mind-melting playlist. Dissonant music snakes its way through the International House’s Assembly Hall at the University of Chicago. Dancers—some in ethnic costume, some in skinny jeans—walk in a tight spiral, their feet moving in time to the complex rhythms of Balkan music. This sight would be jarring any other time of the year, but it’s fairly common at the annual Balkanske Igre’s Spring Festival (March 28–30). This year marks the festival’s 49th iteration, and the schedule is set to include workshops on Bulgarian, Macedonian, Turkish, and Roma dance; a concert with performances by dancers and musicians; and evening dance parties with live music. John Kuo, the longtime leader of Chicago ensemble Balkanske Igre, is excited to see some new faces at the festival this year. “We’re looking forward to seeing lots of people being exposed to this for the first time. And it may open doors … to new rhythms, music, and dance that they may not have previously encountered.” “This is the real stuff,” Kuo says. “Our festival is very different. We’re bringing the masters of this tradition.” In that spirit, we asked Kuo to share his top 10 Balkan songs for people who know absolutely nothing about Balkan music. The resulting playlist is charming and strange, and—fair warning—it’s probably going to make your head spin a little. 1. “Chaje Shukarije” “In recent years,” Kuo says, “there’s an increasing interest in the music and dance of the Balkans—especially of the Roma.” Though the satirical film Borat is based on a character from Kazakhstan, about half of its soundtrack comes from the Balkans. This includes the opening song, “Chaje Shukarije,” recorded by Esma Redzepova, who is basically the Billie Holiday of Roma music. 2. “Mundo Cocek” According to Kuo, Boban Markovic Orkestar is the “greatest brass band in the world.” Their music has inspired countless contemporary fusion bands and other media, including the soundtrack for the film Underground, which explores the history of Yugoslavia from World War II through the Cold War. 3. “Izlel e zhelyo haidutin” This Roma tune has traveled further from Earth than almost any other song in history. In 1977, the Voyager spacecraft launched with a set of gold-plated phonograph records filled with images and songs that would represent Earth’s culture to extraterrestrial life. Carl Sagan helped pick these songs, and he didn’t neglect to include “Izlel e zhelyo haidutin.” 4. “Jelem Jelem” Throughout their history, the Roma people have traveled across Asia and the Balkans and into Western Europe. The song “Jelem Jelem,” which translates to “I wander, I wander,” represents the spirit of that long journey. Its meaning runs so deep that it was adopted by the World Romani Congress as their anthem. 5. “Ederlezi” Use this song to celebrate St. George’s Day, when Romani people are known to jump into local rivers and lakes. The music’s calm, watery sound is similarly—though not quite as literally—immersive. Kuo believes that these personal cleansing rituals provide a unique anthropological insight and “may be a throwback to [the Roma’s] original Hindu rituals.” 6. “Makedonsko Devojce” This Slavic song is “enjoyed and known pretty much everywhere in the Balkans.” It describes the virtues of the Macedonian girl who has hair like silk and resembles a flower picked from the garden. The dance features a simple series of steps and often concludes parties such as the Spring Festival. 7. “Improvisation for Bulgarian Tapan” Balkan music is distinct because of its complex rhythms, the fact that they constantly cultivate dissonance, and a quality of melancholy that’s tied to the region’s tumultuous history. That last part should strike a chord with fans of Celtic music. In fact, Balkan music has penetrated Celtic traditions in a more direct way. When Gaelic Storm played for the film Titanic, they borrowed a tapan (a large two-handed drum) from a Balkan group based in Los Angeles. If you look closely, you can see them playing it in the film. 8. “Zeibekiko” This bluesy Greek song has a 9/4 meter that’s danced in a style called reibetika. It’s unique enough to have inspired the composers of various films, including Zorba the Greek and Never on Sunday. Though originally considered a dance of the lower classes, it was so widespread by the 1970s that even middle-aged Greek matrons were dancing along. “In a former era,” Kuo says, this “may have been considered risque or even scandalous.” 9. “More Sokol Pie Voda Kraj Vardarot” For a song you’ll always have an opportunity to dance to, try “More Sokol Pie Voda Kraj Vardarot,” which translates to “The Falcon Drinks from the Vardar Waters.” This song is “instantly recognizable to Serbians, Bulgarians, Macedonians, and Greeks” because Macedonia is centrally located and its culture touches all of the surrounding countries. 10. “Miserlou” When Kuo teaches his annual lecture at the University of Chicago, he plays this song and asks students what it reminds them of. Their response? Either “Pump It” by the Black Eyed Peas or Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. But “Miserlou” was originally a Turkish song brought to the US by Greek immigrants. This version is by Reptile Palace Orchestra, a group out of Madison. Like what you hear? Tickets for the Friday- and Saturday-night Spring Festival dance parties at the University of Chicago's International House start at $15 and $25, respectively. Click here for more information.Read More
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