At Pitchfork, self-concious hipsters of the world unite

Jeremy Gordon

I’ve counted eight people wearing Sonic Youth t-shirts so far, and I expect the number to rise. This is Pitchfork Music Festival, the annual event celebrating indie music culture that takes place in Chicago’s Union Park, now in its fourth year. This year, the big names include freak-rockers The Flaming Lips, indie guitar jammers Built to Spill, vaguely underground/mainstream rapper Pharoahe Monch and lo-fi darling Wavves.

Over the festival’s three days, thousands of people will pack the field and exchange the experience. My friends and I are joking about all the stereotypical hipster fashion trends we’ve been able to spot – the Sonic Youth shirts, an overabundance of wayfarer sunglasses, ironic t-shirts (a McCain/Palin ’08 tee is a highlight) – until we realized we’re criticizing ourselves, as I’m wearing red flannel and he’s wearing a cowboy plaid shirt.

We giggle uncomfortably, and stop quipping.

Pitchfork, by existing, promotes this kind of cultural recycling – people doing and experiencing the same things as everyone else, but firmly believing that a) they are different and b) other people are lame. It might be an interesting psychological experiment – seeing how members of a sub-culture interact with other members – but at this music festival, it’s a big bummer.

Very rarely do you see people cutting loose and having fun during the concerts. More common is awkward head bobbing and foot-tapping. Starting up conversations with nearby concert-goers, unless by passing a joint, is tough, and forget about getting an invite to an after-party if you don’t look cool at first sight.

Though the music is diverse, the festival primarily attracts indie rock fans who have branched into the other genres. They don’t know how to act, so they don’t act at all. During Pharoahe Monch’s set, he had to stop several times to instruct the crowd how to properly move during a rap concert. To no one’s surprise, he got the crowd bobbing their heads up and down. More surprising is that he had to tell them what to do in the first place. It seems incredible that adults and teenagers hopped up on Goose Island and God knows what could need to be told how to have fun, but I saw it for myself.

Of course, I was complicit in all this. I wasn’t moving during Monch’s set (even when he told me to) because I didn’t know his music, and, rather than instinctively dance to it (like normal people do, usually at weddings or bar mitzvahs), I stood mostly still watching other people have at it. It was more comfortable to act myself and be sure that no one would point at me or make fun of my flannel, like I had done to other people earlier in the day.

This, of course, is silly. This is not how people should act at music festivals, and yet, it was all that happened at Pitchfork. Beyond the image, the music is still good. Unfortunately, the people don’t seem to want to find that out for themselves.