By midday, the sun burned so intensely overhead that it seamed extended periods without shade could consequently melt facial features off faces. To be an all-day participant at Pitchfork's first annual Intonation music festival meant going the distance. The warm, muggy weather simply created an additional level of complexity to the well-layered event. Showing up and being a fan was only part of the experience, the other 90% consisted of meeting new people, hearing great music, drinking cold beer, waiting in bathroom lines, buying merch, dancing in DJ tents, wading through mosh pits, and even throwing up in garbage cans (well it did for one guy I saw, at least). Issues of heat exhaustion were simply another element contributing to the near epic saga that unfolded over the two-day period. The major success of this incredibly ambitious event could foreshadow Intonation’s critical role within the industry. The festival had the ability to shape artists, making its debut something more than a show. Intonation was the festival that every radio station in the country wishes they could put on.
With so many talented performers filling stages to the right and left, one after the other, I found my first impressions somewhat overwhelming. In a state of recluse, I forged past hoards of scencesters en route to the VIP holding area. Once inside, my weak attempt to “play it cool’, was spoiled by genuine excitement. I still get giddy when talking to band members, and I found Intonation no different when face to face with the likes of Jesse Keeler of Death From Above 1979 or Rob Lowe of TV on the Radio. While I continued to force small talk on unsuspecting musicians, performers like Pelican and later Four Tet captivated onlookers. The music and early performances were incredible, but there was more to being at Intonation than just seeing the music. Nearly 10,000 people both from Chicago and as far away as Germany had come to experience this thing together. However, what was even more remarkable than the sure girth of the attendance was the mix of individuals that made it. Intonation managed to gather the largest congregation of tastemakers and trendsetters I have ever witnessed in such close proximity to each other.
A major highlight from the first day, in addition to brand new songs from Broken Social Scene, was the highly anticipated performance by The Go!Team, who just the night before had played at club gig at Chicago's Double Door. The band handled the shift from bar room atmosphere to outdoor amphitheater with ease and in doing so, have forged a unique impression that will no doubt heighten expectations of future US performances. The group's last two songs were accompanied by a series of back up dancers picked from a local city pool that was basically on the festival grounds. The kids chosen to come up on stage ranged from grade school to junior high, and their charming display of energy put an interesting spin on the whole event.
As the sun eventually began to set on the first day and things had begun to cool slightly, Death From Above 1979 took stage. It was as if everyone I had bumped into that day had quietly been waiting for this specific moment. What had for the most part been a groovin show was about to be transformed into a balls-out rock & roll throw down. A wall of human bodies pushed vigorously against the guardrails that thankfully separated the massive crowd from the stage. When the two-piece band pulled out and began to power through their adrenaline fueled set list, the crowd went ecstatic and with no surprise formed the first of two mosh pits I personally experienced while at Intonation. The hundreds of rowdy kids moshing around in what appeared to have been a baseball diamond, kicked up clouds of red dust that filled the stage like a colored fog machine. While I covered my face with a cloth handkerchief to keep dust from burning my lungs, Death From Above 1979 pounded their way into the night leaving nothing to be desire.
In truth, taking on both days might be easier next year as I learn how to better pace myself through the journey. Completely exhausted from day one, I showed up much later on Sunday, so as to give myself a little time to recoup. But after an hour scoping clothing from awesome local designers and an overwhelming amount of rare vinyl in make-shift flea market, and exercising my Halo 2 skills at the Xbox truck, I was ready for action.
Out Hud was one of the best acts at the festival. Though a daytime, outdoor gig is probably not their forté, the Bay Area/NYC dance/post-punk outfit absolutely kicked out the jams, drawing fans from across the festival grounds with their high-energy, exciting, danceable songs. A large pack of fans were shaking their asses throughout the band's entire set, a feat that was borderline life-threatening, as the temperatures soared towards the 100 degree mark.
Deer Hoof was a major highlight of day two and I had personally been waiting for their stage performance all weekend. But the second day was made epic by mastermind DJ extraordinaire Diplo in the Biz 3 DJ tent. The tent was covered on three sides by a vinyl tarp material and trust you me it was hot... really F***ing hot. I’ve seen Diplo spin several times before, and I would say that this was by far the best set I’ve heard him mix. When the sound mysteriously went out during the middle of the set, a good five-minute break was a much desired chance to catch a breath for anyone shaking serious ass. But without much trouble, the wheels of steel where back in motion, spinning everything from Mike Jones to Bloc Party.
It wasn’t just “fun” to be at Intonation it was genuinely “cool” to be there and stories of the event will carry on, making next year's an even larger production. Given is was the first year, I could not expect anything more, and who knows if the subtle magic of the moment will stay intact. Giant bike racks, well placed bathrooms, reasonably cheap food, volunteer security and a line-up of some of the greatest artists producing contemporary music, have made this year's Intonation legendary.