P4k Day 1: Gatekeeper, Battles and Curren$y

July 16, 2011

Special Pitchfork Music Festival Contributor

While the duo comprising Gatekeeper officially kicked off the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival at the Blue stage promptly at 3:20, it was a sleepy start. New-York-by-way of Chicago’s Matthew Arkell and Aaron David Ross carefully blended atmospheric waves that rushed over horror-soundtrack-styled beats. There were some creepy synths, and Atari-like ping-pong sounds, which progressively grew somewhat into dance rhythms with added skittish grooves. Despite the build, it was ultimately monotonous and no matter how much they undulated to their own grooves, essentially chair dancing, the two were less than engaging to watch live. The occasional sound bleed from EMA, who played across the field at a main stage, was almost a welcome respite.

tUnE-yArDs fared much better.  Even Merrill Garbus’ a cappella sound check was more compelling. See Jim DeRogatis' post for a full review, but I can add that “Gangsta” and “Eso Eso”’s cart wheeled vocals and grooves were well worth finding a prime spot at the Blue Stage.

Across the field, Battles, whom you could hear a little too well at times during tUnE-yArDs, were midway through a sweat-soaked frenetic set. Their latest release, Glass Drop, featured various singers who weren't present for this performance. However, two video screens featured their contributions, but proved a bit distracting. The growing crowd was engaged by the angular riffs and off-kilter quirk as the day progressed.  Still, the now trio (Tyondai Braxton left last year) of guitarist/keyboardist  Ian Williams, guitarist David Konopka and drummer John Stanier, with their knife-edge precision and astute technical feats made up for the lack of live singing.

Louisiana’s Curren$y hammed it up between dropping a few lethargic Southern rhymes from various songs, but the thing was he barely stuck on a rhyme before ushering a new one. So, between some funny, sage advice that showed a bit of his charm (“I see a few young ones. Just say no, regardless of how cool it looks”; “Act like you heard this before” “You got your festival shoes on!”) and a smattering of raps, there just wasn’t enough substance amid such brief samplings of couplets to really get a sense of his talents beyond his sense of humor.