It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since the first Pitchfork Music Festival in 2006. Throughout the last 10 years of weekends at Chicago’s Union Park, there has been a lot of documentation on our part. As the saying goes, pics or it didn’t happen—but better than just photos, we have quite an archive of videos. We’ve been lucky enough to host plenty of artists right before their career-defining moments. So, with this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival coming up in about a month, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane. Here are 10 right-place, right-time performances (plus a fest diary from Bradford Cox) from the first 10 Pitchfork Fests.
Vampire Weekend — “A-Punk” (2008)
It’s strange to think about, but the boys from Vampire Weekend are now elder statesmen in indie rock, all having entered their thirties. Their self-titled debut came out only a few months prior to their performance at the festival in 2008, and as promising as that LP was, it seemed possible that Vampire Weekend could dissolve back into the aether of the buzz that produced them—it was just that kind of era. But watching them cram all that energy into two minutes of pop magic, should prove—even before all the success that would come their way—that they meant business.
Daytrip with Bradford Cox (2008)
Bradford Cox, sporting a pair of white Wayfarers, stares straight into the camera with a sense of bemused wickedness and deadpans: “We’re here at the Pitchfork Music Festival… tripping.” He doesn’t play with Deerhunter in this clip, instead leading viewers on a tour of the day’s festivities. He trolls Justin Vernon by mispronouncing Bon Iver, plays a set with Spoon, watches King Khan, cozies up with No Age’s Dean Spunt, and generally schmoozes with festival-goers. It’s all high comedy and tender fun, showing a side of Cox you might not suspect by simply listening to Deerhunter.
Beach House — “Zebra” (2009)
Beach House’s big breakthrough, 2010’s Teen Dream, was more than six months away at this point, so “Zebra”—a standout from that LP and a future BH standard—was still in its nascent stages. Guitarist Alex Scally is still sitting down (as he used to do in early Beach House shows), they’re still playing live as a duo (as opposed to the quartet they tour as now), and it feels a little funny seeing such moody music performed in stark daylight, but they effectively tease the dreamy magic they had in store.
Kurt Vile — “Jesus Fever” (2011)
Head down, long curly hair whipping in the wind, ripping a gorgeous guitar solo, Vile just about confirms Sean Yeaton’s (of Parquet Courts) words of praise from earlier this year: “He’s one of the last examples of a rock‘n’roll frontiersman who's just going to be famous. He's like the Mars 1 mission.” There is an awe-inducing calm that comes with watching Vile perform then as a younger man, the sort who would never suspect that he’d be famous enough to be an answer on Jeopardy just a few years later.
James Blake — “CMYK” (2011)
Once upon a time, James Blake used to make thumping club bangers. “CMYK” was one of those songs, and it’s possibly the best from his so called “post-dubstep” days. He still hadn’t released his self-titled LP when this very loud and raw performance of “CMYK” took place. These six minutes of video are messy and beautiful and sweaty and maximalist, in a way that’s quite hard to imagine Blake tapping into now in his shows, from behind the piano.
Kendrick Lamar’s Radio Run mini-doc (2012)
Kendrick Lamar was still a budding talent with a Dre co-sign in the summer of 2012. Who could have known then that he was going to become one of the most important rappers of the 21st century? Nevertheless, before Kendrick’s performance at Pitchfork Fest that summer, we filmed this mini-doc where we followed him around his promo tour of Chicago. He discusses his upcoming album (the still untitled good kid, m.A.A.d city), a Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole collab (which is still unreleased), among other things. Then Lady Gaga shows up for his Pitchfork set, where he performs the freshly minted “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “ADHD.” By the fall, he’d release good kid, and after that it, well, the rest is history.
Grimes — “Genesis” (2012)
Claire Boucher is the architect for an entire set of aesthetics that, in a just a few years’ time, has come to influence pop music (and inspire a bajillion Tumblrs). But in 2012, she had just released her breakthrough Visions. Her performance of “Genesis” speaks to what is absolutely incomparable about Grimes: She expresses a totally unexplainable bliss, that grows more pleasurable and more head-scratching the longer you keep listening and looking.
King Krule — “Portrait in Black and Blue” (2012)
It would be another year before Archy Marshall released his debut LP 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, and at this point, he was perhaps best known as Zoo Kid, the moniker he used to drop “Out Getting Ribs” in late 2010. It was hard to know what a body of work would look like from him, because at this point he was still coming into his own, revising his musical personality on the fly. In this clip, Marshall plays “Portrait in Black and Blue,” from his self-titled EP, and it’s kind of casual perfection that feels tailor-made for sunny afternoons at summer fests.
DJ Rashad (2013)
Deeply woven into the fabric of Chicago’s recent musical history is the effect of DJ Rashad’s footwork genius. He may not have started the genre (credit goes to RP Boo), but he wrote its New Testament. Rashad’s crowning achievement, Double Cup, was set to be released in the fall of 2013, and before that, footwork was by and large a niche but fanatically followed genre of dance music. In this performance, he played a medley of songs, including “Feelin” months before it was released. The next year, Rashad passed away, so the Teklife family honored him in DJ Spinn’s performance at Pitchfork Fest 2014.
Perfume Genius — “Queen” (2015)
This is the most current video on the list, having occurred during last year's festival. And it’s not so much that this was before Mike Hadreas became famous, but it’s a powerful piece of video evidence that his performances will be the stuff of legend in the not-so-distant future. In this he plays “Queen” from his stunning third album, Too Bright, and the force of his stage presence is quite the sight.
This year’s Pitchfork Music Festival takes place July 15-17 at Chicago’s Union Park.