As the season of summer music festivals steadily continues, the Pitchfork Music Festival looms imminent, with an increased profile like never before. Its 2013 edition begins tomorrow, July 19th, in Chicago’s Union Park; while only in its ninth year, Pitchfork Fest’s diverse, up-to-the-minute booking choices have made it a real alternative contender to the more veteran likes of Coachella and Lollapalooza. Over three days, a sprawling lineup – including Björk, Belle & Sebastian, R. Kelly, M.I.A., Joanna Newsom, Solange, Yo La Tengo, The Breeders, TNGHT, Rustie, and many more – is slotted to perform; that list evokes a year’s worth of Pitchfork’s reviews section put into a blender – relaying, in concert form, the current state of new music, and revealing much DNA from its influential parent website in the process. The Daily Swarm spoke with Chris Kaskie, President of Pitchfork Media, to get his insights on the upcoming festival, its global expansion and future, the fest’s relationship to Pitchfork’s core ethos, and the current state of the musical union.
The Daily Swarm: Was there a new approach this year in planning Pitchfork Music Festival?
Chris Kaskie: Every year is kind of unique, in a sense. It’s a fun process to see what the year will look like, but there was no different approach to really changing how we do it. We focus more on making the festival unique, in relation to the numerous others. We work really hard to make it fun for the artists who play, and the fans that come to have the best time, all while not getting gouged on ticket prices. We go to truly celebrate the music.
The Daily Swarm: Can you elaborate a bit on the lineup for this year?
Chris Kaskie: We don’t really look at who’s coming through, or what is trending. We pay more attention to new and emerging music, as Pitchfork really tries to do everyday; our heavy focus is always on that. We also don’t tend to have too much crossover from previous years – we try to make each festival different in its own way. We may have some artists playing a larger slot, when in earlier years, they may have played a smaller slot. Ultimately, we want the festival to have a cohesive build from top to bottom.
The Daily Swarm: What led to branching out and starting the festival in Paris as well?
Chris Kaskie: We were always comfortable with what we had here in Chicago. The core ethos and ideal inside of the Pitchfork festival was always to cater to a worldwide and diverse audience, though. 65% of our audience is North American, which leaves us trying to reach the other 35% internationally. Pitchfork is a different kind of festival. We didn’t want to mirror Chicago exactly, but we still wanted to keep our original ethos in tact
The Daily Swarm: Will Chicago always be the festival’s home?
Chris Kaskie: As the festival grows, we think about new ideas, such as Paris. We do envision other locations, but it is hard to think about replicating exactly what we do in Chicago. However, I don’t see why we wouldn’t explore doing more festivals in a national capacity.
The Daily Swarm: How do you feel about music in 2013?
Chris Kaskie: So far, it’s been an amazing year for music – both with what people were expecting, with also many great surprises! Artists like Neutral Milk Hotel have decided to tour again, and others have done the same. People get the nostalgic style, but also are focusing on what’s new.
The Daily Swarm: Do you have any predictions for this year?
Chris Kaskie: It’s hard to say at this point, but if I had to say anything, it would be that I’ve noticed an increase in – and acceptance of – experimentation. There really has been more of a level playing field for artists developing: we see artists who were always niche-oriented now reaching larger audiences, which is largely thanks to the Internet. People want to keep discovering music on their own, which is exciting because people can really do it easily. The previous generation still exists, but there’s also exciting experimentation happening. I would’ve never guessed we would see Kanye West take on the release of his record in such an underplayed, yet amazing, delivery with a really new-world approach. People were really excited how he did it, and the album was well received, too.
The Daily Swarm: I’ve read that you’ve referred to Pitchfork as “that friend who loves good music.” Has there been an outlining process of how you select your music?
Chris Kaskie: The whole idea is founded on trust from the readers. We have a desire to be trusted and to create quality content that is both unique and interesting. If you go on Spotify, there are millions of songs, while if you go into the Spotify Pitchfork app, you can see a slightly condensed version of what you may be interested in, or find your way to other great music. There are more options than ever to experience music: this is when Pitchfork becomes a place where people can sort everything, or see what we think of. Some may only come to the site three times per year, and others quite regularly. If we can help facilitate listening in a natural way that is not invasive to any way people experience it, we have done our job correctly.
The Daily Swarm: Do you see a greater strength in new and social media?
Chris Kaskie: The power of having thousands of people interacting with you is truly great – I am always amazed with the following people generate with apps like Instagram and Vine. I’m still trying to grasp the concept as a whole, to be honest!
The Daily Swarm: Is there any piece of advice you would give to aspiring musicians or music-business professionals?
Chris Kaskie: To be honest, that’s a tough question to answer. Everyone does their own thing differently. In terms of entering into the field, I feel like creativity resonates best with everyone. You should always develop an identity that exists in your work and really allow people to publicly access what you do, but there is really no “one way.” I am always amazed at what I see that trends at certain times; being creative and experimenting are the main parallels. You should look to make a difference rather than just looking for a job, or making music that latches onto something else.
The Daily Swarm: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your work with Pitchfork?
Chris Kaskie: It really comes down to all of the amazing people you get to work with, who all share the same passions you do for music and everything else we do. We have a festival that is sustainable, and people look forward to it. There really isn’t one thing to point to, though. When we get recognized, we enjoy the affirmation from doing what we love. As the audience grows, you get to see more excited people. I don’t think there are many festivals where you see a band that isn’t necessarily a mainstream act that gets to play for a huge audience and have a great time. All of our work is on the Internet, but there’s something really rewarding about seeing it in front of you at the festival. That “leveling of the playing field” has been really the overarching thing that we are proud of. People think about the music and enjoy it, and everyone deserves the same chance to be heard.
The Daily Swarm: Getting back to the festival, do you think this year’s lineup culminates what is trending currently in music?
Chris Kaskie: We don’t ever walk in to make sure we can check the boxes of what is “trending”; it’s way more natural to us, where we like having artists that are doing interesting things. Having Björk, Belle & Sebastian, and R. Kelly as headliners, we go from genre to genre: I was talking with someone the other day who said they were upset that TNGHT and R. Kelly had overlapping sets, or how Rustie and Belle & Sebastian overlapped. That blew my mind – in what world would I have ever imagined that kind of a crossover? It’s amazing to us. If people are bummed when they can’t see a great DJ due to a conflict with another act, that means we’ve done our job the right way in giving them what they want.
The Daily Swarm: Is there something that you can think of that people can expect this year, compared to other years?
Chris Kaskie: I don’t think there’s really one thing. Every year, having done this for ninth years now, we change the things that are very mundane, such as more ATMs onsite or things like that. You want to just have one less thing for folks to worry about and just have a great time. Everything we do is making sure it’s comprehensively good, while adding value to the event. There are always complicated decisions, but the music is what it’s all about.