'Fork in the road
Think Pitchfork's gotten a little too mainstream? Make your way to Bitchpork.
When Perry Farrell started Lollapalooza in 1991, the touring festival’s eclectic, genre-bending lineups and challenging acts like Japanese noisemakers the Boredoms, as well as the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, made it feel like a legitimate alternative to mainstream rock tours. By the time it rebranded itself as a Chicago-based destination festival in 2005, Lollapalooza felt as bloated and corporate as anything it was reacting against.
The following year, local music website Pitchfork began its festival (it curated Intonation in ’05), and though Pitchfork prides itself on being cutting-edge, it’s hard to feel like a rebel when your bag is being searched for contraband snacks and someone is handing you a sample of Mountain Dew AMP, the “official energy sponsor” of Pitchfork Music Festival.
Which is where Bitchpork Fest comes in. Taking place in a South Side warehouse just west of Pilsen on the same three days as its rival, Bitchpork is a passionate reaction to the idea of a city-approved, corporate-backed festival of the “underground.” (Pitchfork’s sponsors include this magazine.) Bitchpork’s organizers are tight-lipped for good reason: If no one is apparently in charge of the event, it’s difficult for police to place blame. Raves in the ’90s had a similar ethos.
In addition to outdoing Pitchfork in volume (with 60-plus bands, Bitchpork has 33 percent more acts, plus literally louder performers), the more avant fest can boast competitive quality. While it’s hard to argue that Saturday’s Union Park bill featuring dance-music superstar LCD Soundsystem, mix-tape king Freddie Gibbs and teen glamsters Smith Westerns isn’t impressive, Bitchpork’s lineup is nothing to sneeze at. Sonic pranksters Cheer-Accident have been an integral part of Chicago’s experimental scene for more than a quarter century; outsider psyche-pop musician John Bellows’s Clean Your Clock is one of the best Chicago albums released in the last year; and brother-sister duo White Mystery, with their youthful energy, mesmerizing garage rock and awesome matching red ’fros, are arguably the best live act in town.
Though it might be an insult to an artist like Andy Ortmann to say his music is enjoyable—he has spent much of his adult life crafting ugly noise while dressed in a grotesque latex bug suit—many of the bands playing Bitchpork are indeed a pleasure. Certainly DJ Dog Dick, Pooper, Viking Fuck or the Jandek-esque Circuit des Yeux won’t be on any Starbucks compilations, but many of these acts have a sense of ragtag spectacle and showmanship that makes them more entertaining than some of the better-known performers gracing Pitchfork’s grand stages. And as a bonus, sponsor-free Bitchpork is far more budget friendly; a three-day Bitchpork pass costs $30, while one day at P-fork sets you back $40.
To say the bands at the two fests are profoundly different is somewhat of a stretch. Local psych-prog explorers CAVE played last year’s inaugural Bitchpork but this year are opening Pitchfork’s Sunday lineup. What is different is the vibe of drinking store-bought beer in a dark, off-the-radar warehouse rather than pricey plastic cups of Heineken in a fenced-in park; of feeling like you’re part of a tradition of anarchist squatters rather than part of a herd; of experiencing something genuinely unsanctioned. No matter what the music is like, the magic of attending an underground show is that it’s actually underground.
Bitchpork Fest runs Friday 16–Sunday 18. Three-day passes are available at Permanent Records (1914 W Chicago Ave, 773-278-1744) for $30.