festivals 2016

Pitchfork Music Festival: The Pokémon Go Scouting Report

Pokémon Go, as it already has with so many other aspects of reality, quickly threw the entire enterprise of music festivals into existential peril.

af Kyle Kramer
19 juli 2016, 2:50pm

Another fucking Drowzee at Shamir / Screenshots via Pokémon Go

In 1996 in Japan, the video game company Nintendo released a new franchise called Pokémon that would change the world. At the same time, on the other side of the planet, a new website called Pitchfork was on its way toward redefining the way people thought about music. Two decades later, both are bigger than ever, and, this past weekend, they were set to collide in an unlikely way, at Pitchfork's annual music festival in Chicago's Union Park, which is the site of five Pokéstops in the augmented reality game Pokémon Go.

As one of the first music festivals to take place since the game's debut—and as one that draws an audience skewed toward the Pokémon demo—Pitchfork was sure to be a busy locale for gamers of all stripes, I figured. And, to some degree, it was. People came ready to catch 'em all, myself included. But were the local fauna, so to speak, as rich as the lineup of noteworthy bands? That remained to be seen, and I set out to find out.

Sure enough, there were already Pokémon waiting in line on the first day, ready to pour in and catch some sweet tunes from Car Seat Headrest, a band full of dudes who look like Pokémon trainers. I was excited to snag this Drowzee: While it seems to be a relatively common Pokémon, I had yet to encounter one in the game. Little did I know that I was in for a weekend that would offer a Psyshock to my system in more ways than one (see, festivals are exhausting, and Psyshock is also the name of Drowzee's fighting ability). This place was crawling with Drowzees. You could throw a Pokéball in any direction and catch a Drowzee. There were more Drowzees at Pitchfork than there were angular guitars. There were more Drowzees at Pitchfork than there were ethereal soundscapes. There were more Drowzees at Pitchfork than there are twinkling synths in the festival night sky.

It was starting to rain as the festival kicked off, so naturally the water Pokémon were having a field day! JK I have no idea how this game correlates to the real world, but look at this cute little guy enjoying Car Seat Headrest. Rock on! So far I had been at the festival for five minutes and already encountered two Pokémon, which seemed promising.

However, there was an issue: Namely, all my friends had immediately abandoned me the instant I pulled out my phone and began mouthing the letter P. Pokémon Go, as it already has with so many other aspects of reality, was quickly throwing the entire enterprise of music festivals into existential peril. It's hard to define exactly what people are most drawn to at a music festival—the lineup of so many great artists in one place? a chance to hang out with friends in a sunny field? fun experiences at the various booths and food vendors? drinking and drugs?—but it's fair to say that, for all of these, spending time in a semi-virtual world on your phone is likely to detract from the experience. When everywhere becomes a game, where do you choose to have fun? I went to get a beer.

The layout of the park was pretty straightforward. There was a Pokémon Gym at one corner, underneath the train tracks, which changed hands several times over the weekend but which, each time I walked past, seemed to be filled primarily with people handing out Lyft coupons and selling bottled water, making it an unattractive place to get in on the action unless you were also trying to learn about the benefits of Lyft. I wish, fellow Pokénthusiasts, I could tell you that I witnessed some great battles here over the weekend, but the truth is I mostly avoided it.

Other than that, there were Pokéstops scattered around the periphery of the park, including one right by the entrance (top left) and two in the backstage/artist/VIP areas (top right). The best location by far was right in front of the Blue Stage, which tends toward the more up-and-coming and experimental acts and where there were two Pokéstops and lures for much of the weekend. We all became well acquainted with James Connolly, noted Irish hero, labor leader, and Pokéball provider. For this weekend, we were all Irish. I hope the Blarney Stone into a Pokéstop, for the sake of my newfound Irish pride.

While I'd been excited to catch that first Drowzee, it soon turned out, as I mentioned, that these fuckers were everywhere. The festival was lousy with Drowzees. Good thing we had upbeat music to keep us not drowsy, know what I mean? Anyway, Whitney were awesome, and I forgot to hunt for Pokémon at their set. Likewise with Carly Rae Jepsen. At Shamir, I caught two more Drowzees, my third and fourth of the day.

CP 69. Nice.

Saturday was the festival's busiest day, and it coincided with Pokémon Go's European launch, which meant that it was basically impossible to log into the game. It turns out that all the usual phone service troubles that plague music festivals or any other gathering of 20,000 people in the same two-block radius are as much a roadblock for augmented reality gaming as they are with getting off fire tweets. A couple of my Snapchats failed to go through. If I had seen anybody playing this game and taking up data bandwidth, I would have punched them. JK. But just saying, they might have deserved it. JK. Nobody deserves to get punched. But still.

When you get home from any music festival, people will invariably ask you what the best thing you saw was. At Pitchfork, I saw a lot of sets I enjoyed: Jeremih, Whitney, Blood Orange, Mick Jenkins, Miguel, Brian Wilson, Sufjan Stevens, FKA Twigs.

But, for catching Pokémon, no set beat the interstitial period between NAO and Empress Of, as sound troubles seemed to hold up the proceedings onstage and those of us in the crowd were free to toss Pokéballs to our hearts' content, in the shadow of noted Empress Of fan James Connolly himself. I caught a Squirtle, which felt appropriate. More like the Pokémon Blue Stage! Was it a coincidence that the three stage colors overlapped with the first three editions of Pokémon? I think not.

Here's a Jynx ready to rock out, and my friend Brandon, who was mad that a Slowpoke had gotten away from him. Little did he know it was chilling on his shoulder! Truly, there are no times at a music festival like those spent hanging out with a bunch of imaginary cartoon characters that can't speak.

As soon as Empress Of began playing, this Gastly appeared, which, on the scale of one to goth, is extremely goth. Honestly, it brought out a whole spectral side of Empress Of's music that I had never considered before. A lot of people probably wonder what Lorely Rodriguez is the Empress Of. It turns out she is the empress of Pokémon. Her shows are crawling with Pokémon. She is a Pokémonster onstage. I'll be completely transparent: I hope one of those lines makes it into a pull quote on her next CD.

"It turns out she is the empress of Pokémon." – Noisey

But seriously, Empress Of puts on a fun show that you should check out when you have a chance, and I hope I never catch Pokémon while watching a concert again.

What did we, the Pokénraptured masses, take away from Pitchfork Music Festival? Or more specifically, what did we take away that our counterparts in unaugmented reality didn't? Besides, of course, many Drowzees? It's hard to say. It turns out that when you're already combining a fuck ton of entertaining stimuli, you don't really need any more. And if you're going to go looking for Pokémon, a music festival is one of the worst places you could pick. But hey, we'll always have this weekend, the one time when it was all just a grand experiment, when it all seemed like one crazy, Drowzee dream.

Kyle Kramer also caught a couple Horseas on the way to the festival, if that counts. Follow him on Twitter.

Pokemon Go
empress of
Pitchfork Festival 2016
Pitchfork Music Festival 2016
Catching Pokémon