Don’t you wish you’d been there?

Even if hipsters attempt to destroy society as we know it through their suburban nihilism, they still know good music. Or in the Intonation Festival’s case, how to put on a good concert. Curated by the Vice mini-media empire, this year’s incarnation was freed from Pitchfork Media’s rockist tendencies to put on

a festival that was as musically diverse as its crowd was homogenous. (They seemed to single-handedly keep American Apparel and the Aviator sunglasses industry afloat.)

Even if the fans were not interested, they missed a line-up that never failed to entertain. The Sword and High on Fire thundered through metal that recalled a time before the emasculated rhythm section. In one of the festival’s silliest moments, Chromeo played their regurgitated new wave in between imploring the crowd to “put your motherfucking hands up.” As such, the crowd did not respond, preferring to wallow in their own disaffected cool.

On the second day Annie, a Swedish popstress, put in one of the best performances as she turned her ephemeral dance pop into elongated disco anthems. She fumbled around the stage, though, and had a pretension of clinging to the microphone, suggesting more a planned DJ set than a pop performance. It was awkward to watch, but her sparse instrumentation (cowbell, crash cymbal and drum machine) and reedy voice more than compensated.

It was a vanilla event at best. Each band played their set then left. There was no time for recollection: a two stage set-up allowed quick transfers between the acts, each being introduced by the comedy troupe Windy City Heat (these were utterly insufferable, and by the second day, the crowd had turned hostile toward their sophomoric antics.)

Only rap artists seemed mildy captivating. Native Chicagoans Rhymefest and Lupe Fiasco seemed generally excited to be home, a respite from their grinding promotional tour. Unsurprisingly, both are semi-protegÇs of Kanye West and, like most of the artists he has helped launch and re-launch, are trying to step out of his shadow. Rhymefest jokingly approached that elephant on the stage when, a few seconds into “Brand New” he stated, “Kanye is not about to pop up on stage.” However, nobody cared. He ebulliently worked his way through Kanye’s verse and managed to show why, in a better world, this song would be the hit of the summer.

Lupe Fiasco, though, made the canny decision to retool two of Kanye’s songs, “Touch the Sky” and “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” into much darker numbers than Kanye’s lyrical skills would permit. Where Rhymefest danced on the stage, and during one song jumped off it, Fiasco let the music speak for itself. Nobody doubted he was having fun, and the only reason he left was an understocked cache of beats.

Still, the music didn’t matter, at least not as much as it should have. Alongside the stages stood an expansive fair, hawking everything from posters to vintage clothing to cell phone service. Commercialism became inextricably intertwined with the music. ($40 tickets don’t pay for everything.)

Most performers got in on the act, hyping their albums to no end. Even headliners like The Streets and Bloc Party were there as representatives of Vice’s music label, performing their febrile exercises to gain some semblance of American acclaim. Myspace and word-of-mouth are great tools, but they are no replacement for true publicity.

The apogee of this phenomenon occurred early in the first day, during Jose Gonzalez’s voice. Unknown until recently, his song “Heartbeats” was featured in a commercial for Sony Televisions. Primarily shown in Europe, it has been seen by many stateside by the power of the Internet. The song itself is beautiful but unassuming, something that could easily be heard in a Starbucks. Onstage, though, he transformed it into what, as accompaniment, it couldn’t be: the frank charge of a broken heart.

Clearly the audience took notice. Sure, their notions of “selling out” had been destroyed, but good music is good music, even if money is exchanged in the process.

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