The Birth of an Intonation

At the first-ever Intonation Music Festival, curated by the ubiquitous monolith, the thousands of fans shared something else unique: Every fan had read about the festival, their faces illuminated by a computer monitor. Featuring over 20 independent acts in Chicago’s Union Park, the concert was also a model of economy with two-day passes going for $22. After the festival, Buzz got staff writers Imran Siddiquee and Fred Koschmann, music editor Kyle Gorman, Urbana Booking Co.’s Seth Fein, and Polyvinyl Records’ Seth Hubbard together to kick back a few brews and discuss the goings-on at Murphy’s. Here is a adaptation of their conversation.

kyle: Both of the closer acts for the night (Tortoise and the Decemberists)-kind of chilled out …
Seth f: I left, wasn’t even there.
kyle: Too tired?
seth f: Yeah, I love Tortoise, but that’s the thing about this festival to me: I felt like it was too long. You can open the gates early, like they did, and offer the different types of activities … but I say, don’t start the show until three, and do less bands.
seth h: I think that was one of the biggest complaints, that there were too many bands, and I think the heat was a big problem, too. I’m a big fan of A.C. Newman. I stood there for three songs and couldn’t stand it. The sun was just beating down on you; there was no breeze.
seth f: Better that than a rainout.
Seth h: Yeah, but why not just have it on a not-so-hot day? I mean, they can’t really control the weather, but …
seth f: I know Pitchfork is considered to be god, but they actually aren’t. Breaking news.
kyle: That’s good, Pitchfork can’t control the rain.
seth f: Some would argue that, though.
kyle: Absolutely. What do you think of the Decemberists as a closing act for a huge festival like that?
seth f: It’s weird. I didn’t realize that they were that popular.
fred k: They call themselves ‘literary rock.’ In between each song they’d say something like, ‘This is about our protagonist in World War I.’
seth f: Right, it’s like English class all over again.
kyle: It’s kind of a weird thing to have those guys going last.
seth h: They were one of the biggest bands there though.
seth f: The truth is … they lost their two headliners – The Fiery Furnaces and The Arcade Fire.
kyle: I was wondering why those bands weren’t there.
seth f: They probably had to play with the balls of Tortoise to get them to play. They probably really had to swoon them to get them to headline the festival, because they’re a headlining band.
seth f: It’ll be interesting to see how Pitchfork reacts towards The Arcade Fire from here on out. Lollapalooza literally stole them.
kyle: Starting at the beginning of the festival, which is the first you liked?
seth f: Head of Femur. I had them at Caffe Paradiso three years ago, and they had like 10 members. They were spilling off the stage, and I knew right then that they were going to be a great band.
seth h: Is that the key to being a great band? How many members you have?
kyle g: Andrew Bird, I think he was the best act of the weekend. It was just him and a drummer.
seth f: I would say that or Xiu Xiu, although I don’t like their electronic beats.
kyle: Anyway, The M’s.
seth f: They’re a rock club band. They’re actually coming down here on Sept. 29 …
seth h: The M’s are fantastic. I’ve seen them several times in the last six months. They’ve definitely been better, but they were still really good [at Intonation].
seth f: There was some problem with the sound.
seth h: Yeah, I think you can tell from Saturday who was traveling with their own sound guy and who wasn’t. A.C. Newman wasn’t mixed very well. The first band that I noticed that sounded good was Magnolia Electric Co. That’s kind of a different tier of being a band. Once you get to travel with your own sound guy, you know you’ve made it.

kyle: Anyway, A.C. Newman. How can this guy not realize that he was playing an entire set out of tune?
seth f: Nervous. I doubt he’s ever played a festival that big.
seth h: I really think that the sound was so bad coming out, I bet he didn’t have a decent monitor mix on stage, or anything like that. So he probably couldn’t hear a damn thing that he was doing; he just had to roll with it and assume that he was in tune. The mix was wretched.
fred: You know, to his credit, I was just coming into the festival at that point, and so I could only barely hear it. And what I did hear were some of the only catchy and melodic songs that I heard that day.
seth h: Well, A.C. Newman essentially writes pop songs, so there’s going to be some catchy pop hooks, and with a lot of the other bands … like, you’re not going to hear any pop hooks in Tortoise.
kyle: How did you guys think A.C. Newman’s album translated to a live show?
seth h: I really like his record, and I really like his stuff with The New Pornographers. I think he’s great and a great songwriter and all that, but I think he’s another one of those bands that
doesn’t translate well into an outdoor festival.
seth f: What does translate well into an outdoor festival?
seth h: Nothing, really.
fred: In terms of drinking beer in the sun, it’s not bad.
seth h: Yeah, I had a ball. I had a great time, but I’ve gone to shows and been more satisfied with the music. After Broken Social Scene, I didn’t go stand and watch another band the rest of the night.
seth h: They were the only band that I thought sounded good outdoors. Like, The Go! Team sucked.
kyle: Yeah, they sucked-unbelievably bad live. Their super-happy thing is like the Flaming Lips …
seth f: Don’t compare The Go! Team with the Flaming Lips.
kyle: I just think it’s hard to explain what the difference is.
seth f: The difference is, the Flaming Lips are so cerebral and … what?
seth h: I’m sorry, I’m just laughing because the Flaming Lips just got compared to The Go! Team.
kyle: I just think they both have that be-happy-even-if-your-life-sucks sort of thing.
seth h: Is that what the Flaming Lips is all about? Be happy with your life?
fred: That and taking acid. I thought The Go! Team brought
in some well-needed enthusiasm at that point in the festival.
seth h: I thought it was cheesy. I sat there, standing at the record fair, and I saw all the 10,000 indie fans jumping up and down, which I didn’t think was possible.
fred: Which says something about the subjective nature of these things. It all depends on where you’re sitting.
kyle: The other thing was that they had two guitarists …
seth f: What’s wrong with that?
kyle: … they didn’t have any worthwhile guitar parts.
seth h: You bashed Magnolia Electric Co.’s set … I thought they were fantastic.
kyle: I think Jason Molina is awesome. I’m a little alt-country weary, but I think they’re a great band.
seth f: He’s a great guy, a real blue-collar guy, and they stop everywhere. They’re playing Galveston, Texas. They’re playing five shows in Ontario. Before their show here, he bought me shots. I had offered, but he bought them. A couple weeks later, he calls me back. What kind of guy calls his promoter back? Jason Molina, I guess.
kyle: What about The Wrens?
fred: Extremely long set.
kyle: What about The Hold Steady?
seth h: I think they suck. What are they doing besides regurgitating bar rock from the ’70s and having this guy talk over it?
kyle: So the DJs, did you guys check out any?
seth h: I heard it didn’t go over so well. I love Will Oldham to death, but he’s not a DJ.
kyle: Diplo was awesome. seth h: I think aside from the fans, the record fair and the DJ tent, you have to take a step back. When I was driving home on Saturday night, I was thinking about how I couldn’t believe that 10,000 people came out to see indie bands.
kyle: What do you think about all the kids who showed up?
seth h: I think a lot of those kids had a serious commitment to fashion to wear a tweed blazer and jeans on a 95-degree day.
seth f: It was what I expected. There were the legions of indie kids and then there were interested listeners, people who realize that there’s a music festival going on for this cheap. As a promoter I was incredibly impressed by what [Pitchfork] was able to pull off. And they didn’t take any ads out anywhere. When you get a million hits a month [on their Web site], you don’t need to advertise.
seth h: I think independent-music culture is at the height of its popularity thus far. It’s going to keep going.

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