Since it launched in 2005, the Pitchfork Music Festival has continued to evolve as a homegrown stage for adventurous music from around the world – including Chicago. This year, 42 acts will play over three days, including headliners Lauryn Hill, Fleet Foxes and Tame Impala.
We visited a pair of local artists who make their Pitchfork debut this weekend.
Brandis Friedman: In East Garfield Park, members of Melkbelly rehearse a song just days before they play Pitchfork and soon, Wrigley Field.
And in a basement in Portage Park, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya leads his band through a tune sure to be on the set list this weekend.
Nnamdi is just your average multi-instrumentalist son of Nigerian immigrants with a degree in electrical engineering.
He credits his family with inspiring his omnivorous taste in music.
Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, musician: My dad was into, like, Bob Marley and the Police and strange Christian rock music, so I listened to that a lot growing up. And then my brother was into Black Sabbath and the Beatles, started listening to that. My sisters were into No Doubt and all this other stuff, so I kinda just took all these influences from them.
Friedman: Ogbonnaya is tuned in to the differences between his upbringing in the Midwest and his parents’ in West Africa.
Ogbonnaya: There are a lot of things that they don’t understand that I do and vice versa, so we don’t always see eye to eye on things. But it gives me two different perspectives on living in America.
Everyone whose parents are immigrants is gonna get that because they, a lot of them don’t have those opportunities so they come to America and they’re like, ‘You have all these things you can do that are just so readily available to you. Like you have to take this chance to go to school, do something that’s gonna be sustainable.’
I’m not sure about how they really feel about me doing music. I think one day it’ll click in their head where they’re like, ‘Yeah, maybe that was a good idea.’ But it’s not today.
Friedman: From his home base on the Chicago label Sooper Records, Ogbonnaya is free to experiment with different kinds of music, including rap.
His eclectic creative pursuits sometimes get him labeled in the press as “weird” or “oddball.” Ogbonnaya isn’t buying it.
Ogbonnaya: I think it’s silly, because I don’t think I’m doing anything too crazy. I dunno, whenever people see something that’s like not a cookie-cutter formula they have a hard time defining it but I don’t think it’s – I don’t think you need to really define it. Just listen to it if you like it or not. It’s up to you.
Friedman: Back at Melkbelly’s rehearsal space, the band is making some noise.
Miranda Winters, Melkbelly: Making music, like, the kind of music that we make, and then being onstage and um giving it to people is like something I feel like I need to do or I’ll explode. So I guess being on stage is a little bit like exploding.
Friedman: Melkbelly are a four-piece band that includes a husband and wife and a brother-in-law.
Winters: We are not the Partridge Family.
The band consists of four people that like four different types of music and wanting to get all of those things into each and every song. So it’s sort of like narrative folk kind of stuff happening lyrically, but then also some noisier inspiration from more experimental stuff. You know, and then your generic rock ‘n’ roll and you know, volume. Lots of volume.
Friedman: A week after Pitchfork, Melkbelly will be one of the opening acts for Foo Fighters at Wrigley Field. They didn’t believe it when they heard about the opportunity.
Winters: At first I thought maybe it was a joke, but when I found out it’s not a joke, it’s very exciting. It’s going to be a crazy two weeks.
We take things as they come because if you try and think too far ahead it becomes stressful and un-fun, and I think it’s important to remember to enjoy yourself because we are like getting to do what we love, so we’re pretty lucky.
Friedman: Back in his home studio, Ogbonnaya is feeling fortunate to play this 14th version of the Pitchfork Music Fest.
Ogbonnaya: I’m very excited to play Pitchfork. I’ve only been to two and now the third one I get to play my own music which is very wild and strange to me. I’m still kind of in shock that it’s happening.
Melkbelly plays Pitchfork this Friday afternoon. And Nnamdi Ogbonnaya opens the show on Sunday. The two also share a bill Saturday night at Subterranean. Pitchfork Music Festival takes place at Union Park on the Near West Side. For tickets and the full music lineup, visit the festival website.