CHICAGO—“Cool or Cruel?” was the headline on the cover of last Friday’s Red Eye newspaper, under the masked face of Tyler, The Creator, lead singer of the Los Angles hip hop group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (aka Odd Future or O.F.) The group is notorious for its explicit lyrics that target but are not limited to: women, rape victims, gays, whites and obese people. With Tyler’s face spread all over Chicago’s free daily paper, the hype for its performance at this past weekend’s Pitchfork Music Festival increased exponentially.Odd Future has been gaining buzz from multiple blogs but only this year found a mass following. With that, the group has come under mass criticism as well. Its music is often referred to as “horror-core,” and with songs featuring the raping of corpses and nuns, it’s not an inaccurate label. Given these themes, its performance at Pitchfork this year was bound to spark controversy. When Odd Future’s inclusion on this year’s festival line-up was announced, LGBT and battered women’s groups gathered to protest. The groups condemned the violent and derogatory lyrics of Odd Future and essentially demanded that they be removed from the festival’s lineup. This isn’t the first time the group has been heavily protested, though. Among avid critics, Canada’s Tegan and Sara posted an open letter to the group that began:
When will misogynistic and homophobic ranting and raving result in meaningful repercussions in the entertainment industry? When will they be treated with the same seriousness as racist and anti-Semitic offenses? While an artists who can barely get a sentence fragment out without using homophobic slurs is celebrated on the cover of every magazine, blog and newspaper, I’m disheartened that any self-respecting human being could stand in support with a message so vile. Tyler’s eloquent response, posted shortly after on Twitter, was: “If Tegan and Sara need some hard dick, hit me up!” With all of the hype surrounding their performance, it was unlikely that Pitchfork would remove the band altogether. This year’s festival, however, was littered with paper fans (the temperature was around 90 degrees throughout the three-day festival) from Between Friends, a women’s rights organization based in Chicago, with the message: “Cool It! Don’t be a fan of violence.” The jumbotron between two main stages periodically featured anti-rape advertisements, whose spots were given at reduced cost to the groups that sponsored them. The Center on Halsted and Between Friends had a tent in the festival’s nonprofit group tabling area; in the cards they handed out to passersby, the two organizations named Odd Future as their target. But thousands of paper fans and a tent at the margins of the festival did not prevent a massive crowd of unruly fans from gathering for Odd Future’s Sunday afternoon show. Despite the hype that Odd Future has gathered, the show was like any other rap show at Pitchfork: marred by poor acoustics and ultimately disappointing. I didn’t see any outbursts from the groups protesting the performance. (Perhaps because, as the Chicago Sun-Times reports, Odd Future delivered a box of cupcakes to the advocacy groups an hour before their performance?) The group’s members weren’t as rambunctious as they have been at past performances, although they got their jibes in: “Big shout out to the domestic violence group that’s here – we love you guys,” Tyler, the Creator, said at one point. “World peace,” Hodgy Beats added. After the show, as the crowds dispersed and stepped over hundreds of paper fans littering the ground, the entire debate became moot. The video ads and Between Friends’ fans and cards served merely as a “don’t try this at home” warning—as opposed to a catalyst to spark discussion on the appropriateness of hate lyrics in today’s music. All the effort didn’t even seem worth it, though. The show barely lived up to the hype.
Meher Ahmad is a summer 2011 In These Times publishing intern.