"I'm having technical difficulties. I need your help," M.I.A. declared midway through her Sunday set at Pitchfork Music Festival. Constant feedback, blown-out bass and an overall messy mix that swallowed up her vocals—"Turn me up!" she said, more than once—threatened to kill the vibes of her carefully curated dance party, which included huge mandalas flashing neon colors, pounding bass, frenetic percussion and athletic dancers clad in bright jewel tones.
"The only thing M.I.A. from the M.I.A. set was competent sound mixing," one festgoer tweeted. But sound problems seem to be a fairly common thing for the agitprop rapper, who likes to turn it up for the sake of getting down. And party vibes prevailed. Judging from the twerking and attempts at twerking I witnessed, few fans seemed to mind the hot mess of a mix, choosing instead to join M.I.A. in turning Union Park into a Sri Lankan disco and dancing along to new banger "Only 1 U" and hits such as "Born Free," "Galang" and "Paper Planes." Singing along to the latter, Clash-sampling political rap ballad in a sea of largely young, white, privileged people at Pitchfork (or at a wedding reception) can feel weird, given its gunshot–punctuated chorus about the stereotypes that plague immigrants and refugees living in the U.S.: "All I wanna do is [sound of gun shots, cash register] and take your money." But then again, so does singing along to Kells's "Sex in the Kitchen," for entirely different reasons—i.e., mild embarrassment.
Then there's M.I.A.'s own mixed messages, which I won't get into now but which seem to compound with every new album. Next up: the long-delayed Matangi, as well as an endlessly postponed documentary. M.I.A. never stopped dancing during yesterday's electrifying, though uneven set, but at one point she abruptly stopped singing in order to have another go. "We're shooting a video," she explained. The dutiful crowd responded with cheers; meanwhile, Lady Gaga, flanked by her makeup artist and a backup dancer, watched from backstage. Only problem is, the second time around M.I.A.'s vocals were not only muffled but veering off-key. During her final song, the sound cut out completely. Some people will tell you it was a big disappointment; others, the time of their lives. Guess it depends on how much dancing you did.
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