Photo: Taylor Regulski

Festival Review: Lollapalooza Friday and Saturday, Chicago – August 4-5, 2023

Lollapalooza took place this past weekend at Grant Park in Chicago for its annual four days of celebration. The festival featured a large assortment of artists, drawing in crowds from all sorts of music interests. This was also the event’s biggest turnout with its capacity rising from 100,000 to 115,000 – an increase that was announced along with a 10-year contract extension at the conclusion of last year’s show.

To accommodate the number of attendees, the headlining stages, Bud Light and T-Mobile, were located about a mile apart at the north and south ends of the area respectively. At night, a message written in lights from a building in the downtown Chicago skyline read: “Stay safe Lolla.” 

While I only had the chance to attend Lollapalooza on Friday and Saturday, Thursday featured festival veterans like Carly Rae Jepsen, newcomers in the breakout K-pop group NewJeans, and headliners Billie Eilish and Karol G. Karol G made history as the first Latina headliner at the event. In fact, the music festival seemed to include a host of international artists, including the French nu-disco band L’Impératrice and Saturday headliners Tomorrow X Together. 

by Nathan Zucke

Friday August 4

I arrived on Friday at 1:00 PM and was welcomed by perfect weather. With the sun out and a high of about 82°F, it was ideal conditions to keep cool with a bit of shade and a can of Liquid Death.

First up was Hemlocke Springs, a pop artist who gained popularity after her songs “gimme all ur luv” and “Girlfriend” went viral on TikTok. Her music is a delightful combination of 80s synthpop with eccentric, yelpy vocals that sets her apart from the rest of the burgeoning DIY pop scene.

Dressed up in Strawberry Shortcake cosplay complete with red hair and a pink dress, Hemlocke Springs was full of jubilant energy, bouncing around the stage as she performed in front of a passionate crowd. Backed by keyboards and drums, she belted out her vocals with infectious enthusiasm. After one of her songs, she admitted to the audience with nervous laughter that this was her second live performance ever, but despite this, she seemed to lose herself while dancing to the music. Her set was short and sweet, taking about 25 minutes and consisting of her five singles and a cover of Cardigans’ “Lovefool”. In the chorus of “gimme all ur luv”, Hemlocke Springs sings, “I just want love / I’ll take anyone / I need your attention / In this frail dimension of a brain.” On Friday afternoon, she surely found that love from her fans. 

The next group I caught was Band-Maid, a five-piece, all-female J-rock band wearing black-and-white maid dresses. While their appearance may suggest a cute and innocent sound, their music was quite different. Featuring hard-hitting guitar rock, lead vocalist Saiki’s strong hooks, and intricate bass and guitar solos from Misa and Kanami, Band-Maid were definitely the loudest band I heard at Lollapalooza. They got the crowd jumping to their songs, especially to fan-favorite “DOMINATION”, prompting staff to cool the most fervent audience members down with a water hose. But the band wasn’t just pure fire and fury, switching up the pace of their set with the power ballad “Daydreaming” midway through. The performance was certainly a suitable way to celebrate the group’s 10th anniversary making music together. 

Sudan Archives by Dusana Risovic

Perhaps the best act of the afternoon was Sudan Archives, who opened the show plucking her trademark violin. Dressed all in white with a black leather quiver of bows strapped to her back, she effortlessly put her star power on display by making an early connection with the audience, encouraging them to dance to her music. Alongside her producer, she enhanced the studio versions of her songs, constantly moving across the stage and working the crowd.

Early on, she explained that her father’s side was from Chicago and claimed the city as her hometown to loud applause while at the end of “Freakalizer”, she hopped onto the front gate to embrace her fans. On “NBPQ (Topless)”, she embodied her sensual lyrics, flashing her breasts while singing, “I just wanna have my titties out / Titties out, titties out.” Sudan Archives made the track an empowering anthem, telling the audience to join as she chanted, “’Cause I’m not average!” “Selfish Soul” was also a notable song, which saw the musician quickly spin in circles to cheers as she played her violin with palpable intensity. By uniting elements of alternative R&B, art pop, hip-hop, and even traditional Irish sounds, Sudan Archives is definitely an artist that must be seen live. 

beabadoobee by Ashley Osborn

The festival started to become packed when beabadoobee’s huge fanbase arrived. The indie pop artist delivered a personal set, going as far as bringing out a couch on stage to sit on while playing an acoustic guitar for multiple songs. Here, her Elliott Smith influences shone through, adding revealing lyrics about relationships and the desire for connection. She demonstrated her versatility with “The Perfect Pair”, which takes inspiration from bossa nova, and “See You Soon”, a bedroom pop track that she told the crowd was her favorite song off her 2022 album Beatopia. For the more alternative rock cuts, beabadoobee brought out her pink guitar, saying that its name was Barbie. She also showed her range as a singer, floating a sweet falsetto over her soothing vocals. 

Fred again.. by Roger Ho

After grabbing a meal as the weather started to cool down, I walked over to T-Mobile to see Fred again.., a record producer who gained popularity for his acclaimed Actual Life series. His set showcased fan favorites like “Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing)” and “Delilah (Pull Me Out of This)” as well as a Frank Ocean cover of “Chanel”. It was a laid-back performance that pushed audience members to dance along to the beat. However, there were some sound issues where Fred again..’s mic wasn’t turned up enough, causing him to occasionally be drowned out by his own music. In fact, the volume level of the entire performance was not loud enough for audience members standing to the sides or toward the back of the viewing area. 

Kendrick Lamar by Nathan Zucker

This may have been a problem with the stage as festival headliner Kendrick Lamar suffered the same problem. From where I was standing, some audience members were chanting, “Turn it up!” But the crowd was still rowdy and meshed with the energy of the Compton rapper. Lamar’s setlist was mostly made up of his biggest hits like “HUMBLE.” and “Alright” which played well with the festival crowd, who recited his verses back to him and jumped in unison to the hooks. It put into perspective how high Lamar has risen since his last Lollapalooza appearance 10 years ago. This time around, he went for a minimalist approach, dressing all in blue and only performing with a small group of interpretive dancers. Lamar’s vast experience playing live showed up in his music with immaculate flows and complex bars. It was a once-in-a-lifetime performance to cap off my first night in Chicago. 

by Ismael Quintanilla III

Saturday August 5

Unfortunately, the rain came on Saturday, but the performances were just as good. The first act I had the chance to see was MAVI, a rapper mostly navigating the abstract hip-hop lane. With an easygoing flow and voluble lyrics akin to MF Doom, he easily captivated the audience. He repeatedly expressed his appreciation for the crowd in attendance and got them to chant his name at certain points. For a rapper so early into his career, he appeared at home on the stage. 

I then traveled to Tito’s to catch Iván Cornejo, a 19-year-old regional Mexican singer that’s part of the growing movement of young artists performing sirreño ballads. Equipped with just an acoustic guitar, Cornejo shared lyrics of love and heartbreak, citing a central breakup that inspires his music. For a musician who was playing his first-ever festival, he seemed relaxed. Early on in the set, he grabbed a Mexican flag from an audience member and wore it around his shoulders, and in a heartwarming moment, he invited a young fan, who was in tears at this point, up to the stage to meet him and take a picture. Despite the devastating lyrics, the guitar-driven set was a great way to ease into the afternoon. 

Sylvan Esso by Roger Ho

Sylvan Esso had a simple presentation, only featuring two artists on stage, singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn. Dressed in a green tank top and baggy, multicolored pants, Meath was a bright spark in the middle of the rainy weather. The duo performed their major hits like “Die Young”, “Hey Mami”, and “Coffee” as well as newer songs off their more experimental 2022 album, No Rules Sandy, such as “Alarm” and “Didn’t Care”. The set was full of good vibes, getting the crowd to nod their heads and dance to the sleek synth grooves. 

Maggie Rogers by Ismael Quintanilla III

Maggie Rogers made her appearance on the same stage an hour later. She sang her breakout single, “Alaska”, midway through the setlist, marking how far she has come since she played the track for Pharrell Williams as an undergrad at New York University. Rogers also threw a curveball by performing “Want Want”, an alternative rock cut that departs from her typical alt-pop sound, early on. She also impressed with a cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”. Out of all the artists I saw on Saturday, Rogers perhaps seemed the most excited to be the center of attention, often beaming in between songs. It’s rare for artists to sound better live than in studio, but this is a trait applicable to Rogers. She performed with an obvious passion, notably singing in front of a camera at the back of the stage for one verse to show onlookers a close-up of her expressive face on the projector screen. While singing “Light On” toward the end of her set, a rainbow appeared over the crowd, wrapping the performance up in a bow. 

Odesza by Taylor Regulski

The final act of the night was the T-Mobile headliner, ODESZA. Compared to any other artist I caught at the festival, the electronic music duo boasted the highest production value, syncing strobe lights, pyrotechnics, and fireworks to their tracks. The performance also featured several guest artists, including the aforementioned Sudan Archives on a remix of “Selfish Soul”, as well as a trombone player and drumline. The pair concluded their set with a performance of “The Last Goodbye” off their 2022 album of the same name in a fitting end to the night and my Lollapalooza experience.