What happens when you assemble over 35 genre-less music acts and put them on a stage in a former Parisian slaughterhouse, in front of some of the most highbrow music lovers of this past decade? The answer is as one might expect: Pitchfork Music Festival.
The 1st of November saw the start of Pitchfork’s second ever three-day festival in Paris. In this context, the word ‘festival’ has to mean a simple celebration of the music we love, for mud and tents were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps it is for this reason that the vast majority of concertgoers were amongst the best dressed and well behaved of the international community, with the French attendees adopting a more laissez-faire attitude to image. After all, it was Pitchfork who had chosen the French to be their host; so they barely needed to make an effort.
Inside the cavernous Grande Hall de la Villete, we saw How To Dress Well start the early evening session. Although playing to a small crowd, tracks from his most recent release, Total Loss, stunned the audience into taking note of this ethereal philosophy graduate from Colorado: onlookers were entranced by the raw emotion governing Tom Krell’s lyrics and vocal prowess. The surprise act of the evening came from John Talabot who gripped us all by laying down a seamless set together with his collaborator, Pional. The haunting screams sampled in ‘Oro y Sangre’ was a deathly reminder of what occurred in this former slaughter house all those years ago.
Conveniently, the nature of the venue allowed for artists to follow on from each other within minutes. With two stages at either end of the hall sandwiching the crowd between, it was a fierce competition of who could run the fastest between stages. While James Blake did his sound check on one stage, Sébastien Tellier fans reveled in his wonderfully excessive set at the other end of the hall. After his closing song ‘L’amour et la Violence’, the swarm of people shifted collectively to Blake’s stage where he opened with the bass heavy ‘Air and Lack Thereof’. As the speakers shook and floor vibrated, it was soon made clear that James Blake was who we had all been waiting for. Using shouting as a minimalist addition to ‘CYNT’ balanced out by the soft resonating falsetto of ‘A Case of You’, the audience couldn’t help but wonder what the new album will hold.
To close the first night, M83 deftly set themselves free from the Made In Chelsea box they’d been locked into. Since the feature of ‘Midnight City’ on the Channel 4 show, they have shot to fame. Perhaps surprisingly, Pitchfork stayed loyal to them and in return the band provided an epic close and proved a worthy headline to day one of the festival.
The next day bought acts such as The Tallest Man on Earth, Jessie Ware, Chromatics and Fuck Buttons. It was hard to lock into the music with such a range of genres but the variety proved to work out. Unfortunately for Jessie Ware, her set just paid homage to those who have so artfully reworked her vocals into songs with more depth than the originals.
The first headliner of Friday’s lineup was the Swedish artist, Robyn. With many audience members surprised to see a ‘pop’ act being given such weight by Pitchfork, who unashamedly pride themselves of focusing on the hidden undercurrents of music today, some were unsure what to expect. But Robyn delivered a show that was to rival the next act Animal Collective. As she bounced energetically around the stage during ‘Cobrastyle’ and ‘The Girl and the Robot’, it was hard not to go with her. It didn’t take long for the fun loving 33-year-old to win over the dubious crowd.
The highly anticipated Animal Collective had caused stirs among the crowd even before they appeared on stage. With an extravagant set of inflatable teeth, giant patterned horn-like structures and a light show to rival that of Guy Fawkes, those who hadn’t seen them on tour yet were in for a treat. However, the crowd was divided as to their choice of set list, the first half of which focused heavily on new material. Live versions of ‘Today’s Supernatural’ and ‘Applesauce’, taken from their new album, seemed on the verge of being too psychedelic and experimental so it came as a relief to many when they returned to material from their 2007 album, Strawberry Jam.
Although the first two days of the festival were taking their toll, there was no time to be tired for the closing night. With a jam-packed line up on the Saturday, party goers went all out to the likes of Death Grips, Purity Ring, TEED, Disclosure, Rustie and Julio Bashmore. It’s near to impossible to choose who is the headline act here but Rustie stood out as a DJ who had come on so much in the past year. Death Grips pounded the audience with a set list so aggressive that you left with an acknowledging nod as to why Wikipedia describes their genre simply as … ‘noise’. But still, it’s hard not to love the trio from California.
My personal highlights from the evening came from TEED and Disclosure. The wonderfully named Orlando Higginbottom from Oxford versus the Lawrence brothers from Surrey – it was the chance for the Brits to make their mark on the Pitchfork crowd. And they did so in style. The cherry on the cake, and to mellow out what had been a hectic evening, was Julio Bashmore. It’s hard not to avoid ‘Au Seve’ on the circuit at the moment, a catchy track with dusty drum beats and punchy repetitive vocals which did more than get the crowd moving. But by the time it turned 6am, feet stomping had made way to gentle shoulder swaying, and the first metro home.
Pitchfork Paris is the 21st century answer to the Pope and the Vatican City. A match made in heaven with music as a religion. But which is more deviant is up to you to decide.