The Pitchfork music festival in Paris took place at La Grande Halle nestled on the edge of the Parc de la Villette. Guiding audiences to the festival, the concert hall’s large neon letters bathed the plaza and fountain in front of it in red. Past the gates was a long pavilion with food and drinks outside and two stages inside. The venue was a great location for the festival, complete with vegetarian food options and a photo booth or the French “photomaton.” As it was a Pitchfork-sponsored event, French festival-goers were surprised at how many Americans and English speakers crowded into the packed hall. In the end, the crowd’s diversity really spoke for the publication’s international appeal.
The best thing about the festival was the lineup that collected a ton of great artists from this year. The best performances are highlighted below. In addition to the major highlights, there were also some surprising smaller parts of some musicians’ performances that added to the live experience. Twin Shadow’s set had an inexplicable energy that is missing in the more tame ’80s sound of the record. Putting John Talabot’s music in the context of a more discotheque-like setting made it make much more sense and illuminated all the little details. The one artist who I missed but wished I could’ve seen was The Tallest Man on Earth. He stuck out on the bill as an acoustic musician in a sea of electro and garage rock; it’s always amazing how he can captivate an audience with just a guitar and a chair.
There were a few downsides to the festival. The most obvious being the typical American bureaucracy of forcing people to spend 10 euro on Pitchfork tokens in order to buy anything. Friends would say, “I’m going to go get something to eat,” to which the only response was, “Okay, I’ll see you in two hours.” After waiting in line for the tokens, waiting in line for a burger was just as long. The two stages inside the main building allowed a quick change between set times, which was good, but it also made it very hard to get to the front of the crowd once the stages switched. It was easy to get lodged in the back of the crowd when some musicians went “over” their allotted time, like Sébastian Tellier’s set that had a long, long decrescendo. There were also a lot of technical problems. Purity Ring’s hanging catoninetail lights failed to work, James Blake and Animal Collective had gear issues, Death Grips was unintelligible sometimes in the midst of noise, and the most glaring problem was a few seconds during M83’s set when all of the sound completely cut out. The festival is in its second year in Paris, so it seems like they’re still working the kinks out.
October 31 – Pitchfork Halloween Party at Trabendo with Lotus Plaza
La Grande Halle’s next door neighbor is a decent sized rock bar called Trabendo. It seemed like a cool place to catch music any night of the week or to even go for a drink. There was even an outdoor patio decorated with hanging lights. The concert was a Halloween show and the concept of the holiday is still growing in France, so the place was spotted with people dressed as spooky things like vampires, skeletons, and zombies. There were two highlights, being a rather tall dude dressed as a confused clown skeleton in an obscenely plaid red sport-coat and a girl dressed as Lady Rainicorn from Adventure Time. The best part about Lotus Plaza’s set was how their live music allowed them to explore the noise and melodies that expanded in the middle of an in between songs. Everyone in the band was dressed up too, as shoegaze indie rock musicians.
Japandroids played an intense show as always, and it was comically appropriate to hear “Let’s get to France so we can French kiss some French girls” playing for actual French girls. After having seen the band a few times, it’s a little disappointing to confirm that singer Brian King usually takes the vocals an octave down from the record, but it’s understandable for how hard they rock and how many French girls they must’ve kissed the night before while they were trashed partying.
The best thing about the sound for James Blake’s set was the bass. It flowed from the speakers with a density that seemed to fill every empty space around the crowd with a deep, low vibration. The songs that seemed to veer toward sadness took on a more calming effect as the sound waves massaged your whole being. The set was a mixture of Blake’s songwriting and DJ-ing, and the crowd was actually dancing and jumping around for “CMYK” immediately as soon as the first sound byte “look I found her…damn!…red coat…” kicked in. Blake said that he was really thankful for the support of his last record and announced that he would have a new one coming out soon. The last song was a jam, potentially from the new album, with lyrics centering around peace and laying down weapons.
M83‘s Pitchfork Festival set proceeded an amazing show at Primavera Sound earlier in the year. Compared with their records which are dream-like and soothing, they have so much energy live that you just can’t help but move with them. However for this festival, the band was joined by a whole orchestra set up in the back. It added a beautiful subtlety to the music. Also, the guy who has the best job in music is the saxophonist who only pops out for one minute at the end of “Midnight City.” Well, this time made an appearance for another song toward the end.
Considering that it was a Pitchfork event, it was hard not to get curious whether or not there would be any tension between Avey Tare and Panda Bear as the website clearly plays a favorite. However, with the Bear Noah Lennox behind the drum kit for the whole set, the band started in with him singing “Rosie Oh” from their latest Centipede Hz and everything seemed to click. At Primavera Sound a couple of years ago, Animal Collective was still in the writing process for this record and most of the set was one long jam with a couple of songs strung in somewhere. However for this festival, most of the set was made up of new material. One could notice the effect on the crowd when the band switched back and forth between new and old songs. Immediately after the first blip in “Brothersport” popped, the crowd switched from head nodding viewers to gleefully jumping viewers. A great surprise during their encore was “Peacebone” from Strawberry Jam and they closed out the set with a crowd pleaser, “My Girls.”
It’s not clear if Purity Ring’s charm would be lost on someone who wasn’t so enthralled by their record. The music is typical of French electro at its core, but there are plenty of moments that pleasingly drag. Seeing them live confirmed just how much work electronic musician Corin Roddick commits to the band, producing thousands of little noises with bandmate Megan James, creating an authentic live spectacle. Roddick’s substitute for a drum pad are a bunch of Japanese-like ball shades that light up when hit with a drum stick. The large drum that singer Megan James was beating on the other end of the stage also shined brilliantly when struck.
Grizzly Bear was by far my favorite set of the festival. It’s hard to say much else than that they are just a group of talented musicians. Every member except the drummer switched instruments constantly; Daniel Rossen between guitars and keyboards, Ed Droste between guitars and his electronic instrument that looked like a toy. Bassist Chris Taylor also manned the clarinet and bass saxophone. The vocal effect on his mic for songs like “Cheerleader” was really addicting and he wielded it well. Grizzly Bear played everything perfectly and they were backed by jelly fish made out of lights inside what seemed like large jars with wispy tentacles. The lights rose and swooped, making patterns and visualizations along with the music. The band played mostly songs from their most recent release, Sheilds, but didn’t forget to throw in “Two Weeks” from Veckatimest and “Knife” from The Yellow House, which they said that they had to play every time they were in Paris. The set was surmised by the closer, “Sun in Your Eyes,” which sounded more grandiose than ever and swam between gleeful to meditative to trippy–just enough to ease the audience out with a pleasant goodbye.