When music critics become curators, the pressure is on, especially when you’re of the highbrow variety. Pitchfork is regarded as a key stepping-stone for bands on the way to mainstream success, in the U.S. at least. So. Time to nut up or shut up.
Returning for its second year, the three-night event was set in the Grande Halle de la Villette, a cavernous glass and iron former slaughterhouse in the city’s 19th arrondissement. Fronted with a giant neon Pitchfork Music Festival sign, the hall was home this year to two stages, set at either end of the hall, running alternately, resulting a the packed crowd amusingly ping-ponging on mass between sets.
Pitchfork is considered sacred hipster prose, and the crowd was a mix of sultry Parisians, Anglophiles, and channel-hoping Brits, united in their love of the moustache, thick-framed glasses, and woolly hats. When not packing the main hall, they could be seen rummaging through the jumble sale for more turn ups, or sitting around in droves, smoking, and discussing enlightening topics.
The French have always enjoyed doing things a little differently, so combined with Pitchfork’s penchant for the eclectic, the resultant lineup and schizophrenic set list contained over thirty British, American, French, and international artists from across the indie spectrum, from dubstep to dance to psychedelic experimental singer-songwriters.
On Friday, Swedish crooner Tallest Man on Earth, contorted around his guitar, under a solitary spotlight, crooned at the crowd with the rollicking strum of ‘King of Spain’, and murder ballad ‘The Gardener’, the crowd soaking up his Dylan and Guthrie indebted acoustic fare.
Aged quintet, The Walkman rummaged through a catalogue of seven albums, the oddly aristocratic presence of front-man Hamilton Leithauser, still curiously engaging after all these years, delighting the crowd with ‘Always After You (‘Til You Started After Me)’, even if they never reached the early set high and vigour of standout post-punk ‘The Rat’.
Enjoyable feminine fix from Chromatics, Ruth Radelet on ‘Kill for Love’, and ‘Running Up that Hill’, and uplifting pop dance fusion from a luminous garbed Robyn, before the visceral electronic long play of Fuck Buttons. Standing at opposite ends of a table filled with equipment, the duo, like the crowd, look utterly lost in the distorted synths, swathes of euphoric melodies and clattering rhythms.
Saturday highlights, Grizzly Bear, delivered an intricate but melodic set, against a backdrop of ebbing Chinese lanterns, before the extended 6am license shifted the tone to a host of dance acts, that bled from one into another. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs paraded a shimmering set of dreamy vocal coated squashed synths, from debut album ‘Trouble’, before more vocal lay-over from garage-house duo Disclosure, including current hit single ‘Latch’.
Johann Heinrich Voss once declaimed “Who does not love wine, women and song / Remains a fool his whole life long.” Plenty of all here in Paris, and Pitchfork ain’t no fools.
Words by Simon Owen