Paris. The city of love, lights and fashion- a mantra that permeates through the European leg of the Pitchfork Music Festival. This year it boasted one of the strongest line-ups around, bringing together some of the brightest new sparks alongside some of the best established acts. Held at Grande Halle de la Villette, a historic venue that is now a music superhouse where you can watch music, peruse vintage clothing outlets, play Space Invaders or customise your socks with glitter.
Spread across two stages situated at either end of the almighty hall, acts alternate between the two, which may seem a strange concept, but means that there is only ever a five to 10 minute wait for the next act to come on. Opening proceedings was always going to be a tricky task, but Canadian post-punk outfit Ought take in their stride on the Thursday evening. Hot off the back of their latest EP, Once More With Feeling, they played an electrifying set which saw lead singer Tim Beeler’s off-hand delivery and their energetic art-punk sound set the standard for the night.
Next up was How To Dress Well, who managed to overcome some technical difficulties to deliver their signature dance sound. It was a set that was at times predictable and – dare we say it – safe, but occasionally burst into a euphoric high, where Tom Krell’s voice soared over a complex entanglement of electrifying synths. The weekend’s wonderfully eclectic line-up wasn’t lost on the band – Krell perfectly described it: “A buffet, where you get to try a little bit of everything.”
Later on that evening saw one of the biggest draws of the day in the form of The War On Drugs. With a set heavily structured around their latest album Lost In The Dream, the Grande Halle seemed the perfect venue for their huge guitar-based, Bob Dylan-inspired sound, with Adam Granduciel delivering some classic guitar solos that filled every crevice of the huge space. The bulk of the crowd might have been there for The War On Drugs, but the night belonged to electronic heavyweights Jon Hopkins and James Blake. Hopkins brought a condensed version of his touring show, accompanied by fantastic visuals and a masterful sound that encouraged the occasionally timid crowd out of its shell. The set was perfectly matched by Blake, who performed a perfectly streamlined and immaculately calculated set that sent shivers down your spine, doing justice to his albums along the way.
Of course, Friday was Hallowe’en, and although only a fraction of the crowd dressed up, the bands had a totally different approach. Winners of the best costume award has to go to Future Islands, who pulled out all the stops. Frontman Samuel T Herring was dressed as Count Dracula, and performed his signature dance moves that ranged from slut-dropping to Russian style squat-kicks. The band brought in one of the biggest crowds of the day, who revelled in the synth-driven rock sound. Friday night was all about the girls; Danish pop diva MØ turned up with a full face of spooky skeleton make-up and danced across the stage, before taking off for a spot of crowd surfing. It was a blistering set that pulsed with energy and brought the party atmosphere to Paris.
Chvrches brought a mesmerising light show that flashed along to their electro hits including Recover and The Mother We Share. Lauren Mayberry’s delicate, child-like vocals worked wonders whilst their infectious pop beats reverberated through the crowd and got everyone dancing. However, it was St Vincent who performed the masterclass. At times challenging, her set was a melodic cacophony of experimentation and choreography. It was savage, peculiar and absolutely stunning in equal measure.
Belle and Sebastian brought Friday night to a close, and although they didn’t dress up themselves, they did bring members of the audience who had pulled out the fashion stops to join them onstage at the end of the set. The euphorically jubilant show saw a mixture of old and new with favourites The Wrong Girl and The Boy With The Arab Strap standing up against a bolder sound showcased in new tracks The Party Line and Perfect Couples, from their upcoming album due for release in early 2015.
As the festival moved into its final day, there was no time for slack. Opening with the deep dance beats of Jessy Lanza and then Charlotte OC, the day seemed to be tinged with an electronic feel. But then there was Tobias Jesso Jr who took to the piano to perform his first ever live show. It felt particularly delicate up against the deep electronic sounds that enveloped the rest of the day, but ended up being a charming set filled with his heartfelt ballads. Despite Foxygen’s energy and fun, there was something jarring about their performance. It may have been Sam France’s tireless act of trying to convince everyone that he was some reincarnate Iggy Pop figure or the fact that their songs – immaculate and well formed on record – live just sounded like a bit of a confusing mess.
Fortunately, tUnE-yArDs was able to repair the damage, with Merrill Garbus’ infectious energy and complex drum loops completely stunning the crowd. Although José González’s set was gorgeously delicate, and he is set to release his first new solo album in ages soon, it seemed bizarre that he had been given such a big slot (he was on for well over an hour, despite other acts only having around 45 minutes) and meant that the crowd had a lot of pent-up energy that was released in one almighty surge during Jungle’s set. Caribou’s Our Love has been lauded as one of the albums of the year, and this headline performance lived up to the strength of that record, finishing up with I Can’t Do Without You, which saw a huge multi-coloured balloon-drop half way through.
For the hardcore party-goers, the festival continued into the early hours with sets from Four Tet, Jamie xx and Kaytranada. And so closed a fantastic contemporary festival that was driven by an energy and a love of music, where the quality of the artists was far more important than quantity of stages – it was utterly breathless from start to finish. J’adore!