Pitchfork Paris 2018 @ Paris, France, 01-03/11/2018

Pitchfork Paris 2018It’s a typical autumn day as we make our way over to the Pitchfork Paris 2018, at the Grande Halle de la Villette in the 19th Arrondisement; a chilly but sunny day with rusty colours dusting the pavements and canal nearby. The sight of the hall itself is impressive - a historic slaughterhouse with a complex structure of cast iron built in the 1800s. The arty feel continues inside too, with a mezzanine full of crafts, jewellery and fashion for sale.

But we’re not just here for the French designers and creators. Over the next two days, the Grande Halle de la Villette will be home to a carefully curated bill of indie music, with headliners Bon Iver, Mac Demarco and Kaytranada at the top of our list of acts to see.

Soft rock from Australia starts us off via Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever. Their pop hooks and indie guitar sets the precedent as they give new album, Hope Downs, a workout. It’s not often that a drummer gets to crowd surf, but Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever is the exception as Marcel Tussie dives into the crowd during a lengthy instrumental.

John Maus’ is next to perform and he's impassioned and ferocious. A solitary figure on stage, Maus begins with an elongated wail and escalates from there. Fist pumps, air grabs and head bangs accentuate the force of the electro beats behind him. It feels like a strange release of anger, the experimental compositions acting as a personal form of expression.


The crowd is already pretty large by the time we make it over to see The Voidz, fronted by none other than Julian Casablancas (The Strokes). The audience may have shown up for Julian but they stick around for The Voidz. Punchy guitar riffs slam alongside pounding drums, making for a performance that's much heavier than we originally anticipated. Julian Casablancas is as weird and wonderful as ever, even throwing shade at Pitchfork’s DB limit at one point.

The Thursday night headliner is a festival staple, Mac Demarco. Sporting fishing vest and his Canadian twang, he charms us with “This Old Dog” and “Cooking Up Something Good”, every beat punctuated by a goofy throw and catch of the mic. Older tracks such as “Ode To Viceroy” and “My Kind of Woman” get a Mac twist, mixing up the melody slightly to keep it fresh. His voice seems to have taken a bit of a pounding - he comments this is likely due to all the drinking and smoking on tour - though frequent screams of “fuck you” and “I am the god of hellfire” may contribute. Regardless, the jangly sweetness of his tracks never fails to get a sing-a-long. At one point the guitarist, Andy, gets free reign of the stage and dishes up three covers of Misfits tracks wedged into the final rendition of “Still Together”. It adds a bit of chaotic end to an otherwise dreamy set. One thing is for sure; Mac’s still got it.

Dream Wife is the first band to perform on Friday; an international punk rock band formed in Brighton but now calling London their home. The voice of female empowerment, gender neutrality and body control, Dream Wife are the punk band we’ve all been waiting for. Big guitar, loud drums, and punk spirit embolden their set. It’s comforting to hear a female vocalist screaming “gonna cut you up, gonna fuck you up” too. Of course, the set wouldn’t be complete without a Spice Girls’ “tell you what I want” snippet.


Next up, Car Seat Headrest overwhelm the stage with 6 musicians, each adding a richer depth to their indie rock guitar ballads. The unique vocals of lead singer, Will Toledo, add a wry roughness and are Pavement-esque in nature. We get an impassioned cowbell finale too, complete with a stranger from the crowd being pulled up on stage.

Vibrant, electronic infusions are delivered by Blood Orange aka Dev Hynes. Accompanied by two soulful singers, the band creates a beautifully woven soundscape that's harmonised to perfection. Dev Hynes himself is low key, bleeding effortless cool as he bounces around the stage. Their set focuses on the latest album, Negro Swan, which explores black and queer depression, but also incorporates earlier tracks such as “You’re Not Good Enough” and “Champagne Coast”. “Holy Will”, in particular, gets an incredible introduction from Ian Isiah, bringing an element of gospel to the performance.

Closing the evening is a live set from Kaytranada, who replaced original headliner Fever Ray earlier in the year. The set is a mixture of his own tracks such as “One Too Many” and mashups of Solange and Kendrick Lamar. Needless to say, it's a genre-spanning set, blending R&B, club anthems, hip-hop and house. The crowd seems to thin at this point - perhaps it’s too early to go straight into night time party mode? Anyway, those that remain enjoy the bangers that Kaytranada has to offer.


We wake up feeling less than refreshed for the final day of the festival. Snail Mail delight with naïve indie rock, in their slow-paced husky style. Broaching shoegaze, Lindsay Jordan’s gravelly vocal is unique but feels slightly strained on some notes. It doesn’t distract from the attention-captivating performance though.

We mooch on over to the other end of the venue for Steven Malkmas and The Jicks. As someone points out in the crowd behind me, “Steven Malkmas is arguably one of the most important acts here.” Though Pavement may have disappeared from our lives in the 90s, the cult following remains and Steven Malkmas is full of buzz. He plays the guitar behind his head when they belt out tracks such as “Middle America” and “Shiggy” for a high energy performance.

You never really know what you’re going to get from an Unknown Mortal Orchestra performance. This time, we see vibrant stage lighting and various wanderings right into the crowd from Ruban Nielson. There’s never a dull moment as they add extended instrumentals and bang out glorious riffs. Playing to the crowd’s likes, they perform a selection of oldies but goodies such as “From the Sun” and “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” mixed up with new favourites “Hunnybee” and “American Guilt”. It all builds up to an explosive end with “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” tumultuously belted out.

Bon Iver is the final headliner of the festival. Solitary white lights beam down on Justin Vernon and the band, accentuating the shrubbery and leaves that embellish the stage. The powerful, resonating falsetto vocal of Vernon envelopes the venue and commands total awe and attention. Moving from beautiful folk ballads to electronic synths with fluidity, Bon Iver is recording-level perfect. Justin Vernon asks if we feel safe, as that’s the best we can ask for right now. It’s a poignant question and one that doesn’t need an answer in the encompassing togetherness of the set. He closes the show with “22 (OVER S??N)” - much to the dismay of the crowd waiting for “Skinny Love”.

The night is far from over though, with an unrivalled DJ line up taking everyone into party mode. There are sets from Peggy Gou, Avalon Emerson and Daniel Avery, who play a range of techno, house, and drum and bass until the early hours of the morning and finish the festival in full swing.

What feels so special about Pitchfork Paris 2018 is the refined sophistication of it all. From the gentle hoards of people migrating between stages at each end of the hall to the delightful arts and fashion being sold, it feels very civilised; far flung from the messy British festival. Attendees are orderly, polite and just here to play witness to some great live music.


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