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Notes From Pitchfork Music Festival, Paris 2019

The three-day festival held last month gave us new discoveries and proved the heavy hitter status of artists like Skepta, The 1975, Slowthai and more

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Arjun Rao Dec 22, 2019

British hip-hop artist Skepta headlining Pitchfork Music Festival Paris 2019. Photo: Alban Gendrot

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As 2019 draws to a close, Pitchfork Paris (#P4K) provides one last dose of adrenaline to all the music junkies in Europe before they flutter off into hibernation. 

Set in the majestic Grande Halle de la Villette, an imperious 19th Century cast-iron structure (formerly an abattoir) played host to 55 artists across four stages and three days between October 31st and November 2nd. Walking into the festival, the vast open space with an array of food stalls, bars and tables set away from the madness gave off something of a grand picnic vibe. 

Day 1 provided a few nice surprises along with power-packed performances from the headliners. Pitchfork is well known for providing a platform for underground artists, and boy did New York R&B singer Duendita make the most of it. Playing at the intimate Studio stage — a closed dome-like amphitheater with seating — her soul music spoke to the heart and the spirit of the audience. Many of the songs were off her new album titled direct line to My Creator. The infectious joy, dance-y vibes, lush sounds, thoughtful interludes and groovy basslines made it a performance to remember. 

Brit rapper Kojey Radical was another artist who took the Studio stage by storm. Pacing his set with slower numbers and eventually taking the whole room into a frenzy, it was one of the most fun hip-hop sets I’ve seen and the audience was as much a part of the performance as the artist. Fellow Brit Slowthai’s show felt like it was a heavy metal concert more than a hip-hop one, and in a good way. The show was a visual display of aggression and the audience acknowledged that with a Wall of Death and moshpits!

While most of the French were waiting for Belgian rapper Hamza on the main stage, the band I had personally been waiting for all day was about to take the Studio stage. The Comet is Coming did not disappoint. Eclectic tunes fusing jazz, psychedelic rock and electronica got the audience up and moving from the first minute to the last. While the excessive hip-hop programming on a single day did get a bit tiring, it definitely did not show during U.K. rap titan Skepta’s performance. He got the crowd going with all his popular tunes — “That’s not me,” “It’s not safe” and “Bullet from a gun,” amongst others. 

Chromatics live at Pitchfork Music Festival Paris 2019. Photo: Alban Gendrot

Day 2 started out with American singer-songwriter Briston Maroney belting out some sounds that felt more Nineties than present day. The singer reminds you of a tame Kurt Cobain, in terms of his looks and the aggression on stage. Even with seasoned artists like the Chromatics and Primal Scream putting on solid shows, the second day at Pitchfork Music Festival Paris felt like it was missing a little something.

Up stepped Squid on Petite Halle, the smallest stage of the lot. Despite being on at the same time as Primal Scream, the Brighton post-punk act managed to have a full house audience enjoying a fresh whiff of heavy, loud, weird and funky sounds! They were definitely one of the best discoveries at the festival.

Speaking of weird and funky, the next band on the same stage were a Japanese all girl band called CHAI. Wearing matching pink outfits, singing in Japanese, belting out punk rock-ish riffs and incorporating multiple dance routines in their performance, it was an unexpected but pleasant surprise and a deviation what I’ve seen bands do. John Talabot was the last act and the Catalan DJ got everyone grooving to a mix of experimental house and nasty basslines. 

Norwegian electropop artist Aurora live at Pitchfork Music Festival Paris 2019. Photo: Vincent Arbelet

While waiting for Day 3 to begin, I had a chance to interview Norwegian electropop artist Aurora. We spoke briefly about her influences, what shapes her music and her plans for the next year. Where listeners may spot hints of electronica and folk in the 23-year-old’s music, she tells Rolling Stone India, “I mostly do not listen to music in my free time. I have a couple of favorite artists, but I rarely listen. When I am not touring, I spend time with nature. I don’t know how to explain it, but I have an idea of how my song needs to sound in my head and then I play it. I am taking a break next year as I have been touring continuously since I was 17. I want to find other ways of expressing myself beyond music and I will do that next year. Maybe after that a tour to India is on the cards!“ The conversation reveals her maturity and she is an extremely humble human being despite all the fame she’s received at such a young age. 

Aurora put on a captivating performance with songs such as “The Seed,””Running with the Wolves,” “Apple Tree” and “Queendom.”  The headliners on Day 3 did not disappoint either, considering they were artists well in tune with the primo slot and stage at festivals around the globe right now. Charlie XCX and The 1975 ran through their respective recently released albums, Charli and A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, putting on splendid shows as the audience has come to expect. 

The 1975 live at Pitchfork Music Festival Paris 2019. Photo: Kimberley Ross

Pitchfork Music Festival, Paris was very well organized and extremely fun. The introduction of two new stages served the festival well. The programming could have been better divided for a multi-genre experience rather than splitting the festival based on genres. It felt like it created a sonic overload of hip-hop or indie depending on the day. 

P.S : All sound consoles had a visible decibel meter, something that I have not noticed at other festivals before. This is a good move for someone like me who attends a ton of music festivals and cares about their hearing. 

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