La Grande Halle de la Villette | November 1st-3rd
La Grande Halle de la Villette opened its doors as, for three days and nights, the old Parisian slaughterhouse became the home of some of the best sounds in global electronic, experimental and indie music.
A prime example came in the form of Tom Krell, better known as Coloradan R&B experimentalist How To Dress Well. He showcased cuts from his Total Loss LP, within which the early influences of Bobby Brown and Michael/Janet Jackson are moulded into a raw and reflective sound touching on Krell’s struggles with depression and loss. Through alternating between two unevenly modified microphones, he succeeded in capturing the feeling of vacancy and coldness that the record expresses so vividly. A nod to his influences came as Ready For The World was merged with R. Kelly’s hook from To The World from the recent G.O.O.D Music release. The smothered beat and upbeat chords of Ocean Floor For Everything left the crowd in victorious spirits, making How To Dress Well a highlight for many.
Any party atmosphere that was lost via the at times despondent tones of How To Dress Well were quickly made up for by AlunaGeorge, who brought the fever with their sleazy, disco-ready pop. The middle of the set hosted a cover of Montell Jordan’s This Is How We Do It, adding a splash of shamelessness to what could be seen as a rather serious artistic showcase. Then came Japandroids who rounded off more than a year of touring with a relentless foray into frenetic noise, a miraculous feat of duo-summoned volume to rival the likes of DFA1979 and Lightning Bolt. This was the show where the arms crossed observers lost their cool and succumbed to the sheer abandon of energy. They was followed by Factory Floor, who shook the hall with their industrial, physical post-punk techno and murky vocals. As each release and live show continues to maintain, even exceed, this three-piece’s ludicrously high watermark, the anticipation for their much-vaunted full-length is approaching boiling point. Unlike James Blake, whose new material mirrors the spaciousness of past efforts, but his live show left the crowd curiously cold.
On strode Sebastian Tellier, a figure that splits opinion in his homeland. His elaborate pop and nonchalant cool is something some hero-worship and others slate. Amongst this crowd, an air of affection dominated. As he stood at the back of the stage amongst the smoke and theatrics, striking a series of Messiah-like poses, the festival’s first day had gained another highlight.
Night one was closed by M83, championed by Pitchfork since the word go. This set represented a celebration of everything that’s made M83 such a huge success story. Cuts like Midnight City and We Own The Sky were emboldened by a full orchestra, ending our first evening on an ambitious, rousing musical expedition, and heralding the beginning of a different kind of festival.
We welcomed Friday with the ‘watch-this-space’, fresh out of high school hip-hop act RATKING. The four-piece had cancelled their first UK date a few days prior thanks to the hurricane in New York. Luckily they made it out to Paris and gave us a glimmer of why people are making noise in their direction, as well as why they landed a deal with XL before as much as a release. Led capably by the 18-year-old Wiki, these kids are serious next hype.
At the other end of the Grand Halle de Villette, Crack cover star Jessie Ware took the reigns and did her thing in smart, slick style. The festival itself comprises one vast space with a stage at each end, shows being bounced back and forth from one end to the other. So not only was there no waiting around for bands to set up, but no dreaded line-up clash dilemma either.
Crack soon realised that most attendees were Brits with the same idea as us, namely: strong line-up, strong setting, strong city, why not? The wild card of the line-up, Swedish pop pixie Robyn, took to the stage later that evening. One of the weekend’s many surprises, her faultless vocals and exuberant energy had the hall up and dancing within minutes. The comment “Last night I did a show in Brixton” was met with a roar from the audience, giving a further insight into its make-up.
Next up were industrial-electro oddballs Fuck Buttons, a deeply anticipated addition. Unfortunately, and again surprisingly, Crack couldn’t help but feel the duo’s live set was upstaged by a huge disco ball, mounted on the floor behind them. Watching the lasers bouncing of the tiny mirrors and refracting across the ceiling was about as entertaining as it got for us, while the show itself seemed largely based around posturing with the occasional knob being twiddled.
Headlining Friday was the mighty Animal Collective. Their stage set up was as magnificent as you’d expect, and in this case equally matched by the music. The band stood behind a row of flashing teeth, in front of a swirling inflatable vortex. And just like the music on offer, the decor was weird, wonderful and impossible to describe. But it worked. Overhearing French girls attempting to sing along to Today’s Supernatural was a highlight, and catching one crowd member describing one particular venture as “like a weird remix of Champagne Supernova” was shockingly accurate. At the encore we found ourselves wondering if it would be too obvious to deliver My Girls, but when they did, it was as soaringly appropriate a close as you could possibly wish for.
Saturday was the real mammoth line-up. We arrived for Purity Ring, adrift amongst a sea of balloons, drowned in side-chained synth melodies and crunk 808 drums. Shortly later, Twin Shadow’s George Lewis Jr. had the crowd in the palm of his hand until they handed over to the phenomenal Liars. Death Grips followed, aided by the spectacular drumwork of Zach Hill. As usual, MC Ride was very angry about something or other. People found this highly entertaining.
Breton’s lead singer Roman Rappak impressed us with his grasp of French but annoyingly seemed to feel the need to take off his guitar and wave it in the air at the end of each track. Still, the band couldn’t be faulted for their energy or technical prowess, and in their finer moments evoked Foals in their heyday.
Grizzly Bear, in the midst of a European tour, were on predictably great form. After opening with Speak in Rounds they revealed a row of lanterns at the rear of the stage, which rose slowly to the ceiling and then flashed and moved in formations throughout the show. Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste shared lead vocal duties beautifully, while the entire band came together in luxurious harmonies and transfixing waves of sound.
Next up was Disclosure with some trademark retro house and garage vibes. Nothing groundbreaking by any stretch, but by this stage such a youthful switch up was certainly refreshing. The two brothers from Surrey did their best but were inevitably upstaged, in every sense, by the next act, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs.
Orlando Higginbottom (yes, his real name is every bit as spectacular as his stage moniker) has always been a figure of promise, but few could predict Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs rising to quite such heights. A year ago he might have featured towards the bottom of this bill, but since signing to Polydor and releasing a full length, TEED brings the hype. He stood at the helm of a prehistoric themed workstation, dancers at either side, armed with an arsenal of confetti cannons and wearing a silly hat. All of the acts at the festival came with great stage shows and visuals, but it’s fair to say this one took first prize.
The night finished with Rustie, Simian Mobile Disco and Julio Bashmore taking us into the early hours. Rustie was wonky as always and stupidly banging, Simian’s new sound was warmly welcomed and Bashmore – well you know the deal. Crack danced the night away and even witnessed the spontaneous start of a mass line dance. Proof perhaps that Franco-English relations are better than we might have thought? We’ll certainly be back next year to mingle with the Parisians at what we’re sure will be another top drawer offering. Pitchfork Paris: a bientôt.
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Thursday: Duncan Harrison
Friday + Saturday: Jack Lucas Dolan
Photos: Vincent Arbelet