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Recounting what went down at Pitchfork Music Festival Paris 2018 is as hard a feeling to convey as heated enchantment laced with freezing temperatures.

It all started with us bouncing around the 11th arrondissement to catch some of the acts we were really looking forward to. From Starchild & The New Romantics to Lauren Auder on the first of two days for Pitchfork Avant-Garde to Black Midi via Kelsey Lu and topping the second night off with the great R&B crooner Cautious Clay. It’s hard to say which act I enjoyed best if not all of them. 

Pitchfork Avant-Garde

I had covered pretty much all artists previously on Sodwee.com but hadn’t seen them live and was pleasantly surprised. Starchild & The New Romantics came on set at Supersonic with utmost confidence, breaking into his set with fancy footwork and gracious moves to an already conquered audience whom Starchild (a.k.a. Bryndon) invited to dance along to his Prince-esque music. A few glitches in the accompanying tracks never phased the New Yorker. Always on point and kept on trucking to deliver a stellar set to the Pitchfork Avant-Garde crowd here to see him.

Earlier in the evening I had started this week long music marathon with the somewhat dark and moody set by Lauren Auder at the Café de la Danse. A set that reflected the breadth of the young artist’s musicality and genuine poetic talent he has to offer.

We close the first night of this year’s Avant-Garde walking back to base in cold temperatures. Clearly bracing for what was going to be a hardcore week of music, live events and survival in this cold Parisian Autumn.

Photos by Vincent ArbeletMaria Louceiro, Geraldine Walter and Alban Gendrot.

The next day proved a little more challenging with rain being added to the mix of unfortunate climate for this 2018 edition of the Avant-Garde. Not only that, but Halloween falling the same day I wasn’t expecting that many people to turn up at the shows dotted across the 11th arrondissement of Paris (Bastille neighbourhood).

I ventured to Le Réservoir for my first fix of live music for the night with the progressive rock outfit Black Midi that delivered one of those really intense live performance with hard hitting drum lines and high-octane vocals. The crowd in attendance felt that bass guitar right through their flesh. Stung by hooky guitar riffs and tremendous noise from the four piece from London.

After the gig was over at Le Réservoir. Managed to brace the rain and headed straight to Café de la Danse where I’d be seeing Kelsey Lu in cowboy boots and a see-through dress. She was alone on stage and provided the audience with clear, pristine lyricism that fitted the venue perfectly. At times bringing her cello into the mix. Quite the performance and an act I truly discovered here with her live. Didn’t expect it at all. But glad I made it early.

Finally Cautious Clay – whom we covered a few times here – came on stage to roaring cheers and dived into our favourite set so far. From “Cold War” to “French Riviera” via “Joshua Tree” the set comprised of all the now classic tunes he managed to put out in the short time he’s been around. His R&B left us wanting a little more. The set felt too short. Maybe I felt so absorbed I didn’t see the time fly by. 

Pitchfork Main Event

The Grande Halle de la Villette where the Pitchfork Main Event is held over three days is a sprawling venue located in the 19th arrondissement that was once a slaughterhouse where cattle were shipped in from all corners of France up until 1974 and sold to the highest bidder. A great architectural statement that befits the Pitchfork Festival pretty well. A modern, contemporary and somewhat advanced for its time. The venue is an integral part of the philosophy of this yearly event that take place on the first weekend of November. For this 2018 edition the lineup was pretty sparse in terms of headlining acts and featured some less known or established artists. Which we enjoyed very much, it goes without saying.

By the time I got into the venue on the Thursday for Yellow Days, darkness had already set and single digit temperature were playing with my body. But Yellow Days, a.k.a. Georges Van Den Broek warmed me up quite efficiently with his slow burning set and easy vibes with plenty of guitars to go by, a surf-rock swagger and the musical background of this generation “Y” in tow and fully assimilated, Yellow Days powers through vocally and showcases influences by acts like Howlin’ Wolf, Ray Charles, Mac Demarco and Tame Impala.

Next up on our menu for the night was Etienne Daho, whom, as an iconic French act and revered trendsetter nowadays needs no introduction. He played an interesting mix of old favourites and mostly new jams from his latest album. But what really struck me here is the stage design and lights used for his set. Both simple in execution and super stylish, the lights brought it all together here. We also enjoyed the set by The Voidz with Julian Casablancas from the comfort of the mezzanine where festival goers could compete for a free record and have a play on the swing. Having also already enjoyed Mac Demarco at the same venue in 2013, I went to bed and capitalized on some well earned ZZzzZ’s for the next day.

Day two of the main event turned out to be as equally interesting. Mainly because most of the acts I had never seen before and many of them had plenty to offer live. From Dream Wife tearing the green stage as I walked in a already packed Grande Halle de la Villette for a Friday evening of a long weekend in France. Lewis Ofman is French and has been around the for some time creating and producing music and being really good at it might I add. The open side exit doors really got the better of my comfort for the night as freezing air came rushing in the venue and transforming me into a living block of ice. I breezed through Car Seat Headrest with a real nice punchy set and the festival goers really woke up by then. Just in time for Bagarre whom really lit up the place with their engaged set and constantly poking the crowd with questions, dares and efficient crowd management techniques. It was wild for a brief moment, where they took the lead for Best live act at the festival this year closely followed by Blood Orange who closed the second night of the main event with Kaytranada which I skipped to catch the metro home unfortunately.

The final evening of Pitchfork Music Festival Paris 2018 wasn’t as interesting to me. Although, I acknowledge that the die-hard Bon Iver fans that came in droves to the venue for him only were in for a treat and a few more when it comes to UMO (Unknown Mortal Orchestra) or  Jeremy Underground. But the highlight to me there that particular was the brilliant set by Snail Mail. Really taking advantage of the space and attentive audience here for them (and Bon Iver, obviously).

The main event as a whole felt a little underwhelming is its cohesiveness. With some highlights in the first two days. I much preferred the Avant-Garde selection and lineup this year. Less repeat performances from established artists and more of a real discovery every night.

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