Pitchfork Paris – 28th & 29th October

Siobhán Kane made the trip to France for the Justin Vernon-curated Pitchfork Paris (and a little illicit sandwich smuggling) a couple of weeks ago.  

Siobhán Kane made the trip to France for the Justin Vernon-curated Pitchfork Paris (and a little illicit sandwich smuggling too) a couple of weeks ago.

It seemed like an interesting proposition inviting Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) to curate Pitchfork’s festival in Paris over the October Bank Holiday, especially since his own background is steeped in community-spirited DIY, and that Pitchfork’s stages at Primavera Sound over the last couple of years have probably been the best curated of the festival. You never really need a reason to visit the great City of Light; even the fact that it somehow still exists is remarkable, as Woody Allen seems to suggest in Midnight in Paris.

Taking a cue from their successful Chicago festival, and partnership with Primavera, Pitchfork have realised that a city festival is an attractive proposition, because it benefits both the city and the patrons, and is potentially easier to manage.The two day festival took place in the Grand Halle De La Villette which is within Parc De Villette and just off the pretty canal, which instantly brought to mind cycling, something that is easy to avail of in Paris. We signed up for the Velib cycles which are a great resource; reliable, well managed and cheap (but you do have to give a deposit on your card of €150 which they freeze, which was a bit of a shock, though they return it ten days from when you have finished with your bicycle).

The weather was crispily autumnal, and cycling down to Parc De La Villette from St. Germain was a delight, taking in the Saturday society, replete with families, couples, dreamy girls and elegant men, roast chestnut sellers, people flying kites, walking dogs, taking in life. It felt mildly strange that we were going to trade all of that in to spend several hours in the dark in an old slaughterhouse, but music often takes you to surreal situations.

The nineteenth century Grand Halle De La Villette was the biggest slaughterhouse in Paris until 1974, and is huge – 22,000 square yards. Yet it is almost tiny in the context of La Grande Halle, Paris’s largest public park. After 1974, Grand Halle De La Villette was made a National Historic Monument and renovated to accommodate events, which its design lends itself well to, since it is made of glass and metal, with its roof acting as a kind of clear-eyed umbrella, melding nineteenth century conceits with twenty-first century needs.

So it was with excitement that we made our pilgrimage there. The people administering the festival were warm, but once inside a few things did not feel right, mainly the basic touches. Perhaps because it was a Bon Iver-curated festival, I hoped for a more delicate approach, but there was a lot of advertising all over the building, depressingly by organisations such as American Apparel and Spotify, which seemed heavy-handed. There were a couple of makeshift bars sponsored by Heineken, and unbelievably, two hot dogs stands, for just under 5000 people. There were no other choices for food, and no availability of tea or coffee. We tried to smuggle in sandwiches the next day, but that proved to be disastrous. This might not seem important, since it is all about the music, except that if you left the building at all to get some dinner, you would not be allowed back in, which seemed odd since the music on the first day went from 4pm – 5am.

Pitchfork were managing the festival in conjunction with their Parisian partners Super!, and in truth it felt like a chance missed to really create something very special. However, the two days were packed full of some very interesting musical highlights.

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