Though ever-repeating weekly grind had just barely started again for the beret-wearing existential cynics inhabiting the French capital, life was bustling along the main arteries of Paris’ fourth arrondissement. Warm, glowing lights radiated from every bar and restaurant along the well-frequented streets surrounding the Bastille, adding a fireplace-like tint to the jolly scenery paved by centuries of alcoholic traditions and an inviolable right to public drinking. Here’s to your all-too-precious “Liberty” and “Freedom” spelt in bold capitalised letters, North America. Your colours may shine brighter and your anthems may ring louder than any other nation in the world, but the French will keep smiling smugly at you from across the Atlantic as a nation above the public drinking age. What an insufferably opinionated bunch we can afford to be. Why change, though? After all, our stubbornness has come to be seen as a trademark charm of ours. Whether our dear colleagues at Pitchfork had this consideration in mind when the decision came to set up Pitchfork Festival’s European leg in Paris, I couldn’t possibly know. All I can vouch for is how wise a decision this turned out to be for their brand name. The Festival has turned Pitchfork into a household name for French audiences, allowing the event to expand and take over the Bastille area for two evenings chock full of performances by promising new acts from the indie music scene. There I was and here I stood, first and sole person in line at the Badaboum at 7:30 pm sharp, with excitement tingling in my brain and French opinionatedness running through my veins.
I was ready.
My plan for the first evening was simple. My first time at Pitchfork Avant-Garde, much like most of my time at Pitchfork Festival, was going to be an experience of blind judgement and discovery. I would thus take things easy and stay put at the Badaboum, wise from my experience at Desertfest of arriving into jam-packed venues for each set. With that being said, I admittedly was mostly concerned with getting a good spot for JPEGMAFIA. As I had said before, the dimly lit venue had yet to pack a decent crowd between its walls and it appeared that we were off for a slow start on the festivities.
The first musical guests of the evening straddled onto the stage at 7:39 pm. Nothing more appropriate than a musical guest from my old home in South-East London to start off my first show since my return to Paris. Having brought along a duo of Emcees to liven up the show, Kiran Kai got down to business with some ethereal, cloud-rap beats laced with trap rhythms. Leading the show and working hard to warm up a small audience that had barely gotten their minds off work, the two emcees laid some bare flows, armed with the typical demeanour and accent of South-East London, the likes of which we rarely ever get to witness on this side of the English channel. Though I do hope Paris get around booking artists repping UK’s wide range of unique subcultures and music genres, Kiran Kai’s Grime-driven performance was given a narrow opportunity to impress a tough crowd. Slowly but surely, however, the audience grew larger, adding up to a decently sized audience both respectful yet visibly underwhelmed.
The set drew to a close before long, reminding me of the short duration of the sets that were to come for the rest of this first couple of evenings. The half-hour of intermission allowed me to make acquaintances with one of Kiran Kai’s emcees over some delightful discussions ranging from Morley’s chicken to Parisian girls. You can’t move between Paris and London without missing one of the two, after all.
The first band formation of the evening then took to the stage. Meticulous and prudent, the musicians double-checked their setup before jumping straight into full groove, warming up the room in a matter of seconds. The funk was on and in full swing by the time RIMON, 20 years of age, stepped out and effectively crowned the tight band performance with her brilliant vocal performance and charisma. The room was jumping, the crowd was dancing, and the energy was irresistibly infectious. The effect was instantaneous, leaving no room for any doubt in my mind: what I was witnessing with this audience was the crisp-clear sound of exceptional talent backed by exceptionally talented musicians. Fusing R’n’B, Soul and Funk, RIMON delivered a short but effective half-hour of heart-melting smoothness punctuated by ass-kicking grooves. Though the performer had a handful of songs to showcase, her energy and versatility as an R’n’B singer made for a show worthy of an artist accustomed to sold-out tours. This may simply be wishful thinking on my end, but I’m ready to guess this isn’t the last time we’ll be hearing from RIMON and her band.
Following this explosive display of soul and groove, the band cleared their gear offstage and made way for an empty stage lit by the incandescent bright light of a MacBook computer. What I had been waiting for, and what was about to unfold, was sonic ecstasy of a radically different nature. Upon first glance, Barrington Hendricks appeared as a quiet, almost timid fellow. A shy, humbled smirk shone on his face as a few audience members started shouting “Daaaayum, Peggy!” prior to the set (in reference to a sample on his latest album Veteran). Appearances proved deceptive to say the least, for nothing could have prepared me for the metamorphosis that would take place. Mister Hendricks greeted the audience with a small voice, thanking everyone for coming and briefly introducing himself. Formalities out of the way, the hospitable tone quickly shifted as the artist announced: “I’m here to play some dirty shit for you”. The brightly lit stage turned dark to the nightmarish, cavernous beat to Denzel Curry’s ‘VENGEANCE | VENGEANCE’. Barrington Hendricks was no more and JPEGMAFIA’s wrath was upon us. Running from side to side of the stage, screaming his verses with ferocious intensity, the Baltimore-based rapper unveiled the Mister Hyde stage performer to his Doctor Jekyll offstage persona. The crowd turned into a sea of bodies caught in a relentless thunderstorm, spellbound by the madman’s rage. Not even a fresh, healing arm tattoo under cling-film would deter this monster from diving in the middle of the crowd or climbing on every surface at his disposal. More than a mere spectacle, JPEGMAFIA’s show filled audiences with a live performance to complement our understanding of his music, instilling our subsequent listening experience with a newfound insight into the insane energy underlying each track. Tracks like ‘Thug Tears’, ‘Baby I’m Bleeding’ or the boldly titled ‘I cannot fucking wait til Morrissey Dies’ resonated in a completely different way, reinterpreted in the heat of the moment in front of a raging crowd. Though the songs were simply played off of the artists’ library of instrumentals on his laptop, the performance felt raw, visceral and unfiltered, unlike anything I had heard in a long while. The show was over in a flash, leaving me in awe over what just happened. Dayum, Peggy.
We had one more show left for the evening, and thankfully what was to follow the hellraising set would have nothing to do with what had previously taken place. Cue Jimothy Lacoste, a peculiar chap with a taste for bright colours and whacky shades. Along with his trusted blonde DJ, Jimothy trotted onto the stage to greet a fairly hyped-up crowd of Parisians in the mood for some Bedroom Pop. Blasé yet hip in a way only teens and fresh young adults will ever hope to fully understand, the young Camden lad jittered about the stage, rapping and singing in his thick North London accent and deliberately wonky sense of pitch. For an artist having made his break through Youtube, Jimothy sure fits the archetype of an internet sensation with his flashy, child-like demeanour and his taste for the absurd. Most popular of all was the meme-popstars’ ‘I can Speak Spanish’, a viral hit whose lyrics dive no more than a few inches deeper than what one learns from the song title. For all of the ridiculousness and cockiness on display here, Jimothy and his partner did put on a fun, successful show. Was I sorry it was over when it ended? Certainly not, though I did mostly enjoy it while it lasted, save for the crippling sense of alienation that came from the sudden realisation that youth culture was slowly drifting away from me.
For the second half of Pitchfork Avant-Garde, I was now prepared; I was ready to roam and explore the nearby venues and streets hosting the musical festivities. As on the previous evening, the streets around the Bastille were bustling with life, albeit one of a slightly different appearance. It just so happens that it was Wednesday, October 31, and that some Parisians do, in fact, celebrate Halloween. Demons, vampires and ghouls populated the lively rue de Lappe, clinking pints and smoking cigarettes outside the densely packed bars with all the merriment one would usually expect on a Friday night.
I decided to start my evening where I had left off and headed one last time to the Badaboum on Rue des Taillandiers, baited by Etta Bond’s promise of quality soul music to warm up my cold heart. Sure enough, the short-haired soul princess stood to deliver that night, pumping warm blood through the room’s veins with her intensely sensual voice. Unversed though I may have been about soul music upon stepping into the venue, it did not take much more than a couple of songs to have my heart smothered by the vibrant, pulsating warmth of love and desire emanating from the young London-based performer. Heartfelt music and talent of this calibre meet no boundaries, and I, for one, was sold before the half-hour set had reached its conclusion.
Back outside after an invigorating first set, I decided to make my way back through Rue de Lappe to check out what musical curiosities awaited within the Chappelle des Lombards. I had decided to go against my instincts this time, opting to check out the band with what I saw as one of the least ostentatious names of the festival running order. For what it’s worth, Gold Star had me strangely hopeful for a musical gem hidden behind a plain and dare I say a forgettable name. The band, spearheaded by a certain Marlon Rabenreither, was cramped at the back of a fully packed venue and had already started playing by the time I found the place. As claustrophobic as the venue was, I was quickly caught up by the homely ambience set by Marlon’s acoustic folk-rock tunes. There is something to be said about artists that are able to make you pine for country roads and rundown automobiles. Any musician talented enough to make me want to drive a shit car across hundreds of miles of dusty road for no tangible purpose is more than worthy of the title of ‘artist’. Old as Dylan and Guthrie this style may be, the sounds of folk-rock remains tried and true, and will remain timeless so long as the spirit of the Beat generation lives on.
Next up on my schedule was a little excursion to the Supersonic, my go-to destination for great music on drunken evenings and improvised night-outs. This venue gives me good karma, and I would have been a fool not to take advantage of it on a night like this. The young artist known as Hatchie had just taken to the stage with her band and had already started to fill the room with her dream-pop soundscapes. Bathing in a sea of blue stage lights, the band was fittingly playing in a foggy haze, making the whole stage show appear as a My Bloody Valentine album cover brought to life. Band leader Harriette Pilbeam’s smooth, comforting voice tenderly resonated amidst a fuzzy cloud of undulating guitars and synths and I, along with the rest of the attentive crowd around me, was swept away. As simple as the shoegaze-coated dream-pop formula may seem to be, Hatchie and her accolades pulled off a truly exemplary performance with catchy melodies and an immersive, textured live sound. Fans of sugary shoegaze best keep an ear out for this new solo artist if they haven’t already. I know I will.
Thus came the time to pick one more venue for one last show. It was getting late by the time I left the Supersonic. The remaining venues that were still open were getting ready to greet the last shows of the evening, so there was no time to hesitate on decisions. My arbitrary choice ended up favouring the Réservoir, a nearby venue on Rue de la Forge Royale, a mere ten minutes away from the Supersonic. Singer-Songwriter SASAMI (aka Sasami Ashworth) and her band had already started their show by the time I arrived, prompting me to hastily squeeze through the crowd to take some photos while I still could. Having just departed from Cherry Glazerr earlier this year, the L.A. singer-songwriter made her Parisian debut as a solo artist, unveiling a brand-new repertoire of yet-to-be-released, guitar-driven rock songs. Though Ashworth may have revealed her versatile singing voice with her first single ‘Callous’, the set showed an artist that has yet to fully shape her sound. And though the performance was solid and the songs were decent, there simply didn’t seem to be much that would differentiate SASAMI from her peers. A shame, considering how much personality and charisma the female artist displayed during her onstage banter. Perhaps it’s just not the right time for Sasami.
As on the night before, the second night at Pitchfork Avant-Garde came to a close before I knew it. Four half-sets per evening do fly by when you’re having fun, after all. Still, this festival prologue got me warmed up and enticed for what was to come. As new as it still may be, Pitchfork Avant-Garde is a promising addition to Pitchfork Festival, one that already fits the city of Paris like a glove, one that embraces everything that makes the French capital’s indie scene so vibrant. As I was making my way back home on the Parisian metro, I started reflecting back on the fate of some of Paris’ other smaller venues, particularly that of La Mécanique Ondulatoire, initially set to be one of the host venues for this year’s edition of Pitchfork Avant-Garde. The local music scene has been dealt some serious damage with the recent closing of La Flèche d’Or, La Mécanique Ondulatoire, Le Batofar and other venues across the capital. May this festival remind us of the fight we must lead to keep our music scene alive and healthy. To music fans like ourselves, it may very well be the last thing keeping this crazy world from shattering apart.