For its ninth edition, Pitchfork Music Festival Paris added two stages, bringing the total to four and allowing for even more artists to grace them. Focusing on the balance between celebrated artists and those just emerging, festival-goers were treated to a wide array of genres and styles promising to expand their musical palettes.
From newcomers like Mk.gee and Squid to indie rock giants like Belle & Sebastian and The 1975, here are 10 highlights from Friday (Nov. 1) and Saturday (Nov. 2) of Pitchfork Music Festival Paris 2019.
Covers: A Recurring Theme
Bopping from stage to stage, a somewhat surprising theme took shape: several artists opted to put cover songs in their set lists. Electro-pop trio Desire provided their take on New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” and Brooklyn band Barrie sang a stripped down version of the ABBA classic “Lay All Your Love On Me.” Chromatics played their cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” which is included on their 2007 album, Night Drive. But wait, there’s more -- Orville Peck and his guitarist paid tribute to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’ 1974 duet “Ooh Las Vegas,” and lastly, Caroline Polachek delivered an amazing rendition of “Breathless” by The Corrs.
One of the most musically interesting performances of the festival, Brighton five-piece Squid, proved that punk isn’t dead -- it’s just evolving. Fusing elements of math rock, psychedelia and sometimes jazz, each song seemed to build to a cacophonous climax only to come back down again. Singer and drummer Ollie Judge impressively conquered both roles, his vocals a cross between speaking and yelling that served to complement chaotic rhythms. “The Cleaner” was a standout from their set, with its repeated lyric “So I can dance” making the crowd want to do just that.
British singer-songwriter Nilüfer Yanya’s jazz-influenced indie ballads hit even harder backed up by a full band, consisting of keys, drums, and a saxophone. Yanya’s glow-in-the-dark painted nails moved up and down her guitar’s neck with ease as she delivered fan favorites such as “The Florist” and “Baby Luv,” as well as tracks from this year’s debut album, Miss Universe. With vocals reminiscent of Alanis Morissette and King Krule but at the same time all her own, Yanya’s impassioned tonality proved to be the true marker of her distinct sound.
Masked queer cowboy Orville Peck turned the small seated Studio into a full-blown rodeo almost immediately. Sporting a bedazzled red suit and cowboy hat, Peck’s signature vibrato-laden croon filled the room and commanded the audience toward him. They obeyed, basically storming the stage to dance along to his outlaw country groove and try to get a peek at who exactly is behind the fringed mask. Peck played the majority of his Sub Pop-released debut album, Pony, accompanied by a full band also dressed in suits and cowboy hats. His set was pure theatrics, at times almost feeling like a Broadway show, mainly because of that smooth, operettic voice that seemed like it could hold a note for hours.
Weyes Blood (aka Natalie Mering) took the audience at the Grande Halle’s side stage to church. Wearing a white pantsuit and sounding absolutely angelic, it was hard not to have a religious experience. She started off her set with 2019 album, Titanic Rising’s, first track “A Lot’s Gonna Change” and continued to play several other songs from the album while either cradling the mic or prodding piano keys. However, the highlight of the set was “Do You Need My Love” from 2016’s Front Row Seat To Earth, during which flashing lights completed the ethereal experience.
Belle & Sebastian
Taking their name from a French TV series, it was only fitting that Belle & Sebastian were Friday night’s headlining act. The band brought sheer energy, led by Stuart Murdoch’s gleeful skipping and clever commentary. The pinnacle of this came in the replacement of the lyrics in “Step Into My Office, Baby” to “I was burned out after Brexit/ We asked President Macron if he could fix it/ He said no.” It was a party of their greatest hits, including “She’s Losing It,” “I Want The World To Stop” and “The Stars of Track and Field,” essentially morphing into one big, happy sing along.
Starting Saturday’s festivities was indie newcomer Mk.gee, whose funk-inspired instrumentals and catchy melodies have fueled his rise to success this past year. His song “You,” which kicked off his set, even made an appearance on Frank Ocean’s Blonded Radio. Accompanied by a full band and layered visuals, Mk.gee’s DIY roots came across polished and refined. Though he didn’t showcase any songs off of his most recent EP, Fool, the five songs he played from first EP, Pronounced McGee, flowed together nicely and allowed audience members to warm up their dancing shoes.
It was truly something else to witness the amount of people sprinting to the main stage in order to see Jamila Woods. They came in droves, and soon the entire floor was filled up to hear her poetic melodies. Delivering messages of self-love and empowerment over soulful instrumentals, Woods’ performance was the definition of feel-good. This is apparent in the lyrics Woods encouraged everyone to help her sing at the end of “EARTHA”: “Who gonna share my love for me with me?” Though mainly focusing on her latest release, Legacy! Legacy!, Woods still played favorites such as “Stellar” and ended the set with “Blk Girl Soldier,” dedicating it to all the black girls in the room, a sentiment met with thunderous applause.
There’s no other way to describe Charli XCX’s set but to say that it was pure energy. “Next Level Charli” started off her set with a literal bang, as white confetti blasted into the crowd and she bopped around the stage like a maniac. Her stage presence can only be compared to a high-level aerobics class -- with her as the instructor, of course. As the audience, we were all following her, and she expected sweat. She directed the crowd to jump, sing, and even get on someone’s shoulders as she called out, “My name is Charli XCX and I didn’t come to f--k around!” No, she didn’t. “Vroom Vroom,” Shake It,” and “I Got It” were highlights of the set, but nothing matched a surprise cameo from Christine and the Queens to perform their collaboration, “Gone.” Ending the song hugging each other on their knees, it was a heartwarming display of true pop camaraderie.
The 1975 never fail to prove that they are one of the best live bands out there, and their set at Pitchfork Paris was no exception. Though they began with their surprisingly hardcore new single “People,” the rest of the set was a tour of each era, putting their evolution as a band on full display. As lead singer Matty Healy mused before playing fan favorite “Robbers” from their first album: “I could be like, ‘New set new me,’ but it’s not really a set without this song.” The audience’s love for the band reverberated across the packed hall, so much so that when Healy declared he didn’t have a floppy-eared hat to wear for “Sincerity Is Scary,” a fan promptly tossed one at him. Their performance ended with a whirlwind of greatest hits: “Somebody Else,” “Love It If We Made It,” “Chocolate,” “Sex” and finally, “The Sound.” As part of their new visual set up, phrases of criticism flashed behind them for a second or two, including: “Unconvincing emo lyrics” and “I only heard ‘Chocolate’ once but I hated it.” It was the ultimate act of unapologetic self-awareness, made doubly ironic by the fact that they were playing a festival curated by a website that has sometimes been the source of that criticism.