Pitchfork Paris festival review: Charli XCX is spectacular and energetic

Traditionally eclectic lineup includes superb performances from Skepta, Flohio, SebastiAn and Weyes Blood

Charli XCX performs in Glasgow, October 2019
Charli XCX performs in Glasgow, October 2019

Pitchfork Paris is one of the stranger festivals on the European circuit. For one, it’s been held every year since 2009 at La Grande Halle de la Villette, a former abattoir in the 19th arrondissement. Below the eaves of the impressive glass and iron structure, music fans wander from the main stage at one end to the smaller stage at the other, then back again, in herd-like fashion. Then there’s the line-up; “eclectic” doesn’t quite cover it. Loosely coordinated in genre-themed days (rap on Thursday, electronic/rock on Friday, pop on Saturday), this year's line-up is a hotchpotch of established and emergent artists including Weyes Blood, John Talabot, Squid, Caroline Polachek, Helado Negro, Primal Scream, The 1975, Charli XCX, and Skepta.

There are two new stages (including “Studio”, an amphitheatre tucked away in the bowels of the venue). British acts get a strong showing on what was supposed to be “Brexit Day” (31 October) – Slowthai manages to get a broiling mosh-pit going within minutes of his set (and remove most of his clothes in the process), while Flohio offers her more sophisticated, but still ferocious, brand of rap. Skepta's headline set on the Thursday causes such a frenzy that security scramble to usher people off the VIP balcony, which shakes unnervingly up and down as they make their enthusiasm known.

On Saturday, Charli XCX’s set may not have the frills of headliners The 1975’s, but somehow her show is just as, if not more, spectacular and energetic. It helps that she doesn’t stop moving, whether it’s bouncing to the electro-pop of “I Got It” or the push-and-pull synchronicity she enjoys with Christine and the Queens, who emerges for a superb rendition of their song “Gone”, from 2019’s album Charli. “My name is Charli XCX and I’m one of your top 5 pop stars in the whole world,” she announces. If she wasn’t before, she is by the end of the set.

The 1975 themselves have a number of lacklustre moments during their performance (“We haven’t done this for a while,” frontman Matty Healy tells his audience, as if to explain why). Opening song “People”, their jarring recent single, is like The Knack’s “My Sharona”, but if it went to college, dropped some acid and speed-read the Beat poets. “Love It If We Made It”, by contrast, remains their greatest song to date and is electrifying live; Healy reflects on humanity's failings with a gasping urgency. “Somebody Else” and “She’s American”, from 2016’s I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, are delivered with poignancy and flair, although it’s a shame they leave “Love Me” off the set. But then there’s “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME”, which sounds like Owl City (never a good thing), and “Frail State of Mind” riffing on shuffling garage beats and taking Healy’s voice to Bon Iver levels of distortion. “Sincerity Is Scary” isn’t so much sincere as saccharine, overloaded with gooey saxophone and gospel choirs.

The crowd appears to have thinned out by around a third of its original size by the end of The 1975’s set (perhaps to catch Agar Agar on the other side), but they return for French producer SebastiAn and his skull-crushing beats – a euphoric way to close out the weekend.

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