Parisian three-dayer continues to impress...

It's Halloween weekend when our Eurostar rolls into Paris and though there's not a plastic pumpkin or sticky fake cobweb in sight, a vague sense of eeriness pervades Pitchfork's venue of choice, Grande Halle de la Villette. The ex-slaughterhouse (which seems an appropriate place to be after inhaling unwise amounts of raw steak) makes for a stunning venue; cloaked in black with huge, stunning prints by Swedish illustrator Sara Andreasson.

The festival, now in its fifth year (read our experience at last year's), has been straight championing progressive alternative music, and from Thursday to Saturday the north eastern sector of the French capital is teeming with passionate millennial males. The mother tongue here is English, by and large, with bar prices equally as eye-watering as London's (a Heineken is seven euros).

Purses noticeably lighter, we make a beeline for 'The Playground', a mezzanine bit with pinball machines, table tennis and creaky swings. These make the perfect setting to listen to Deerhunter ("does anyone else here feel like they're at a cult prom?" frontman Bradford Cox asks) and Canadian post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor who deliver an apocalypse-ready set of rumbling orchestral tones. Made even better by the fact that every five minutes, a group of four people would inevitably fall off the swings and backwards roll onto the floor (red wine casualties could be masked as October 31st getup, if anyone here actually embraced the whole dressing up thing). The festival's setup - one stage at each end - allows for people to migrate en masse when one band has finished, while the one-act programming means that you won't miss a thing.

If we needed reminding that we're at the polar opposite of a festival like Reading right now, it's in the fact that one of the upper level craft stalls is selling pocket knives. This area also has an independent DIY table where people are making their own "indien" hats - sticking feather-shaped bits of paper to the front of a headband, which makes us wonder if perhaps Paris hasn't got the cultural appropriation memo yet.

Previously Thom Yorke had been announced - to more than a few people's dismay - as Björk's replacement, after the Icelandic singer explained that singing her 'Vulnicura' tracks (the product of her breakup with longtime partner Matthew Barney) was too emotionally draining. He appears onstage alongside Nigel Godrich and visual artist Tarik Barri, who takes on the controls for the dazzling light show. Playing tracks from solo LP 'Tomorrow's Modern Boxes', at times his glum swellings and sketchy outlines aren't as exciting as what we can see, but Thom does also treat us to 'The Eraser' and Atoms For Peace's 'Amok'.

Beach House, on the other hand, sound even better than they look. And they look pretty damn good, set against a velvety backdrop of stars. Everyone starts swaying as they take us through shimmering renditions of 'Walk In The Park' and 'Silver Soul' as well as welcome cuts from latest LP 'Depression Cherry'.

Friday kicks off with coffee, cigs, pain aux chocolat and tiny pastel macarons, and after fulfilling our ultimate basic-bitches-in-Paris dreams we head to Red Bull Music Academy for a guided tour. The institution which now counts many stars as alumni, after stints in Tokyo, New York and Madrid, has landed in the French capital. We are shown around its custom-built recording studio, radio station and session rooms where the artists work on new material (having taken their instruments of choice from a producer's wet dream of a gear room). According to our tour guide, they've been coming straight back from the festival to work. Not a lot of sleeping goes on here, apparently.

Inside one of the rooms we pass, Birmingham participant Corey K is standing up over his monitor, eyes closed and slouching his body in time to the beats. Mentors like Kindness and Dorian Concept are on hand to offer guidance and support, and we're shown into the Lecture Theatre (which is less like a uni hall and more like someone's living room), where Spencer is setting up the decks with Hudson Mohawke for his chat with Benji B. The talk is reserved for the 30 RBMA participants but it's being streamed in the canteen upstairs, where we lounge on cushions next to a sprawling Kindness and hear HudMo play happy hardcore records and talk influences with Benji.

We don't make it to the festival as early as we'd like, making a quick stop-off in Montmartre for a peep at the Sacré-Cœur, but we get there just in time for Battles, where John Steiner is breaking sticks over recent album 'La Di Da Di'. Battles are excellent live and, despite being a Tyondai Braxton down, the math rock trio hold their own, bringing some twisted pop insanity to the cast iron cavern.

Four Tet heads up the electronic quotient of the night, playing a solid set that mixes in Justin Bieber at one point with 'Where Are Ü Now'. It's fair to say that not everyone in the crowd was a Belieber (yet), but Kieran Hebden manages to keep an 19th century abattoir's-worth of people under his grasp.

RBMA are also handling the afterparties, and after an orienteering sesh that our Duke of Edinburgh bronze awards are no match for, we find the location where Omar S and Galcher Lustwerk are spinning, and the vibe is reverential. On the floor, Galcher is firing his sullen, lysergic vocal raps over a sea of entranced heads. Sadly we have to make a sharp exit on Saturday morning, meaning that we miss the knockout line-up that is Curtis Harding, Run The Jewels, Ratatat, Laurent Garnier and John Talabot b2b Roman Flügel [just typing that out made us feel a bit sad...]

Pitchfork's sophisticated three-dayer is worlds away from a festival where your primary concern is that someone's gonna set fire to your tent, sans portaloo and wine box IV drip. Like the city it's in, it's chic, with a line-up to make the discerning music fan more than a little bit excited. Even those who aren't passionate millennial males.

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Words: Felicity Martin
Photo Credit: Vincent Arbelet

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