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Things Learned At: Pitchfork Paris
Jeremy Allen , November 9th, 2015 14:01

Jeremy Allen has a Battles revelation at Pitchfork Paris and discovers that shifty Father John Mifty can actually be rather nifty

Photo by Vincent Arbelet

It's never too late to be completely wrong

Question. Why did nobody tell me just how great Battles are this last 13 years? Answer: They did, frequently, but was I listening? Some personal anecdotal testimonial if you'll indulge me. Once upon a time I turned down going on tour with Battles for a weekly magazine because math is a bit nerdy for my tastes. I've missed them at festivals because it started raining a bit (okay, it was shitting it down, and that fire back at basecamp was toasty). Now after their bravura display at la Grande Halles de la Villette, I can only look back and rue missed opportunities. I enjoyed very much that tune they did with Gary Numan for instance, but for some reason I was just too lazy or too imbecilic to venture further. Full disclosure: I am an idiot.

But things have changed. I am now a fully paid up fan of John Stanier, and I will be making my way through everything he's ever played on in the history of recorded sound whilst self-flagellating and lamenting the years I could have been loving this metronomic monster. He is a powerhouse and a modern deity (and his bandmates are pretty good too). His ears must burn in the early hours of the morning as J.K. Simmons from Whiplash wet dreams about him. At one stage Stanier hits his drumstick against the rim of his snare so hard that the stick shatters with one half ascending like a firework, and as he slings away the residual mashed wooden stump I swear to God a third arm appears from somewhere with replacement in hand. I could eulogise for hours about Battles now, but you dear discerning reader, probably already know how great they are. This is my mea culpa then: I was wrong not to pay closer attention. I'm so late to the party on this one that I'm turning up at your house at 5am with your drug dealer, and I'm going to come in and bore you to death about Battles whilst hoovering up all your drugs.

The grand old dukes of Yorke are almost tough enough to replace Bjork

Bjork's withdrawal from dates this year hurt a lot of festivals, especially in France. Her "scheduling conflict", announced mere days before La Route Du Rock was about to commence in August, clearly upset the organisers of the Brittany festival enough to issue a curt and possibly hasty press release referring to the singer as "the Icelandic diva". They managed to bring Foals in at the last minute, which is a bit like replacing Elvis Presley with Elvis Perkins. Even at Pitchfork her appearance would have been a massive coup, and while all eyes turned to Thom Yorke as the biggest name on the bill, it's not like he's a tried and tested performer as a solo artist is it? Booking Mick Jagger isn't the same as booking the Rolling Stones. What transpires is perhaps not what anyone is expecting, but then what were we to expect? Yorke and his coterie appear on stage with three laptops, enough massive screens to make Le Grand Rex Theatre down the road blush, and an arsenal of beats powered by plutonium. Indeed a friend who waits near the front to get a good spot is forced to retreat to the middle of the hall as he fears his internal organs will be eviscerated. Stood as one of three silhouettes, Yorke almost takes himself out of the equation, allowing the atmospherics of the music and the tasteful screen graphics to take us to some place else. You rarely hear his trademark howl, which would somehow take you out of the trance, and you're left feeling grateful that the whole set is as far removed from Radiohead as any could be. The mighty decibels he manages to generate somehow spoils it for other performers with laptops elsewhere over the weekend, especially Run the Jewels, who sound decidedly thin by comparison.  

Father John Misty might be shifty but he's also rather nifty

Men who step out from behind the drumkit and start singing for a living are not to be trusted. Just think of old stagers like Dave Grohl and Phil Collins suddenly piping up when the opportunity arrives with fully-formed vocal power, and you wonder what else they're hiding from us. Bobby Gillespie's another one. With Father John Misty it's even worse. For starters he's not a real Father, and even more confoundingly he was sticksman for Fleet Foxes, an "alternative" band whose target demographic was so coffee table, they may as well have called themselves Fleet Foxtons. Misty arrives singing ‘I Love You, Honeybear' and he's got all the moves, the swagger, the posturing, the hipster beard, the ability to drop to his knees in spurious reverence, and you think to yourself, "get up you cad". There's something of the shyster about him, the fake man of the cloth, the Rasputin, and yet it's impossible not to be charmed by him when he performs for you. You might not feel you can completely trust him, but that doesn't make him any less likable. It's not just that he works hard, he has a picaresque charisma it's difficult not to begrudge.

Misty is a pseudonym - his actual name is J Tillman - and there's another J playing the same night, one J Spaceman of Spiritualized. Jason Pierce seems to have tightened up on board the Starship Enterprise of late, and while it's an unusually compact sound, behind all that dry ice he does seem to be dragging around a not unusually large crew. What works tonight is the fact Spiritualized don't have a new album out, so we get a compact 50 minute greatest hits set with a divine light show of orange and gold, with ‘Hey Jane' the only number from the last five or so years in the set. The dark heroin gospel classic ‘Come Together' is particularly uplifting, and while we don't have time for lift off at the end, it's fair to say Sufjan Stevens has been taking the ambient march to heaven to new levels this year (ie. heaven itself). Pierce will get his chance to respond when he brings out a new record, but it'll have to be a lot less boring than 2012's Sweet Heart Sweet Light to make showing up again to see them worthwhile.   

It's not just Reading Festival where the lineups are beginning to feel a bit "heritage"

The bill at Pitchfork Paris this year is solid enough, but on the whole there doesn't seem to be a multitude of acts that feel that essential, or even that contemporary. Deerhunter, Health, Hudson Mohawke, Ratatat, Ariel Pink, Kurt Vile… that'd be one hot hipster lineup if it was still 2008. Deerhunter perhaps acquit themselves best in this company. If you can get past the cult of Bradford Cox and take the songs for what they are, then he's clearly an able being hiding under a blue baseball cap like a celebrity trying not to be recognised in Camden Market. Ariel Pink, who prides himself on his "retroliciousness", is as much a confounding tool as he ever was. The sound for some reason is atrocious, and his flitting from bright/catchy magpie trinket one minute to didactic Sesame Street goofballing the next makes him come across like some toytown Zappa who can only really communicate with eight-year-olds on ritalin. Kurt Vile, who more and more resembles Otto the bus driver from The Simpsons these days, is mystifyingly crap. He stole his name from the venerated Weimarian composer of The Threepenny Opera, but he's little more than a two bob bit with a banjo.  

Godspeed are less post-rock than they are pre-rock

There were some puzzling misnomers floating about at Pitchfork, not least of all the fact that the band Destroyer turned out to be no more threatening than Burt Bacharach kicking a Care Bear. Destroyer have been genre-hopping some 20 years on the sidelines without anybody much noticing them until now, and fronted by an older dude with a beard, they are perhaps the Jeremy Corbyn of alternative rock. The big difference of course is that Jezza, love him or hate him, has a much clearer idea of what he's doing. Another misnomer that must be cleared up immediately is that Godspeed You! Black Emperor are post rock - whatever that is - because in many ways they're not rock at all. There's no ‘Rocket 88' or ‘That's All Right' or ‘Johnny B Goode' in Godspeed, theirs is a more atavistic, possibly medieval folk that happens to be driven through distortion pedals. At times it sounds prehistoric... Golgothan... out of the bowels of J.R.R. Tolkien. It's less post-rock, more pre-rock.

One man's poison is another man's noodle soup

To say one nearly came to blows with an inebriated Australian would be over-egging it somewhat, but one chap wasn't especially happy that I didn't like Rhye as much as he did. So emotionally moved by this Californian/Danish downtempo soul duo was he, that he was considering purchasing Eurostar tickets in order to see them again the next day in Hackney. To me they sound like Sam Smith without the cahones if that's possible, the soundtrack to a thousand soirees in regenerated bijou flats, a tedious reminder of the blandification of the mainstream by the privileged, a melismatic noodle soup of little consequence. Some noodling of a more positive variety arrives with Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Frontman Ruban Nielson might be the only person to turn up in Halloween fancy dress, but otherwise the band connect squarely with the audience in an Innervisions with wild guitar licks on top kind of a way. In fact at times it sounds so much like Innervisions that you wondered if Nielson is sad when he looks in the mirror and doesn't see Stevie Wonder staring back at him. If you want to finish that joke off then be my guest.   

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