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- Queens of The Stone Age »
Oh, France. When I arrive in you, I have no idea that over the next four days the following things will happen:
- A man will sing a song, the opening line to which will be ‘I’m sorry for coming in your hair.’
- Une autre homme will say to me ‘If you har a princess, why do you look at me wiz disdain?’
- One of our party will locate a man who thinks it is acceptable to have a HR Geiger-style, fanjo spyhole tattoed on his person.
- I will highfive one of Odd Future, and be thrown thereafter into an ideological torment.
I never said I was a princess.
When we arrrive at Les Eurockeenes on Friday, it quickly becomes apparent that we are on no ordinary jolly. Jollies, of course, are one of the main benefits of being a music writer - along with free records, a sense of cultural superiority, poor liver function and awful bloody shoes. But you do not expect to be dropped halway up a choclit box mountain next to a cuckoo clock hotel, and told you are staying there. Nor do you expect to be told that the taps in your brand new room (for we are the first ever guests) will be lined with spring water, filtered from the waterfall you can hear behind your shuttered window. At best, I was specting a clinical student hall of residence. Instead, in the grounds of the Saut de la Truite there is a Bon Iver-style, Heartbreak Recovery Shack I want to live in, forever and ever amen:
The festival site (as gushed over last year here, here and here) is a similar treat. Stretching over four stages, there are lakes with jetties and trees made of neon and undulating grass atop which 90,000 festivalliers will drift over the weekend. It is blazingly sunny, there are stalls selling half-cows in sour dough baguettes and a non-dread Silent Disco at which you can hear French hip hop or banging electro or the band you English call ‘The Beatles’.
In short, everything is well chouette.
Photo by Lilian Ginet.
Les Savy Fav are not the sort of band to ask if this thing is on. And I like how they have dispensed with the idea of a Proper Set in favour of being all gusto, all show. Tim Harrington starts by sitting the audience down with him in front of the stage until the first chord is played, at which he springs up and down with them; half singing, half catching a rasping breath. He then wades into the sea, attempts to burrow under the barrier by digging with both paws in the sand, dances on a speaker stack in just his y-fronts, humps the bass drum, wears a marvellous bird man jacket made of orange and blue, slicks a wig on his pate, licks his fingers to trill on his nipples, and then, THEN, he unfurls a carpet length of black tarpaulin over the arms the people and attempts to walk across their heads. I think Les Savy Fav only do one song ‘properly’ [UP YOURS, THE MUSIC] and, by dint of being absolutely ragged and dashedly silly, and after telling the crowd he has planted a flag in this beach (‘I declare this beach a sovereign state! This is New Favia!’), a little part of my woman-mind falls in love with Tim. He would be the sort of boyfriend that would rather moon at you than give you roses. But he would do it with such giddy elan, you would always, always forgive.
Photo by Simon Pillard.
Having caught Battles earlier at a press conference - where my sum total of knowledge gleaned is the important snippet that John Stanier wears checkered shorts that match the lining of his Harrington jacket (and that this is SOME STYLE) – I am ready for them to really, really hurt my inner ears while simultaneously tickling them. I like Ian Williams’ diagonally angled keyboards; like all right-thinking people I approve of a hi-hat when it is as high as a human; but I especially like how, when Matias Aguayo appears on the video screens, you realise just what a ruddy triumph of a pop song ‘Ice Cream’ is. All the songs on Gloss Drop that they play as the sun goes down are wonked even further out of alignment than they sound on the album - but here they are like a perfect Jenga tower. These songs should not remain standing with this many jerks, holes and skew-whiffs in them. And the fact that they do, is testament to Battles’ alternately juddery and slinky skill.
Shortly thereafter, it is decided we must go to see Wu Lyf despite most in our party expressing the familiar irk that if Wu Lyf had been less NO MEDIA, YOU GUYS ARE EVIL it would much, much be easier to like them. The fog of cynicism has not descended on the continent though - and such is their draw that we cannot get close at all. I see half, maybe one whole man out of Wu Lyf, and it is mildly claustrophobic, so we retire to a velvet sofa in a wooded glade, drinking beer with Tequila and lime in it. In the distance, Beth Ditto covers Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ and it sounds Just Right.
French electro-mentals Tryo clash with Metronomy, and I feel vaguely proprietorial about England’s Joseph Mount, with his strange air of leading a sixth form band who have ideas above their station. Clearly fizzing to be here, he coos over the floating stage (it IS impressive) and they are wearing their torso lights which are the sort of gimmick that work every time on me; simple, larksome and effective. Not least because it makes all of Metronomy look as if they possess one, solitary light-bulb boob. They race through nearly the whole of The English Riviera with varying degrees of success; at times Gbenga Adelekan’s low slung bass veers from its usual quasi-ironic sleaze into active Level 42-style wrongness. And though a song like ‘Love Underlined’ is meant to sound like it is catching up with itself, tonight the wonderfully named Oscar Cash’s keyboards are not match fit, they lag too far. It doesn’t matter though, because then they do ‘The Bay’ and ‘The Look’ and even though I have a raging headache and not nearly enough clothes on, I forget it all, sing all the words loudly while quietly, to myself, toasting wor British knack for pristine pop that captures the joys of our melancholy isle.
On Saturday we are taken by a nice lady from the tourist office on a milk float of a train to the top of Belfort’s ramparts. As it shonks its way around the old town we are accosted by, of all things, a Mehican wrestler, who bangs on the perspex windows, shouting ‘RAAAAAA, RAAAAAA’, like ziss:
The lady from the tourist office’ countenance hardly falters, but you can tell she is wondering if our party thinks ill of pretend Mexicans, and if we mind that three tiny French boys are hanging off the back of our pleasure vehicle, grinning like they’ve got away with something. We are shown a lion designed by the dude who done the Statue of Liberty that commemorates the historic dudes of Belfort (they were basically nails and it’s something to do with war, which is well bad), and then we go and have – Ah! Dieux de la nourriture! - Alsace cider, crepes with wild mushrooms and frites in boat-shaped bowls. Then we buy rum. Lots and lots of lovely rum, which will taste medicinal but almost certainly do nothing good for us.
The first band of Saturday, however, is Gaetan Russell who has drawn a huge crowd on the main stage. He has been described to us - in what could very well be nationalistic fervour slash hyperbole - as ‘the French Connan Mockasin'. This is quite enough recommendation for me, but sadly Monsieur Russell has little of Connan’s uncommon jazzery, partly because he looks a little Man At C&A:
Photo by Ph. Belossat.
Despite being an ordinary man in a nice navy blue Perry, I find myself (despite myself) a little moved - mainly because Gaetan specialises in the sort of hyperactive, urgent pop music that you could imagine yourself watching - and maybe even dancing to - with your mum. It is the sort of pop music that cannot contain itself, pop music that really, really wants to do a poo. Also, he uses quite a lot of cowbell, which is never not good.
I go to see Raphael Saadiq but find him so trad and smooth there are no edges to cling to, so my friend and I go back to the beach stage because the rum is burning a hole. Plonked down, sun blazing, we are first accosted by three young men who are dressed in red chili pepper costumes and have Charlie Sheen masks on. Chili Pepper #1 sits down next to me, all pissed vigour, and I say, ‘Charlie. Sheen. Is. NOT A ROLE MODEL’, which is when I discover they are from Lowestoft (I ask you!). He points at Chili Pepper #3. ‘We’ve only just met him,’ he slurs, ‘Our other mate broke his leg when Les Savy Fav were on. Where do you go out in Norwich? Do you go to Vodka Revs?’.
Then Jean-Hugues Anglade out of Betty Blue turns up [oh, were that true] and he has a friend - so while Funeral Party make prize fools of themselves covering Robbie Williams very, very loudly on stage and while they play a schizophrenic set that sees them ape every modish band from The Walkmen to MCM, we discuss - in varying shades of shouty, shonky French (mine) and hesitant but adorable English (theirs) - how, at the end of the day, it is good, when people cast zehr love out into ze world. And also how, today, at zis festival, we are filled with ze joy of humanity, issa beaudiful sing. I am 99% sure this is what we are banging on about, make no apologies for same, and think I am doing quite well apart from having to say ‘I can’t HEAR YOU’ every now and then. But then we move off to see Motorhead, and Jean Hugues Anglade seems upset with me. ‘If you are a princess, why do you talk to me wiz disdain?’ he says. As I am pretty sure this is French for ‘You, madam, are an uptight cowbag’ and as I am mildly outraged, I take this as a signal that this conversation has got too much rum on it. It is only going to get more intense, so we accidentally lose them and go to see Lemmy. Who is a trooper, larks. We do \m/ hands, like nitwits. And thkweam.
House of Pain are similarly perfect entertainment if you are a) drunk and b) a princess who is talking to me wiz disdain, but we really only go to see The Hit because it is now time to get cheeky and see if we can get backstage via a secret route discovered last year. It works, so we find ourselves side of stage for Queens of the Stone Age and I think this is when the rum hits, proper. I will later discover ten photographs of the crowd taken from our vantage point and all of them as bad as this one:
I also feel, and am quite alarmed by, a creeping feeling that now we are in position, I sort of want to do something. I recognise this feeling, it will be familiar to those of you who find yourselves quite shy in regular company, but super mischievous when mega-ratfinked. So I will admit, at this moment I really, really want to either a) fling myself from the stage into the crowd, b) push Josh Homme over or c) streak. Which is why it is definitely time to call it a night and go to the Silent Disco. We dance to French hip-hop, crudely approximate this heavenly language, shout, giggle, fall over. The only man drunker than we is a photographer who has lost his camera, and he is the sort of man who turns not naughty but petulant, when sozzled. ‘It’s all going to be okay,’ I soothe. ‘Fuck off,’ he says.
On the last day of the festival kindness is heaped upon (entirely undeserved) spoiling when we are taken to a garden party. That just happens to be catered by a two michelin star chef. Our festival guide says the words ‘There are foie gras crème brulees over there’ but I don’t believe it until I eat one spread on some bread and want to die (deserve to die, too). I have been awake for just an hour and have already imbibed both foie gras and crisply expensive wine. I ruddy love France. Being a journaliste Anglaise is pretty ackfing brilliant, anawl.
We sneak about until we find ourselves on the jetty near the beach, which is a perfect vantage point to catch a glance at Tyler The Creator, who is sat under a makeshift gazebo, hunched over his laptop. Having hurt his leg earlier this week we have heard he is in a wheelchair and there are indeed crutches by his chair, rendering him a slightly vulnerable, boyish. I know I want to think he is harmless, as this neatly sidesteps any philosophical wranglings about whether Odd Future are The End of Civilisation or Too Ridiculous To Mentally Knicker Wrestle over. Tyler looks like a teenager. He writes like one too, because we check to see if he is on Twitter while we are spying on him and whaddayaknow, he is:
I can’t get upset about someone who puts the word ‘fuck’ in their Twitter handle. It apportions too much weight and import to a man I honestly think is a bit ruddy comical.
Mona come on, and are all the dread aspects of ROCK rolled into one, so we see Moriarty whose amiable country folk would probably convince were they not upset about half the crowd leaving to go and see The Dø. ‘You guys are all going to watch The Dø’ say Moriarty, forlornly. At which point, we all go and watch The Dø. By whom I am mesmerised, because Finnish singer Olivia Merilahti is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. And they are a strange mix of super dischordant wonk and Cranberries-style pleasantry, but too nice by half in places, because I am put in mind of Sixpence None The Richer. And that is not bon.
Photo by v. Gable.
And then we go and see Katerine. Oh my Dogfathers, Katerine. The Frenchest thing I ever saw, he will sing a song about how much he loves your bum cheeks, and another in which he is followed by far right nutcase Marine le Pen when walking home from the tube, and which ends with him telling her ‘I’m not saying hello to you, you bitch’. There will be a chorus of ‘Egalite! Mon cul. Fraternite! Mon cul. Liberte! Mon cul.’, there will be a song about eating a banana on a beach [NOT REALLY ABOUT EATING A BANANA] and it will be as if Har Mar Superstar were born in Nantes except better, because I never liked Har Mar and I flipping love Katerine. He has Go Go dancers in towelling booty shorts and a flower in his hair, he works the whole crowd – including the children, all that sauce whizzing over their heads – and he sings a song that uses the Windows PC start-up noise as punctuation. In short, he is a one man triumph and it is rude and jolly but strangely not dread or profane in a Did You Know, The French Love Jerry Lewis sort of way. Katerine makes me very, very, very happy.
The only things left after this hactual tour de force, are Odd Future and Arcade Fire. Let us do them in order.
Odd Future - awful cads that they are - introduce themselves to France by shouting ‘BON FUCKIN JOUR’ in a mildly (mildly) amusing fashion. They have a non-specific macbook rage about them. It is like they are really, really furious and want to sing about rape and pillage because ARGH and OH MY FUCKING GOD, Time Machine HAS NOT BACKED UP FOR THIRTY DAYS. Which is to say, little of the subtlety or admirable glassiness of their production is present, they are impotent fury made manifest, and of all the things I could find them (offensive, the END OF THE WORLD in human form), I am left thinking they are silly. Which is not to say that they are not effective, or that their rage is not the sort of thing I rather like to listen to, albeit with my philosophical clog-filters set up high. But I feel quite Mummish, I don’t believe this rage is real, I am rolling my eyes at them being so aggy about everything, when clearly they are having a good time. OHHHHHHHH MAN, I’M SO ANGRY AT YOU WORLD say Odd Future in so many words. It is like you have told them they have to wear their blue short shorts for P.E. because their favourite ones are in the wash and so they have decided to write an album that essentially amounts to ARGH MUM, I HATE YOU. None of this explains why, when they have finished, I feel moved to run up to the barrier and highfive Domo Genesis, but I am pretty sure I did so because I am an idiothole.
Then some wine happens (It is cheaper to buy a bottle? Why then, Monsieur, we will have five) and it is Arcade Fire. Who soar, effuse, range and emote as you would expect them to. Our whole party being reunited, this is the perfect music to listen to on your last night. They play a set that could unite the staunchest of rivals, though I should be honest and admit that when they play ‘We Used To Wait' I face away from my new friends and do a little cry, dreadful British sentimentalist that I am. But then I think, you should end all good evenings like this. A few alcoholic tears and ambitious, gladdening music that merges continents, pretty much sums up Les Eurocks.
The only thing left to show you is that tattoo. I have left it till the end as a treat. Here is a man with a fanjo spyhole etched on his skin, FOREVER.
Heavenly main photo of Tim Harrington by Lilian Ginet.
Wendy is on Twitter, here. The tattoo photo above was taken by the delightful Gwenaelle Sanchez from Bureau Export, who do a grand job of promoting French music in the UK and have the best legs akimbo dance moves I have seen in a very long time.