Garorock is one of the longest-running music festivals in France, having first opened its doors in 1997. Having initially started as a one-day event, the festival has grown considerably to the 100,000 capacity event standing before us today.
Situated on the Plaine de la Filhole in the town of Marmande, approximately 56 kilometres from Bergerac, an area populated with mostly British immigrants in the country's South West region. Attracting revellers from mainly France and Spain, Marmande not being a million miles from the Spanish border. It's a strictly good-natured affair whose demographic ranges from kids barely in their teens to those of a more mature age whose adolescence probably came before Garorock's first edition. Indeed, there's a healthy family presence which is both surreal yet heartwarming as three generations from the same tree lose their shit uncontrollably to the likes of Marilyn Manson and the Fat White Family.
Even the lack of any televisions or big screens showing the World Cup can't dampen the spirits, and rightly so. For across its four stages, Garorock revels in its diversity, providing something for everyone whatever your favoured genre may be. Food and drink isn't ridiculously expensive and the cashless bar system ensures queues are at a minimum (UK festival organisers, please take note).
With acts from all around the globe playing across four stages including two main ones standing side by side with one another (Scene De La Plaine and Scene Garonne Pression Live respectively) where the artists rotate with one another at the conclusion of each other's sets. There's ample opportunity to see everything if you so wish, and while the attendance numbers clearly tell their own story, the site layout itself is actually reminiscent of Latitude or End Of The Road, albeit in a more Mediterranean, glazed setting.
It's a festival we'd highly recommend even though logistics mean it's not the easiest part of the country to access from the UK. Nevertheless, the town of Marmande itself is worth several days of anyone's time, as is the scenic Garonne Valley that surrounds it. So without further ado, here are 10 things we learned at this year's Garorock.
The unstoppable rise of Confidence Man continues!
So we've talked about this Australian four-piece since debut single 'Boyfriend (Repeat)' landed in our collective inboxes at the back end of 2016. Since then, their live performances have become some of the most talked about on the planet, and rightly so. If last year's multiple Great Escape and Glastonbury sets were an introduction, their placing on nearly every credible bill this summer speaks volumes for the band's growing reputation. Which, of course, wouldn't mean jack shit if they didn't have the songs to carry it off.
Thankfully they do, and while the synchronized dance routines, umpteen costume changes and camp interplay between joint focal points Janet Planet and Sugar Bones capture everyone's attention, it's the songs themselves that leave a lasting imprint. In Confident Music For Confident People, they've already put out a genuine contender for album of the year and when the likes of 'Bubblegum' and 'Don't You Know I'm In A Band' are dispatched early doors, that confidence shines through.
As audience numbers multiply out front with each passing song, a closing rendition of the aforementioned 'Boyfriend (Repeat)' sees several thousand punters obey Ms Planet's instruction and crouch to their knees until the instruction "GET DOWN!" sees every one of them rise to their feet and dance like loons. There isn't a more entertaining live show anywhere right now and this time next year, we fully expect them to be several notches higher on even more bills of this kind.
Marilyn Manson is still the ultimate showman
"Babble babble, bitch bitch, rebel rebel, party party, sex sex sex and don't forget the violence" screams Marilyn Manson halfway through his set and pandemonium widely ensues. Which isn't uncommon for a Manson show. Except at the ripe old age of 49, one could perhaps forgive him if he decided to tone down his act.
Not that it's ever likely to happen. Walking on stage sucking on a big fat joint, which he then passes calmly to one of his flunkies whose tasks for this evening range from holding his mic and placing sunglasses over his eyes to helping two teenage girls invited on stage by Manson to take their tops off during a sleazy 'Kill4Me'.
Tonight marks the last date of his current European tour and if this is the last time we're to see Manson in this part of the world for the foreseeable future, he goes out in style. Delivering 'The Beautiful People', 'mOBSCENE', 'Antichrist Superstar' and 'Disposable Teens' with raw intensity and a degree of showmanship, not to mention turning Eurythmics' 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)' into an industrial glam melting pot that usurps the original, he's an undisputed highlight of a festival which prides itself on taking risks.
No one should cover Blondie. Ever.
What have One Direction, Alicia Keys, Sleeper, Annie Lennox and Smashing Pumpkins all got in common? They've all performed covers of Blondie that sucked. And before anyone remarks about the number of songs Blondie have covered throughout their career, the majority of those were an improvement on the originals.
So it's with a heavy heart that we have to add Django Django to that list, their bizarre rendition of Debbie Harry and co's 'Rapture' providing the only blemish on what was an insatiable mix of leftfield pop and motorik driven dance rock.
Marmande grows the most tomatoes in the region
We've probably mentioned the cost and variety of food on offer already, but what we haven't told you is the majority of it was created using Marmande's greatest culinary export: the tomato.
As the biggest tomato growing area in the region, Marmande takes pride in its wares and ultimately, they sell by the bucketload. Literally. A small punnet retails at just 3 euros, while a plastic half pint cup sells for 5.
Go beyond the festival into the town itself and everywhere has its own variety of the Marmande tomato to entice customers. Cultivated since the phylloxera epidemic during the mid 1800s forced wine manufacturers to give up their vines in favour of tomato plants, it's been a thriving enterprise ever since whereby every July, Marmande hosts the Tomato Fiesta, an event that rivals Garorock itself in terms of numbers where revellers flock from all over Europe for activities ranging from parades and free concerts to farmer's markets and cookery workshops.
Indochine: French post-punk synthpop at its finest
With four decades and 13 studio albums behind them, Indochine are something of a national institution in this part of the world. Hailing from Paris, the band formed in 1981 and while frontman Nicola Sirkis is the only remaining founder member, the huge congregation gathered at the front of the Scene De La Plaine over an hour before their set tells its own story.
Every person DiS encounters on the first day of the festival recommends we go and see Indochine and it's fair to say we're anything but disappointed. Musically, their output sits somewhere between Speak & Spell era Depeche Mode, Erasure and a less brutal Nine Inch Nails with elements of U2's pomp thrown in.
While Sirkis is undoubtedly the centre point of Indochine, his band prove their mettle too, delivering a career spanning set that delves into Indochine's back catalogue before bringing it into the present via last year's epic 13 long player.
The campsite area is a festival in its own right
As with fellow European festivals Roskilde and Rock En Seine to name but two, Garorock has its own camping area which actually engulfs the main festival site in terms of size.
Circling the main arena up to the production areas, there's a range of activities and fairground attractions to create a separate festival of its own on the festival campsites. Much like those of the aforementioned, albeit on slightly different scales. Not to mention a live music stage featuring some of the artists also scheduled to play the main festival over the course of the weekend.
While the intense heat - Friday in particular hits 36 degrees - make sleeping in a tent uncomfortable, there's so much going on offsite to make such dilemmas as heat rash and sunstroke secondary concerns for Garorock's long weekend.
Putting the 2 main stages side by side works!
It's the first festival where we've encountered both main stages pitched side by side. And while such a concept might seem odd and unmanageable from the outset, it runs like clockwork over the course of the event.
Scene De La Plaine being the main stage of sorts, something that is made apparent by its wing and runway areas (not to mention the calibre of artists who'll grace it over the course of the weekend). When one act finishes another one starts next door on the slightly smaller Scene Garonne Pression Live. Which means technically the audience only have to take several steps to the left (or vice versa) to watch the next act, resembling a scene from an overly populated line dance in the process.
Needless to say the audio quality is pristine throughout, as are the vantage points which makes both sound and vision unquestionable at any point. While it's not something we expect to see in the UK any time soon, it makes a pleasant change from half mile treks between stages only to miss the first/last three songs (*delete where appropriate) in order to catch the next act on one's agenda.
Boy Azooga will soon be your favourite new band
Whisper it quietly if you like although we'd rather shout it loudly from the rooftops but Boy Azooga will soon be your favourite new band. Yet another addition to Heavenly Recordings' consistently great roster, this Cardiff four-piece have already amassed a legion of fans back home thanks to their energetic live performances that encourage - no demand! - audiences to dance their asses off, while also scoring 10/10 in the likeability factor as a bonus.
Playing in the tiny Scene Le Repere - essentially a bar area with the added attraction of a live music stage. Their presence on the line up is hard to find, billed as part of the Carte Blanche showcase on the Friday. However, by the time they launch into second song 'Face Behind Her Cigarette', any puzzled looks and frowns of bewilderment are replaced by bobbing heads and flailing arms. Their no nonsense fusion of folk, post punk, art rock and pop makes them the natural successors to Super Furry Animals, and while that comparison might seem a little too obvious for some, all the ingredients are there in the mix.
It turns out this is also their first ever festival slot on mainland Europe, and judging by the response, it definitely won't be the last.
Treating punters as customers is the way forward
It sounds ridiculously simple yet very few festivals in the UK seem to understand the concept. Blowing all your budget on an attractive line up is only a small part of the overall festival experience. Then hiking up food and drink prices while employing little Hitlers to stop, search and confiscate anything from a bag of crisps to an opened bottle of water is something else entirely.
Sadly - or maybe not judging by the growing European festival market? - that kind of practice is something that appears to be exclusive to the UK. Because here at Garorock, anything and everything is tolerated within reason and provided it doesn't come with a glass container. Which is hardly unreasonable. Punters can also come and go at their own leisure, leaving the site to visit the town and return without fear of their wristbands being declared null and void in the process.
It doesn't impact on sales. It doesn't create a health and safety risk. It doesn't encourage rowdy or drunken behaviour. Quite simply, treat your customers with respect and they'll return the favour.
Garorock has the best of both worlds!
Situated in one of the most idyllic locations in mainland Europe. Surrounded by beautiful landscapes and bathed in sunshine, it's a world or two away from some of the concrete jungles we've experienced elsewhere.
The town of Marmande is literally a ten-minute walk from the site, while the daytime offers a range of historical sightseeing activities for those wishing for a change of scenery elsewhere.
The line up is always eye-catching, with the likes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Charlotte Gainsbourg and The Vaccines also among those that played memorable sets over the course of the weekend.
And while extreme weather warnings and the threat of electrical storms led to Sunday being cancelled, it sure as hell makes a change from the monumental mud bath endurance tests back home.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Childs