Eurockéennes 2010 – Belfort, France – Festival review

Originally published: The Clash

Photos by Gary WolstenholmeEurockeennes 2010: HEALTH

France has always been seen as a place where careers go to pass. The likes of Placebo could release an album in the UK to fall upon deaf ears and duff reviews, yet the likes of 2009’s ‘Battle Of The Sun’ struck gold on the continent, proving that the phrase ‘Big In France’ has never been more applicable.

In truth, the French lap-up noise, nostalgia, the new and big names in every way, and the roster for Eurockéennes 2010 was a delicate spread to please both local revellers and those that travelled further ashore to the beautiful peninsula of Malsaucy near Belfort. The Dead Weather, The Drums, Kasabian, Jay-Z, LCD Soundsystem, The Specials, Missy Elliott, The xx, Julian Casablancas, and Massive Attack all billed alongside national treasures such as Vitalic, Sexy Sushi and Wankin’ Noodles proving to be a continental spread to suit all.

Day 1 – Friday, 2nd July

For the foreigner, festivals on the continent are a far more relaxed atmosphere. With the music kicking off later in the afternoon and the necessity to ‘get on it’ being stalled by the intense heat of the day, poor exchange rates and a severe lack of available supplies, they turn what would be a usual English festival’s weekend worth of carnage into something of a sensible weekend, frustratingly pacing one’s self and avoiding sunstroke. The Clash, however, decided to go with the French-flow of things, opting to stock up on spirits to drink and use stubby cans of cheap beer to facilitate the tanning process.

French four-piece The Wankin’ Noodles kick-off a 30-degree Friday to the adoration of a small local crowd. Fanciful and frenetic, a colour-by-numbers display of four-chord indie pop a la The Hives puts the fun back into formulaic, with lead singer Régis Chanteur grabbing his groin and dropping to his knees with every opportunity. Something of an aural softener to Two Door Cinema Club that followed on the Plage stage. Tight and terribly twee, their appeal is questionable but identifiable: draped in hooks, harmonies and synth-filled awkward silences, they whip the crowd into a chorus-lead pogo delirium under the veneer of their synthetic Glee-informed pop.

Sophie Hunger and Piers Faccini featuring Patrick Watson and orchestra’s beautifully arranged set prove to be a welcome break from the day’s plastic pop that melts outside of the shade of the Chapiteau stage, before The Dead Weather fill the festival’s Grande Scene with their distorted and disjointed grunge. Slow to start, ’60 Feet Tall’, ‘Cut Like a Buffalo’, and ‘So Far From Your Weapon’ sound unusually sloppy as Jack White’s drumming stutters and stumbles out of time in the break downs. Surprisingly, it’s Alison Mosshart’s vivacious performance that cuts above the rest of the band’s calibre. Wailing, squawking and strutting across the stage, she breathes violent life into new tracks ‘Die By The Drop’ and ‘Gasoline’ despite having the appearance of road kill in a well-worn and unwashed leopard-print shirt. But if anyone is to rule the 12 bar blues airwaves of the day, it’s The Black Keys. Crunching through a set that included ’10 A.M. Automatic’, ‘Thickfreakness’, and ‘Tighten Up’, the Ohio duo are enjoyably constructive and deafening far beyond their pairing should feasibly allow.

Despite the additional synth orchestration and brass section, Kasabian sound bloated and worn out. ‘Where Did All The Love Go?’ and ‘Fire’ stand out only due to their monotonic simplicity, giving Kasabian all the boorish appeal of a five-a-side football team singing from a bandstand. Foals, therefore, are England’s best chance of cultural appeal for the day, and despite the Plage’s poor sound, their new krautrock austerity is well received. Where ‘Balloons’ and ‘Hummer’ work the crowd into a clubbing craze, ‘Miami’ and ‘Spanish Sahara’ leave them suspended in a lysergic euphoria, leaving just enough time to catch Charlotte Gainsbourg cover Bob Dylan’s ‘Just Like a Woman’ with all the demure that you would come to expect of the softly spoken chanteuse.

With Jay-Z arriving with a purported crew of 85 persons and a 40-page rider full of ridiculous requests, the CEO of hip-hop topped the first day’s proceedings with crowning glory. His ego was massaged as he entered the Grande Scene under the guided direction of a funnelled spotlight. Under the starlit night sky, Jay-Z coruscated in his own right, and where ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ and ‘I Just Wanna Love U’ were cut short, it was only to make way for the calibre of his material that were to follow: ’99 Problems’, ‘Jigga That Nigga’ and ‘New York’. Accompanied by Memphis Bleek, the pair pass a lyrical baton with the ease of 4×100 team jacked up on performance-enhancing drugs, Jay-Z had the crowd in the palm of his hand. In a well-orchestrated set that saw his astute band remix tracks by the Prodigy, Jackson 5 and Busta Rhymes surreptitiously into his own material, he urged the crowd to “spin anything that is loose around your head to this one and let’s bounce” as ‘Big Pimpin’’ broke the heavy air of the day with t-shirts spinning in the air.

After such a performance, everything else pales into insignificance. Although Hot Chip worked the crowd with a set revolving around their single releases, it is to little effect as Alexis Taylor’s vocal fails to hit the ethereal high notes, leaving Missy Elliott to close the day’s events at 2am. With her first album in five years due for release this year, her long awaited appearance was met with great dismay. Popping out of boxes that had been stacked by her dancers, Missy appeared to have a few tricks up her tracksuit sleeve, but cut her first two tracks short complaining of sound technicalities. Instead she continued, but not with the music. A near 10 minutes was dedicated to complaints has she tried to work up the crowd with excitement with little to no effect. At times it looked as if she was trying to lead a children’s party or pantomime, but with no rabbit in the hat and no treats to offer beyond throwing her trainers into the audience, the only doggy bag people were leaving with was one inflated with her misplaced diva arrogance. She may be big, but not in France.

Day 2 – Saturday, 3rd July

The air is as heavy as the hangovers that carry through into the second day, with the temperature into the mid-30s and no breeze to break it. The smell of dope lingers from the inception, but to ask to purchase a meagre joint is greeted with red-eyed ‘Non’. The French don’t share, not even between themselves: instead, groups of teenaged friends sit, roll and smoke from their own supplies as appears their smoking culture. Anything stronger rarely comes into the equation, and those that are seen in a wide-eyed state of euphoria are easy spotted swinging home on their uncontrollable jaws by the late morning. Broken Social Scene break the musical silence and air as the first act to grace the main stage. Opening with ‘World Sick’, the Canadian troupe march their way through a set resplendent with sound and orchestration. ‘7/4 (Shoreline)’ and ‘Superconnected’ still sound fresh alongside a show that is more concerned with their latest album material in the form of ‘Forgiveness Rock Record’.

Despite his conservative demeanour, Omar Souleyman throws a great party. Once known as the wedding-singer from Syria, his marriage of electronic trip- hop and Arabian chanting is something to be seen and heard. Striding across the stage in traditional dress, Omar looks like he couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery; but when he peers down on the crowd through his darkened shades and claps respectfully at chest height in time with the beat, the audience duly capitulate to the rhythms and break sweat.

Memory Tapes’ serene electronica struggles on a live scale. Having conceived ‘Seek Magic’ in his bedroom, the layers that Dayve Hawk built into the album’s electronic landscape are pulled away like a warm duvet in the morning, leaving him and his drumming partner left fumbling around in the dark trying to shed some light on an iPod with all the tunes on it.

The xx are as miserable and unapproachable as ever, yet their music continues to embrace and enrapture all of those that come into contact with it. The clarity of their lyrics and production translates well on the continent, and ‘VCR’, ‘Crystalised’ and ‘Stars’ are met with quieten singing and sways of adoration. A cover of Kyla’s ‘Do You Mind’ and altered ‘Shelter’ guitar riff to mimic Yomanda’s club hit ‘Synth and Strings’ are welcomed alternatives to a well toured album debut.

French electronic duo Sexy Sushi pulled the biggest crowd to smallest stage ratio of the festival, and the vast audience of home-grown support that gathered were well up for the slick beats and salacious vocals that undulate through their set. This sound is Big In France, but none bigger and noisier than Vitalic, whose glitched-out wall of sound fizzes and thumps like a banging pill on an empty stomach.

As a battery is launched at The Hives’ Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, he picks it up and offers to the owner: “I’m going to stick my boot so far up your ass that you will be tasting boot polish. Now I’m going to take this battery and stick it up my ass – who would like to see The Hives battery powered? Well, we don’t need it. We’re The Hives… (batteries not included).” As animated and entertaining as ever, they are a methodical outfit: dress sharp, play sharp, be sharp. The result is comedic cock rock: sailor suit attire, three-chord punk, and great one-liners like ‘Die! All Right!’, ‘Hate to Say I Told You So’ and ‘Tick Tick Boom’. A set to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Day 3 – Sunday, 4th July

Flouncing around the Grande Scene like a cross between Morrissey and how you would imagine infamous TV presenter Nick Grimshaw to prance around a Shorditch disco, The Drums’ Jonathan Pierce is the theatrical tool that distracts everyone’s attention from their insipid 4/4 hooks. ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ maybe this year’s indie summer anthem, but, similarly, hay fever is acutely worse in the summer, and those of use that have to put up with it, want to gouge out their eyes out as a result.

To the French, Gallows have all the appeal of a can of Spam. Both are terrible British exports, and neither of which you want to be associated with at a dinner party. Preaching hate and spitting general verbal effluence throughout the 15 minutes Clash endured, the heavily illustrated Frank Carter bounces around on stage like a child with ADHD going through puberty-based anger issues. No one understands because he is shouting, but that’s probably always been the problem for Frank. Communication and talent that is.

With poor sales of his solo album plaguing him, it’s amazing to see how much confidence Julian Casablancas has lost. Struggling with his vocal range, he opens up with The Strokes’ ‘Automatic Stop’ (‘Hard To Explain’ is also played later on in the set) before resorting to seasonal hit ‘Christmas Song’ to win the applaud of the crowd. The set is split in two like Julian’s musical personality: ‘11th Dimension’, ‘Out Of The Blue’ and ‘River Of Brakelights’ show his ability to pen pop with precision; yet ‘Ludlow St.’ and ‘Four Chords Of The Apocalypse’ stumble around like a Christmas party drunk singing to the Pogues.

In his time spent as LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy has been a man with a clear musical vision. And as dusk called an end to the last of Sunday’s sun, Murphy worked the crowd through a disco-inflected odyssey around his trilogy of albums. ‘Drunk Girls’ and ‘Dark Punk Is Playing At My House’ work the floor, but once ‘Tribulations’ and ‘Pow Pow’ are dropped, the floor turns over to the rhythm of a riotous performance and reception.

By this time, Mika has turned the Grande Scene into the forest setting backdrop for his high-pitched pop, but the Clash are more concerned with the natural view that surrounds the site, and instead of taking a journey through the asexual artist’s fairytale imagery, commandeer the local press’ Pedalo and set sail on Lake Malsaucy. Its lush surroundings and mountainous views make it a picturesque setting for a festival, even if ‘Lollipop’ is playing the soundtrack. Back-to-back shows from noise acts HEALTH, Action Beat and Fuck Buttons crushed whatever was left of Mika’s cotton-covered pop utopia. Fracturing sound into its many components, their results are equally interesting as they are disturbing and discombobulating. But against the night’s sky, Massive Attack’s colourful light display and heartbeat production closes the festival with the soothing effect of a cot mobile playing a baby to sleep. Robert Del Naja may still sound like a creepy uncle reciting scripture to a ritual killing, but the effects are still devastatingly cool and collected. Martina Topley Bird – who performed a stunning solo set early in the day – took to the stage in a black and gold dress that coruscated with sequins to sing the heart-stopping ‘Teardrop’, but it was Deborah Miller’s vocals that lead ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ into a rapturous applause that really absorbed the crowd.

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