It’s been a long day, starting with a 6am flight to Amsterdam, then a transfer to Paris and a tedious three-and-a-half hour train journey but State has finally arrived in Clermont-Ferrand. And as beers are sipped-upon under the cloudless sky of a balmy French summer’s evening, it already feels like it’s been worth the effort. All across the grassy square on the edge of town groups of people are strolling leisurely or sat on the ground, cradling drinks and talking amongst themselves. But they’re not just here to enjoy the sunshine; they’re here for Europavox – a weekend-long festival of European music. In their midst are two Spiegeltents, from where the unmistakable jingle-jangle of last minute soundchecks eminate, while across the way is La CooperativÃ© de Mai (or “La CoopÃ©” for short) – a spacious venue which will play host to the weekend’s headliners.
There are no camping facilities at Europavox, so everyone here either lives in the local area or has checked into a hotel for the weekend. Inevitably, it’s smaller than most three-day festivals but all that means is less queuing for food and drink and easier access to the gigs. It also lacks some of the big names doing the rounds on this year’s festival circuit but, then again, that’s not really the point of Europavox. Sure, there are some recognised names thrown into the mix but where the festival excels is in exposing the audience to a wide variety of European artists, covering everything from Latvian electronica to French folk and Danish indie.
And Belgian hip-hop. Pitcho gets the evening underway and he draws a sizeable crowd, despite the temptation to stay outside and enjoy the good weather. It’s soon obvious why, with his music and vocal delivery more than matching his better-known counterparts on the western side of the Atlantic. There are times when his songs become a little too formulaic but tracks like ‘Le Monde de Demain’, ‘Continue Ã Briller’ and new song ‘Anges Noir’ are delivered with an honest intensity that commands the listener’s full attention, even if you don’t understand the words.
It’s time to get another round of beers in before heading along to see Rachid Taha. His popularity here in France is quite obvious as State quite literally squeezes its way through the audience to find a good vantage point. Taha is already on stage and his band is firing out a heady mix of rock, afro-beat and Arabian raÃ¯ music. The one component that does seem out of place in the setup is Taha himself who, for one thing, looks rather the worse for wear compared to the image on his posters. For the most part, though, the crowd are lapping-up his performance – the gravelly vocals, the almost comedic shuffling and facial expressions – but we’re feeling unsure of what to make of it all. Events do take a turn for the better, though: enter one Mick Jones. The former Clash guitarist initially takes a back seat, providing rhythm guitar to songs like ‘Kifache Rah’ and ‘Barra Barra’, but ends up taking centre stage as he belts out ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go?’ before teaming-up with Taha to close the set with a raucous version of ‘Rock the Casbah’.
Outdoors once again, scores of people are taking immense pleasure in informing us how Latvian duo Instrumenti have just delivered a storming set whilst wearing panda costumes. According to these same people, State was quite foolish to miss it. Perhaps they’re right. Still, Mick Jones. Enough said.
Next up are Hocus Pocus, veterans of the French hip-hop scene who fuse elements of soul and R’n’B into their sound and utilise live instruments in addition to the inevitable DJ. They’ve been around for over 15 years, have gold records on their wall and are guaranteed to draw a crowd wherever they go here in France. Watching them tonight, it’s plain to see why. Their tunes are infectiously groovy and they certainly know how to work a crowd – it’s not long before everyone is waving their hands in the air and carrying crowdsurfing band members over their heads. The live band adds an extra dimension to the experience, too, with funky jams and just enough showing off to make it a fun experience instead of an endurance test in egosim. With lyrics that skip back and forth between French and English and quality songs like ‘Vocab!” and “Mr Toute Le Monde”, State is left wondering why Hocus Pocus have so far failed to make an impact beyond their domestic scene.
It’s all getting a bit hazy now as the effects of drink and tiredness start to take hold. Just as well Boogers is the last act of the evening. Turns out he’s quite the multi-musician, balancing guitar-playing with keyboard duties – all while walking around with a speaker strapped to his back. His catchy off-kilter pop songs have a distinct French quirkiness, despite being sung in English, and are littered with lines like “I lost my lungs in the smoking area.” Things definitely are getting fuzzy at this point but references back to scrawls in the trusty notebook throw up comments like “runs through the crowd,” “better than Dick Van Dyke’s one-man-band in Mary Poppins,” “nice girl behind the bar” and, intriguingly, “pink tarmac” (still can’t explain that one). A good time to head back to the hotel and get some sleep, then. Yes, it’s been a long day…
Photos: Melanie Bodolec, Florent Giffard & Olivier Tralongo