by / June 14th, 2011 /

Europavox 2011

The sun always seems to shine at Europavox, and it’s appreciated more than ever this year after the wind and rain we’ve left behind in Dublin. Apart from the weather, though, the festival has changed somewhat from 2010. Thumbing through the festival programme for the umpteenth time on the long train journey from Paris to Clermont-Ferrand on Thursday, it’s clear the organisers have had a rethink about how they choose their headliners. Last year was top-heavy with names like Peter Doherty, Richard Hawley and Peter Hook; all veterans and, in the case of the latter two, perhaps too far removed from the current crop of European music-makers to fit in comfortably with the ethos of Europavox. That ethos is to prioritise emerging artists from across Europe. So, when the majority of acts in this year’s line-up aren’t immediately recognisable, it’s an encouraging sign – especially since the festival’s bookers have proven themselves to have an uncanny knack for unearthing some real gems.

However, it looks like State will have to wait a little longer to discover one of those aforementioned gems. That’s mainly because there’s free entry to today’s concerts and the local population has turned out in force as a result, meaning the festival venues are full by the time we step off the train in central France. Mind you, we would’ve missed Trouble Over Tokyo‘s set anyway, as he takes to the stage while we’re dashing across town to drop our luggage at the hotel. Our only glimpse of a band today comes during Morning Parade‘s set, when State dutifully attempts to squeeze through the crowd. As a band, they have the moves, the looks and tunes to make the crowd jump, but they’re missing an identity of their own; there’s nothing going on here that hasn’t already been covered – or, indeed, flogged to death – already by indie-darlings-du-jour like Everything Everything or Two Door Cinema Club. As hard as they try, it’s not a performance worth getting crushed for, so we cut our losses and decide it’s better to wait until tomorrow before diving into Europavox 2011 in earnest.

The music doesn’t start until 7.30pm on Friday but there’s still plenty of activity around the festival site. In past years, the place would be buzzing with booking agents, promoters, label reps and other industry types from across the EU meeting up in a ‘pro area’ to explore joint ventures. They’re here again this year but in much smaller numbers .This time Europavox has teamed-up with Le Transfo, the art and culture agency for the local region, and shifted the focus of the annual conference towards helping French acts export their music and gain exposure from foreign media outlets. It’s an interesting discussion, featuring a panel of European journalists and successful band managers dispensing a wealth of valuable tips to a room full of musicians and young people aiming towards a career in the industry.

Today also marks the first time the festival has made use of the 5,000-capacity La Forum Polydome, which turns out to be an ultra-modern venue with a stunning sound system and big screens. First up is Zaz, whose self-titled debut album (released last year) has incredibly shot to diamond status here in France. It’s a jazzy affair and the crowd are lapping it up, with songs like ‘Je Veux’ and ‘Le Long De La Route’ going down particularly well. Up next is Ben l’Oncle Soul, one of the next generation of Motown signings. His live show is incredibly fun: good old-fashioned soul and R&B performed in a manner Outkast would be jealous of. His live band has guitars, bass, percussion, organs, backing vocals, brass section… and the showmanship is outstanding, leading to many sing-along-moments and callbacks with the audience.

Moving across to the smaller festival venues, we find Gotan Project playing to a packed room. They’re a mixed proposition on record, sometimes hitting the mark with their chilled-out mix of electronica, tango and trip-hop – at other times producing material that’s frankly quite boring. In a live setting, though, they take it up a notch, with visuals accompanying the music and the powerful sound system providing a shot in the arm that lets you see their music in a whole new light – the bass, in particular, is wonderful, hitting the listener right in the chest. Elsewhere, English/German electronic trio I Heart Sharks are impressing their crowd, with their blend of hooky synths, rhythmic guitar lines and dance beats enticing people to shake out of static gigwatching mode and start moving their bodies. Then Dutch group De Staat take to the stage and promptly raise the roof with a full-on performance. There’s more than a hint of Queens Of The Stone Age here, but De Staat’s music is groovier and better suited to the dancefloor. Tracks such as ‘The Fantastic Journey Of The Underground Man’ and ‘Wait For Evolution’ have some sections of the crowd bouncing, while everyone else dances. The climax of the show is ‘Sweatshop’, with its driving beat ensuring there’s a mass of tired, sweat-soaked bodies at its conclusion. It certainly brings the night to a close in style.

Saturday’s line-up is billed as a ‘Soiree Electro’ and Italian electropop act Low Frequency Club are first up, with their tunes getting everyone in the mood for an evening of partying. French electro/hip-hop/dub outfit Chinese Man are a hugely popular draw, and they put on a performance to justify it. There’s visuals galore, electro beats, samples and reggae-tinged MCing – all combining to create a feel-good vibe amongst the crowd as they play obvious crowd favourites like ‘Miss Chang’ and ‘I’ve Got That Tune’. Thomas Dybdahl provides a counterpoint to the other bands on the bill, being one of the few playing today who doesn’t rely on synths and drum machines. His songs ‘Cecilia’ and ‘From Grace’ sound sublime, carried by his excellent, wide-ranging vocals and the organic, rootsy music of his band.

The most anticipated set of the day comes from Boys Noize and the vast majority of festival-goers flock towards the ‘Coopé’ stage where he’s performing. His gig is a game of two halves, as a football pundit might put it. The first sees him break out a flurry of tunes he’s remixed for others, as well as dropping several of his own well-known tracks including ‘Jeffer’ and ‘Kontact Me’. The latter half of the show consists of, well, we’re not sure. New tracks? Unreleased remixes? Or just Mr. Ridha screwing around, showing off his DJ skills? It’s impossible to tell. To be honest, it’s a bit of a let-down after the build-up provided by the first part of his show, and it’s exasperated by the fact that he finishes without an encore – and without playing his signature tune, ‘& Down’. But never fear, because the Le Galaxie boys are on hand to save the day. The crowd has petered-out after the main event but there’s still a hardcore group hanging around to see the Irish act bring Europavox 2011 to a close. They don’t disappoint, with the onlookers responding instantly as they unleash their dancefloor-filling spacetronica tunes. Old favourites like ‘You Feel The Fire’ and ‘We Bleed The Blood Of Androids’ go down a treat but it’s the new material, like ‘Midnight Midnight’ and ‘Solarbabies’, that sounds particularly impressive. And they bring the curtain down in proper rock ‘n’ roll style, by smashing keyboards as the last droning notes ring out.

Photos: Florent Giffard & Mélanie Bodolec.
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