State is feeling surprisingly fresh this morning and a quick glance outside reveals another fine, sunny day. The bands may not start playing until this evening but there’s plenty of activity around the festival site at this early hour, with small but lively groups of journalists, promoters, booking agents and festival organisers gathering in the ‘Foyer Pro’ area. This is the other side of Europavox – a forum for industry professionals from across the continent to network.
There are representatives from all 27 EU countries pottering around Clermont-Ferrand this weekend, including recognisable brands like Roskilde, Mean Fiddler, Les Inrockuptibles, Green Man Festival and Ireland’s own Bodytonic. As industry events go it’s relatively small but several attendees say they now prefer doing business here than at larger conventions such as Eurosonic or Popkomm. It’s understandable; those events can be impersonal, with reps sometimes having to queue for lengthy periods to meet briefly with prospective contacts. Here at Europavox it’s less crowded and everyone gets the opportunity to meet everyone else, thanks to a series of 15-minute ‘matchmaking sessions’ which operate just like speed dating. Not much business takes place at this point but introductions are made, details swapped and then deals are sealed during casual meetings over the remainder of the weekend.
Later in the day, with some time to kill before the music starts, State heads into town to see the sights and to have dinner at one of the fine bistros in the old town centre. It also just happens to be the day of the Champions League final so the decision is made to stop by a bar on the way back to see how the game is progressing. Of course, the stay lasts longer than expected and as the victory celebrations begin we realise the time and make a dash to get back to the festival site. Not quick enough to catch Band of Skulls’ performance, though, which is frustrating since the word going around is that they played an explosive set.
There’s a Hacienda theme in the ‘Magic Mirrors’ tent tonight, with the star attraction being Peter Hook’s Unknown Pleasures: A Joy Division Tribute. The concept behind the show immediately sounds dodgy (Hook performing in his own tribute band) and the performance is turning out to be one of the most cringeworthy affairs State has had the misfortune of enduring. Ever. The musicianship is fine, but the sight – and sound – of Hook taking centre stage and crassly immitating Ian Curtis’ voice while pulling rock ‘n’ roll poses, pumping his fist in the air and shouting “C’mon!” is something that will forever haunt our dreams. Adding insult to inury is the fact that, while he has his bass guitar slung from his shoulder, it’s about as useful as a cock extension to an impotent man because he only joins in occasionally – for the most part leaving bass-playing duties to a dark figure in the shadows behind him. State is left with the dilemma of deciding whether to cover our eyes or our ears as he single-handedly murders ‘She’s Lost Control’, ‘Transmission’, ‘Shadow Play’ and a host of other Joy Division favourites. We’re thankful for one small mercy, however: Hook’s live show won’t be followed by one of his infamous DJ sets.
With Peter Hook still crooning and posturing on stage, we cut our losses and head to the main arena where Richard Hawley is well into his set. The beauty and the profoundness that are evident as he gently sings his way through ‘Run for Me’ and ‘Don’t You Cry’ are in marked contrast to the preceding shambles. Nothing more is required of him than to stand there playing and utter a simple “merci” at the end of each song – the songs speak for themselves. The audience is spellbound, with the enthusiastic cheers greeting the end of each song being followed by an instant hush as they await the next installment of Hawley’s performance. And as he concludes with a sublime verion of ‘The Ocean’, State is in no doubt that we’ve witnessed something very special.
The last live act of the evening is Swedish surrealist dream pop duo JJ, although the term ‘live act’ should be used rather loosely here. Their stage setup comprises of Elin Kastlander singing over backing tracks, while Joakim Benon wanders randomly around the stage looking like a cross between a viking and a hippie, pausing every so often to pick out a few notes on his acoustic guitar. A projection screen displays footage of the pair staring into the camera and walking along beaches and mountainous landscapes as they float through tracks like ‘Ecstasy’ and ‘From Africa to MalagÃ¡’. There are also montages of Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic that crop up quite unexpectedly from time to time. It’s a tough one to fathom and State concedes that a few more listens to their records will be required before trying to digest another one of their live shows.
With the festival bars staying open late into the night, no one’s going home just yet. French electro producer Mr NÃ´ – in a nostalgic mood – keeps the party going with a DJ set full of old school dance tracks, while outside groups of people are deep in conversation, debating the standard of the day’s line-up. What else can State do only join in?
Photos: Melanie Bodolec, Florent Giffard & Olivier Trolongo