Paris – City of Rock, City of Love
Rock en Seine is a 3-day music festival held in the beautiful Parc de Saint-Cloud on the western edge of Paris. This year the festival celebrates its 15th anniversary with an incredible lineup that’s leaving the 110,000 festival-goers like myself with some very difficult choices in reconciling conflicting set times on six different stages. C’est la vie and it’s a good problem to have. This is XS Noize’s first year covering Rock en Seine, which got off to a rainy start for an hour or so, creating just enough mud for the day to give it that je-ne-sais-quoi festival cachet.
As cliché as it may sound, Paris upheld its reputation as the city of love on Day 1 of Rock en Seine and I was pleased to witness three beautiful “histoires d’amour” or love stories between performers and spectators, namely the sets of Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Cabbage, and Franz Ferdinand.
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes were tasked with the unenviable task of opening the festival main stage at 3:30 pm, in broad daylight, just after a serious bit of rain. An interview with another band prevented me from seeing the Frank Carter’s arrival on stage, but I heard the strains of the opening song, “Wild Flowers” from afar. By the time I had gone from backstage to front, Frank Carter was already crowd walking and crowd surfing. With things getting off to such a roaring start, it was only natural for Carter to kick off the second song by choreographing a willing crowd into a circle pit “bigger than the Eiffel Tower!” Mid set, the sun decided to make an appearance and Carter underscored the irony of an Englishman bringing the sun to Paris.
The ten-song set was accelerated, amped up, agitated, and clearly cathartic. Carter dedicated a ferocious song to the victims of Manchester: “This song is for the lives lost in Manchester. It’s about terrorists and how much I fucking hate them!” he snarled before ripping into “Paradise…But if there is a paradise, hidden in the sky/I hope you never get to see it when you die.”
Toward the end of the set, the self-loathing anthem “Devil Inside of Me” had the crowd thrashing rapturously. The last song of the set was announced as a song for “that special person in your life… the one that you hate more than anything else” and thus the obviously hate-themed “I Hate You” brought the band’s loud and fast reign of the Main Stage to a crashing, chaotic conclusion.
Frank Carter promised to return to Paris soon and vowed to learn some French between now and then. He might consider starting with the French term for “love at first sight” or “coup de foudre”, literally translating to “lightning strike”. It’s an apt description of the rattlesnake strike of a set witnessed as the festival’s Main Stage opener. Expect Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes to return to the Main stage at a later time in the day in a future edition of the festival. They proved they were most deserving.
This Manchester (well, Mossley) band has released 24 songs to date across five EPs, the first of which was called Le Chou or “cabbage” in French. It is fitting then that “mon chou” is also a common term of endearment in French because Cabbage clearly endeared themselves to the mostly French audience in their Paris debut. I had the pleasure of interviewing the band prior to their set and that interview is forthcoming on XSNoize.com.
The set began with the ironic “Fraudulent Artist” from the band’s recently released EP The Extended Play of Cruelty. It’s a jab at “bands who care more about photo shoots than their music.” In a robust set of nine songs gleaned from all EP releases to date, the band worked their way through as many social issues. We heard about, to name a few, the British National Health Service (“Necroflat in the Palace”), fickleness in the playfully sardonic “Fickle”, bombings in Syria (“Terrorist Synthesizer”), and the sorry state of the UK railway network (“A Network Betrayal”).
Lee Broadbent and Joe Martin, the band’s lyricists, traded off on lead vocals throughout the set, drawing the crowd into the messages and the performance. Lee stepped down off of the stage to interact with the crown as arms reached out for him. I was personally surprised to see the size and engagement of the crowd for a relatively new band’s debut performance in Paris, early in the day on Friday, the least busy day. Photographers were out in full force as well. I counted 20 long lenses pointed from the pit as well as a camera crew. Thinking it through a bit deeper, however, the French affinity for Cabbage is quite true to character. This is, after all, the land of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Cabbage are quirky, satirical, funny, and anti-establishment. If Cabbage were a newspaper, they would be Charlie Hebdo. Beyond a connection to the music, there seemed to be a like-mindedness, an intellectual kinship of sorts, as the Paris public bonded with the band who will no doubt be welcomed back with open arms.
It’s been a while since the Glaswegian sensation Franz Ferdinand has played in Paris, so this particular love story could be called “les retrouvailles”, a heartfelt reunion. If prizes were handed out at Rock en Seine, Franz Ferdinand clearly won Day 1 as they reclaimed hearts on the Main Stage lawn as far back as that space would allow. Frontman Alex Kapranos began the amorous conquest by addressing the audience in French and did so admirably throughout a 75-minute set encompassing 15 songs. There is no better way to make fans feel loved than to literally speak their language.
The hit “No You Girls” got the dancing started, with a spry Kapranos taking the lead with leaps and struts. “Do You Want To” a few songs later had a similar dance party, sing-along en masse effect that didn’t wane all night. Franz Ferdinand played a selection of songs across their full repertoire dating back to their eponymous 2004 debut. One such song was “Jacqueline” that Kapranos introduced to rapturous applause when he explained that the next song would be about a girl with a French name. The slower opening of “Jacqueline” showcases Kapranos’s beautiful lower vocal range and all eyes were glued to the stage as bodies swayed.
The set went by quickly and came to a fierce finish with “This Fire”. The crowd chanted the chorus, in slightly French-accented English: “This fire is out of control, I’m going to burn this city, burn this city.” It’s highly unlikely that anyone witnessing Franz Ferdinand’s set engaged in urban arson later that evening, but hearts were warmed and bodies got sweaty thanks to this hot Main Stage headliner.
MØ Puts on a Show!
Adding a fourth performer to the mix because I would be remiss if failed to mention the quixotic global pop goddess in the making, MØ from Denmark. It’s a set I hadn’t originally planned to attend due to schedule conflicts but I was able to catch a handful of songs. MØ performed in cut-off shorts and a Blondie t-shirt, which is a good place to start in terms of influences, but it doesn’t stop there. At various moments, Madonna came to mind, and Beyoncé, and The Spice Girls but all in a rather quirky embodiment, and with energy to burn in a performance that was as artistic as it was athletic. In sum, MØ is a melting pot of influences. The diversity of her audience—male and female, younger and more mature—mirrored her widespread appeal and ability to capture our attention with catchy, soulful, hip hop tinged hits and strong, emotive vocals. Judging by what happened in Paris, dancey Dane-pop is alive and well.
PS: Bits and Pieces
The Rock en Seine programming was superb which led to making difficult choices for many time slots. I wasn’t able to witness full sets of many interesting artists but in the course of music binging, I did catch a few songs here and there that made me want to hear more. A special mention to Beach Fossils, the New York indie darlings who had a very large crowd swaying and swooning to solid tunes with soaring melodic bridges dotted with the sounds of horns, strings, and harpsichord, somewhat reminiscent of late Beatles material.
I was further intrigued by FKJ, short for French Kiwi Juice, a name that alludes to this artist’s French and New Zealand origins. Multi-instrumentalist and expert live looper FKJ combines elements of electro-pop and funk with jazzy accents, wrapped in velvety vocals.