The story of Les Eurorockeenes takes part in two acts. The first, set in a glorious idyll, the second, a dramatic inferno. And the central protagonist, of course, is the weather.
This small but well-established festival near the French-Swiss border starts on Friday afternoon, under 30 degree heat and endless blue skies. Set in a public park between two lakes, it is covered in oases and alcoves: wooden bars covered in fairy lights, a lakeside Plage area filled with sand and a giant stage built on the lake itself. Michael Kinuwaka plays here at sunset, his butter-wouldn’t-melt Magic FM pop the perfect accompaniment to a sundowner on the fake beach.
You would think nothing could ruin this paradise, but the Kooks give it their best shot. Their whiney, lifeless, nursery rhymes sound even worse tonight then they did five years ago. With Luke’s looks faded and his voice in tatters, their set is irredeemable.
We start Saturday afternoon with a swim. The lake is warm and calm. We head to Django Django still in our trunks, wondering if we have really gone to Eden.
Then, quite suddenly, dust starts to swirl. The temperature drops 10 degrees in a matter of minutes. At the time, we’re watching Ed Banger stalwart Kavinsky on the Plage stage. Sensing the oncoming disruption, he drops an electro version of ‘Killing In The Name’. Seconds later there is rain, like you’ve never seen it, great big globules being spat down from the sky and bouncing into the lake below. The kind of fork lightening NME has previously only seen in geography textbooks, shoots across the sky in time with Morello’s screams. Nature has afforded Kavinsky has got the kind of light show U2 dream of. Quickly though, music stops on all stages as people seek refuge under trees, scaffolding and all the other places your mum told you to avoid in a storm.
It’s left to Justice to bring the drenched crowd back to life. Nothing can prepare you for the supermassive stage show and overwhelming response from the home crowd. Their live set is now refined to the point of perfection, with thousands of beat-matched lights that take up the whole stage. Dance music is filling more stadiums than ever before, but as of yet, no one has managed to match Justice live.
After the storms comes relentless rain. Many festival-goers spend the night in water-logged campsite and around Sunday afternoon their tempers start to fray. It’s unfortunate for the Brian Jonestown Massacre who play their sunshine-infused garage rock to an audience busy tying up bin bags and staving off trenchfoot. They respond to the muted reaction with a live mash-up of Hey Jude and Sympathy For The Devil which may be the worst thing we’ve ever heard.
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Les Eurorockennes is a plucky little festival though and refuses to be beaten. The rain eases off and the line-up kicks up a gear.
First in a trio of heavy-hitting acts are Alabama Shakes on the main stage. So much about their live show shouldn’t work: the trucker hats, the meaningful eyes-closed head shakes, the shapeless maternity wear. But the second Brittany starts singing, none of that matters. Her voice is a wonder, swooping from celestial falsetto to guttural bass, pirouetting around gospel organ lines. ‘Boys & Girls’ is a 21st century answer to Lorraine Ellison’s ‘Stay With Me Baby’, building in tiny increments of wrought, understated perfection. Clearly not that well-known in France (perhaps they don’t get Later With Jools over here) their small crowd grows throughout their set and by the end they’ve converted hundreds of new fans.
From the dusty deep south to well-to-do upstate New York; Lana Del Rey arrives on stage in a classy white dress that is just begging for someone to start a mudfight. She is joined by a grand piano, string quartet, as well as a giant screen playing the picket-fence archive footage that made her famous. It makes for a cinematic set, especially when she drops in French lyrics to many of her songs. There is a powercut during the opening bars of ‘Video Games’, but Lana is unphased, lighting a cigarette and chatting to fans.
The highlight of the night, though, is Jack White. His show on the mainstage is the craziest thing we’ve ever seen called a headline set. Dressed in a trenchcoat-cum-straightjacket and flanked by an all-female band in sky-blue 1920s winterwear, he plays a madcap set of songs from his latest album as well as hits from The Racounteurs, The Dead Weather and The White Stripes, often reworking them with a Delta twang. His stage set up looks like a front-room jam session, with a wondering fiddle player completing a double bass, organ and a pedal steel guitar semi-circle. He also has a fresh take on between-song banter, “How you doing somewhere in France?” he yells after ‘Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground’, “it’s not my job to check on you every few minutes?” A tad standoffish perhaps, but when the songs sounds this good, we can look after ourselves.
He too suffers a powercut, but continues to play an acoustic show for the front few rows while they sort it out. Afterwards, the show is ramped-up, from family jam band, to illicit South Carolina speakeasy, with Jack playing a mind-melting solo in the Hardest Button to Button. The set closes with a storming version of Seven Nation Army, just as we find out Spain have won the Euros. It’s such a relief to hear it played properly rather than sung by drunk Ukrainians.
A dodgy line-up would have been easily forgiven in the sunshine, but the fact that Eurorockéennes managed a happy ending in such adverse conditions is a testament to a bunch of well-chosen bands.