Rock En Seine - Domaine national de Saint-Cloud
Live Review

Rock En Seine – Domaine national de Saint-Cloud, Paris

So while most of Britain’s festival goers headed to the Carling festivals last weekend, we thought we’d try something a little different and take on one of Europe’s up and coming festivals, the Rock En Seine festival in Paris.

So heading to Paris and expecting a little Parisian class, a decent glass of Bordeaux, and lo and behold decent weather. It’s true the first thing that you notice is the general civilised nature of everything. Minute queues at the bars, polite applause aplenty, and lots of discussion about artistic merits in the wine bar tents while sipping a snazzy bouquet. The only litter seen all weekend came from our own grubby hands and the surprisingly sizeable contingent of other Brits in attendance. Though, the make up of the crowd wasn’t perhaps as mixed as the likes of Roskilde, the weather did it’s best to live up to Benicassim with glorious sunshine throughout, but just enough mud left over from the rain in the week leading up to remind you this is still a festival.

The line-ups at Rock En Seine have been getting better every year, and this year sees the strongest yet. A mixture of internationally renowned acts and local French heroes. Hard rock to eletronica to chilled out – a good mix.

When it comes to the music, first things first, the sound systems are top notch – loud, real loud. Despite being slap bang in the middle of a Paris suburb, there’s no worry here of being forced to turn things down by the noise Nazis.

Day one

Kicking the festival off on the Scene de la Cascade, Rock & Roll, take to the stage and play some, well, rock and roll. Dinosaur Jnr follow and go through their usual motions of looking completely disinterested. Meanwhile Dizzee Rascal opens proceedings on the Grande Scene and speaks to the French crowd in between songs in an American accent.

On the smaller but atmospheric Scene de l’Industrie Rodeo Massacre storm through a set of fast paced non rodeo related rock, apart from the blowing tumbleweed music that accompanied their exit. Hey Hey My My it turned out were not a Neil Young tribute act as I had hoped, while Biffy Clyro added a nice touch of British rawk to the French domination.

Second prize for loudest band of the weekend goes to Mogwai who blasted out a mesmerising set on the Grande Scene. Although lost a little on the French crowd, there’s no doubting the brilliance of the wee Scotsmen in creating stunning soundscapes, summed up the pounding and building beauty of ‘We’re No Here’.

The Shins take their move onto the Grande Scene in their stride and play a mix from across all three of their albums with a rousing rendition of ‘Kissing the Lipless’, while The Hives follow and some how seem to have tripled their over confidence in the years they’ve been out of the limelight to the extent that the world’s ‘greatest guitarist’ doesn’t play any of his guitar solos.

Closing things for the night on the other two stages Unkle and 2 Many DJs give the French groovsters what they want, with Unkle in particular really testing the sound system with a wall of guitar grooves. Meanwhile on the Grande Scene, Arcade Fire predictably take the festival as their own, playing all the usual gems, and throwing in some of the lesser played classics like ‘Neighbourhood 1’ and ‘Rebellion’. The French crowd love it and carry on humming ‘Wake Up’ into the night.

Day two

Now a few years back I reviewed French art punkists I Love UFO, and quite frankly ripped them to pieces. Now I’d love to say they have used my criticisms to enhance and improve themselves, whereas in-fact, all that’s happened is the singer has bought himself a guitar, and maintained his over zealous arty love of using the floor as a medium of expressing his music by rolling around on it. What the hell, I now think they’re great, and so did the adoring French crowd at the Scene de l’industrie kicking things off on day two. I’m still not sure if the singer from Pravda was male or female, but nevertheless they follow with some old school franco-metal.

On the Grande Scene The Fratellis are predictably boring while Mrs Winehouse’s replacements Cold War Kids show why they’ve gained the title of America’s brightest rock prospects. On the subject of Amy Winehouse, it looks like her days of playing in France are all but over, with every mention of her name greeted with a chorus of boos and jeers. Jarvis Cocker thoroughly embarrasses himself with his incomprehensible waffling in French, though his set of moans about fat kids and such things seems to hit the spot.

Puppetmastaz on the Scene de la Cascade provide a stomping set of comedy hip-hop, followed by an eclectic mix including Hellogoodbye and Erik Truffaz. When it comes to CSS taking to the stage, the biggest crowd of the weekend at the Scene de la Cascade go crazy, bouncing and bopping to every beat, and whooping with joy when Lovefoxx strips off down to her Technicolor lycra outfit. ‘This month, day 10’ takes the title of biggest fist-pumper, prompting scenes of mass hysteria.

Over on the Grande Scene, loudest band of the weekend, and indeed band of the weekend award goes to The Jesus and Mary Chain who rip through a classic set of their 21 singles. They may be miserable bastards who barely move an inch during the set, but who cares when you can hear the likes of ‘Head on’, ‘Cracking up’ and of course ‘Just like honey’ at 500 decibels. The overwhelming fuzz may be gone, but is replaced by cranking the volume up an extra few notches to 12. The boys are back.

I sadly didn’t catch Terry Poison, the Israeli all girl four piece. I really did want to see them because I suppose any Israeli all girl four piece has got to be hot, but there you go. Closing the night on the Scene de l’Industrie was Alpha, described by myself as a chilled out version of Massive Attack to give you some idea of how chilled they were – horizontal comes to mind, thought the sweet vocal of Wendy Stubbs were quite simply superb.

Over on the Grande Scene, Tool rounded things off and reportedly played a two hour set consisting of just five songs which sounds a little false to me – I’d expect no more than four songs in that time. ‘46 & 2’ stole the crowds most rapturous praise, though ‘Parabola’ seemed a little rushed. They didn’t let down when it came to light and visuals though, creating that “someone’s spiked my drink, even though I haven’t got a drink” feeling, with stunning green lasers shining thought the sky turning the Eiffel tower in the distance into a green monolith.

Day three

And so on to the final day, and with the sun beating down, despite British attempts to pretend that a festival isn’t a festival without loads of mud, you really can’t help but think it doesn’t get any better than having that 35 degree sun shining down as you sip a 5 euro pint (£3) – yep it really was that cheap for a festival.

After nipping into the Chinese restaurant outside the grounds for a quick banquet, we come back in to find we have foolishly missed most of Bat For Lashes on the Scene de la Cascade, but even catching the last couple of songs including using the mike stand as the kick drum is enough to see how she managed to create such a stunning debut album. Housse De Racket create a racket on the Scene de l’Industrie, fusing French house sensibilities with a kind of Eurovision cheesiness and crunching guitars. Dressed in matching white slacks and assorted sun visors, their sound is strangely endearing yet totally cheesy, especially when the keyboard-guitar is brought out for the final epic eponymous number.

Other highlights of the final day see Mark Ronson try to defend Mrs Winehouse with the words “come on be fair, she’s ill”, Just Jack’s rendition of ‘Starz in their Eyes’ making the French start having epileptic fits, and Albert Hammond Jnr failing to wear a leather jacket.

On the Grande Scene Kings of Leon try to pretend they’ve really been looking forward to this gig for ages with straight faces, but still produce a decent set with ‘Fans’ and ‘On call’ hitting the mark, but no ’Black thumbnail’ – what’s going on there? And so Faithless enter the stage, and despite playing what has become a pretty standard set list, yet in the silhouette of the sunset on the horizon, sound totally amazing. Obvious classic ‘Insomnia’ ‘God is a DJ’ sound awesome, and its clear the superbly loud sound system is playing it’s part. Finishing as usual with ‘We come one’ the crowd join in with every word as the bass ripples right through to the Paris subway system.

Drawing the biggest crowd of the weekend, and closing the Grande Scene for the festival, Bjork is fashionably late on stage. The crowd is almost completely silent as they analyse every squeak and creak of the Icelandic nutter’s set, save for the odd quiet whisper discussing the artistry of the music. This is clearly music that appeals directly to the French heart, though sadly not mine, so I do one and head over to catch Enter Shikari closing things on the Scene de l’Industrie. Now my motto is “a friend of Anthony H Wilson is a friend of mine”, and none more so than these London boys. Despite the sparse crowd, they totally rock the place with ‘Labyrinth’, ‘No Sssweat’, and closing with ‘Ok, time for plan B’ and bizarrely enough ‘Closing’.

And with that it was all over, no yobbish burning of the campsite here. And even better, I’m now fluent in French, an expert on French wines, and stink of garlic.

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