Europavox

Nestled amongst the Chaîne des Puys in France’s Massif Central is the unassuming town of Clermont-Ferrand. Best known for its association with the Michelin tyre company and the exploits of the local rugby team, the area is also garnering a reputation as an important cultural centre. In recent times the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival has become second only to Cannes in terms of visitors, catapulting many young directors into the public eye along the way. And then there is Festival Europavox. Now in its third year, this unique music event gathers budding musical talent from across Europe to be showcased in a series of intimate performances. Behind the scenes, provision is made for European industry executives to meet, establish contacts, and to toast new alliances with a few glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon. Well, it is France after all…

We’re late! And for once it’s not our fault. The train rolls into Gare de Clermont-Ferrand half an hour behind schedule, which, by French standards, is a travesty.  We take it in our stride, however, as a lifetime of travelling on the Irish rail network has prepared us for such eventualities. But it does leave us with precious little time to navigate our way across town before the night’s proceedings get underway. Thankfully, Clermont-Ferrand is blessed with an efficient tram network and we’re whisked to the festival’s location in minutes.

Europavox is centered around La Coopérative de Mai – a music venue located on the edge of town, which exudes a sublime sense of intimacy and boasts superb acoustics. In the adjoining park a second, temporary, venue has also been erected. ‘Le Magic Mirrors’ – better known to many as the Spiegeltent – compliments “La Coopé” perfectly and has enabled the festival to expand and host more acts than in previous years. The exhibition centre in the nearby Polydome provides a hub for the travelling music executives to congregate and talk shop. It’s from here that my compatriot Christine and I are supposed to collect our press accreditation. We arrive just after 9.30pm to discover that the centre has closed an hour earlier. What’s more, it has started to rain. Luckily, we find Aziliz – Europavox’s very helpful media coordinator – not too far away. Passes are issued and we can enter the arena to escape the downpour, hear some music, and consume a few alcoholic bevarages.

In our quest for beer we stumble across our first Irishman – in this case the pale skin and red hair is easy to spot in the crowd! Brian has won a competition to represent Ireland as an ‘ambassador’ at Europavox. Since his arrival the previous evening he has assembled a posse of his continental counterparts to get drunk and have a good time doing it. In total, 54 ambassadors have made the journey  – two from each EU country – and, apart from enjoying free entry to the gigs and drinking copious amounts of alcohol, they are here to blog about their Europavox experience on the festival website.

When I quiz the ambassadors on their experiences so far, the response is enthusiastic: “It has been a fantastic trip! I’ve met some great music lovers from all over Europe, who I will be in contact with for a long, long time to come,” says Brian. “It’s such a unique experience,” adds Chiara from Italy, “I’m discovering new music and making new friends from all over Europe.” Indeed, it’s 24 hours after they’ve met for the first time and the ambassadors are chatting and joking like old pals. Romance also appears to be on the cards for some… but it would be wrong for me to reveal any more than that!

We talk and drink with the ambassadors until we realise the music has ended for the night and we still haven’t seen a single act.  It also transpires that we’ve missed the last tram so we face a lengthy (and wet) walk back to the hotel. It’s far from a pleasant experience – and being slightly tipsy doesn’t help – but I finally fall into bed after a 40 minute trek.

 

 

I wake up at ten o’clock the next morning to the sound of the phone ringing. It’s Christine calling to tell me that I’m going to miss out on breakfast if I don’t get downstairs straight away. Still tired and hungover and in no fit state to attempt using my limited French vocabulary, I ask her to save some food for me. Minutes later, just as I’m starting to feel human again and sensing that empty feeling in my stomach, there’s a knock on the door. Christine delivers a yogurt and some fruit, probably saving my life in the process. I always knew she was more than just a photographer!

After breakfast and a quick shower we head to the Polydome to get another perspective on the festival.

Europavox’s organisers invite promoters, booking agents, record labels, and distributors to the event with a view to helping them network and establish new working relationships with their counterparts from across the EU. Clermont-Ferrand’s Polydome houses the ‘Professional Village’ – an exclusive area where these industry representatives can congregate – and we arrive just in time for its official opening. Fernando Ladeiro-Marques takes charge of proceedings, welcoming the assembled delegates and wishing them well with their business meetings over the next two days before inviting everyone for wine and finger-food. My lingering hangover deters me from sampling the wine, so I decide to wander around instead.

There are several stalls located in the hall with couches and coffee tables so that meetings can take place in comfort. When I find the stall allocated to the Irish delegates it is unmanned. However, I hear an unmistakably Irish voice talking close by and I find Dave Curran from Angry Management deep in conversation with some UK-based distributors. He looks busy, so I give a him quick wave and leave him to carry on with his work. Joey Kavanagh from The Agency has also made the trip over from Dublin and I find him busying himself at one of the computers provided for internet access.

With the music not starting for several hours yet, we travel into the town centre to browse through the shops and locate the Still – an Irish bar I discovered on a previous trip. Obviously my sense of direction has failed me, as it takes us quite a while to find it. Inevitably, we’re too late to order lunch as they have already stopped serving when we arrive. However, we do manage to have some toasted sandwiches served up. My hangover is now but a distant memory, so I order a cider and pray I won’t regret doing so.

After a few hours spent pleasantly rambling through the town we make our way back to La Coopérative de Mai in time to see Cast-a-Blast Sound System. This group is a collaboration between a number of hip-hop artists signed to Greece’s Cast-a-Blast record label, including Sugahspank!, BNC, and Blend. Being the opening act is never an attractive proposition for artists and as they take to the stage there is only a handful of wary onlookers in the venue. Undaunted, the threesome break out the beats. I’ve never encountered Greek hip-hop before but, on hearing these guys perform, I can only wonder why. They’ve got catchy hooks and rhymes in abundance and an excellent boy/girl dynamic with Sugahspank!’s powerful, soaring vocals and BNC’s clever lyrics delivered in stacatto. Meanwhile, Blend is working the decks and producing infectiously funky grooves. Soon enough, the auditorium starts to fill as curious concert-goers are drawn to these catchy sounds. By the time the Cast-a-Blast crew finish their set the room is packed and they depart the stage amid much cheering and a rapturous round of applause from the audience.

Greeks can do hip-hop too!

Cast-a-Blast Sound System: Greeks can do hip-hop too!

A quick trip to the bar is in order before returning for the performance that nobody wants to miss: Dan le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip. After seeing them perform at Dublin’s Crawdaddy venue back in January I know I’m guaranteed to witness an excellent performance. Even so, I’m not prepared for this. Quite simply, these guys are on fire tonight and I watch in awe. “Boom, boom, boom,” croons Dan as the London duo open their set with recent hit ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’, while Scroobius Pip uses his brand of intelligently-worded rap to recount a tale of wanting more from a romantic encounter. The crowd love it and a mass of bodies is bouncing around in front of the stage. Then Dan lays down a sample of Dizzee Rascal’s hit tune ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ as Scroobius’s acerbic lyrics take potshots at artists who put fame and money before talent and credibility. Scroobius produces and array of props from a suitcase and utilises them as he rhymes his way through ‘Angles’ – a poignant song detailing various sides to the same tragic story. New single ‘A Letter From God to Man’ is aired before the two amigos sign off with a storming rendition of ‘Thou Shalt Alway Kill’. “The Beatles – just a band! Led Zeppelin – just a band,” Scroobius says, while the crowd shout the words back at him. Once they’ve left the stage it’s obvious that any attempt to outclass this performance tonight will almost certainly be in vain.

Scroobius gives the audience a crash course in science

Dan le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip: Scroobius gives the audience a crash course in science

Birdy Nam Nam give it their best shot, though. Their popularity in France is underlined by the fact that they have drawn the largest crowd of the night and their unique blend of electro and hip-hop has a number of fans moving on the dancefloor. However, we haven’t got time to stay and watch because we have yet to check out the festival’s second venue: Le Magic Mirrors.

Tonight this elaborate tent is playing host to an evening of folk music and the chilled-out vibe is accentuated by the number of people who have taken to sitting on the floor. We arrive while Lithuanian singer Alina Orlova is on stage. Singing in her native tongue, her sweet and heartbreakingly fragile voice draws the listener into the song, even if you don’t understand the words. Her band backs her singing with some wonderfully laid-back and understated music that is easy to get lost in. However, Orlova’s attempt to sing songs in other languages may be a step too far. I fear poor translation is to blame in the case of ‘Barbie’, which she sings in English. I cringe as she utters the lines: “Barbie has velvet skin / He’s only seventeen / His mother is a slut…” Nobody else seems to mind, though, and the tune is given a warm reception by the crowd.

Barbies lovers mother is a slut, apparently

Alina Orlova: Barbie's lover's mother is a slut, apparently

We’re soon joined by a group of ambassadors, lead once again by the bold Brian. Some seats are found and our group settles down for more drink and conversation. When the music finishes, the security guards eject us unceremoniously in the time-honoured concert tradition and we make our way back to the hotel, where the session continues long into the night.

  

 

When I force my eyes open the next morning I already know that I’ve missed breakfast again. This time, however, I’ve escaped the horror of a hangover and so I’m feeling pleased with myself as I spy the depleted bottle of Jack Daniel’s on the bedside table. I’m still tired and lazy and so I lay my head back down on the pillow. Just as I’m falling into a nice sleep, the door bursts open and almost scares me to death. It’s the cleaners; here to tidy my room. I jump up and show my displeasure at their intrusion by using the international code for annoyance: I yell and shout at them. I contemplate hurling the TV across the room to emphasize my point but they’ve already retreated out of the room and shut the door again. By now I’m wide awake so I walk over to the window, open the blinds, and make some coffee. Then I phone Christine and we make our plans for the day.

On arriving in the town centre, I get the uneasy feeling that I may die of hunger today. Yet again we’ve missed lunch hour and it seems every restaurant and café has either closed or stopped serving food until evening. We meet our fellow Irishman Joey on the street and he joins us in our mission for sustinence. Finally, after much scouring through alleys and side streets, we discover a small pizza restuarant. We endure an agonising wait for our food to be served but in the end it’s worth it as we eagerly munch our way through our pizza portions.

It’s the last night of the festival and when we arrive at Le Coopé we have no specific acts that we want to see. Instead, we can just soak up the atmosphere and talk with some of the people we have met during the past few days. In search of a comfortable place to sit, we stroll over to Le Magic Mirrors. Here, tonight’s music is orientated towards rock.

As we enter the tent, Polish band Cool Kids of Death are taking to the stage. These guys can certainly play their instruments but you just get the feeling that they’re trying too hard. There’s no continuity in the music; every song is so different from the last that it’s almost like a different group is performing each one. One moment they’re playing hardcore, the next they’re playing pop-punk. And beneath all that there’s a synthesiser droning beneath the guitars, sounding very out of place. It gets confusing. The most infuriating fact is, however, that if Cool Kids of Death could stick to one choice of sound they could do very well indeed because they’re quite talented musicians.

Just as I’ve resigned myself to an evening of mediocre music, Disco Ensemble enter. I’ve heard people talking about this group before but I’ve never heard them until now. I’m blown away by their performance. Their music, despite being somewhat more commercial, draws its influence from some mighty fine alternative bands – as I detect hints of everything from At the Drive-In to NOFX, and maybe even some old-school thrash metal. The powerful riffs, the angsty vocals, and the intensity at which each song is performed remind me very much of Swedish post-punk legends Refused. Their energy is transmitted straight to the crowd, who lap it up and go wild. There’s no doubt that Disco Ensemble have stolen the show.

There’s a sense of anti-climax as headline act Empyr open their set. This is due in no small part to the quality of the preceeding act. Perhaps I’m being unfair when I say this but I think the best way to describe Empyr is as being France’s answer to Linkin Park. There’s definately similarities in the composition of the music, in any case. On the other hand, maybe I’ve finally become a little too old to connect with music like this, for when I cast a glance across the legion of fans who have packed into Le Magic Mirrors for the grande finale I realise that most are no older than 16 or 17 years old. Not really digging the music at all, I go to the rear of the arena and find a seat amongst some familiar faces and leave the kids to have their fun.

When the music’s over and the dust begins to settle on the last night of Europavox 2008, we take the party to the nightclubs of Clermont-Ferrand. It’s not until 6.30am that I finally return to my hotel room and promptly collapse on the bed.

 

 

I’m only asleep for a couple of hours when the phone rings. It’s Brian. He’s been left stranded after the bus transporting the ambassadors to Paris has left without him. No need to worry, I assure him with a sleepy grunt, there’s a train at 1.30pm. As a rather relieved Brian hangs up, I turn over in the bed and snatch another couple of hours rest. With a full day of travelling ahead, I’m going to need it.

Our train departs Clermont-Ferrand on schedule with Ireland’s errant ambassador safely on board. We’re all exhausted – and perhaps still slightly drunk – but we leave the town and Europavox with happy memories of our experience.

And, yes… we’ll be back!

 

 

Festival Europavox: www.europavox.com

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Comments
  1. niamhnotnima says:

    and there was I thinking you were probably surfing porn or something, cos everytime I saw you, you were at the damn internet station!!! Well seems I was wrong, you really were working after all, well, at least for those few hours between scoops!

    Disco Ensemble were by far the best new act I saw at Europavox, absolutely stunning! I saw them in Finland again in late October…just as good if not better!

    Em, you never mentioned that very fab Irish girl who was representing Austria…remember, yourself and Christine and herself had their taxi stolen by those bloody Finnish representatives!!! What was her name again? Can’t remember, but she had nice frocks! :D

  2. Fab Irish girl representing Austria? Didn’t come across her. There was this reeeaaaally annoying Cork woman, though… :P

    You’ve just reminded me that I have to get myself over to Finland at some stage…

  3. […] Europavox ‘08 (and the Resulting Excesses) « Garfield’s GhostJul 15, 2008 … s powerful, soaring vocals and BNC’s clever lyrics delivered in stacatto. … Yet again we’ve missed lunch hour and it seems every restaurant … Uncategorized Comments are closed. […]

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