Some festivals just aren't fun until you've developed a system to deal with them. Les Eurockeennes, set by the Etang du Malsaucy near Belfort in Eastern France, was one of these. The sheer size of the crowds (30,000 plus) concentrated on a relatively small site - 5 stages and a silent disco, only three of which would be running at any one time - meant that random meandering was pointless, particularly if you were trying to go against the flow of the crowds through one of several bottlenecks on the site.
No, the trick was to pick 2 maybe 3 acts you really wanted to see that day and arrive an hour early, get to the barrier and hang on. On the first day we innocently thought that being a few feet back from the front for Gossip would get us a good view, only to be rudely barged out the way by trains of teenagers linking arms and pushing through the moment the music started. No, it was the barrier or the back, there was no middle ground unless you were prepared to get repeatedly bumped by backpacks as people charged past. It got tedious after a while.
Once we'd sussed this we started to enjoy the festival a bit more. Massive Attack were superb, playing most of their big hits even if one vocalists seemed to get the words to Teardrop wrong. Camille - a French chanson singer not unakin to Bjork or Kate Bush - was full of joy de vivre and playful inventiveness, utilising body percussion, beatbox, and found sounds to ornament her pure pop melodies in place of more traditional instruments. Our festival highlight.
Santogold's brash Brooklyn electro sounds were fun for a while but we didn't feel compelled to stay for the whole set. Likewise, Nick Cave's Grinderman were sleazy fun and good for a dance but our interest waned after a while. Much more compelling was Seasick Steve's genuine doghouse blues and witty repartie and Battles' hypnotic, infectious post rock polyrythyms. Raspect's international reggae sets (they played 3 over the weekend) provided some excellent grooves for those wanting to dance but not prepared to queue for the Silent Disco. By all accounts Ben Harper played a blinder as headliner on the first night, as did The Offsping on the Sunday, trotting out all their hits to please the massive crowd that was covered with the crowd surfers who had been endemic all weekend.
However, aside from the music there was little by way of diversions. A butterfly lounge on site was a welcome random cul de sac, as was the market, but that was it. The food was notable for the lack of variety - kebabs, burgers, pizzas, crepes and churos - if you were a veggie you ate chips or brought your own sandwiches, though irritatingly there was no food store on the festival or the campsite, so by Sunday supplies were running low.
The jeton (token) system for purchasing drinks was Kafka-esque (you had to purchase your own glass as well as tokens), and only plastic containers were allowed on site. The result: plastered french teenagers swigging dodgy looking concoctions from plastic coke bottles or downing super-strength beer en route from the camping, situated 3 km away down an old railway line. However, despite the casualties, the vibe was always friendly and never threatening.
Still the festival itself did have a general vibe of being very well organised, as was the camping, which was similar to that at the Reading Festival/Old WOMAD site - big, flat, featureless. Access to the Festival site was restricted until mid afternoon, so mornings were spent recovering on the campsite safe in the knowledge you weren't missing anything. The toilets were excellent and numerous, as were the shuttle busses running from the camping to the site, which stayed largely mud-free despite copious rain on the Thursday and Sunday - according to locals (who were there in abundance) it always rains for Les Eurockeennes.
Despite all the positives though, Les Eurockeennes wouldn't even make my Festival Top Ten. If you're in France (or nearby Switzerland or Germany) as we were and particularly want to see some of the acts playing, then go - you'll have a good time. But I suspect that if you make the trip over from the UK especially for the Festival you'll probably end up thinking that you should have just gone to V instead and saved yourself the cost of the flight.
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