Brighton’s Vive La France! festival celebrated its fourth anniversary this year, and invited some of France’s newest and brightest talent to hop across la Manche and to show England’s south coast what our Gallic neighbours are made of.
Thursday 26 January
Kicking off our evening on the first night of Vive La France! is Mesparrow, whose opening song leaves many in the crowd gathered at Brighton’s Green Door Store with an open mouth. While by now we may all be (over)familiar with loop pedals being used onstage, the Tours based Mesparrow dazzles with her vocal dexterity – while her Billie Holiday infused tones are a delight in themselves, she breaks off mid song to record a loop of outstandingly realistic mouth trumpet, adding bird calls and saw to the mix as well. Throw in some beat-boxing and it is quite the show opening. While using pre-recorded vocal samples as well as live-looping the textures Mesparrow creates are impressive. However, as can often be the case, the logistical implications of building layers in the live environment do cause the momentum to drop at times during the set. Closing with a of cover of Cole Porter’s ‘My Heart Belongs To Daddy’, Mesparrow skips from vulnerable chanteuse to a full on bluesy foot stomper and back, before closing her set by standing at the mic, swaying in and out of phase and repeating the song’s title like a skipping record.
While Mesparrow may have been a minimal affair, the same cannot be said for the Francois and The Atlas Mountains approach: with two synth players playing from the floor (the stage not being big enough to hold either them or their choreographed dance moves), two drummer/percussionists and Francois himself presiding over a hazey, woozy pop sound that suggests that both he and Dan Bajar have been sipping from the same cup. Elsewhere there are healthy helpings of lo-fi, afrobeat and the occasional percussive workout that sees Francois head out into the audience with his glittering microphone. So often language is held up as a barrier to ‘getting’ artists, but as Francois himself states from the stage: “Most of the words to the next song are in French. But don’t worry, they are all good words.” What really speaks volumes here is the quality of the music – while it may be his debut for Domino, E Volo Love is Francois’ fifth album, which has given him plenty of time to hone his knack for a melody.
By Ro Cemm.
Friday 27 January
Friday kicks off in much the same manner as the evening before, by heading down to the deepest underbelly of Brighton’s train station, to The Green Door Store. Awaiting us there are spritely Toulousain four-piece Sing Sing My Darling who are making a great job of warming up the evening’s crowd. Championing a brand of guitar led rowdy indie with a pop persuasion, the band power through a short but sweet set, announcing themselves to the UK scene as a colourful, vibrant and highly energetic live proposition. Although a very young band, there’s no lack of confidence and the enthusiasm emanating from the stage is contagious enough to get the early arrivals at the venue shuffling contentedly.
Next, it’s a quick sprint down the road to make sure that we arrive at the festival’s other venue, The Hope, in plenty of time to catch arguably the most hyped of all of the bands on the festival’s billing, Concrete Knives. Hailing from Caen and having spent their week in the UK impressing the likes of Steve Lamacq and crowds in London, Bristol and all along the south coast, the band are now charged with the responsibility of wooing a Friday night Brightonian crowd.
The hectic week has unfortunately taken its toll on vocalist Nicolas Delahaye’s throat, and although managing to convincingly make his way through the group’s set list, also very convincingly demonstrates the state of his shredded vocal chords during inter song chit-chat. Despite illness in the ranks however, the show is thoroughly enjoyable with the band’s highly charged live presence sweeping through the venue and menacing everyone in it’s way. Vocalist Morgane Colas enchants the crowd as the rest of the group throw every last ounce of remaining energy into the mix, ensuring that although sonically slightly blighted due to a heavy working week, the show is nothing less than excellent.
As Concrete Knives draw to a noisy and elated end, we hot-foot it back to The Green Door Store to catch the last couple of tracks from Phoebe Killdeer and The Short Straws. With a sound that would nestle itself somewhere between Juliette and the Licks and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the show is well and truly in full swing as we arrive. Inciting a constant stream of audience participation, combined with a fantastically rousing energy, the show is extremely lively and musically, it’s pretty damn good too. The live show adds a power and spark to the band’s songs that doesn’t necessarily translate upon a first listen of the album but which, on stage, proves to be riveting, evocative and exceedingly entertaining.
The final act of the evening comes courtesy of Paris’s Turzi who, for the next hour shall entertain the crowd by using his vast array of electronic knick-knacks and super-processed vocals to conjure up sweeping soundscapes and the best of very modern, very involving Parisian house music. The songs are intricate and carefully constructed with Turzi (aka Romain Turzi) concentrating solely on the production elements of his show. This doesn’t make for the most riveting of on-stage performances, but the music soaring from the PA is well worth the stationary presence on stage.
As Friday turns into Saturday, only one performance remains and that’s a closing show from the sumptuous Mélanie Pain of Nouvelle Vague. Taking place in the plush surroundings of the Duke of York’s cinema, Mélanie and her two piece band enchant a captivated audience with hushed folk melodies with adorable pop vocals, the chanteuse whispering sultry French musings to the sold out crowd. Bringing the festival ever so softly, ever so gently to a close, Mélanie has been a vital player in a festival that has succeeded in transposing some of the brightest Gallic talent from our nearest neighbours to the palettes of England’s south coast. Vive la France? Vive la musique française! Et à la prochaine édition!
By Francine Gorman