Since 2006 Europavox has taken place in Clermont Ferrand, in the volcanic region of France. Based around the Polydome, a large multi venue complex situated on Rue Serge Gainsbourg.
The festival is the brainchild of François Missonnier, originally from the region, but presently based in Paris where he is director of Rock en Seine festival. He is ably assisted in his mission by François Audigier and Didier Veillault.
The Europavox project began as a double challenge: firstly to create the first music festival in the centre of France in the Auvergne region and secondly to make the first public festival dedicated to promoting European musical diversity. Missonnier explains ““Unity in Diversity” is the most beautiful slogan in the world in my opinion…we aren’t here to talk about taxes and politics, but we wanted to present that idea with music and bands from all over the continent.” Each year around 50 bands are booked, with the aim of having at least 20 different nationalities (the 2016 edition had 21). In order to attract those artist they set out to contact venues and journalists in each country to allow them to put forward acts that connect with their audiences at home: a sort of emerging talent version of Eurovision if you will. The result is a set of artists across many genres coming together to showcase their art for an engaged and curious audience.
With the largest venue having a 6,000 capacity it is inevitable the festival ‘headliners’ are often French or British with enough draw to bring in the crowds. Yet this allows the presentation of acts that would not normally be able to play to that size of crowd outside their home country. Over 80% of the acts are from outside of France, and many of them haven’t played the country before. It’s clearly a formula that works with the festival drawing over 40,000 attendees across the 4 days of shows.
Things kick off on Thursday evening with an all ticketed event. This year, although delayed somewhat by the epic flooding that hit France at the beginning of the month, the duty fell to Sheffield’s Last Of The Shadow Puppets. On a sticky, overcast evening the crowd was a mixture of local hipsters, curious youth and local dignitaries drawn together to celebrate the arrival of the festival in town. While Alex Turner and Miles Kane will also be playing the much larger Rock En Seine later in the year, and countless other main stages at festivals all across Europe, the show in Clermont Ferrand will undoubtedly be the smallest and most intimate show on their current run of dates- an unlikely stop on the touring schedule for a band of their size. Clad in what appeared to be a powder-blue suit, the bequiffed Alex Turner swaggered across the stage, caressing the microphone stand and looking for all the world like a rockabilly matador, each swing of the hips greeted with a swoon or a scream from the excitable crowd.
The festival proper begins on Friday however, with the largest, big ticketed acts showcasing in the Forum Polydome, a 6000 capacity venue with a booming sound system and the capacity to handle the big production of some of France’s biggest touring acts. The smaller venues play host to the less mainstream acts on show and there are usually at least 2 stages at the festival that provide free shows late into the night. Each year the festival also includes a Red Line Band, who play numerous mini shows around the festival each day, usually with a minimal set up- a series of organised guerrilla gigs.
Friday saw a focus on Electro music in the Forum,. Slovenia’s Gramatik headlined, mixing Ed Banger influenced EDM and electro-swing to the delight of a crowd that had already been put in the party mood by the throwback disco house and electro soul of France’s own Breakbot. Saturday saw a headlining set from critically acclaimed French hip-hop artist (and Ed Shereran collaborator) Nekfeu, formally of S-Crew. Support from the Edith Piaf sampling Caribbean Dandee who turned the crowd into a sea of waving hands with their theatrical mixture of fast raps and dancehall. The final night was headlined by Louise Attaque, a chart topping French act with an almost 20 year history, who reunited after 11 years and packed the vast Forum well in advance of their show. A serious and grandiose prospect, musically the band build around the violin and euphorically building choruses. The band take their name from a track by The Violent Femmes , and the influence in their earlier work particularly is plain to see. Indeed, Gordon Gano produced the band’s first two records.
All based in one complex on Rue Serge Gainsbourg, there is no danger of missing out on any of the shows. While 40,000 people visit the site during the festival, it never feels overcrowded, and with pop up shows and events going on there is always something to do or see. The small food area features a selection of local delicacies, including a wine bar specialising in wines and cheeses of the region. Indeed over the weekend there are people walking around with samples of the aforementioned fromage, as well as an area explaining the cheese making process. In honour of the European Football Championships there was also a table football tournament taking place.
The festival is also keen to involve the local community and as part of this initiative worked with primary school art teachers to create an exhibition based on artists press shots. The technique produced some amazing results which were displayed in the radio tent and had many seriously and not so seriously suggesting that the kids should be asked to produce the programme for next years festival.
Based in the Auvergne region there are a number of options if you wish to attend the festival. Trains run from Paris (although due to flooding this year that became something of an adventure), Clermont also has an airport and is around 160km west of Lyon.
Located in the heart of France’s Volcanic region just 25 minutes from the commune of Volvic and the Puy de Dôme, much of the tourism is based on the surrounding mountains. Volcania, the Volcanic museum and theme park takes you through the regions history (and not quite history) via the medium of 3D films, vibrating seats, heat lamps and the occasional water cannon, providing an immersive experience that isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart (or mildly hungover). The spectacular golden volcanic cone that makes up the centre of the museum is worth the admission price alone.
The city of Clermont Ferrand itself is dominated by the spectacular gothic Cathedral, hewn out of volcanic rock it dates from 1248. The twin black towers dominate the skyline, standing at 108 metres high. The narrow lanes and walkways of the old town that surround it have a laid back feel and are full of antique and clothes shops, as well as numerous coffee shops. It is in this area you will find Spliff records, which deals in new and old vinyl and Ne Rein Fare, the home to Kutu Folk Records, who have released lovingly hand-stitched records by Alex G, A Grave With No Name, Evening Hymns and The Delano Orchestra amongst others. Alexandre Rochon, the shop and label owner explains the name Ne Rein Fare is a tribute to taking the time to do nothing at all. As a venue for that pursuit, the winding lanes of Clermont Ferrand are ideal.
Fans of French street artist Invader should also be on the look out throughout the city, as it has been the site of 3 invasions and a total of 39 invaders can be found on the walls around the city. Most recently he created a 10 foot high tiled depiction of Serge Gainsbourg on the street that shares the artists name, an invader that scores the maximum 100 points for collectors.
Hailing from Belgrade, Repetitor were a part of the Nova Srpska Scena or New Serbian Scene that emerged in the mid 2000s. Having formed in 2006 the trio have become a formidable live proposition. Built on the pulverising drums of Milena Milutnovic and the fluid, insistent bass playing of Ana Marija Cupin their set crackles with an electric energy, vital and almost overwhelming. Each riff and squall of feedback hits as large as Big Black or Shellac, the chaos and energy kept masterfully under control, switching from walls of noise to hushed riffs in the blink of an eye. Enabled by his rock solid rhythm section lead vocalist and guitarist Boris Vlastelica careens around the stage and often into the crowd, slowly intoning his lyrics before charging headlong into another wall of noise. The energy and passion on display transcends any linguistic or cultural barriers- the message in the music clear for anyone who witnessed it.
Like Repetitor, the fantastically named Have You Ever Seen The Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS?? succeed in uniting the free outdoor stage of the festival. Employing insistent low slung bass lines to propel things forward, the band ditch the guitars and replace them with charging synth. Imagine Courtney Love covering Plastic Bertrand’s Ça Plane Pour Moi and you have a pretty good insight into the bands modus operandi. HYESTJFAV? combine the sound and energy of 60s garage rock and girl groups with a real sense of joyful abandon. There’s plenty of gang vocals, na-na-na-na choruses and a couple of implied whoa-oh-oh’s added in by the crowd for good measure. They even find the time to dedicate a song to that must surely be Clermont Ferrand’s leading Iggy Pop impersonator.
Another of Europavox’s free shows, Barcelona based Svper (formerly Pegasvs) are a part Argentinian part Spanish duo who together have spent much of the last 4 years crafting a fine line in mind expanding, euphoric kraut-pop. Drenched in blue and red lights, producer Sergio Perez slowly and methodically sets about creating a finely textured, propulsive synth background for Lucianna Della Villa’s hushed vocal delivery. Before Svper the pair were involved in a psych-prog outfit, and in the lull’s in the set they allow things to get a little spacey with synths burbling, swooping and echoing before the turbo charged beats kick in again, blending in soaring pop melodies, spiralling ever onwards and driving things forward to a dizzying climax.
If one person could sum up the ideas of Europavox, it could well be Olivier Heim. Born in the US, to Dutch parents, Heim returned to Europe and set up camp in Luxembourg. He then decamped to Copenhagen before finally settling down (for now) in Poland. Heim’s set at Petite Coopé is full of hazily melancholic guitar pop songs. Taking the 80s pop music of his childhood and passing it through a sad-pop filter with shimmering guitars and occasional synth lines Heim and his compatriots invite the audience to get lost in these dreamlike and weary pop nuggets, if only for a few short minutes..
Zagreb’s Žen create an immersive audio-visual experience with their finely tuned blend of cinematic post-rock, shoegaze and math-rock. Traveling with their own VJ Tanja Minarik the trio generate heavy melodic waves that wash over the audience. Tightly controlled surges of noise blend with gentle subdued passages before culminating in a series of noisy crescendos. With a powerful, strident sound that has the potential to fill rooms the size of Petite Coopé many times over it is little wonder they are already garnering a loyal following in the Baltic States, Austria and Germany. If they continue to develop their sound further, it may not be too long until the rest of Europe falls under their spell.
Compact, easy to get around and with a wealth of new talent from all over Europe to discover, Europavox is a refreshingly hype free environment in which to enjoy the discovery of new music. While not every selection at the festival seemed ready to be placed into unfamiliar surroundings, an open mind and open ears are all that is required to make the most of this pan-European musical celebration.
2017 will also see the expansion of the Europavox project. Just a few weeks before this years edition the organisers received EU funding to continue the project in 6 additional countries, partnering with festivals and venues in Italy, Lithuania, Austria, Belgium, Greece and Croatia to present Europavox shows and events across Europe.
Europavox serves as a timely reminder that Europe isn’t just for politicians, taxes, corporations and lobbyists but for people too. The creation of an opportunity for people across the continent to join together to laugh, dance, sing and play is something that is worth celebrating, and the cause of Unity in Diversity is one to cherish. Hopefully we will be back with them again next year to continue the celebrations.