The weather gods disrupt an otherwise laid-back vibe at the 10th anniversary edition of the eco-conscious Paris event
Sometimes, the best planning, top budgeting and optimistic artistic endeavour coming together are as nought when nature intervenes. Pity then the unfortunate organisers of Paris’s 10th edition of We Love Green, where after festival and artists alike pulled together to provide an excitingly varied line-up in glorious parkland in as sustainable a way as possible, along came an utter deluge to render the second day impossible to complete.
But before all that, with gates opening in the golden hour of the evening, Thursday had all started so promisingly. The sun was shining, and stalls overflowing with products and ideas to take us into the age of the climate catastrophe with our eyes open and brains engaged were offering everything from a prototype Mini office to upcycled clothes. A solar farm was present to power us along, and bins were divided between recycling and composting. On a practical level, plentiful bars and toilets helped along a vibe that was relaxed and friendly. The day had been moved from Friday to accommodate Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, and while some other billed acts had sadly dropped away before the line-up was finalised, Gorillaz gave a masterclass in why they are one of this year’s must-see festival headliners right across Europe in this, their first show of their tour’s European leg.
If you were some way back from the stage and watching proceedings on the screens, the melding of video content with live was sometimes unnerving. The late Bobby Womack showed up for Stylo digitally, while his part was sung by Bootie Brown, who would return to take the reins of Dirty Harry. Other notable guests included a stage-stealing turn from Fatoumata Diawara on the quite lovely duet Désolé. Live favourite Cracker Island, finally to be released as a single, was preceded by a poetry reading by Ben Mendelssohn, while through it all Albarn variously held court in a pink baseball cap, tootled his melodica and jammed with all and sundry while looking delighted to be doing this thing he so obviously loves. For a band that began life with its musicians semi-invisible behind gauze, Albarn has well and truly re-embraced his own front man heritage from his Blur years. They’re the better for it – the set was an early and notable highlight.
Earlier in the day Jorja Smith was the biggest name in the tented second stage, and her music might better have been suited to the outdoors, for the enormous crowd wanting to see her spilled out of every side of the canvas at the start. Pity for her then that her set clashed with Gorillaz for 15 minutes or so, and that crowd dissipated accordingly. Moderat brought the clubbing crowd back for the latest set of the day, the various components of Modeselektor and Apparat combining to excellent and bouncy effect to showcase new album More D4ta, their first in five years. The union of France and Germany in a band felt like quite the European project to a citizen of a land cut loose from its own continent, as we danced alongside excitable Italians.
After having Friday off, the festival weekend opened to conflicting weather reports. All agreed thunder and lightning may happen, but optimists insisted it might pass to the north or the south and spare us. The festival’s Think Tank tent had opened today, offering a programme of ecologically-minded discussions from spoken-word panels before a live audience, with journalists, explorers and comedians amongst the line-up. Crucially, the venue increased the possible undercover space, should the weather decide to irritate.
The day’s music programme, set to be headlined by local heroes Phoenix and Canadian feel-gooders Caribou, felt light, if eclectic, at least to begin with. Heading to the mirrorball-accessorised Lalaland stage, we discover that an expected Floating Points show turns out to be a DJ set, though the lively audience don’t seem to mind. Ghanaian singer Amaarae gives a good account of her 2020 debut album The Angel You Don’t Know on the main stage, followed by Koffee in the same space. The Jamaican star-in-the-ascendant has a pleasingly summery reggae vibe, quite in defiance of the gathering gloom above. Sadly it starts raining almost as soon as she appears; threatened thunder becomes actual as jackets go on and brollies go up.
Repairing in search of cover to the tented second stage for Marseille rapper Sch, we discover much of the festival has the same idea, and there’s no room at this particular inn – where inexplicably the disabled access rostra are placed outside of the tent, exposed to the elements. Auto-tuned braggadocio from the ponytailed man on stage not being our thing, we decide to find food before the heavens really open, and get under a covered seated area just as they do. What follows is the definition of a biblical monsoon. Winds turn the rain horizontal and the fields to ponds and mud, and create impromptu rivers. A slight lull allows us out to see whether Belgian singer Selah Sue has somehow braved it all to show up on the main stage, but instead we find stage hands armed with mega brooms, frantically pushing plumes of water off of the performance space as lightning crackles all about. In front has materialised a lake.
Soon the whole site is too waterlogged for equipment and artists to move back and forth, and the festival is, inevitably, suspended. Tens of thousands of people wonder what this in practise means; should we wait and see if the rain abates? Fans scurry drippingly for whatever shelter could be found – under tables, in some cases – and impromptu rivers gush hither and thither.
With little chance of the site drying sufficiently fast to resume proceedings, or even of the rain abating, less than half an hour later the inevitable call came to axe the remaining programme on the instructions of the Mayor of Paris. Getting off the site subsequently proved to be some kind of trial, with traffic at a standstill, buses diverted away and the rain still sheeting down. Waterproofs are no longer waterproof, and long trudges through mud to the nearest packed Metro station were not what either the organisers or ticket holders had in mind.
The festival was quick to communicate that Saturday tickets would be refunded and multi-day passes would receive 33% or 50% of their money back too; there was no blame on their part here, and they did what they could with an impossible situation.
Conditions on the ground were variable on our arrival for the final and busiest day. Straw in some quantity has been laid down in places, but curiously elsewhere there was nothing to prevent scarcely-dried mud from again turning to quagmire. Yet after a light bill on Thursday and a cancelled Saturday, today had the first proper clashes of the festival. With the weather much more promising, optimism abounded that we would at last be able to focus on the music. Thus it proved.
Half Pipe define their music as “psychedelic shit” which, we were pleased to discover, does them no justice at all. A Bobby Gillespie type having a John Lennon fever dream fronts the French act, flanked variously by a garlanded topless thrash guitarist who chases him round the stage, and a parping saxophonist who muses away happily in his own brassy world. They play every style they can like they’re a high school band yet to settle on their direction. The resulting varied milieu is by turns trippily blissful and rawkily punchy, and not at all predictable. They’re a lot of fun, if not yet the finished product.
In the second stage tent, Ibeyi twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz ply their African vocal harmonies before backing drums and synths. Their new album out this year, Spell 31, was again produced by XL Recordings overlord Richard Russell, a man adept at melding disparate sounds to make something new. It’s a pity that their collaboration with Jorja Smith, who was here on Thursday, couldn’t feature her on stage, but this melting pot provided both great light and shade with a mix of both music to dance to and piano led balladry with big vocals. A highlight, for sure.
Over on the main stage, London’s Greentea Peng was dressed in green at We Love Green, which was serendipitous at least. Is she the most We Love Green artist there ever was, she wanted to know? Her jazzy-adjacent sound found on last year’s well received debut album Man Made, with a bassist alternating twixt electric and upright, is custom-built for a laid-back Sunday afternoon in a field.
And then, do you like UK indie, or UK soul? Your decision will take you either to the main stage for downtempo Domino signings Wet Leg, who make “sad music for party people, and party music for sad people”, or the second stage tent for big lunged Mercury winner Arlo Parks. Both acts reached the top of the UK album chart with their debut albums, Wet Leg and Collapsed In Sunbeams respectively, and choosing between them proves to be tough. More clashes are afoot with home girl main stager Angèle up against home girl second stager Juliet Armanet, the latter of whose pop chops turn out to be one of the weekend’s melodic highlights. In amongst it all at a small stage in a far corner, Slowthai is gradually disrobing. His top’s off before the first track gets underway, and he ends up in just a pair of white trunks as he mimes along to an outro of Barbie Girl for what will be one of the festival’s unlikeliest yet most memorable moments.
In the second stage tent, Northern Ireland’s Bicep bring the neon visuals to go with their house music reboot and confirm they’re the direct descendants of The Chemical Brothers and Orbital, with a set long enough to immerse in. The pair don’t communicate with the crowd, or even appear other than as silhouettes, preferring their music to do the talking. Chart bothering duo Disclosure pack in a fired-up crowd directly after, while French rap main stage headliners PNL polish off what is, in marked contrast to the day before, a final day that finds We Love Green fulfilling its promise in spades. For next year, just two suggestions: courtesy buses from the nearest Metro stations, and s’il vous plait, pas de pluie.