Weather Festival 2015: In Review

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Nic Tuohey and James Manning venture to Paris to see if Weather Festival is worth all the hype.

Weather Festival was a proud French affair and in many respects a celebration of the country’s electronic music and its resurgent techno scene. There was much love for the genre’s legends, like Jeff Mills –  whose run of Purpose Maker Live Series 12”s recorded at Rex Club Paris in the ‘90s is something of legend – and The Wizard didn’t play “The Bells” once, but twice. The time we heard it I remember the phrase ‘great reprise’ being shouted in my ear, and Mills’s closing set on the Friday night assured everyone just exactly why after all these years he remains unchallenged on the 909.

Of the headline DJs playing Weather, be it internationals DVS1 and Rødhåd to Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann, to locals François X, DJ Deep and Parisian quad Unforeseen Alliance, it’s clear Mills’s music is a direct influence. And the nihilistic narrative of his selections, lightning speed mixes and mountainous transitions were on point as the metallic hiss and crack of his signature sound rode the groove all the way into the Saturday morning sunrise.

Further afield Robert Hood played the Scéne Été (Summer stage) under his Floorplan alias in what Mixmag have billed a ‘religious techno set’ – the perfect setting to hear the howling “Never Grow Old” (or “We Magnify His Name” from the same record housing that Hood hit “Baby Baby”). We only caught a glimpse of Hood knocking out his gospel beats from afar on our way to see In Aeternum Vale, a Juno Plus favourite and loveable French character who’s garnered new support from an adoring second following since Minimal Wave began delving into his rich archive.

Brice Robert PhotographeLaurent Prot was enthusiastic as always, jamming his arsenal of modular machines like a big kid making a pleasant racket with pots and pans, and at one stage he pulled up a module from his Eurorack to thrash in a similar vein to what a star spangled Jimmy Hendrix would do with his guitar.

We were lucky to briefly meet Laurent in the spacious media area (during one of the few attempts to be noticed by the busy bar staff) and a conversation we had about food (or was it cuisine) help set up an analogy that he was going to deep fry the crowd. It was close enough. In Aeternum Vale played Scéne Modular (Modular Stage) on the Saturday which hosted Steevio and SuzyBee’s massive rack of electronics lugged all the way from northern Wales (the more reduced sections of their linear set was what caught our ear) and London’s Modular Alliance drifted from experimental sound design to dancey grooves.

A flat cap wearing Jamie Roberts, aka Blawan, presented his new solo modular show Ternescan Chambers, and the energies of his earlier sound heard in productions like “Peaches”, “Scarborough Harbour” and “What You Do With What You Have” have made way for a lean and muscular build of heavy weight, matured analogue techno. Earlier this year Surgeon told Juno Plus it was Roberts that, “really helped me start on that path of building a modular synthesiser,” and if an obviously mechanically informed Blawan was nervous manning his rig of machines, it was masked by the stern look of concentration on his face that would look up every now and then to take in the crowd’s reaction to a new kick drum thump or synth line fired into the green fields of Bois de Vincennes.

This year’s Weather Festival moved from the tarmac of Le Bourget Airport to a luscious national park, and beautiful watercolour-lit skies and flashes of fireflies added an extra degree of Parisian magic to the crepuscular hours of the festival. None were more enchanting than walking past Château of Vincennes, a 14th and 17th century royal castle which sat en route to the festival’s grounds. On the Friday, Paris was a magnificent 33 degrees however a sheer drop in temperature at nightfall meant we were not the only ones who misjudged how cold it would get without sun.

Weather Festival’s weekend programming officially begun at 6PM on the Friday and we timed our arrival to catch the end of Herbert’s live show to the extroducion of his live band, announced in a way you’d imagine Billy Joel thanking a French audience with the obligatory ‘merci Paris’. Attracting the largest crowd after this was Moritz von Oswald and Juan Atkins performing as Borderland, who alongside Peter Van Hoesen’s live set on Scene Hiver (Winter Stage), provided the best fidelity all weekend. Borderland’s engineered sounds were as crisp as what you could hope for, and the similarity between von Oswald and Florian Schneider of Kraftwerk was uncanny.

Across the way from Borderland playing Scéne Automne (Autumn Stage), MCDE and Marcellus Pittmann shared a back-to-back set of woofing disco and house anthems, and skipping vinyl encouraged both jeers and woots from Scéne Été, a stage decked out with palms trees and red lighting. Pittmann’s selection of Model 500’s “No UFOs” received a huge response and it was rather symbolic seeing as Juan Atkins, not too far away, was simultaneously straddling his keyboard performing with Borderland.

Brice Robert Photographe

With only jeans and t-shirt (and later the miraculous acquisition of a cap, gold jacket, and pink bandana worn as a scarf by a local who we’re happy to now call a friend) the only way that made sense to keep warm was to venture deep into the crowd Ben Klock had amassed and dance like we were on the blocks in Berghain. After feeling comfortably warm it was Yves De Mey’s DJ set that lured us away from the cutting techno Klock strafed Paris with and over at the Ambient Stage (aka Saturday’s Modular Stage) the tall Belgian delivered an impassioned set worth the hours of shivering we endured that was made all the more bearable by warming swigs of Glenfiddich.

Opening the Ambient Stage was Cio D’Or who let flow a mellow three-hour session of sound design that would occasionally drift in and out of purist dub techno. It was a delight to hear a personal AnD favourite, “Molecular Deconstruction”, from their debut Inner Surface Music 12”, alongside an unfathomably deep Quantec production from his Echochrd cache. However, Yves De Mey – a producer that’s fast becoming a favourite DJ and all round music dude here at Juno Plus – expertly crafted selections from vinyl and CDs to create a coherent image of music in the same way someone would successfully arranging a picture on one of those slider puzzles. It was during the raw, early hours of Saturday morning, enjoyed with a small crowd, that we had our single ‘wow’ experience of the festival which was around the time he played Bee Mask’s untouchable “Vaporware”. Listen to his entire set here.

The sound at Weather Festival, overall, unfortunately lacked a hit to the stomach we all desire from big systems, a topic often brought up in the conversations we had with people. Xosar’s set on Scéne Automne unfortunately suffered most from this, which did take some of the thrill away from watching her perform to what was likely one of the bigger crowds she’s played. Thankfully she did nestle “Sail 2 Elderon” from her Let Go album (an LP Juno Plus highly recommends) into her set, a track we were hoping to hear, and following that we made our way to Scene Hiver (Winter Stage) for Ron Morelli, Low Jack and Vatican Shadow’s joint live show.

The three provided Friday night with one of its most dynamic highlights, and the low down, guttural analogue punk so fondly sought by fans of L.I.E.S. was ever present. Morelli and Low Jack were dressed in white, manning their machines while Dominick Fernow, the man in black, gallivanted around the stage as he so usually does shining his flashlight into the crowd, muttering at them, antagonising them – screaming. When he wasn’t pointing his bottle of Kronenbourg at people or bashing himself on the head he howled profanities into a mic made indiscernible through layers of delay, feedback and distortion. Watch a snippet of the climatic end to their set.

To say Lil Louis threw us a curveball would be an understatement. The Chicago house legend threw down a set of stripped back drum tracks and worked Scéne Été’s subs more than anyone else who played that stage. For some time the self affirming ‘Godfather of house’ managed to turn a football pitch-sized space into something that felt more like a club before bringing it back to festival mode with a thumping rendition of Plastikman’s “Spastik”. This was the final moment of the festival visually documented on an iPhone before it died, and it was great.

Mills set up-590

With communication now at its most limited, the intensity surrounding Weather Festival was palpable, and the vibe was electric. Adding extra dimension to this feeling was RPR Soundsystem, aka Romanians Rhadoo, Petre Inspirescu and Raresh, and they closed Scéne Printemps (Spring Stage) by ushering in the daylight on their DJR400 rotary mixer with a professional charge of suitably light, but chest-pumping, minimal house grooves that were perfectly suited to a peak time after hours crowd that would still be dancing now had the festival not stopped (us included).

RPR’s backstage posse was only second to the 40-50-large crew Villalobos (who could be seen in a champagne happy state watching RPR) had repping his set on Scéne Automne. In the half-hour we saw (in the company of our friend who gifted us his gold jacket) a consensus went around that Villalobos only played three tracks, a testament to his penchant for quirky epics as seen on most of his tremendous discography.

Weather Festival was buzzing with media, and a conversation I had with someone suggested to me there was a contingent between 50 to 100 international journalists covering the event in various ways (Juno Plus providing two of them), and it seems relative watching the hive of activity surrounding the festival proliferate online. For France, this feels like a good thing, and hopefully such attention will help propel the interest and rise of French music and a specific crop of artists like Kosme, Antigone, Zadig and François X, to lesser known acts like S3A, Ben Vedren, Pit Spector, Cabanne, Voiron and Seuil.

With the hours of music played at Weather Festival now online, the event is a sign of the times that suggests you don’t need to make the trip to Paris (or spend six Euros on a beer) in order to see and hear what happened. Of course nothing actually tops being there, and experiencing what was an incredible three days of sunshine, clear skies and friendly Parisian atmosphere, which Nina Kraviz brought to an end with her curtain call of spiralling drum machine techno and trademark pirouettes.

Nic Tuohey & James Manning

Images courtesy of Jacob Khrist and Brice Robert