Worldwide Festival, Sete, July 2015 – A personal journey
There is a set of restaurants beside the quay in Sete, a small fishing village just west of the old Roman city, Montpellier. Each year my friends, led by Dan, and I meet at one of the restaurants for a reunion before the music starts at the Worldwide Festival. The festival is headed by radio and DJ stalwart, Gilles Peterson, and expertly organised by Freshly Cut, a team of DJs from Montpellier.
Quite simply the festival is brilliant. The music is an eclectic mix from Afro to Thai, from disco to house, to club classics to stuff you’ve never heard of. More than the music, the festival, without wishing to resort to a cliché, is unique. A friendly vibe prevails and long after the last beat is dropped, a sense of the festival continues. There is even a Facebook group for the many festival goers suffering from withdrawal symptoms once the party is over. This year at the reunion we dine on freshly caught sea bass, oysters and drink volumes of Picpoul. Suffice to say the food is good and very cheap in Sete, reflected in the quality of its quayside restaurants.
Bistrot du Port though is maybe a mark better than its competitors, more than likely as it holds good memories as the venue where we go to every year. I arrive early the next evening and order a bottle of Picpoul, I know I am on safe ground with the wine selection. The same waiter, who has served me for four of the last five years, approaches. His initial French cool breaks after two seconds, “Ah I remember you, welcome back.” Dan and the crew arrive a few minutes later and we have a wonderful dinner. The same waiter, in his late forties of North African origin, his relaxed posture typical of a laidback fishing village, greets Dan “Ah I remember you, welcome back.”
Where is Dan?
Laetitia Sadier’s soft, melancholic sound hangs in the big Languedoc-Roussillon sky.The music is beautiful. My heart skips a beat, and for a brief moment I’m transported from the cliff top amphitheatre, the sea as a backdrop, to somewhere else, all the while being serenaded by Sadier’s trio. I look at my phone. Dan – and part of The Secret List team – should be here. “Just finishing dinner…is it all running to time?”
Sadier holds court, very much giving off rock star cool to the hundred odd members of the audience who have made the 7.30pm start. By the 8.15pm end of the set, there are several hundred people moving their heads and their feet. This is the start of what will be a truly memorable evening.
If Sadier’s set reflects the excellence of the music at the Worldwide Festival, the crowd is an example of another stand out point of the event. The atmosphere is friendly people smile at each other, friends joke and laugh loudly and it is easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Copies of The Secret List Paris are passed around a trio of Britain’s finest music ambassadors – Thris Tian (Boiler Room), Alex Patchwork (Ninja Tune) and Earl Zinger aka Rob Gallagher. Alex champions the book and contact details are shared. As new friends are made, old acquaintances are reignited. “I remember you, we had a conversation about the Great West Road two years ago.” Rob Gallagher then passes me a poster for his new project. The poster miraculously makes its way intact from the festival to London before onwards to Hanoi. Still no Dan.
Ed Motta, looking like a funky professor, strolls on stage to a packed amphitheatre, the Sete skyline by now has a curious purple tinge. School’s in. And right on time Dan appears. Motta eclipses Sadier’s brilliant opening set, with smooth sweet soul and sparks of bossa, jazz and funk. Ed Motta can shake a groove. He’s a brilliant entertainer – a raconteur, comedian – and two seemingly impromptu duets with Cuban singer Daymé Arocena and vibes veteran Roy Ayers highlight his versatility as a performer. It turns out the guest slots are not quite as spontaneous as we first thought; at least one was organised beforehand, but it is a genuinely touching moment when Daymé confesses a teenage crush on Motta. Ayers’ guest slot is especially good, his wonderful performance is even better than his Monday headline gig (the lesser known ‘Evolution’ was a highlight at the Monday gig).
Giving the audience no time to catch its breath, Thailand’s famed Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band causes a crowd surge. The enchanting eastern guitar intro moves to a funky groove, and the packed auditorium rises to its feet. The band are excellent and within a few minutes, there is a stage invasion of sorts as the crowd dance a few centimetres from the band. This is Sete, and the security guards do not stop the crowd, they join in the dance.
Japan Night – Didn’t I Used To Know You?
It’s just gone past midnight, and there are over a thousand up-for-it ravers ready to throw their hands in the air. The venue’s lasers cast a sci-fi like backdrop against the nocturnal sea. I’m standing behind Daisuke Tanabe and Yosi Harikawa, and their calm silhouettes perfectly frame the backdrop. I’ve followed Daisuke since he started out ten years ago when he was living in London. Many of the crowd are expecting Daisuke to begin with a big dance tune to start the mayhem. Instead Daisuke and Yosi give the crowd a field recording, produced earlier in the day, of the Sete sounds of seagulls, jousting along the canal and the fisherman’s market. The crowd are confused. Intertwined with the sounds are ambient washes, sharp digital beats and other technology trickery. It takes DJs of some experience to lose and then win back their crowd with their first tune, yet Daisuke and Yosi are barely in their twenties. For the next hour and a half, I and most others, are dazzled by Yosi’s ambient, digital set punctuated by Daisuke’s drum ‘n’ bass excursion. The crowd roars for more.
Similarly when DJ dons Toshio Matsuura and Shuya Okino take to the stage, dressed in traditional Japanese silk gowns, there is an expectation that a disco classic or the like will be dropped. Instead the ever-confident duo play Fumio Itabashi’s ‘Watarase’, a leftfield jazz stormer. Again the crowd is initially confused and then starts dancing. Matsuura, who I first saw as part of the legendary Japanese group United Future Organisation at the Subterrania, London in 1991, and Okino do not disappoint. The duo are magnificent in their selection, from killer jazz to disco edits to heavy electro.
I Found Her Red Coat, I Found Her
Colin, Reema and Mohsen are sitting at the top right hand corner of the amphitheatre. Every year it’s the same, in the thousand+ capacity venue I can find the trio within minutes. Each year they sit in more or less the same place. The ‘right hand crew’ are my second group of friends at the festival. Colin’s a school friend, who used to live on the next road to me, but we lost touch after school. Two decades later we met at Notting Hill Carnival, and the following year at Sete. Reema his wife, was born a few miles from us in west London. Mohsen is a university friend of Reema’s, massive in muscle and a very funny guy. Despite me living an international life, it’s great to travel to faraway places- I live in Hanoi – and meet people from your locale. It takes five seconds from when we all meet for the west London accent to permeate. It’s also a good example of how sometimes Sete feels like London by the sea. But overall the town warmly welcomes and accommodates all festival goers and French vocab not used since school is welcomed and understood. Paris it ain’t.
James Blake is the biggest electronic artist in the world and his early evening set on the Tuesday is brilliant. His haunting, eerie vocals delicately emanate both strength and fragility, warmth and coldness.’The Wilhelm Screm’ perfectly encapsulates this, blanketed by acoustic drums and stark keyboards. Crowd favourite, ‘CMYK’, is especially good and the audience quickly rises to its feet after the opening bars. Colin, Reema, Mohsen and I scream the chorus “I found her, her red coat, I found her’. It seems about a thousand other people join us.
There are numerous other highlights during the week: the sun-drenched beach crowd with their hands in the air when Benji B drops Jamie Principle’s ‘Your Love’; the disco and Brazilian set from Floating Points; discovering Callis in Wonderland; Loefah’s heavy dub/dubstep set; and the incredibly clear sound system at the amphitheatre.
Harvey Runs the Voodoo Down – The Myth and Legend of DJ Harvey
DJ Harvey is a legend. A legend built mainly on an immense talent as a DJ and producer. When Harvey performs, a musical earthquake occurs. And the days before Harvey performs, the Internet is fuelled by rumours, gossip and speculation. What will Harvey play? Will he go cosmic disco or soft rock?
The rest of the legend surrounding Harvey is based on myth. The intense world surrounding Mr Harvey Bassett was built on a well-documented ten year exodus to the US, where amongst the Los Angeles skate community he built a cult following. But before his move to the US, Harvey was already an established name in the UK. When stories began to emerge from California of all night shebangs and sun-kissed sets mixing yacht rock and celestial disco, it added to his reputation. After twelve years when his visa issue was sorted and he was able to travel back to the UK, his legend – talent and myth – was cemented.
Like any good mythical fable, I start the evening with a trip to the hills. We – Colin, Reema, Mohsen and I – travel the winding roads in a hatchback with Mohsen navigating the narrow roads to a blasting soundtrack of eighties hip hop. I ask for Run DMC, we get KRS One. As we shout “That’s the sound of da police”, we arrive at a villa. Dan has gone all Goldfinger. The Bond-like pad boasts an outdoor swimming plan overlooking Sete. We sip cold rosé and meet some newly arrived visitors – a photographer, a location film manager etc. At around midnight we head back to town to St.Christ lighthouse. Lil’ Louis Vega is on, and though playing some choice latin house numbers, he is a little underwhelming. The wait until 3am for Harvey will be a long one.
At just after three, the DJ emerges. There is an impressive laser display and a Languedoc-Roussillon flag waves proudly above. Gilles Peterson introduces Harvey and then…silence. Harvey looks nervous and slightly agitated. And then after a few seconds…boom! What follows is an immense musical experience. There is an intense percussive sound, a hint of Africa coupled with the house sounds of Chicago and Berlin. I and the few thousand ravers around me are immediately ‘in the mix’. The tribal beat dominates Harvey’s playing, with some melodic respite with some deep keys. I am standing near the front but within a few minutes it gets too busy. I find a sweet spot at the back, centre stage. Again the festival’s sound set up, designed and supplied by Funktion One, comes through. The music is loud, clear, heavy and subtle. After three tracks though I drop the hi-fi geek and as cliché would allow I throw my hands in the air.
After ninety brilliant minutes, I walk back to my hotel a few minutes before 5am, along the quayside past the Bistrot du Port, with Harvey’s set playing in the background. I am on a massive high and am grateful for the reason I am here. Every year I get an e-mail from Gilles Peterson offering me a free ticket. Each year I leave the festival on a high. I first got into Gilles Peterson in 1986 when my mate Andrew Dixon played me a tape of Peterson’s ‘Mad on Jazz’ radio show on Radio London. I’ve followed Peterson through Jazz FM, Kiss FM and when he did a low key, Sunday evening trial run on Radio 1 in 1998. When I wrote for Blues and Soul magazine I wrote a review for the Ghost Dog soundtrack and sent him a cryptic message. He answered the call and we were a musical family united, the professor and the student, the mentor and the mentee, Miles Davis to Wayne Shorter.
I bump into Gilles earlier in the week at the famed Wednesday session. Each year however busy he is, he always finds the time for a proper catch up. “What a festival! Maybe the best ever.”
I remember you. Welcome back