So Frenchy So Chic was a mixed bag at Werribee Park this year.
Rain. Hail. Shine. Throw in bushfires and flash flooding.
In the last few days, it seemed that everything bar a plague of locusts was forecast to dampen Francophiles’ annual day of soaking up live music from France’s rising stars. But Melbourne’s fickle weather gods once again harbour a soft spot for SFSC: against all gloomy predictions, it is another idyllic summer’s day in the grounds of Werribee Park.
Now in its fourth year, Cartell Music nail SFSC’s music programming to the following routine: sit down to lunch with a band known for folksy ballads and laidback tunes, wash it down with the melodies of a sultry chanteuse, then pump up the tempo with the dance-inducing rhythms of performers with discernible ethnic influences that mirror the melting pot of Paris. To finish, feature an alternative, indie-inspired band with loads of charisma and tracks that are easy to sing along to. This year, however, the line-up of artists produces mixed results.
First up, Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains, as their geographical name suggests, seek to convey the cultural influence of northwestern Africa in their lightly sparkling, indie-pop numbers. Boasting two percussion sets – one featuring the conga drum and a large gourd – the British/French-born band reimagine songs sourced from countries such as Mali and Ethiopia. La Vérité and Les Plus Beaux, their most accessible dance tracks, are noticeably brighter in the flesh than their album versions.
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Frontman Frànçois Marry even admirably covers Tala Al Badru Alayna, a traditional song from Morocco that welcomes the prophet, in Arabic. One bold young man has us obliquely entranced. Dancing barefoot in an open robe, drawstring shorts and with a long silk scarf wrapped around his head, he gleefully answers Marry’s open invitation to the audience to play keyboards on the two-chord Tour De France.
Before introducing Emilie Simon, an event organiser requests an observation of a minute’s silence for the victims of the Charlie Hedbo attack in Paris. A large “Je suis Charlie” board set up near the bar is already half covered in scribbled messages. Simon, once a triple j darling, embodies the role of paradoxical, tomboyish ingénue with relish – her lilting, girlish voice skims over electronic-fuelled compositions to produce an infectious, hip-swaying vibe, especially in Fleur De Saison, Quand Vient Le Jour and Désert. “We are all very, very, very sad but today… I‘d like to dedicate this song to freedom, creativity, love, peace and joy!” she exclaims – alluding to the aforementioned events in her home country – before launching into Rainbow.
Midway through her set, she slips on a leather sleeve encrusted with turn dials, wires and buttons and remotely manipulates sounds on cue to add yet another layer of texture. Such subtle touches can get lost in an open air festival and there are stretches of monotony when beats are set on long loops. Simon’s enthusiasm with experimental gadgets also risks resembling novelty rather than the unifying element in her musical landscape when she uses too many of them in a short timeframe. However, the crowd appear completely oblivious and appreciative of her efforts. Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains’ spontaneous guest keyboard player from earlier now proffers Simon a sunflower.
When this same gent appears onstage as part of La Femme moments later, we realise the joke is on us: ‘Scarf Guy’ is actually Marlon Magnée, co-founder of the psyche-punk rock band that merges Californian surf rock, ‘60s yeye and ‘80s new wave. Drawing predominantly from their latest Psycho Tropical Berlin album, La Femme’s eclectic style – marathon running beats set to varying tempos, sparsely spoken words, echoes and low pulses – produces a two gear vibe that is probably suitable to shuffle along to, such as during the ironically titled It’s Time To Wake Up. Regular attendees could have noted the huge contrast this is from the sheer ebullience of Féfé’s set in this same slot last year. Overall however, La Femme fold in gems such as Si Un Jour and Sur La Planche to keep things just above interesting. Besides, young children and their parents are happy to dance to their own groove, while champagne-loving adults will move to just about anything. The crowd at the front of the stage swells with movers and shakers – all variously armed with plastic flutes, parasols, and eye-gouging telephoto lenses.
The pace gets an adrenalin shot with the arrival of French/Finnish indie-pop band The Dø. Their electro-powered arrangements and catchy English lyrics in Keep Your Lips Sealed and Despair, Hangover & Ecstasy catch our feet by surprise. A sound malfunction at the start is the only minor hiccup in an otherwise entertaining set that closes this event on a slightly less stellar note than So Frenchy So Chic 2014.