Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
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Heading to a festival on the outskirts of the city in Paris, I wondered how much a change in surroundings would actually figure into my experience. There’s more than a bit of overspill between most festival lineups, and you can’t help but notice that We Love Green’s bill shared a fair few names with a certain event going down in Victoria Park this weekend. Once I'd navigated my way to its picturesque site in a serene corner of the city’s huge botanical gardens, however, it began to dawn on me that there was a distinctly Parisian sensibility to this eco-minded two-dayer.
Billed as a "sustainable festival", both of We Love Green's solar and wind-powered stages were nestled amongst big, tall trees and, with the blazing sunshine that greeted me there, it would have been difficult not to settle into the West Coast stoner groove of the Allah-lahs who played on the main stage as I arrived. Things were then given a bit of a jolt by Seun Kuti, who followed with the kind of fiery afrobeat that may not have been groundbreaking but had me dancing with a grin on my face nonetheless. I did feel a bit awkward decrying the corrupt power of the ‘international motherfuckers’ with a heavily branded demi-litre of Heineken in hand, but my guilt was assuaged by the far more credible green credentials of the festival: there was a stage for lectures on green issues, well organised recycling point, and strange rituals involving sawdust and straw in the toilets.
With the singles that preceded his debut album last year taking a strange split between '80s-refracted pop and straight-up dancefloor material, it wasn’t too surprising to find that Ghost Culture’s live show also involved a refreshingly odd setup. He stood poised with two drumsticks in the middle of the stage, conveying all kinds of endearing melancholy while setting off drum patterns and singing into the mic stood in front of him. And closing out the night on the same stage was a much more abrasive kind of nostalgia, with Siriusmodeselektor – aka Siriusmo and Modeselektor – taking everyone back to the electro-fuelled world of 2008. It would be easy to turn your nose up at if the all-out assault of the latter’s Evil Twin if it wasn’t so knowingly silly (and all the more enjoyable for it).
Sunday morning was accompanied by grey drizzle and sore heads all round so it felt appropriately austere that a string of techno-orientated DJs were some of the most eye-catching bookings for the day. Roman Flügel and Barnt’s back-to-back set brought out a playful side to to the former that was fun to see: there was bubbling sub-bass, sparkling synth lines, and a bit of Aphex Twin thrown in for good measure. Ben UFO continued in a similarly direct vein, flipping between styles in a way that once again demonstrated how technical prowess can be so effective at allowing an eclecticism that feels totally natural.
Daniel Avery played the kind of tunnel vision techno which you’d expect the ex-Fabric resident to burrow into, while another difference between the city-based festival and its UK counterparts became apparent: there were no big gurner or drunken contingents among the spectators for his pummeling four-to-the-floor. Despite the joyous atmosphere that prevailed through the rain, there was definitely a classier approach at play compared to our own inability to control ourselves back home.
It was difficult to know what to expect from the relatively rare DJ set from Nicolas Jaar that followed; I definitely hadn’t been expecting a 15-minute disco cut followed by Jack J’s smash hit Something On My Mind. The latter part of his set wound down into glitchy jazz, spoken word samples and an admirable disregard for danceability much more in line with what I had been expecting.
Strolling back to the metro past the festival’s idyllic grounds provided a welcome moment of reflection. The local’s refined way of doing things, a clutch of memorable performances combined with plenty of small, thoughtful touches had made for a quietly impressive weekend.