It could be easy to get the wrong idea about Worldwide Festival. On paper, it sounds as if it might offer something between the draining debauchery of a festival and the relaxation of a beachside holiday. Nestled on the Mediterranean in the South of France, it’s an intimate affair that only operates one stage at a time. After the first two days, things go from the beach in the day to one of two venues for the night. It’s seven days long, too, so you could think it would simply mean even more relaxed breezing between the day’s and evening’s entertainment.
You’d be wrong, though: it’s exhausting. But the very fact that anyone would choose to party for seven days and nights should in itself tell you something about the shared mindset of the crowd who attend.The week is split into two halves, with the evenings from Monday to Wednesday taking place in an 18th century amphitheatre, the Théâtre de la Mer, which backs right onto the sea. It’s where a lot of what makes the festival so good comes through clearest. James Blake’s appearance there on Tuesday was an early highlight, with the Théâtre’s hushed intimacy (and faultless sound) being pretty much the ideal setting for the long, charged silences that punctuate his music.
At around midnight, the live music ends and the stage becomes dancefloor, with the DJ booth looking down on it. Directly following Blake on the Tuesday, Loefah, and Mala (but no Coki that we could see) represented DMZ to celebrate their 10th birthday. Most of the big classics on the seminal South London dubstep label – the likes of Mala's Bury Da Bwoy and Anti War Dub by Digital Mystikz – received a spin, as well as newer bits like Mumdance and Novelist’s Take Time. As with every night in the Théâtre, there was a real mix of younger ravers you’d expect to see at a club as well as a lot of people you might not. It made for an atmosphere with no pretension, everyone seriously up for it right up to the 3am close.
The opening night had seen the legend slot taken by Roy Ayers playing through his many hits, like Sweet Tears and We Live In Brooklyn, Baby, while changing them up here and there to keep it fresh. Arguably better than Ayers’ set, however, was the moment on Wednesday when the multi-talented Ed Motta invited both Ayers and young Cuban jazz singer Daymé Arocena onstage with him to riff on two of the former’s songs. It epitomised the kind of interconnected family atmosphere that curator Gilles Peterson clearly tries to encourage at the festival, with megastars like Ayers sticking around to make extra appearances. It also set the course for Everybody Loves the Sunshine to become the unofficial anthem of the week.
Thursday on the beach provided the first big moment by the water, with Eglo co-boss Floating Points and fellow 7” hoarder Hunee booked to play. They ended up going back to back for most of the afternoon, with soul and rough-edged funk being the ideal thing to draw people onto the dancefloor away from sunbaked recuperation. The only downside of the beach spot was that for people staying in town the buses over there were frustratingly irregular, sometimes resulting in missed sets and a lot of waiting around.
The following evening marked the night time switch up from the Théâtre to St. Christ, a larger venue that runs until 5am and is bulked out by the arrival of French ravers from nearby Montpellier. Located down the end of a long pier, this slightly secluded location seemed to be perfectly positioned to allow them to let loose with the volume until the early hours without complaints.
The opening night there had the strongest line up of the week: Alex Patchwork, Kate Tempest, GoGo Penguin, Swindle, LTJ Bukem, and Fabio. Tempest was the standout, with some of the spoken word parts so piercingly direct it felt almost out of step with the escapist dance music dominant elsewhere. Bookmarking the other end of the night was a throwback to pivotal mid-'90s drum ‘n’ bass night Speed paid tribute to by Peterson before Bukem and Fabio played out the last two hours. They were worth it for the percussive freakouts of ‘94-era jungle alone and it was great, if a little geographically incongruous, to be able to look back and celebrate crucial moments in London’s musical history like that and DMZ.
Friday afternoon saw Radio One host and Deviation boss Benji B play a set that nailed the genre-hopping approach that became almost the norm at the festival. Starting off with warm house groovers, he went on to weave in festival bangers like Joy Orbison’s Hyph Mngo and Kendrick Lamar’s Alright in a manner that never felt too OTT. In contrast, Funkineven’s DJ set on Saturday stuck to a rigid four-to-the-floor bounce that never once felt restricted or hemmed in. It was one of those moments when you’re reminded of how exciting house can sound when someone’s picking the right records.
It’s difficult to surmise a festival that stretches over such a long period. Walking back from Peterson's closing sunrise set, I felt elated and completely wiped out by the experience. Making it through the week took energy, determination and some serious realignment of sleeping patterns. The small size means none of the stress of flitting between stages and lost friends of most festivals, but it also means that you're unlikely to sneak off early at any stage. A big part of its magic owes to the fact you’re not going to be leaving before the lights come up when everyone you've met at the bar or on the beach are still going right next to you.