Paris Psych Fest – live review
We sent Chloe Mayne to Paris Psych Fest. Here’s what went down:
The inaugural Paris International Festival of Psychedelic Music was an opalescent, many-faceted creature. Working its fingers into the cobbled Parisian streets, the psychedelic celebration unearthed an otherworldly mix of artistic jewels; from raucous sweat-dripped garage and slow-moving instrumental serpents, to tightly strung electronica and warped visual impressions.
The Paris International Festival of Psychedelic Music (or, as it’s been affectionately named, Paris Psych Fest) decided to take root in a rather curious location for its first edition: La Machine du Moulin Rouge. For those of you who’ve been to Paris, you might recall it as one of the neon-coated sugar candy buildings along the Moulin Rouge, the slightly grubby undergrowth of Montmartre. It’s the one with the windmill on top. For anybody else, it suffices to say that this is Paris at its gaudiest. In the heart of the sex-shop district, suited men hover about entranceways, packs of raunchy advertising cards peeking from their sleeves. Glass cabinets of adult toys argue for attention beside postcard racks, and brightly lit cafes serve plates of limp ten euro crepes. There’s a giant air vent on the street across the road where piles of scantily clad humanoids crowd around to capture their own interpretation of the classic Marilyn Monroe photograph, gusts of sewer-scented underground wind billowing between thighs and beneath extended hair. Paris Psych Fest patrons were thus easily discernible amongst the glitz, creeping from the stairs of the Metro and edging shyly along the sidewalk in a plethora of denim, leather, stripes and suede, huddling together in hazy lumps of tobacco smoke.
After slipping through the scarlet entrance hallway and between the folds of coloured light, the seedy streets were left behind. La Machine du Moulin Rouge was slick and groomed inside, neatly separated into numerous levels; and, most importantly, the sound quality was sublime. We (and, I suspect, many others) were late to arrive on Friday evening, the football challenging our priorities as the France and Germany match drew the city to a two-hour close. The Underground Youth were thus already underway as we descended the staircase to the main stage, playing a heavy and twisting set beneath shadowy blue lights. Eager to explore our surroundings, we quickly navigated our way to the basement for London-based duo The KVB. Their performance didn’t hold too many surprises for me, having been lucky enough to see them play twice already in support of psychedelic godfathers The Brian Jonestown Massacre. As anticipated, however, they crafted a glittering, midnight sound; reverb-soaked vocal and guitar oozing between the cracks of a glossy electronic spine. Overhead, decay-crusted concrete beams pressed in, quickening the pace, and shags of long hair shook from the balcony banisters rimming the stage.
Meanwhile, upstairs, The Soft Moon (pictured, above) were unleashing a mind-boggling audial offensive. Slightly dizzying synthesiser and guitar orbited the ears like trucks, machine-gun drums peppering the tight space between the temples. Their musicianship was remarkable, and they traversed a musical territory all their own – twisted post-punk tree branches laced with electronic ribbons of strobe-light and otherwordly howls sucking down into a nocturnal, almost apocalyptic scape that left me wrung for breath. It left hopes high for the DJ set to follow – however, we found ourselves trailing home before the sun had a chance to wriggle its fiery toes. The choice of post-gig music was curious and a little underwhelming, and most of the crowd flooded from the venue in rapid succession, leaving a mere handful of bodies in their wake.
We approached the second night, then, with renewed energy. This was aided substantially by the luxurious plastic-cup consumption of homemade mojitos on the subway journey, which, as I quickly accustomed myself to in Paris, took close to an hour and was worth packing a picnic for. This time, it was a direct beeline to the basement to see Italian garage gems Go!Zilla (pictured, below and top) leap from nowhere to seize one of the highest-voltage performances of the festival. These guys had real energy, the crowd woven between their guitar strings, fanboys jumping up in succession to fling themselves into the arms of the crowd like puppets, feet kicking towards the low roof of the basement bunker. The vocalist and guitarist soon followed suit, clutching the fretboard as pairs of hands sailed him roughly back to stage shores.
I tore myself away from the last song of the set to sprint upstairs in anticipation of Berlin’s The Blue Angel Lounge, who I’ve been more or less enamoured with since crossing paths with their self-titled debut in 2009. They were a revelation to me at the time, a seventeen-year-old music addict on the other side of the world, battling tiny bandwidths to trawl cyberspace for the small pieces of psychedelic splendour. I hadn’t seen them play before and, needless to say, I was excited. After manoeuvring the labyrinthine path to the front row, however, I stopped short. It wasn’t them. Instead, it was Radar Men From the Moon; who, thankfully, played a fantastically writhing, kaleidoscopic set. The cancellation of The Blue Angel Lounge was later confirmed by a small A4 timetable tacked onto the wall, white and innocent-looking, on which their name was missing. As I later discovered, they had announced earlier that day in a Facebook post that they were disbanding entirely, pulling out of all further shows and future recordings, including their appearance in Paris that night (for which they extended a particular apology). This was more than a little devastating, but also surprising after interviewing them only two months’ previously about their ambitions for the year. Their absence was sorely felt; but more importantly, they deserve to be celebrated as one of the most talented and unique groups of the decade. They crafted truly great music, intangible, and impossible to pin down easily with words.
It was time to carry my heavy heart back down to the basement, where The Oscillation (pictured, below) were playing a smokeshield of a set, guitar-rich, impressive. We didn’t stay long, however, instead volleying back upstairs to watch TOY take the stage. Opening with the windrush, late night train-ride instrumental ‘Conductor’, reverb glided from one side of the stage to the other and tinged the walls with an ethereal quality, pulling shoulders into a sway. Vocalist and guitarist Tom Dougall was gentle and exquisite, only half-visible through the smoke and dim lights, swathed in a black turtleneck and eyes rimmed with kohl. Their set was neatly balanced with a generous helping of both albums, and the live show introduced a impressively darker, more insistent element to their sound.
After that, it was French act Zombie Zombie‘s turn to close the night. The stage was pieced together elaborately for their arrival, a pair of sprawling drum kits placed in opposition to one another, watched over by an impressive array of keyboards and electronic tweaks at the tip of the triangle. Their musicianship was breathtaking – beats pressing against and interlocking with one another, almost jazz-like in their serpentine gyration. Toward the end of the set, the crowd were beckoned forth to the stage and were quick to respond to the invitation. Snaking up the stairs or hoisting themselves over the barrier, the musicians were soon pressed in by a round of moving chests and eagerly watching eyes, flames of frenzy licking at their glistening brows.
The captain of the early-morning ship that night was none other than psychedelic royalty Peter Kember, a.k.a. Sonic Boom, founding member of Spacemen 3 and also known as Spectrum. My breath was bated as he shyly approached the turntable with one vinyl after another. His choices were diverse, if not a little unpredictable (such as a slow, almost hymn-like Tinariwen track); the issue again, however, was that the crowd had dispersed to mere flecks of body in the large blanket of a hall. As the Marilyn Monroe riff-raff began to filter in from the air vent outside, the combination felt slightly absurd; like the impossible mixing of oil and water, filtering alongside one another, but as distinct entities. We found ourselves wandering listlessly homeward once again, sound-drowned heads nodding off on the night bus.
Sunday held a different promise. After buckets of rain threatened to dampen our already broke and seedy scraps of motivation, we pulled ourselves together and made our way to Le Batofar, the evening’s venue (pictured, above). It was rather an exotic one; a gigantic red boat floating in the Seine, a swirl of colour beaming from the lighthouse at its centre. As a free event, it drew a solid crowd to the shores despite the precarious weather. It also contained part of the visual component of the festival – a range of artworks hung from the deck walls, and synaesthetic video projections played onto the roof. Down below in the bulging guts of the ship, Orval Carlos Siblius were beginning their set. The smell of urine as we descended into the murky green light of the hull, while a little unsettling, added to the maritime, sea-scurvy atmosphere. The band thanked the tightly-packed audience for braving the stench and played a solid smattering of psych-pop, bright warbly vocals shifting into darkened jams.
Emerging back onto the deck, we curled up with a beer to watch the sun set over the river. The air was warm, the pregnant clouds had abated and at long last, the DJ set was fantastic. It was the perfect way to wrap up the weekend, senses stuffed with audial and visual delights at the Parisian psychedelic banquet.
Next year’s instalment of the Paris International Festival of Psychedelic Music is not to be missed. To keep in the loop, follow the festival’s Facebook page.