The South of France is known for its rolling vineyards, turreted chateaus, fine cheeses and blush tomatoes. Scrap that. For four days of Garorock, this quiet and empty patch of pretty land is transformed.
Nestled among a manmade forest an hour from Bergerac are three noisy stages blasting out rock, rap and a whole lot of techno. The French love it.
Muse headline the opening night playing to a tiny audience, for them, of around 20,000. The Devonshire band have been on tour for years, but the show never wains and the audience never dulls. Even in this ‘intimate’ setting, there are white balloons and ticker tape as the rockers beef up their glam. With their Iron Maiden riffs and Queen vocal eccentricity, there’s no denying their musicianship, even if the over-fuzzed guitar and proggy power-melodies are a bit style over substance. Hey, it’s a good show if you’re into it.
So why go all the way to France to watch Muse – a band where spikey hair is still ‘a look’? Because earlier in the day we were basking in 27 degree sunshine with a chilled rose and a dozen oysters. That’s the joy of a festival away from British shores. It’s a chance to nip off for a break, lounge by a pool, sleep in the sun and then dance all night (unless you’re camping. Good luck). Here, the music doesn’t even start until early evening and you’re guaranteed a disco until sunrise if you can make it. All of this at a fraction of a UK festival ticket, albeit without much of the magic.
Post-Muse, rock remains a pretty small part of the bill for the rest of the weekend, but always makes for the best crowds and chat. Top of the list are Slaves – the Kent duo with all the grace of Farage at an EU summit. Channelling the energy and anger of sleaford mods, they spit their way through ‘Cheer Up London’ and ‘Where’s Your Car Debbie’, among others old and new.
"This song’s about rich cunts running our country", singer Isaac says before lurching into Rich Man. It’s excellent – like the Prodigy’s Liam meets the Sex Pistols to make statements about bad girlfriends and Brexit. What a perfect combination.
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The Hives party like it’s literally 1999 with tracks from their 16-year-old classic 'Veni Vidi Vicious' album and beyond. The dapper band, all dressed in split black and white tuxes, pull a huge crowd with their anthems, theatrics and general niceness. It’s frantic and frenetic, but doesn’t quite hit the mark. The crowd seems to love them, but there’s an air of trying too hard away from the well-known songs. Still worth a listen for the line "People think I’m gay, but I’m just ALIVE!"
They’re at least a welcome distraction from Yelawolf, whose mix of rap, scratch and steel guitar is interesting, but too much of a show off without a hook to keep much of an audience. The ones who do stay are in awe of the Slim Shady meets Rage Against the Machine mash up, but it’s fair to say they were all under 21.
Missed opportunity of the weekend goes to Savages. After pulling thousands for a career-defining performance at Primavera just weeks ago, here, there are only a handful of people watching, maybe because of some French team playing some football match.
Singer Jehnny seems not to let it distract from her tailored stage presence as she stares intensely at the crowd, slicked black hair, androgynous suit and Louboutin heels. The performance is masterful, but the lack of mania flattens the atmosphere a little. It deserves more than this.
Even odder is that just before Savages, Methodman and Redman had thousands grasping at them as they flogged t-shirts and CDs like the creepy perfume and mop sellers in the market. The bargain bucket literally went on for ten minutes and ended with Wu-Tang’s Meth throwing his shoes into the crowd. With the French’s love of hip hop, it’s mind-bending that more isn’t represented here. Saying that, a version of ‘Rapper’s Delight’ is enough to make 20,000 go mental!
One of the biggest crowds of the festival is for French-LA hybrid M83, which probably brings the most joy out of the weekend’s headliners. There’s a national pride mixed with a love of dreamy electro pop and, of course, a load of hits and soundtracks recognisable to almost everyone.
Songs from 'Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming' bring a love and a calmness, with room for a dance too. It’s a sound that runs through this festival with the likes of Glass Animals and Jain, a sort of French Lily Allen. The biggest dance is, of course, saved for Disclosure, kicking off the closing headline set with ‘White Noise’ and some impressive visuals to distract from the two slim brits pushing buttons.
Pop aside, Garorock makes way for some harder electro too, one of the best being Danish DJ Kolsch and his blend of techno and pop. Thousands danced to his twists and turns, clever drops and heavy beats. Moving over to Jamie XX on the mainstage was a bit of a come down as he swapped techno for disco. It all went a little Saturday Night Fever.
Garorock is a small, safe, local festival. It doesn’t push the boundaries of a music event or offer anything that is going to give you the experience of a lifetime, but it caters for the crowd it’s served for 20 years – the kids who want to dance and escape, the olders who want to rock, and the even olders who want to be swept away with the groin thrusts and robot moves of an almost-70 soul singer. That’s right, former James Brown impersonator Charles Bradley and his costume changes was definitely a highlight of the weekend, despite his set being randomly plonked in the middle of this youth-fuelled festival. For Garorock, it was a unique performance. For me, it was heaven. Back to the electro pop.
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Words: Gemma Hampson
Photo Credit: Corinne Cumming