Review: Weather Festival 2016
On paper, Weather Festival is a no-brainer. The Parisian monolith’s heady mixture of concrete airfield expanse and triple-A grade techno makes it one of Europe’s most enticing Summer-festival destinations. Another venue has been added since we previewed this year’s edition a month or so ago – the Burn (Light It Up!) stage appealing to the colourful-house leanings of new-school trailblazers such as Marquis Hawkes, Huerco S. and Pender Street Steppers. A tantalising prospect indeed… but did Weather succeed in capturing our hearts and minds as well as our ears and feet?
After making the pilgrimage from the train station to Le Bourget airfield and pitching up on the peculiarly small campsite, we headed down into Weather’s main strip. What became immediately obvious was how drastically under-dressed we were compared to our Parisian counterparts, the heavily skewed ratio of day-ravers to weekend campers somewhat taking away from the escapist sense of community you’d get from a full-camping festival. Music-wise the party was already in full flow, as Saturday kicked off with a superbly well judged warm-up set from Perlon and Panorama Bar regular Margaret Dygas on the Spring Stage. Making the most of a 4-7pm slot to ease weary legs back into action after a late if uneventful Friday night – a headline Tuskegee set proving that Seth Troxler is much more inspired on his own than he is with the frankly unadventurous Martinez Brothers – Maggie made her way effortlessly through three hours-worth of classy, brooding techno; the crowd meeting each fleeting breakdown with lovingly rapturous applause.
A brief soiree into central Paris provided a much-needed break from the campsite/concrete’s hedonistic abyss; by midnight we were sated and ready to plunge headlong back into the fray, just in time for fan-favourite Motor City Drum Ensemble. Speaking to Parisians in the crowd it was clear that MCDE’s set had been marked as one of the few to provide respite from the largely techno-orientated program, and in this respect he was never going to disappoint. Drifting between worldly disco and smooth house as he has been doing relentlessly the last few years – Moodymann‘s remix of Norma Jean Bell’s ‘I’m The Baddest Bitch’ proving the pick of the bunch – the German brought some much-needed aural sunshine to the darkness of the ironically-named Summer Stage.
As much as MCDE had set the stage for Weather’s alternative, I don’t think even he could have predicted just how much of a schooling we were all about to get from Robert Hood, who took to the decks immediately after to play a hugely anticipated Hip Hop classics set. ‘Course he has an amazing taste in Hip Hop as well as Techno… to watch a DJ of his caliber flip the script completely and adopt a battle-scratch style rather than the usual techno roll-out was truly a joy to behold. From Nas Is Like to Supastar, Runnin’ to Doo-Wop, b-boy battles in the crowd amidst torrential downpour, Robert’s daughter Lyric looking on with a stony attentiveness and MCDE losing his shit on stage… this was the sort of moment in time you’d never imagine possible. Here, have all the superlatives Rob – thrilling, inspirational, emotional. I never take my phone out to take a photo let alone a video inna rave, so for me to look back and watch a hazily-recorded video of Hood playing Gangstarr’s ‘Royalty’ is probably the highest praise I can give.
We returned to the Summer Stage with daylight inching towards us to see Italian maestros Donato Dozzy and Nuel as Aquaplano. Having seen Dozzy perform two starkly contrasting sets in recent times – the first, a warm and considered early set at Bloc ’15; the second, an almost apocalyptic all-nighter at London’s Corsica Studios – it was difficult to predict where on the spectrum he was likely to sit this time around. With little sign of Nuel throughout (I wonder what happened there?), in those three hours The Professor progressed from the former to the latter: a potent mixture of bouncily echoing kicks and peculiar, passive-aggressive soundscapes. At one point we were left dumbfounded as he seemingly spawned a new tune with his bare hands – a pounding, wandering bass-line completely and embryonically transformed into a subterranean expanse in the blink of an eye, that which I can only describe as reminiscent to Neo’s plunge into Zion’s fetus fields from The Matrix. Not even a power cut could stop that man… one hell of a journey from a master of the craft.
It seemed as if the gods were smiling on Ricardo Villalobos and Zip as the weekend’s first glimpse of sunlight shone down on their Sunday daytime set. They cruised through the first hour on automatic pilot, an interesting techno rework of Raekwon’s ‘Guillotine (Swordz)’ standing out amongst a sea of somewhat unimaginative, passive rollers. Neither here nor there, we were starting to wonder whether Ricky was going to show us the weird and wonderful we had grown to love over the course of many spectacularly bizarre marathon sets at Fabric. And then finally, it happened – he began to dig deep, and what a wondrous moment it was watching Zip attempt to work the set back towards normality after he let loose Jonzun Crew’s ‘Pack Jam’.
I remember inheriting this record from my dad’s collection and thinking at the time, ‘blimey those chords are a bit much!’, despite being a huge fan of 80s electro of this ilk. But of course now this track seems so in keeping with Villalobos’ style – bold, garish, and uninhibited. That’s his magic for me: the music he plays has his name written all over it, he claims full ownership of impressive diversity and unpredictability always in his sets. Just such a maverick… you just keep being you, Ricky.
Weather was beginning to shift into the excesses of after-party territory on Sunday night – a perfect synchronisation as the music became more aggressive, the light shows more emphatic, the people more wavy. Scandinavia’s newest prince of techno Rødhåd is peaking and it shows: powering through his brand of interstellar techno with all the excitable gusto of a young upstart was particularly pleasurable to see; his enthusiasm undiminished by the rapidly exalted status he’s been enjoying for the last few years. It’s a shame I could not say the same of Richie Hawtin who took to the decks shortly after. Much has been made of Richie’s new Model 1 mixer of late, and in this respect his couple of hours within the Autumn stage’s enormous hanger seemed more like The Model 1 Show rather than the erstwhile Richie Show. For me, this was triple-A techno without any of the class – gimmicky, soulless, by-the-numbers, too flitered, too flangey.
To add one more small gripe: Weather’s reliance on its official mobile app had its difficulties. Whilst ‘paperless’ was a massive bonus for eco-friendly, its temperamental nature – with literally no paper schedules on site or even a sheet of A4 on the door – made finding stages and DJs we wanted to see by sight pretty tiresome when the app was out of action. The fact that Weather presumed you had a smartphone was bad news for those still stuck in the twentieth century (yes, this was me up until a month or so ago), and also diluted the escapist by emphasising the use of your phone throughout to check timetables, log in to Deezer, use a charging point, find the WiFi spot etc etc. But hey ho, you gotta get with the times right? This small blip sure as hell didn’t take away from what was a fantastic weekend on the whole. Weather embraced the future both logistically and musically, and this year’s edition stood as a glistening showcase for the state of contemporary electronic music – the breadth and strength in quality of the artists across the three days was as impressive as anything we’ve experienced in recent times. And one thing is for absolute certain: the French sure know how to get down.
Photography by Osian Hooson.