Clermont-Ferrand is a small town – a touch bigger than Galway – in central France. It’s famous for its dormant volcanoes, which dominate the skyline, and for its rugby team, ASM Clermont Auvergne, who currently compete in the Pro-14, and lost the European Cup Final in 2013, 2015 and 2017. There’s also a stunning cathedral hewn from the lava rocks of the nearby volcanoes sat in the town’s heart.
Every summer, the town hosts Europavox Festival, a four-day event that’s part media meeting, part music festival, and part cultural promotion. It draws bands from all over Europe, picked out by local experts to be promoted beyond their immediate local fanbase. I was lucky enough to be asked to come and check them out (I’ll also be contributing to their website on Irish music in the very near future).
As I only connected with Europavox in the last two months or so before the festival, I only made the Saturday and Sunday, so a small disclaimer before I start: this list is based on only two evenings at the event, and not the whole four. That means I missed some of the bigger names at the festival, including Norwegian breakout star Sigrid and awesome (and ridiculously named) Brit-rockers Cabbage. The only Irish act booked had to pull out, too, so there was no Rejjie Snow to enjoy.
There’s something fantastic about short, ‘show us what you can do’ slots from bands all over Europe, though, so I saw quite a few great bands in short form. Here are the ones that really caught my eye:
Athens electro-pop sung in English by a tight, vibrant band with the capacity to surprise. Σtella would be a little bit samey if they stuck to the same old electro-pop schtick all the way through. Instead, they delve into some extended prog-rock interludes, lay off the synths every so often, and really engage with those in the front row. Frontwoman Stella Chronopoulou is intensely charismatic, which obviously helps, too: technical problems early in their short set couldn’t do a thing to stop these guys.
Superorganism (UK/ New Zealand/ Japan/ South Korea/ etc…)
What a wonderful, wacky, memorable band. Superorganism didn’t even meet before they put out their first single last year, which they developed online. While they now share a house in London, they still write their songs largely by sending ideas to each other from different rooms via their computers. They explore some odd themes, taking in sea creatures, life’s hardships, the hunt for fame, and pretty much any other concept that crosses their minds. They claim to have 50 albums worth of material already, and what we’ve seen of it so far is absolutely mad, in the best of ways. See their NPR Tiny Desk concert, below, for the evidence. The stage moves were on point, too. Fantastic.
The Blaze (France)
If you know me well, you’ll know the Eurodance thing doesn’t really do a whole lot for me. These guys, though, are one of those tropical-island chill out kind of acts that kind of mellow their way through their beats with a real atmospheric sense of Balearic-like place. I can’t imagine I’d ever sit down and listen to an album outside of a beach bar, but live in the Clermont-Ferrand heat they were enthralling. A big live reputation is well deserved.
5K HD (Austria)
A spaced-out, organic trip-hop band from Austria, 5K HD are a floaty, imaginative but laid-back act with subtle jazz influences and plenty of playful percussion. I think what I liked the most about them was their willingness to settle into really mellow rhythms even if it meant band members doing nothing for a while: a kind of affected minimalism with plenty of clever little twists along the way: bits of it were a little ‘Nintendo 64’, but enjoyably so.
Sheep Got Waxed (Lithuania)
A confession: it took me half a set to decide if I actually like Sheep Got Waxed. They are madly inventive, distorting rhythms, jarring melodies and generally taking a spectacularly freestyle and sometimes slightly disjointed approach to the way they produce their music. That music is a kind of jazz/ post-rock/ ambient experiment which is unselfconscious and a little bit trippy. At times I even found it a little bit uncomfortable to listen to, but there’s a lot to be said for challenging music, and these guys have some wonderful moments.