I’ve been involved in Europavox for about five year now. It’s a really cool music project that, amongst other things, is specifically designed to take bands that are breaking through in one part of Europe, and promote them in other locations. There are some truly brilliant products of it: Sigrid, Molchat Doma, Just Mustard and Dermot Kennedy have all been involved in the past.

Despite five years of involvement, much of it as the English langauge editor, this weekend was only my second trip to the main event, which takes place annually in Clermont-Ferrand, in the shadow of the volcanoes of the French massif. In fact, because of various staff changes, I was meeting a lot of the team for the first time, despite working with them incredibly regularly. This year involved 38 different acts from 18 different countries around Europe, and a long weekend watching them, including the great (invite only) aside of the recording of the ARTE Sessions, a series of three-track semi-studio recordings for TV that happened alongside the festival (I saw seven acts over the weekend in this environment).

Like in 2018, I’ve decided to put together a short list of what I enjoyed the most, partly because I’ve loved looking back at the old one, but also in the hope it gives them a tiny bit of promo outside of what I’m doing elsewhere. So without further rambling, here are my five favourite acts of the weekend (it might be worth noting that I couldn’t attend on Sunday, and I’ve also deliberately left out the Irish acts as they’d already be well known to most people who will read this, so this is really a favourite acts from Thursday to Saturday that aren’t Irish, which is another way pf saying I decided not to give you a paragraph on Thumper, who I’ve written about extensively before. The broader point, of course, is check out all the below, they’re all great…)

Arny Margret (Iceland)

How much do I like Arny Margret? I’ve a literal list of acts I want to see when they eventually land somewhere in my vaccinity, and alongside a list of 8 or 10 acts that are mostly close to household names, you would, until this show, have found Arny. She’s a young-with-an-old-soul Icelandic singer-songwriter from a tiny town in the Westfjords, performing songs penned over the course of snowed-in winters that pour her heart into poetic turns of phrase.

With a vibe similar to Joni Mitchell at her most poppy and accesible, her sound is incredibly minimalist, made up of a sparsely used acoustic guitar and a note-perfect, soulful vocal. I particularly like the gut-wrenching beauty of album closer ‘Abandoned’, which she rarely plays live but did in Clermont (I won’t lie, I told her I love the track in interview beforehand so I suspect I may have nudged her, but who knows). Singles like ‘They Only Talk About The Weather’ and ‘The World Is Between Us’ both have incredible beauty, found largely in their poetic sentimentality and heartache. Arny Margret is not quite a pop act purely because of the gentle pace of her work, but what she produces is certain to bring her far: it’s simply spellbinding.

SKAAR (Norway)

Despite the name suggesting a metal act, SKAAR are a soaring female-fronted emotional electro pop act who were absolutely superb live, reminscent of latter-day Florence and the Machine with slightly heftier electro elements. She already seems to be on the road to fame, and has a small date at Dublin’s Workman’s Club later this year that I’m definitely keen to check out. I found this euphoric, and it felt like the singer did, too, which is always a bonus. Accessible and charming.

Svaneborg Kardyb (Denmark)

A great example of an act that perform sets that are far greater than the sum of their individual songs. Svaneborg Kardyb (named simply for a combo of their two surnames) are a fascinating lyric-free free jazz synth and percussion duo that remind me of Portico Quartet, though the instrumentation is quite different. While they do have established songs, which they of course play live, they also do this wonderful song-link type stuff where they ad-lib by glancing at each other and messing with their instruments, before kicking into the next more established track. That means no two gigs are ever quite the same (I assume – I saw two over the weekend and they were quite different), and creates this kind of hypnotic playful vibe that I really loved. They’re already three albums deep, so plenty to explore.

Pedro Winter (France)

Is it cheating to choose one of the headliners? Ah well. Pedro Winter (a.k.a Busy P) is a French Touch producer who was involved, years ago, in putting together some of the work of the likes of Daft Punk, Justice, DJ Mehdi, etc. He’s now touring with a lively electronic stage backdrop and a DJ set that features all of the above to varying degrees (it could have used more Daft Punk, if I’ve a small complaint, but naturally it’s one of personal taste!). After midnight in a fairly boisterous big field, this was an absolutely perfect close to the Saturday/ my weekend.

Ada Oda (Belgium)

I love the quirkiness of this band. The product of a failed (or I suppose you cold argue, very successful) Tinder date, they came together when lead singer Victoria and guitarist and songwriter Cesar moved talking about music on the app to producing tracks he had written, but translated and sung by her in Italian. The result, Ada Oda, are an abrupt, fun post-punk-ish band that I’m told are typical of the scene in Brussels (multilingual, a little bit out there). It’s jarring, slightly desolate but somehow a lot of fun, too.


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