The Five Best Bands I Saw At Europavox 2023 (Clermont-Ferrand)

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.

The Five Best Bands I Saw At Europavox 2018 (Clermont-Ferrand)

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:

Σtella (Greece)

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.