Letting the Freak Flag Fly
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because music, art, food, wine, people, locale and style this great are hard to find.
By Eugene S. Robinson
With over 393 music festivals worldwide, and attendance ranging from 300 music-goers at the smaller venues and upwards of a million at the larger ones, there’s a show for every conceivable taste. OZY’s tastes happen to run to the rarefied and hard to find, and we found exactly that while driving through the Drôme Valley in France, on the flip side of the wine-laden Rhône Valley: the Freakshow Festival. It’s not the biggest or the most cash-laden, but it is the oddest and best, starting with the locale: a town called Gigors, population 58.
We were ushered into the festival compound in Gigors by 20-something Olivier Lantheaume, whose family has occupied this land since the 1100s. We found that what looked like a set of defunct French rustic farmhouses was in truth a whole complex, tents piled at the ready and people flowing in from all over the globe.
“Eight years ago we started thinking, even though we moved [back] here for the slowness, that things had gotten too slow,” says Jill Strong, Bristolian, singer, and mom. Parlaying her music know-how and design chops (she still runs a design business), as well as Olivier’s real time in the trenches as a musician, they decided to start a festival — in a village where you get your drinking water from the creek running through it, and the closest supermarket is 40 minutes away.
But this is part of the festival’s extended appeal: water from the creek, running down from the mountain to where the festival sits, is used for cooking, drinking and, if you show up a little earlier to lend a welcome hand, for irrigating the vineyards growing the grapes that make the festival wine. Cheese, bread, victuals: all local. It’s full-service, participatory festivaling, indeed – and a delight to any and all of your senses.
So, Lantheaume and Strong named the festival Gigors Electric Sound System. They tricked out what had been a long, low barn into a music venue, called in the tents and sent out the word to the nearest big cities: Marseille, Grenoble and beyond. Eight years later, musicians and attendees fly in from Tokyo, New York and London, and the multiday festival even hires the mayor of Gigors, Carole Thourigny, who was tearing tickets when we visited.
And if the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, the Freakshow is a tasty pudding. Shows by Red Fang from the U.S., the U.K.’s Future of the Left, Japan’s Melt-Banana and Switzerland’s Knut have lit up past seasons with a serious mélange of coolly challenging post-punk rock. With the last festival wrapping up August 30-31, chock-full of a heaping handful of the best-edged music anywhere, there’s only one thing you need to ask yourself: How are you getting there next year?
If you were fortunate enough to partake of Gigors Electric in 2012, you may have caught author Eugene S. Robinson on stage with L’enfance Rouge, up front with the golden pipes. – Ed.