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Eurostar presents Traction: Review

Eurostar presents Traction: Review

By: Charlotte Gush

I arrived at Granary Square, a new ‘public creative space’ behind Kings Cross, a little under an hour after the 4pm kick-off of Traction. Part of the London 2012 events schedule, the one-day concept festival was curated by Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson to celebrate European talent through his own eclectic tastes.

I arrived at Granary Square, a new ‘public creative space’ behind Kings Cross, a little under an hour after the 4pm kick-off of Traction. Part of the London 2012 events schedule, the one-day concept festival was curated by Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson to celebrate European talent through his own eclectic tastes.

“He’s a superstar in Japan” curator Gilles Peterson raved, without any apparent hint of irony, when introducing Benny Sings, a Dutch pop act who shares Peterson’s jazz inflection. Playing songs from his 2011 album ART, “an album full of songs that are trying less hard to be songs,” as he explains on his website, may be why most of the set sounded like nondescript lounge music. The better bits were loosely reminiscent of Josh Rouse on 1972, but for the most part, the Japanese can keep him.

Having spent most of Benny Sings’ set reading the pocket festival guide, we were drawn to artist Mateo M’s digital light painting shipping-container-come-studio for a free portrait. The hour long queue provided a perfect people watching opportunity; what breed of reveller attends a one-day Eurostar-branded concept festival? Media and advertising bods with comp tickets as far as I could tell. And not that many of them. Had anyone actually bought their ticket? Perhaps the girl in wellies (for the wilds of a paved urban square) with a massive sunflower attached to her straw hat.

Entertaining us whilst we queued was Belgian hip-hop artist Baloji, whose calypso beats seemed to make the sun come out. While ‘Independence Cha Cha’ kept everyone dancing, his polemic about democracy in Africa fell on apathetic if embarrassed ears; Glastonbury it ain’t. London dance troupe Unity seemed unprepared and added little to the performance.

Finally inside the sweaty art container-studio, we sat for live performance artist Mateo M, whose digital drawings are projected onto his subjects and captured in a photograph that could be collected shortly afterwards for free. The results didn’t quite live up to the expectations set by the examples displayed on the container wall, but the best art is rarely created by sitting an artist in a tiny sweltering container  and making them produce piece after piece for hours on end!

Emerging back into the daylight, it was clear that the crowd had swollen considerably, probably due to the next act being Ghostpoet, the first widely-known name on the bill. The Londoner’s distinctive, driving vocals and melancholy rhythms did not disappoint, and by the time he played ‘Cash and Carry Me Home’ there was the first semblance of a vibe the festival had had all day.

One of the more intriguing acts on the bill was German experimental dance-orchestral band The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble. Their sparse and quiet opener couldn’t hold the attention of the crowd and they were often drowned out by the sound of people talking. However, their set was brilliantly slow-burning, getting louder and more rhythmic throughout, so that when the heavens opened and poured down on the the Square, the collective feeling was dramatic and euphoric.

Curator Gilles Peterson took to the decks for a short set before the headliner, keeping the umbrella landscape bobbing up and down with a particularly good Adele remix and an arsenal of commercial dance tracks. Bizarrely, at one point he actually left the decks and wandered off to the other side of the stage, returning only to be cut off mid-track as he’d obviously overrun his slot.

Headliner Sebastien Tellier appeared on stage raised up in front of a disc of light, arms outstretched with ecclesiastic arrogance. The Frenchman cut an outrageous figure, dressed in shoulder pads and a shimmering scarf, he is one part Har Mar Superstar, his heavy facial hair and shades lending him another part crazy-period Joaquin Phoenix.

His electronic dance music has an eighties retro-futuristic feel. It’s alright; quite good even, in parts. He gave a much better account of himself as an entertainer than as a musician, stalking the stage, gyrating and growling in an array of European languages into the microphone.

However, it all just seemed a bit fake. He’s clearly being marketed as an unpredictable, sexually and sartorially wild, cult musician messiah, but the cumulative effect of his appearance and on-stage persona, mixed with his dire, clichéd chat suggested mere parody. Was anyone really persuaded that here, in front of our very eyes, was the second coming of rock and roll? The girl with the sunflower hat, perhaps.

Like the festival itself, Tellier’s set lacked authenticity and failed to enrapture. If there was any hint of irony in this fun but ultimately novelty act, it was impossible to detect. He is as much a rock star as Traction is a festival, but for the £20 ticket price, you get what you pay for. If anyone did pay, that is.

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