Séte, France

We spent a week rummaging in Giles Peterson’s record box

Spread over an otherwise sleepy fishing town in the south of France, Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Festival in Séte has just had its tenth edition. Combining a beach holiday atmosphere with pumping festival vibes. It just fucking works. While maintaining an ‘inclusive, small festival feel’ seems important, ‘eclecticism’ is still its watchword. Peterson’s brand is eclecticism, and the range of music truly is impressive: jazz, dubstep, d’n’b, soul, disco, house & techno, and most things in between. The music attracts an international, slightly older and rave-wise crowd. The number of rufescent Brits Abroad increased as the week went on, but there were plenty of other nationalities, avoiding the British Invasion vibe encountered at something like Outlook. Worldwide’s church is broad, and so are its disciples.

The music began on Monday. Once we’d collected our wrist bands from the local tourist office (where else?), we headed to La Criée. Its usual function as a fish auction was occasionally betrayed by the smell carried on the breeze, but we nonetheless caught the end of Paul Brisco & the pavonine Guy L’amour, a DJ + guy on bongos outfit. Then, Théâtre de la Mer. An ancient, cliff-hugging fort converted into an open-air amphitheatre. TDM is, without doubt, one of the best venues in Europe. Tiered seats cascade into a rhomboid shape, with the stage at the bottom, affording wide angles on the sea and excellent sound. With the wind soughing into the microphone, newcomer Dayme Arocena tore the place down with passion and vocal dexterity, her version of Peven Everett’s classic Stuck surpassing the original. Jazz and soul pioneer Roy Ayers followed, with a fun, firmly ‘old school’ set (they even sold CDs at the end).

Annoyingly, we missed Young Marco on Tuesday, but made it to TDM in time to catch most of James Blake’s set. It was well-received, but lifeless. I can’t escape feeling all his songs are, essentially, trendier versions of Natasha Beddingfield’s I Bruise Easily. We also didn’t stay long for the DMZ 10th anniversary that followed, said anniversary largely reminding us how little “dubstep” per se has changed, especially when compared to its more interesting descendants.

Wednesday saw the first music at the Beach Stage. Hugo Mendez supplied the Afro-Caribbean and Latin soundtrack, but the real surprises were at TDM. Ed Motta, a superstar in Brazil, is blessed with an extraordinary voice, by turns orotund and sonorous, fluted and plaintive. Towards the end, he was joined by Dayme Arocena and Roy Ayers for a gutsy, improvised version of Everyone Loves the Sunshine. The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band followed with a set of such pure fun everyone present was on their feet, despite few in the audience knowing any of the songs.

The next day they had the Beach Stage exactly right. Floating Points is easily one of the best DJs in the world right now, and Hunee complemented his sound beautifully as the pair played a broad range of Latin, jazz, funk, soul, disco and a bit of house. It not being a genre to enjoy on a three-night hangover, we skipped the d’n’b night at St Christ (LTJ Bukem, Fabio, etc.), but heard positive reports later.

Friday was a mixed bag. LV tried to turn the beach stage, at 3pm, into a sweaty night at Plan B, circa 2008. It didn’t work. Benji B was better, playing recognisable tunes like Detroit Experiment’s Think Twice. Later, at St Christ, a larger, purpose-built, more ‘professional’-feeling venue at the end of a long pier, Simbad & Louie Vega set a solid foundation for DJ Harvey to follow which, unfortunately, was rapidly eroded by Tirzah; FKA Twigs-lite. It was an odd 45 minutes, the entire crowd undulating – not to the beat – but with collective shrugging. By 3, though, nobody cared. DJ Harvey had stepped up. I could spout some frothy hero-worship, ensky the man; all you really need to know is that Harvey is a fucking alchemist, not a deejay. Peterson could only manage a gormless “wow” every few minutes, but did at least spot the last track for us (Petula Clark’s cover of Not in Love).

The weekend proper saw Herbert giving a object lesson in how to alienate a crowd. He prefaced his live set by reeling off a bunch of snippets of tracks he wasn’t going to play. This was presented as humorous, but I sensed the crowd now wanted to hear the banging techno tracks he just said he wouldn’t play. He recovered well, though, winning the crowd eventually. Oneman closed with a set that was hyaline but ultimately unsurprising.

By Sunday, a palpable sense of logy anhedonia pervaded the crowd. Simbad had his work cut out for him at the beach, but coaxed tired legs into something resembling dancing by set’s end. Worldwide favourite Osunlade went a little deeper and was rewarded for it, and Gilles Peterson closed out the Beach with a crowd-pleasing set. Guttingly, we missed Henrik Schwarz’s Trialogue outfit, on as they were at 11:15 at St Christ, but Laurent Garnier more than made up for it with a euphoric, 90s-as-fuck house & techno set. Ending on Man with a Red Face, Garnier handed over to Peterson to finish. He started on The Reflex’s version of Don’t Make Me Wait Too Long, and ended on Dayme Arocena’s version of Stuck; Inspector Norse was in there somewhere too, as was Roy Ayers. It was the kind of set, and the kind of atmosphere, where he could get away with playing Bill Withers’ Lovely Day as the sun rose, without anyone thinking it was cheesy.

As the crowd dispersed, everyone took on that oddly disassociated mindset seven days of raving engenders. I felt we’d spent a week rummaging in Giles Peterson’s record box, disliking some, loving a few, and discovering plenty. While the eclecticism meant there was music we didn’t enjoy, the ambiance more than compensated.