I'm in Bois De Vincennes one of the most biologically sensitive, remote, and heavily wooded parks in Paris. I walk down the narrow path that cuts through the dense foliage to the entrance gate which leads to the large, open grass area where the festival’s built. There are five stages, including one dedicated to panels discussing sustainability. The green is dotted with flags, tipis and sculptures attempting to emulate the aesthetic of many traditional green festivals. The backdrop to everything in the foreground is a plush canopy that helps imbue a sense of escape from the city. A row of shops - all completely rammed with hungry punters - sell snails, superfood ice cream, pulled duck, and organic wines. It's a luxurious set-up that is an immediately loveable space to frolic in.
Having taken all of two minutes to get my bearings as it's a small, easy site to navigate site, I opt to start by watching charismatic, French leftfield hip-hop artist Lomepal. For the uninitiated - which is most of the UK because he's had next to no publicity there yet - Lomepal is one of the leading voices in France’s massively successful, commercial hip-hop scene. If you look at the Spotify top 20 in France today, 100% are either hip-hop, RnB or urban pop tracks; it’s that big.
The rapper's ability to meld his fluent MCing and love of trap music with sounds plucked from a plethora of genres gives him a broad appeal. This afternoon he's on stage with his beatmaker and hype man. Together the trio deliver songs taken from Lomepal's multi-platinum debut album, FLIP, to the crowd which stretches far beyond the perimeter of the tent. The overarching feel of the set is a juxtaposition of ominous and brooding sounds made using 808 hi-hats and lavish amounts of bass with lighter colourful pop hooks. .
The tracks that make me understand why I'm stood so far back - it's a dense, impenetrable crowd - are 'Lay Riotta' and 'Club'. On 'Lay Riotta' the 26-year-old rapper/singer has written a chorus-hook up there with the immediacy of the highlights on Beck's Guero album. Meanwhile, 'Club' is a banger, featuring a propulsive post punk bassline that mixes with electronic drums and samples reminiscent of the lush layering of cold wave. Ultimately, this ability to merge experimental sounds with such a natural ear for hit-making position Lomepal as someone set to be major player in the French scene for years to come. And it's a sign that We Love Green is a great place to discover French music that's not yet cracked the UK.
Next up is CHATON, a French act less likely to break big internationally, but with every chance of becoming a cult hero. He's playing the Think Tank stage afterparty put on by French music mag LesInrocks and it offers solace away from the massive crowd. About 200 people are there and everyone's sat drinking on hay bales by a bar that looks plucked straight out of a Patagonian ranch and airlifted in. CHATON's mass of hair makes him look like he is on the run from a metal band, for the brief moment we see him he's singing a dub-y cover reinvention of Celine Dion songs in French with a vocoder. No one here appears to be taking themselves too seriously; they're the ones eschewing some of the more hyped sets for someone with the balls to cover Celine Dion. It's perhaps the fitting antidote to the serious talks surrounding the decay of our planet that have been happening on this very stage all day. Everyone's friendly in these more open spaces, too, and should you find yourself in We Love Green I'd recommend this place to chat and test your French.
Live shows in general are - as Alan McGee once pointed out - very apologetic these days. McGee once complained that part of the issue with the decline of top drawer rock 'n' roll bands is you're much likely to hear a band say thanks for coming than "I told you we were good". Atlanta trio Migos - fronted by Offset, Takeoff, and Quavo - have no such problem: their swagger is perfectly intact.
Part of their shtick is to say they're the biggest act in the world and it is a lot of fun to go along with this crowd, which is bristling with energy, in endorsing their braggadocio. Today, Migos are received like kings by the feverish crowd, due to the aforementioned peak level of popularity hip-hop is going through in the country right now. The crowd is certainly clued-up as to how influential Migos are in pioneers of a certain way of rapping as well as knowing they're one of the best party bands on the planet. Their "triplet Flow" has penetrated the French mainstream with elusive rap duo PNL - who are a big go-to in France - one of many new(ish)comers using them as a reference point. As for the stage show their understated dance moves are offset by some wild on-stage pyrotechnics blasting out and a dizzying light show. It feels well-choreographed with moves in tandem with their deep trap sound, and the more mainstream club bounce that's come about from their new Culture II album.
The next day I arrive slightly too late to get close to Charlotte Gainsbourg’s set so settle down on the grass to soak up the day in passing, without realising I'm lying right in the firing range of Superorganism's set, who are doing their best to gain new listeners by starting abruptly, within seconds of Charlotte Gainsbourg putting down her mic. It feels a bit forced and cunning, in order to corner new fans.
Whilst I praised the band for their idiosyncratic, technicolour pop flourish and stunning vocals and inspired soundscapes when I first heard them; when the second single came out - 'Everyone wants to be famous' - I lost interest. It's one of a number of songs now being written about social media - A Perfect Circle, Trevor Sensor, and Placebo have recently penned some great songs on the subject - yet this one hasn't hit the spot. But the live set, to their credit, does suit the summer and a few elated fans getting into festival spirit with spliffs and dancing.
Over on the main stage, Stewart Lee-esque banter merchant Father John Misty is busy winding up his audience. This time, since he is main support for Björk, calling us "really bored Björk fans" and mocking us for being "fans of really sophisticated music". He says it in jest but it's funny and uncomfortable because there's a lot of truth in what he's saying. Misty is perhaps best when he's not focused on terrorizing his audience but belting out his songs that will stand the test of time with the quality of someone who could nail every recording on the first take. Having first discovered the artist at Primavera Sound in 2012 when his Fear Fun album came out - 'Hollywood Cemetery Sings Forever' was one of my favourite songs of the year - it's the material that shines brightest for me; probably for nostalgic reasons. I punch the sky to every bar, with almost as much emotion as I had when seeing Neil Young for the first time. Of the newer material 'Hangout at the Gallows' is the most unhinged and fun, with brass embellishments lifting the atmosphere and having those on the front row starting to gently head bang. Similarly, ‘Holy Shit’ sees a fun wig out before the final chorus with a burst of brass cutting through.
Whilst Father John Misty's artistry and relevance to our times comes in his lyrics, with the final song of his set ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ a wry commentary on the narratives of Armageddon and global market crashes perhaps the best, Björk does a fantastic job of reflecting where we're at with technology in the music industry. Her latest album Utopia sees artfully sculpted soundscapes knitted to perfection from ultra-modern beats with harp and flute to create a world even more beguiling than the stunning Bois De Vincennes park we're in.
Much of the soundscape is triggered from a computer on stage whilst live harp and electronic drummer play over it. Björk sings live whilst a flute orchestra use interpretative dance and mime pre-recorded flute to express the parts arranged by Björk herself. Woodwind is a constant presence throughout and they've added new lines to old classic songs to rework them into this new aural aesthetic. It works amazingly.
Much of the experience of seeing Björk live is visual and it's impossible to take your eyes off the stage. In a gold headdress Björk looks like the tribal leader in this artful world that’s an enchanting fictional paradise, and the manifestation of her beguiling, otherworldly music. In contrast to the aesthetic steeped in fiction, the lyrics are very much of our moment in time, and the struggle women face in our patriarchal, misogynist society.
Using only flute and vocals to expose the lyrics of Utopia’s 'Tabula Rasa', she sings "Let's clean up: Break the chain of the fuckups of the fathers / It is time: For us women to rise and not just take it lying down /"It is time: The world is listening." This gets a huge cheer from the loving audience who are with her every step of the way. Björk's had a complicated relationship with feminism and this is her most bold acceptance of her career thus far.
'Human Behaviour' is one of the best songs of the last 50 years and gets a massive reception. New album cut 'Losss' has a staggering outro as a sweet melodic song gives way to the sound of war triggered on the sampler and melds with a staccato flute arrangement and suddenly we're feeling the same visceral love of hard-edged experimental beats as Björk, along with her. 'Sue Me' is similarly dark and hits at her love of XL Recordings signee Arca. She leaves us with 'Not Get' from the Vulnicura album where Björk delves deeply into murky frenetic beats. It's a fantastic arrangement that implies Björk will forever be worthy of headlining festivals as she pushes the boundaries of genre, questions archaic norms and values and puts on a spectacle visually.
If We Love Green can continue to lure in festival performances like Björk’s – one that will go down in history as culturally valuable and immensely entertaining feast for the imagination - then it’s in good stead. And bands, punters and everyone involved will ultimately be clawing back here because of it’s beautiful site, arranged by promoters with great taste in a city that will forever beguile as one of – if not the greatest - capitals in the world. And there’s very few reasons to think of that would make it not the best way to start summer festival season in Europe.