Oct 02, 2008, 05:45AM

Attacked by Marsatac

The Marsatac Festival in Marseille offers (mostly) great music in an unbeatable location.

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Photo from the Marsatac website.

This past weekend I went to Marseille to catch the last day of the annual Marsatac music festival, an event that brings together DJs, rock groups, hip-hop artists, and churro fanatics from all over to indulge in a three-night bacchanal. This year offered such immeasurable talents as Sean Kuti, Tony Allen, and De La Soul, but as I only just arrived in France a couple of days ago, I missed all of those acts. Instead, I made it in time for the "Evil Heat" showcase, which clustered together electronica, punk-funk, and minimalist techno. For a bill of only 12 artists, it was a pretty diverse offering that more or less kicked the shit out of me. By six a.m., my shoes were chalked up from the dance floor, my shirt stretched out from sweat, and my stomach rumbling desperately for a churro.

"Marseille feels strangely like Detroit," said my friend Jon as we sliced through the outskirts by bus. Large sections of the city lay deserted—the most recent activity being the graffiti that marked apartment complexes and old storefronts. Maybe there was a parallel to be made simply in our excursion to the city. Taking the bus from Aix en Provence to Marseille conjured up scattered memories of driving from Ann Arbor to the Motor City. Like Ann Arbor, Aix is a university town with a cultural pedigree. There are a lot of students, a lot of tourists, and an all-around youthful exuberance that attempts to balance out the city's more bourgeois tendencies. Marseille on the other hand is big and dramatic. It's populous by nature but one can't help but notice all the pockets of empty space. Its distribution of wealth is more upfront: enormous yachts are lined up and down the docks. But walk just 10 minutes further inland and its character shifts. Elderly men chitchat out front of the brasseries. Kids run around outside with rocks in hand. It's an alarmingly beautiful place that seems more tranquil than one would expect.    

By the time the Notwist took the stage at 10 p.m., the mass in front barely even qualified as a crowd. The veteran group, whose emotional range and obsession with machines made them a natural fit for the mostly electronic-themed evening, didn't disappoint. They alternated between songs from Neon Golden and The Devil, You + Me, including a spirited rendition of "Pilot" that featured a substantially glitchy interlude. Probably more noticeable than the songs were band members Andi Haberl, who absolutely laid waste to his drum kit, and Martin Gretschmann whose command of the “programming” looked almost identical to someone awkwardly playing Wii Fitness in front of a large audience.  

Other notable performances were Polysics whose brand of highly-caffeinated, schizo Japanese tech-pop has somehow found a home here in France. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I've seen this band perform twice live. Each time I can't figure out if the French audience is sincerely engaged by the music or just amused by the whole spectacle. Minimalist DJ Chloe may carry weight in some electronic circles but her live show was about as exciting as going to the dentist's office. As concertgoers stood motionless, Chloe added stale drones on top of a stiff and steady beat. It may be true that the base of her record collection comes from classics like The Beatles and Pink Floyd—as she points out in her bio for the concert pamphlet—but, as a minimalist techno artist, her sound couldn't be further from it.

Berlin-based DJ Boys Noize was effectively the headliner for the evening. He spun for two hours straight, starting at around 1:30 in the morning and catapulted the audience into an immediate frenzy. His routine seems simple in concept. He unveils a beat, stretches it out to its absolute peak, and then adds thumping bass right as the crowd is about to erupt. Probably anyone can DJ, but few are capable of the timing and execution displayed by Boys Noize. The dude was sick.

And on a somewhat meaningless side note, beer at the event cost a modest three euros. But collect 40 discarded cups and you could exchange them at the bar for a free beer. I hope that more concerts introduce this idea because honestly what's better than people getting drunk on conservation?

Marsatac is ambitious in its scope. It seems that anyone with the capabilities to attend all three nights would be treated to a well-curated spectrum of musical acts. How often are Tony Allen and Boys Noize mentioned in the same sentence? But even attending a single night turned out to be enjoyable. Not only do you witness to some fine performances, but you also have the whole Mediterranean in front of you.

  • A very cool article, as usual, Gabriel. I can taste that churro now. Wish I was there, after my Angels lost night to the hated Red Sox (just kidding, the Halos will prevail). But I'm wondering, with the dollar's rebound is it more affordable in France for somewhat strapped young guys like me?

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