PARIS (Reuters) - Rock En Seine, one of France’s main music festivals, earned a spot in rock history last year when Britpop legend Oasis split after the volatile Gallagher brothers had a fight minutes before going on stage.
This was an achievement festival director and founder Francois Missonnier could have easily done without.
“It’s by far my worst memory since Rock En Seine started. It was like time suddenly expanded. The stress and energy spent during those few hours to make sure the party did not turn sour equated to a year’s work,” Missonnier told Reuters.
To make matters worse, the 2008 edition had seen another headliner, troubled soul singer Amy Winehouse, also cancel at the last minute, leading some to speak of a Rock En Seine curse.
“Someone told me I would have had more chances of winning the Euro Millions Lottery than having these cancellations two years in a row. Of course I hope this stops...If we had booked The Libertines this year, it would have looked a bit of a taunt,” he joked.
Turbulent British band The Libertines are playing comeback shows at the Reading and Leeds festivals in late August.
Missonnier was speaking while fine tuning the three-day music marathon, now in its 8th year, which will be held August 27-29 in the scenic 17th Century Saint-Cloud park near Paris.
This year over 40 acts across three stages are slated to perform with top-billers ranging from trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack, Canadian indie-rockers Arcade Fire, to reformed British art rockers Roxy Music and U.S. punk band Blink 182.
Despite the Oasis debacle and a recession, the 2009 edition drew a record 97,000 visitors over three days and made a profit.
This year looks even brighter in spite of competition from international festivals like Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds in Britain or Benicassim in Spain, which also attract major acts.
“We are headed to do as well, possibly better than last year. In 2009, we put out 15,000 three-day passes. This year, we have already sold nearly 10,000. We are more than a month ahead of last year,” Missonnier said.
Reasons for success range from the beautiful setting of a park designed by Andre Le Notre, the garden architect of King Louis XIV, which offers music lovers a relaxing way to end the summer to a line-up mixing mainstream and indie rock while reaching out to hip-hop and electronic music.
“I think we found the right alchemy between various styles. We manage to offer on the same night Massive Attack and LCD Soundsystem. It’s rock in a broad sense, rock with no blinders,”
This year, indie kids will dance to The Kooks, Foals, Beast, Two Door Cinema Club, Plan B, or Chew Lips.
The festival will also give a chance to local acts such as Parisian electro-rock sensation I Am Un Chien or Roken Is Dodelijk from Lille in Northern France.
Missonnier is not particularly worried about competition from a rapidly expanding festival scene in France.
“France was behind Germany, Britain and Spain in terms of festival audience. That audience is building up and that’s one reason why Rock en Seine has been expanding,” he said.
Ironically, Rock En Seine’s main rival is a thriving Parisian music scene, with hundreds of gigs slated each week.
“Our challenge is to stay interesting and exciting for people who love rock and live in the Paris area,” he said.
“To do that we will always choose to book an artist who has not played in Paris during the year. That’s what we did with MGMT or The Klaxons last year”
The main gallic summer rock music festivals range from Solidays at the Longchamp race track in Paris at end-June, Les Eurockeennes in early July in Belfort, eastern France, to Les Vieilles Charrues also in July in Britanny.
A recent newcomer is The Main Square festival held in July in the northern town of Arras and backed by the world’s largest concert promoter, Live Nation, which raised a few eyebrows among festival organisers worried about skyrocketing artist fees.
“There are artists we will never book. If you overbid on artist fees, you have to raise ticket prices. I prefer to forget about some artists, even those I totally admire. I refuse to charge 100 euros for a ticket to make it financially viable,” he said.
Rock En Seine’s three-day pass goes for 99 euros. A one-day ticket costs 45 euros. But you can see at least five bands that day, which is a “cheap” proposition versus paying 30-40 euros to see just one of these same bands in a regular venue, he said.
The festival has an estimated 2010 budget of 4.8 million euros, one-third of which is earmarked for artist fees.
Tickets foot 65 percent of the bill, sponsors 10 percent, while 15-20 percent are subsidies from the region and local authorities. The rest comes from merchandising.
Asked to name an artist he would love to book, Missonnier said: “The dream that I think is unlikely to come true would be landing David Bowie. Otherwise, I would like to get The Strokes fairly soon.”
The Rock-En-Seine festival
Domaine National de Saint-Cloud
Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, editing by Paul Casciato