Never before have I been so excited to board a Ryanair flight, but when you’re on the way to spend a week in Sète at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide festival, even decanting toiletries into mini bottles will get you going.
Boy was it good to be back on the terracotta streets of the medieval, maritime French town; just smelling the salty sea air and being greeted by beaming locals immediately felt like holiday. After dumping our bags we headed straight to Wednesday evening’s proceedings at the wondrous Théâtre de la Mer. An ancient amphitheatre on the rocky cliff edge, overlooking the sea, it is one of the most spectacular backdrops for live music in existence.
Unfortunately for those whom arrived earlier in the week, Tuesday evening’s acts had been cancelled due to a thunderstorm but, lucky for us, it meant Ebo Taylor was rearranged to that night. The musical maestro from Ghana wins the award for being the festival’s funkiest act. He and his band had the whole amphitheatre grooving, with true excellence. As if it could get any better, Theo Parrish and his newly-assembled band took to the stage , adapting his world-class productions to a live setting. We could truly understand the multi-levels to his production as we focused on the musicians on bass, keys, drums and guitar, alongside the vocalist. Ideeyah, who was absolutely sensational. Their version of Soul Patrol knocked us out, her voice was sublime. Another favourite was Walking Through The Sky, and looking around the Théâtre you could see how high everyone felt, heads floating in the sky over the sea. Teddy was in his element, jamming with his band, who he introduced as “some friends from all over the world”; a truly fitting statement for the festival. Special mention also goes to the four dancers who performed alongside the band, and formed the last members of “the Unit”, as they were collectively known. They were incredible and that night felt like the reincarnation of Soul Train, 2014 style.
The best way to describe Worldwide is as a holiday with awesome music served chilled. The day is spent on the beach, with a single stage set up next to the sea, while the evening programme all takes place at one stage in the port. Importantly, that means no running around between stages, so maximum time to soak in the music and surroundings. Thursday on the beach was a treat, with Bradley Zero’s set filled with funk and classics like Marky Mark’s Good Vibrations and Steve Miller Band’s Fly Like An Eagle. Finishing off the day’s music was Zepherin Saint, co-founder of Tribe Records, who continued to mediate our euphoria with exquisite selections. The highlight was Boddi Satva’s edit of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car, which, after our initial hesitation had everyone with their hands up and heads thrown back singing in chorus ‘I-eeee-I’. Vibes.
Washed and fed in our seaside apartment, we headed down early to the evening stage, at the end of a cobbled jetty, around the disused lighthouse and surrounded by the sea. First Up was Connan Mockasin, wearing a hat that only Connan Mockasin could wear. Ever the one to cross boundaries of normality, he started chanting ‘strip, strip, strip!’ at the audience and, after no-one obliged, he and his band mates took off their shirts instead. Later on Toshio Matsuura presented Hex, an amalgamation of Japanese jazz, dancefloor electronic sounds and Brazilian bossa groove; a true jazz fusion. It’s not called Worldwide for nothing! To finish off Thursday, Four Tet and Floating Points took to the stage to play b2b and get us all grooving back to back, knees to knees. Total pros, daddas of the dance floor. Faultless and utterly funky. We slept very well that night.
Friday saw Worldwide resident Simbad easing us into the day, opening up with an edit of D’Angelo’s Africa, no doubt out of respect for peoples’ hangovers as well as Voodoo’s brilliance. Mala then followed, with the unenviable task of playing during the France vs Germany match. On paper, a daytime beach set from the DMZ co-founder shouldn’t have worked, but it turned into one of our festival highlights. Word is, it was also a career highlight for him too. Our favourite set of Friday evening was from another Worldwide resident, Lefto. He had the crowd seriously skanking, and played everything from RnB to afrobeat, even fitting in General Levy’s Incredible. Boy was that fun. Friday had an overarching feeling of rave, much in the way the crowd responded to the music, with tenacity and wild-abandon. This was also no doubt abetted by Special Request’s hardcore, not-for-the-faint-hearted, closing set.
After a wild Friday night, we graciously greeted the soulful selectors taking over the Saturday beach stage, with Duff Disco, Sundae and Sadar Bahar all bringing the sunshine groove to match the revitalised weather. While it would have been good to see more female producers on the line-up, when it came to live music, two women stole the show. Victoria Port (of Anushka) on Saturday night and Karol Conka who played the following evening. Long time STW favourites, Anushka really impressed as they made their way through Brownswood-released debut album Broken Circuit. They’ve come a long way since Gilles premiered a demo of Yes Guess over two years ago. Continuing the impressive performances were duo Kyodai, whose jazz-laced dance-music was wondrously uplifting. We danced away, oblivious to the fact that we would imminently experience Seth Troxler play one of the best set we’ve ever witnessed.
We could try and avoid hyperbole, but it was totally mind blowing. Between dancing ferociously we would steal glances at each other in disbelief of what was going down that night in Sète. One highest of highlights was Seth dropping Prince’s I Wanna Be Your Lover, looking giddy with delight as he masterfully guided the song. I think we all fell in love with Seth that night, and understood why he is widely considered one of the world’s best DJs. Seth somehow captivated and tapped into us all, no doubt helped by the fact he spent the week at the festival with us, chilling on the beach and floating in the sea. He was on our wavelength.
He was also with us that same day on which we sadly lost a life. ‘We’, because there was a united sense of loss that day and this was felt in the festival’s response. It’s almost like we danced extra hard and Seth’s set was extra sentimental, in light of the incident. The way Gilles and the festival maturely acknowledged the loss of a life and paid respect to the individual was commendable. Those who go to Worldwide have a mature appreciation for club culture anyway, but that evening seemed to go deeper with the music and dancing than many of us have ever been.
Sunday’s beach stage was cancelled out of respect for the festival community’s loss, however we returned to the St Christ stage in the evening for one last night of sensational talent. Headlining the evening programme, Little Dragon were a little disappointing, as Yukimi Nagano’s mesmerising vocals were drowned out by Erik Boden’s mindblowing drums. Their set also felt too short considering their talent and position on the bill. Later on, DJ RKK was introduced by Gilles as one of his favourite DJs and the first to introduce France to Latin music. He was quite a sight to behold. Rémy was barely visible over the top of the decks and wore a neon orange Worldwide t-shirt with neon green braces. Nearly 70 years old, his set, alongside Maga Bo, oozed with samba beats and latin grooves. For his age, he exuded an outrageous amount of energy and totally redefined what it is to be a cool dude. Respect.
Continuing with the Brazilian theme, rapper Karol Conka took to the stage and corrected anyone who dared doubt that women can rap. She was sensational, feisty, funky and seriously fun, aided by live traditional timbal drums that pay homage to her musical heritage. To finish off an amazing evening and a brilliant festival, the father of it all, Gilles Peterson played a closing set overflowing with his musical wisdom. He was then joined by other DJs who had played throughout the festival including Oshunlade, Sadar Bahar, Simbad, Lefto and Thris Tian. Worldwide isn’t just a festival, it’s a family.
Shouts go to the festival for being the most accessible one we’ve been too. Worldwide truly puts its punters first and we can count on it to always maintain its quality and never lose its vibe. Fate didn’t make this the easiest Worldwide but that does not mean it wasn’t excellent. Au contraire. This was not our first time at Worldwide and it most certainly isn’t the last. We plan to return every year, for the music, the setting and the family. Bring on the 10th Anniversary next year.