Singin' (and dancin') in the rain: Hope for my generation at the Traction Music Festival

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Where this past weekend would you find live music that spanned the styles of jazz, rock, funk, R&B, soul, reggae, and electronic; to see an audience of people young and old, of any and all nationalities, so deeply into the music that even a torrential downpour wouldn’t stop them, and in fact, fuel them to push up the energy to an even higher level?

You could have only experienced such an event at the Traction Music festival in London, England.

Eurostar Traction was a one-day music festival curated by Gilles Peterson. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Gilles, he is arguably the most tasteful DJ and record producer around, and has been a trend-setter on the music scene in Europe for nearly two decades. He is always at the forefront of the scene, in constant pursuit of fresh sounds and performers that push the envelope. Gilles also hosts a radio show every week on BBC radio that features soul, hip-hop, house, Afro, Latin, dubstep, and jazz, and, he organizes several music festivals including the growingly popular Worldwide Festival each summer in Sète, in the south of France.

Traction ran from 4 p.m. until about midnight and featured diverse sets that included performers from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and the UK. At points, the music at the festival seemed to transcend time, space, and generations. At one minute you were hearing sounds rooted in 1970s funk and disco, then the next minute you were hearing Ella Fitzgerald sing “Night and Day,” and next you were hearing a completely original sound, like a reggae version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”

Adam Turner, a long time Gilles fan who attended Traction, commented: “I’ve been listening to Gilles on the radio for ten years now. It’s all about ‘joining the dots’: you’ll be listening to the tripped-out cosmic sounds of Sun Ra one minute, and Pharrell or Mala the next. It pulls in a community of listeners who share a common passion for the discovery of new music, whatever the genre. And Traction is bringing the same people together, right here in London.”

To say the music at Traction was eclectic would be an understatement: Baloji’s set featured the London dance group, Unity, and the music echoed a message of freedom and peace for those suffering in the Congo. Ghostpoet, a rising star that was just nominated for the 2011 Mercury Award, combined electronic beats with the spoken word, preaching about surviving the daily grind.

Next was the Brandt, Brauer, Frick Ensemble, which was a truly unique experience — combining western classical music and themes with techno. It was the only time that I saw people dancing to an orchestra that included harp, tuba, violin and cello. I’m not saying that there aren’t other places where you may find this, I’m just pointing out that it’s very rare. The ensemble played their set, toying with and defying the listeners’ auditory expectations of where the beat should be placed — manipulating the rhythm to shift into new and unanticipated directions. The group also brought out Jamie Lidell (a popular neo-soul singer) as a surprise guest, who added a nice colorful texture on top of the ensemble. If you’re inclined to check out The Brandt, Brauer, Frick Ensemble, which you should be, they will be playing at Lincoln Center in New York City in August during a brief stint in the States.

It was during Gilles Peterson’s set when the rain began to pour down. It was an absolute torrential downpour that would have most likely delayed or postponed most festivals, but not this one. There everyone was, most in ponchos and some with umbrellas, and rather than hiding for cover, complaining, or putting on a frown — these people rejoiced — they danced harder, and cheered louder. As the rain continued to come down, harder and harder, the energy grew greater and greater. It was infectious. You could feel it in your bones. The day was ALL about the music, and nothing was going to get in the way of them connecting with it.

As Turner — a musical enthusiast with some of the best musical ears in town, he’s finishing his PhD at Cambridge University in international environmental law — pointed out: “Complaining about the weather is a national pastime for us Brits, and, well, it’s safe to say we know a thing or two about rain. God knows it hasn’t stopped raining for three months now (if you haven’t heard, half the country is under water). On Saturday night, though, something changed. People opened their umbrellas and threw away their inhibitions. The intensity of the rain, and the raw emotion of Tellier’s performance, made for an atmosphere every bit as electric as the sky above us. And for a while, absolutely no one gave a crap about the rain.”

The night concluded with a set from the often controversial Sébastien Tellier, who, in between his jokes about sex and fish, put on an incredible performance that featured his well known hit “La Ritournelle” — one of the most beautiful symphonic dance tracks ever created. The simple and repetitious chord sequence in the first several minutes will undoubtedly put you in a trance-like state, if you’re listening carefully. And after the build, once Sébastien comes in with the vocals, the feeling is pure ecstasy.

Everyone who attended Traction was there for one reason and it wasn’t simply to have fun and dance with their friends, but rather, they were there to connect with the music deeply. It was humbling and promising to see many of London’s twenty-something’s connecting so profoundly with music that spans over so many different genres, cultures, and generations. In the wake of an age where it is readily apparent that popular music is becoming more and more formulaic, it is so important that more people become exposed to the types of music that appeared at Traction.

One of my greatest wishes is for this eclectic style of music to one day give “pop” music a run for its money, and for the majority of my generation to be exposed and to appreciate this music — particularly in the United States, where this music has yet to find a real niche to thrive in.

With popular music nowadays lacking so much depth, Gilles Peterson and his crew is a ray of hope, that soulful and meaningful music can once again be accessible and emerge to the forefront on youth culture. But will the majority of my generation be willing open their ears?

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For more on Gilles Peterson:

David Greenberg

David Greenberg

David Greenberg is a PhD researcher in music psychology at the University of Cambridge in England.He also plays saxophone in various groups including the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra. Follow him on Twitter: @dgreenberg7. Contact Something Else! at [email protected]
David Greenberg
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