Review and photos by Stefania Ianne
A gloomy day in a gloomy summer. The British music scene has moved to Glastonbury for the muddiest festival in history. The rest of London is depressed, following the outcome of the referendum that has decreed the British exit from the European Union. But there is still room for joy as the LGBTQ+ Pride parade hits the streets while, at the same time, a military parade is snaking along an alternative route: there is room for everyone in London. As to music, while some are divided between Adele and Rihanna in Glastonbury and Wembley, respectively, I prefer a smaller festival, away from hysteria and mud. The joyful vibe is perceived not only in the streets of the rainbow-coloured city centre, but also in Fulham, steps away from the Thames, inside the park surrounding one of the many historic buildings in London’s infinite perimeter, Fulham Palace.
We are at FOLD (Freak Out Let’s Dance) festival, organised by Nile Rodgers, a personality-led festival divided into three days of music mainly inspired by the 80s judging by the line-up, with the opportunity for Rodgers to join some of the musicians and have fun on stage. Usually FOLD festival is headquartered in New York, but this year it has spawned a twin festival in London. While approaching the festival space, we can hear disco music from a distance: our 20-minute walk from car to gate is accompanied by classic tunes by Diana Ross and Sister Sledge as Nile Rodgers and Chic are already on stage. Entrance to the palace is labyrinthine, with minimum security; they almost forget to check our tickets. Once inside, the space can be defined intimate compared to other festivals, the stage area surrounded mainly by boutique street food vendors. We immediately become aware of the presence of a second barrier that I initially thought was there to ensure the safety of the front rows. The barrier, instead, marks the divide between the VIP audience – who paid three times as much for access to a proper bar and the front rows – and the rest of us. The press is obviously in Glastonbury and I cannot see a single accredited photographer: just hundreds of mobile phones up in the air to record Nile Rodgers’ funky guitar, sided by vocalists Kimberly Davis and Folami Ankoanda and a full band who will play the many classics Rodgers created for the most famous names of disco music in the 70s, 80s and the new millennium.
Rodgers greets us with his half-moon smile, looking as young as ever with his long dreadlocks and white beret. Throughout the performance, he jumps with the audience and dances as much as humanly possible, despite the cancer experience that almost ended his life. He refers to it during the introduction to the inevitable Daft Punk hit ‘Get Lucky’, transformed on stage, at the beginning, by the soulful rendition and powerful voice of lead singer Kimberly Davis. Rodgers informs us that, at the time, doctors had advised him to settle his business because he had very little left to live. ‘I went home and cried a little, that was pretty much my affairs taken care of’, he says. It was a struggle, but eventually he can now say that he has recovered and, musically, he was born again with Daft Punk and has since decided to work more than he had ever done in his pre-cancer life. That is why tonight we find him on stage and that is why he continues to create. His tribute to David Bowie was also to be expected, since Rodgers is the mind behind the more commercial Bowie sound of the 80s, like the hugely successful ‘Let’s Dance’. Tonight everybody dances, especially the very few children in the crowd. During the Bowie tribute, Rodgers temporarily abandons his pizzicato style to introduce a solo, the first of the evening. The performance is almost scripted, but the result is very cheerful and pleasant, with a final stage invasion by a chosen group from the audience to dance to ‘Good Times’, with a very happy Rodgers rapping the lyrics smiling.
The mood is positive, the rain is sparing us and, while the audience shifts around mainly in search of drinks, we seek the best location to view the headliner, Beck. Seeing Nile Rodgers playing disco music standards sided by first class musicians was a good appetiser, but my curiosity and sense of anticipation at seeing Beck a decade since the last time is much more intense. Beck is celebrating 20 years since the release of Odelay, so his performance can only start with the classic ‘Devil’s Haircut’. Beck the musician shifts between genius and playfulness, Beck the composer never ceases to amaze and, given the dance theme of the festival, Beck the dancer does not disappoint and he delights us with his disco moves and an ubiquitous lasso throw move, very effective throughout the evening. He seems tiny, black trousers, black shirt, a classy pink jacket and a hat with a wide brim, halfway between Mormon and cowboy. His appearance as an eternal teenager seems to betray a pact with the devil or is it perhaps the result of his Scandinavian heritage? His music talents were inherited from his Canadian father, conductor and composer David Campbell, who has worked with top pop musicians and composed and orchestrated many Hollywood soundtracks. Needless to say, David Campbell has also orchestrated the arrangements in his son’s productions. Beck’s surname, Hansen, comes from his mother Bibbe Hansen (Bibi), a visual artist from Andy Warhol’s entourage and daughter of composer Al Hansen, friend of Yoko Ono and John Cage. Despite the important family artistic background, Beck made himself and made history. How deceiving that 1994 interview with Thurston Moore in which he appears a reluctant cheeky brat!
Beck appears fascinated in equal measure by hip hop and folk, and in 20 years of activity he went on to produce a highly personal style fusing both genres with the addition of powerful amplified guitars. He still continues to break stereotypes, even in his private life, far removed from that of the average rocker. On stage he appears fragile, like a young, handsome Woody Allen staring at us with innocent eyes as if in a difficult situation with Kanye West. Tonight, he quite soon gets rid of ‘Loser’, without a doubt his most recognised tune, with Nile Rodgers dancing and cheering on the side. Beck notices him and goes to hug and thank him before continuing with his hymn to losers. In the atmosphere of defeat that reigns in post-Brexit London ‘I’m a loser baby, why don’t you kill me?’ seems to reflect the general mood perfectly. The disco footprint of the evening is reflected in the samples and rhythms that filter through the homage to Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ and Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’, played almost in its entirety with the amazing guitar and voice of Jason Falkner. A Mick Jagger look-alike and much better guitar player than Keith Richards, Falkner seems to condense the Rolling Stones in one person, even if his musical obsession actually appears to be The Beatles. He greets us with a constant smile, embodying the joy of playing, a positive presence, necessary to balance Beck’s innate melancholy. Beck does not forget to pay tribute to those celebrating Pride 2016 with ‘Sexx Laws’, the perfect anthem sung and danced on stage and in the crowd, while a guy sporting a rainbow top and afro wig is carried in triumph by his friends a few centimetres away from me. The VIP barrier curbs their move, but not their enthusiasm. The joyful atmosphere is spoilt by two annoying middle aged men pushing everybody to try and see better and a visibly intoxicated woman in the VIP area turning towards us and greeting as if to say: ‘look at me, how privileged I am!’ Very sad. My live experience, though, is not ruined by these episodes and I quickly get over it, thanks to the heady musical show and the high-quality images projected behind the musicians: a mesmerising digital animation featuring multi-coloured creative patterns and fireworks, playful and joyful. The look in Beck’s eyes persists between the surprised and the alarmed throughout the concert, and is reflected in the eyes of the little boy watching with curious eyes from the prime location of his father’s shoulders in front of me, baffled by the spectacle as we all are.
‘E-pro’, from Guero, powerfully ends the main part of the concert: catchy refrain, killer tune, killer guitar. The return on stage for the encore coincides with the presentation of the band during ‘Where It’s At’. ‘Ready for line dancing? No cowboys in the crowd?’ Beck teases us, hinting at the video for the song. During the long finale, Wayne Moore and his funky bass break into a tribute to bassist Bernard Edwards, Nile Rodgers’ musical partner with Chic, reprising ‘Good Times’, while Jason Falkner on guitar plays with the oriental introduction to Bowie’s ‘China Girl’ with a touch of Iggy Pop. The audience appreciates, the audience keeps dancing. Roger Joseph Manning Jr., ex-Jellyfish, on keyboards, hints at Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’ while celebrity drummer Joey Waronker pays tribute to Prince’s ‘1999’, keeping the morale high and celebratory.
Tonight, for a few hours, we live in a time gap when Bowie and Prince are still alive and we are still part of the European Union. Beck, extremely elegant in another fitted white jacket and white hat with even larger brims than the other one, if possible, is the perfect host, even offering to massage us. He is ‘ready to do anything to make us feel good’, or so he says, now that we know each other better. But time is up and, before I know it, Beck has already left the stage and the smiling faces of his band greet us before disappearing into the darkness of the backstage. Tomorrow is another day, tomorrow they’ll play in Glastonbury’s commercial bedlam. I’m glad I avoided it for a more intimate, less crowded, not even wet, lucky concert.
- Devil’s Haircut
- Black Tambourine
- Ghettochip Malfunction (Hell Yes) (with ‘Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See’, Busta Rhymes)
- Mixed Bizness
- Sissyneck (with ‘Billie Jean’, Michael Jackson)
- Qué Onda Güero
- The New Pollution
- Go It Alone
- Think I’m in Love (with ‘I Feel Love’, Donna Summer)
- Sexx Laws
- Where It’s At [with ‘Good Times’ (Chic), ‘China Girl’ (D. Bowie), ‘Home Computer’ (Kraftwerk) and ‘1999’ (Prince)]