Highlights: Rock en Seine

Anthony Cody | Thursday, 11 September 2008

Highlights: Rock en Seine

The Rock En Seine 2008 festival witnessed the only French appearance of the year for Rage Against The Machine, a band who created the political rap-metal fusion genre during the 1990s, but unfortunately split up in 2000. Last year they reformed, and they sound like they’ve never been apart.

Blood Red Shoes, a two-piece band hailing from Brighton, got the festival off to a good, loud start. They are an extremely exciting new British band who have been somewhat dwarfed by The Ting Tings, the media darlings of the year.

Blood Red Shoes have strong grunge tendencies, citing bands such as Sonic Youth and Nirvana as primary influences. Their live performance did their album justice (often, two-piece bands are disappointing live, as they have to rely on backing effects and pre-recorded layers – Ting Tings for example).

Steve Ansell and Laura-Mary Carter, the two members of the group, ably opened the vast festival, a feat made all the more impressive by Lost Prophets’ below-average performance which followed them.

Lost Prophets entered the stage (all six of them) to a muted response. As the bulk of the crowd was there to witness the raw power and dynamism of RATM, Lost Prophets didn’t have the usual fan base of fourteen year olds to fall back on. After a promising start to their career, Lost Prophets appear to have now given up on any creativity within the band, and are content to stick to commercial success.

Fair enough, but they don’t make for a good live act due to all these new generic songs. The band resemble a team of Welsh hairdressers, and the camp nature of their show was a hilarious juxtaposition with Rage Against The Machine’s watching fan base, who, for the most part, were dressed in plain black attire.

Old songs such as Shinobi vs. Dragon Ninja retrieved some street-cred, but all too often, the sight of Ian Watkins parading round the stage with his ridiculous haircut and bare chest was too much to take.

Mix Master Mike was chosen to warm the crowd up for RATM. Packing in about a hundred samples into his set, he certainly provided variety, but the set felt more like a television advert than a festival set. Thirty seconds here and there of classic tracks got the crowd going briefly, but the anticipation for RATM was far too high for many to pay too much attention to Mix Master Mike.

Rage Against The Machine entered the stage to rapturous adulation. The four members appeared in prisoners’ clothing – baggy orange overalls – as well as bags over their heads. The political references in Rage’s music have always been clear, but this vision was more intense than usual. With sirens blazing, and the band playing the first track (‘Bombtrack’) still wearing their bags on their heads, the crowd went wild!

Anthems such as ‘Guerrilla Radio’, ‘Bulls On Parade’ and ‘Know Your Enemy’ were all performed with tightness and panache, and the crowd responded with roaring vivaciousness. However the best was saved for the encore, with Zach De La Rocha at his best with ‘Killing In The Name’ and ‘Freedom’ being belted out with such fierceness that one wonders if the man will ever cease from bellowing out political lyrics of supreme skill and potency.

Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford all ably assisted De La Rocha in producing an unforgettable display of subversive American rap-metal. Some may have thought that RATM’s time had been and gone by the end of the 1990s, but they still sound and feel as important as ever. In fact, the music world could do with a few more bands that use their music as a means of enabling social and political change for the good.

It will be interesting to see if the band produce new material, or stick to their fantastic back-catalogue. Either way, Rage Against The Machine might ruffle some feathers in the coming years, both in the music industry and the trans-Atlantic political scene.