Photos: Bríd O’Donovan
There was little immediate sign of rockin French electro in The Idle Hour last night. The 7 o’clock race at Uttoxeter was under way, a few middle aged couples were sharing a quiet drink by the window and the customary lines of Marquee-goers filing down the quays in June were nowhere to be seen. Did I have the right night? The weather was shocking, mind you, and the river was rising ominously. Then a clue. The stereo switched to a Justice mix and three young gents materialised at the bar in clubbing-friendly trainers and t-shirts. To make matters even more incongruous, the extremely helpful barman began handing out umbrellas to the punters and, at Uttoxeter, the horses on the course were replaced by humans wearing animal costumes. We left this bizarre scene behind for the familiarity of the large tent on the Marina.
By the time we pulled into the Showgrounds, naggins and bottles of Buckfast were well in evidence in the soggy ditches, among a crowd much younger than yours truly has come across at the Marquee in the past. A queue, a drink, some announcements, and Erol Alkan was taking the stage to great acclaim in an already half full “room”. He brought some bass drum into it, wielded the treble switch with impunity and was pumping the crowd after only a few minutes. A bad sign that early, you might think. It did occur to me that his set was not shown off to best effect in the venue – a club, in darkness, with a low ceiling is what was suggested, I thought – but in fariness he had a fold-out table and only half the PA to work with. Furthermore, his technical skill, which was unquestionable, was still possible to admire. I was glad to be there to hear his fantastic mash-up of ‘Blue Monday’, twisting and mangling its so-familiar elements (hi-hats, snare rolls, you know the ones) into new and unexpected shapes. Very, very groovy shapes.
A call of nature, another queue (quick) and some more announcements and the main event. And it really did feel like an EVENT. Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé took their places on stage between two huge Marshall stacks (possibly 2-dimensional), on a podium above their familiar white-lit cross. Augé looked like a younger, more louche brother of Robert Plant, with long curly hair, while de Rosnay came across like an Ian Brown in his prime, an impression only bolstered by the Justice logo-enhanced tracksuit tops. Augé had barely had time to raise an Irish football scarf above his head – with a completely deadpan expression -when what looked like a pair of knickers were tracing an arc on to the stage. People, there was fervour in the air.
There were also glowsticks aplenty and a thick atmosphere of weed later, but more importantly lots of dirty disco juggernauts pounding out through the speakers (Marshall or otherwise). ‘Civilization’ from the new album was out of the blocks early, a stadium-sized chorus to match the mood (“beating of a million drums“) and a scuzzy funk backbeat to inject adrenaline. The light show very quickly made itself a major factor in the show. It was quite simply breathtaking, shadowing every crashing offbeat, every 16th bleep, every slinky bassline, creating a visual spectacle in perfect harmony with the music. When the wall-to-wall curtain of light bulbs hanging behind the band lit up white, I think my heart missed a beat. It was literally an awesome moment.
I’ve long been a fan of Justice’s way with a pop tune and mastery of dancefloor dynamics, both of which were on show last night. What was new to me was their sheer rock ‘n roll leanings (at times, it was possible to read the four-to-the-floor beats as AC/DC hommage) and prog influences (extended, slowly evolving workouts). When they unleashed the bass drum on ‘D.A.N.C.E.’, they were just short of an air guitar for full effect.
What they did pull out, in true prog style, was a cape for de Rosnay for the current album title track ‘Audio, Video, Disco’, as the stage console parted to reveal an organ (complete with lighting faux church organ pipes). The showmanship even extended to a minute-long (at least) frozen moment, the crowd in the palms of their hands for every second. It is a matter of debate as to how much of the sound is being produced live on stage, but last night, frankly, nobody cared.
Friends, the rest of the details are a little blurry. I know my retinas were pounded by the lighting rig (strobes, floods, what have you) for more than an hour, as if in sympathy with my eardrums. I remember hearing ‘On ‘n On’, another brilliantly slippery prog-disco beast from the current album. At one point, the lighting theme turned from white to red, another assault on the senses. I remember seeing trains of young ones in shorts and sneakers winding their way happily through the crowd. Finally, the pair of messers on stage came out front, waved an Irish flag in the air, took a couple of bows and were gone.
We stepped over the empty naggins on the way home, the river subsiding, nursing our shattered eardrums and aching hamstrings, showing our ages. Disco doesn’t get any better/filthier than Justice.