Hitching a cable car down the French Alps with So Solid Crew at Rise Festival goes down as my most surreal festival moment of 2015 — and that includes Grace Jones hula-hooping her way through Electric Picnic.
The week-long Rise — set in the famous resort Les Deux Alpes — has plenty of moments where that came from: grime upstart Novelist snowboarding down to his set in a red onesie; Minions gatecrashing So Solid Crew’s closing Main Stage set, and dancing with a giant Honey Monster/Yeti hybrid to Ms Dynamite in the town square. Then there’s the pristine, surreal beauty of raving up the Alps in ski gear, compared with wading through muck and paper cups in a field – we’ve got a winner on our hands.
2015 was the second year of Rise (my first), and the heads who were there in 2014 say it’s been an even bigger success this time. They doubled the capacity to 3,000, secured more stages and more local venue tie-ins and joined forces with labels and crews like Rinse, Ibiza Rocks, Hospitality and Data Transmission. This gear-shift made sure the festival sold out a week before, while punters were scrambling around TK Maxx trying to find some half-assed snow gear.
Whether you’re a semi-professional, an occasional skier or, like me, a total joker putting skis on for the first time, there’s a real ‘get involved’ buzz at Rise. With more than 200km of ski runs – from baby green slopes with cartoon turtle signs to the self-explanatory scare-fest Le Diable, you’ll be skiiing, falling, improving slightly and falling some more, with plenty of heads to help you out or join in your group.
On the first Sunday morning, the local ski hire shops seem to be creaking under the pressure of hundreds of bleary-eyed festival heads descending en masse demanding the gear they’d booked through promotion companies and colleges. It’s a minor blip though – within a few hours we’re all kitted up and ready to take the 20-minute cable car to the festival’s biggest draw – Pano Bar, with its tagline ‘Party at the top of the world’.
The idea of Alpine apres-ski may evoke images of dodgy chalets playing Euro trance or chart fluff, but Pano Bar really is next level, aside from it being 2,600 metres up. The venue runs from Sunday-Thursday at Rise from 1-5pm, meaning there’s no time to lick your wounds at your chalet if you’ve got sore muscles or a fuzzy head. Even if you have to do 20 snoozes on your alarm, you can’t miss the morning ski and catching the Pano sets, the real unmissable aspect of the whole festival.
Set over two levels with a wooden watchtower DJ booth overlooking miles of Alpine vistas, Pano Bar is one of the most striking festival settings I’ve ever seen. Funny then that this impossibly wholesome setting is gatecrashed on the Sunday by a crew more suited to basement clubs and warehouses in London. Faze Miyaki sets the scene playing the Star Wars Imperial March with his hood up, face mask on, as he waits for ultra-hyped grime MC Novelist (below) to finish his slalom down the mountain and jump on stage after posing for a few selfies with giddy fans.
At first he’s drowned out by Faze’s metallic breaks and splintery grime, but it’s not long before he’s asking, “turn me up selectah”, freestyling with simple call-and-response chants and fist-bumping all over the place, waving a bottle of lemon Fanta in the air for his whole set, for some reason. “Who came out to express yourselves?” he’s asking, as well as “Make some noise UK massive”. This UK massive makes up the vast majority of the Rise crowd, so you’ll overhear “smashed it” every half hour or so during the week and you’ll be saying it by the end, as well as ‘mint’ for ‘awesome’ – the only Leeds slang I felt I could get away with.
But even though the UK has got on board big time with Rise, it’s an easy festival to sort from across the water. Like other festivals such as Exit, Outlook, Dimensions etc, the promoters may be English, but the one-stop shop for organising still stands. The ticket includes a six-day ski lift pass, and risefestival.co.uk works with local landlords and ski hire shops to offer accommodation and class packages and take the sting out of organising everything yourself. The closest airport to Les Deux Alpes is Grenoble, but it’s simple to fly from Dublin to Lyon and get a one-hour train then a transfer into the mountains from Grenoble station.
Later on the Sunday, the UK massive are on the back foot when Ms Dynamite (above) bounds onto the Main Stage in the town square. She makes no concession to her chart past, bar a cheeky snippet of Dy-Na-Mi-Tee, before launching into a gruff set of ruffneck ragga, grime and garage, pogoing, fist-pumping and getting more hoarse with each patois couplet. She’d give Warrior Queen a good battle. She’s only on for a half-hour, but what a half hour – her veins are popping as she takes on Redlight’s What You Talking About!?, and even manages to make health and safety sound cool when she tells people to stop throwing drinks and be careful with pals on shoulders.
After Ms Dynamite, Sigma seem a bit toothless and tame. Their drum & bass has no real dirt under its fingernails – uplifting melodic passages with well signposted breakdowns and drops. There’s no jeopardy, no danger, and for some reason they keep playing passages from Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Still, you’d have to be a buzzkill to complain too much – they dig deep into the tank and give everything, with MC Justyce hollering at his “hooligans” and whipping up some crowd-surfing and tops-off tomfoolery. Robin S’s Show Me Love and their take on Kanye’s Bound 2 wrap it up with a big strobe-lit bow.
Glasgow’s Jackmaster got into a drawn-out Twitter ‘debate’ a few months ago when he posted: “House music is not in a good place right now… there, I’ve said it.” The thing is, he doesn’t really need house music to be good right now, as he’s one of the great house curators and diggers of this generation, joining the dots between early jackin’ Chicago and New York classics, 90s French house, electro-funk and dusty disco nuggets. As soon as we get off the cable car at Pano Bar for his b2b set with Axel Bowman (above), he’s getting stuck in to Trax classic No Way Back by Adonis, and it sets the scene for an unashamed afternoon of full-on blockbusters. The pair – Jackmaster fully-hooded with ski goggles and Bowman in a Sweden soccer jersey – are having the craic outdoing each other, as Derrick Carter-style boompty-boomp house makes way for classics like Da Hool’s Meet Her at the Love Parade and 808 State’s Pacific State.
They’ve got company though, DJ Benton is in the booth, butting in with spinbacks and over-exuberant hands-to-the-sky dancing. I could’ve swore I saw Jackmaster giving him a ‘git tae fuck’ elbow out of the way at one point after he played Drake’s Hotline Bling, or maybe that’s me projecting.
Jackmaster’s known for going back to back with anyone who’ll have him, and he continues this mining of the past later on that night with his old sparring partner Skream (above). The pair are on playful form in the WAR Arena – a huge sports hall complete with bleachers and wall climbing frames. Sweating buckets, the pair are knocking out full-on techno, but they’re never too far from cult electro-pop, EBM and classic house. Nitzer Ebb’s Join In the Chant is a mainline of dancefloor steroids, while French Kiss and Visage’s Fade To Grey will keep them in goodwill tokens for the rest of the set. After finishing with Zorba the Greek, they move the party to the Avalanche Club and carry on well into the morning, and there’s no dragging them away. They could still be up that mountain for all we know.
The Avalanche Club is another sidestep on the Rise trail – a dark and intimate ‘real’ club that’s more immediately familiar than the Pano vistas or the vast WAR Arena. Avalanche kicks off every night of Rise, with Rinse, Klear and Data Transmission mucking in during the week.
Another crew with a big presence at Rise is Eton Messy – the YouTube curators of future garage and smooth house and a long line of sold-out London club nights and festival slots. They keep the big room theatrics for the WAR Arena, but as per usual at Pano, they dig into the vaults for some good-natured cheese – playing 2 Can Play That Game, R Kelly’s Ignition, Boogie Nights, Daniel Bedingfield (seriously) and Hotline Bling – a big contender for most rinsed tune of Rise, alongside Stormzy’s Know Me From.
Away from the ‘official’ Rise venues and events, there’s plenty of Alpine charm to be had around Les Deux Alpes, and some great refuelling spots. The tiny log cabin Le Petite Creperie has a winning combo of galettes and Breton cider and La Maison de la Raclette’s menu has tartiflette – gooey rebochlon cheese, potatoes, bacon lardons baked in a pie with a toasted cheese crust. It’s comfort food of the gods.
Another comfort blanket is Umbrella Bar at the foot of the slopes – a perfect afternoon pitstop after a class or ski run, to lie back on deck chairs and sip a few beers with classic reggae and dub. After Pano Bar at 5pm it turns into a dancing on tables impromptu disco and house party, with some dude playing along with a trombone. It’s a great way to warm up for the final Main Stage event – So Solid Crew playing their second set of the day. At the afternoon Pano set, the UK garage crew really get stuck in, spraying champagne, grabbing fans’ phones for daft photos, as Lisa Maffia and Romeo go toe-to-toe on their own cuts, with 21 Seconds causing the biggest ruckus of the whole festival. After 10 minutes the snow jackets are off, and they’re dropping plenty of UK bangers, with Lisa Maffia doing an a capella version of the Prodigy’s No Good (Stop the Dance), Skepta’s That’s Not Me and Solo 45’s bonkers track Feed ‘em To The Lions, with Romeo pulling off a stagedive that turns into a crowd-surf for the whole track.
Back at the town square, So Solid carry on the rowdy buzz, playing a similar set for those who didn’t make it up the mountain earlier. They add Minions on stage and blow-up candy canes for all. As Lisa Maffia chants “I wouldn’t wanna be anywhere else in the world, merry fucking Christmas” along to Chic Cheer, we’ll second that motion. All Rise!
Printed in Irish Daily Star