It's half past ten on Weather Festival's Saturday night in Bois de Vincennes on the outskirts of Paris, Ricardo Villalobos has stepped up to the decks and I turn round and realise that every single person in my line of sight — which stretches into the outer reaches of the city's largest park — is utterly fucked. Like, utterly, brain-wreckingly, week-ruiningly fucked. A weary looking group of lads I saw hopping on the train earlier that day have materialized behind me and look like they've just spunked a year's worth of l'argent de poche and have quadruple-dropped as a result.
On the evening of the festival's short opening party — which saw eclectic Ninja Tune artist Dorian Concept and the king of dabke Omar Souleyman joined by an orchestra toting Derrick May — I went out for dinner with two of France's most prominent underground figures, who told me that A) young French people are suddenly really, really into techno and B) that Weather was a big deal. The third installment of Weather was confirmation of both those points.
Xosar's live set was hampered slightly by sound issues, which led to her vicious, raw, gauzy material sounding a bit like it was being played through speakers stuffed under a mattress. Nonetheless, the crowd whipped themselves up into a frenzy, no doubt inspired by Xosar's shamanic performance behind her stash of wires and boxes.
The following few hours saw half of Berlin zip over to Paris with Berghain residents and techno poster boys Ben Klock and Len Faki heading up the main and second stages respectively. Klock's arrival on stage was met with the kind of rapture usually reserved for the election of a new pope, or when they give away free packets of ham at Waterloo station. I'd not seen a reaction like it since the last time I watched that Oprah Winfrey car giveaway video on YouTube. Close-cropped, vested-up Klock smashed through three hours of tracky techno that went down remarkably easily for something so forceful and driving. A resolutely unflashy DJ, he kept things at a relatively steady pace with the 303 gurgles wrapping themselves round icey-blue pads and whiplash hi-hats during a set that saw the crowd 100% lose their shit every time Klock dropped the drop.
Faki was in a more maximal mode, playing harder and faster than his power station pal, and his following felt a bit more feral, a bit more oh-shit-this-could-literally-explode-if-he-picks-a-hard-enough-record. Still, from Klock to Faki on the Friday, and Marcel Dettmann and DVS1 the day after, there was one pleasing absence of a techno staple at Weather: fist-pumping. In over 20 hours on site, the only person I saw mechanically raising a clenched hand was myself, psuedo-ironically and I'm still repulsed by myself now. It seems that French techno fans are a little more restrained than us, or at least less inclined to lower themselves to pointlessly punching the air like debased animals aroused the merest hint of a kickdrum. Props to them, then. Even the lads with eyes like saucers were keeping things lithe and direct.
Having been battered Berlin for a few hours, we wanted a bit of aural palette cleansing so wandered round to catch what should have been one of the festival highlights — Floating Points going back to back with Four Tet. Sadly, there was just something not quite right about it. The mixing felt weirdly off, the sound was muffled, the assembled throng were sluggish and it looked like the boys on stage were having more fun than we were.
A shame, but it gave me pause to reflect on exactly what it is people actually want from dance festivals. Primarily, people go to dance festivals to get fucked with their friends. There's no way around that. It is the major motive that gets groups of us moving about from Marakech to Munich. The music comes after that. It shouldn't, obviously, but that's how it goes. We see festivals as lawlessly liminal spaces where our hedonistic impulses are untethered and let loose, limited only by our bank accounts and phone batteries. So we follow the crowds, soak up the buzz of others, root around pockets for loose change to swap for flat beer, line stomachs with boiled burgers in stale brioche buns, trying to make everything into an experience rather than living one.
After all that back-of-the-Uber pontificating, I was ready to party. Saturday night saw us arrive in time for a for wonderful set from everyone's favourite aforementioned Chilean master of supremely wonked out, trippy, twisting and turning techno, Ricardo Villalobos. Clad in a leather jacket and surrounded by what seemed like every DJ playing the festival, he kept things relatively straight. By his standards, anyway. Slippery, lithe, ever-so-slightly-jacking house and wafting, wavering techno were the order of the day, and the young crowd — bar a few of your standard silverback gravers, no one at Weather looked a day over 25 — lapped it up, tongues wagging in the breeze.
Having wound our way through the throng, double cupping vodka and orange juices, edging away from the monstrous main stage, we alighted on the Ete stage to watch a master and pioneer at work: Robert Hood. The former Underground Resistance apostle and ordained minister was in Paris under his thumping, thudding Floorplan guise. Given the strength of his material under that moniker — which includes stone cold classics like "Baby" and "Living It Up" — it wasn't surprising that he turned in the set of the weekend. It was ferocious stuff, the kind of choppy, chordy, stiff house that sends crowds wild and reminds you why any of us give a fuck about this music. Watching Hood calmly slide into the eternal "We Magnify His Name" was the stuff of dreams.
Panorama Bar resident Steffi was up next with a storming live set that was a chunkily effective compliment to Hood's total and utter commandeering of the festival. The Berliner kept things sweet and simple and bridged the gap between Detroit and Chicago perfectly, setting things up very nicely for a great few hours from acid don Lil Louis. Given that I could have sworn I heard "French Kiss" about ten times that evening — Robert Hood definitely played it and I'm adamant that Villalobos snuck in a few seconds of it — it was a joy to hear the man himself run through it. Recent hearing issues seemed forgotten as we basked in the glorious glow of primetime house records,
A flat-clapped live set from a sat-down Blawan was an aimless wander through acid splattered techno that didn't really do much but seemed to grab the attention of the bucket hat boys around me so we bailed on that and traipsed past the increasing numbers of splayed out, laid out bodies, catching a snippet of Romanian trio RPR Soundsystem (Raresh, Petre Inspirescu and Rhadoo) before making our way home, sated and happy.
As we slipped into slumber, Nina Kraviz's slinky set could be heard from miles away, rolling on until the early hours of mid-morning. My DJ pal was right: French people fucking love techno.