A mix-up at Mix Up (or “what the fuck are we doing at a reggae festival?”)

Amande Diantre has arranged a late checkout so I loaf around the hotel, listening to CC’s pre-mixed album demos with which the guitarist has kindly furnished me. We breakfast on the terrace, cowering; it’s 33º in the shade, about 13º hotter than I like it. I don’t want to think about the temperature in direct sunlight. We somehow squeeze into the car and I’m driven to the station to catch a train to Paris Nord, then onto Creil for the Mix-Up Festival. I walk between Nord and St. Lazare stations, saving €1.70, but losing about five pounds in weight due to the heat. The train is busy and full of festival-goers with dreadlocks, cargo shorts and vest tops, and I wonder about the wisdom of us playing a festival frequented by such patrons, since such patrons are apt to partake of a large joint whilst enjoying reggae, and we are far from reggae. The SNCF rail company has its own police force and just before we depart I watch four of their meatheads on the platform drag two kids off the train, one bleeding from the mouth. The guards have firearms, truncheons, CS spray and telescopic batons. All wear black leather gloves. The kids look harmless, confused, led away by members of the biggest, least-accountable gang of thugs in the world.

I hole up in a bar opposite Creil station and wait to be collected, noting a heavy police presence. Aaron and Ben arrive in the car and we have a couple of cold beers. It’s curious how something as tasteless as Amstel can hit the spot in hot weather. We repair to the hotel, then drive to the festival site – an island in the river in the middle of the city. There is confusion about where we can park, and where our passes are and these conversations are had to a backing-track of lazy Sunday reggae from the main stage. Finally we’re able to load in to a small stage in a corner of the site, and we have forty minutes to set-up and line-check before we’re on. David the promoter takes us to the other end of the site to the VIP area to get us some beer and water, explaining that the backstage stocks of beer for artists has run out. You should not imagine VIP areas at festivals to be anything to get excited about. They rarely are.

The PA is substantial and sound engineer George Bush wrings the best he can out of it, and moments after I set up the merch table, the band begin. Just off to the right there is a reggae DJ set up on a table and he’s banging out a Bob Marley medley. It’s not that he’s loud compared to us; it’s that he has about two hundred people around him, dancing. A few curious types wander over, scratch their heads at our sub-bassed noise-pop, and return to the reggae DJ. Then, two songs into our set, the PA goes down. The sub-bass has tripped a limiter on the mixing desk. No-one told sound engineer George Bush about a limiter. At the same time Ben’s bass rig stops working. It’s a disaster. Those fifteen, twenty people who were watching drift away and we spend a quarter of an hour trying to get to the bottom of what’s gone wrong. It’s a massively dispiriting experience for a band; to travel all this way to play to relatively no one, and to suffer two technical failures at the same time.

Finally we get everything working again and pick up where we left off. An old lad comes down the front with a six-year-old boy and a woman in her early forties. They’re into it and start dancing, followed by another couple, and we have around ten people nodding along, enjoying the show. Ben and Aaron get their heads down during the songs and play as they would in a sold-out room, exchanging good-natured banter with our tiny audience between songs, coming down from stage after the set to meet them at the merch stand. Amazingly we sell €35 of CDs and vinyl, and a couple of t-shirts.

It’s maybe the thing that I’m most proud of them for. I’ve seen countless bands throw tantrums in those situations, storming off, cursing and swearing backstage, but these two just get on with it and play the best they can for those people who’ve come to watch. Whether it’s ten or ten-thousand, that’s your audience and you owe them your best.

We pack up and wander backstage to eat and have a few drinks, listening to Manu Chao drive 15,000 people absolutely batshit for over two hours, playing every song at twice the speed of the versions on his albums. The man’s stamina is incredible, his generosity of spirit towards his audience admirable.

Before we leave I go to the bar for one more drink. “You are Civil Civic?” ask two of the staff as they hand over the beers, grinning. “You were the only band we booked this year that we all liked. Thank you so much”.

For me, it was all worth it for that.

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