Every music festival has its ups and downs, especially when the competition to attract audiences has become fierce and big music events find themselves fighting for mainstream impact or elitist approval. But it is rare to find one where participants and artists call themselves “family”, a place where food, sea and outstanding locations compete in equal terms with the artists line up. Furthermore, it is impossible to name any other music event built around the personality and influence of someone like Gilles Peterson. These few ingredients might just explain the success of Worldwide Festival, which celebrated its ninth edition this summer of 2014, in the southern French little wonder of Sète. But if you happen to return for the fifth time, which is my case, it is due time for a proper story.


After a two year break, 2014 is my return in full shape to the party. The festival hosts now a seven day ride where you need to pace yourself. The golden triangle of the daytime beach sessions, the evening live and dj performances at Theatre de la Mer, and the Saint Christ lighthouse late-into-morning shows are a sweet tour de force. And the famous closing party on Sunday, split between the beach and the lighthouse, is the ultimate goal. But I wasn’t going to stay all week this time, so my Sète ride would only be four festival nights.

Monday has now become the official day for the Worldwide Family (on and off stage) with particular attention to Gilles, Lefto, DJ Simbad, Garfld and the Brownswood Recordings army (artists and crew). The first festival program now divides into an extraordinary warm up party in the garden of the Paul Valery Museum and a deluxe night at Theatre de la Mer, combining live music and what Peterson calls “the most beautiful dance floor in the world”. The Museumhosts a small party of three to four hundred early arrivers who have the opportunity of a free outdoor kick off with the sounds of the festival Presidential Guard: Montpellier’s Garfld and DJ Simbad, plus 2014´s Gang Colours, Debruit & Alsarah, and Matt Doubt & Diane Charlemagne. Later at night Xanadu awaits. Not the super cheesy rolling disco, but the Theatre de la Mer: an auditorium facing the sea with an 180 degrees angle behind and around the stage which works as a magic shrine into the sea. Zara McFarlane was repeating performance this year at the theatre. And what a performance! She has grown so much musically since her first time on this very same stage, daring into more difficult vocal territories, longer pieces and a delicate interaction with her ensemble which promises a limitless career as a vocal jazz crossover artist. Considering that this first festival evening had been preceded by the light heart folk voice of Michael Kiwanuka we could only expect the best.  And indeed we got it: midnight brought the mirror ball shines transforming the auditorium and stage into an outdoor club, a classic and must for both Gilles Peterson and the worldwiders legion. The opening 3 hours dj set by the man himself behind all of this. And he delivers the kind of dj set that has built his name and initials in giant capital letters. From Brazil to the streets of London, from electronic beats to the eternal funk of Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father”, an ongoing celebration of past jumping into the future.

Tuesday offers another afternoon free party at Séte’s Centre Regional d’Art Contemporain, a generous line up with Garfld, Shigeto live, Werkha, Moxie and Nikitch for a crowd made of locals and wanna-see-it-alls, a boiling hot location because of its sun orientation which used to be the welcome party for a couple of editions. This year the weather is grey thick with wind promising a late evening storm. And bad news come true when rain arrives heavily around the time shows should start at Theatre de la Mer. Due to extreme weather conditions the evening shows are cancelled. Big disappointment since everyone was looking forward to see Ebo Taylor, a man pass his eighties who might be doing his last international tour. But soon word arrives: a party has been organised on the beach at La Ola. Most Brits decided to go to sleep early so the crowd gathered is mostly French (celebrating in unjustified manner that they might win the  World Cup), happy Belgians (also celebrating football results), and our beloved Guillaume from Freshly Cut throwing fun tunes after the ubiquitous Garfld. So we manage to dance and stay up.

On Wednesday we wake up with the news that some artists from Tuesday night will be rescheduled for shows during the week. Ebo Taylor will still perform at the theatre, so we have a diamond night in front of us: Taylor, Andrew Ashong, Theo Parrish and Osunlade (who will have a shorter dj set of two hours instead of three). Considering we also have beach performances today (Al Dobson, Nickodemus, Jeremy Sole), Wednesday already looks like the strongest program of 2014.  And it sure delivers as promised: Nickodemus drops a classic Worldwide beach set with hot spirited tunes moving from latin, disco, afro, house to anything funk fueled; so does Dobson during his mid-tempo opening set, or Jeremy Sole with a crazy evangelist set filled with visionary speeches about the sacred Eclectic word.

The true best is yet to come. So we rush like crazy to have a shower, get dressed in style and make it in time for the supercharged live program at Theatre de la Mer. Only a few more than a hundred see the beginning of Andrew Ashong’s performance, and by the time he has finished we feel truly blessed with extraordinary luck. Ashong has given us a delightful present of emotions, acoustic lines, soulful lyrics and another unforgettable performance in a location that always makes the artists who play here deliver their best.

Check the video I filmed of one of the songs:

The next one to come out is the one and only Ebo Taylor. A magnificent legend in African music who has experienced a recent global impact thanks to a series of reissues and features in compilations from British specialised labels such as Mr Bongo. It only takes a few seconds for the crowd to jump out of their seats and squeeze together next to the stage to feel and breathe the heart and authenticity pouring from Mr Taylor, until we all scream in awe to the first notes of his immortal anthem “Love and Death”. When his hour long show ends it seems very hard for Theo Parrish or even Osunlade to take us beyond the happiness we have just experienced. In the case of the much admired dj and producer from Detroit this was his first live experiment where he combined highlights from his repertoire on Sound Signature with four people dancing on stage, in true footwork style. Theo comes out wearing his usual odd manners in clothes and body language, and the show begins embraced with screams of excitement from the audience. It takes a couple of songs to understand that this is not as bad as I expected, the dancers are good and entertaining and the band sounds like a bar jam with some flops and very little excellence. Nothing is going to destroy the bliss I still feel from Taylor’s memorable performance so by the time Parrish is finished I’m ready to move on and enjoy the other giant of the night: Osunlade. One of the few real deep house djs of the contemporary club scene. Parrish acolytes think the show was great, and most people in my Worldwide crowd find it boring or irritating. Who’s right?

See also a small clip I filmed from my standing point of view at Theatre de la Mer:

It is almost 1 am when Osunlade starts. The opening track is his own production “Dionne”. By the time Osunlade drops Isaac Hayes’ “I Can’t Turn Around” (or to be more precise what I think it was Ashley Beedle’s “Turn Around”) the crowd is one big happy thumping mass. This is the farewell night to the outstanding Theatre de la Mer and we want to sip every single second of it. Beers and champagne glasses fly around in smiles, love is expressed again in hugs, kisses and selfies. This is why we come back here every year…

The following morning, at the beach, tired faces start to show up. I’ve decided to miss most of the programme at today’s beach stage and lie down as much as possible at my gang’s classic hideout at the Lido. I want to be in good shape for the first night of St Christ. And Toshio Matsuura’s new live project HEX proves what the album sounds like: hot weird crossover jazz with impeccable performance. The act suffers from a crowd in shock after the one hour long noise vomit created by the unjustifiable Morphosis. But we make it to the most expected performance of the day/night: a back to back dj set between Four tet and Floating Points. An all vinyl dialogue between a serious and deep digger (Sam aka Floating Points) and a very personal collector (Kieran aka Four tet). The dj set drops some heavy tunes but it all turns out a little broken for a sort-of-club festival night. But curiosity about the closing tracks keeps me up until the end, when no fireworks come from the booth: so we all drag ourselves back to the hotel.

It is hard to leave Séte, though, the following day. But this festival is also about connecting with true satisfaction, not gluttony. After almost ten years of existence, delicate music programming and excellent production the winning sensation of us, hardcore worldwiders, and many new additions to our family is that we will come back next year. And what a fantastic anniversary we have coming up in 2015. Because nowhere else in the world will you feel music and holiday friendship the way we do here in Séte, at the Worldwide Festival. The greatest public (secret) affair in the world.