Unfortunately, there hasn’t really been a lot for France to celebrate recently. From the Charlie Hebdo attacks to the Paris massacre in November and the country’s persisting state of emergency, France has had a jarring few years. But the French dream lives on: long, boozy lunches; late nights roaming the streets awash with music and lights; songs that move even those who don’t understand the language to tears; beautiful food and wine – these traits are ingrained into the French consciousness and are part of what makes it the world’s most-visited country.
It was this need to celebrate this country’s unique way of life that made Melbourne’s annual So Frenchy, So Chic – the first leg in a festival of French music, food and general joie de vivre – all the more blissful. Francophiles (and Francophones!) took over Werribee Park and Mansion, providing four brilliant and diverse French musical acts, a score of perfect French food and French activities and games for the whole family. Oh, and wine. A lot of wine.
The real question walking into the gardens of the mansion – our own little château for the day – was where the heck do we start?! The answer was, as it always is, with the food. Our first Gallic foray of the day was a glass of proper Champagne and a raclette dish, a French/Swiss specialty which is technically just grilled and melted Raclette cheese scraped over a pile of potatoes in the most beautiful, glistening carby mess you can think of. Armed with the food, vino and impending cheese comas, we set up camp under an umbrella to get stuck into the music.
Three of the four acts of the day were women, which feels completely unprecedented for any music festival ever – and they killed it. Moroccan-French Hindi Zahra opened the stage, pulling flower crown-clad punters up into the sun for the first of many serious boogies to her mixture of French and English-sung folk, blues and pop tunes. Following her was French duo Brigitte, who managed to flick from having everyone jumping up and down to leaving me with ‘definitely-dust-not-tears-in-my-eyes’ moments with their emotional Je Veux Un Enfant, heartbreaking even if your high school French isn’t rushing back to you.
The event was more geared towards being a festival of ‘culture’ rather than strictly music, and there was plenty of time between acts to refuel, reacquaint ourselves with the wine list and have a good old wander around the stunning gardens in the sunshine. The second half of the day brought the inimitably cool Lou Doillon to the stage, who is the embodiment of why we all secretly wish we were Parisian women. The daughter of Jane Birkin and Jacques Doillon, and half-sister of Charlotte Gainsbourg (she really had it set up for her), her mix of English and French lyrics sound lifted from the soundtrack of films and her performance was easily the favourite of the day.[video_embed] https://youtu.be/s06yoV5Yk5o[/video_embed]
Following Doillon was a total juxtaposition of these chic, sophisticated women who had filled our afternoon: a French ‘electro-Balkan’ group called Soviet Suprem. My first hint that they’d started was when I heard men screaming “DOWN WITH CAPITALISM!” as I waited in the queue for yet another Lillet cocktail – and if that’s not a cheery way to end your Sunday evening then I just don’t know what is.
Despite being genuinely terrifying before you really understand it, Soviet Suprem is quite a clever idea. They make their music based on an alternate universe where the USSR won the Cold War, pretty much vetoing America’s dominant influence over pop music. It involves trumpets, shouting, obnoxiousness, very politically-incorrect tongue-in-cheek humour and audience, uh, interaction (if you don’t dance along, you’d better watch your back – seriously). But it also involves a truckload of fun and Balkan dancing. It was all very French, in that drily hilarious way, and a très highly strung way to end the evening while wolfing down our last crêpes.
Always a brilliant day – now in its fifth year running – there genuinely was a heightened sense of celebration around So Frenchy this year, which I read as gratefulness that this way of life is persisting, despite being compromised over and over again all around the world.
A wall to write messages of hope on was a pretty lovely touch without being overly sentimental, and a speech from the French Ambassador to Australia reminded us that by just taking part in what is everyday French culture – dancing and drinking and doing so without fear – we’re helping to perpetuate what France is really about. That totally justifies four crêpes, right?
So Frenchy, So Chic comes to Sydney this Saturday January 16 and there are still tickets available – you’d be très fou to miss out. Tickets here.
Matilda is a British-Australian-French freelance writer. She has flat-packed IKEA furniture in London and Melbourne, and no idea what's coming next. She’s written for The Guardian, FasterLouder, mX and Grazia, and really likes hot chocolate.