News Rock En Seine’s Francois Missonier: ‘Two Days Before The Festival, I Thought It Was Dead’

Paris’ premier rock festival is set to celebrate its tenth birthday in style with The Black Keys, Sigur Ros and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds all lined up to play the carnival-themed event. DIY speaks with Rock en Seine creator, Francois Missonier, to discuss festival heartbreak, fights and French music.

Walk around the boulevards of the French capital this month and you wouldn’t think this is a city gearing up for one of the country’s biggest live music events. Gig venues, trendy boutiques and restaurants are all adorned with the same two frustrating words: ‘Bonne Vacances’. But as sure as the city’s inhabitants flee to the beach every August to soak up the sun and avoid the tourists, Rock en Seine will be there, as it has been for the past decade, waiting for their return.

It’s fair to say French indie music has had a rough couple of decades. Many still reduce the nation’s output to Johnny Hallyday leaving the likes of Phoenix, SoKo and Yann Tiersen to take a backseat to their illustrious electro brethren such as Air, Justice and Daft Punk to name but a few. The tide, though, is changing and Rock en Seine Creator and Director Francois Missonier has played his part: ‘A couple of years ago French bands were looking up and saying ‘Oh, those indie UK, US or even Swedish bands they’re so much better than us’.” Francois tells us. ‘It wasn’t a very rock and roll attitude. The French bands were lacking pride and arrogance most of the time, that’s changed.’

Francois’ modest about his role but in the mid-1990s, with the UK reaching Britpop fever, the most visited city in the world was all but void of an indie-music scene. La Fléche D’or, a converted train station in the west of the capital, had started putting on shows but the city was already years behind. In 1997 Missonier was charged with creating a Parisian rock festival (Rock à Paris) by his then employers, TV station Canal Plus: ‘We had such an incredible line up with David Bowie and Rage Against The Machine and it didn’t work… it’s very new to our culture and I think 15 years ago we weren’t ready.’

Four years later Francois was out of a job and Solidays, a festival promoting Aids awareness, had sprung up with indie stalwarts such as Muse and Iggy Pop mixed with pop acts and ageing French singers like Jean-Jacques Goldman. Desperate to right the wrongs of Rock à Paris, Francois gave it another shot, but after spending two years raising money, finding a site and booking bands, Rock en Seine almost collapsed just days before the first chords were to be struck: ‘It was the Wednesday, two days before the festival and we’d sold just 10-12,000 tickets in six months and we needed to sell 20,000. I thought it was dead. Then just two days before the festival everyone went crazy for tickets in Paris, everyone wanted to come and we ended up with 19,000 which saved the festival.’ That initial one-day festival brought PJ Harvey, Beck and Massive Attack to the festival’s base at Parc Saint-Cloud just east of Paris and some of the world’s top names have followed: Pixies, Morrissey, Radiohead and R.E.M have all headlined whilst Jack White, Arcade Fire and Jonsi have made multiple appearances in one form or another.

Frustratingly for Missonier it’s two of his toughest moments which have made the headlines. In 2008 the late Amy Winehouse cancelled just hours before she was meant to close out the festival, but for many, Rock en Seine will always be where Oasis finally and dramatically broke up. ‘I got a phone call from my partner saying you have to come backstage we have a situation, Oasis won’t play. I was at the opposite end of the site and so I got on my bike and rode at Tour de France speed to get back and I just kept thinking it’s impossible, it’s got to be a joke, a very bad joke, but by the time I got there, there was nothing I could do to save it.’

That was just minutes before the Gallagher brothers were set to take to the stage with reports that Liam had smashed Noel’s guitar in the fight. It’s a testament to Francois’ fortitude that he can now talk about the night through a wry smile, Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Bird’s are even set to take centre stage at this year’s 10th birthday celebrations.

Rock en Seine 2012 is set to be the biggest yet, with more bands, stages and activities than ever before. Weekend tickets have sold out well in advance and organisers expect record crowds of around 30,000 to attend, although that’s still under half the amount expected to be at both Reading and Leeds festivals over the same weekend. Francois admits his relationship with the Carling Weekenders can be both a blessing and a burden: ‘Every festival, by itself, finds it difficult to book bands, especially international bands and it’s the same when there are too many festivals. There’s no way we could financially compete [with Reading and Leeds] even if we wanted to, we have to be intelligent. For example this year The Black Keys are playing all three in a row, it’s good for the band and it’s good for our festival as well.’

Rock en Seine may not be able to match the British Festival’s budgets but its success has opened doors to potential competitors. This year We Love Green Festival and indie-powerhouse Pitchfork will return to Paris for their sophomore events, with the latter showcasing members of the French indie elite: M83 and Sebastien Tellier alongside established names like Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear and The Walkmen.

Francois, though, says he isn’t worried and that he plans to keep promoting new French artists. On the Sunday afternoon at this year’s event the ‘Avant Seine All Stars’ will see ten French bands, one after the other, cover LCD Soundsystem, The White Stripes, At The Drive-In, The Strokes and many more. Those bands will hoping they can replicate last year’s breakthrough act Concrete Knives who signed for Bella Union in May and will be playing both Reading and Leeds this year much to Francois’ delight: ‘If I can help good French bands, even if it’s just to play in the UK then that’s the point.’

Rock En Seine will take place from 25th - 27th August just outside Paris, France. Read our Bands To Watch feature here.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Love Festivals?

Subscribe here to receive regular updates from DIY on all things festivals.

Here comes the summer...

2024 Festival Guide

Featuring SOFT PLAY, Corinne Bailey Rae, 86TVs, English Teacher and more!

Read Now Buy Now Subscribe to DIY