Review: Positive Education 2022
It’s surprisingly mild as we touch down in Saint-Étienne, an industrial city just an hour southwest of Lyon.
It’s mid November and for the next three days we’re attending Positive Education, an experimental electronic music festival run by local promoters Charles Di Falco and Antoine Hernandez.
This year marks the sixth edition of the event, though the pair have been throwing parties on home turf, and at venues across the country, for over a decade now.
Running over the course of five days from Tuesday to Saturday, the first two nights are reserved for special concerts that favour emerging and promising names from across France, before the festival gets fully underway on Thursday evening.
Its location is the Cite du Design, a former weapons factory that’s ordinarily used as a centre for research, communication, training and design. It’s a vast industrial-looking space that proved to pair perfectly with the sounds on offer across the weekend. It’s also a special occasion as it will be the last time the event is held here due to the site undergoing renovation from next year.
As Positive Education’s name suggests, it’s all about discovery. Not just in the music you’ll hear or the artists that are playing, but also in the new connections to be made and the different ways of thinking that the organisers hope attendees with take away. It lives up to its name. Particularly with regard to the music, almost too much – the only downside of the programming was that there was so much to see but I couldn’t be in two (or three, or four) places at the same time.
Everything happens at night, starting from 9pm and then running into the wee hours of the morning, in the case of the final evening, until 10am. It allows you to gather your brain cells and re-up your minerals during the day before getting right back into it.
On Thursday evening – wine, charcuterie and cheese consumed – we made our way to the Cite du Design for the first time. The space is split into four rooms, or ‘Scenes’ en Francais, which surround a courtyard in the middle where the food stalls and toilets are located.
On the first night only three of the Scenes are open, the fourth being introduced on the Friday. It’s the first time they’ve used the extra space, and it feels like an apt way to bid farewell to the impressive location they’ve called home for the last few years.
Entering Scene 1, the largest of the stages, you’re taken aback by just how grandiose the room is. It has a warehouse feel to it, stretching for what seems like miles. It’s large but somehow manages to still feel intimate when you’re in the throes of the crowd. It’s lit by blue and white lights that flash and dart frantically around the space, dancing in time with the sounds of emerging French artist Hewan Almani.
As Hewan’s set drew to a close, Mary Lake stepped up to the plate for her live debut. The Rotterdam-based artist has made a name for herself over the last few years with her jacking techno, electro and leftfield electronics which have found homes on United Identities, Radiant Love and Nous’Klaer. To a visual backdrop of what looked like a frenzy of buzzing insects, she tore through a set of stripped-back techno driven by an unrelenting groove. Just like her DJ sets, there was a palpable energy that forced you to move and kept us rooted to the spot for its entirety.
From one live set to another – if you’re making a trip to Positive Education and Saint-Étienne, a set from local hero A Strange Wedding is a must. The Worst Records boss has been behind some of our favourite weirdo sounds over the last few years, so a chance to hear him in a live space was high up on our list. He didn’t disappoint. In his branded ASSE football shirt, he ran through mind-melting acid-soaked rhythms that rumbled and charged ahead, before upping the tempo into more percussive breaks-driven territory.
Though techno greats Laurent Garnier and Peter Van Hoesen were billed to close out the first night, our preference was something a bit more off-kilter. In Scene 2 French underground favourites Glitter55 and De Grandi locked horns for a B2B, with Glitter stepping up on vocals at a few points during the set. Both talented artists in their own respect, the pair’s shared love of leftfield bass, broken percussive techno and rhythmic experiments made their performance truly symbiotic and was a welcome change from the 4×4 pace at the other stages.
Much of Friday daytime was lost to my bed, which was a shame as the sun came out full strength and the temperature reached 19 degrees, but R&R was top of the agenda so I could reap the most out of the evening ahead. After a late meal in a traditional friterie, followed by a glass of chartreuse and an espresso, we headed back to the venue and straight to Simo Cell.
He’s always a safe bet. Every time I’ve caught him before it’s blown my mind, and this occasion was no different. The Nantes native warmed up the stage perfectly for The Bug & Flowdan’s live set. Weighty low end sonics resounded around Scene 4 as The Bug took his place; it was one of the most rib shaking sub-heavy sets I’ve ever witnessed. His solo tracks and collaborations like ‘Poison Dart’ with Warrior Queen came first before Flowdan joined him on stage, his silhouette enveloped by the haze of smoke in the room.
Later we were back there for the end of Gboi and Jean Mi’s set, another two returning names. The pair took us on a ride though fast-paced breakbeat and clattering jungle, throwing a BackRoad Gee track in for good measure, but it was the closing track that will stick in our memories. Everyone loves to hear something nostalgic in a set – a reminder that sometimes the old classics are just as necessary as new and obscure rarities. With Gboi and Jean Mi, it was the sounds of Ja Rule’s ‘Livin’ It Up’ that transported us back to more innocent years.
After that we were in the market for a bit of euphoria, and these days we all know there’s only one man for the job (excuse the awful pun). Strangelove boss, and man of the moment, Job Jobse gave it some welly over the two hours he soundtracked Scene 2. Firing through the tougher, darker side of his repertoire, old favourites like Missile Records release ‘The Horn Track’ rang out amongst heavy breakbeat cuts and driving progressive trance, before the familiar sounds of Bomfunk MC’s classic ‘Freestyler’ brought his set to a rapturous close.
Whilst most of the daylight hours so far had been spent nursing a sore head and wallowing in the darkness of my hotel room, on Saturday I managed to drag myself out of bed for an extracurricular activity.
In partnership with ASSE, Saint-Etienne’s football club, Positive Education invited artists and journalists to enjoy a match against southern team Rodez, following a DJ set from Infravision in the stadium. Sadly the music didn’t go ahead but some of us still managed to drag ourselves down there to catch the action, and possibly the only bit of non-festival related culture we managed to squeeze out of the city (cheese and wine aside).
After a pit stop at Rinse France’s headquarters for the weekend, where many artists from the festival stopped by for interviews and DJ sets, we made our way back to the festival for the final night of music. Higher Intelligence Agency were first on the agenda. The Warp producer filled the room with downtempo IDM and slow acid-soaked electronics, in what was probably one of the most laidback sets we caught over the weekend.
Swiss artist Timnah Sommerfeldt was due to take over next but sadly, due to illness, she couldn’t make it on the day. However, every cloud, as the DJ tasked with taking her place was Sybil, who I know from back home in London. It was an absolute pleasure to see her captivate the crowd in Scene 3 from the get-go. Starting her set with a field recording of frogs (a tip of the hat to Timnah with whom she shares a passion for the amphibious creatures), she then made her way through clattering broken rhythms before diving head first into deep hypnotic trance that kept the audience hanging on her every move.
We couldn’t catch everyone but we heard whispers of RONI and LISA’s B2B being one for the books, among other exciting performances across the weekend from the likes of Sha Ru, Marie Montexier, Konduku and Iceboy Violet. But back to the artists we did manage to catch; we found ourselves at Lyon producer Sentiments live set briefly followed by the EBM, industrial leaning sonics of December, the artist behind the next release on Natural Science Records.
I made a bee-line for Scene 1 afterwards to catch Infravision in action, the project of Italo Body Music coiners Pablo Bozzi and Kendal. Just as the set began to get underway, the music cut out for a whole 15 minutes and people began to float out of the room, but once it came back on the crowd quickly grew and the energy intensified. Their set was full of hands-in-the-air house anthems, old school rave bangers and driving EBM grooves; a cocktail of everything I love.
They passed the mantle to Macadam resident Bambi afterwards. In the short time she’s been DJ’ing, she’s been making incredible moves in the French scene and showcasing skills that belie her experience. She commanded the stage with her signature blend of euphoric, progressive trance and celestial breakbeat that was immaculately laced together.
A brief pitstop at Toma Kami & Re:ni’s set upped our minerals before we headed to the final slot of the festival back at Scene 1. Marco Shuttle and Erika brought things to a close, but it wasn’t for the fainthearted, myself being one of them. I held on for the first 30 minutes but by 8:30am the heavy techno emanating around the room was a bit too much for little old me, so I made the final jaunt back to the hotel through the streets of Saint-Étienne.
Walking back I meditated on the weekend that had passed. It felt as though I’d been part of something really special and unique, also down to the incredible crew of new friends who took me under their wing. It felt so different from many of the festivals on the UK circuit, more like a collection of incredibly curated raves, that, as a whole, gave a true snapshot of how exciting and strong the electronic music scene is in the country. It’s a testament to Antoine and Charles’ curation; their vision really shines through.
As you leave the festival, a banner frames the exit, emblazoned with the words ‘Stay Safe, Curious and Bold’. It’s a fitting manifesto, and one that encapsulates the way we’ll continue to go about our daily lives, with open ears and open hearts.