- This year's edition of Worldwide Festival in Sète unfolded with a casual ease that seemed to suggest all the attendees were somehow familiar with one another. It was a fair conclusion to draw. Of the strangers I spoke to, all were visiting the festival for the third, fourth or fifth year in a row, and the total capacity onsite can't have been above 2000. Yet, as a first-timer to the festival, my unfamiliarity with the surroundings caused the occasional hiccup. Where do I find the daily schedules if not on the website? How do I get to the afternoon beach stage on a weekday when every taxi service in Sète has no available cars?
To its credit, though, Gilles Peterson's beloved event was so elevated by its mature atmosphere and rich musical diversity that the positives far outweighed any operational snags. The days flowed calmly, starting with morning DJ sessions at a waterfront restaurant, followed by an afternoon-into-evening beach stage and nighttime events at Théâtre De La Mer, a clifftop amphitheater backdropped by the Mediterranean. I took in the midsection of the week-long festival—Wednesday through Friday—which allowed for plenty of highlights. The Black Madonna, who closed on Wednesday night, played in the same spirit as most of the DJs I saw, loading her set with uplifting bangers. That said, she worked in a couple of deeper selections, notably Rena's disco burner "Dance It Off" and Joe's "Claptrap."
At the beach stage on Thursday and Friday, the lines were blurred between the general beach public and the festival attendees due to the stage's free entry policy. Sets from the likes of Atjazz & Jullian Gomes, Margaux and Prequel could be heard up and down the beach, as sunbathers, swimmers and dancers commingled all the way into the surf. On Thursday night at the amphitheatre, Shabaka And The Ancestors, led by UK jazz bandleader Shabaka Hutchings, demonstrated blistering Afro-jazz percussion and prodigious musicianship while delivering calls for ideological revolution. These were warmly received by the crowd, who, by the end, had risen unanimously from their seats to dance. One of the best things about the space is that the audience can get up close and personal with the performers. There's no need for barriers because everyone respects each other's space. Mark Ernestus' Ndagga Rhythm Force pushed that theory to the test the following night, pulling members of the audience (including Rhythm Section's Bradley Zero) forwards to face off with their electric dancer Fatou Wore Mboup. The group's performance otherwise suffered from an unbalanced live mix, with heavy percussion and dub bass tones dominating much of the mid range.
Some of the late-night DJ sets were inconsistent in a way typical of hour-long performances. Auntie Flo, DJ Marfox, Simbad and Addison Groove all cycled through quick-cutting sets, front-loaded with hits and genre U-turns that didn't always feel entirely earned. On the other hand, Simbad's tribute to Mobb Deep's Prodigy was one of many crowd-pleasing moments.
Through it all, Gilles Peterson was pleasantly ever-present. He appeared as if from nowhere to intro and outro all the live acts, offered enthusiastic radio-style drops throughout the DJ sets, and posed for endless fan photos. He embodied the spirit of welcoming and good-naturedness that's prevalent at Worldwide and lacking at so many summer festivals. You only need to go once and you'll be hooked.
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