Saintes, a historic town approximately 60km south of La Rochelle in France, has lots to offer. The second largest city on the Charente – Maritime, noted for its Gallo-Roman heritage. With a theatre, museum, Roman amphitheatre and a musical conservatoire (within the Abbey Aux Dames), it is hardly surprising this quaint town is a thriving a tourist destination. Locals and tourist rub shoulders buying fresh oysters from the vibrant daily market, boat trips along the Charente, the friendly residents, and let’s not forget the delicious fresh pastries. The pleasant one hour train journey south of La Rochelle to Saintes, is well worth the effort. And if the mention of fresh oysters and mouth watering pastries isn’t enough to note your interest, they also host an annual music festival in September, the Coconut Music Festival, an ambient electronic experience, which outlines the perks and tastes of the town, Bordeaux wine and Cognac flowing alongside a vast pool of musical talent.

Thursday 6th September 2018

Excited about the prospect of music for the next three days we headed to the Abbey Aux Dames, which is where the tiki-themed Coconut Festival has always been in some capacity over the years.  Saintes, a town where it seemed most of the main attractions are within a half hour trek from each other, the Coconut Music Festival has an air of ease to it, relaxed and inclusive at the heart. The welcoming atmosphere was obvious upon entering the Abbeys’ court yard, with the young and old, locals and tourists appreciating the music, and surroundings, a stunning setting for this small festival with a maximum capacity of three thousand. However, there was certainly not anywhere near this amount present, it was approachable, easy, the only thing holding me back was my French knowledge, which certainly has room for improvement. Oui mais non was my standard response to parlez vous Francais.

It suited me, however, to be in the surroundings of somewhere that would educate me about their local music talent, and I was keen to learn, and discover what we were in for, get a handle on the next few days. For this was the warm up and anyone could pop their head in to the Thursday evening to get a taster and sneak peak of Coconut. Jaune was on first, after a DJ set from the Coconut staff, who set the tone for the next few days, French electronic pop, with an edge of calypso, this was a fine starter for the festival. Voyou was up next, with his melodic electronic pop, a meaty course before finishing the evening with Malik Djoudi, who performed tracks such as the more intense, pacey Cinema. The night then took on a pulsating edge, as the excitement rose for the days to follow.

Friday 7th September 2018

After a day of enjoying the lush green walks down by the canal where many would picnic, eating fine food (we had certainly located the local market), figs and oysters aplenty, and enjoying the local wine (Saintes is located within the Cognac region) we then found ourselves back at the Abbey Aux Dames yet again for an evening with quite the menu of music. We arrived in time to catch the tail end of Michigan’s Anna Burch who might be familiar to you through Frontier Ruckus but who certainly held the stage solo (with a backing band of course), performing her dreamy grunge from album Quit The Curse. Up next was the fantastic This Is The Kit, performing the beautiful Moonshine Frieze, the impressive Bullet Proof and emotive Bashed Out, Kate’s velvety vocals assisted by the delicate sounds of Rozi Plain. Having performed at the first ever Coconut Music Festival, there was much excitement from the crowd for this performance from Kate Stables and team. They did not disappoint, a highlight of the weekend.

Halo Maud was straight on after the Winchester lassies, indulging us with the hazy punk-pop from her recent release, Je Suis Une Île. She certainly got the crowd dancing to her swelling guitar, bracing us for the aptly named Dutch lads, The Mauskovic Dance Band. Performing tracks such as Down In The Basement, the band had the audience in the palm of their hands, jiving to their rhythmic percussion and African influences. That was one thing which was notable about this festival, there was little in the way of nonsense from the crowd, they just wanted to dance, and immerse themselves into the music, hit the floor as soon as the acts come on stage. Refreshing to witness. The next act we saw perform not only had the audience dancing but forming a mosh pit. The “Bruxelles Takeover,” which saw Belgian hip hop artists, Romeo Elvis, La Smala, Caballero and Jeanjass all take to the stage. The effect this quartet have on the audience is rather astonishing as all have their hands in the air, ready to be led by this Belgian quartet. I am as much in awe of the crowd’s performance here as the artists. A fantastic conclusion to a night of dancing.

Saturday 8th September 2018

Having hit the previous night too hard, it was a tentative start to this day, and I made it down to the festival a little later than days previous. The day at the Abbey had been lined up for the kids with the entertainment, including a performance from Lenparrot, with a backing orchestra, disappointing to miss. However, chilling out in Saintes well-kept public park, which was almost always bustling, after perusing what seems like a book fair was my choosing for the afternoon.

I delicately made my way to the Abbey to catch Johan Papaconstantino, advised by Francois Marry (known for Francois and the Atlas Mountains) as one to see live. Combining Algerian percussion with synthesised beats, Johan (and water) were tearing me away from this fragile state for another night of dancing. As soon as Johan was done, 10Lec6 were straight on, an Afro-punk beat fronted by Nicole, reminiscent of Grace Jones with her stage presence, sporting a fabulous red dress and heels screaming “I take no nonsense,” the music bass and percussion heavy, with Bulu rapping and Cameroonian roots.

A festival programmed with music to dance to, the eccentrics and extroverts were out in force with their colours and sparkle, as they let the music take control. Judah Warsky was straight on as 10Lec6 walked off stage, finishing their French-disco punk set. Performing many tracks from LP Avant/Apres, Judah pulled off an epic performance often playing two synths simultaneously, and it was evident that he appeased this crowd. I will be looking out for more from Judah in the future, after this fresh set. But there was more, this was by no means the end of Saturday’s entertainments, Flavien Berger, a DJ set from 10Lec6, Busy P back to back with MYD, and Kiddy Smile were all due to play (and there is also word of an after party).

Flavien Berger has head nods to Nicolas Jaar with his music, reminiscent of Darkside, and is a massive deal in France. Unassuming in presence, his music was bang on, and pulled me out of any possibility of feeling the hangover. Darkly synthesized and minimalist to some degree, Berger’s tracks from latest release Contre-Temps are wondrous in the space of the courtyard and receive the reception they deserve. Ed Banger Records (Justice’s label) then took over the stage, as Daft Punk’s previous manager and the label founder Pedro Winter AKA Busy P hit the stage with Myd. a graduate in sound engineering from prestigious film school, Quentin Lepoutre, renowned within the DJ circles. It was fun to catch the two of them as they danced around each other, fiddling with headphones, knobs and faders on the sound desk. When they collectively pulled out George Michael’s Freedom there was little left to do but to dance ourselves.

And then there was Kiddy Smile, who did have an odd animated smile, whilst DJing. It generally came out when one of his dancers would perform a dance for him on stage, which had a knock on effect on the audience. An entertaining show for that aspect alone. And then it was time for home, but not without a big hug from the organiser, Amaury Ranger (also in Francois and the Atlas Mountains, as well as SAY shortlist band Babe), who had done a tremendously slick job pulling off the festival the way he did (collectively with the other Coconut Music staff), one act ready as soon as the other had left the stage, the timings spot on, the food and drink not stupidly pricey, an ambiance culminated and a collective love of music evidently there at the courtyard of the Abbey.

The Coconut Music Festival is certainly unique, in that they are not overtly keen on selling out (it appears they want it suitably comfortable for their crowd) and make the cost of their tickets along with the food and drink across the festival substantially reasonable, keeping it inclusive, accessible and enabling more of a warmth to set in for the weekend, rather than the resentment for forking out premium prices on a pint of lager. Lit up in green and purple with projections across the building, the Abbey Aux Dames was in its splendorous glad rags and the glow reflected on the crowd. I certainly got to walk away with more than a handful of band names to look up. What more can you expect from a festival, I will definitely be back.

Photos courtesy of Max Chill