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FESTIVAL REPORT: Workshop InFiné
Jack Scourfield , September 4th, 2014 12:18

Jack Scourfield heads into the French countryside for a family-orientated affair of sonic exploration organised by the Parisian label.

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All photos © Nathan Gibson Video: Tom Colville

I'm slumped in a deckchair, trying to strike a productive balance between reading the book of short stories in my hand and thrusting my face towards the sun's warming rays whenever it appears from behind a thin smear of clouds above. To my right, barrels of beer are being taxied down in a large mining elevator that scales one side of the disused quarry in which I'm sat, hidden away deep in the countryside of western France. A few feet to my left two women roll cigarettes, bobbing gently in a canoe resting on the peaceful waters that fill a sizeable proportion of the quarry – the lake itself is a peculiar yet wholly pleasant shade of green, which a paint supplies website will later gently suggest as 'kiwi', but arguably leans closer to pistachio. Ahead of me, three bronze bears gaze thoughtfully down at the scene from atop the far bank of the man-made crevice, as a speaker concealed in the woods of the opposing side behind me fills the area with the gentle sound of a local producer soundchecking.

It's Saturday afternoon at Workshop InFiné, an event – now in its sixth year – that scoffs at any definitions you may previously have had of the term "intimate festival". Organised by the Paris-based label, who currently count amongst their family Downliners Sekt, Rone and Bernard Szajner, the annual gathering held in the remote setting of La Carrière de Normandoux in France's Poitou-Charentes region requires a level of commitment to get to that means it's often a friends and family-heavy affair; this, however, is not to say that the atmosphere at Workshop InFiné is anything other than heartily welcoming and bustlingly electric for the time that I'm there.

After a low-key opening night on the Wednesday, the programme begins in full the day after. A key aspect of the event, and presumably a reason why it's remained so purposefully understated, is the "workshop" element; each afternoon, the contingent of children staying with their families on the festival grounds gather for classes and demonstrations which guide them through a range of fun and hands-on technical activities. When I poke my head in an excited gaggle are handling various vegetables with cables protruding from them, which have been linked to MIDI equipment and made to serve as reactive input devices. The fruits – pun, if existent, not unintended – of these daily sessions are later revealed on the final night, which sees one group continuing the lineage of great French avant-garde auteurs such as Germaine Dulac or Jean Cocteau with a display of charming childhood eccentricity, as shots of the primary school-age visionaries pulling silly faces are chopped and spliced live to the soundtrack of Todd Terje's 'Inspector Norse', all orchestrated by a young lad tapping a carrot in front of the stage.

The first live music comes on Thursday evening courtesy of a "carte blanche" from fellow Parisian label No Format! Considering the midweek slot and remote location an impressive number of the general public join the festival's core attendees, and those that do descend into the beautifully twilit surroundings of the flooded quarry are bewitched by an ensemble consisting of David Neerman and Lansine Kouyaté – respectively a vibraphone player and a balafon player, who together released an album combining the two percussions on the label a few years back – with Badjé Tounkara and Djeli Moussa Diawara supplementing the former pair's rhythmic foundations with gleaming stringed flourishes on the ngoni and kora. The hushed atmosphere commanded by the delicacy of the traditional West African instruments gradually swells into more animated scenes as No Format! duo Vendredi guide us through their spectrum of abstract electronics, shifting from mindful hip-hop lilts through to faster, Gold Panda-esque techno palpitations, as the walls of the quarry across are illuminated with coloured lights and projections.

Plaid provide us with a glimpse into the future on Friday night, one in which we have succumbed to the might of digital advancement and flock to gather in reverent adoration at the feet of our robotic masters. We can but hope that such a time is as yet merely a distant science fiction fancy, but as the veteran British producers sit alongside mechanical craftsman Felix Thorn and watch their collaborative performance unfold from behind the backs of the audience, the trio go largely unnoticed as the assembled crowds gawp and wonder at the intricate contraption resting in the centre of the room. Thorn's on-going Felix's Machines project sees him build music-making devices out of other real-life objects, and as the bespoke arrangements that Plaid have devised for the event begin to whirr into life through a series of eye-catching flickers and thuds, the rise of the machines takes a further step closer to domination as all in attendance immediately hold their mobile phones aloft to absorb the action through an LCD screen. Even the baby playing peekaboo with its mother in front of me pauses to take stock of the goings-on, as a space that was once filled with the clatters and clanks of the stone excavation industry once again echoes to the sound of humankind mastering mechanical innovation, with the grunts and groans of miners replaced by a murmur of wide-eyed glee.

Friday night's other collaborative performance sees Austrian producer Clara Moto perform her original material accompanied by live improvisation from ex-!!! and LCD Soundsystem multi-instrumentalist Tyler Pope. The pair have not had long to prepare the set and Moto looks understandably somewhat nervous throughout, a burden only laden further by an abrupt outage of power midway through the performance. Following some light acoustic riffing from Pope and apologetic shrugs towards the crowd the plug finds its way back to the socket, and the remaining half hour is a successful unison of shimmering coastline techno and punchy guitar hooks.

The closing night, Saturday, is mostly devoted to French talent drawn from the InFiné phonebook, and is mostly house and techno focused. Following the showcase of the children's workshop endeavours towards the start of the evening, Elorn weave a really rather good mesh of slow seeping acid and fervent electronica, before vOPhoniQ layers coarse, dulled reflections of jungle and industrial techno beneath softly sparkling melodic chimes. The festival is closed out by Gordon Shumway, who takes his name from the title character in NBC's alien sitcom ALF but whom I'm informed by an InFiné head honcho has a genetic constitution closer resembling that of an ex-intern at the label, rather than of an aardvark-like extraterrestrial.

It is touches such as this, inviting a past work experience assistant to deliver the weekend's finale, that reflects Workshop InFiné's warm, familiar feel. Only a few hundred tread the boards of the arena assembled next to the calming waters of the quarry's lake over the course of the event, but it never feels empty or underappreciated. Under the watchful gaze of three bronze bear statues, InFiné have carved out something special here.

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