After narrowly avoiding the floods that hit Paris over the weekend, Afropunk Paris offered crowds an intimate weekend of celebration, in the indoor Le Trianon venue. Named after the iconic Afropunk documentary that explores the ignored black roots of punk music, Afropunk festival emerged in 2004 in Brooklyn, New York City. The festival was set up to allow people of colour the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of punk music and subvert its white-washed history, often stereotyped as a genre only for the white working-class.
In recent years the festival has introduced different genres of music, adding doubt as to whether the festival can keep hold of its original punk concept. With soul, RnB, bashment and rap now thrown into the mix, seeing the likes of Ms Lauryn Hill, who performed last year in Brooklyn, it is no wonder that Afropunk attracts tens of thousands of festival-goers each year.
Whilst Afropunk Paris is only in its second year, the buzz surrounding the festival was phenomenal. Entering the Le Trianon venue, it was hard not to feel under-dressed, with outfits, afros, weaves and glitter on point in every direction. Photographers were rushed off their feet, desperately trying to snap a pic of everyone.
Having said that, even if you entered wearing a bin-bag you would have felt welcome, with the atmosphere consistently inclusive, helped by Le Trianon’s large foyer, offering reprieve from the sweaty, packed-out main stage. It was the perfect space to mingle, and it seemed everyone was up for a chat, adding to the warmth and festival vibes of the weekend. The only rules, which were dotted around the venue on large posters were: “No Sexism, No Racism, No Ableness, No Ageism, No Homophobia, No Fatphobia, No Transphobia, No Hatefulness”.
However, musically it was surprising to see so few punk acts and a lack of French stage presence; with the line-up featuring only two French bands, including the politically charged punk band Project Black Pantera, and The OBGM’s. They were largely unseen, featured early on the first day, with the top spots offered to Angel Haze, Michael Kiwanuka and Morcheeba.
Notably, Michael Kiwanuka was impressively poignant this year, with a backdrop of falling petals perfectly adding to his mellow and at times psychedelic set. Particularly memorable was his performance of Black Man in a White World, adding passion to his already uplifting and blissful set. Credit must also be given to the DJs between sets, who treated crowds to continuous bangers such as RiRi’s Work – the crowd showed off and got down.
Sadly, this can’t be said about the overall line-up which felt disjointed at times, not helped by the complete lack of information provided. The Afropunk website showed up with “Information Coming Soon” on the festival, even on the Sunday evening. Other slightly problematic elements of the festival were seen across the venue with an apparent “Food Court”, only consisting of one stand offering hotdogs and no vegetarian options. There were even some broken displays left on the floor, giving the festival a shabby feel.
Though this may be a reflection of Afropunk Paris being in its second year, there was little to do during the day, and while each night offered a fast-paced chance to mingle and great tunes from 6pm, the nights ended abruptly at 11pm (at least for those unable to befriend the right people with the coveted after-party details).
My experience was reflected largely across the weekend with one festival-goer, Urvisha Patel, describing her Afropunk experience as “haphazard”. Speaking to others there was also a general sense of confusion surrounding the organisation of the festival, with Laurél Alleyne from London, an avid punk fan, saying: “I find it extremely underwhelming because it’s so contrived. It’s badly organised. There’s nothing punk about this festival.”
Meanwhile, fellow gal-dem Zainab worked with NTS Radio backstage and had a very positive Afropunk experience:
“The energy and feeling of connectedness at the festival was present amongst the Afropunk team and the various artists, photographers and other people backstage. Food, drink, table football and a cute balcony was the perfect setting for mingling with the Afropunk team and artists. It was great to see so many people sharing their stories and appreciating one another; it felt like a big family gathering.
Just after his performance, I had the chance to speak to Michael Kiwanuka when he was being interview by NTS Radio. We had never met before but bonded over the fact that we went to the same school in north London. He spoke about how there were various cliques in our school and how he identified most with the punk kids: “They were all in a band and skated, so from an early age those hobbies were normal for me. But there weren’t many black skater kids, and none who played the guitar so I was one of the ‘weird’ kids. But here I am now, at Afropunk”.
This was the general feeling amongst a lot of the artists I met; that it was a huge privilege to be involved in Afropunk, which accepts all and celebrates the alternative, the “weird” and the different. For everyone involved, it felt as though Afropunk was so much more than just a music festival. It was about connecting with people who have similar experiences and values to you, and then making sure that they know they’re not alone.”
With AfroPunk set to pop up in London later this year, who knows what’s next in store. Though hopefully with greater crowds and expansion more day activities and stalls will be incorproated. Whilst AfroPunk’s original punk roots might be waning under the weight of other genres of music, it goes without saying that the festival was a refreshing experience, seeing people of colour come together; an experience that many people of colour often don’t get to experience in mainstream festivals.