This bank holiday weekend saw the gates of the Parc de Saint-Cloud open to over 110,000 revellers as they streamed through to celebrate the fifteenth year of Rock en Seine.
Located to the west of Paris, but still within the boundaries of the Metro system, Rock en Seine has become the biggest music festival in the country and is growing year on year.
Thanks to the generosity of the wonderful organisers, I had VIP access all weekend. Here’s a rundown of some of the things you might want to know if you’re considering visiting Rock en Seine in the future.
Let’s start with the main reason you’re likely to attend a music festival – the bands. This year’s line up included some very talented acts. The XX and Cypress Hill were personal highlights and Flume’s headlining set on the Friday night was a real crowd pleaser. It was also great to see some lesser-known French bands take to the stage. In particular, Her gave an incredibly moving performance just a couple of weeks after losing one of their main singers to cancer, and the moustache-skirted female singer of Deluxe had the crowd going crazy over her outlandish dance moves. I also got the best seat in the carriage as French band Therapie Taxi performed some acoustic versions of their tracks on the Eurostar from London on the first day.
With five stages and staggered start times, it was quite easy to move between sets and to see almost everyone for at least a short while. The eclectic mix of music genres also meant there were few clashes between similar bands.
If the dominant image of your previous festival experiences is one of you splashing through mud, you’ve spent too much time in the UK. Not that good weather in France is ever guaranteed, but an August weekend in Paris tends to be sunny and dry.
This year, there was a bit of rain, but only during the second night. The temperatures then soared into the 30s, drying everything out very quickly.
Rock en Seine enforces a cashless payment system and, although I didn’t like the inflexibility of it to begin with I soon came to realise how great it is. For starters, it’s really easy to top up your account online before the festival or to add money at one of the many cashless banks on site. You can also set it to top up €20 automatically whenever the value drops below €15. This saves you having to take huge wads of cash in with you and negates the need to queue for ages at a cash machine. Your money is stored on a chip around your wrist, meaning no one has to fumble around searching for their wallet and the queues go down much faster.
If you have any money left on your chip after the festival you can claim it back online. There was one mildly mortifying moment when I went to buy a round and was sent away because they thought I had no money. It turned out the automatic top up hadn’t registered yet because the bar’s WiFi was slow, and the issue was soon fixed.
There were quite a few armed police officers as we approached the main gates and people searched our bags and gave us pat downs as we entered the festival or camping area. Although it was a bit of an inconvenience and a minor violation of privacy, it seemed a necessary and welcome measure following the recent terrorist attacks in Europe.
Rock en Seine is so close to the centre of Paris that most people come and go each day rather than camping on site. However, if you have a three-day pass you can pitch a two-man tent for the whole festival for just €60. The campsite is located up a small hill, which is virtually on site, so you can hear the bands performing sound tests in the mornings. Its small size means you barely ever have to queue for the bathroom. Showers are cold but powerful and everything is kept in reasonably good condition throughout the event. There is also an area where you can charge your electronics, so long as you remember your adapter.
My only criticism of the camping area is that there’s not much to do there, and as the festival only starts at 2 pm each day there’s a lot of waiting around. A trip back into Paris means a very long walk through the park, so most people just hang about in the small seating area snacking on a limited menu of kebabs, fries, hot dogs or pastries. Overall, though, nothing beats the convenience of being able to stay until the last set finishes and then stroll to your bed in 10 minutes.
While most festivalgoers in the UK turn up sporting skin-tight body suits, sequins, glitter, flowers or elaborate headdresses, there was virtually none of this at Rock en Seine. I saw balloons attached to two tents, and one man dressed as a banana, and that was about it for the out of the ordinary. Hand in hand with this, no one seemed drunk or high either. The first aiders appeared to be twiddling their thumbs and the only sign of bad behaviour was when B-Real of Cypress Hill lit a massive spliff on stage.
FOOD AND DRINK
Although most of the stands sold a limited selection of soft drinks and beer, there were a few specialist bars, including those selling champagne and wine. The food options tended to be fast and heavy. Churro stands and waffle bars were plentiful and we saw a wide variety of burger vendors. I can highly recommend anything that comes with raclette – delicious melted cheese that goes just as well on chips as it does in a traditionally French cold meat baguette. Aside from a hot dog I had one morning on the campsite, which was bordering on frozen, the food at Rock en Seine was really tasty, albeit a little overpriced.
A three-day pass to Rock en Seine cost €119 this year, while individual tickets were €49 per day. Although it might seem like the big spend is out of the way with your ticket purchase, you can easily expect to pay the same amount again (or more) on refreshments, so budget wisely. It’s prohibited to bring alcohol into the festival and the drinks aren’t cheap. Cups also cost €1 so hold onto them and remember to get them refunded unless you intend to keep them as a memento.
Paris is a pretty easy city to reach for most Europeans, with budget airlines selling plenty of cheap tickets. From London, the Eurostar is the quickest and most comfortable option, bringing you into Gare de Nord station for as little as £29. Unfortunately, prices are often closer to £100 so book ahead if you can. The cheapest option (at around €30 one way) is to hop on the FlixBus. Taking 8 hours, including a ride in the Eurotunnel Shuttle, it can be somewhat torturous, but the seats are comfortable and recline quite far back.
ROCK EN SEINE 2018
If you’re keen to try it out for yourself, the next Rock en Seine festival will be taking place on 24-26 August 2018 and early bird tickets will go on sale just before Christmas. Keep an eye on the official website and Facebook page for further information.