If Orson Well’s Cuckoo Clock monologue in The Third Man pegged Switzerland as safe in popular culture terms, then its second city Geneva has the international reputation of being the capital of conventional. Let’s face it there’s even a convention named after it. Famous in internationally for politics, conferences and commerce, even who actually pass through the lakeside, border post rarely give it a second thought as they collect their skis from its airport’s baggage claim and head to the nearby slopes.
However as a quick scan of the city’s history reveals, while their clocks might be precise, its inhabitants’ thinking is radical. The centre of Calvin’s protestant reformation in the 16th century, today the city not only boasts a strong indigenous music scene and is a key European stop for touring bands, but throughout February it stages a festival whose whole point is to stage gigs in places were you wouldn’t normally.
Hence 2014’s Antigel Festival recruited Temples to play a leisure centre, staged Philip Glass in a 19th century hall only constructed after the British Consul at the time lost a bet, put Forest Swords on in a geothermic pool and, for Q‘s visit on on Saturday (8 February), given Adam Green (above) the honour of opening a brand new, community centre. The former Moldy Peaches man is certainly an apt choice for an event defying convention. A close friend of both The Strokes and Home Alone actor Macaulay Culkin, Green has recently been on twitter to pay tribute to Pete Seeger and publicise his Kickstarter campaign to fund a Jodowosky-inspired, film adaptation of Aladdin.
Playing the first show at the Genthod Community Centre, a leafy village on the outskirts of Geneva, Green’s show sees flips the festival’s usual quirk. The new hall – created via an exhausted series of public votes thanks to the Swiss’ active democracy – feels like an Ikea show home with its clean lines and calming wood. In contrast Green is pleasing out of place selection for this community event. Performing an acoustic gig, he pirouettes around the stage, calls for requests which he performs without any amplification, recites a poem and even offers Switzerland an off-the-cuff song, Taking A Leak In Switzerland, as a possible new national anthem after hearing rumours of competition to suggest a replacement for The Swiss Psalm.
Older audience members, here to see their new hall, tap their feet along to Green’s folkish tunes, while the fans snigger at his surrealist and scandalous nursery rhyme-like take on the world. They all clap heartily when he praises the city’s famous 140m high manmade geyser the Jet d’Eau as an “above average fountain”.
With the likes of Junip (February 13) and Suzanne Vega (15) set to play this week, Antigel which reach its climax with yet more convention busting behaviour. Not that the festival is solely relying on visitors to spark things into life. At the start of the month Adieu Gary Cooper, a bluesy-tinged, locally based garage rock band played The Centrale, a converted apartment that is the base for a local arts group. The event was stage for Antigel by Geneva label Moi J’Connais Records.
Along with the night, the label – run by members of the band Mama Rosin – have recently opened record shop and café Bongo Joe. Serving plenty of coffee but limiting their record selections to a mix of vinyl and cassettes the proprietors choose, owner and accordion player in the group Cyril Yeterian explains that the idiosyncratic take is not to be elitist, just they want to present a unique and curated selection, just like his label which mixes support for new Swiss talent with reissues of old folk and garage rock records. Plus he’s been telling local bands who’ve visited the shop for drinks to bring their records in for sale.
Elsewhere the city’s record other shops not only report vinyl sales are up, but that Geneva is experiencing something of a funk boom, while the city boasts a strong indigenous punk and garage rock scenes are according to several live promoters we meet. Even Q’s hotel for the weekend, the bo-ho-refreshed N’vY, gets in on the act, mixing an LA-style nightly DJ with an exhibition of classic guitars in the lobby.
With Antigel providing a neat encapsulation of the Swiss city’s convention breaking approach to music, it’s fair to say Geneva’s parties are not only political.