Nothing like it: Montreux Jazz Festival 2022 | gigwise
It’s always strange when something iconic manages to slip under your radar. In its 56th year and having already hosted performances from Prince, David Bowie, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and many more – the history of the Montreux Jazz Festival seems to include a definitive list of the most important names in the music history. But ask anyone on the street if they’ve heard of it, chances are they’ll say no.
I hadn’t, and when you start to delve into the archives of the Swiss festival, the fact becomes a bit awkward as fun facts about the festival bring up more and more names and huge moments. In 1983 Keith Haring designed the poster, in 1986 Andy Warhol tried his hand at it before handing over to names like David Bowie and Phil Collins. This year French multi-disciplinary artist Camille Walala took the lead and I’ve never been happier to bring home a giant hit after three days of exploring all Montreux has to offer.
Going well beyond the expectations of a jazz festival, Montreux is today a multi-genre, multi-generational and international event. True to the ethos of jazz by highlighting artists who rebel in one way or another, pioneers of new sounds and leaders in their field, the 2022 lineup includes Diana Ross, Stormzy, Ashnikko, Måneskin, Björk , A-ha and many more over the three weeks. Arriving on the 8th and leaving on the 11th, we only got a taste of what it has to offer, with around 70% off the festival consisting of free and open to the public stages, bars, d workshops and screenings.
Spending the days swimming in Lake Geneva, sampling all the food the promenade stalls had to offer and soaking up the truly incredible views of the Alps and Swiss hillside towns, the evenings come alive afterwards with lively crowds and music. Organized more like a series of concerts as the music kicks on every night around 8pm, it’s unlike any other festival but still has a lineup and energy that could rival the best of them while avoiding dirty toilets and sweaty tents.
Instead, paid tickets give you access to two stunning venues – the Montreux Jazz Lab which hosts top modern talent and the iconic Stravinsky Auditorium. Only at a festival like Montreux could you ask the crowds not to drink alcohol in a concert and everyone obliges, protecting the rich wooden interior of the auditorium as s it was a living piece of festival history – the collective attitude is one of understanding, like a general sense of wonder and privilege that we are all here, taking part in the 56th year all by participating in the new slice of Montreux’s heritage.
Stepping off the plane, making a quick change, and heading to the festival to catch Dutronc + Dutronc, the emotion was evident immediately. As Jacques Dutronc, now 79, took the stage, flanked by his son Thomas and his band, the reaction from the crowd was similar to what Paul McCartney or Springsteen would receive. The king of French counterculture, Dutronc is their equivalent, creating some of the most iconic French songs. And as they passed the mic between father and son, allowing them to still give the tracks all the energy they deserved, it was obvious that Jacques’ legacy is still going strong as the whole crowd danced for him. . Barraging to a final encore of ‘Les Cactus’ – a track so energetic and timeless that The Last Shadow Puppets chose to cover it for their latest album – the instant immersion in Swiss crowds, French music and the way nostalgia is sacred here made me fall in love with the festival from the very first night.
Emerging from the venue alongside an older crowd fresh with energy after seeing their old favorite – the high street was packed. With a host of free venues on Latin stages, dance tents, independent zones and beyond, why not flock there? Even outside of the iconic venues and without having to pay a dime to attend, the Montreux Jazz Festival is an event, bringing together people from all over the world who come simply for the atmosphere.
And Saturday was pretty much the same. Even among the morning swimmers, the anticipation was palpable. Felt throughout the city as people streamed in by train; Diana Ross was in Montreux and she was playing tonight. Held to an unrealistic standard, I don’t understand the criticism Diana Ross faces so often? At 78, the singer still commands her stage. Backed by a huge band and talented backing vocal team, the set was a tour de force of its decade, ranging from hits from The Supremes classics like “Baby Love” to new album cuts. Including three costume changes, an appearance from her grandchildren and so much joy I can’t even describe, who cares if she doesn’t sing every word? No different than Jacques the night before or the way Ashnikko the next night builds on their backing track, Diana still sounded amazing and proves time and time again why she has such an amazing career.
From the dancing crowd of Diana Ross, we strolled to the Lakehouse; a new venue for 2022. With a library, cinema, rooms and bars, it’s a more laid-back space if you want a more intellectual experience. Hosting jam sessions in the ground floor venue The Memphis, the festival’s jazz origins were alive and well here. As onlookers took turns getting to their feet, seeing an international group of musicians fall into a beat with complete strangers was so inspiring. Perfectly bringing together icons and new talents, moments like this sum up the magic of the Montreux Jazz Festival.
For the last day, we switched to the Montreux Jazz Lab and to the more contemporary side of things. The energy Ashnikko brought couldn’t have been further from the reverent joy of the previous nights. Packing the lab with a crowd whose average age was half that of previous nights, Ash jumped onto the stage screaming. Playing through his many TikTok hits like “Stupid Boy,” “Slumber Party,” and “Daisies,” the high-octane show was relentless in its energy and vulgarity. The kind of lyrics that make you blush (we’ve never heard the word wet so many times), Ashnikko’s resolutely modern performance heralds a whole new era for the festival. Still in the spirit of jazz, the lineup continues to expand as its demographic appeal continues to grow. It’s refreshing to see a festival grow like this, stepping into the modern world and expanding its horizons without falling into that boring guy curse that grips the UK festival scene in particular.
Followed by Girl In Red, it was the big surprise of my weekend. Although she belonged in the golden circle of sad girls, a must-have addition to any dark and angsty playlist, her show had the energy of a full emo production; more MCR than Taylor Swift. Backed by a full band of hand-clapping men throwing themselves like teenagers playing in their first rock band, the way her songs develop when played live was fascinating. Ending with a stage dive and a call for the crowd to open a mosh pit, you wouldn’t expect it. But the surprise was so, so welcome.
Packing up and heading to the airport, I could have stayed another week. It was like if you really wanted to see and experience everything the festival had to offer, you would need endless time to dance at every stage, try out every food cart, see movies and attend talks. And with Montrex’s beauty and cheerful atmosphere, I doubt even being there for months wouldn’t have been a chore. A place that has hosted so many musicians and appeared in so many songs and hosted so many famous performances – how that legacy hangs in the air is something else entirely. As the history of the festival continues to be written year after year, it’s a place I want to be, slowly watching more and more icons enter the auditorium and new talent proving why they should possibly get there too.