Les Rencontres Trans Musicales, Rennes - Part 2
A few hours sleep featuring wild cheese-induced dreams later, and I awake to realise half the Atlantic has emptied onto the North-Atlantic Drift battlefront of Rennes, and on my sodden clothes. It's a short walk to UBU again for 50 Miles From Vancouver playing in their hometown, and signed to Brest-based label Beko DSL.
The set from 50 Miles is a confidently accomplished, very tight 45 minutes of post-punk noise, yet paradoxically awash with a hazy shoegaze-splashed wall. The English-sung harmonies when utilised work particularly well - a canny move would be for this side to be unleashed more from the assured quartet.
When the bearded chap drops the bass and switches to the keyboard for certain tracks it generates depth to the hooks of which there are plenty; the final two numbers sending them out on a real high in this regard, with penultimate track 'Flying To Berlin' a memorable lesson in 60's-licked garage-hybrid pop. I want to say Male Bonding, but without the DIY aesthetic. Pretty Impressive.
All being told, they couldn't be much more Jesus and Mary Chain if they moved to East Kilbride and stared at a row of footwear for a year. Speaking of Jesus…
Jesus Christ Fashion Barbe follow-on and provide a relatively enjoyable, though easy afternoon of listening - a half folk-inspired, Interpol-influenced plod. Perfectly decent, but not enough pesonality to inspire any particularly strong feelings either way.
A pleasant afternoon exploring the markets and architecture of Rennes later, and I have to head straight to Park Expo for an early 9pm appointment - a shame as at this point in the evening is the peak time for discovering the lesser known acts in the town centre. Also an oddity in timing from the organisers in that it's Zomby who is opening the main hanger; surely if there was ever someone you wanted to fill the post-4am slot as the mind altered-masses struggle with concepts of reality, it would be the disquieting-rave fuck of noise what stems from Zomby?
Though it's 9pm so this'll have to do, but it's hard to escape this fact as the hall is less than half-empty, not the throw of kinetic and already limbered-up bodies required for a rave. The mercurial one starts off with a smattering of low-tempo tracks, such as Burial for example with own stunning number of 'Natalia's Song'.
Observing him from the front is a voyeuristic pleasure; skinning up with one hand, queuing up tracks with the other whilst all the time wearing his trademark cut-off V for Vendetta mask daubed in blotched blue paint. The only tiny glimpse I and crowd get of him is a) when he slugs the bottle of wine or b) smokes his joint and thus very carefully lifts up the base of the mask - but always remaining unseen.
This privacy of which he so treasures is reflected in the hilariously-strict no photo policy; I'm informed that no-one is to enter the photo-pit, and as I and others posture to take photographs from the front we are met with a hand-over-lens greeting in conjunction with a muttering French diatribe - even those camera-phone users get the same treatment. Furthermore as I explore the spacious hanger to sample the atmosphere from different areas of the crowd I once again get my camera out, a good 20 yards away from Zomby, only to get a firm tap on the shoulder and stern shake of the head from a member of Zomby's entourage. Rather than being annoyed, I treat the experience as helping to add to the surreal-Stasi air and persona of Zomby the artist - as I observe this pacing-grey haired highly-focussed chap continue to circle the audience on a mission for conspicuous lenses.
Back to the music. As one would expect it's an oft eclectic, very Burroughs-esque cut-up journey that jars viscerally from one genre to the next without a care, and builds-up to a solid middle-segment of high-tempo, klaxon-dropping rave - whilst still switching genres such as a bad-ass jungle throng. Oh and the bass - like nothing felt this weekend as of yet. I'm not sure what he is actually doing on his laptop and how much he's creating live, though it really doesn't matter - his purposefully slow, deliberate (stoned) movements as he chain smokes throughout, surveying the scene behind his mask is an alluring, dark enigma.
The final 20 minutes or so the pace gets slowed as Weeknd's 'The Morning' and other such chilled, seedy entities get an airing; this is unfortunately timed while the crowd starts to swell and up for a beat - I slowly get more and more neon-sunglasses types pushing past, itching to get going. Again, going back to the timing, if this had been 5am in the morning this down-tempo ending is exactly what would be needed; instead it's something of an anti-climax. Whatever, all being told it's been a total pleasure, and a surreal one.
Shabazz Palaces, with the most engaging hip-hop album of this year to their name in Black Up, are next up in Hall 4, and having heard little about them as a live act it's a pleasure to go in with an uncorrupted, yet waiting to be corrupted mindset. The sound as on record is thick, muddy and beholds a richly-molded bass; I mentioned how the bass levels for Zomby were the highest thus far, but this trumped it according to my internal built-in bass-o-meter.
Tendai Maraire and Ishmael Butler work in tandem with each other effortlessly, playing off each other's reactions and having a jolly good infectious time with it; full of high fives on the off-beats, taps, knowing grins, trading lyrics - a proper duo. All summed up with some synchronised little dance-moves at the end, which upon checking my notes I desired as 'cute'. Not a word you'd normally associate with hip-hop ay? No wonder Subpop singed them.
The set-up is a mixture of the organic and the electronic, of minimal drum-kits, maracas and bongos, loops and laptops (you cannot go to a gig these days without seeing that Apple logo). Most of Black Up gets an airing with 'Youlogy' a highlight, and the whole affair is an esoteric warm joy.
I amble around the various hangers thinking that atmosphere on the final night would be subdued by the late night and heavy antics witnessed over the days; this proves to be very much a great fallacy. The French do know how to party, people in robes sauntering pass at regular intervals, arbitrary conversations popping up naturally and with ease, and about 27 smashed Mark E Smiths spotted over the few days. In between I sample the electro/hip-hop duo of Spank Rock, who do everything you'd expect them to. By the end of the evening many more casualties are spotted, such as these two fellas our example:
In summary if you were to create a Venn diagram of the components of a good festival, Tran Musicales would fill a large overlapping gap in the middle with most of these; things like non-existent toilet queues (or queues in general), consistent sound quality, atmosphere, new bands, organisation and so on. It's by no means perfect, naturally. Let me explain.
One of the greatest political and social scandals in French history was the infamous trial of Alfred Dreyfus (l'affaire Dreyfus) in Rennes, which proved to be a turning point at the start of the 20th century. The scandal and cover-ups ran for years, as Dreyfus was convicted for treason despite (suppressed) evidence to the contrary, and forced a chasm between two sides in French politics.
This dividing relationship between the two can be applied to the relationship between Bars En Trans in the town centre, and Park Expo on the outskirts. As someone who is keen to explore upcoming music and smaller acts, which are generally found in the smaller town venues, this at times proved impossible due to the clashes with Park Expo and subsequent time-consuming bus journey to the outskirts.
However this is a relatively small quibble in the scheme of things (what festival can you not complain in regards to clashes? Though more pronounced here as described), as the general experience was a hugely positive one with joyful discoveries, great people and fun times. Jean-Louis Brossard, keep it up mon frère.
This was the second Headstock Festival and took place in Newstead and Annesley Country Park, in Nottinghamshire. After the success of last year’s festival, it has been extended to a full weekend this year. The festival is run as a social enterprise, with all the money generated going into funding the Country Park. [read more]
Tim Boddy took some photos at Les Rencontres Trans Musicales 2011. These are the results. [read more]