Established in 1979 by maverick promoter Jean-Louis Broussard, Recountuer Trans Musicales de Rennes has since become a veteran of the festival scene. Broussard is credited with providing an early platform to myriad international breakthrough acts such as Cabaret Voltaire, The Sugarcubes and more recently, Diplo and MIA. The festival is a 5-day A&R dynamo seeking out the 'next big thing'. What you see in Rennes in December you are sure to see charming the summer festival circuit in 2013.
Until recently, the festival had been held exclusively in the Parc Expo aircraft hangars on the fringes of the city. One of Trans Musicales’ small pleasures is crowding onto a shuttle bus full of drunk, singing French teenagers that provide a rowdy soundtrack to the evening. Now performances are spread across town to the Le Liberté, while running alongside the festival is Les Bars en Trans – Trans Musicales' younger, bar-based companion.
Thursday highlights included Camera, a high-octane Krautrock racket that had captivated an anticipating crowd. Currently signed to Bureau B, the trio has already grabbed the attention of Dieter Moebius and their signature drum patterns and impatient bass rifts will appeal to ardent rock fans. Across town, Team Ghost performed to a welcoming crowd. Brainchild of former M83 member Nicholas Fromageau, the band possesses an of-the-moment ambient pop sensibility layered in dominant synths. Debut album Rituals, is scheduled for February release and promises something special.
Friday highlights included Rennes natives, Electro-Pop outfit O Safari who greeted a crowded hall with songs from their recent EP, Taxi. While not producing the most exciting sound, their confident, if simplified take on an Italo Disco sound is full of (once again) looping synths and driving bass lines layered into a set delivered in French. For a band in its infancy, it was an assured performance, validated with encouraging cheers throughout. Meanwhile, we stumbled across Algerian activist and songwriter, Rachid Taha, who shimmered on stage in a eye-popping sequined coat. We stayed long enough to hear the singer’s back catalogue inspired by a contemporary dance and North African hybrid of beats and melodies before launching into an oddly melancholic rendition of ‘It’s Now or Never’.
Later, post-Punk ‘Noir Wave’ outfit, Petite Noir caused quite a stir. At 21, the South African multi-instrumentalist Yannick Iluga is already an accomplished songwriter; his dark, meandering tones and indie-rock aesthetic is peppered with Afrobeat and jazz influences. Petite Noir was one of the standout festival performances and one to watch in 2013.
The main stage, which has capacity of 7,000, slowly filled in anticipation for French electro maverick Vitalic; one of the most recognisable names on the lineup. This was industrious dance music that required an all-in commitment to going bat shit mental to a reinterpretation of “Le Rock 01’ amidst billowing techno and convulsion-inducing lighting.
There was a sustained energy throughout the bars, Le Liberté and nearby concert halls and it seemed the act everyone wanted to see was Doldrums. But the Montreal warehouse jammer started his set at 5am and one of the problems with the festival is that it very quickly becomes an internal endurance and logistical test that sets your festival itinerary rather than your own musical tastes and, frustratingly I flake before his set.
Saturday highlights included Melody’s Echo Chamber, a dreamy soundscape fronted by wistful beauty Melody Prochet. Her eponymous debut is the result of collaboration with rumoured partner, Kevin Parker from Tame Impala. Against the dull December moonlight, Prochet filled Parc Expo with warmth and for 45 minutes the air was full of Serge Gainsbourg-inspired ambient pop rather than what came to be the-sound-of-the-festival new wave synths.
On the other end of the indie-rock spectrum, or rather on a whole other planet, The Struts might be lacking in originality but they wear their rock pastiche well. They toe the line of acceptable creative licence with well-worn glam and rock aesthetics from the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Cramps, Queen and The Ramones. Whatever you think of them, front man Luke Spiller is all about the live performance. “We love a lot of 60s and 70s Motown and Soul’s driving beats. We’re not trying to be different for the sake of being different. There is an aspect of what we do which is missing from music now. The Struts is a real show, it’s theatrical. Unless you come off sweating you haven’t done it properly.”
Vancouver based indie quarter, Hot Panda were in the minority of synth-less bands but they made a welcome change. Prior to their show I caught up with front man Chris Connelly who described their sound as “a weird pop band that plays with a punk spirit.” He went on to describe their most frequent UK comparison is to Los Campesinos! and explains how they first met. “Our van got broken into in Wales and we sat outside an apartment trying to steal their wifi. Someone opened the door wearing an Arts & Crafts [record label] t-shirt. We just stared at one another for a moment before he said ‘are you Hot Panda? I’m in Los Campesinos!’ Out of all the places to sit in Cardiff we had to sit on their doorstep.”
If it doesn’t take itself too seriously, Trans Musicales is a fun five days of the great and the shouldn’t bother in international new music. There is so much to see, too much, and every conceivable genre is represented. Music that has yet to be christened with a genre will be on display in Renne, making it an exciting, surprising and sometimes confusing experience. Trans Musicales is memorable by virtue of its scale. For many acts, this is their first showcase to music fans and what feels like most of the French music industry, and they’re offered a platform to charm thousands of people in one spralling space. This is an ambitious festival packed to the rafters with ambitious artists. Trans Musicales exceeds at sustaining the anticipation of the thrill of the new.