Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

The Rennes report: Trans Musicales 2012

There are some places where the festival season continues when the tents come down and the days turn dark. We may associate the festival circuit with the summer months, when bands and fans roam Europe’s fields in search of thrills …

Mon, Dec 10, 2012, 09:15


There are some places where the festival season continues when the tents come down and the days turn dark. We may associate the festival circuit with the summer months, when bands and fans roam Europe’s fields in search of thrills and fees, but it’s also worth citing the festivals which occur on the off-season. Events like Iceland Airwaves, Eurosonic, La Collective Hiver from La Route du Rock and even Dingle’s bijou Other Voices are fixtures which prove the appeal of festivaling in the winter months.

Such an appeal is partly based on the experience of getting to events at a time of the year when most sane people are curled up in front of a roaring fire, but it’s also about that discovery meme and getting in before the pack. A couple of weeks ago, The Ticket’s festival bard Mark Graham noted the attractions of these events. “Getting out to some specialist festivals is like following minor and club hurling teams; once the talent makes it through to the senior ranks you can always say you saw the latest All-Star playing Junior B in mid-winter mud. These niche gatherings are often where larger festivals get some of their more interesting sideshows…The overall experience of some smaller festivals is its own reward.” Indeed, many of the acts seen in Reykjavík in October or Groningen at next month’s Eurosonic are likely to be stars in fields and tents come summer 2013.

We can also expect many of the acts who played in Rennes last weekend to feature on next summer’s festival swings and roundabouts. It was the 34th run for Trans Musicales (or les Trans), which is testament to many things. You have the indefatigable enthusiasm of festival director and music programmer Jean-Louis Brossard for the game. Here’s someone who has been filtering and curating acts for his festival long before those terms attained their current popularity.

The longevity of Trans is also down to how the people of Rennes have whole-heartedly embraced the event. You don’t get to run an annual event for over three decades without the locals having your back. Remember that this is not an event with massive headlines – Rachid Taha and Vitalic were probably the biggest names on this year’s bill – yet 12,000 people happily parted with their cash (tickets ranged in price from €15 to €53) to check out what Monsieur Brossard and his team had booked and ensure a sell-out at the vast hangars in Parc Expo. Now, that’s quite something.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noted that words ‘vast’ and ‘hangars’ in the previous paragraph and flashbacks will have occured. Yes, readers, these are related to the infamous Dance Shed at Punchestown, Charlie McCreevy’s gift to the juvenile raving classes. They are from the same architectural pen which produced the soulless wastelands that house Sonar By Night. They are sheds best suited to exhibiting or storing spare parts for large-scale industrial machinery.

And yet, these large halls work as venues because the production required to make a silk purse from such infrastructural pigs’ ears is exacting and amazing. Here is an event which invests the ticket proceeds in proper PAs, lighting and sound drapes to make sure the show overcomes the venue rather than the other way around, which is sadly all too often the case. There is no sound spill, no horrendous glitches (well, bar the deliberate ones), no sense that the show would be better elsewhere.

Actually, for many acts, their show will never have been better than last weekend. Acts respond to fantastic production and being treated properly at an event. They raise their game. They may be newbies – and a huge number of acts at Les Trans have never played on stages this large before – but they become the acts they think they should be or are capable of being.

One of the acts I saw here last year who impressed me hugely were Breton and, when I talked to lead singer Roman Rappak earlier in the year, he remembered that gig clearly. “A show like the one at Les Trans was kind of context we wanted to play in”, he said. “It works so much better when you’re in a room with 2,000 people and big screens and it’s part cinema, part club and part gig. That show at Trans was a big step in having the stage to put on the kind of ambitious show we were always talking about.” Nice thoughts and compliments for the French festival. Then I explained to him that their agent had stuck them in Academy 2 for their upcoming trip to Dublin. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose etc.

There was much to dig from this year’s crop of new names. Petite Noir’s wobbly indie came with Afro flecks and clever off-kilter tones, a band whose set proved increasingly more intriguing with every passing song. I’ve been recommending Sinkane’s debut album for the past few weeks to anyone who will listen and the live show added colourful depth and magnificent groove to their DFA-approved stomp-funk. Phoebe-Jean has star power, a singer channeling the best bits of Santigold and Neneh Cherry and throwing down her own bubblegum hip-hop stance with her brace of dancers and a drummer.

TNGHT were immense, a massive bass boom to the head which shuddered and shook so much that staying still was not an option. Team Ghost’s subtle sonic electronics set a beguiling mood, though MS MR’s electro pop didn’t live up to expectations, with the band’s lack of song power quickly evident. Nick Waterhouse was one of those WTF acts that you always want to find at events like this – a retro soul throwback (Mayer Hawthorne’s bespectacled twin, maybe) with a powerful voice, really meaty songs and strong, timeless hooks and riffs.

I’ve seen Madeon three times this year and he’s still kicking out the jams with gusto. A totally on-one teen producing magnificent, multi storey electronic battle weapons, Madeon took to the task in hand with aplomb, panache, elan and other descriptive French terms. Similarly spirited were Little Trouble Kids, a Belgian boy-girl playing smart minimal, menacing garage rock, and Alphabet, a French mob with arty intentions galore.

You wonder how long it’s going to take for people to applaud Will Holland for his ceaseless musical shapeshifting, The Quantic man brought his latest Colombian project Ondatropica to Rennes and their sunny, glistening, sublime sounds pitched you far from a cold French night. Maya Jane Coles’ house was also similarly embued with warm, evocative, classic tones and textures.

For the professionals in attendance, it was about working out which of these acts will feature in their plans for 2013. For the locals, it was another opportunity to confirm that they have a fantastic cultural gem in Les Trans. Perhaps, you ponder as you leave on the TGV train to Paris, it’s time for more winter festivals.