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Les Rencontres Trans Musicales, Rennes – Part 1

December 13, 2011

Originally posted on The 405

Trans Musicales 2011

There is no major highway to Rennes according to our guide Eric, the destination for the 33rd Les Recontres Trans Musicales, the underdog of Brittany seemingly using the notion of the superhighway (or therein lack-of) as a symbol for it’s cherished independence. This ethos somewhat sums up the nature of Trans Musicales, with a penchant for cherry-picking the lesser known, independent acts from France and across the world.

These kind of loose thoughts reverberate across the mind as krautrock is piped into my eardrums through rural France, occasionally surfacing for discussions on our expectations for the festival, end of year lists, insular music industry problems and future-cheeses (potential genre-name there). Jean-Louis Brossard and Beatrice Mace started the festival in 1979 with a philosophy in mind geared towards curating new or little-known genres, styles and art forms, and this has continued to this day. Only a handful of ‘bigger’ names are present in the line-up, but the fact that the 10,000+ capacity event sells out year in year out is testament to it’s reputation as purveyor of exciting sounds – a huge level of trust.

Trans Musicales 2011

Thursday

After settling in at the garishly furnished hotel with the longest wifi code in history, I head off into the night and the narrow, glowing town centre-streets of Rennes. Thursday evening starts with the bratty nu-wave quintet La Femme – well, actually it started as all good French evenings should with some fine vin rouge and a meal on a hanging stick. Chorizo and salmon in the same meal? D’accord. The full-fat festival line-up doesn’t begin until tomorrow on the outskirts of the city at Park Expo, so tonight is all about discovering new bands in cramped bars wondering the streets of Rennes in a wine-soaked haze – think Camden Crawl, Great Escape etc. The best way to learn the ways, routes and raison d’etre of a new city is to get lost in it right?

But yes Parisians La Femme are one of these discoveries, in a tiny basement in the bar of Le Sambre, and as such is obscenely packed, obscenely sweaty and obscenely fun – the low stone walls crying perspiration that originated from charged-bodies. The only gig I’ve witnessed in a 19th century shoebox. Many have to make do with residing upstairs watching a feed on a small tv screen, feeling the vibrations pump through the history-ridden floor.

Relatively well-know in music circles in their native land, La Femme provide a highly-energised set stinking of urgency – part-influenced by coldwave, though the delivery is more partywave. This is aided by a jangly surf-rock vibe (as found in ‘Sur La Planche’) resulting in a care-free flowing aesthetic – highly fun even though the view mostly consists of the back of well-kept French heads of hair. A very promising start. ‘Télégraphe’, j’adore.

La Femme @ Trans Musicales 2011

After inadvertently ordering a pint of wine and beer in the same receptacle – I’m not going to lie, it tasted foul – and squeezing sweat out of my sodden clothes, I amble over to another rammed bar titled Le Bar’hic for Crane Angels (efficiently dubbed ‘Crangles’ by a fellow journalist).

A huge amount of bodies again are present – and that’s just on the stage; the kinetic energy of the band add to this, as members huddle around microphones akin to a choir belting out glorious, rich and grandiose harmonies – every member joining in at certain points. Think Team Me, and you’re along the right lines. ‘In The Snow’ is effervescence itself.

The set is a highly elective affair; a couple of the more proggy tracks flirt subtly with krautrock and arguably are the more interesting tracks for it. Whilst the varied ambition is to be admired, it at times goes too far; an awkwardly heavy track is more jolting than anything else.

However when Crane Angels are good they are very good, a quirky – but an earnestly quirky – delivery, heightened by the surreal tall man/short man combo at the front makes for an enjoyable time. They do start to sag after half-way and the two encores a bit excessive – however a 45 minute set really is a lot to give for such an unknown act. Debut album Le Sylphide de Brighton was released in October and really is worth checking out on the basis and utter inventiveness of tonight.

As much as the bars of Rennes have served me well, I fancy a change of pace so head over to Le Libertie which turns out is quite an expansive arena, and manage to catch the last 10 minutes Lewis Floyd Henry. It may have only been 10 minutes, but I’ve rarely seen someone exude so much joy at being on stage, a truly refreshing experience. Henry used to be a busker, and was spotted on Brick Lane and signed to Suss d’ records shortly after in 2009. Henry covered a Wu-Tang Clan song. Henry smiled a lot. I like Henry I decide, and so does the crowd it seems. Truly infectious.

Where to start with Capacocha. Mothers… nothing nice to say… don’t… etc. So I’ll keep it brief. A one-man uptempo-Jim Morrison electro outfit, sporting a guitar, grating drum loop and yelping vocals – who at one point proclaimed towards the end he was going to perform a cover… of his own song. His Bebo here (yes, actually really) says it all. Perhaps in an expert act of subversiveness Capacocha is the greatest euro-pop ironical act of all-time. Just throwing it out there.

We Are Standard @ Trans Musicales 2011

Friday

As I saunter down the road for the two minute walk to UBU in a rare moment of glorious, crisp sunshine, an hour before Juveniles are on people are starting to queue outside; well, I say queue, but the French are far too sophisticated for that. They’re just there on the corner, exuding an effortlessly cool hanging-out chique. In Britain it would just posses the frustrated look of a bunch of stoned malevolent chavs, asking you for rizelar, even though they patently have their own.

Once inside it soon fills-up quickly and is cramped once again, despite it only being 2:30pm, which is hardly surprising given the attention received in recent months as a result of becoming Kitsuné Maison darlings – and of course possessing home soil advantage. The correlation between the number of flash-guns at the front and hype is a good indicator, and I tell ya there are a lot of flashguns in this little venue.

The trio from Rennes serve-up an unashamed pillage of the 80’s with super tight production values of modern times, complete with sauntering synths that shimmer oh-so bright. Signature tune (which can be found on the latest Kitsuné release) ‘We Are Young’ inevitably is a highlight, and much of the set contains the trend du jour of a DFA-release – not a million miles from coruscating NYC synth-cohorts Holy Ghost!

At 45 minutes they have a lot of time to fill for a band with only one release, but that is half the point of the festival, to give such artists an opportunity to show their might. As mentioned the trio wear their heart on their sleeveless sleeves in terms of decade appropriating, and none more so than the vocals; the post gig analysis resulted in myself adamant it was far too Morrissey, The Cure gets a mention alongside a strong shout for A-ha. This may verge on sounding like a dismissive snobbery – but it’s extremely hard to dislike as they are so fucking slick and posses such an engaging swagger. As a result of the packed nature, I have to head outside for air and thus miss Splash Wave who are on next, the queue having grown exponentially and thus too hefty to negotiate.

And now for the festival proper. To explain, the festival is split in two; Bar En Trans taking place in the town centre of Rennes, in bars and small-mid sized venues à la Camden Crawl, until 11 or so. However, take the 20 mins bus to the buxom affair on the outskirts of Rennes at Park Expo and things start to get a touch crazy; non more so than the bus ride out there. Much of it as a result of the race to neck plastic bottles full of liquor before entering, in a variety of styles, games and flavours and endearing and drunkely bellowed French expressions. Yup, endearing – maybe it’d be less exotic if I understood it.

Once inside I’m greeted with a multitude of converted airline hangers, each converted into a barrage of noise and make movements to the one labelled Hall 9. I arrive half-way through Breton; afterall it would be rude not to see the act in the place on where they base their name (assumedly). The five-piece South London crew are a hub for innovation, an innovation that manifests itself in the notorious audio/visual relationship of their live work.

Breton @ Trans Musicales 2011

Which is handy, as here at the cavernous arena of Hall 9 (no, not cavern-like ala La Femme yesterday evening, the antithesis in fact) includes an extremely large screen with their own honed moving images on a loop and chopped in time with the beats. Despite having only the single EP to their name in Counter Balance, they are not out of their depth here.

Oh yea and the music. The hooded lot are not your usual South London beat-driven urban electronic bass, although this Mount Kimbie downbeat electronica is present, it is spliced with elements of post-rock – hell, I even smell Foals-dipped math-rock here. On the whole it works well, though I think I’m in the minority amongst those present who don’t quite get them.

One of the things about a festival is the journey, the simple experience; it’s not the why or when, it’s the now. On a whim I decide to exit the Park Expo and head back to the bars on an empty bus-ride, this is certainly no party bus. The bar transpires to be quite a walk from Renne centre, passing ominous tower blocks to what feels like the ‘burbs – as that is what they are. A time-consuming lonely journey but a fascinating one – if you’re all about the destination, then take a fucking flight, right?

It is all for Antilles in a cupboard pub; this detour all due to a video I saw of them that wholly tranfixed me in it’s contemporary krautrock, K-X-P/Warm Digits leanings.

However.

This is not the band playing. In retrospect, I am to realise this is not Antilles I am witnessing, but No Pilot, the nom du jour of one rather heavyset Frenchmen who’s an expert in using a myriad of electronic components as tools to create a delightful head-fuck of interlocked looped noise. It’s genuinely such a surreal moment, from being in a comfortable large-scale arena setting to a local bar in a foreign land listening to improvised Fuck Buttons gone scizoprehnic. I regrettably miss Antilles as have lost sense of language, time and direction and in a state of discombobulation, and thus am off on the party bus again…

Colin Stetson @ Trans Musicales 2011

Trans Musicales 2011

As Park Expo fills up further Colin Steston seems like the righteous choice. The multitalented player of all things brass has spent much time touring with Arcade Fire, Bon Iver and Bell Orchestra, but here he is puffing solo tonight – just the Michigan-born, Montreal based man and his heroically large bass saxophone.

Whilst having played with a lot of the indie-world big hitters, there’s no doubting his obvious classically trained talent at his core. He challenges the paradox between the classical and the contemporary – I can’t say to know much about the former, the only point of comparison that come to mind being the cello-leaning of Arthur Russell I guess.

Whatever, it is hugely impressive and surpassingly visceral to experience first hand, taking a breath-taking amount of lung power to get the most out of, and to power-up the monstrous sax. Mouths, they be droppin’ yo.

“Thanks for not smoking” he says earnestly, before I exit to a huge barrage of smoke.

Time for something a bit more upbeat to keep me awake as the night races on, in the form of space-disco from the hands of Todd Terje, a master in his craft of intelligent electro-house. Hall 9, the biggest of all the hangers is bouncing, which sets up SBTRKT rather nicely.

The duo step-up with ‘Hold On’ as they normally do – featuring an extended driving outro perfected to a crowd-pleasing level. Aaron Jerome is a model of total concentration, spinning sounds like spinning plates and always timed to perfection. At times in almost veers into a dj set during the non-Sampha crooning tracks – not that it particularly matters in this setting of ravers going all-out.

SBTRKT @ Trans Musicales 2011

Whilst they do fill the auditorium rather well and get a spectacular crowd reaction for the big tunes, something is lost in comparable to a small or mid-sized gig. Few acts could not say this. However ‘Pharaohs’ is so much more ecstatic and satisfying than on record, a highlight of what is a throughly enjoyable set.

As I survey the scene in the early hours it is not a pretty one; eyes like flying saucers, faces that posses the look that they’re due to shit-out a sea urchin imminently, immediately striking up friendship on the basis of having a brightly coloured-jacked and casualties everywhere on the seams of buildings; yup everyone’s having a good time, not that anyone will remember. But I still need to see Factory Floor as the night evolves into an endurance test.

Ah, but before FF is Silverio, an enthusiastic, try-hard (in is mind) crowd-pleasing whacky Mexican, who really doesn’t want to leave. He eventually does, but as the transition times between acts here is often instant due to the two-year stage system, it is one of the most off-putting and bizarre follow-ons ever witnessed, the first bass rumblings from FF occurring as he parades off set in his thong with both pot-belly and bronzed bum showing. I can only assume normally right-on curator Jean-Louis Brossard picked him based on a vision inspired by some nightmarish cheese-dreams.

The lights come down and stay down as the London-trio always prefer, with only a backdrop of blocky colours on an impatient loop. The repetitive beats and thrusting industrial hypnosis creates a disquieting electronic paranoia. Post-punk yet now DFA-signed, danceable yet receptive to friendly head-thrashing, the crowd is a juxtaposition of confused clubbers still going for it and music geeks lapping it up.

It’s somewhat a shame Hall 9 is now under half full, it is 4:07 in the morning to be fair – though it really isn’t noticeable for those in the thrust of the crowd, getting lost in the space. Ah yes, the space. I, and I suspect many, have only ever experienced Factory Floor in the confines of an enclosed space as the extremely loud and incredibly close noise they purvey shatter bodies and enthuse brains. In the context of an open arena something is lost along the way – whilst somehow being impressive on a different level.

The usual frightening sound levels simply cannot be present in this environment. As the smell of ‘Otto’s Jacket’ wafts towards me once again I briefly shut my eyes whilst recuperating on the seats at the back and fall into unconsciousness; only to suddenly be jolted wide-awake as I’m terrified my heart is incrementally exploding to the time of the pounding dystopian beat that happens to be in time with my beat. At this point it is obvious that it is time to leave – and as I exit all hooded-up, I can still hear and see the monolithic hanger pulsate and shake, and feel that the world is ending. Factory Floor have been described as apocalyptic, and here is the evidence.

Factory Floor @ Trans Musicales 2011

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