Live Review

Trans Musicales De Rennes 2012: Day Three

Our schedule looks markedly different; interviews, familiar names, and some of the most eagerly anticipated sets of the week.

As the morning sun pierces the drizzle over this pretty, north-western corner of Brittany, it’s time to take stock. Late night shenanigans mean we once again forego the breakfast buffet in favour of room service, but the coffee brings with it expectations and high hopes. As disappointing as yesterday was, this is Saturday, and while the locals contemplate more pre-Christmas present hunting, our schedule looks markedly different; interviews, familiar names, and some of the most eagerly anticipated sets of the week. Much to our chagrin, this also means the most annoying clashes; perhaps economics dictate hosting the main draws on the most popular and accessible day, but the lopsided nature of the program is puzzling to say the least, not to mention somewhat unfair on those acts who found themselves excluded from the heart of the weekend.

One band lucky enough to fall on the correct line of this divide are French popsters Gomina. We make the effort to catch their 3pm set – from the deluge of downloads, SoundCloud links, and press releases that landed in our inbox pre-festival, theirs stood out as being genuinely catchy and interesting – and we’re glad we do. Specialising in irresistible, bouncy indie-pop, their songs ride in on beams of sunlight, spreading a mischievous sense of joy through a packed L’Etage. That they do this effortlessly, and with a confidence that belies a band who’ve only been going for two years, is truly impressive. Think of a jauntier Belle & Sebastian, relocated to a land of sun-drenched poppy fields and picnics under endless blue skies, and you’ll have a pretty accurate picture of Nicolas Varin and co. Last track ‘Everything’ – playful, spacey synths built around a sweet little bustling beat – bodes well for the reworking of their debut LP ‘Into The Sunny Gray’, and if Gallic pop is your thing, they should be high on your Ones to Watch list for 2013.

Photo: Ph. Remond 2012

Londoner Kwesi Sey – better known as Kwes – has been figuring on such lists for a few years now; first as an über-producer and collaborator with the likes of the xx, Micachu, and Damon Albarn, but more recently as a solo artist in his own right. Two stops north on the metro brings us to La Cité, and the first of what he told us would be many shows backed by a proper band. As a three piece, they veer between sweet, heartfelt pop and his more experimental side, with one meandering drone ending with him rolling around on the floor, still playing his synth. It’s a wide and varied mix, but perhaps he’d be better off focusing on one particular aspect – by the halfway point, quite a few have seemingly wandered off, either bored or just plain baffled. “I’m over-thinking” goes a lyric on the wonderful ‘Bashful’, and he may be right – his smooth croon, far more affecting live than on record, is the perfect fit for his eclectic style of pop, with tracks such as ‘Honey’ and ‘Rollerblades’ translating far better to stage than his electronic jams.

Photo: Ph. Remond 2012

The perils of hosting late night, middle-of-winter concerts in industrial hangars is ably demonstrated by the freezing gusts that lurk round every corner of the Parc Expo. People scurry from hall to hall, pushing through to the front, frantically seeking the soothing heat of the crowd. Hall 3 is packed for Melody’s Echo Chamber, but it soon becomes clear that this is not down to the plunging temperatures – it’s because this is pop as it should be. Inventive, subversive, and seductive, Melody Prochet’s set is deliciously brilliant and every bit as captivating as her record, oozing a Gallic charm that’s as sensuous as it is effortless. By the time the languid brilliance of ‘Bisou Magique’ has swaggered into view, all swirling melodies over a rolling backbeat, any worries that Kevin Parker’s guitar would be sorely missed have long since disappeared, replaced by a giddy wonder that drum loops, fuzzy reverb, and heavy baroque stylings can hang so well together. No-one does chic aloofness quite like the French – think Piaf, Gainsbourg, Aznavour and Bruni – and Prochet, on this showing, thoroughly deserves to be the next entry in this grand tradition. We leave impressed, and more than a little smitten.

Photo: Ph. Remond 2012

After perusing the timetable over some much-needed liquid refreshment, we find ourselves in front of local punk rockers The 1969 Club, blissfully unaware of the firestorm about to rage in our ears. Unleashing a torrent of noise, they bring an energy, enthusiasm, and a fuck-you attitude to what they do that’s as refreshing as it is passionate. They may not have the most original material – their name alone alludes to the influence of The Stooges and MC5 – but done with such bravura and conviction, it’s hard not to be swept along with the euphoria. It’s raw, sharp and to the point, three minute blasts of punk rock that make it impossible not to grin like a lunatic. There are falling balloons, crowd surfing, epic riffs, and girls on their boyfriends’ shoulders, and what the spectacle lacks in subtlety, it makes up for with a punch to the gut and waves of guitar that hit you hard. It’s infectiously good fun, and judging by the joyous abandon with which people are moshing around, we’re not alone in our admiration.

Criss-crossing between the various halls and bars, we sense a change in vibe from previous evenings, and not just in terms of the quality of what’s on offer. Tonight has a more curated feel, and more variety, relying less on full-on, rave-up electronica than Friday did, a selection policy that’s led to the industrial hip hop of TNGHT occupying a prime spot. We’re not sure if when Hudson Mohawke and Lunice teamed up for SXSW back in March, they envisaged ending the year by playing to a hangar of 3000 people, but here they are. And they slam it, in every possible way; from the retina-burning lasers and strobes to the gut-bothering bass, they deliver a thoroughly modern musical odyssey that blends samples, loops, dubstep, and even hints of crunk. All the tracks from their self-titled EP appear in some form or other, although it’s an intense, menacing version of ‘Higher Ground’ that overshadows everything else and showcases exactly why they’ve received so much rabid praise; this could be the vehicle for crossover success that has so far eluded them as solo artists.

Photo: Ph Remond 2012

Still reeling from the manic delirium of what we just witnessed, we only manage to catch the last half of Hot Panda’s scruffy indie, but we see enough to be charmed by their quirkiness – drummer Maghan Campbell at one point dons a rubber horse head – and their chutzpah; they give us not one, but two Nirvana covers, back to back. Preceded by a rambling anecdote by singer Chris Connelly about learning his first bass line while in France, both ‘Breed’ and ‘Territorial Pissings’ are incredibly faithful, and incredibly powerful. A bizarre choice of cover versions, certainly, but they work, and serve as a neat metaphor for the whole weekend. Sprawling, eclectic, a surprise around every corner, it’s a festival that thrives on diversity and it’s ability to awaken the inquisitor in all of us. There’s little ego or pomposity on view, and being forced to do some digging before choosing who to see leads to unpolished gems and frissons of excitement. À bientôt then, Les Trans, and here’s to the future crossing of our paths.

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