Live Review

Trans Musicales De Rennes 2012: Day Two

It’s never a good sign when the creativity of a PR team overshadows the music.

It’s a curious feeling looking at a line up and having no idea who to go and see. Normally, festivals require military level planning; knowing the quickest routes, avoiding random site crossing, and working out which bar will serve you in under twenty minutes. Here, none of that matters, and not just because of the citywide spread of the venues. Rather, it’s due to the up-and-coming status of so many of the acts, some of whom have just recently been picked up on by the French blogosphere. The media room is a hive of activity, with PRs, agents, and managers all bustling around, thrusting flyers into reluctant hands and eager to preach the virtues of their charges to all and sundry. Such promotion is a necessary evil I guess, but doesn’t serve to cut through the noise. Casual chats with other scribes are little help either, revealing as they do the same tips, recommendations, and glossy pieces of paper now lining our bag.

Photo: NiCoM, 18-55.org

One artist who does seem high on everyone’s list is Pegase, the day’s first act in the long, dark room that is L’Etage. It could be because he’s hailed as the author of an “elegant electro-pop where intimacy argues with dreams, whose fragile haunting melodies give the listener an urge to travel”. Or, alternatively, it could be that he takes the stage a handy half-hour after a wine and oyster reception thrown by the organisers for invited guests, VIPs, and the assembled press pack in the room next door. Either way, his brand of electro pop attracts a sizeable crowd, proof of his rising status. It’s brave – or maybe stupid – to nail your colours so brazenly to the mast of a style that reached its zenith with the Little Boots/La Roux love in back in 2009, but you can’t fault his polish and enthusiasm. More problematic is that alongside a few standout tracks – and there really aren’t many – the rest of his set suffers by comparison, blending into a twinkling, synth-led soup with nothing really to differentiate it from much of what has come before, or what’s currently on offer.

Photo: NiCoM, 18-55.org

Another native band, locals O Safari, follow straight after – both physically and stylistically. Ramping up the BPM, they’re brighter and brasher than their fellow countryman, but the slow drift of casual observers suggests it’s still too early in the day to appreciate full on disco beats. It’s also not much of a spectacle; as a duo they rely heavily on technology, and whilst Laurent Guillet’s live drumming is impressive, everything else is heavily sequenced and programmed, Julien Vignon even teetering on the edge of the stage for the duration of ‘Satellites’ as the music plays away in the background. Recent EP ‘Taxi’ has been compared in some quarters to Giorgio Moroder, but here they flirt with the trashier end of Euro Disco, and not in a good way.

We scuttle north to La Cité and a date with the familiar face of Londoner Lianne La Havas. Fresh from the critical acclaim poured on her debut, ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’, she’s full of cocky confidence, at one point chastising the audience for being too quiet. True, there’s an unusual, hushed silence as she plays, but it’s more out of reverence for her soulful and intimate compositions, punctuated by tales of breakups and lost love. As she caresses her vintage 1964 Danelectro Silvertone, she strokes and picks with a rare velvet style and grace, and beautifully transfers her songs to the stage. The arrangements may be a little more sparse but with room to breathe, her smooth, rich voice becomes the focal point, each note and inflection shuddering through your soul and seeping into your bones. Ending on ‘Age’ – alone, centre stage, under a soft spotlight – she conjures the ghosts of Piaf, Holliday, Joplin and Carpenter; tender, emotional, and honest, she sings straight from the heart and deservedly has the whole room hanging off her every word.

Photo: Ph. Remond 2012

As the evening turns to night, the crowds gather outside L’Etage for the Expo shuttle bus and the half-hour journey to the outskirts. Spirits are high and, despite the queues and crowded buses, drinks are passed around and bands discussed. A few rebel souls even open the windows, allowing for the odd illicit cigarette or three. Tonight is a younger, more boisterous crowd and a joyous expectation hangs in the air, a joy that’s carried over into Thumpers’ set. Formed from the ashes of Pull Tiger Tail – remember them? – Marcus Pepperell and Jack Hannson are obviously aiming for a poppier, more radio-friendly sound, and in that they succeed. But as appealing and bouncy as tracks such as ‘Sound of Screams’ and ‘Dancing’s Done’ are, there’s a nauseating blandness to everything they do. Big things may await them according to the tipsters, but they need to tap into something a little more substantial to avoid the same fate that befell their previous incarnation.

Photo: Ph. Remond 2012

Fortified by possibly the best saucisson and fried onion hotdog we’ve ever tried – maybe it was the hour, maybe the level of our hunger – we forgo the expansive techno of Vitalic for another of the night’s hot tips, Nantes’ Von Pariahs. They clearly have money in their corner – aside from a slick publicity campaign and a flyer that’s actually a four-page, A4 newspaper, they only have one double-sided single to show for three years together – and draw an impressively sizeable and loyal crowd. The number of people singing along suggests many miles on the road, winning over fans the hard way, but while they deliver a tight, polished set, their straight-up post-punk is devoid of originality, spark, and worst of all, passion. Singer Sam Sprent does his best to inject some urgency, careering round the stage and treating his mic stand with disdain, but an attempt to crowd surf during their last number sums up the flatness; launching himself into the crowd, he’s held aloft for only a few seconds before crashing to the ground due to a lack of hands.

In a year that gave us the intensely dark and ferocious Savages, it’s a disappointing facsimile of a genre that has spawned so many great bands. ‘Someone New’ is just too blatantly in thrall to Joy Division, and with no genuine feelings or emotion bubbling to the surface, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that they have no real connection to the history of the music they purport to be inspired by. It’s never a good sign when the creativity of a PR team overshadows the music and so, disappointed, we decide to call it a night; despite the palpable excitement surrounding the appearance of Doldrums, the prospect of another let down and a 4.30am start time is just too much for our tired brain to process.

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