After arriving from Paris on the TGV, a short stroll is required to reach the commercial center of Rennes. Past that, the small charming streets of the city line your route and you may be forgiven for forgetting that you have come to the city to take in an intensive, late-night, booze-accompanied, 3-day music festival.
Les Trans Musicales de Rennes is a festival based just outside the city-centre of Rennes. The festival itself pays particular attention to ‘new music’ with no real ‘headline’ act per se. In its 37-year history, Les Trans has seen acts such as Nirvana, Bjork, Portishead, Daft Punk, LCD Soundsytem and many more play in their formative years. The brain behind the festival is a man named Jean-Louis Brossard who has been booking this festival since 1979. The festival began as a showcase for the newest, most innovative, special and progressive talent from all over the world and the festival has honorably kept that ethos every year since. This ethos has resulted in annual festival lineups that are widely unknown to punters and industry pen-pushers alike.
Despite this, every year, Les Trans attracts huge crowds that openly admit to not knowing many, or any, of the acts on the bill; choosing instead to trust the flawless reputation of Les Trans for bringing Rennes the world’s finest, most interesting and innovative acts.
To be fair, with such a success rate on breaking news acts – there’s little wonder as to why mass crowds descending on Les Trans trust it repeatedly.
The festival is based in Parc D’Expo, a huge exhibition park located 25 minutes from Rennes city center. Shuttle buses reliably go to and from the city at 15 minute intervals. The layout of Parc D’Expo sees several large warehouses situated side by side. If you choose to walk from one hall to another, you may be outside for a grand total of 10 seconds as you pass from one to another. There is four halls dedicated to music with another dedicated to food (this is France after all).
The festival can run anywhere from 5pm to 7am over the course of the 3 days (Thursday – Saturday).
Each hall holds anywhere from 2,000-4,000 people, with the biggest of these, Hall 9, holding around 7,000 people. A sound engineer’s nightmare, the large cavernous warehouse dwellings are tall and made from tin sheets. Despite the tricky set up, the sound, stage production, lighting design and overall feel of the spaces is flawless. This is no more evident in the biggest hall, whereby the lighting set up is by far and away the most impressive we have seen. The rigs that sprawl into the crowd have hundreds of moving lights and create a spider leg structure hanging over the stage and into the crowd. An incredible quality of stage for the fledgling artists to perform on – surely eclipsing any previous production levels they have performed alongside before.
First up for the weekend was Clarence Clarity – a psychedelic, electronic pop maverick who is joined on stage by his full band. Transforming his solo musings into a full live setup. At first, it’s hard to wrap your head around what is going on. Clarence draws on any sound and any style he chooses with no one song having the same driving force at it’s core. It’s kind of like Yeasayer took the pop sensibility of MGMT with a sprinkle of Ariel Pink – all with a very solid R’n’B rhythm section. The drummer deserves particular attention for his flawless and tenacious energy. It’s an interesting set but the translation of the recorded material and on-stage presence still needs some work.
A short walk to Hall 4 transports the punter to a new environs, same layout but an endlessly different atmosphere greets you as you enter. From the uncertainty and unnerving sense that you get with Clarence Clarity – not really knowing what is coming next. Her on the other hand provide a clear, simple formula. From the off, it’s clear to see that Victor Solf, one of the bands singers is a star. His voice soars while his presence on stage is alluring, jittery and engaging. On songs like 5 Minutes, you get a sense that this band could have something. It’s silky, laid-back soul with hints and drips of funk. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for Simon Carpentier, the other singer in the band. It serves as an example of how important a lead singer can be as when Carpentier sings, the band transform to nothing more than a cheap wedding band. It’s only when Solf takes the lead that you can really see this band taking off. Let’s hope the band and management see it that way too.
Up next, we plodded along to Code & Superdoze & Dream Koala. The whole show was incredibly minimal. Full string and small brass section accompany the acts and create a wall of intertwining sound. The focus and mission of the set is expansive and grand in scale. The live element to the electronic set adds a certain electrifying element to live proceedings. This is and should be the future of electronic music. When a 21 year- old Dream Koala, from Paris France starts to sing, the whole set moves up a notch and becomes pretty chilling in parts. His voice is largely feminine and soars over the large surrounds of Hall 8.
Son Little kicks off our Friday of the festival at 11pm. This is not unusual for Les Trans as stages run until 6am – something that is much needed on the Irish festival scene. It’s off to a good start with a steady flow to proceedings. The band is a 3 piece with the band standing quite static on stage. As the band is a 3-piece, the band could do with more movement. The sound is there but the on-stage presence needs a bit of work. Son’s voice is on point but maybe needs more around it. His song Alice is a triumph on the big stage. O Mother is another highlight of the set. He then bangs in to ‘Hotline bling’ which is a welcome change the flow. The slow moments are steady and considered.He controls a lovely rasp in his voice that adds an edge. He then finishes with a long ass groove into great song Cross My Heart.
Totorro were a band that most didn’t know much of. A post-rock band from France. From the get-go this is a band at the top and instantly becomes the most complete and fulfilling set of the weekend so far. They are ferocious in their approach and their execution of their set. It really is post-rock at its finest, akin to our own Overhead, the Albatross. More of a post-punk drummer in terms of his drumming style as he bashes away with more style and movement than normal break-beat drummers. The band are really out to impress as they bring a trumpeter out on set with them, this extra element brings the band on once more as the crowd really are enjoying every single moment. Then, another drummer appears on stage. In some moments, this is needless for musical reasons but when the two drummers compliment each other as opposed to playing to the same rhythm, it then brings the performance up another level. As the show nears the end, all performers are on stage to bring the set to a blistering halt. Easily the best set of the weekend.
Unfortunately, we could not stay long enough for Vintage Trouble who packed out Hall 3. The few songs we did see were top notch as the bands brand of soul excites the crowd. The reason for missing it was a clash with Mowimbi. A large group of French DJ’s who specialise in African rhythms and beats. This is our first introduction to Hall 9. The set is packed with huge dance sounds, all laid to a bed of African rhythms and beats. Throughout the set, a huge tribal projection appears behind them and adds to the set. The act perhaps is too overawed at what must be their biggest gig to date. Hall 9 can hold tens of thousands of people and sees a packed out hall for most of the day. Also, not having more of a live element to their music makes the set a bit static in parts as the troupe of DJ’s merely stand by their decks and dance awkwardly. Needs more work.
To finish our day is hometown heroes Le Galaxie. For us, Le Galaxie are no strangers and we have grown used to them ending our nights at festival across Ireland. The bands start time was scheduled for 4.45am to 5.45am – an incredibly late start. Let’s hope Michael Pope and crew got some Red Bull’s into them to keep the energy levels up. The thought of Le Galaxie on such a big stage with the accompaniment of the best light show they will ever play to was a welcome sight as we saddled right up close to the stage for the set to begin. The set kicks off to thunderous start with Put The Chain On particularly impressing. Unfortunately, the band fall victim to the worst technical mishap of the whole festival as some elements of their set refuse to work. Leaving the hall in silence of up to 5 minutes. Considering this hall is filled with music nearly non-stop, this lengthy space of dead-air is noticed by the crowd. Luckily, the band kick back in after the changing over of some of their gear and to be fair to the lads, they turn it up once more to make up for the technical difficulties. This scale suits Le Galaxie down to the crowd and offers a welcome change to the static DJ sets that are seen on the Hall 9 stage throughout the weekend. The live setup is engaging, the energy is enthralling and tunes and top class. Love System soars as if it was written for this night and the Elaine Mai vocal is top class.
Monika is the first act of our Saturday and she appears on stage to state that this is her first French gig ever. At the beginning, she leaps around the stage at first. Unfortunately, this movement and energy is the height of the set. Monika herself has come from a more pop background and this is abundantly clear despite her being at pains to declare that she has left that behind. She talks about how she had a pop career in Greece but it was not what she wanted to do so she moved to New York to pursue a more arty and creative life and find more meaning to life – yea, we know – yawn! She then goes on to thank her band and crowd a lot which becomes a bit tired after the 11th time. Neared the end of the set, she come seen to front of crowd and sings without a mic. This is all well and good if you are up the front but for anyone else other than the 20 people up front, the set descends into a instrumental set. Too arty-farty for this reviewer with no real substance to back it up.
When we go to see DJ Kosmo Pilot, we literally are the first people to enter the hall as he begins his set. He stands a lone man on a huge stage with only his decks to accompany him. After a time, the room slowly starts to get people shuffling in. It soon becomes apparent though that Kosmo Pilot is merely a DJ who playlists songs and presses play. Undoubtably, the songs he is playing, a mixture of African, funk and soul. But you can’t help but imagine that he is taking up a spot.
Imarhan are African desert rockers who appear after Kosmo Pilot to a packed crowd. It soon becomes apparent that this band is the real deal. The band have many African tribal instruments on stage including a gorgeous sounding drum that gives off a great bass sound. The band creates a wall of warm sound that immediately takes you off to another place. For the duration of their set, you are not in a freezing cold shed in Rennes, but instead, are transported to a sandy atmosphere in Northern Africa. Tahabort and Assossamagh stand out as highlights of the set – a truly superb act.
The Kuhn Narin’s Electric Phin Band were the last band to entertain us at 2016’s Les Trans. The band are made up of street performers who were seen in their homeland by the owners of Innovative Leisure Records and snapped up to make Psychedelic Rock. It was quite melodic at first and then descends into warpy sounds. They then move to a more harder rock sound complete with guitar shredding. The band really do embrace a very different sound and stand out from the bill on Les Trans – something that you have to commend the organisers for booking. You’re not likely to see anything like this at any other festivals – especially at more conventional Irish festivals . They are reinventing conventions about what you think music and especially foreign music is. This is why we come to Les Trans.
And with that, we see the end to Les Trans 2015 – a true delight of the festival circuit in Europe – once again proving itself to be one of the forthright staples of new, exciting and emerging music across the globe.