While most Irish festival go-ers are enjoying their festival hibernation – tucked away knee-deep in Spotify playlists, foraging for new music for when festival season and the warmer surrounds finally do arrive at the end of May. If we take a little bit more care and look a little further afield, we can see a plethora of options for winter festival frolics.
Each year, the festival of choice for us is Rencontres Trans Musicales in Rennes. The festival itself is one of the countries, and Europe’s, oldest and most respected new music festivals.
The festival is located in an exhibition park, usually reserved for large-scale exhibitions and conferences. The park features 5-6 huge warehouse-like halls and each stage is set up within. Straight away, this eliminates the worry over weather, as you’re only ever a short 1 minute walk between halls. Take note Ireland!
The festival features four music halls and as cliched as it may be, they also have a food/wine hall (unsurprisingly this hall can regularly be the most vibrant and busiest of all the halls at the festival).
It’s located a 15-20 bus journey outside of the city with shuttle buses running every 2-3 minutes from the city centre. This is another factor that Irish festivals (and Dublin-based festivals in particular) should look to emulate. The bus system is flawless and contributes to the ease of transport no end!
Unfortunately, direct flights from Dublin to Rennes have recently ceased. But flights to Charles de Gaulle are only around €80-€100 return. Then it’s a comfortable TGV from Paris to Rennes (another €30-€50). A pretty quick and straightforward journey.
The festival only kicks off around 7pm/9pm, depending on the night. So you have all morning and afternoon to explore Rennes and it’s dainty and picturesque cobbled streets. You can take in the Christmas markets, pick up a savoury crepe from a street vendor, peruse the local record stores or kick back and relax in one of the cities quaint cafes.
Our Top Plec Picks:
Birthday girl Tanika Charles stands a dominant figure on the massive Les Trans stage, with her voice quickly dominating the space as she soars on her soul, rhythm and blues tunes. Sweet Memories kicks off the set, a song about “being too comfortable in a relationship, but just wanting sex”. As it’s her birthday, the French crowd politely sing a chorus of Happy Birthday in English, but this being France, a few resilient and rebellious Francophones recite it back in the native tongue – resulting in a rather peculiar but oddly enjoyable sonic jumble. Two Steps impresses but on Endless Chain, the band and Tanika herself really let loose – breaking free of the rigid chops that can be found in the rest of the set. More of the latter please.
MITÚ are one of Columbia’s premier electronic music exports – describing themselves as “techno from the jungle”. They can be found in the Heineken Green Room at the festival, a ravers haven where acts perform back-to-back, assisted by an incredible lighting rig that sprawls out beyond the crowd. There’s a distinctly Southern/Latin-American vibe off everything they do – if it’s not the use of drums or pipes, then warped lyrics in Spanish come blissfully to the fore. Downtime isn’t really on the agenda as high tempo tracks like Solitario or Fiebre boom across the hall.
As Thursday is the first introductory day (it starts a little later and ends a little earlier), one of the final acts, Lakuta, take to the stage at 1.05am. It’s clear from the opening chorus of Bata Boy as vocalist Siggi Mwasote chants “we will not stand for this, we will say yes no more”. An incredible 9-piece bands stand behind Mwasote, including other band leader and Latin percussionist Cicely Taylor. So Sue Us is their two fingers to the music industry who run a “fucked up game”. It’s an interesting concept to have modern, corporate and twenty-first century problems drawn out through African music that takes its influences from jazz, funk, soul and tropical music. It’s quickly evident that Lakuta are certainly not your textbook world-music band. Rice & Peace again highlights the bands supreme talents; from extraordinary brass players to mesmerizing rhythm sections – with Mwasote holding it all together like an essential cog in the machine. If you see the name Lakuta at any festival near you, you’d be mad to miss out.
It’s all in the name, The House Gospel Choir do exactly what it says on the tin. On stage, 24 men and women form a powerful formation. The choir is led by soprano singer SheZar, who is an incredible front-woman for the choir. She glides across the stage leading the choir in dance and song, pointing, giving way and introducing singers as the set continues.The choir whizzes through updated versions of classic house tracks from the 90s and noughties, with added energy and joy. From Aint Nobody by Chaka Khan right through to Kanye West’s Fade – this stands as the perfect counteract to a day of new music.
Tank & The Bangas are a force of nature. Tarriona “Tank” Ball comes bounding on to the stage and 40 minutes of pure entertainment begins. The band were propelled from nothing to world acclaim when they won the NPR open-mic call for acts, they then appeared on the famed YouTube channel for their own performance (now at 3.5million views). Much like that famous video that gave their career a springboard, the performance on the night is a sight to behold. A super-tight band with glittering keys from Merell Burket and Joe Johnson while Albert Allenback stuns on alto saxophone and flute. From slow jams like Oh Heart or Rollercoasters where Tarriona simply stuns with buckets load of emotion. Or on ‘Quick’ that is a barrage of funk, soul and attitude. Tank and the Bangas are one of the best and most engaging live bands on the live circuit … period!
What’s in a name eh? Dynamic Blockbuster almost had us running for the hills on name alone but we stuck around to check them out and we’re glad we did. A band who claim the American fund band Mandrill as one of their major influences, the band are made up of 5 brass players who cleverly use samples as their rhythm section. At first it seems like cheating a little bit but the band play so effortlessly and meld together the samples that it moves up a notch. Our own Booka Brass Band could look to these guys for a bit of inspiration in that sense – the backing tracks really do add another element to the performance. The band celebrate all the best of black music, drawing also from soul, jazz and hip-hop to create a sound dripping with sexiness and groove.
After receiving many recommendations to see Confidence Man, we had to head along to see what the fuss was about. The same buzz must of been going around the rest of the festival as this act seen record crowds in the biggest Hall 9 across the whole weekend. The hype was justified as CM proved themselves to be the ultimate good-time festival act riffling through the effortlessly joyous Boyfriend and Bubblegum. And even though the best track of the night Better Sit Down Boy sounds quite familiar to the rest of the set, it’s that relatability and endless amount of fun that just draw you in. You can dance, you can hum along, you can sing – you’re guaranteed to have a good time. The perfect end to a weekend of groundbreaking new music.
Once again, Les Trans proves itself to be a shining beacon of light in the winter festival scene. With so many festivals, the new band stage is the least attended across a weekend. At Les Trans, the whole festival is based around the concept of new music and showcasing so many acts that would never get to play on the kind of stages we see them on at this festival. It’s so refreshing to see new music given a chance – and why wouldn’t it when Les Trans keeps on getting it right, time after time!
We’ll be back – that’s for sure!