We’ve been covering Rencontres Trans Musicales in Rennes for the past 4 years and each year the festival throws up a raft of brilliant new acts that are set to light up the festival and gig circuits in the coming year.
That’s what sets Les Trans aside from other festivals across Europe. Instead of going after the top names, they instead, have a commitment and love of new music to only book and promote new and emerging artists. You’ll be hard pushed to recognise many of the names on the bills as their announced, with many acts across the weekend playing their biggest ever shows.
For a more in-depth description of the festival setup, check out our description here.
This commitment to new music is a breath of fresh air, the festival is in it’s 40th year, and over the years has booked acts like Nirvana, LCD Soundsystem, Bjork, Beck and loads more far before their became household names. Simply put, Les Trans books the best new emerging talent across the world – a lot of the acts that you’ll be talking about in one or two years appear on this bill.
That’s another aspect to Les Trans which never ceases to impress us. Despite the lack of ‘names’ on the bills, the gig-goers in Rennes trust that the festival will be booking an exciting, diverse and quality lineup – this sees the festival have capacity crowds across the whole weekend. The big ticket sales also result in big productions across all the stages.
Many of the Irish festival bookers have been known to attend Les Trans, all in the quest to book the next big things to Stradbally, Ballinlough Castle or further afield! We’ve picked out our favourite acts that you may just see playing a field in Ireland near you this summer!
Our Top Plec Picks:
After going on about ‘new’ music so much above, the 64-year old Robert Finley is a bit of an exceptional case. After decades of performing semi-professionally followed by a long time away from music, Finley made a comeback in 2016. He was discovered by the Music Maker Relief Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps elderly musicians in need so that they can share their music with the world.
On the night, he plays a number of tracks from his latest album ‘Goin’ Platinum’, released on Dan Auerbach’s (The Black Keys) label Easy Eye Sound. From the first words of Get It While You Can, you can hear a timeless and experienced crackle to Finley’s voice that can’t be faked. Each strained note and lyric points to years of living in hard times and each narrative drips with sincerity.
Medicine Woman and I Just Want To Tell You further showcases the quality of his latest record. His varying vocal chops and timeless style can be heard on the superb Holy Wine. If Charles Bradley can transport you back to the good old days of showmanship with his high-energy and bravado, then Finley offers up something equally special, but in the form of pure southern soul.
From rambling all over the world while serving as a US marine, to working in the army band across the globe, to giving it all up and settling in the forgotten town of Bernice, Louisiana – Finley is now back where he belongs – and we’re all the better for having him around.
From the venerable soul and RnB of Finley to the modern psychedelic soul of the Black Pumas. Not a million miles from each other in terms of base, but certainly a different output and method of delivery.
Lead vocalist Eric Burton dominates the stage with an oversized jacket draped over his shoulders, he confidently declares at the beginning of the set: “If you feel good, then fly with me! We’re the Black Pumas, we gon’ cruise”. Soon the jacket falls from his shoulders as he moves and grooves like he’s performing contently to nobody but himself, such is his nonchalance in delivery.
Similar in output to Vintage Trouble and Curtis Harding, both of whom have played Les Trans in the last couple of years, the band have a sleek and precise stage-show. Black Moon Rising is their standout track, and one of the only recorded songs they have online.
It’s a bombastic performance from Burton but this band is packed-full of exceptional players. Organ solos, pounding bass, long drum fills and swirling guitar pepper the tracks. A dark and clever cover of Eleanor Rigby brings new meaning to the song as Burton delivers the line “All the lonely people, Where do they all come from?” with a whole new type of intensity. A fitting end to an electric 50 minute set.
An artist who has appeared as part of the successful Portuguese outfit Buraka Som Sistema, she’s now going it solo as Pongo. She has been touted with embodying the renewal of modern Kuduro, a type of music and dance originally developed in Angola during the 1980s. So it’s only right that an Angolan artist like Pongo is bringing Kudoro back, but this time with a mainstream electronic afro-pop lilt.
From the first beats of Quero Mais, it’s clear that this is a polished artist. The track has a more chilled vibe than the tracks that follow, but shows Pongo to have multiple levels that she can access throughout the set.
Tambulaya and Baia further prove that this music is destined for stages all across the world with Baia particularly impressing. As soon as the lyric powerfully arrives, it’s a Kudoro attack of the senses – with no let up from start to finish.
On the night, Pongo is backed by keys and drums, but all eyes are on Pongo in her silver sequence jumpsuit. She doesn’t stop, it’s high energy throughout. She has one of those presences on stage that has you hooked to her every move – direct, engaging and powerful on stage.
If you want a real taste of Pongo, then look no further than her track Kuzola. It starts slow but soon you’re launched in to this airy and anthemic afro-pop gem. Let’s hope some of the Irish bookers caught this one!
One of the many French artists at the festival, PRAA took to the L’Etage stage early on the Friday. This stage being one of a handful of stages open to the public, no festival ticket required for this city centre venue which opens up and gives back to the city, offering tasters of the music on offer across the weekend.
While French language-driven music is making huge strides in areas of rap, afrobeat, dance and electronica; their mainstream pop-acts such as Christine and the Queens have chosen to sing in English. PRAA heads this way too with a modern and light feel to all that she does. On stage, a slight touch of nerves can be felt but her presence grows as the set progresses.
Her track Y has all the best elements of a brilliant Jessie Ware track, just with a slight French flavour. Modeling Clay further slows things down with a sparse and bare arrangement, but this track lacks the same punch live as her other recorded catalogue.
When she finishes with Do It All Again, then we see a glimpse of a really interesting artist. The track, the band, the vocal all seem to flow and fit better than previous tracks. The track has a very similar sound to Jungle’s first album, with the same precise guitar and catchy vocal hooks coming to the fore. PRAA seems to be an artist that is still finding her final sound, but the signs are promising enough to keep this lady on the watch-list.
Muthoni Drummer Queen
Muthoni Drummer Queen took to Hall 9, the largest of the warehouses on offer at the festival. A hall that can fit up to 8,000+ at one time, a large setting for any burgeoning artist to perform on.
The massive stage is drenched in darkness, a recorded call to action from Muthoni herself is played in the pitch-black setting. The sentiment of female liberation is clear in the message, a theme that matches her most recent release, a concept album called ‘She’.
Each track stands as a rally call to women to overcome and rise up, think Beyonce’s ‘Formation‘ but with a Kenyan zest on top. She opens with two tracks that showcase her various styles of delivery, at first her soaring vocal fills the air, then her Nicky Minaj inspired rap shows it’s teeth. Then before you know it, she’s performing Kenyan Message, a mash-up of Swahili, English and Grandmaster Flash’s The Message – a surprise at every turn with this lady.
If you’re doing your research online, her recorded catalogue really lacks the same intensity and variety that it does live. Her sound and presence on stage is like a real African powerhouse of attitude, swag and movement.
A negative that rears itself throughout the set is not with Muthoni herself but her assistance on stage – unfortunately members of her backing singers and dancers really let the side down on stage, not to mention the multiple poor rap features during the set from band members.
A special shout-out to Muthoni’s drummer who is simply exceptional throughout, not least when Muthoni joins him near the sets zenith to perform on Kenyan drums – sure, it’s in her name right?
All in all though, this set is packed-full of quality and would be at home at any festival across Ireland.
Taking to a packed Hall 8, Underground System take to the stage like a veteran festival act. From the very off, this 7-piece band from New York command the stage and dominate your gaze with ease.
A band that take their name from a Fela Kuti song, their sound visits all continents and takes you on a trip around the world. Whether it’s the afrobeat sensibilities of Kuti, the energy of LCD or the musical quirks of Snarky Puppy – this band have it all.
The exuberant front-woman Domenica Fossati is how the energy is delivered: constantly moving, changing it up, pointing, directing or simply getting down. Her lyrics are both brilliantly playful and also personal. No more is this evident than in What Are You?, which can be seen as a personal response to the rude and consistent question of “what are you?” when people question ethnicity: “You ask me ‘bout my shade then tell me your perception/So you think you know me better ‘cause you study race and gender”…”I know who I am but you’re the one who disagrees.”
The songs during the set alternate between English, Spanish, Italian and they even throw in “un petit peu” of French too, adding to this around the world flavour that Underground System supply.
Simply put: this band, given the chance, will be your favourite festival band of 2019.
And with that, we see the end to Les Trans 2018 – 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. Let’s hope we’ll seen some of these acts light up a stage somewhere in Ireland in the year ahead.