10:35 AM GMT 25/04/2013
“There is no headliner,” declares Jean-Louis Broussard, the founder, guiding light and boss of Rennes’ three-day Transmusicales festival. In his fifties, with clipped grey hair, Broussard is filled with enthusiasm. He arrived in Rennes as a student in the ’70s and immediately began booking shows, including Gong’s earliest appearances in Brittany. After ditching his medical studies, he dedicated himself full time to music.
Now in its 29th season, Transmusicales is held each year during the first week of December in Rennes, the capitol of Brittany. It’s a lovely city – an Italianate, 18th-century centre peppered with plazas gives way to a maze of cobbled streets lined with medieval half-timbered buildings. A twinkling Christmas market fills one of the squares. But it’s an odd time of year to hold a major festival with around 90 acts – it’s dark at 6pm, and constantly rainy and cold.
Yet the main festival site is packed at all hours. The Parc Expo is a series of metal, hanger-sized sheds adjacent to Rennes’ freight airport. Anonymous and unlovely, the sheds are livened by light shows projected inside and out. Fine for a rave maybe, but difficult if you’re the Brightonian Krautrock-influenced trio Fujiya And Miyagi, who initially struggle to project into a barely full hall. They warm up when a couple of thousand people become aware they’re on. French band The Dø – somewhere on a line between The Concretes and power pop – have no problems, coming on to a packed hall with an audience that instantly goes bonkers. Even so, Etienne De Crécy’s live Superdiscount show – going strong at 3am – seems more suited to the environment.
It transpires that the early ‘90s rave wave impacted on the festival. Having seen raves, Broussard says “I thought why not do it with rock? A good audience is ready to listen, they are here to discover new bands, bands that nobody knows.” It’s an evangelism that defines the festival’s peculiar mix. Mexican flamenco duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela are wowing about 10,000 in one hall, while anthemic Mancunians The Whip are sending the French kids mad in an other hall
And those kids really are going mad. It’s a 20-minute bus ride to the site from the city centre. All the buses are overcrowded with tanked-up, mad-for-it kids. Rennes’ 200,000 population includes around 60,000 students, all of whom seem to be drunk. Overhearing English on the bus, they incoherently chant something about ‘le rosbif’.
The city centre is also buzzing. The Bars En Trans strand stages shows in every bar. All are rammed. The Danish ‘80s-influenced quintet Oh No Ono are incredible, despite barely fitting onto a postage-stamp stage in a sofa-sized basement. They find the experience hilarious, describing their so-called dressing room as a ‘pig sty’, which is exactly what the designated cubbyhole turns out to look like. With the city overstretched and in a Transmusicales frenzy, anything has to do.
Despite the make-and-do, no headliner ethos, one band was offered a special platform. The London-based, electronica-influenced folk outfit Tunng are headlining four nights at L’Aire Libre, a seated theatre in St Jacques, outside Rennes. With harpist Serafina Steer and Canadian country rapper Buck 65, they’ve created a two-hour review, seamlessly showcasing all their talents. The audience includes kids and grandparents. Tunng’s genial Mike Lindsay says that Brousssard saw them at London’s Purcell Room and decided on a special showcase at Transmusicales. “I was surprised to be asked,” notes Lindsay. “It’s like big family event. It’s really different, everybody is enjoying it, doing it from the heart. The city is beautiful – we even have a chef!”
Leaving Rennes on Sunday at around 8am, some of the buses returning from the Parc Expo pass by. As usual, they’re overstuffed with overstimulated kids. It’s clear that Transmusicales is not about individual bands or trends. Just what a proper festival should be.
Posted by Danny_Eccleston at 3:10 PM GMT 11/12/2007