10:35 AM GMT 25/04/2013
Brittany's annual Trans Musicales festival is always an overwhelming experience. Three days of music at venues in the city is complemented by shows at the Parc Expo - a series of hangers a 20-minute bus ride outside town. Adjacent to Rennes' freight airport, the Parc Expo is a venue unlike that of most festivals: it is a series of metal sheds separated by roads. A olde-tyme rave would make more sense here. The bus ride to and from the Parc Expo is a challenge too as the young Renneais embark tanked up and return obliterated. The music on offer covers so many bases, it's hard to see what might hit home for such a crowd. All 10,000 of them.
In its 32nd year, the festival still has Jean-Louis Brossard at its helm, and he still chooses what appeals to him whether it's hip-hop, techno, guitar-based indie or psychedelic legend Roky Erickson. This year though, he's surpassed himself by settling on a Friday night bill that includes Janelle Monáe and M.I.A. in the same hall, on the same stage. Only an hour-and-three-quarters separates them. But that's Trans Musicales, where the unlikely becomes normal.
Of course, there are other highlights. The city-centre hall La Cité hosts a terrific show by Brooklyn's Ava Luna - a soul revue fragmented and then put back together so compellingly that they receive a standing ovation. Dengue Fever also win out at La Cité and back at the Parc Expo, Brits Magnetic Man and Egyptian Hip Hop go down a treat. New Zealand's Connan Mockasin charms with his fractured, melodic, post rock. In the city, the Bars En Trans strand takes in the jazz-inflected Kyrie Kristmanson, the reflectively moody Parisian singer-songwriter Marie Flore and the jazz-pop songs of Swedish-French singer Fredrika Stahl.
But it's that battle at the Parc Expo's massive Hall 9 that proves magnetic. It's a cold, forbidding place made up of a roof and four walls with a stand of raked seating plonked half way back. It takes some doing to charge Hall 9 with an atmosphere.
Hitting the stage at 11pm, Janelle Monáe is introduced by a film telling the story of the ArchAndroid album. She's a time traveller from the year 2719 whose filched genetic code is used to create Cindy Mayweather - an android (the ArchAndroid) who then ditches her creators to liberate the citizens of Metropolis from the oppressive secret society The Great Divide. After the film finishes an MC bounds on quickly followed by Monáe - pompadour bobbing above her white shirt and black pants. She never stops bouncing. Regardless of the hi-falutin concept that links these songs, choreography and old-school showbiz moves lie at the heart of her performance. Dancers walk slowly across the stage in monk's cowls, arms outstretched like Vampira in Plan Nine From Outer Space. They also sport nun's outfits. At one point Monáe pops out from behind an easel and begins painting. In this huge hall the theatricality fails to engage the crowd. And sadly, neither does the music. A version of Judy Garland's Smile is lovely, but too sensitive, too subtle for Hall 9's twitchy audience and people begin drifting out of the hall before the set has finished. When it does finish, the applause is perfunctory with a play of Jimi Hendrix's Purple haze getting more of a reaction.
When it's time for M.I.A., there seems to be more of an expectation in the air. The crowd know what they're going to be in for. Getting in to Hall 9 proves difficult. There are so many people at the doors, it's like being in a human version of the vortex that swirls as water drains from a plughole. Battle won, it's immediately obvious that M.I. A. has the right tactic for this event: she is relentless, the musical equivalent of a bath in white light. No shade, no subtlety, this is mind-meltingly loud. When not right at the front, she's behind a podium-set lectern, as though delivering an address from the pulpit.
This is what the crowd want. As the noise coalesces it becomes clear there are songs in there: World Town, Bucky Done Gun, Boyz. It's like a dentist's drill Stars On 45 reimagining of what M.I.A. might be like live. Even though her clothes are crazy-quilt colourful, the harsh lighting renders her almost invisible. Not that it's an issue for the audience, who go crazy.
Choose your battles carefully is a cliché, but here at Trans Musicales it rings true. M.I.A. knew what was excepted and delivered it. But Janelle Monáe's show would have been impossible to reconfigure for Trans Musicales. This time M.I.A. had the upper hand.
By Kieron Tyler
Photo: Nicolas Joubard
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 9:58 AM GMT 24/01/2011