It’s a busy weekend in Rennes, the parochial capital of Brittany. While we warm up for Transmusicales by watching Miss France on TV (Miss Normandy won, by the way), outside our retro hotel riot police batter leftist demonstrators amid chaotic scenes. Tear gas hangs heavy in the air, techno thumps from an outdoor stage in the historic city centre, the local bourgoisie seem grumpily oblivious to the young Bretons getting drunk on cider.
You feel that the past 31 years – the length of time this festival has been going – could almost not have happened; this part of western France exists in something of a timewarp. And yet, despite this, there is something of the ‘now’ about this weekend, for Transmusicales is the nearest thing the nation has to SXSW, a rare chance to influence notoriously hard-to-please Anglo-Saxon ears.
Straight after Miss World we watch Mr Oizo, who keeps the home crowd happy by dropping Daft Punk and delicious Gallic disco. Yes, the Bretons love their bangers. Next we watch Aeroplane – in an aircraft hangar. They hit higher notes, and point to something approaching the future with their effortlessly relaxed Belgian-Balearic offering. Aside from that there’s not as many Francophone acts of note as we’d have wished for. It’s less a case of Ou Est Le Swimming Pool and more Ou Est The Plasticines? The most famous French band of the moment aren’t here. Pourquois?
The giant metal sheds in which the gigs take place are at the end of the runway at Rennes’ airport, but they feel like they’re at the end of the world. No matter though; we forget our odd environs entirely as we drink in the seductive splendour of Fever Ray, our highlight of this fun weekend. Her seductive droning has us drooling, and we are thoroughly taken in to her world, which is of course what she sets out to do with her hypnotic ouevre. And where did she find that voice – down the back of Björk’s sofa?
Diplo and Switch in their Major Lazer incarnation also impress with some singalong moments, despite our fears that they would be two Calvin Harrises for the price of one. Speaking of Scots, wonky Glasgow lads Django Django emerge as the biggest buzz band of this weekend – perhaps the celtic connection (yes, Brittany sees itself allied with Cornwall, Ireland, Wales and Scotland – and against English and French metropolitanism) is the reason for this particular band’s success.
Johannesburg’s BLK JKS turn in a shoddy live performance though – one which lets down the undoubted raw power of their tricksy album. A record lauded to the hilt but the basic inability to express that on stage? They’re not the first to face that problem and they certainly won’t be the last. Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.
Anyway, despite the niggles, the drunkenness, the fighting and the rain, this seductive little festival still charms us with its certain je ne sais quoi. We’ll be back in Brittany again later this year, with cans of cider at the ready.