sat 20/07/2024

Trans Musicales Festival 2023 review - a smorgasbord of global sounds | reviews, news & interviews

Trans Musicales Festival 2023 review - a smorgasbord of global sounds

Trans Musicales Festival 2023 review - a smorgasbord of global sounds

Rennes-based event runs a thrilling gamut from jazz to indie to Afro-futurism and beyond

Big room action at Rennes' Parc Expo© Élodie Le Gall. Other photos as follows: Insincere, Roni Kaspi, The Silver Lines, Uche Yara and Diskopunk by Nico M; Bantu Spaceship and Twende Pamoja by Renan Péron; Monikaze by Mozpics; Nush by Magali R; Heavenphetamine by Bernard Sammut

FRIDAY

Rennes Airport Parc Expo is about three miles west of the city. It’s vast, consisting of 110,000 metres of cavernous warehouse-like hangars, and has hosted everything from Holiday on Ice to France’s hugest annual agricultural conference. Every December it welcomes Trans Musicales, the 44-year-old French music festival, with performances from around 9.00 PM until dawn.

twendeThe first act I catch, Twende Pamoja (pictured left), typifies the festival’s laudable attitude to curation. They are a little-known electro-hop hop act whose members are of French, Nigerian, Ugandan and Tanzanian origin, led by a virtuoso violinist who prances around the stage holding his instrument as if it were a rock guitar. On record they sound like now-defunct Portuguese kuduro outfit Buraka Som Sistema, but in person, they’re crunky trap-rap, fronted by two very feisty, twerking female MCs who, at one point, have everyone shouting “pussy”. Or, given it’s all in French, it might have been “poussez”… or even “putain”… or maybe “Putin”, although, given the bodily gyrations, the latter seems unlikely.

roniUnfortunately, I arrive too late to see Iranian-American trip-hop innovator Rahill, almost the only act on the line-up I’ve heard of, and the only one I have records by. Fortunately, there’s so much else to discover. Next up is Roni Kaspi (pictured right), a French-Israeli jazz drummer who fronts her own band. With a striking red and black haircut, clad in a white jumpsuit, her gold drum kit is front-centre, a bassist on her right and a synth-player on her left. Initially, I’m struck, as she plays a catchy soul-pop number she later tells us is called “Berlin”, with a chorus about losing her mind. After that, though, things grow too laidback jazzual for me. There’s even a drum solo.

These performances were in Hall 9 and Hall 8, respectively, but now I go to Hall 5, the central hub. Last year, when it was freezing, these giant, hard-to-heat spaces were less hospitable. This year the weather is drizzly but temperate and they’re far more welcoming. Hall 5 doesn’t host bands, instead it’s a beer’n’food hall, pleasingly decorated and designed, a thrown-together, wooden shantytown feel, whether you fancy the upmarket champagne bar, kebabs or a plate of local chicken’n’potatoes.

There are signs here and there proudly proclaiming the festival as cash-free. I don’t know why they’re shouting about it. Popular at European events, these cash-free systems advantage only the organizers and are just a pain-in-the-arse for punters, who have to queue and have money “transferred” to a QR code on their wristband (or remotely if you have the Trans Musicales app). More positively, the festival prides itself on its green credentials. With some justification. They train us journos in, for instance, when they could save money by flying us. Hall 5 has an area marked as Degustation de Tissane, which, amusingly, translates as “the tasting of herbal teas”. Here, a young lady guides me towards a clear Perspex box of green fertiliser to prove how odourless it is.

monikazeBack among the music, in Greenroom (really another giant hall) Lithuanian electronic artist Monikaze (pictured left) is onstage at her laptop, clad in a deconstructed red sweater, bathed in swirling red lights. On Spotify her music sounds like trance picked apart and recreated as dreamy space music. In concert, it’s more straightforward, clubbier. Her voice is a notable instrument, nonetheless. Over in Hall 9 French producer Canblaster makes no bones that we’re going to be raving to techno, drum & bass, heavy duty bangers, as he, a shadowy figure amid dry ice, pokes at buttons on his machines.

He's drawn quite a crowd (the capacity of Parc Expo is 32,600 between five main spaces so you can imagine the audience sizes). There’s a bloke near me wearing an orange jumper, a brown corduroy jacket, salmon jeans, a tartan scarf, and brogue boots, like you might see in the pedestrian precincts of Canterbury, Winchester, Twickenham and the like, rather than at a festival of way-under-the-radar bands. Maybe posh people in France just have better cultural awareness. Their English counterparts’ tastes run about as far as Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” and watching rugby.

Walking the site, it’s notable that that the crowd, almost all French, probably mostly local, are, on average, better turned out than their UK festival equivalents. Rather than the sporting leisurewear favoured in the UK, they look like architecture students and hip sociology lecturers. It isn’t a better look but it makes a nice change from endless hoodies that proudly bear the logo of multinational corporations.

75% wander around slow-sipping half-pints or red wine, but they make up for this by smoking like chimneys. I pop back to Hall 5, am presented with condoms and gel at the “Prevention” stall (apparently preventing everything from drug use to sexual abuse), but my destination is another stall where I buy six oysters for eight Euros. I always find oysters give a slight speedy buzz and so it proves. There should be more shellfish raves.

ucheIn Hall 8 Austrian-Nigerian Uche Yara (pictured right) and her band sweep the audience up in their ebullient, catchy gumbo of contemporary pop, classic rock, funk, tribal grooves and more. Yara is a striking figure, her guitar decorated with a black’n’white Bridget Riley-style swirl. She throws it around with glee. Afro-haired, in a woollen crop-top, fluffy slippers, and garish, tight, iridescent, Seventies-style trousers, she cuts a dash. She’s sexy and charismatic, every inch the rock star in waiting. It’s the first time all night I feel I’ve really made “a find”.

In Hall 3 DJ team Mathilde, Gomina & Jean Louis Presque are having a ball, dressed in glittery gold with blond wigs, all three channelling prime Agnetha Fältskog, pretending to swig magnums of champagne as they play Outkast and the like. But they are merely the aperitif to what’s next…

diskoDiskopunk are an outrageous Swedish band whose name is appropriate yet misleading. Imagine if Scissor Sisters had been on DFA Records and you’d be a quarter of the way there. Singer Antonio America (pictured left), shirt split to the navel, looks as if he should be a member of Whitesnake. In fact, most of the set is, loosely speaking, far more disco-rock than disco-punk. But this isn’t to belittle it, far from it. Diskopunk bring the party more than any other band I see all weekend.

The material is all original and combines a Giorgio Moroder-ish pulse with catchy pop-motorik tunery, hyped further by japes such as America telling us he’s a sportsman of the highest order and “Olympic power-walking” in the audience, before they bear him aloft of their shoulders. Highlights include “Snake Oil”, one of the few songs that does fulfil the band’s moniker, and a song named after the singer which he inhabits with suitable dash. Like their countrymen The Hives, Diskopunk are smartly self-aware, supremely tight, and intuitively know how to send a crowd loopy.

bantuUnfortunately, after such euphoric, dancing fun, the likeable Afro-futurism of Zimbabwe’s Bantu Spaceship (pictured right) over in Hall 8 does not quite rev me as it should. Their frontman brandishes a horsehair fly whisk, and announces they’re taking us on “the people’s spaceship”, that we should hop on board, before dropping into a rolling atmospheric, electro-tribal groove. I stay for a bit as it's original, holds the interest. Unfortunately I miss zippy US funkers Thumpasaurus elsewhere but, since I saw them back in May, you can read about that here, if you wish.

SATURDAY

The heart naturally sinks when turning up for the shuttlebus from central Rennes to Parc Expo. The queue is vast, trailing down the road. However, like almost everything else at Trans Musicales, the logistical efficiency defies expectations. The queue moves super-fast as a fleet of buses arrive non-stop. On Friday I waited 20 minutes; today it’s more like five. Then the trip to the site takes another 20.

heavenFirst on the agenda is Heavenphetamine (pictured left). Despite their terrible name, their music and story are a draw. They are a Japanese couple, the simply-titled Hiroki & Sara, who relocated to Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, then added two Ukrainians to their band. Since the Russian invasion, they’ve donated all their savings and all profits from concerts to victims of the war. Musically, on record, they sound like Stereolab with more oomph. In concert they’re a different proposition.

Stage centre, at a small synth, is male singer Hiroki. To his left, a swaying, pixie-like female Ukrainian flute-player clad in Seventies wizard sleeve shirt and flares. To his right, all in black, a male guitarist. Sara is on drums. A Ukrainian flag is draped from the synth and, midway through the concert, the guitarist takes this and wears it. What’s most impressive is the sternly ascetic, kosmische sound at their heart, especially Sara’s metronomic Jaki Liebezeit-style drumming. However, the flighty flute and sheets of guitar completely change the mood and render the whole sometimes closer to Ozric Tentacles territory, adding frills to the Germanic, rendering it hippified. It’s still groovy, but they could usefully pare it back to something more precise.

hall 5Back in Hall 5 (pictured right) the comforting smell of good cooking is a temptation and I sit down and eat a plate of bzeizhiflette, the breton take on Tartiflette, a creamy concoction of potatoes, Roscoff onions, buckwheat, and more. At 8.50 Euros, ie around £7.30, it’s a meal which, at a British festival, would cost between £12 and £15. I chat briefly with a couple, one of whom has been coming to Trans Musicales since she was 10. It’s a local tradition, she explains, while he emphasizes that Brittany is, essentially, its own country, not France.

Over in Hall 3 Birmingham band The Silver Lines have the place busy. I am hesitant as I saw a live staged interview with them yesterday as I was picking up my accreditation. When asked about their songs, they said that they “speak for themselves” and “mean what you want them to mean”, answers so hackneyed that, after half a century of rock music, they made me come out in hives.

silverLive they are redolent of that whole landfill indie thing from nearly 20 years ago (a scene which was, in itself, totally retrogressive). Singer Dan Ravenscroft (pictured left), clad in a red sweater and black scarf, comes on like a new wave Mick Jagger (ie, like Bob Geldof in around 1979). They have some “Chelsea Dagger”-style terrace choruses but the whole thing is not for me. The crowd like it, though.

Over in Hall 8, London TikTok sensations Insincere (pictured below right) are whipping up a storm. Boasting an unlikely and original band name, they tell us this is only their fourth gig. They seem very excited and why wouldn’t they be. The crowd is lapping them up. They are fresh-faced. Their vibe reminds me of when I first saw a young Rizzle Kicks, although their music is nothing like that. Two singer-MCs, Grace Glover and Orlando Soundy, prowl the stage front, one with a black hoody, the other a large scarf draped round his head while, at the back, producer Alex Coulson alternately makes “beats” happen or sits on a stool playing acoustic guitar.

insincereTheir music, which alternates between falsetto singing and deft rapping, rests somewhere between Tom Misch, Loyle Carner and something more boy band-ish. I found myself being swept up by the sheer craft and skill of the poetic MCing, and the catchiness of the songs, but was eventually unpersuaded. Then again, they’re clearly aimed at school kids and I’m 56. I can see them being huge.

I watch another three acts in succession: The Caracal Project, from France, who do that Moderat thing of attaching SENSITIVE rock tropes to squiggly electronic possibility, thereby supposedly rendering SERIOUS the ephemeral functionality of club sounds; Chalk, an Irish trio who have Hall 3 totally roadblocked (rare) with a sound they, themselves, describe as “Berghain techno-punk rock” but which, to my ears, is mostly that last word of those four; and the appallingly named Bam Bam’s Boogie, whose members hail from Italy, Ireland and the US, and who are, in essence, a fusion of Massive Attack and Faithless. Despite not blowing me away, all three do what they do well, especially Chalk, who prove yet again that this crowd may be offered weird’n’wonderful music from round the world but a large proportion of them simply want to ROCK!

nushInstead, I have a good long dance to big-room techno bangers selected by Romanian DJ Nush (pictured left) in Greenroom, shaking out my knots and creases, then sit in a packed Hall 5, drinking buckets of IPA, and eating plate after plate of oysters. I chat with a Dutch woman and a French guy for hours, and feel the real sense of community this festival brings.

oystersWe speak of Brexit, of course, the fact of which consistently renders the UK an embarrassment on occasions such as this. It also makes the kind of global curation which Trans Musicales revels in much more difficult to achieve in Britain. Brexit denies us so much. It is the victory of the petty-minded, of those whose experiential horizons are feebly low but who, worse, also want ours to be. But never mind that, I’m full of oysters and beer. With my new friends, there’s a conversational optimism. Events such as this, with its green credentials and internationalist optimism, engender hope, boosted by a smorgasbord of music awaiting discovery.

Below: watch the video for "WWW She Hot" by Uche Yara

 

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