La Route Du Rock: My Bloody Valentine And The Jolie Laide Festival
, September 3rd, 2009 08:36
L'Homme Du Hackney, Jeremy Allen, recently took the ferry to France and the Route Du Rock festival. MBV pictures, Maria Jefferis/shot2bits.net
La Route Du Rock is strewn with few obstacles thanks to the generosity of Brittany Ferries. The Quietus avoids being maimed by any sailors or knife-wielding urchins in Portsmouth harbour and takes a leisurely eleven hour crossing to Saint Malo in Brittany, which is essentially Cornwall with some onions tied around its neck. Reasonably priced, with camp Hi-NRG entertainment in the bar, it is a perfect crossing and le sac mal de mer will not be necessary. Okay, there are perhaps too many hyperactive children up way past their bedtime, so I repair to my unencumbered lodgings to read about the life and times of Arthur Rimbaud. Ironically he is taking a ferry to Dover with his lover Verlaine. I am alone, and will definitely not be partaking in the absinthe or the bum sex.
I arrive with my sac magique at dawn, and survey the picturesque town with its petit bateaux and its joli harbour, as two Englishmen discuss graphically what they'd like to do to Carla Bruni-Sarkosy, who is apparently 'well fit' and not 'a munter' like Sarah Brown. I'm saddened to report both men are in their 50s. It transpires that their deal to get here and enjoy the festival cost half what it would to frequent the Big Chill the weekend before, which is, as they say, a no-brainer. I neglect to tell them that I once turned down Carla Bruni*. Sorry Carla, I don't have time to fit you in today. I should probably add she wasn't the First Lady of France then, but a model-turned-singer desperate to garner some credibility, and the publication I was working for would undoubtedly have jettisoned her into further obscurity; had I known she was on the look out for an uppity gentleman with a superiority complex I may have kept our date. Fancy that, blowing out Carla Bruni.
There is some confusion as to what to do initially. There are no bands on the main stage until 6:30pm, so I promenade around St Malo for a while, then sit at a cafe loading up on coffee, Cafe Cremes and croissants. The festival site is relatively peaceful in the afternoon, before the main influx of les rosbifs arrive festooned in their crosses of St George and their bad manners. European kids are nicer. They dye their hair black and kiss each other on both cheeks. All is quiet in the little town next to the site - Chateauneuf d'Ille et Vilaine - other than the hyperactive little man in the local magasin who is ready and prepared for the influx of sterling. His wife pops in, and he keeps winking at her. This is his moment.
European festivals tend to be more civilized. There appears to be no council interference, and the kids aren't told to keep the noise down and wrap it up by 11:30pm. La Route Du Rock does have its snags though. As I attempt to hotfoot it into the stadium to watch Crystal Stilts, there is a bottleneck of people at the security gates, having their bags checked, their hair inspected for lice and their wristbands hole-punched (there is apparently no readmission, which seems wholly unnecessary). People I've met tell me there's the rigmarole of having to buy your own cup on site, then find another kiosk to load up on tokens, which is surely an edict to binge drink. Though considering the price of the booze only those with the disposable income of Bernard Arnault, France's richest man, are likely to get shit-eyed. This insidious trend of officiousness seems to be creeping in wherever you go domestically and on the continent, and it would be very harsh to single out La Route Du Rock. But still!
I catch the dying embers of Crystal Stilts set, which would have been more thrilling were the stadium not half-empty due to the rigorous body-snatching at the turnstiles. There is more of a festive atmosphere by the time Deerhunter, a bunch of denim clad beanpoles from Atlanta, take the stage. Whether or not they named themselves after the psychologically taxing 1978 De Niro movie of the same name is open to conjecture, but their brand of American guitar driven pop is more reminiscent of a John Hughes soundtrack, with a bit more overdrive and some Echo and the Bunnymen thrown in for good measure. They shouldn't be called Deerhunter, they should be called the Duckman.
Tortoise appear next. Having had bad Tortoise experiences at festivals before, I'm pleased to announce that I'm for once enjoying their noodly meanderings, and credit must go to the sound system, which is smoking. They hold my attention for a good ten minutes, though you do walk away wondering what sort of men would sit in a room together and make music like that.
Did I mention the sound? You were aware they were going to be loud, but nothing can prepare you for just how uncomfortably, anarchically loud My Bloody Valentine are. As Kevin Shields clatters his guitar, you worry that a chunk of speaker might come flying at you like a disconnected motorbike wheel and hit you in the clock. Now I've always liked My Bloody Valentine, I just don't go with the axiom that Shields invented sound and that we're living in MBV AD. What's more I once owned Loveless, and really liked about three tracks on it. They open with one, 'I Only Said', which sounds gloriously twisted, and it has to be said, makes a great deal more sense live. The smoke and strobes are simple but effective, and apart from the fear of permanent hearing impairment, it is easy to get lost in the unfettered and intoxicating sensory splendor of it all.
After discovering the Horrors are a no show for whatever reason, I hastily retreat to my tent with TSI. Unfortunately I'm later informed the gloriously elegant and hypnotic Snowman were a late replacement for Mr Rotter and his doomy absconders, but by that time I'm fast asleep in a lumpy French field.
After Friday's strong line-up, Saturday is a bit of a let down, compounded by the worst band ever, Paper Cuts, a group from San Fransciso apparently, although their appearance would suggest you might find them playing darts in a pub in Norfolk. The music is soporific with the emphasis on the 'orific, and a lack of ideas and a cloying front man make the experience excruciating. "Thank you guys, it's really amazing to be here", he fawns. "Wow thank you, this has been the funnest show we've ever done." He also asks the crowd why they're so quiet at one point. The paper cuts administered by Kevin Spacey in Swimming with Sharks would be far preferable.
In contrast, with her black curls, pale skin and red lipstick, St Vincent is far more aesthetically striking, and so is her set. Her 'Dig A Pony' cover is an odd choice, but her atmospheric use of sleepy jazz chords and trip-hoppy beats creates a conducive, fragile ambience. Her music is stripped back, and without amorphous guitars and the superfluous over-embellishment afforded most modern performance, gives one the chance to immerse oneself in the detail. It's more Feist-ian than Faustian, but it's certainly more welcome than Camera Obscura, who play an endlessly charmless plod. It's as though a focus group has taken Belle and Sebastian and demanded they be less edgy. A band who think they're edgy are The Kills. What other reviewers won't tell you is they sound like INXS. And then there's more forced sexuality with Peaches, although at least Peaches is quite funny at times. It feels as though she's been whipping this chavel mort for an age now, though I really can't begrudge her the main stage at peak hour, which the audience appears to relish.
Sunday, and we've got some old man music to help soothe the comedown, with Simian Mobile Disco tacked on the end, just to give everyone a surprise whack over the head on their way out. There's no better old man music than Smog, or just plain old Bill Callahan, as is his wont. He has a voice as soothing and reassuring as the hippy narrator of one of those 70s cartoons about Jesus and the disciples, and he could easily be prevaricating about pretty much anything and we wouldn't care. He dances deliberately through 'Diamond Dancer', left right left right, and the feeling that Bill Callahan is a little strange isn't dispelled. One moment he seems like an avuncular, salt 'n' pepper saucepot for the thinking woman, then next you ponder on how you wouldn't trust him with anything; particularly directions. Towards the end, he sings about dreaming the perfect song, and you wonder how wildly different this might be to yours, and you worry that Bill's might turn out better.
Smog certainly made an impression on Andrew Bird, who covers 'Cold Blooded Old Times' at the end of his set as a tribute to his hero. Andrew Bird shouldn't be brilliant but he is. His voice is worryingly post-Jeff Buckley, he whistles too often (the preserve of paedophiles) and when he sings he looks a lot like David Blunkett. And yet, and yet, AND YET Andrew Bird is wistful, intelligent and prodigiously gifted. His Mysterious Production of Eggs album is still his best, but the new material, and the addition of band members makes him unmissable the next time he visits your town.
Aside from the aforementioned Simian Mobile Disco, the festival rounds off with something of a whimper, though that could be partly due to cultural contrarietiesand another stinker of a set from Grizzly Bear, so named because they're grizzly and I can't bear them. I'm willing to concede there's something I don't get, but live they're even less engaging than on record, which is background music at best. Preceding them is an antediluvian Mussolini lookalike, who may well be France's answer to Peter Gabriel, but for the uninitiated Dominique A would be easily forgettable were it not for the delirious, bordering-on-religious reception he receives. But no matter, there was definitely enough to enjoy at one of Europe's most esoteric and absorbing three dayers. Until next year La Route La Rock, à bientôt.
[*Just as the mischievous Mr Allen has neglected to mention that he turned down La Bruni for an interview, Ed]
Thanks to Brittany Ferries for piping Jeremy Allen aboard. To find out about their routes and fares to France, visit the Brittany Ferries website.