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Things Learned At: Transmusicales
Jeremy Allen , December 13th, 2013 13:14

Jeremy Allen visits Renne to attend 'a big bête of a fête', otherwise known as Transmusicales.

Photographs courtesy Trans Musicales

Transmusicales is probably bigger than you realised

You can say what you like about the French but they certainly take their culture seriously, and it should be noted that “prétention” is not a pejorative and certainly not a hangable offence like it is back home. Queues more often than not snake out of the most publicised art exhibitions, while cinema goers will get a coffee after a movie and talk about the auteur long before they get around to the actors. And so the scale of Transmusicales - in its 35th year this year - should have come as no surprise to me (but it did).

Set up by Jean-Louis Brossard in 1979, the event has snowballed into a big bête of a fête, taking in the bars of the Bretagne city in the old town and the conference centres of the new. It’s no SxSW but it’s getting there. A couple of years ago Billboard said the event - “programmed like a disparately sequenced mixtape” - has become “a must-go event for much of the French music industry”, and also clearly for the 60,000 or so ticket holders in search of the next big thing. At the peak of proceedings, 10,000 people fill the Parc Expo on Saturday night; that’s a massive figure given that the most recognisable names on the bill are this year’s London Grammar and yesteryear’s Har Mar Superstar. I should add that that the audiences are more cross-generational than you’d might expect too, and you’d unlikely catch a sexagarian couple from the UK standing in the freezing cold at 4am waiting for Public Service Broadcasting or checking out the pulsing, esoteric indigenous Ukrainian folk of Dakhabrakha or the stream of consciousness hobo ramblings of Lonnie Holley (the latter two are prime time shows).

The train station in Rennes is heavily branded with the event when we arrive and a small hamper of sweets and local delicacies (including toffee, tinned fish and some crunchy bites a bit like minature yorkshire puddings) await us in our hotel rooms, sent by the motherfucking Mayor (didn’t see the mayor but hoping he dresses like Flavor Flav). It becomes apparent quite quickly that this is one of the most important events in Rennes’ calendar both culturally and economically, and a shuttle bus full of drunk French kids singing ‘La Marseillaise’ at the tops of their voices confirms they’re taking this as seriously as Christmas. Then there’s the Parc Expo itself, positioned by the airport with nine aircraft hangars chocked full of expectant flesh and ears. The whole scale is bogglesome to minds.

Whatever your mood, Moodoïd will be there...

Moodoïd seem to be everywhere you go at Transmusicales, with ‘Je suis le montage’ coming out of speakers at Le Liberté conference centre, MusikHALL and l'Étage as well as the local Blindspot record store. The group are pictured on the cover of the national newspaper Le Monde on Thursday proving the world is (singer and guitarist) Pablo Padovani’s oyster, and he and his band are even out in force at Le Sýmpatic pub in full facepaint the day after they’ve played. Let’s be clear, they hardly need to be in full gold lamé regalia - all four of them - on a day they’re not actually doing anything promotional, but that’s commitment for you. What a difference a few months can make. Having seen them once at the underground Bus Palladium club in Pigalle in September I must declare I was anything but impressed, but in a short space of time they’ve learnt what it is that makes an excellent show, that certain je ne sais quoi, and sometimes you just have to work it out in public; if you had to nail down the key element one suspects it has everything to do with confidence, with ability already a given.

Pablo plays guitar with Melody’s Echo Chamber and Kevin Parker’s involvement in the production side has naturally brought exposure quickly - perhaps too quickly - but now Moodoïd are coming to fruition in what is a realistic timeframe. His/their ethereal psychedelia imbues the sexy fondue weirdness of Connan Mockasin with the shimmering beauty of Smashing Pumpkins at their most celestial, and when they play the Expo you can see they’re having fun (which didn’t seem to be in evidence a few months ago). Moodoïd’s Enterprise labelmates Superets are also one of the best live acts of the whole évènement. Taking the energy of 60’s rock ‘n’ roll with the delivery of 80’s electronica, they’re the missing link between Johnny Hallyday and “gonna-ring-rang-a-dong-for-a-holiday”, part superb showmanship, part daft bunch of fuckers with massive porkchops. They appear to physically manifest each incarnation of Elvis’ career, including the final la mort sur ​​la toilette phase and their catchy ‘160 caractères pour te dire adieu’ - presumably a song about dumping someone by text - is a future classic of the future classic retro genre Yéyétronique.

Psychedelica is everywhere, drugs not so much

The last time psychedelia was so prevalent in music, the bands making a noise were regularly tripping their arseholes off on LSD or magic mushrooms and boring anyone within earshot about it. 45 years on and the chances of a Syd Barrett or Peter Green drugs casualty coming out of the neo-psychedelia scene must be greatly reduced because nobody seems to be off their faces on hallucinogens any more. It’s all been done before, but that’s never a good enough reason not to do it all again. The aforementioned Moodoïd and Melody’s Echo Chamber, Lola Colt, Jacco Gardner, The Limiñanas, Temples… the list goes on and on and while these artists are only loosely connected under a broad umbrella term, they don’t appear to be seeking “experience” in the same way their irresponsible 60’s forefathers and foremothers did. But hey, it’s not like I’ve wandered up to any of them and said, “hey, excuse me, are you off your gourd on microdots?” so I could be wrong.

Le Sýmpatic, an excellent boozer in Rennes with a Franglais portmanteau of a name that actually doesn’t translate into anything in English, is a great place off the beaten track to catch bands. Orval Carlos Sibelius delivers some indelible hooks with spidery drum arpeggios, lysergic flourishes and a far-out trombone while Sudden Death Of Stars do something more akin to protopunk with a soupcon of space rock thrown in for good measure. They all seem a little disarmingly in control of their own faculties considering how mind bending their material is.

Some close knit communities are more close knit than others

When I visited Reykjavik earlier this year I was stunned by how incestuous the music scene was, and Rennes may be yet more incestuous still. While watching Sudden Death Of Stars, Marin the guitarist and singer from The Missing Season informs me the drummer is in both bands as well as five others. At a reception laid on by the organisers we eat petit dejeuner with Fat Supper and are apologetic we missed them (they played on the Wednesday) but we soon discover that at least half of their number play in The Enchanted Wood, an excellent proposition live even if they wear their influences a little too overtly on their sleeves. It’s a Bad Seedy sound they’ve cultivated, even down to the clanging bell chime from ‘Red Right Hand’, though given time they should hopefully emerge from the weight of the artists that so inform them. You trust it will happen - the musicians we encounter are subsidised in a way that musicians in the UK can only dream of - ie. they’re not starving - and this is often the case in countries outside of those (the US, UK or Sweden) whose net export of music exceeds its imports. It’s tougher for countries that were battered by the recession, which is why the music scene in Spain has all but imploded and the surviving labels in the country are signing acts from outside their own borders. In the UK art funding has been slashed everywhere, and in areas like science too, presumably so some fat idiots in the Square Mile don’t leave the country and take all their wealth with them. It would surely be worth it.

Luke Jenner’s career has taken more wrong turns than an Apple navigation system

Watching Luke Jenner makes you wish the actual Rapture would come and take us all away. Thankfully he’s finally given Robert Smith’s voice back at the umpteenth time of asking, though in the process he seems to have made off with Larry The Lamb’s. It’s hard to imagine this is the same guy that made the drippingly cool ‘House of Jealous Lovers’. It’s also difficult to see how London Grammar have sold 100,000 records, they’re like a white M People (though the keyboard player is enviably adept at conversing with the crowd in perfect French). London Grammar are fairly inoffensive where The Midnight Beast do actually manage to offend with homophobic idiocy during their hilarious spoof track ‘Just Another Boyband’. If they put the comedy rap into crap then Kid Karate from Dublin must be the most inane of all the power duos. Supposing their parents hadn’t bought them a drum kit and guitar amp then they’d probably be spending this weekend away with the Territorial Army.

Naming yourselves after something generic takes some balls (or idiocy)

Surely any aspiring band should consider a name where they can at least be found via a search engine without too much perspiration, because let’s face it, in this day and age your potential fanbase is going to give up fairly quickly and move on if they can’t find you at the push of a button. Why make life hard for yourselves Dead and Jungle? Jungle - who the Guardian recently described as “Studio 54 by way of Can's Inner Space Studio” are winning the battle as lauded new exponents of dance music, but they sure aren’t half making life confusing for everyone given that they’re named after a genre and a big tropical thing in the middle of Africa full of creatures and stuff. Dead - who do synthetic beats and glacial synths with a sadistic sexual undercurrent kicking under the coldwave veneer - might appeal to an arcane bunch of weirdos who like to dress up like the SS now and again, but they’re never likely to eclipse death. Unless they know something we don’t.