Trans Musicales 2010 – Why French Fests Are The Best

Of all the festival’s I’ve covered in the past couple of years at NME, the ones on French soil always seem to stand out.

All photos by Dan Dennison

Whether it’s the ballsy crowds, stellar line-ups or the amazingly weird venues, the country seems to have exactly the right idea of what a festival should embody – hedonism without the lairiness; cool but never too serious. And while last summer’s Midi offered one of the best range of breaking band’s I’ve seen anywhere in 2010 (in a glorious setting to boot), a few weeks ago Trans Musicales proved that come wintertime, the French do it pretty damned well too.

Taking place every December in Rennes (a sprawling city akin to Paris without the prices, stuffed with amazing architecture, great graffiti and an abundance of street markets selling endless assorted junk), the four-day bash rounds up an array of breaking French, UK and US bands (this year: Dominique Young Unique, Egyptian Hip Hop, Wu Lyf, Sudden Death Of Stars), and a liberal smattering of already massive acts (MIA, Magnetic Man, Janelle Monae), with most divvied up to perform in a fleet of supermassive aircraft-hangers situated about 30 minutes outside of town.

That pic shows one of the tamer moments on the bus ride to the site, which manages to be at once kinda shit-scary, totally lawless and, oh yeah, great fun. I’d have loved to have filmed the copious amounts of drinking/smoking/drugging/puking going on, but to be honest I value my phone way too much to risk it being nicked by some irate, acid-crazed festivalgoer.

Once you actually get to the Parc Expo (where all the bands play), it’s just as intense – think a buzzing concoction of old school rave and the prison from Natural Born Killers, with the headliners going onstage at about 2am and the likes of Wooden Shjips kjilling it at 4:30am.

Here’s a great fan-recorded clip of MIA’s set opener, filmed right in front of her. You can say what you like about that last album, but no one else quite starts a show with this much bombast at present.

And here’s Connan Mockasin kinda living up to his surname.

Of the hometown acts, Sudden Death Of Stars impressed me the most… partly because they’ve got someone sitting cross-legged playing drone sitar, but also due to their obvious love of all things Nuggets. There’s the standard Brian Jonestown/13th Floor Elevators connection for sure, but I also dug the more intriguing elements of their set, which to me recalled the trippier sides of both The Standells and The Hunters.

Here’s some tunes:

Meanwhile, this fella obviously enjoyed himself.

As did these guys. This shot was taken at about 8am, by the way, everyone still going strong. Festival organisers: this is what we want.

All photos by Dan Dennison