Poster for this year's 33rd annual Trans Musicales fest held in Rennes, France
A festival in Rennes, France -- one with no headlining acts, that is programmed like a disparately sequenced mixtape with an occasional philosophical bent, and is virtually unknown in the U.S. -- is steadily becoming a must-go event for much of the French music industry and beyond. The question is: why?
The first Trans Musicales festival was held in Brittany's capital in June 1979. It moved to December the following year and now, just after its 33rd season, the festival shows no sign of flagging. It reliably programmes up-and-comers of all types, from all places, attracting a business (in France "les professionels") presence, with agents, bookers, managers, press and labels in the city to meet, greet, network and see the first continental European shows by hot British acts Factory Floor and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, debut French shows for Denmark's Vinnie Who and Giana Factory. The US's Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside and Group Rhoda are here too, along with Canada's Maylee Todd and Colin Stetson (an ex-pat American). Trans Musicales is an opportunity for everyone attending.
It remains the vision of its chief Jean-Louis Brossard, who says, "There are no headliners. Asked about the programming, he says " I'm dreaming the stuff. Trans Musicales is the dreamscape". In reality, he never stops going to shows worldwide, attending festivals looking for acts to book. In return, programmers and bookers are here this year from Holland's Le Guess Who? festival, Belgium's Dour festival, Canada's Montréal Jazz Festival and Switzerland' s Montreux Jazz Festival.
Maud Philippe-Bert, editor-in-chief of France's music-business monthly Musique Info says "It all starts with Jean-Louis. Trans Musicales is the biggest French festival for professionals to discover artists. All the directors of venues from across France are here. People come here to discover - last year it was Crocodiles, Salem, Is Tropical, Concrete Knives. It's a place to export music [into Europe]".
Although Trans Musicales attracts 10,000 ticket buyers to shows at the Parc Expo, outside Rennes, a series of city-centre bills keep things urban. Each of the festival's three evenings has a triple bill of mostly non-French acts at La Cité, and each day has an afternoon quadruple bill of new French acts at L'Ubu. There is also a nightly show programmed by a guest at the out-of- theatre Aire Libre, this year featuring acts from the French indie label Kütu Folk. The big ticket for the first night, the Thursday, is city-centre venue Le Liberté. Ninety-six acts played Trans Musicales this year.
Receptions are held before the shows at L'Ubu, to meet the festival's staff, acts, their managers and agents. The mayor of Rennes also held a lunch reception. The Canadian presence meant that a Canadian brunch also took place. Although Trans Musicales is essentially about the live music, its verges on the conference with publicly accessible events that accompany specific shows. Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside are preceded by a conference on "Americana, the rediscovery of a culture and the journey to the sources of rock", where French singer-songwriter Jerome Rousseau sought to trace the route of '90s Americana into the current music of Scandinavia, Britain and France, and them trace it back to America and its original sources. The hall at the Champs Libre conference centre was packed. This is France, land of the philosopher.
For those less focused on networking, making deals or being educated, it's possible to approach Trans Musicales as a sort of animated, disparately sequenced, mixtape. Colin Stetson's solo sax performance, which had 1000 people dancing at the Parc Expo sharply contrasted with Spank Rock - who also moved feet and other body parts. Trans Musicales was also the first booking for Lenny Kravitz outside America, and the festival still resonates as an event that opens doors.
Agent Clémence Bizien, of Paris's Zamora Productions (whose roster isn't limited to French acts and includes Denmark's Fallulah and Vinnie Who), stresses "this is a festival, tickets are sold, the public are here. It's not a showcase festival, but really it is a yearly convention - like the Great Escape in the UK. It is about the professional attendance. Trans Musicales has things before everyone, before they even have an agent. It's the best way for a band to get attention. For me, as all the promoters from France - and outside France too - are here, it's important to be here. You reinforce relationships. You put faces to the e-mails".