Vitalic @ Trans Musicales 2012
Blinded by the light - the view from the crowd as Vitalic rock Trans Musicales 2012
Image: Bram E Gieben

Trans Musicales De Rennes 2012: Day 2

Day 2 of Trans Musicales de Rennes sees Gallic techno pioneer Vitalic absolutely killing it, local lads O Safari kicking up some dust, plus performances from Phoebe Jean & The Air Force, Doldrums and Rachid Taha
Feature by Bram E. Gieben.
Published 08 December 2012

It's the second day of groundbreaking French music festival Trans Musicales de Rennes, and the contingent of journalists from the UK, including The Skinny's own reporter, are looking pretty partied out. It doesn't help that nearly all French people, both male and female, look like supermodels – all perfect skin, wind-tossed hair and gleaming white teeth. After a serious caffeine infusion, the Brits venture out once more to discover some new bands, and reacquaint ourselves with some more well-known names.

Electro-pop duo O Safari are local lads – they formed in Rennes in 2011, after time spent in more traditional rock and roll bands, and bonded over a love of Giorgio Moroder and Tangerine Dream. A packed hall greets them as they launch into tracks from recent EP Taxi. Their's a hint of post-punk in the drums, but for the most part it's the Moroder influence which comes to the fore. Unlike say, modern Italo disco enthusiasts such as Glass Candy, their take on the sound is much more traditional, with driving, linear basslines and swooping arpeggiated synths, somewhat akin to Austin, Texas-based instrumental Italo-heads Lazerhawk. On record, there is a hint of more modern electronic influences, particularly Daft Punk, but live they could be the house band from Tony Montana's nightclub. It's a confident performance, with the songs all in their native French, and the crowd respond with enthusiastic whoops and cheers.

Multi-instrumentalist South African singer / songwriter Yannick Ilunga goes by the name Petite Noir (not to be confused with Brooklyn shoegazers Small Black). At 21, he's already a talented and accomplished songwriter, his soaring, epic, dark-edged indie-rock palette filled out with Afrobeat, jazz and electronic influences. Giving the first encore of Trans Musicales, his best-known track, Disappear, is greeted with rapturous delight by the crowd, as he sings the refrain “All we have in life will disappear.” For fans of Vampire Weekend, Ilunga is a name to watch out for in 2013.

Algerian singer and activist Rachid Taha has been releasing albums since 1983, so he has a wealth of material to draw on. Mixing traditional Algerian 'raï' rhythms and melodies with other North African forms such as gnawa, and framing it all with a tight live band who are equally competent trading epic rock riffs, techno beats and gritty rhythm and blues, his sound is a fantastic fusion of international influences. Truly mercurial, he hops and skips across genres dressed in an outrageously sparkly sequinned jacket, even offering a cover version of Elvis standard (and Cornetto theme) It's Now Or Never (based on the Italian song O Sole Mio).

Baltimore-born, New York-based electro-pop chanteuse Phoebe Jean cuts an imposing figure – over six foot tall, she strides on stage in an ankle-length leather coat and a gold scarf, towering over the front row with an imperious, gothic grace. Backed by a drummer and a pair of dreadlocked dancers (known collectively as The Air Force), they power through an upbeat, driving set of tracks that cover hip-hop, drum and bass and electro beats. Her exuberant, anthemic songs come on like a cheerier Crystal Castles, and she has some of the same manic charm and energy of Alice Glass, shedding the coat after two songs and clambering precariously on to a flight case, elevating her even further above the crowd. It's a strong performance, and fans of tough synth-pop should definitely check out their debut album Heartbreakers.

London-based DJ and producer Maya Jane Coles warms up the main hall with a tough, bass-driven set of upfront techno and deep house. On Saturday, Trans Musicales is almost twice as busy as it was the previous night, and as the aircraft hangar fills with reeling, drunken, costumed revellers, Coles pumps out track after track of emotional, hard-edged four-four beats, with the odd rave synth stab and garage-influenced bassline. Pulses quicken as lasers sweep the room, and the air fills with the fragrant scent of a dozen different strains of marijuana.

Ecitement builds from a low hum to full-on hysteria as French electro-techno pioneer Vitalic takes to the stage. Backed by a drummer and additional synth player, and operating under the VTLZR banner, Vitalic aka Pascal Arbez delivers an industrial-strength dose of propulsive, stadium-crushing techno and eyeball-melting visuals. It's a performance that categorically proves that live techno can be just as powerful, innovative and involving as rock and roll, as the band power through classics from recent album Rave Age, and the Vitalic back catalogue, including No Fun, Repair Machines, a completely reimagined My Friend Dario, and an explosive, crowd-teasing, stop-start rendition of the solid-gold techno classic Le Rock 01. Even the odd track featuring cheese-tastic trance vocals can be forgiven – even these cuts are layered with dark, minor-chord synths and hardcore rave aggression. The crowd, needless to say, go absolutely balls-out mental.

The first disappointment of the night comes from Swedish electro-pop crew Agent Side Grinder. On a stage packed with vintage synth gear, they attempt to make a sound that is equal parts Cabaret Voltaire and early Human League, but the singer's growling, yelping vocal performance sits somewhat incongruously with the rather thin, reedy sound produced by the band. His rather shambolic delivery could possibly be explained by a surfeit of booze – in any case, they don't quite live up to their recorded output.

The final band of the night are Canada's Doldrums, who recently gave an incredibly convincing account of their experimental, improvisation-driven electronic rock sound while supporting Purity Ring on tour (read our review here). In the intimate space of Glasgow's Stereo, Doldrums delivered a world-beating performance, the infectious, hook-driven songs of singer/producer Airick Woodhead descending into a sublime, techno-influenced analogue synth racket and glorious, sprawling noise. Perhaps it's tour fatigue (Woodhead struggles to hit the high notes on the chorus of the marvelous, Blondie-riffing Egypt), or perhaps it's a problem with the sheer number of musical devices on stage getting lost in the mix, but their sound is oddly muted tonight, and missing the thrilling dynamics of their Glasgow performance. Nonetheless, Woodhead has enough charisma and enthusiasm as a frontman to carry the show, and the crowd greet the band with enthusiastic applause.

Another excellent day of music at Trans Musicales, and with tomorrow's lineup featuring bassbin-botherers TNGHT, the space-age funk of Sinkane, and the gloriously skewed and experimental songwriting of Warp ingenue Kwes, it looks like the best is still to come. The Skinny will be back with another report from the frontline tomorrow!