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‘Les Trans’ was among the first festivals to book Nirvana and Björk, almost 40 years in it’s still managing to get the best new music first

The French event has a bit of everything - from all-female Japanese ska bands to men dressed as trees

Do anything for long enough and your bound to get a reputation. My mum told me this once, and it’s certainly a maxim that Les Trans tries to live up to.

‘Les Rencontres Trans Musicales’, as it’s officially known, has been taking over the small city of Rennes, Brittany for a little under four decades now. Still curated and operated by original founders Béatrice Macé and Jean-Louis Brossard, the festival has become one of Europe’s most important expos for breaking new artists. The very first event in 1979 set the standard; bringing together the cream of France’s post-punk scene, cult favourites Marque de Sade played one of their first ever headline shows to a crowd of 1,800 art students. In the years since, the organisers have displayed a remarkable track record for spotting new talent, with ‘Les Trans’ offering the likes of Nirvana, Björk, Cabaret Voltaire and Daft Punk some of their first, large European shows.

Snapped Ankles at Les Trans (Nicolas Joubard)

Once confined to the bars and clubs dotted around Rennes’ winding, medieval streets, these days most of Les Trans takes place at the Parc Expo up near the city’s airport. A collection of giant aircraft hangers and industrial units, wandering around from room to room is a bit like being Alice in your very own Wonderland. With over 62,000 people at Trans, almost every show is packed. One minute you might be watching Snapped Ankles play to a giant hanger full of freaked out local kids and the next minute your dancing with a bunch of middle-aged ravers in light up trainers while Kiddy Smiles vogues his way through classic house tracks up on stage. This combination of high-class production and extremely up for it crowd compliments Les Trans’ unique ethos and line up perfectly, even if the slightly remote location takes some getting used to. The night bus rides back to the city centre were real eye openers to say the least, with wasted punters and queasy teenagers holding on for dear life as a speeding bendy-bus bumped through Rennes’ maze of roundabouts and slip roads.

As for the music, Les Trans has always tried to keep to a mix tape-like approach when it comes to programming. From the very start, the festival has aimed to bring together many different moods and styles rather than sticking to one or two main genres. This, of course, led to some interesting transitions throughout the weekend. At one point, for example, we were treated to the psychedelic Turkish pop-rock of Altin Gün segueing into Less Than Jake-style ska punk from Oreskaband.

Oreskaband at Les Trans (Nicolas Joubard)

But mostly, the deliberately eclectic roster of artists meant that it was impossible get bored by listening to the same thing again and again. Among my favourite discoveries this year were Oki Kano and his Oki Dub Ainu Band, who filtered traditional Ainu music through dub, reggae and post-rock into something that sounded like Sigur Rós meeting Tangerine Dream and local punks Abuse, who inexplicably played a lecture theatre on Saturday afternoon and reminded me of the genius of Cock Sparrer. Special mention also has to go to South African singer Nekhane, who blew everyone away on the opening Thursday night with a charismatic set of raw, bleeding-edged soul.

However, it was tomorrow’s next thing that everyone was here to see, and in this department Les Trans decided to save their big hitters for a one-two knockout on the Saturday night. First up, was Washed Out, who’ve moved on substantially from the dreamy, free-form noise pop of their early records. Backed up a wall of eye-wateringly beautiful visuals, they’ve essentially evolved into a US version of the Chemical Brothers, putting hip-hop inspired dance tunes through a blissed out, chillwave lens.

Confidence Man at Les Trans (Nicolas Joubard)

Next came Australian dance-punk four-piece Confidence Man, whose set was both exhilarating and puzzling in equal measure. While a masked rhythm section pumped-out bass-led bangers, singers Janet Planet and Sugar Bones threw out synchronised dance moves like a couple Butlins of Redcoats with inexhaustible energy. At one point toasting each other with French champagne, the pair give an American Psycho-like edge to Confidence Man’s live show, ramping up a sense of polished corporate gloss to almost sickly proportions. It came across like a twisted version of Jason and Kylie backed by the Avalanches and, like almost everything else at Les Trans this year, was as oddly brilliant as that sounds.

Les Rencontres Trans Musicales, various venues, Rennes, France 6-10 December 2017

Photos by: Nicolas Joubard/Festival

Oki Dub Ainu Band at Les Trans (Nicolas Joubard)