One of my favorite things about humanity is when we discover common bonds between us regardless of environment and background. Of course there are the basic necessities: food, water, shelter, but the commonality we share that is the most interesting, because it is abstract, is music. We all create and seek music; it’s a part of every culture and it’s our job as curators and stewards at KEXP to collect the best music from across the globe and give others the opportunity to enjoy it.
In the past few years, KEXP has been reaching beyond our backyard to bring new music from other countries into our playlists and into your ears. From Iceland Airwaves to the OFF Festival in Poland, we’ve been collecting amazing audio and video from across the globe. This year we, have been invited to Rennes, France, for the legendary Trans Musicales festival. Now in its 38th year, the Trans Musicales has a rich history of presenting young bands that often go on to be well known. The festival organizers invited us to pick out 10 to 20 bands from their lineup to film and bring back for you to discover. After narrowing down the list of nearly 70 artists to our top choices, we ended up with 11 bands to film over the course of four days. To make it even better, each day has us filming in four different locations – a church that is now an arts conservatory, an old hotel that is now an institute of sciences, the Rennes Opera house, and a wing of City Hall. Meanwhile, in the evening, the festival takes place in various venues all over town.
The A/V road crew and I left Seattle on Tuesday on a 10-hour direct flight to Paris, then a three hour train ride west to Rennes through miles of picturesque pastoral landscapes. We were met on the other side by our festival liaison, Jeremy Méléard, who led us by foot with our gear and luggage through the cobblestone roads to our hotel, Le Magic Hall – a converted school, now music themed (how appropriate for us), with its own recording studio incorporated in the common space, plus lots of CDs, records, and books. That night we met with the dozens of media outlets that swarm the “Professional Village” and kicked it off with South African rockers, BCUC, at the pre-fest mixer, then off to bed for a busy day of filming.
Day one of filming began today at the Chapelle du Conservatoire de Rennes a music, dance, and theater conservatory converted from a 19th century church complete with vaulted ceilings, stained glass and a giant marble relief of the Greek classic Laocoon, which made for a beautiful backdrop.
Vagina Town was the first of three bands we filmed today. They are from Nantes, a town approximately 100 km from Rennes. Playing together since 2009, the four piece came out in an amazing array of costumes that had various tongue-in-cheek religious overtones. Gina, on bass and vocals, was dressed in a giant magenta feathered head piece she got in Brazil during Carnival and an outfit that would have made Screamin’ Jay Hawkins proud – including a skull named Henry hanging from the mic stand. I asked her if she was a Hawkins fan and she excitedly told me she was and in fact named her skull his that hung from his iconic staff. They played a ripping set of garage rock a la The Cramps.
Next up we had local psych band Chouette, which translates to Owl or, as the band told me, confusingly is also slang for cool – as in “Owls are cool!”. They had a Black Angels vibe mixed with jangly surf rock – with heavy bass riffs, and catchy guitar melodies. Each of the four members – Roma (guitar), Chris (guitar), Mary (bass), and Malo (drums) – all lent their vocals to make each song unique yet cohesive. Afterwards, as he was packing up his guitar, Chris told us that his mom is originally from the US and listens to KEXP and was very excited when he told her he was recording with us. Small world!
Rounding out day one was Trad.Attack! from Estonia. Because the band consisted of husband and wife Sandra and Jalmar and Sandra’s childhood friend Tonu, their chemistry was intoxicating and their performance so much fun to watch. Self-described as traditional Estonian folk, Trad.Attack!’s music has earned them Estonian music awards for Best Artist three years in a row, and it was clear they are deserving of the title. With Jalmar on acoustic guitar, Tonu on drums, and Sandra showing impressive skill changing between bagpipes, folk pipe, and mouth harp, they are more than just a folk band. Their sound certainly has folk elements, but it’s also super rocking with tribal-meets-psych drum beats and frenetic guitar melodies, and, on top of it all, they have what I can only describe as the most badass bagpipe playing I have ever heard. Trad.Attack! also pays homage to their heritage, mixing in samples of old Estonian archival audio recordings – including an old recording of Jalmar’s great-great grandmother. The video we recorded of this session will definitely be a must-see when it’s released. In the meantime, head to their Soundcloud page and enjoy.
Tomorrow, we have three more amazing bands that we will be meeting at a different location – the Hotel Pasteur, what was once, as its name alludes, an old hotel but is now a science institute.
For now, I leave you with a new piece of wisdom I learned in France:
Bonne nuit! A demain!