Experiencing the French Connection

Nick Waterhouse. (Trans Musicales)

Nick Waterhouse. (Trans Musicales)

The music gods are smiling on me. I am standing in Hall 3 of the Park Expo in Rennes, France.

This giant gallery of warehouses is the venue for Trans Musicales, Rennes' cutting edge music festival that the who's who of the global music industry clamour to be a part of.

It is 22:45 on Thursday December 6 and I am watching Californian Nick Waterhouse on stage, one of the lucky musicians picked to showcase his work at the festival.

The reason Waterhouse is lucky, is this festival hosts the most important decision makers in global live music industry. a great show at Trans Musicales can literally mean the difference between a packed out year of touring, or a dwindling career.

The reason I am lucky, is that my airplane from Abu Dabhi arrived in Paris early, allowing me to get the 14:45 train to Rennes and not the 18:45 train, which meant I am now watching Waterhouse, not arriving in the middle of the night in this freezing cold and rainy city.

Waterhouse is putting on a show, backed by his six-piece band, two saxophones, two backing vocalists, bass and drums.

He stands up front, dressed in grey slacks, a red jersey; his face dominated by a chunky pair of glasses and his brown hair in a side parting.

Imagine Buddy Holly if he was Californian rather than Texan, and was reared on Stax and Motown era American soul music, rather than country and bluegrass.

Waterhouse steps to the mic to introduce the next song, a cover of Ain't There Something Money Can't Buy, a 1967 song by Chicago soul group Young-Holt Unlimited.

"Everywhere I travel, I realise that this song is very appropriate," says Waterhouse before they rip right into it.

A middle-aged French reveler comes bouncing past me and begins to mumble something to me in French.

All I understand is the word "perfection", he smiles and high fives me and bounces off into the throng.

Damn am I glad to be here.

They ain't no Prince
You see it's not just about the fact that I could have missed Waterhouse's show if my airplane had landed as scheduled.

Travel issues aside, Trans Musicales is the kind of festival that around every corner there is bound to be a great show lurking. You just don't have the time to get bogged down.

If a band is not doing it for you, rule number one is move on, you are likely to be a couple of minutes from one that will.

Ten minutes before I stumbled upon Waterhouse I was watching a performance by Burning House, a collaboration between programming expert Chief Xcel from Blackalicious and keyboardist Herve Salters aka General Elektriks.

Their music was a sort of digi-funk, incorporating elements of hip-hop, funk and jazz.

While Salters was a sight to behold, his skinny legs a performance all of their own behind his keyboards, I kept asking myself, but what's new here? They ain't no Prince!

And so I did what any sensible punter at Trans Musicales would do, I moved on and stumbled upon Waterhouse.

But Waterhouse's set is drawing to a close, my beer glass is empty and I still haven't made a decision as to where I'm heading next.

A local journalist from Rennes who I met at the entrance to the festival, told me to check out Madeon, a young French producer who has been DJ-ing in the hard trance scene in France since the age of 11.

Since then the kid, now 18, has become an in-demand remixer and got some major attention with his mash-up on Youtube called Pop Culture, which managed to squeeze 39 songs into a four-minute jam.

"He played Paris last night, Trans Musicales tonight, and plays London tomorrow night," said the eager young journalist. "He is a big deal."

I head over to Hall 4 to catch the start of Madeon's set, but 10 minutes in I realise that the French journalist and I share little in music taste as Madeon sounds like a teen prodigy version of David Guetta.

As a Rubik's cube based graphic spins on the screen behind him, I watch the young French kids bouncing to their new star.

I sip my beer, trying to give this kid a chance, but eventually I lose interest completely.

Rock 'n roll redemption
I stumble into the Green Room, where a young DJ from Rennes, who lifted his moniker, Ozymandias, from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' sci-fi novel In The Watchmen, is playing.

A sci-fi styled techno seems to be his shtick.

Another friendly local walks up to me to chat.

"I'm moving on," he tells me. "I like techno, but this is shit."

After standing watching it for five-minutes I have to agree. I scour the programme, looking for salvation.

I spy that a four piece from Leeds, who are compared to The Undertones and The Buzzcocks in their write-up, are about to take to the stage in Hall 3.

I decide to head on over, eager for some rock 'n roll redemption.

The China Rats are a major disappointment; quite how they made it onto the bill of Trans Musicales I don't know.

With lyrics like, Jane don't care about me / She says she wants to live at the bottom of the sea, or some such nonsense, I realise that this band makes Liam Gallagher appear to be a well-spoken academic type.

The program's description of "dazzling melodies and ad hoc choruses" is taking on a whole new meaning now.

I decide to give it one last go and head for Hall 4 to catch the set of Netsky, the Belgian drum 'n bass boy wonder.

This 23-year-old, whose name is Boris Daenen, is credited with breathing new life into the jungling-massive with a blend of old-school classic jungle and new school futuristic dubstep.

I am eager to get my feet moving and as a past acolyte of the drum 'n bass scene, I am eager to see what the new face of this sound, sounds like.

His set is hardly mind-blowing to my ears, but it beats the hell out of everything else I've seen since Nick Waterhouse.

I join the throng, working out the built up tension that thirty-six hours of travelling will bring to you, but eventually my legs give out.

At 35 I am no longer the drum 'n bass spring chicken I was at 21.

I decide to cut my losses and head home.

As they say in South Africa, "môre is nog 'n dag".

And Trans Musicales will have even more riches to discover then.

Lloyd Gedye

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