There’s something very exotic and exciting about crossing the channel to attend a festival. Somwthing that even the on-board ferry ‘entertainment’ of jaded crooners and piano bar lounge music can’t spoil. Especially when that festival is La Route Du Rock. A festival that seems to get everything just right, and where the sights and surroundings of picturesque costal town St Malo are as every bit part of the makeup of the festival as the actual line up.
And with time to kill before the festival gates open in the early evening, there’s plenty of opportunity to explore the town or visit the beach stage, each day offering a sun-kissed starter to the evening’s main course.
After being thoroughly warmed up the night previous by a three band line up of Marlon Williams, Ezra Furman and The KVB at pre-festival venue La Nouvelle Vague, the main event kicks off on the Friday. The Lumiñanas sizzle in the sun, with a more fleshed out sound than on record, mostly due to array of vocalists and multi instrumentalists on stage beside them.
A perfect combination of garage rock hooks and steady grooves to get everyone dancing as the sun goes down. In contrast, the bright young things, Shame, seem to take a power from the darkened sky around them, like Gremlins treated to a feast after midnight. Almost immediately, tops are removed and shards of contagious youthful energy explode out into the audience below, as bassist Josh Finerty attempts to cover every inch of the stage with his enthusiastic boundings.
The two stage/no crossover set up makes everything flow very easily. So rather than having to plot a course through the ever flowing alternating currents of festival goers to get to a stage at the other end of the grounds, just having to turn around and shuffle forward to see the next act is a refreshing change.
Just as many folk in their twilight years are pressed against the safety barriers as fresh faced young ‘uns when Etienne Daho steps on to the stage. Relatively unknown back in Blighty, it’s certainly not the same case on his home soil, having consistently bothered the French music charts since the early 80s. Everybody in the crowd is engaged. So much so, that one fellow Brit is told by a beaming local “You can’t be French…. you are checking your phone whilst Etienne Daho is playing”.
The legend that is Patti Smith takes one of the warmest welcomes of the weekend. So much so, the admiration only increases after she has to stop ‘Dancing Barefoot’ mid-way through, realising she’s been singing in a key different to that of the song. Legends can also be human, after all. The night does actually seem to belong to lovers, as scores of entwined couples, filled to the brim with amour, have to be weaved between to reach the beer tent from the main stage.
Nils Frahm provides an interesting alternative to the rest of the line-up. With his back to the audience and resembling some kind of mad professor under intense concentration, almost hidden under a stack of mixers and keyboards, he releases wave upon wave of soothing pulses and intricate classical piano melody, creating a much more relaxed and reflective mood than those before him.
Surprise gem of the festival award has to go to Jonathan Bree. Not only for having instantly loveable and catchy songs like the super dreamy bass driven “Fuck it”, but the fact that the whole band plus dancing duo sport faceless masks provides an intriguing and uneasy visual element to his effortlessly cool, 60s style brand of chamber pop.
The only bad blip of the entire festival arrives when the indie pop lolz-fest that is Superorganism hit the stage. Lazy vocals are dolloped upon layers of synth and 8-bit sound effects, whilst images of prawns and Game Boys float along the giant festival screens. It comes across as one giant meme, one where the joke is on you for bothering to pay attention. Luckily, Sunday headliners Phoenix are on hand straight after, with a seemingly endless stream of super sweet synth pop anthems to remove the bad taste left behind.
For those that were slightly more merry-of-mind and younger-of-leg than myself, each night gets topped off with artists and DJs of a more dance-like persuasion to keep the party going into the early hours of the morning. Even a slightly dazed Josh T Pearson is spotted in the crowd for Veronica Vasicka’s set, squeezing out the last drops of festival from the night.
What stands out here, is that this is a proper music fans festival, and with such a strong and diverse line up, it’s easy to see why Frances longest running independent festival is still going strong in its 27th year. And as camping and ferry inclusive packages cost less than your typical UK festival weekender ticket, La Route Du Rock is the festival you absolutely need to set yourself a reminder for on next year’s calendar.