La Route du Rock is a gem of a festival, and a highlight of the French rock calendar.
Nestled in the grounds of a historical fort by the coast of Brittany, in a town called Saint-Malo, the picturesque views make it feel as much of a holiday as a festival. But in case you do forget why you’re there, the impressively curated line-up will help you remember. Offering a star-studded programme without too much pomp and circumstance, among this year’s big-hitters were PJ Harvey, Future Islands and Mac DeMarco.
Here’s what we learned from the festival’s four days.
It’s not just about rock
While guitar bands and singers take the stage in the day, La Route du Rock brings an electronic twist at night. On the first night, after the angst of Car Seat Headrest, fury of IDLES and barely-organised chaos of Oh Sees, Helena Hauff and DJ Shadow emerged in the early hours to switch things up.
Hamburg favourite Hauff delivered a grubby all-vinyl techno set while DJ Shadow took the crowds back to the days of old-school funk. A similar pattern followed on Saturday, with Belgian titans Soulwax taking over proceedings post-Future Islands’ emotive set. It’s a clever move on the part of the organisers, helping maintain interest and keeping energy levels high.
Future Islands are not to be messed with
When Saturday came around, a particularly strong line-up kept the crowds on their feet for most of the day. In the early afternoon, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith soundtracked a scorching day at the beach stage with delicately textural and ambient soundscapes. Parquet Courts cried passionately and shredded skilfully to begin the evening run of performances, with Temples priming the stage for an seismic set from The Jesus and Mary Chain, but it was Future Islands that really stood out.
In a set that spanned the last few years of their career, the seasoned synth pop band injected jolts of electricity, not least through frontman’s Samuel T. Herring’s notoriously compulsive dance moves that were both heartbreaking and enthralling. The set was anthem-filled, featuring tracks like A Dream of You and Me and Ran. By the time the group got to their modern classic, Seasons (Waiting On You), the crowd were elated, gripped and dancing wildly.
Mac DeMarco is still unstoppable
Surrounded by a band that rivals his own goofiness, Mac DeMarco chain-smoked his way through a consistently entertaining set. Proving a sense of humour and laid-back attitude needn’t get in the way of genuine skill, the setlist featured a very special performance of Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles, where every line was just “making my way downtown”.
For the majority of the festival, the mostly French crowd remained cool, calm and collected, rolling up to see bands as and when they please. Until it came to Mac. Teenagers started to gather at the empty stage for DeMarco an hour before his set, screamed and cheered when he graced the stage to soundcheck, and, by the time he was due to start, his crowd was bigger than any other festival headliner (including PJ Harvey for goodness’ sake). Further proof, if needed, that the DeMarco phenomenon is real.
Beauty is all around
From the charming cobbled streets of Saint-Malo’s town centre to the rubbled fort walls that enclose the festival, La Route du Rock is a place steeped in beauty. Even the audience is insanely attractive, albeit astoundingly white. The relaxed atmosphere, good weather and long days give you time to soak up the sights, if you want to. There’s also an exhibition to check out every year, with this edition’s coming from punk photographer David Godlis’ collection History is Made At Night.
Timing is everything
One of the worst festival feelings is that moment you realise your favourites clash. At La Route du Rock, there’s no possibility of that. The festival has three stages, two at the main area and one a little while away at the beach. But even if you choose to make the trek from the beach stage back to the Fort, or want to split your time between the main stage and the second stage, the programme is arranged so that there are no clashes. I repeat, no clashes. If you wanted to watch every single person scheduled to perform at La Route du Rock, that is a thing that you could physically do. Wild. That said, the only problem you might encounter is one of public transport. If you plan on travelling around the town or beach at any point, the buses can be tedious. Money for taxis or a car is highly recommended if you value your time and comfort.