La Route Du Rock
La Route Du Rock’s press officer has hurried over to the extensive fanzine and merchandise stand in the middle of Mac De Marco’s set to purchase a 12” of De Marco’s latest album. “Salad Days was the one I was missing”, he tells Crack. We’re sharing a picturesque corner of France at a festival whose musical priorities and attitude come from a place of purity and quality that puts many of it’s British contemporaries to shame, not least based on the unfathomable number of musical delectations coming at every turn of the clock over four days of music.
La Route Du Rock has been a beacon of independent musical sunshine on the St Malo coastline for 24 years. Two stages, no crossovers and set in old fort that, in bygone times, used to resist English attacks, the setting is easy on the eye and steeped in history. But any setting can be destroyed if enough water is applied, especially when you’re in a man made structure whose ubiquitous design sought to contain rather than drain. By the end of Friday night we’re swimming.
No such problems on Thursday night with an indoor opening party featuring Crack’s new favourite camp art-punks Ought. Set in La Route Du Rock’s sister indoor venue La Nouvelle Vague, their lead singer combines the avant-garde movement and the lyrical tongue in cheekiness of David Byrne with off-kilter, unpredictable tracks that are delivered with an assured swagger beyond their years. Wider acclaim will surely follow. The Walkman’s front man Hamilton Leithauser followed, showcasing a vocal range beyond his band’s output but failing to really enthrall. Ending the evening and winning the award for musical transformation was Francois and the Atlas Mountains, whose guise has altered from Bristol-adopted DIY folk improvisationalist, to choreographed synth popster. The French public revelled in the success of one of their own and the result was rapturously received.
So as the heavens opened Friday and the site turned into something that resembled a Rolo yoghurt, we marauded around doing something we’ve never done at a festival before – attempt to watch absolutely everything. Dinner and five minute friends got in the way, but checking out The War On Drugs for the upteenth time this summer as an ease into the festival is as soothing as introduction as you could wish, with the band riding their new main stage billing with aplomb. With Kurt Vile stepping up to share guitar duty and the act dutifully reciprocated in Vile’s much improved live performance, the feeling of tenderness between both acts was palpable. Angel Olsen exuded confidence in her second stage afternoon slot, with her lovely, stern yet playful delivery succeeded by her smile present at all times. A definite star on the rise.
Fat White Family’s continued mission to be the next Black Lips is still in full sway with a channeled, tough, semi-naked, affair that will only seek to confirm their rise. Not full nudity this time, but a taps aff affair ensues.
Into the evening, two contrasting electronic animals rub up against each other with differing methods. You ultimately feel Caribou’s layered odysseys work best in a warehouse or an under covered tent as opposed to a colossal outdoor stage, though they drive the point home with only the sincerity, a dual drummer and the constant dread that the whole thing could collapse on itself at any point can bring. Odessa live is animal that feeds itself over and over, and for those damning of the electronic canon in the live arena, the concentration on Dan Snaith’s face as he communicates messages with his counterpart on the drums is visible in sweat. It feels planned but fraught and visibly so. Darkside’s live show, which we subsequently found was going to be discontinued when we arrived home ,was suited to the rainy conditions, all rise and fall and drama, subtlety and improvisation. Dave Harrington’s elongated guitar work and Nicolas Jaar’s slow burning drops and synth work ultimately wielding the power in the dual relationship.
Into Friday and local delicacies don’t come as opulent as oysters, and picturesque local sea spot Cancalle had them aplenty. Cultural brilliance isn’t always culinary brilliance, but an afternoon of mussels, oysters and Sauvignon had us dreaming of a world we don’t live in. We also had chips.
We’re Main Stage animals in a major way on Saturday, with sun shining and subsequently setting for Slowdive’s wonderfully understated return to the live arena. Slowdive’s more linear swells and guitar shimmer were always slightly to the right of My Bloody Valentine’s wild noise explorations, and their set tonight draws on the beauty of standout album Soulvaki rather than any brashness. Alison is without doubt their most recognisable work and rings out with its opaque beauty. Rushing guitar exploration defines When The Sun Hits and the set closer Golden Hair typically drowns itself in guitar and reverb.
So Portishead as headliner 16 years after they last played here in 1998 was always going to invoke an emotional response. It’s a relatively intimate setting to house an act whose atmospherics resonate across the faces of those watch them, and the way Beth Gibbons conducts her business, shunning the crowd with her back to the audience for large periods before delivering vocals whilst looking pained is often to hard to watch. The subject matter in their songs unnerve and unsettle, while leaving these glorious embers of sound etched across their songs. Glory Box has never sounded richer live, and the cathartic stomp of set closer We Carry On sees Beth come to the front to address the crowd in the same vein as their Glastonbury performance last year.
Subsequent performances see Liars enthrall with their wild new electronic direction, keeping their trademark madness firmly intact with Angus Andrew stomping his significant frame about wearing a beanie over his face. Metz’s aggression and rough edge still sound as solid as when it broke and, finally, Moderat close out with their big-room emotive techno, feeling completely at home on a stage this grand.
For those wanting French seaside splendour, the walled port majesty of Saint Malo is a home from home for fans of piracy, ramparts, history and shimmering summer scenery. A beach stage has been erected for those in need of more musical digestion, but we opt for trying out our diving skills in a wonderful lagoon-cum-man-made Olympic diving pool. Relaxation ensues and the town, only a stones throw from the festival, transforms La Route Du Rock into much more of a musical adventure laced with facets of a real grown-up holiday.
This made the bump back down to earth courtesy of Perfect Pussy’s utterly spellbinding assault such a necessary musical smack. It’s never good to get too comfortable, and Meredith Graves doesn’t want you to recline into your dauphinouise and Chateau Neuf anytime soon. Gnarling, hardcore assault that needed the vocal turning up, Perfect Pussy play fucking loudly for 20 minutes and that covers their involvement. No more was needed and Graves sticks around amiable and as congenial as her on stage personality is riled and stomping.
Onto the home stretch and with the cheese and wine quota at an artery-busting high, the Sunday resembled a Sabbath we’d be happy to take on at any festival. If Saturday was characterised by emotion, this was a Sunday funday and they don’t come more playful than one Mac De Marco who, despite being utterly shagged, gives a “rock’n’roll show” of the highest order that incorporates a cover Coldplay’s Yellow among glorious renditions of Chamber Of Reflection and a final track rendition of Still Together that includes a crowd surf that lasts approximately five minutes while Mac draws a ciggy at every opportunity. Glorious opportunism, and by the climax there are more girls shoulder mounted than for any other chancer this weekend.
The evening blended pinball (ever played Medieval Madness? It’s the business) with more wonderful French cuisine and fun. Jamie xx blends techno, deep-house and outright club bangers into a selection that does the job that’s asked of a DJ on a big stage before Todd Terje DJs all his own tunes in a party atmosphere that feels like the most apt way ever to conclude a weekend, with standouts Ragysh and closer Inspector Norse doing the requisite damage to the already trampled grass.
At every juncture at La Route Du rock we encountered passionate Frenchmen enthused about the music that was on show. The event feels like a family affair run by the right family. Year on year, they bring the utter cream of the collective alternative indie family to a lovely part of France to showcase what’s right with their country and their taste. It was a pleasure to be let into their world.