News / / 21.08.13


St Malo, Brittany | August 15-17th

Set in the 18th century Fort de Saint-Père in St. Malo, Brittany, La Route Du Rock has become one of the most cherished landmarks on the European Festival calendar since its inception in 1991. 

It truly exploded into life in the mid 90s, thanks to an ambitious, approachable yet fiercely alternative booking policy – previous headliners have included Sonic Youth, The Cure and My Bloody Valentine – garnering a reputation as ‘the biggest small festival’ on the continent. All the benefits of a large festival are there – namely the massive, fuck-off international headliners – but with the lived-in and cherished feel of a smaller event, complete with audiences of under 10,000 per day, and that incredible, archaic setting.

Having been wooed by Julia Holter at Wednesday night’s opening party, we made our way to Thursday’s daytime festivities at La Plage. There live bands and DJs perform in the glaring sun to a large audience of bronzed torsos, in the shadow of St. Malo’s famous fortified walls. A hundred feet or so away, revellers plunge from a high platform into the cooling sea. There we witness Orval Carlos Sibelius present their San Farlo-esque brass-tinged melodramatic pop, and it works beautifully in the context. Meanwhile, observing countless locals fully embracing and taking ownership of the event is a hugely satisfying sight.


On to the festival proper. Subtle but key differences to UK equivalents quickly become evident: the site is relatively small, easily accessibly and pristine, as well as having that gorgeously antiquated aesthetic appeal; the sound is crisp and plenty loud enough to watch even early acts from the back of the arena; and the sight of show-off knobheads wearing two pairs of sunglasses and mankinis are a very occasional aberration as opposed to a constant gripe. Plus it’s really, really sunny. So far so good.

The first act to draw us in are Iceage, whose live sets seem to take a constant pummeling. While some might find their embittered frankness refreshing, too often their disregard for the presentation of their own songs is a bridge too far, a flickknife slash at their nose to spite their face. Yet today, curiously in the blissful early evening sun, things just fall into place. The resentment from their livid young eyes is palpable; they hate the size of the stage, the sun, the mixed crowd demographic – but for once appear to channel that energy into an exhilarating urgency. Microphone cord taut around his neck, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt chokes out a You’re Nothing heavy set including Everything Drifts, Morals, Burning Hand, and the goosebump-inducingly obnoxious closer Ecstasy, all the while glaring at the front rows with a handsome, unhappy expression.


We then head to the press area, where we’re told the young Danes will be delivering one of their notoriously charming interviews. In this particular setting they live up to their reputation. They make a vague effort to be personable for about eight seconds, but from that point on, Matador, big festivals, DC hardcore and the writing of Kierkegaard are all dismissed with a sneer and a snort. !!! follow shortly after, galvanising the assembled throng nicely with anecdotes including Nic Offer downloading RA’s top 50 tracks of 2011, putting his 15 favourites on repeat then taking a tab of acid.

It’s then back to the central arena for the most anticipated set of the weekend: the irrepressible Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. And following a vaguely harrowing photo pit experience (from which we were told gleefully to “fuck off” by the man himself) during a slightly subdued We Know Who You Are, what transpired was utterly transfixing, utterly flawless.

Jubilee Street has proven itself to be a seminal addition to Cave’s canon, and its live realisation, where keys and guitars swell into infinite, deafening significance, has affirmed that status. The band then move into a devastatingly beefed up From Her To Eternity during which Cave first scales the front rows. From that point on, he barely leaves. The magnificent Tupelo sees him raging and bilious, howling “the sandman’s mud” until it loses all diction and meaning, before propelling into Deanna’s raging stomp. Mermaids is glorious, soaring broadly like each track before it, each foray meticulously designed yet feeling spontaneous and vital. Higgs Boson Blues is equally sublime, weaving slippery yarns, feeling endless yet instant. The Mercy Seat churns and turns in itself, splattering spittle and bile over all and sundry. And after almost 20 years of existence, Cave’s version of the American folk staple Stagger Lee still presents one of the most stunning, disarming and harrowing sights in live music, its entrancing, powerful narrative acted out before an awestruck crowd. It’s left to the murmuring title track from Push The Sky Away – the only track of the set not to explode into climax – to descend into barely spoken whispers. The superlatives are too infinite, too superfluous. This was yet another breathtaking, life-changing display from one of the greatest living musicians, and one of the most important bands in contemporary musical culture.


It would be futile to attempt to rival the previous band on anything approaching their own terms. Ingenious, then, that the act that follows are masters of their own, very different realm: our new friends !!!, the ultimate party band. Drawing heavily from latest album THR!!!ER, their sound leans more towards a housier, beat-inflected element than ever, yet still comes filters through that acid haze. The crowd switches settings from transfixed to cut loose – how could it not? Nic is at his shamanistic/showmanistic finest, jazz hands flailing wildly, vibrantly coloured and borderline pornographic shorts at the ready, leaping over the barriers and bringing the sleaze to the front rows. Slyd, Got To Get That Rhythm Right and When The Water’s Cold are standouts, but the audacious, twirling guitar riffery of Except Death is best of all. Ecstatic.

!!! la route du rock

On a day of audacious curation, Fuck Buttons represent a perfect closing act. Falling in a murky middle ground between !!!’s motivational electronics and Cave’s heart-wrenching pathos, they stride onto the main stage at 2:40am, plug in, and destroy. Brainfreeze hits first, a carefree, tribal fuzzfuck to the gut; roaring, spiteful yet joyful, a wonderful din being conjured into front of you in the midst of the wires and the static visual flickers. The fingers-in-the-ears quota soars, yet a core of masochists proudly drink in the devastating extremity. Live tom-twatting and distorted vocal squeals go hand in hand with the analogue drones. The hip-hop based beat of Red Wing is soon cut through by its stunning ascending bassline, before segueing into 15 minutes of pure, brutish techno, thrilling and deafening. We’d been told nostalgically of My Bloody Valentine’s 2009 headline slot which had the residents of St. Malo town, a short drive away, listening intently from their beds. This surely couldn’t have fallen far short. At 4am, with an “au revoir”, they depart. We collapse.

Refreshed and eager, Friday begins with dude of the moment Jackson Scott, who bros his little heart out on the Scène Des Remparts second stage, a new addition this year. He and his band of bros are pretty rad, but probably not quite rad enough to justify the sudden elevation to the upper echelons of radness and arch-dudeness.

JACKSON SCOTT la route du rock

They’re followed shortly by Woods’ charmingly organic indie folk over on the main stage, where Jeremy Earl’s blissful falsetto floats dreamily over a rapidly growing early evening crowd. And soon after, Efterklang’s mystic, meandering epics prove a perfect sunset choice, each track building to its own juddering finale. Somewhat appropriately, the sway of Black Summer sees the first real appearance of the infamous Breton rain, and also of a vast transparent sheet stored somewhere at the heart of the crowd, which quickly expands to keep the dedicated audience dry and merry. Back over at Des Remparts, Allah-Las’ lovely vintage garage sways along at an unobtrusive pace while heads bob along in the rain. They’re at an immediate disadvantage – this is about as far from drizzle music as it gets – but as their classic guitar structures interlock for the timeless Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind), no one seems remotely bothered about the conditions.

WOODS la route du rock

If any more proof of the festival’s bold and uncompromising booking policy was needed, then watching the inward-facing Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s gorgeous crunch fumble into life in front a vast screen displaying the word ‘Hope’ in crudely etched letters as your middle-day, main stage headline act should do the trick. Guitars and strings intermingle, evolve and gestate, single chords morph and dissolve, contract and expand. The strings’ prominence begins to fade in favour of increasingly guitar-led brutality and groove. And despite the persistent grimness, the sound translates perfectly to a boozy festival audience. Like an hour of black metal halftimes, fists soon begin to pump along to the sheer noise fetishism. And the strings return. They build in the mix and wail and erupt, with the backdrop constructing billowing, flickering flames. It really is the most remarkable finale to witness on an open air stage. The band depart one by one, feedback ringing into the now clear and echoing Brittany sky.

In a hugely prominent 1:30am main stage slot, Bass Drum of Death tear and rip like they probably dreamt about. What their two guitar assault lacks in bottom end, it makes up for in sleazy nonsense, post-Nirvana pissriffs and an impressive crunch which turns your adam’s apple into a vibrating burden. A very deliberate juxtaposition between what came before and what was to follow, it turns out early hours main stage garage grunge punk really, really works. Who knew?


TNGHT have the unenviable task of drawing a frenzied reaction from a crowd who’ve already been dragged to-and-fro for a good seven hours, yet make light work of it. Lunice’s energy offers the still rammed arena no other option, relentlessly bouncing with them, throwing his flailing arms into the sky. With an unruffled Hudson Mohawke, they plug a string of heavy hits. Wacka Flocka and 2 Chainz get a look in, with palpable pride on display as the R U Ready sample drops in Kanye’s Blood on the Leaves. Yet notably it’s their own material that garners the best results, with finisher Acrylics leaving St. Malo clamouring for more. They’ll have to wait a little while.

tnght la route du rock

Onto a third day, taken slowly, but with plenty to draw us back to the fort. While many camp at the site, its geographical closeness to ‘real life’ makes it easy to travel back and forth each day and significantly cuts down on the gruelling marathon factor. While that also demands considerable patience from the locals, as we’ve already seen, they display those qualities in spades.

We cut a bee line for the second stage, where Parquet Courts are nothing short of phenomenal. From the jangly, in-your-face brilliance of Light Up Gold’s title track, Borrowed Time and Mastered My Craft (with its irresistible drawl of “forget about it”) to N Dakota’s slow jamming, sloppy, endearing brilliance, they churn our pidgin-politics and tales of stoned mundanity while beaming shit-eating grins. They also summon the best crowd reaction of the entire weekend, with endless waves of awesome French 16-year-olds crowd-surfing and doing metal horns while security guards look on admirably and even take some snaps. No doubt among the most affecting and memorable sets we see, the crowd bay and cheer long after the set has finished as the band remain onstage blushing and packing up their own gear. A revelation.

parquet courts la route

Having now fully fallen for the second stage surroundings, it was difficult to summon up that much enthusiasm for a trip back to the main stage for indie-psych overlords Tame Impala, particularly when we catch sight of those cliched visuals filling the screens. Their set at first ambles, with what we’re now referring to as ‘post Parquet Courts syndrome’ hitting them hard. But any early cynicism is short lasting, as momentum builds. Predictably, a double header of the riotous Elephant with its compelling drum rolls and the intoxicating Be Above It have us increasingly rapt. And following a superb Alter Ego, Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control is an expansive and cyclical masterpiece at the set’s close.

A dash back to Des Remparts is rewarded by Montreal’s Suuns measuredly creeping into life. But their drone funk soon builds to an eminently danceable and persistent racket. The sound dissolves into bass chord bliss and a druggy slur, before the superb Arena has the audience gyrating shamelessly to feedback.

Suuns la route du rock

Something of a curveball on the bill, Hot Chip prove an inspired selection. While on record their output may seem increasingly tired, tonight they come to life. How Do You Do is a carefree and joyous opener, and the likes of And I Was a Boy From School, Flutes, Over and Over and Ready For The Floor keep moods totally sky high. Sarah Jones is flawless behind the kit, and Alexis Taylor is a likeable and hyperactive focal point. There’s a sense of rediscovery in the air, of re-embracing a band whose influence and sound has become somewhat ubiquitous, at the cost of really appreciating them. Their set feels like a fully appropriate, hands in the air closer to a gleeful four-day celebration of music.

Something of a shame, then, that Disclosure are the final act. While they, of course, prompt piercing screams from the assembled girls, and make a passing attempt at showmanship while performing with an impressive array of live instrumentation, we struggle to fully invest. It fun, and it’s fine, but for us, the festival had ended an hour earlier, with the euphoric, triumphant closing strains of I Feel Better.

disclosure la route du rock

And that was that. Almost a week in Brittany, being treated like royalty by an array of the nicest people we’ve ever met. And constant, pure music. By its nature, La Route Du Rock is a music lover’s festival. Born from a brainwave from a bunch of music freaks who felt alienated from their beloved indie scenes out there in the Breton countryside, its policy and approach is single-mindedly music-orientated. There’s barely a note of silence between bands from the moment the gates open, and once inside there’s little to do other than drink in the tunes. If the next band up sucked, you might struggle. But that’s not an issue which arose once during our time there. Attendees are an open-minded and thirsty bunch of kindred spirits, and it’s surely this, along with that unique setting and an overwhelming sense of acceptance and ambition, that prompted so many bands to seemingly perform way, way above expectation; and what’s more, to see so many musicians hailing it as one of their favourite spots to play, and to return time and time again.


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Visit for festival information. Video footage of many of the sets can be watched here

Words: Geraint Davies + Angus Harrison

Main Photo: La Route Du Rock

All other Photos: Geraint Davies