An affair ruled by diamonds in the rough...

Last weekend saw a small legion of Englishmen and general mini festival lovers, scheme off to northwest France to frolic in the cobblestones and pebbles of La Route Du Rock. Now chugging itself through it’s 22nd edition, it has proved to chuck many an unshovelled band into the limelight of at least this small smidgen of the Brittany territory and 2012 be no different. Despite a choppy exchange across the channels, matched only by some English attempts at the French language, spirits were high about this year’s offering.

At first glance, the St. Malo festival location is about as elementary as it gets. Terrain that mimicked little Mt. Vesuvius’ with every step made walking in a pair of desert boots treacherous, but there was a cuteness about it all regardless of any physical blisters. Only two stages existed, the second neatly in the crowd itself so smaller bands could get some attention before the bigguns’ stepped on to the other. It was in this way that the first jewel in the rough was quarried up. A psychedelic rock twosome by the name of Yeti Lane oozed hallucinogenic chords into the ears of early bird listeners to kick off Friday in promising style. After a little referencing, it turns out they’ve had two albums out. Next, came Cambridge, indie pop foursome, Alt-J, who were the first massively received act of the fest, prompting various indie sounding copycats from the audience. They brushed their way confidently through versions of their well-received longplayer including the intricate glitches of ‘Dissolve Me’ and ‘Fitzpatrick’. The evening then meandered its way through an unimpressive Dominique A, the heavenly choir-laden soul confessions of Spiritualized and The Soft Moon who sounded like a Conference league version of Joy Division. Last up, Squarepusher drummed a whole heap of decibels into the night sky with his brand of avant-garde electronica to end of Day 1. Maybe too many.

A combined effort of the fort town and the nearby area of Cancales provided a bohemian buffer between Saturday’s sun-drenched daytime activities and the festival in the eve. Femme fatales, Savages, snarled their way through one of the best sets of the whole event with lead singer, Jehnny Beth, punching imaginary figures in a dance that Ian Curtis would applaud. Saturday’s surprise was Willis Earl Beal who commandeered the small stage armed with just a tape recorder, a soul-quaking presence and a monstrous voice. Ticked as one of the ones to keep a tab on this year, Beal is worthy of all the interest he’s currently receiving.

Main attraction, The xx, reminded us of their ethereal strokes of goodness supplied further by cuts from the new album. With a stronger, beat-led helping hand from Jamie XX, the crowd were lulled into a gentle sway by the fresh material, contrasting the reactions to the first album which is still only as evocative in smaller venues rather than large. Tying up were Mark Lanegan and genre-jugglers, Breton.

Sunday’s trip to the beach gratified my choice of shorts despite talk of rain on the French horizon. Here, the sound of Jonathan Fitoussi’s ambient patchwork made the concept of an alien invasion on the sand as sonically authentic as John Williams would have liked. Sans drum beat and occupied instead by off-kilter arps and spacey synths. Back in the cobbledrome of the main arena, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks stoner rocked their way through hits that begged for a Pavement reunion before Mazzy Star dropped melancholic drops of guitar-doused nostalgia in their dreamlike way to draw a close to proceedings.

An affair ruled by diamonds in the rough. Valuables ones at that. Come to think of it, you could say the same about the festival itself. Bon voyage!

Words by Errol Anderson

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