With Aphex Twin, Battles, Mogwai...

What’s wrong with this country? We’re so spoiled that we can’t even do a festival properly anymore without gilding the lily with Jaeger and ferris wheels, filling our festival sites with musical part-timers on a vomiting holiday.

Not in St Malo though. The 21st birthday of La Route Du Rock saw the event as classically understated and fuss-free as a Frenchwoman’s daywear. One (massive) stage, a couple of bars, and that’s your lot. What more does one need to present such titans as Aphex Twin, Battles and Mogwai than an impressive stage to put them on and a crowd crazed to see them? And while we’re at it, why fill the day unnecessarily with small, forgettable acts that start just as you’re getting to sleep? This defies logic and festival physiology. Why not spend all day having sex or something, and then start the music at 6pm – falling into bed at 4am as befits any decent weekend?

From low-key early evening sets to late night pupil-expanders, le rock is one of the few genres not forthcoming. For starters, I pity the man, vegetable or mineral that has wronged Friday afternoon’s Anika, if indeed he, she or it is still alive; her dead-eyed, murderous monotone and talk of revenge and obsession get the festival off to a scary but sexy start. Suuns are perfectly placed at moonrise, with the eerie Clinic-meets-Porcupine-Tree-meets-minimal-house thing they do providing a smooth transition into the next phase of the night. Mogwai alternately offer the distraction-free crowd a soul-soothing and then a hefty kick to the solar plexus, leaving us stunned and malleable enough for Aphex Twin’s organic techno to take maximum druglike effect.

The relentless downpour of day two exposes the flaw in having no undercover areas, and I take back everything I said about this being a good thing. Even the combination of offensively yellow ponchos and the determinedly sunny Cults “sending some sunshine” from the stage are unable to help, although those who stayed for headliners Battles were in no doubt that it was worth the hours and hours of sopping misery.

Josh T Pearson’s aggressively bearded set in the Palais du Grand Large on the beach at St Malo is as miserable and angry as the town outside is sunny and full of fake pirates. Rounding off the weekend, Cats Eyes, swing straight out of a fog of hype and expectation to a surprising amount of approval from the French crowd for their breathy jangling and recumbent crooning. Their reception is nothing compared with that of the equally flung back Fleet Foxes channelling neat Simon and Garfunkel, with a rather red-eyed Robin Pecknold holding court – straight-faced even when a saxophone goes rogue and threatens the break the magic with its undignified screeching.

Lasting impressions of La Route Du Rock are the thoughtful timelessness of the bill, with not a single flash-in-the-pan, filler or a single act that isn’t the reigning daddy (or at least the fresh prince) of an art.

Words by Kate Wellham

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