Take a show boat to China

Jon Campbell

Over the past 26 years, TransMusicales has grown from a small showcase of bands from in and around Rennes, a small Brittanique city in northwestern France, to a meeting point for the musical vanguard.

What makes Trans different from other festivals is that the featured bands have yet to break internationally. It's proved to be a springboard for artists such as Bjork and trip-hoppers Portishead.

This weekend, the festival heads for Beijing in the form of Les Trans en Chine as part of the Year of China in France celebrations - although the term 'festival' may not be the best way to describe the event. 'It's called Rencontres TransMusicales,' says organiser Jean-Louis Brossard. 'It's a meeting, not a festival.'

During the past three decades, this meeting has drawn some of the biggest names in music from around the world, and Brossard and the Association des TransMusicales are proud that it's helped many win wider fame. 'Portishead played their first gig at my festival,' Brossard says. 'St Germain and Gotan Project, too.'

The last two, who achieved global success with their electro-jazz and tango-meets-dub-and-beats since playing Trans, are headlining this weekend's event. It will also play host to some of the best acts from France: traditional singing, genre-bending DJs, two days of live music in Chaoyang Park and a late-night DJ lineup at the Tango nightclub.

China has only recently appeared on Brossard's radar. 'The first time I came to Beijing [in the summer of 2003], I discovered Long Kuan,' he says. Four months later, the singer was performing in Rennes, along with Beijing-based electronic act Super-market. Long's debut album came out on the mainland early last year.

Brossard's first trip to China came in the run-up to the Year of France in China. After Long's performance at Trans that December, he had a meeting with the French Cultural Ministry. 'I asked them, 'What are you doing [for the Year of France in China]?' They said 'Jean Michel Jarre, Patricia Kaas'.' Brossard makes a face that suggests he's less than satisfied with that lineup.

He offered to bring a modern element to the programme and 18 months later signed a contract with the Centre for International Cultural Exchange (CICE), an arm of China's Ministry of Culture.

Pierre Alexandre Blanc, of the Beijing branch of the French Music Office (which is responsible for promoting French music abroad and a partner in organising the festival) notes the significance of this event. 'The [Chinese] government has put up money for young people,' he says. '[Vice-Minister of Culture and CICE head] Lu Jun said this is the first time they've done something like this.'

'There's a true scene [in China],' says Brossard. 'There's a true energy here. There are some great bands. There are people who love music. There's a way to do something here for the people who love music.'

Brossard has scheduled two local bands to represent Chinese music, neither of which are strangers to Brossard, or to Rennes: Wang Lei, a rocker-turned-dub-electro artist who has a long history of playing in France, and Iz, a Kazakh folk group that Brossard calls 'one of my favourite bands in the world'.

'In France, lots of people know of [Wang],' says Brossard. 'I think he's the only Chinese guy that people in France know. I think Wang will go worldwide. I'm sure of it.'

Iz will also play at Rennes in December, making it the third-straight year a Chinese band has appeared. But Brossard is quick to dash hopes of an annual Chinese slot at Trans. 'Who knows? I choose the bands I love. There were 20 countries [represented at the festival] last year. The music is important, not the country.'

Les Trans en Chine, Sat-Sun, 3pm-11pm, Chaoyang Park, Beijing, 80 yuan (one day), 120 yuan (both days). Inquiries: (010) 6595 3647; Sat, 11pm-5am, Tango (south gate of Ditan Park), Dongcheng district, 60 yuan. Inquiries: (010) 6428 2288. Tickets available at park gates/club door, or via (800 8101 887 or 8408 5506/07/08)


Chaoyang Park

Saturday: Big Buddha, Bikini Machine, MISSILL, Wang Lei, Digicay, Denez Prigent, DJ Morpheus, Gotan Project

Sunday: Big Buddha, Iz, DJ Morpheus, Danyel Waro, Pat Panic meets Netik, X Makeena, Bobby Hardcore Liberace, St Germain


Saturday: MISSILL, Bobby Hardcore Liberace, Digicay, Pat Panic meets Netik, DJ Morpheus, Big Buddha