It could have been the copious amount of Staggeringly Good beer, trying to play a £3 budget version of Jenga on the choppy seas or heading to a festival where you have no idea of what to really expect, but there’s something utterly exciting about hopping the English channel on a ferry despite a 9 hour journey. My intended destination from my hometown of Portsmouth, where the ferry departed from was taking place at Saint-Malo and attending the 29th edition of the forever forward-thinking La Route du Rock, which boasted one of the mightiest line-ups of the 2019 festival calendar.
Kicking off the first day (well early evening as the main site opens at 6 pm) after the long, yet fun commute came Australian psychedelic space-pop juggernauts Pond. Spearheaded by Nick Allbrook, the Perth outfit transported La Route du Rock into another star-system with a cosmic voyage that consisted of their beautifully bludgeoning psychedelic-rock and a little coat of glistening glam-esque sounds.
I found very early on that one of the many reasons that La Route du Rock is utterly special is the programming of the line-up that allows for a total of zero stage clashes throughout the festival with the two predominant stages taking place at Fort de Saint-Père being back to back with one another. That being said, straight after Pond came Dublin up and comers Fontaines D.C at just a mere a 180-degree turn and a few yards up. A sonic-boom of frenetic punk with faint touches of krautrock, Fontaines D.C create an urgency of anxiety fuelled by political angst that might be the soundtrack to a younger generation.
The politically-charged storm of impassioned punk in these times of austerity wasn’t over yet as Bristol’s Idles tore through a set that whirled up a sweat-soaked mosh-pit with their riff-riot and an unapologetically scathing tirade of the current political climate of Great Britain.
Sadly I missed Stereolab due to a 50-minute wait for much-needed food but luckily psychedelic cosmic-pop alchemists Tame Impala were there to make up for it. Delving into their most recent album ‘Currents’ along with their arguably much stronger back catalogue from the likes of ‘Lonerism’ such as ‘Apocalypse Dream’ (which always feels like a door into another realm), the outfit who have helped spearhead the modern psychedelic movement were once again, a sensationally stunning celestial odyssey that was nothing short of otherworldly.
Not long after Tame Impala came the experimental outfit Black Midi. The South Londoners ripped into their jarring, maniacal math-rock meets heart-palpitation inducing post-punk. Black Midi were such a sonic force, that the seemingly imperishable Saint-Malo looked like it may fall once and for all.
Day two’s first set was with the exquisite Le Super Homabard at the beach outside the fortified walls of the picture-esque city of Saint-Malo which is a 20-minute bus journey from the main site. Serenading us all on Saint Malo’s luscious golden beach, the quintet was stunning on a warm summers day with their vibrant, kaleidoscopic sixties-psychedelia meets sun-soaked ethereal, dreamy synth-pop in the vein of fellow French native cosmonauts Melody’s Echo Chamber, Biche and Moodoïd.
The lack of shuttle buses from the town back to the main festival site meant that White Fence was sadly missed, but fortunately I made it in time for Netherlands’ psychedelic outfit Altin Gün. It would be utterly redundant and unfair to call Altin Gün a covers band as they pay homage to 70’s Turkish psychedelic legends such as Selda Bağcan and Erkin Koray with a melting-pot of fuzzed-filled gems allowing a modern-era to see where the likes of current psychedelic royalty such as King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard and Goat possibly pull some of their influences from. Overall the Dutch rippers were a tour-de-force and one of the highlights of a festival filled with sensational live performances. You can witness the performance for yourself here.
London’s Crows a couple of hours later though were also pulling no punches and rivalled Altin Gün for one of the standout live performances of the whole weekend. Cacophonous, visceral and absolutely intense, the gloom-laden beastly colossus that is Crows brought a monsoon of searing sinister-sounding post-punk, garage-punk and psychedelia. Like a cauldron mixed cocktail of The Cramps, Joy Division and The Black Angels, Crows were as enthralling live as they have ever been to a monstrous crowd.
Playing a late-night slot of 1 am was Canadian outfit Crack Cloud who were utterly mind-boggling with their frenzied, skittish post-punk orchestra meets art-rock. Totally exhilarating and blistering, Crack Cloud offered an unrivalled furiosity at La Route du Rock.
On the last day of the festival, I was treated to the wonderful sun-soaked, psychedelic space-pop stylings of Laure Briard. Alluring and enchanting, Laure Briard’s gorgeous and bewitching sounds were beyond fitting for chilling out at the beach.
After a bus journey back to the main site, Deerhunter were every bit as great as I had anticipated and then some. Psychedelic-rock, dreampop and shoegaze, Deerhunter are a joyous collective and like Tame Impala, offered our unworthy earthly bodies wonderful celestial soundscapes that could have been pulled from a heavenly realm. From a heady whirlwind racket of feedback to their danceable art-pop, Deerhunter are perfect for the mind and soul.
Fellow labelmates of Idles and Fontaines D.C on the incredible Partisan Records being Pottery were also in contention of one of the finest sets of the weekend. A roller coaster of a band, Pottery flirt between punk, garage-rock and elements of psychedelia, where they finished with what seemed at least, like a super-fun jam giving nods to King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard in their ‘Nonagon Infinity’ era. Check them out live if you get a chance.
‘Let’s run a train on this rain’ said the charismatic crooner Brooks Nielson buoyantly as the torrential assault of the rain turned La Route du Rock into a washout. The sun-baked Californian sounds from one of the finest bands on the planet may not have been fitting with the relentless freezing downpour, but it didn’t even matter. Delving into their more sleazed-out stylings of garage and surf-rock coated in country, Latin rock and everything else in between from their back catalogue such as ‘Chinese Fountain’ to the groove-filled disco delights of ‘City Club’ as well as some of their newest singles such as ‘Natural Affair’, the genre-bending Growlers led by Brooks Nielson’s smoky, scorched raspy vocals brought the sun-baked late nights of the American west-coast to the Brittany fort. Quite frankly if there was any justice in the world, The Growlers would be the biggest band in it.
Overall La Route du Rock was a wonderfully magical festival that offered an incredible line-up, immense programming that allowed for no clashes as well as featuring some of the nicest and genuine music lovers that you are likely to encounter (there are also mostly clean toilets too if that’s your jam) that is well worth your time and money. Just be vigilant of the wasps in the campsite…
Anyway, I’ll probably see you next year, La Route du Rock.