The group Aline on stage at the Ubu.
The city at night during the Fête de la Musique.
Jean-Louis Brossard and Béatrice Macé, who’ve been running the Trans Musicales since 1979.
Native son Étienne Daho, an iconic figure on the Rennes music scene.
Jean-Sylvain Le Gouic, member of the former local electro duo Juveniles.
The contemporary art center La Criée, housed in the former fish market hall.
Collages by punk artist Patrice Poch depicting Marquis de Sade, a 1980s cult group; the drummer poses here with his son.
Bass drums of the traditional Breton bagad Cesson Sévigné, during No Land, a performance created by Olivier Mellano.
Wine merchant and music fan Olivier Cochard.
Le Mondo Bizarro hosts metal and punk performers, among others.
Bart Van Peel, artistic director of the Captain Boomer Collective, which performedat the 2016 Tombées de la Nuit festival.
Sur la promenade suspendue du Corso Italia, qui se termine au petit port de pêche de Boccadasse.
View from the Corso Italia, a raised promenade that ends at the little fishing port of Boccadasse.
Composer Olivier Mellano andsinger Brendan Perry, who collaborated on No Land, performed at Les Tombées de la Nuit, 2016.
The owner of It’s Only, one of the city’s best record shops.
Singer Sonic Dominic on the hotel terrace.
front and center
After the season kicks off in September, Brittany’s capital is all riffs and syncopated chords, with non-stop concerts year round and highlights like the Trans Musicales festival. A tour through a rock-inspired city, with photographer Richard Dumas.
On Monday evening, the people of Rennes sleep, recovering from the weekly swing through the city’s countless bars and wild nights. On Thursday, it’s electro at the 1988 Live Club popular with a younger crowd dancing with their backpacks; or metal or garage at the Mondo Bizarro, the bar where old-school rockers keep alive the spirit of Marquis de Sade, the mythical late 1970s Rennes band. With its 66,000 students for a population of 210,000, you’re over the hill by the age of 40 in Rennes. But leather lives on, as does the memory of the hot-headed days when fans of Marquis de Sade’s dark rock heckled devotees of the other local star, pop singer- songwriter Étienne Daho. Saturdays are techno or hip-hop at the Ubu, a mythical theater where Daft Punk performed in 1995, unmasked.
On Sunday, it’s ghost night in front of the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Since March, as soon as the sky turns dark, the magician Étienne Saglio has been pulling out of his box of tricks a luminous creature that floats like a celestial soul above an awestruck audience. There’s always something for night owls in Rennes on other evenings: a concert at the Bar’Hic or the Jardin Moderne, dance at the Triangle, theater at the TNB or opera on Place de la Mairie, unless the event is taking place at the Parlement de Bretagne. Last July, on the steps of the building, the composer Olivier Mellano combined the cosmic vocals of Brendan Perry, singer for Dead Can Dance, with bagpipes and electric guitar: a mix of Breton bagad band Cesson Sévigné and cold noise, in a reinterpretation of Celtic musical tradition to create anti-border hymns.
A festive mindset
By day, Rennes looks like any other provincial city. In the Saint-Michel district, the half-timbered houses are packed side by side. Deluxe strollers with removable seats and ergonomic frames abound in the impeccably landscaped Parc du Thabor gardens. The ordered alignment of tuffeau stone facades on Place du Parlement does not presage any hint of excess. At first glimpse, there’s not a line out of place; but don’t be fooled by the deceptively sleepy ambianceRennes rocks. The first people to seriously get down to business were Hervé Bordier, Jean-Louis Brossard and Béatrice Macé, co-founders in 1979 of Les Trans Musicales, a rock festival famed for its radical programming. No stars, except the up-and-coming kind. Musicians in their pre-fame days, like Daft Punk, Nirvana, Portishead, Lenny Kravitz, Björk and more recently Stromae first performed in France here.
Thirty-seven years ago, 20 concerts, at most, were organized every year in Rennes, and Les Trans Musicales was the city’s only festival. Today, Brittany’s capital is hotter than a pressure cooker, with a nearly saturated schedule of events: jam-packed festivals include Maintenant (a combo of digital arts and electronic music), Mythos (the “art of the spoken word”), Stunfest (video games), Yaouank (contemporary Breton music) and Jazz à l’Ouest. The season, synched to the university calendar, kicks off in September and runs through May, with a second wind in July when Les Tombées de la Nuit takes center stage. This festival, as historic as Les Trans Musicales, showcases events, installations and performances using the city as a backdrop.
Unshockable and unstoppable
Last July 1, a 17-meter-long sperm whale washed up on the banks of the Vilaine, smack in the center of Rennes. A security perimeter was set up. Teams of scientists were called in. Ouest-France dispatched its sleuths. Claude Guinard, director of Les Tombées, watched it all unfold, gleefully. The whale, which looked like the real thing, was a resin model created by the Captain Boomer Collective, based in Antwerp. This beaching marked the start of a festival known for its theatrics. In 2012, a shelter was set up 32 meters above ground, on the roof of the Chambre des Métiers. Every day, a local resident showed up at sunrise and sunset to watch over the city for an hour and a half. Exactly 729 people took turns for one year, a testament to the local fervor.
Last February, a watchtower was built in front of the La Criée contemporary art center. Artist Abraham Poincheval spent seven days atop a platform measuring 1 by 2 meters, discussing with passersby from his perch. The people of Rennes tend to be easygoing and don’t get thrown off by artists on the edge pushing boundaries. Nor do they much mind that their art center abuts the city’s largest market, Place des Lices, radiating a pungent smell of fish.
Nothing seems to faze them. They show up wearing leek and carrot costumes at the cryptic exhibitions put on by Sophie Kaplan, current director of La Criée. They fill the parliament to discover the latest whimsical designs by the Bouroullec brothers. They attend an electro concert in the wedding room of the town hall and applaud the Orchestre de Bretagne interpreting the folk repertoire of the group Santa Cruz. They commend the diocese when it commissions a mural from a collective of street artists and approve of the moss graffiti on the medieval towers. They pay no attention to hierarchies or a caste mindset, as their local institutions roam freely in uncharted territory.
Soundtrack of daily life
The Rennais are spoiled: they see nothing unusual in the fact that most of the concerts and events are free, or that the city spends 14 percent of its budget on cultural activities. They love free-style, and adopted tattoo artist Miss Atomik for the Rennes soccer team, to promote tourism in the city. They are free-spirited, strumming their Fenders with friends, surprised that a local electro-pop group like Juveniles signed with Universal and went on a triumphant tour in Asia. They tend to be purists; when discussing music, they’re more learned and persnickety than a Sanskrit scholar. Jean-Pierre Marotti, owner of the Pizzeria Trinacria, tosses his calzone and capricciosa to the sounds of the deep house produced by his label, Rutilance Recordings. Baker Bernard Cozic, who makes mind-bending millefeuilles, can’t stop talking about the new garage clip by his kids. Wine merchant Olivier Cochard promotes his natural wines over the tunes of Dominic Sonic, the man who can make his ’68 Firstman Broadway guitar roar like the engine of an Opel GT. When not driving his taxi, Franky plays drums for the rockabilly group Hudson Maker. Street artist Patrice Poch, a keen archivist of the 1980s French punk scene, has scattered the wacky silhouettes of the WARTs and the Trotskids across the walls of the city.
In Rennes, everyone’s into music, even the parakeets and rock doves in the Parc du Thabor aviary. They’re a strange bunch, the people of Rennes: when they visit the cloisters of the Hôtel Dieu, it’s to drop off damaged musical instruments that artist Mathieu Desailly transforms into sculptures of spiders and beetles. When they head to Place Hoche, it’s to celebrate under the 10,000 bulbs that shine even when it rains. They’re lucky; storm warnings over the city are taken as good news. The more things rock and roll, the heartier they feel.
In 1979, there were 20 concerts a year, at most. Today, the city is hotter than a pressure cooker.
Balthazar Hôtel & Spa
Silence is the ultimate luxury in a hotel. The peace and quiet in the rooms of the five-star Balthazar are purely divine. The discreet contemporary decor and clean white walls add to the sense of calm. The ambience is livelier in the lounge/bar/library, but only justyou’ll feel nearly at home as you sit and read or enjoy a drink in the pretty patio. The luckiest guests can stay put in suite 504, with its spectacular terrace overlooking the rooftops of Rennes. The Nuxe Spa, with a pool and jacuzzi, offers sensorial surprises“tropical” or “Atlantic” showers, complete with calming sound and light. You could easily while away a week here with the mist and seagulls. Fortunately, the impeccable Sunday brunch, served on the terrace or inside, will draw you outside.
BALTHAZAR HÔTEL & SPA. MGALLERY
19, rue du Maréchal- Joffre.
Tél. +33 (0)2 99 32 32 32.
BALTHAZAR HÔTEL & SPA. MGALLERY
19, rue du Maréchal- Joffre.
Tél. +33 (0)2 99 32 32 32.
Daily market specials and natural wines: Christophe Gauchet, who trained as a sommelier, remains true to his culinary creed, with an amazing semi-cooked mackerel and spicy octopus purée.
17, rue Paul-Bert.
Tél. +33 (0)2 99 38 11 10.
Béatrice Macé, co-founder of the Trans Musicales festival, runs this micro-restaurant with Formica tables. The bun bo with smoked tofu and the white chocolate- matcha-walnut brownie explain the crowds at lunch. Closed evenings.
1, place de la Rotonde.
Tél. +33 (0)2 57 21 29 07.
A “meat bar,” where the owner, a butcher and son of a butcher, knows how to soften up meat—and customers in the process. “Monsieur Georges,” a chuck steak, weighs in at 200 g of pure pleasure.
3, place du Parlement.
Tél. +33 (0)2 23 62 74 98.
Le Magic Hall
This new hotel was created by Guillaume Goumy, drummer for Marcellus’ Bastards, and features music-themed rooms and a rehearsal studio for guests.
17, rue de la Quintaine.
Tél. +33 (0)2 99 66 21 83.
With “thanks mom” on her right arm and a rose on her left hand, tattoo artist Virginie Javoise, aka Miss Atomik, creates her works in a former bakery transformed into a 1950s salon. People come from afar to get inked here.
192, rue de Nantes.
Tél. +33 (0)9 51 59 29 43.
Blindspot – Les Angles Morts
Opened in 2008, Pierre and Fred’s shop only sells vinyls, be they collector’s items or reissues, like those by the label Wah Wah. A place to listen to jazz or rap, while lounging on the large sofa.
36, rue Poullain-Duparc.
Tél. +33 (0)2 99 78 51 90.
Histoires de vins
Olivier Cochard specializes in natural wines by small producers. He offers tastes of an Ardèche vintage or a Beaujolais (in moderation) to the strains of Vic Chesnutt or Niagara, through his excellent Devialet speaker.
47, rue Vasselot. Tél. +33 (0)2 99 79 18 19.
AIR FRANCE has three fights a day to Rennes from Paris-CDG.
KLM has one daily fight to Rennes from Amsterdam.
Aéroport de Rennes Saint-Jacques.
À 8 km.
Tél. +33 (0)2 99 29 60 00.
AIR FRANCE KLM offices
— Depuis la France : 3654.
— Depuis l’étranger :
Tél. +33 (0)892 70 26 54.
Hertz, à l'aéroport.
Tél. +33 (0)2 99 29 60 25.
Rennes Gallimard, coll. Cartoville.
Bretagne nord–Rennes, Brest, Saint-Malo Gallimard, coll. GEOGuides.
Rennes groups worth checking out …
Her, Dominic Sonic, Bikini Machine, Leska, Columbine, Empereur Renard.
© Parko Polo / Central Illustration Agency. Carte illustrative, non contractuelle Map for illustration purposes only