All night long

Picture 1 Fest-Noz/Fest-Deiz Picture 2 Fest-Noz/Fest-Deiz

The notion of the Bretons as people who love a good time is not just a fancy, and it’s when the night falls that the full force of Breton exuberance comes to the fore. For evidence you need look no further than the fest noz, which translates as ‘night party’. Join in with one of these, something which isn’t hard to do in the summer months, and you’ll be struck by a simple but surprising fact: Brittany has been raving since the Middle Ages!

Rural traditions

The fest noz is a rural tradition of celebration and dancing that, in many accounts, derives from the trampling of the earth to form a solid base for a house or a farm building – this accounts for the foot-stamping intensity of fest noz dances. They generally also followed on from religious ceremonies, pardons, that honoured local saints, but there is nothing particularly religious about the fest noz, other than perhaps the fervour; these were occasions where young people would get together and check each other out, and certain dances were banned by the church for a time as they were deemed too risqué. This was what the youth of Brittany did long before any such thing as a nightclub existed.

Roots revival

For decades now, the revival of the fest noz tradition has been in full force. The best point of comparison is an Irish or Scottish ceilidh, and the traditional music combines a capella singing and hypnotic dance music played on instruments like the bombarde (a wind instrument that’s an ancestor of the oboe), the Celtic harp and Breton bagpipes. However, while retaining many of these ancient trappings, the fest noz has also changed with the times, embracing musical styles like jazz and punk, as well as African percussion instruments. As the cider flows and the festivities carry on into the early hours, the only question you need to ask yourself is, ‘Can I keep up?’