As some of you will already know, I'm an indie musician who spent over 25 years in the British music industry. I've been in bands longer than I can remember and I've also been a live music promoter, college lecturer, record label owner and even a book writer. My whole life has been dedicated to the pursuit of great indie music!
When Rachel and I left the UK 3 years ago to set up home together in the South of France it was true to say we were starting over again. What has made this such a joy is that music is an international language, musicians are part of a global community and everyone is welcomed with open arms irrespective of their nationality or where the live. I have been welcomed into France with great generosity and now my new French friends are introducing me to the long history of the French underground music scene and those important artists who lived and worked within it.
But where exactly do you begin when exploring your adopted homeland's rich musical heritage?
I know...invest in some culturally savvy compilations from cool record labels and get a real feel for what you missed out on first time round.
Thanks to NAKED's good friend DJ Piroulis I was recently sent in the direction of the hip French label 'Born Bad' and their excellent 'Des Jeunes Gens Modernes' compilations. Featuring three glorious volumes of the best cult and underground artists - these albums cover an enormous amount of ground in rock, pop, indie and coldwave.
Volume One was first released in 2008 and focuses on the turn of the decade where the 1970's became the 1980's and anything seemed possible in the aftermath of the punk explosion. This was my starting point to the world of 'Des Jeunes Gens Modernes' and I have enjoyed it immensely.
Synth pop is particularly well covered here with artists such as Artefact and Guerre Froide perhaps taking their influence from Kraftwerk and DIY acts like The Normal.
Indie is also well covered with Marquis De Sade and Mecanique Rythmique being two early highlights. What is interesting is that both bands would have sounded great on DFA Records if they had been born just a couple of decades later. Etienne Daho was one of the only names I did know prior to listening to this compilation and his 'Il Ne Dira Pas' is a paired back punkfunk classic. Lizzy Mercier Descloux is another revelation here and somehow manages to channel both Debbie Harry and Nico at the same time whilst Henriette Coulouvrat is cult UK band Go-Kart Mozart albeit thirty years too soon! Procede and Seconde Chambre are a dark revelation (a winning blend of The Chameleons and Killing Joke) whilst Taxi Girl and Marie Et Les Garcons sound as contemporary as any new chart act today.
Whilst the second part of this compilation doesn't quite reach the heady heights of its counterpart, the likes of Metal Boys, Visible and Mkb Fraction Provisoire keep the futurist flag flying with stark coldwave classics. The compilation's final track is a real find as Casino Music's 'Burger King' is another great punkfunk tune that harnesses everything that was great about the spirit of experimentation key to the underground music of this era.
'Des Jeunes Gens Modernes' is an album for those looking to discover a rich seam of brilliant lost moments that were largely lost in time. Once I've negotiated a little 'down time' of my own following NAKED's next release I can't wait to get my ears around Volume's two and three! Bravo!
Stepping back a little further in time to explore the late sixties/early seventies underground psych rock movement Born Bad have re-issued the rather brilliant WIZZZ! compilations. So far I have spent a little time in the company of 4 fantastic freakbeat collections and my eyes and ears have been opened to some totally crazy counter-cultural moments.
Whilst many of the artists featured on Wizzz! went on to forge respectable careers (Serge Franklin, Charlotte Leslie and Danyel Gerard being just three of the more-well established acts on display here) it is interesting to hear the likes of Jesus and Messieurs Richard De Bordeaux & Daniel Beretta who all disappeared without trace. Or maybe they didn't. I'd be happy to hear from anyone who has back stories of 'what happened next' details on any of the great artists featured on 'Wizzz!'. Like I have said before, there's a long way to go on this musical trail.
What's even greater about the 'Wizzz!' compilations is that they also feature a number of novelty pop songs which, to a Brit like me, sound particularly bizarre when viewed outside of the context of the times they were released in. Child star Isabel squawks through a deranged 'Amstramgram' whilst L'œil's 'Bernadette' is somewhere wayyyyy out there. Not to mention Alain Ricar's horny classical mash-up 'I Like Sex' which is beyond words in the kitsch stakes.
Whatever your tastes, there's a lot to love on these fantastic 'Wizzz!' compilations and I've discovered some fantastic tunes by artists such as Guy Skornik and Les Papyvores whilst the pop chanteuse Christie Laume's amazing 'Rouge-Rouge' has already been ear-marked for my future DJ engagements. Love it!
A special mention goes out to Brigitte Fontaine, another artist whom I am just starting to realise is of great importance to the French counter-culture. Much like Bjork some twenty years later, Brigitte forged her own path and occupies a special place in French music.
So it looks as if I'm going to be very busy over the coming months as I attempt to suck up as much left-of-centre music as I can. What else do you think I should be listening to? What unloved classics can you share with me? If you have any advice on French artists old or new (I'm well aware that my education needs to include modern music too!) please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Who knows? Maybe one of your recommendations might lead us to the next NAKED Record Club release. Vive le France!!
Right, I'm off to give the 'Wizzz 3' compilation another listen. Bernard Chabert's 'Helga Selzer' is calling...