By Simon Parker - NAKED Record Club Founder
It was a fantastic feeling to announce that the 6th release from NAKED Record Club will be the fantastic 'Ballroom' by my fave French band 'Tahiti 80'.
Many of you will know that despite its British roots NAKED Record Club is proudly based in the beautiful South of France. Over the last year or two I have spent a lot of time in the company of new friends, struggling to learn how to speak French but safe in the knowledge that music truly is a universal language. With NAKED's release of Tahiti 80's 'Ballroom' my schooling in the foundations of French music is now properly in motion, but when Xavier Boyer and I planned this release I was reminded of a time at the end of the 1990's when French bands played a significant part in my very British life.
Way back in 1999, I was amongst those inquisitive UK music fans who bought Tahiti 80's debut album 'Puzzle'. In fact, I even think I saw the band play an instore at Virgin Records in Brighton although this still needs to be substantiated because I saw a LOT of live shows during that era! But I love to think that there is real symmetry between the exploits of my former musical career and the future path of NAKED.
Looking back it's strange because the much-lauded Britpop movement didn't just involve English artists. French bands were also very visible (and audible!) perhaps none more so than Air who had just released the game-changing 'Moon Safari'.
Although that record has many defining qualities, back in 1997 you couldn't help but notice it fed nicely into the way British people already viewed French music (you know, slightly kooky synth pop a la '70's cult band Space or sophisticated lounge noir like that of Gallic big hitter Serge Gainsbourg whose best works such as 'Histoire de Melody Nelson' were already critically respected by culturally savvy Brits).
But if you dug a little deeper there was something new and exciting happening in cross channel indie pop music at the end of the nineties and Tahiti 80 were a big part of this new sound. The band chose to sing in English and namechecked US and UK bands as their main influences, but their music couldn't help but sound pan European and reflected a more exotic, effortlessly cool and très chic (OK, my French has a long way to go!) lifestyle that existed just a few miles across the channel.
At the end of the nineties other French artists were also becoming more visible in the UK. Kid Loco's 'A Grand Adventure' was a slow-burner from 1997 which blended a stylish mix of beats and melody. Of course, Laetitia Sadier had been singing in her native French tongue since the earliest beginnings of Stereolab, but the band were at their commercial zenith during this period and helped attune our ear to songs being sung in a different language. This was not something that us Brits were accustomed to.
Looking through my record collection I can see that Fugu were another band making waves in the UK around this time. Their densely layered and slightly off-kilter psych pop album 'Fugu1' became another highlight of a period of Gallic enlightenment. Those looking for something slightly different should investigate Mehdi Zannad's musical career under the guise of Fugu.
And as if that wasn't enough evidence of a French mini-invasion who could fail to notice that the iconic image of Jacques DuTronc staring out from the cover of his first album (first released in1966) was being copiously stolen by indie club nights up and down the country in the mid-nineties. Yep, guilty as charged. I was one of many who purloined it for my own band Fruit Machine when we DJ'd our own 'Easy Listening' club night 'Lunar Lounge' throughout 1998. Aaah yes, 'easy listening'. Thanks to Chris Evans and his 'T.F.I Friday' TV show cronies, 'Easy' became momentarily hip and a raft of hastily-put together compilations cashed in on this fact with many featuring tracks by French artists performing original chanson classics.
But retro re-toolings aside, the future of French indie was very much upon us in 1998/99 and soon we would witness the rise of Versailles-based Phoenix, whose ace early-doors single 'Too Young' became a UK radio hit.
Since this time Phoenix have gone from strength to strength and now stand as one of France's premier indie bands alongside our very own Tahiti 80 who are just about to start work on their 10th studio album following the success of 2022's excellent 'Here With You'.
Of course, I am only at the start of my education into French music and still busy absorbing the importance of culturally significant artists such as Brigitte Fontaine, Ange and Yan Tiersen. There's the cold wave movement of the eighties and nineties to discover alongside important underground labels such as 'Born Bad' and 'Skydog'. Right now I'm exploring the excellent 'Des Jeunes Gens Modernes' compilations and realising I've a long way to go on this new musical adventure.
So who do you think I should be listening to?
Au revoir pour l'instant mes amis