Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Dick Dale - The French Connection

Sad to hear of the death of Dick Dale the other day. He was one of the original guitar legends, a player whose work established the guitar as the go-to instrument for rock 'n' roll and anticipated decades of guitar heros efrom then on.

Dale might be remembered as the King of Surf Guitar, but his unique style anticpiated both punk rock and the guitar heroes of the decades that followed.

For a guy present at the birth of rock 'n' roll, he deserved the critical acclaim bestowed on him later in his career. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to see one of the original pioneers live, with a tour of the UK following his Calling up Spirits album.  And it wasn't just a nostalgia act he put on, but a show with all the vigour and edge you could hope for.

Few musicians could be listed as influences on both Frank Zappa and the Cramps. Generations of garage bands have cut their teeth on Dale's tunes, in France as much as elsewhere. His guitar stylings still ringing out in contemporary French bands like La Femme.


Dale's Misirlou is maybe best known for its place in the soundtrack for Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, but it also played a significant part in the film Taxi.

The opening scene of the movie takes a cover version of Dale's signature track and uses it to soundtrack a pizza delivery scooter in Marseilles. It's like an absurd action movie chase sequence, with all the cinematic panache of a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster but with a very French comedic flavour. Like Claude Lelouch's C'était un rendez-vous remade under the influence of a Dominos pizza.

Taxi, released in 1998, came after Tarantino exposed Dale's version of the tune to an international audience. Pretty much everone seeing Taxi would be familiar with it, its presence working as a knowing nod to cutting edge American cinema (with a retro-hip soundtrack) but with the visuals placing it in a very everyday French context, albeit one that is filmed with all the conventions and technical know-how of a glossy production.

Taxi was a massive film in France and internationally, inspiring a long-running franchise and an American remake. But the opening scene established the film to its audience and Dick Dale's music helped make much of this impact.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Editorial: March 2019

OK, admit it, you'd given us up for dead. One solitary post so far this year doesn't look like we've been up to much. Far from it of course, I've been posting up a storm on the French Music Podcast UK Facebook page these last few months, just been giving the longer form blogs an extended break.

But we're back and fully equipped to continue our mission to bring the best in French music to the Anglophone audience. To be honest, I've missed the opportunity to write pieces about some interesting acts rather than just posting video links. Reviews, French music news and the opportunity to listen to some great tunes is what this blog is all about and it's time to get under way.

March 16 does have some added significance round these parts, of course, as it marks the anniversary of when the blog began, back in 2010 with a short piece about the death of Jean Ferat.

A lot of things have changed since then, I've written more obituaries for sure, but the enthusiasm for French music remains undeminished. This year's already seen some strong releases so far, and more to come.

Yes, we've been around for a while, and we'll be around for a while yet. So it's as good a day as any to get the ball rolling again.

Meanwhile, on the French Music Podcast UK Facebook page you'll find French music videos on your timeline several times a day Mon-Fri. Give it a like.

I can be contacted as ever on johnDOTkilbrideAThotmailDOTcom, so promoters, media representatives and labels are always welcome to contact me with recommendations and suggestions about what I should be listening to and putting on a platform here.

I'll do what I can to cover it!

 merci et à bientôt


Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Editorial: Feb 2019

Been quiet here for the last month, but we’re not dead and gone, far from it in fact. Consider it just an extended festive holiday. 

In the world outside the internet I’ve been settling in to new full time employment and as a consequence had less time to throw at the VLR blog, but with a new routine sorted out things should now be back to normal.

There have been a few significant releases over the past few weeks, including a new album from -M- and one from Lou Doillon as well as a particularly fine new collection Persona from Bertrand Belin.

I’ll have some words about these before too long.

February seem more on the horizon, with releases from Yann Tiersen and Voyou. Also looking forward to the album from Le Superhomard.

Details of some of France’s big summer music festivals have been unveiled, I’ll have a look at a few of these over the forthcoming weeks.

Elsewhere, the Victoires de la Musique awards take place later this week. Obviously big award ceremonies are always open to criticism, but the event does give a massive showcase to French acts in front of a huge audience. I always enjoy it, perhaps it’s just seeing some French acts appearing in the kind of big budget spectacle that is normally only reserved for TV reality show winners these days.

Meanwhile, I've been keeping very busy on the French Music Podcast UK Faecbook page, where you'll find French music recommendations on your timeline several times a day Mon-Fri. Give it a like.

I can be contacted as ever on johnDOTkilbrideAThotmailDOTcom, so promoters, press people and labels are always welcome to contact me with recommendations. I'll do what I can to cover it!

merci et à bientôt


Saturday, 22 December 2018

Damien Saez: #humanite & à Dieu

The dust has barely settled on the release of Damien Saez's remarkable #humanité album, than a new track emerges ahead of next year's à Dieu collection.

I couldn't help but notice that the day after  #humanité was released, France was consumed by widespread social unrest under the banner of the Gilets Jaunes movement. Coincidence?

Well, perhaps not. While Saez was hardly behind what went on, and people didn't really take to the streets inspired by his words, it is true that Saez taps into the unrest and unease of contemporary society. He articulates a malaise that affects many, but which too may refuse to acknowledge even exists.

It has many facets and names; inequality, exclusion, materialism, consumerism, elitism, along with old fashioned ailments like racism, poverty and unemployment. There is no one overall name for the problem, but it has a wide range of symptoms, and as is always the case, it is those who have the least who are suffering the most.

Saez is aware of the times and the undercurrent of tension that the situation has created. But he's no simple protest singer, there are no slogans or easy solutions in his work - although many of his lyrics would make a decent banner at a demonstration. Instead he looks a wider picture, through a poetic lens, at the catacysm that ranges in scale from international economics of inequality to the personal crisis of précarité.

His Le Manifeste: Lulu album from 2017 articulates his agenda: "Des mots d'amour contre un empire."

As well as pointing the finger at the guilty, he questions our own involvement. Are we passively collaborating with those involved, or through wilful ignorance contributing to our own situation? There are no easy answers, and Saez to his credit makes no attempt to parcel it all up and give us a fake Hollywood happy ending.

The anger that fuelled the Gilets Jaunes is the same anger that informs much of Saez's work.

I've long considered Saez one of the most important French musical artists at work today, and his recent work builds has only confirmed that to these ears.

Next year sees a new album entitled à Dieu, but while some fans drew a conclusion that this suggested the end of his career, tour dates across France at the end of 2019 - including a show at Bercy on December 3 - suggests this is far from the case.

Faced with times like these we need artists like Saez more than ever.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Video: Justice - Heavy Metal

Taking its inspiration from the world of American marching bands, the new video by Justice for their track Heavy Metal is a change from the ultra-violence of their last release Love SOS.

Heavy Metal originally featured on their 2016 Woman album, and a version appeared on this year's Woman Worldwide album that came out in August this year.

Interesting to see the band in an all-American context, as they're the only French representatives this year at the Grammy awards in February. They're in the 'best dance/electronic album' category, alongside Jon Hopkins, Sofi Tucker, SOPHIE and TOKiMONSTA.

I've always thought of Justice as being a rock band, albeit one that operates using a different medium. While their main appeal might be to fans of electronic music, those into more established sounds can find plenty to love in what Justice do. I can imagine Metallica fans getting into Justice, and not just on account of this song title.

France has always been good at producing acts that ignore the established musical genre conventions and create something new instead.

Hopefully Justice will be served at the Grammys, they certainly deserve the recognition. They've continued to create music that's cutting edge but instantly accessible, new but informed by the work of earlier artists.

Justice for all? Without a doubt.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Bars en Trans 2018: Some highlights

Rennes is a hive of activity for French music this weekend, with the Transmusicales festival showcasing some of the finest emerging acts from France and elsewhwhere.

Acts like Jeanne Added. Moodoid, Grand Blanc and Benjamin Clementine are among those who have emerged to mainstream recognition from appearances at the event.

But the city also hosts a more grass-roots event, the Bars en Trans festival that sees dozens of acts playing at bars, clubs and other small venues across the city.

Some of the acts are local, from Rennes and elsewhere in Brittany, others from further afield in France and beyond.

In terms of genre, there's the widest possible cross section, with intreging listings like techno-indus/Rennes and chanson brute primative/Metz rubbing shoulders with rap/Paris, rock/Lille and electro/Saint-Etienne.

There are more acts playing than it's physically possible to get to over a few days, but here are a few of them. I'll feature a few more in the next couple of days.

Camp Claude are fine ambassadors of new French pop. They're bright, sharp and smarter than they might first appear. Hugely enjoyable and they deserve to be the official soundtrack for the French summer.

Taxi Kebab present an intoxicating proposition with their psych-flavoured melange of electronics and guitar, a flavour of heavy north African drones and diorientating sonics. If the Master Musicians of Joujouka grew up listening to Aphex Twin it might sound something like this.

Sweet pop vocals and a backdrop of dark trip hop electronics from UTO, a classy duo from Ivry-sur-Seine.

Agapé produces a sharp and smart electronic informed R & B, flavoured with tropical urban beats and chilled vocals.

Mauvais Œil are recent signings to Disque Enterprise, home of Bagarre, Grand Blanc and Moodoid, all acts that gained a lot of attention from festival performances in Rennes. There's something of a gothic indie rock spirit here, with an arabic psyche flavour. Very impressive.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Johnny Hallyday: One year on

We're exactly one year on since the death Johnny Hallyday, unquestionably the biggest figure in French music since the early 60s. 

He's often described to those unfamiliar with French music as 'The French Elvis' - unquestionably true - but that really only goes part of the way.

While, yes, he was the guy who invented rock 'n' roll (for the French audience anyway) he went on to effectively be the French Beatles, the French Stones, the French Rod Stewart and the French Bruce Springsteen. As Elvis was superceded by subsequent generations of performers, no one quite challenged Johnny the same way and he remained standing despite changing musical fashions.

It's quite incredible to look back on the footage from his Rester Vivant tour - his final solo tour - where he would come on stage by walking through a giant skull, which remained above the stage throughout the show. It's either staggeringly inappropriate or Johnny having a laugh at his own mortality. Quite probably both.

The live album documenting the tour would be the last album he worked on in his lifetime.

The Johnny Hallyday industry has continued in the past year, and he's remained firmly in the eye of the presse people. Johnny gave the French tabloids plenty to work with over the decades from teenage riots to relationship speculation, to often-ill informed rumours about his health in later years.

That's not stopped now, with tales of how his will has apparently driven family members apart. Maybe some of it is true, maybe none of it.

Tributes have been paid by friends and family, in word and in song, and while many have been genuine, others have been accused of attempting to cash in on Johnny's legacy.

Those arguments extended to his final album, which became more of a national French cultural event than any normal record release.

With one year passing, Johnny remains a part of the French landscape and has been somewhat rehabilitated. His status as national treasure is assured, no longer just the idol of elderly uncles and grans but one of the many cultural things that makes France distinct. The electric performances remembered, the hits celebrated. The sub-par material quietly forgotten.

There may be other recordings to emerge, there will be other tribute albums and artists will continues to perform his songs. There may be a stage show, a street named after him or a museum collecting his artefacts.

And the cast of characters will continue to amuse the tabloid press, with little regard for the actual feelings of those who lost a friend, father or partner.

There will be no more tours, no more genuinely new albums, and for his fans life won't be the same.

But while Johnny may have left the building, his presence will certainly remain in France for many years to come.