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.

Festival: Garorock 2019

As details of next summer's music festivals in France start to emerge, the first acts to perform at next summer's Garorock event have been confirmed.

Christine and the Queens, one of the biggest French acts around, are on the bill alongside Macklemore and German electronic producer Paul Kalkbrenner.

Elsewhere, Belgian rapper Roméo Elvis, who has become a significant voice in Francophone hip hop, takes to the stage.

Therapie Taxi, Columbine and Bagarre are among the other acts performing. It's a very strong French presence in the bill, which also includes international acts including Sum 41

It still amazes me that Bagarre are not one of the biggest acts in France right now, but some festival performances in front of the massive crowds they deserve should go some way to putting that right.

Garorock takes place on June 27-30 and details of the rest of the acts who will play the four day event will be made public on December 18.

It's the 23rd edition of Garorock, which last year included performances by Indochine, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Orelsan. Over the years it has progressed from its punk rock roots to feature headline acts included Muse, David Guetta, Justice and Iggy and the Stooges.

It's always had a strong focus on French acts, and it's noticeable how many of those on the bill have played Garorock before, albeit far lower on the listings. Events like this giving a stage to French acts helps them reach an appreciative French audience, it's as simple as that.

Tickets for this year's Garorock go on sale on December 5 at 10am.


Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Halo Maud: Dépression Au-dessus Du Jardin

Like pretty much any fan of French music, I'm a huge fan of Serge Gainsbourg and always enjoy a decent cover version of his songs.

Dépression Au-dessus Du Jardin was written by Gainsbourg for Catherine Deneuve for her 1991 album Souviens-Toi De M'Oublier. Like many of Gainsbourg's works it takes its inspiration from classical sources.

This album was one of several that Gainsbourg created for female artists during the later years of his career, including Isabelle Adjani, Bambou and Vanessa Paradis as well as Jane Birkin.

Birkin herself covered the song on her 1996 Versions Jane album, a collection of Gainsbourg songs that he had been originally performed himself or by other artists. A very different version also featured on her Arabesque live album.

I remember hearing that Birkin regarded it as one of her favourite of Gainsbourg's works.

Gainsbourg never released a studio recording of his own version of the song, but a live version was included on his 1986 live album Gainsbourg live, recorded at the Casino de Paris.

The version by Halo Maud, who says: "I can't remember when exactly I recorded this cover of Serge Gainsbourg, in my room, singing along with Eddy Crampes whose correctness of interpretation (I mean in every songs he's singing on) amazes me. "

Halo Maude released her ebut album Je Suis Une Île in May, one of teh many fine albums released this year.

She has a couple of forthcoming shows in Brazil, before returning to France where she plays dates with Forever Pavot, Terrenoire and Barbara Carlotti.

Editorial: December 2018

Another busy month over, and the holiday season well and truly upon us. Time to celebrate.

Last month saw an incredible number of new releases, and I'll spend some time over the next couple of weeks reviewing a few of them. This has been an absolute vintage year for French music.

I'll also feature a few of my favourites of 2018, albums and videos, to give a flavour of some of the music that has been inspiring this blog over the last 12 months.

Of course, no shortage of events and releases over the next few weeks, kicking off with the Transmusicales festival in Rennes, with the associated Bars en Trans featuring some very interesting developing acts as well.

I'll feature as many of these as I can over the next few days.

If things have seemed a little quiet here over the last few months, it's worth getting over to Facebook where you should Like or Follow the French Music Podcast UK page, where I'm posting links to French music videos - new and old - several times a day.

Previously I might have put a short post on the blog here if I had an interesting video, but recently I've taken to presenting them on the Facebook page instead.

The blog here seems a more appropriate place for longer pieces like reviews or features. The sort of thing that I've been putting up over the past few weeks.

I'll keep the short video pieces for the Facebook page.  If you're wondering about it, we've managed three or four posts every weekday for the last while, so loads of content going on there. Give it a like, it is at French Music Podcast UK

I'm available by email at johnkilbrideAThotmailDOTcom, with a couple of obvious changes in the email address that I'm sure you can guess.

If you're a PR for a French act, label or event, just drop me an email. I look forward to hearing from you. I'm always pleased to get feedback, suggestions and inspiration.

The blog is also on Twitter as @viveleroq, so give us a follow or contact us via there. I'm also on Twitter as @karnag, and usually respond a bit quicker on that address especially when I'm out the office.

Thanks as always to the team at Oui Love Music - soon to be What the France - for all their work introducing French acts to the international audience. John K