Thursday, 5 November 2009

French Punk: Bérurier Noirs

The thing is: Les Bérurier Noirs quickly gained a huge popularity with high-school students, those ones who wears long ugly dresses, have dreadlocks, who believe that anarchy means "smoking joints" and see Jim Morrison as the Greatest R'n'R Icon Of All The Time.

Anyway, Les Bérurier Noirs were much more than that. They gave to the far left wing a clear demonstration of autonomy (setting up concerts, labels, fanzine, giving to all the scene the aim to start) and an immortal chorus for anti-National Front demonstration: "La jeunesse emmerde le Front National" ("Youngster fuck The National Front", which is still much better than "If the kids are united...").

So for an overview, Les Béruriers Noirs were a dark-and-nihilist-Rudimentary Peny-lyrics-on-Cabaret Voltaire-sound, turned after a while into a Crass-meet-Crisis-meet-huge-success band.

The beginning of Les Bérurier Noirs is reaaaaalllllllly good. An absolutely amazing scary band sounding and looking like a homemade small guerrilla-unit band. A beat box called Dédé, some dry and minimalist riff and screaming of incredibly scary and aggressive lyrics: anti-psychiatrics ("I got a hole in my head/ thanks Mum, Dad! /Lobotomy, lobotomy"), sick and sordid tabloid tales, i/u/nsane manifestos haunted by death, nuclear war and fascist regimes.

Started as a duo (voice/guitars/beatbox), they quickly accepted anybody from saxophonists (Masto, ex-Lucrate Milk) to dancers, singers (something like 5 people to do a hooligan choir -including Helno, future Negresses Vertes), and a graphic designer. All that with the purpose to create a small force theatre (Ok, my translation sucks, do yours by yourself: "Petit theatre de force"), kind of street theatre (puppets, mask, dance, clowns and other hippy bullshit -you know, the stuff with iron balls and fire) mixed with class-war/anarchist politics vocabulary (they actually did a flyer calling the thievery of Dédé a “terrorist attack”) and punk rock gigs.

Of course it was something of an innocent quite post-modern carnival, but also revealed some of the ambitions of Bérurier Noir: Creating a cultural anarchist society through squat and punk culture. Something not far from Crass. So from the great ideological aim of autonomy and DIY, BxN start to deal with the myth of the "raïa" (something in between the extended band of mates and the punk community). Another French expression about those generations of punks (up to 1987, even after) is "punk à chien"; kind of pre-Grebo sub culture, made of dogs, bad beer, dodgy squats and lost kids on glue. Something not really glamorous. But honest. Bérurier Noir became the voice of this punk generation, against war, nuclear, far right, psychiatrics and, you know, all the stuff the punks fight against when they're not drunks.

And they started to sing of youth crew and unity. And quickly ONLY about that.

So, unfortunately, the late albums are highly unrecommended (from Souvent Fauché, Toujours Marteau, even if the half of the previous album -Abracadabroum- is... how to say that... bad.) Not only because of the lyrics, but also because of this horrible 80's heavy guitar sound. However some songs still works, like SOS, despite this close-to-stupid chorus (SOS, too many selfish on earth/SOS, War is madness... SOS, No soviet, neither US/SOS, no Islam, neither napalm/International SOS).

Just before completely becoming a French Joan Baez-with-patch-and-badge-and-dogs-and-spikes, and just at their zenith, they decided to commit suicide (read; to split) after some separation gigs. Finishing with a "Long life to free Rock"

The funniest thing is still the fact that they decided to stage a reformation (called "deformation") few years ago. And during their first gig, there started in the streets around an actual riot of punks Vs police.

Btw, on the BxN website, you can listen to all the albums/singles/tapes/compilation/flyer/.../ on streaming.


Wednesday, 4 November 2009

French Punk: Lucrate Milk

Put away children and grandmothers, we're talking about eating poo here.

Ok, I started by saying “Lucrate Milk were/are largely despised in the rock circles of France”. Well actually, it’s not totally true. For something like 15 years, they were more forgotten than actually despised.

One thing is Lucrate Milk are one of the roots of Bérurier Noirs. I will talk about them later. And they are actually quite despised in rock circles (a bit like Crass in the UK).

The other thing is the album and 7” were actually unavailable and impossible to find for quite a long time.

Last thing: Lucrate Milk were quite a multimedia project. And the art side of the band (homemade short and deviant films in support for their music) is in the direct idea of what can be punk art. And that art side is what made them be rediscovered a few years ago.

Let’s take that a little earlier. We have seen, France didn’t have a proper punk band for quite long. But there did exist a real punk art.

I didn’t talk about it before ‘cause me ain’t no art student, matey, but there was a graphics band called Bazooka, doing some pre Gee Voucher’s Gee Voucher collage style. Don’t know that much about it, but they succeeded in being invited by the newspaper Libération (then closer to Class War that to the New Labour) to illustrate some articles. It ended up with “shocking” nihilistic humour drawings about paedophilia and concentration camp.

Ok, kind of what you expect from punk artists on acid.

I found Bazooka’s art nowadays quite… let’s say, old fashioned. You have to know well the politic climate of France during the 70’s to get all their stuff. Otherwise it’s look a bit “Look mum, shocking!!!!”

Anyway, those guys finished by gaining a cult following in the autonomy and graphics/design circles (you know the same kind of guy who, in London, works in Shoreditch in those fancy art design workshops, reading Vice and doing skate. You know what I’m talking about –hipster is the word, isn’t it? -)

BTW those guys from Bazooka are still doing some stuff on internet (Disclaimer: a really good level of French is necessary to understand everything)

Back to Lucrate, now.

So Lucrate Milk was a bit like Bazooka, doing design/art/graphics stuff. And punk music.

The Parisian punk scene of that time was totally transformed when you compare it to my first part.

First, some squats were now open and arty punk friendly, lots of peoples start to get into (UK) punk, often from the automony circles/situationist legacy. So there was a long tradition of disturbing/alternative happening/art/concept etc etc.

Punk bands now have some places to play, to discover other stuff, exchange ideas and members, finally creating a whole DIY network. And let’s be honest, Lucrate Milk were their best representant.

Started half as a joke (the musicians chose their instrument by taking the one they hated the most), without a guitar and with a German singer, taking inspiration from Teenage Jesus and The Jerks, opening for Einsturzende Neubauten and Sonic Youth, doing absurd arty b-movies with sex, violence and guts and making their live shows look like weird happenings, Lucrate Milk ended up half DIY arty show for freaks, half end-of-year spectacle for punks on glue.

I imagine you start to be suspicious about the music: if the story sounds amazing and the references are great, the music will be a horribly boring muzak.

BUT, for once, the music is as good as the story. Definitely one of the best post-punk band ever: Gang Of Four/Delta 5/Leeds style basslines with Malaria! singing meets Resident's keyboard and some kind of pre Death Sentence: Panda! feverish sax melodies. It’s absurd, short, violent, brilliant and funny, like your mate puking on himself.

After 3 years of that, two 7” and one album, they finished to disband and enter into legend.

Not yet, but some of them will end up in Bérurier Noirs, creating a little cult following which led to some reissues. The last of them, on Folklore de la Zone Mondiale, the post-Beru label (the very French Southern in that sense), is an integral with some bullshit remix (the remix CD is one of the most useless stuff I ever heard) and a DVD with lots of stupid stuff on it, like Bazooka could have done if those lazy fuckers have bought a camera instead of playing baby foot and smoking weed. And much of that DVD did a lot for the “rediscovery” of Lucrate Milk (right, so nobody know them, but it was worse before!). Bit of a shame, really, the music is still much better than some stoned jokes on videos. (Which is still funny to watch, though)

( it's a shame, I can't find the one with the famous poo-eating scene)

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

French Punk: Novö

From 1978-1979, French punk started to transform thank to a heavy use of electronics, under the influence of Suicide, Kraftwerk, The Idiot and the disco (Alain Pacadis and Yves Adrien, from the first punk rock-critics, starts the same move a bit earlier, mostly because of Donna Summer, of Le Palace -the Parisian Studio 54- and the Warholian ideal of plastics). And a bit because of TG. Yes, Throbbing Gristle.

Actually all those bands (Mathematique Moderne, Ruth, Modern Guy, The Hypothetical Prophets, ...) created a real proper French version of electro-pop: Minimalist like The Normal/Silicon Teens or Fad Gadget, but lot more poppy, with often a feelingless, passionless voice singing about consummable items, dressed in strict grey costumes with clean haircuts. It seemed to come from a 70's dystopian sci-fi movie where only a robotic entertainement is exists, cynicly celebrating a consuming society. Although a heavy use of absurd and irony, they were deadly serious about themselves.

Oh, just think about the Talking Heads.

And for the music...If on paper, this scene (Les Jeunes Gens Modernes or Novö) seems exciting, on records, it's much more closer to Wendy Carlos with a Casio toy-synth without any classical training than a disco Throbbing Gristle. Honestly, it's just sounds like Soft Cell without a Nothern Soul influence or some Jacno groupies (who was anyway the Godfather of this scene).

If I quite like the whole idea of a generic and personality-free electro-elevator pop music, I think that post-modernity's got some limits, and that part of the Növo wave reached one of them : it’s actually really boring to listen to.

A few of them were actually beyond that: Taxi Girls, Artefact, and Kas Product. Apart from Kas Product, the two others seem to be a pure product of the 70's autonomious politics: influence of Debord, irony, use of symbolic images, of Burroughs, Ballard, Dick, (but also all the debate about western/pan European identity...and were actually a band, not two guys with a synth)

If Taxi Girls are certainly the best known outside France, they always seems to me largely over-rated. I always saw them like Bowie, fronting Kraftwerk. But the cold self-conscious clever opportunist part of Bowie with a lobotomized robotic band.

Honestly, it's quite bad of me to reduce them to those clichés: even if they sound like a FM-friendly comatose Doors without any energy, they still were from the few who took the rock action for truth. From vein-cutting on stage to heroin addiction and death-by-OD, it's pathetic, we agree, but still impressive.

If in France they're seen (and exported as) the French Joy Division, they were definitely the French working-class (and unstable) Talking Heads. Anyway I don't like any of them.

(After, the guy on guitar will produce Madonna. It’s true, it’s Mirwais)

And now the famous...

More cult and totally unknown, Artefact. Ok I don't like them either, but at least I highly respect them. To be quick, they're the band of the far-right junkie cyber-Christian writer Maurice Dantec (AKA The Worst Son Of Phillip K.Dick) before he turned far-right, Christian and writer, when he was just a teenage pot smoker and science fiction reader .

Artefact deserved much better. Imagine a electronic Pop Group doing Afro-beat or Suicide with a cold sense of krautfunk groove...

Ok I can't describe them: they were higly idiosyntratic, mixing influences, references and obession with a high sense of absurd, finishing by created something looking like a musical post-modern catalogue. From Situationist irony to consumer music, they were mixing disco with electronics avant-garde like nobody before them or after them, and especially NOT in the nineties.

All their stuff (one 12", one album, some demo) is now avalaible to download, which you should do right now.

Maybe because they were from Nancy (east of France) and far away from the center of the hype (Paris), Kas Product sound bit different from the other Novö bands, more complex and more straight forward. Darker, but better. When the rest were passionless and cold, Kas Product managed to bring back some energy and some passion in a retro-electronic music.

The sound is rich, quite distorted with some keyboard riff- more D.A.F than D.A.F. (and unfortunatly some fifties film noir pseudo-jazzy inspiration, which is not always a good idea). The voice took too much of Siouxsie, the same urgent high-pitched theatrical singing, the kind of ‘little girl scared by the Monster-Under-The-Bed’ feeling.

At the end of the day, the albums are actually suprisingly really good, mixing the voice of Siouxsie, the riffs of DAF, the ambiance of Wire’s 154 , the reverb of Suicide and a fest of French accents, with a close-to-the-rupture beatbox.

(OK, it’s actually terribly gothic records).

When the Novö scene were too busy looking at themselves like elegant heartless plastic dandies, Kas Product were quite busy inventing a cold, danceable and aggresive batcave sound that no-one ever really ripped off.

Quite fortunately, because, despite the fact that they’re really good, half of their songs are about to fall into caricature.


Monday, 2 November 2009

French Punk: Stinky Toys, Elli & Jacno, Marie & Les Garçons, Electric Callas

Stinky Toys/Elli & Jacno

The other big piece of pride in French punk is Stinky Toys. Invited to play at the 100 Club, for the punk festival of McLaren, they gained a small cult following. I have to admit I never get into Stinky Toys: The music is fine (even if way too much mod revival), they're cute, but hell, no I can't. Apparently the reason for this cult following is their second album (known as the yellow one), that even our glorious corrector, redactor and man of taste (we're waiting for your article, Michael) admires.

The thing I can tell you about them is: they've got a terrible French accent, the music is alright, they sound like The Who of My Generation, Elli, the singer, is born in Montecasino and looks a bit like Francoise Hardy or France Gall (That should attract all the pervs of the indie community. Come on, you just love Yé-yé because they're cute).

(the language used on that track is still unidentified)

The driving force of the Stinky Toys was Jacno, guitarist who left them in the middle of 1978 to buy an EMS and start electronic music. The result is an album call Jacno and it's cute and kitsch. But really cute.

And after Elli came to him and started to sing with him on some other cute but kitsch but cute records. (OK, I really don't have a damn thing to say about them).

Oh yeah, in 1980, Eli & Jacno wrote a cute but kitsch song for a young girl called Lio, who after became really famous in France and in Japan. (Pervs, it's for you, check as well "Banana Split")

Well... well... well.

Ok, I really like Jacno, he is the perfect French dandy: elegant, funny, great looking, but... that's all, basically.

OK, next.

Marie & Les Garçons

Honestly, in the same kind of "upper-class student with a 60's obsession" I have to say I highly prefer the underrated Marie Et Les Garçons.

Born and raised in Lyon, they were a typical school band except that Marie was the drummer, not the singer and their influences were Nico, The Velvet Underground and The Modern Lovers. And they weren't able to play their instruments.

Actually they could have been called "The French Answer To Jonathan": they give the same feeling of cute love of life and have a great amateur teenage sound. Their songs all observe a great mod emergency circa 66, mixed with some lazy feedback psychedelia VU-type thing. The guitars are melodically abrupt, the solo's have 3 notes, the tempo is quick and the voices are out of tune. And the songs are all around 2 minutes long. And the lyrics have got a naïve feeling of fake lust, close to an early Pastels or a teenage Orange Juice.

Honestly, Marie & Les Garçons get nothing to be punk (a great Gang of Four/Postcard look as well), but everything to be one of the Cherry Red/RT'81girl bands (think Dolly Mixture with a guy singing in French). They would have been perfect to dance along to in your room, face to the mirror, all dressed in polka dots. They were purely genuine love.

(Ok, for the history, they did a 6-songs 12" with John Cale on Ze Records) Cherry Red or KRS or Rhino have to reissue that quickly.

And that's the myspace link.

Electric Callas

Also from Lyon and sharing some members with Marie Et Les Garçons, Electric Callas is the real great loser of the first wave.

Totally underrated and impossible to find, but you MUST check them out, Electric Callas is certainly the first French “punk” band to take a little further the rock’n’roll revival that French punk was at first. What will be called Novö after.

Taking a LOT from Young Americans period Bowie, mixing the feeling of the German trilogy, and adding a good dose of punk pioneers (Stooges and VU for short) with touching elegance, Electric Callas had a incredible sense of measure and balance between the whole dandy supercial stuff (great attitude, shitty music) and the rock’n’roll show (shitty attitude and great music). And they were for sure the first and last post punk-post glam band ever (no, you can’t say Pink Grease). One of the only bands for whom “plastic” would not be a insult but a quality.

Cold, but still incredibly danceable, they did just two 12”in 79 and 80 before disappearing. And those 12” are absolutely impossible to find. Few stuff remains of them (even on Youtube, the only thing is underlit footage with a deficient sound –see below-): one of the best covers of I Wanna Be your Dog on Le Rock d’Ici A L’Olympia, a live compilation (the rest is shit and the compilation became quite cult apparently, it's not really worth spending £30 just for one track), some other tracks on some other obscure compilations (Kill Me Two Time, Sex, 77) and those incredible 12”, W.S.B and Winner. Apparently few years ago, Seventeen (a French punk label) was supposed to release an anthology, but I never saw it.

(Shit, I can' find the youtube video anymore)

After, the leader, Jangil, went solo and is still doing music. Well, despite all the respect and love I have for Electric Callas, I have to say that I’m really not fond of it. Mostly down-tempo sleazy electro (think French Touch). They are certainly some amateurs, but… well. At least on the myspace (one of the best 90’s gif art myspace ever), you can listen to W.S.B and So Chic (from the Winner 12”) –a new version and even if the original is far better, that one is quite cool-


Sunday, 1 November 2009

French Punk: Métal Urbain

Ok, let's start with the most internationally well-known of the French punk stars: Métal Urbain (first 7inch of Rough Trade, that's cult, kids!).

Heavy distorted guitars playing mathematical riff on primitives beatbox rhythms. First electro-punk band ever. Nothing less than that. And according to the legend, they gave the aim to Steve Albini to create Big Black, and Jello Biafra is a huge fan. Cult, kids, I told you.

Ok, Steve Albini is a joke (and the baddest producer ever) and Jello Biafra quite an idiot.

Honestly, the problem is Metal Urbain had for singers something sounding like a drunk dog barking stupid lyrics (OK, non French speaker doesn't have this problem, still the barking is quite... hem.... embarrassing). Criticising a punk band by the barking of the singer is quite lousy, but, honestly it's the main problem of Metal Urbain (with the beatbox sounding out of rhythm and the quite common and unimaginative riffs). So commonly they were flirting with the really bad and the worst.

Still a few total cool songs such as Panik, Paris Maquis, Hysterie Connective, E 202 and Crève Salope (that one's got quite funky lyrics like 'Die bitch! You got blood in your cunt! You stink, you shit, you scream! A chainsaw in your face! You blow up, red all around!' Yeah, they certainly can pretend to be the first grindcore band ever)

The really funny thing about them is that they are actually widely respected in France as a French Sex Pistols and are actually seen as Situationist legatee. They're actually just bad and singing non-sense pseudo-anarchist shit.

After a while, Metal Urbain split to form two other bands, both underrated when you compare it to what they did before. On one side, half of the band (something like 2 guys) went to form Metal Boys, and the rest (something like 2 guys) went form Dr Mix And The Remix.

Yeah both names are shit. I don't know that much about Metal Boys, I heard 2 songs maybe. It's sounding a bit like a Japanese Telex (like a homemade Yellow Magic Orchestra, if you prefer). Well at least in my memory.

I do think Dr Mix And The Remix is better. The project was to cover some legendary R'n'R songs in an electro-punk style. Honestly, that sounds far better than anything by Metal Urbain. Imagine the J&MC guitar noise with the Big Black beatbox and some mechanic Lou Reed vocoder voice, in some Chrome noisescape... Really goooood. And fucking violent. The pre-industrial/noisy robotic rock cover of Sister Ray is an incredible blast. (here is just a 30 sec-clip, just put in a loop 22 times and you will have something sounding like the actual song)

After that, Metal Urbain decided to reform some years ago (well 2 guys with some professional) and finally committed an absolutely terrifying shit, produced by Jello in person. Don't buy, don't even download it, it just sucks. And it's not even funny. (Ok, the title is funny: J'irais chier dans ton vomi, roughly "I will shit in your vomit")