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.