The crash course: C’est de la musique française moderne

Lou Doillon, Superbus and Justice

“The French have modern music?” a friend asked me, surprisingly, and I answered, “yes, yes they do.” So, as the French celebrate what we call Bastille Day, a little, not-so-comprehensive, not-exactly-informed (although, sure, I probably know a bit from the many times I’ve written about French acts on the blog) primer on the best music the French have to offer, and not the sort that you’d imagine hearing in a bakery on the cobblestone streets of Paris. Not that I’ve something against chanson, mind – I love Camille, for one. [NB]

   

“D.A.N.C.E.” by Justice | An obvious place to start would be the French DJs that are massively popular today. Daft Punk. David Guetta. Justice. France is a hotbed of the occaisonally-harsh-yet-not-glitchy brand of electronica that took over dance floors in the last decade – a movement that Daft Punk started with the release of Homework in 1997 and Discovery in 2001. Their obvious successor is Justice, another DJ duo (Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay, however, don’t do helmets) who’ve successfully merged bits of rock into their take on rave, and first became popular with their remix of Simian’s “We Are Your Friends”.

   

“All I Need” by Air | On the other end of the electronica spectrum are the chilled acts. Phoenix, for one, begun as one such act; their first single, “Heatwave”, is an instrumental number which was later sampled on DB Boulevard’s “Point of View”. (TThat song should be familiar if you listened to the Magic in the early 2000s, or, when it was still good.) Air is the group headlining this movement: formed in 1995, they’ve soundtracked The Virgin Suicides, warned me against smoking, and given me a nice fuzzy feeling. Right behind them are artists like Sébastien Tellier and Télépopmusik (you know them too, I swear).

   

“Travel The World” by Superbus | France also has a pretty good alternative scene, where influences from across the channel manifest themselves the strongest. One of the country’s biggest bands, Indochine, wouldn’t sound out of place in an 80s show, save for the fact that it is sung in French. (Their biggest hit, however, was released in 2002.) A relatively newer band on the scene is Superbus, led by Jennifer Ayache, whose time in the United States clearly lends itself to the band’s rousing power pop. English influences have been visible since the 1960s, from this Annie Philippe song I posted last year,  to the more recent stuff from Tahiti 80, Skip The Use and, well, Phoenix.

   

“I Love You” by Woodkid | Now to the more esoteric side of modern French music, if by “esoteric” you mean “clearly influenced by France’s past”. The charm of typical cobblestone French music still shows up in some of the newer stuff. Again, the foreign influences bit come in here. For one, Woodkid – music video slash folkie Yoann Lemoine – studied in London and has gone around the world shooting clips for Lana Del Ray and Taylor Swift. Jazz singer Zaz has merged African and Latin influences to her brand of chanson. And of course there’s the legend, Françoise Hardy, whose stuff in the 1960s sound so new yet so French.

   

“Be My Baby” by Vanessa Paradis | And finally, we go to the glamorous side of French music. While doing my research I realized that there are a bunch of French models who have had success with a music career: Zazie was a model in the 1980s before transitioning toward a much-loved yet particularly naughty popstress, while Lou Doillon – daughter of Jane Birkin, best known for doing this with Serge Gainsbourg – began as an actress before becoming a singer. And then there’s Vanessa Paradis: pop star at 14, one-hit wonder to the English-speaking world (“Be My Baby” was produced by ex-boyfriend Lenny Kravitz) and perhaps best known as the mother of Johnny Depp’s kids…

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