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Listening

Gallic Gutter Punks

I had always thought punk rock was mainly a British phenomenon, if for no other reason than its ruling party was composed of people who looked as if they might drop their monocles at hearing the use of profanity. It seemed more anti-establishment in a Three Stooges way. I’ve come to realize that the other international versions—although not as widespread as garage rock or psychedelia—are just as legitimate; particularly French punk rock.

» Listen to “Control” by Anoushka et Les Privés


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French punk rock leans more heavily on the absurd than your typical American hardcore or British snideness, and it tends to integrate electronic instruments more. The best example of this might be Lucrate Milk, who gave nonsensical interviews and bizarre art performances of songs with lyrics like “I love you fuck off.” Great spastic artcore.

» Listen to Lucrate Milk at WFMU’s Beware of the Blog


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Métal Urbain may be the most straightforward (and best known) example of French angst rock. They were the first release on the great Rough Trade label and sounded like nothing else at the time. Their sound was more industrial and nihilist than absurd, with backing beats reminiscent of Big Black or the Screamers, while singing about anarchy in the Paris ghettos.

» Listen to Métal Urbain at 7inchpunk


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Not that it was all odd mixes of various modes of anger and depression: Some of it was the sped-up and rough-hewn garage rock from 10 to 20 years prior. Take for instance Elton Motello‘s “Jet Boy, Jet Girl,” which sounds like a Ramones via Sigue Sigue Sputnik doo-wop song about sniffing glue and making somebody into a punk—in the original sense of the word. Plastic Bertrand, who drummed for Elton under the moniker “Nobby Goff,” took the backing track—and Elton’s band—and karaoked his own version with lyrics in English (sample: “This plane’s for me.”) Decide for yourself which one is better.

» Listen to Plastic Bertrand and Elton Mortello at the Rich Gils Are Weeping


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There’s plenty of other bands that played loud and snotty music in France (see the great documentary Légèrement Destroy for more information), but punk didn’t last as long in France as in other places. Maybe they didn’t hate their establishment as much, maybe the musicians forgot about their angst and remembered how good crème brûlées can be, or maybe New Wave just had more pull there. (They did make up the term, after all.)

Well, like everywhere else, that angsty rock got mixed with more and more electronics, and the angst got quieted down into dark, gothic coldwave. The sort of stuff you could really commit suicide to. Not that it’s a bad thing, but depressing in a good way. Like Joy Division. Oh, that may not be a good example.

» Listen to Clair Obscur rarities


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I’m certainly generalizing here as I’m sure there’s plenty of angsty, visceral art bands in France trying to be recognized if people would only put down the Daft Punk for un moment. For the time being I’ll just have to go to French-speaking Quebec for those screaming sounds.

» Listen to Les Georges Leningrad at Funtime OK

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