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Rockfort! French Music For March Reviewed By David McKenna
David McKenna , March 9th, 2022 09:00

Surveying French left-field music, David McKenna reviews lush Franco-Polynesian sounds, a hardcore supergroup and considers Bandcamp rap. Home page photograph: Francois Dumeaux by Anne-Sophie Trebel

Before becoming a column on this site, Rockfort was a radio show on unique, arts-focused London station Resonance FM, beginning all the way back in 2005. Happily both are still going, and it’s a genuine pleasure to announce that Rockfort is once again going to exist in radio form, and on the same station. This new run will consist of weekly, 30-minute slots on Tuesdays at 7.30pm, repeated on Thursdays at 3.30pm, beginning on 22 February and running until 31 July.

Back then the programme was co-presented with a French chap called Ludovic Merle; he has since decided to explore other avenues (teaching, to be exact) so I’ll be flying solo. But I’ll be playing the sort of music you can find reviewed in this column and in the Rockfort mixes.

The latest one includes music from most of the releases below and more, because there’s never enough space or time to write about everyone. There’s something from the latest split tape on the Champ Döner label, featuring Johann Mazé’s Jihem Rita project and AIR LQD; DIY krautrock from Fille Unique; Claptrap’s hardcore/bossa nova fusion; Matthieu Levet’s rustbucket techno project Carrageenan and Lionel Fernandez’s brief post-industrial essays under the name Contumace and dubby post punk from Theoreme.

On the rap front there’s the gorgeous, Auto-Tuned melismatics of Yswanj – a track that appears to be some sort of Björk tribute – and Menace Santana’s horrorcore drill, like some unholy alliance between Jean-Pierre Massiera or Goblin and 67.

And there was also room for the latest Buchla explorations from Jonathan Fitoussi and Clemens Hourrière, a Franco-Italian release on Trilogy Tapes from Ciccio & 2mo (drummer Francesco Pastacaldi and Olivier Demeaux of Heimat and Accident Du Travail) and a vaporwave remix of Nancy-based jazz quartet The Storm Watchers.

Franco-Polynesian group QuinzeQuinze – they’re based in Paris but two members, Tsi Min and Ennio are both from Tahiti – have been steadily building a reputation with a series of lustrous, exquisitely sculpted EPs: Neva Neva (from 2018), Le Jeune and now VĀRUA, which translates from Tahitian as spirit or soul. They’re as interested in the Polynesian myths and oral traditions as they are in the contemporary music of the islands, as attested to by a recent NTS show presenting Tahitian ori deck (or simply ‘deck’), a bass heavy style that accompanies a dance of the same name. QuinzeQuinze’s own music is a more laid-back proposition – they describe it as ‘climatic’ and one could also say it feels elemental; air and water repeatedly come to mind. The EP’s tracks flow into each other, and there are moments which sound like Sade set adrift on the waves, or FKA Twigs but with the addition of percussive instruments like the to’ere and steel drums. The sinuous melodies, slippery bass and continuously ear-teasing, spacious sound design lead you to a place of quiet rapture.

From rapture to rappers. To British ears, Jazzy Bazz isn’t a terribly convincing name for an MC. It sounds more like the nickname of friend of a friend you’re introduced to on a stag do – “Jazzzaaayyy!” – who ended up with it thanks to his taste in ‘loud’ shirts. But don’t let that put you off. Bazz, whose real name isn’t Barry but Ivan Bruno-Arbiser, was born in Paris and came up through noughties hip hop collective L’Entourage alongside the likes of Deen Burbigo, Alpha Wann and Nekfeu. The latter two were also part of the group 1995 who, as the name suggests, were already tipping their caps to a perceived golden age of 90s French rap. Given the backward-looking nature of their early projects, it’s remarkable that they have not only kept pace with the next generation but have honed their techniques, easily straddling the boom bap of old and newer trap-derived sounds and reaching a point where just a feature appearance can elevate a track to the level of greatness. Alpha Wann and Nekfeu both deliver scintillating verses on Jazzy Bazz’s Memoria – ‘Panorama’ and ‘Élément 115’ respectively – but this album is ultimately about JB’s vision in terms of assembling collaborators, the consistent quality of the production, his technical but clear and unshowy delivery, and gift for vivid metaphors (“anger invades like Carolingians/ the atmosphere is tense like at the ’95 Source Awards”) and introspection (“I used to be depressed but now it’s ok, I’m just sad”). He’s not afraid to live up to his name and get, well, jazzy, as on the title track and creamy Laylow team-up ‘.RAW Spleen’ (which features Bruno-Arbiser’s father on sax) but can also deliver over the stark beats and wub bass of ‘Mental’. Jazzy Bazz, it turns out, is very convincing indeed.

In a manner not unique to France, many of the new generation of rappers started out by releasing tracks on Soundcloud and now focus primarily on the major streaming services. But there is a demi-monde of rap artists who also put their music on Bandcamp, and they’re frequently (although not always) of the more abstract and experimental variety. In the last column I picked up on Joaqm, who has since released another highly addictive mixtape La Liste De Lecture Fm70.7. He describes the sequence of short tracks as a “playground for experimentation”, featuring his appealing, childlike voice over beats produced by himself and a variety of collaborators. I think the idea is that you’re picking up fragments of sound from the FM airwaves, whether its 70s soul pastiche on ‘Le Train De La Soul’ and the sun-melted boom bap of ‘Quinte Foch Royale’ or the decayed synths and twitchy rhythms of ‘B8NCE 3OY’ and ‘skat UFlOw’.

Another Bandcamp-based treat is Bleu Nuit’s Le Bruit D’Un Sentiment, released at the end of last year and following up on May’s Teintes. The sleeve art for both albums feature works of abstract art, and there’s also something very brut and instinctive about his productions; he works rapidly, following a mood or feeling: Teintes was a ‘blue’ album packed with vintage R&B and gospel samples; Le Bruit D’Un Sentiment is smudgy orange and brown and filled with hiss and warped snatches of jazz piano, the tracks sometimes hauntingly insubstantial. Drowsily dispensing his beat poetry, Bleu Nuit – real name Pierre-Alexandre Pesty – frequently sounds like his throat is dry from the vinyl dust. The (relatively) upbeat ‘Fleurir Pour Fleurir’ features two of his cohorts, Eryl and LELEEE, who are also well worth investigating.

La Colonie De Vacances are something more than a supergroup; they’re actually four mathrock, noise and hardcore-centric bands – Papier Tigre, Electric Electric, Pneu and Marvin – in one. Each band is explosive in its own right but their collective, quadrophonic show is exhilarating. The audience is required to stand in the centre of the venue, surrounded by the four acts on four separate stages who trade taut licks or pummel you in unison. They have previously invited Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier to compose a piece for them, the 40-minute ‘Les 26 sauces de Maître Saucier’, a recording of which was released, but ECHT is the first studio album in their ten-year existence. Conveying the dizzying energy of the live shows was always going to be nigh-on impossible but, on its own terms, ECHT is a work of brutal beauty and lyricism. Bernard Herrmann stabs are rendered as rock riffs in ‘Multitude Of Snakes’, ‘Z.Z.Y.’ sounds like a duet for cement mixer and rubber hosing, ‘Spectral’ reaches a gorgeous, chiming finale and ‘Alex Weir’ maintains its fevered, galloping momentum for eight glorious minutes.

French singer Marion Cousin’s love affair with Spain has, in recent years, manifested in collaborative albums with cellist Gaspar Claus and electronic/noise duo Kaumwald that explore the country’s traditional music(s). A new album, under the name Catalina Matorral, sees her return to an earlier project – a duo with Spaniard-in-exile Borja Flames. As June Et Jim they released a couple of albums and EPs of gently folky songcraft between 2008 and 2013; Catalina Matorral is a stranger, more esoteric creation which opens with the electronic drone and ‘O Superman’-style monotone chant of ‘Aqua La Mordance’, and goes on to explore the spaces between chanson, folk and continental electronic pop from the early 80s. ‘Grande Table’ is at the more chanson-y end of the spectrum, recalling Arlt – in fact the sleeve notes come courtesy of Arlt’s Sing Sing – and projects such as Midget! involving guitarist Mocke, while at the other lies the deconstructed pop of ‘Que Ventre’ with its tweaked and cut-up vocals and Renaud Cousin’s lumbering, stumbling drums. Guests including Claus, Igor Estrabol, on trumpet, clarinet and flugelhorn, and Ernest Bergez (Sourdure) on violin add just the right amount of extra sweetness and spice.

François Dumeaux’s Recontorns release, on the excellent Le Cabanon label, pulls folk singing and instrumentation, modular synths and field recordings into a single, luminous, 48-minute composition. There is some common ground with the La Nòvia folk collective, although while the latter explore the music of central and south-eastern France, Dumeaux is focused on the South-West, where he records musicians from the Occitan tradition such as La Preyra (who I’ve previously featured in this column). There’s also a shared interest in duration, but with less of the murky, churning sound that typifies La Nòvia, or the combination of movement and stasis; Recontorns is bright and airy; it’s like a long walk on which you’re constantly charmed and surprised by new vistas and encounters. An initial passage of interplay between burbling synths and slippery violin gives way to bird song, tinkling and scraping and Dumeaux’s voice standing out clean and clear as he negotiates a serpentine folk melody. There are silvery flutes for a moment before his voice seems to evaporate, lost behind a pure-toned, descending drone; strange, guttural voices and percussive synths ricochet off each other; a gentle techno kick; piercing electronic trills and the whole thing ending in a flurry of fizzing noise. Quite the journey.

Quietus Mix 30 La Colonie De Vacances – ‘Z.Z.Z.’ (Vicious Circle)
Fille Unique – ‘Brutal Mental’ (Grande Rousse)
Jihem Rita – ‘Us Plus Them Equals We’ (AIR LQD remix) (Champ Döner)
Joaqm – ‘B8NCE 3OY’ (Self-Released)
QuinzeQuinze – ‘Hotu Pāinu’ (S76)
Catalina Matorral – ‘Grande Table’ (Via Parigi)
Bleu Nuit – ‘Chanson Triste’ (Self-Released)
Claptrap – ‘Captioned (if anything) (Un Je Ne Sais Quoi)
Carrageenan – ‘You Were Dancing’ (Swallowing Helmets)
Theoreme – ‘Radionucléides’ (Maple Death Records)
Jonathan Fitoussi & Clemens Hourrière – ‘Murmuration’ (Obliques / Transversales Disques)
Jazzy Bazz – ‘Mental ft robdbloc’ (3.14 Production)
Yswanj – ‘Come Over On Top/Björk Cambiar’ (9c/C T Powell)
Menace Santana – ‘Quand Le Soleil Se Levera À L'ouest!’ (Fake Dream Music)
Contumace – ‘1922’ (Tanzprocesz)
Ciccio & 2mo – ‘Otarie’ (The Trilogy Tapes)
The Storm Watchers – ‘Interlude - ライフMIDI Opium In Shibuya Remix’ (Black Milk Music)