Rockfort! French Music For August Reviewed By David McKenna

David McKenna rounds up the cream of the latest electronic, jazz and indie rock releases from France, taking in Maghrebi sounds from Lyon, farty drum machines and oceanic musique concrete. Homepage image of TripleGo

Dear readers, I’m writing this during the heatwave so excuse me if I keep this intro to a minimum – both the brain and the fingers have a somewhat loose (and sweaty) grip on the task at hand.

I don’t wish to neglect my duties entirely though, so you should know that the latest Rockfort mix features music from all the releases reviewed below, but also: the standout track from an EP by Parisians Film Noir, led by siblings Joséphine and Alexandre de la Baume, who convincingly fuse cold-wave pop and garage rock; and the opening track from Mondkopf’s The Day He Lost It EP on Opal Tapes that is inspired by, amongst others, the films Dog Day Afternoon and Falling Down.

There is also a real curveball of a collaboration between rapper Laylow and French disco king Cerrone; and ‘Faire Et Refaire’ by Ascendant Vierge, the duo of singer-songwriter Mathilde Fernandez and Casual Gabberz lynchpin Paul Seul.

It sounds like Mylène Farmer gone fully hard trance and I am here for it.

Lionel Marchetti – Planktos

Bernard Grancher – Soleil Gris Eclatant
(Castles In Space)

In my previous life I’m not sure I would have had either the time or the inclination to sit (or lie) and listen to a three hours and forty three minute long, five-movement musique concrete composition. For some of the duration I was extremely attentive, facing my speakers and immersing myself completely; at other moments I let it colour the environment as I did some reading; during the 42-minute final movement I drifted off briefly to the sound of gently billowing loops overlaid with pinpoints of static, like vinyl crackles, and came round again to organ-like swells of sci-fi soundtrack chords. It was a bit like being woken by the surf lapping at your toes as the tide comes in.

Marchetti is from Marseille and is a poet, researcher and improviser as well as a composer. Planktos has been produced over the past five years, and is a very literally oceanic work that takes in the microscopic – ‘Mouvement 1 P.1’ is subtitled ‘Balbutiements des bactéries’ (‘the first faltering steps of bacteria’) – and pans out larger marine life like whales, jellyfish and finally, in that long fifth movement, the expanse of the ocean. Marchetti’s sounds also range from the murky, distant and wide to the close-up and pinpoint-precise. Moments that struck me during the journey were the persistent rhythm, like a machine ‘breathing’, in ‘Mouvement 4 P.4’ (the jellyfish movement) and the radio communications, perhaps including shipping forecasts, layered through ‘Mouvement 2 Pt.2 – Flèche de Zenon’ that reminded me of Kate Bush’s ‘The Ninth Wave’ song suite as her protagonist sinks ever deeper under waves.

On a more intimate scale we have a new album release, the second this year, of basement synth jams from Bernard Grancher. He continues to draw influence from the earliest UK electronic and industrial acts like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. We’re told that “the synthesizers are at the end of their life and are synchronized with the rhythm machines with difficulty”, which explains some of the wobbly, rough-hewn joy of these tracks; a must if you’re a fan of proto-techno pulses, lof-fi kosmische, banshee wailing and farty drum machines.

Various Artists – Emodrill – Le Nouveau Western
(Maison Blanch./Because)
Wit. – No Future
(Jeune à Jamais)
TripleGo – TWAREG

The title of a new compilation from Maison Blanch. and Because, masterminded by rapper Retro X, packs a lot into just its title: Emodrill combines ‘emo-rap’ – another term for the atmospheric ‘cloud’ variant on trap that French artists have really made their own – and the drill sound that, via Chicago and London, has become the latest sub-genre to become a global phenomenon. The ‘Nouveau Western’ subtitle is interesting too; the artwork – with its nod to Django – and lyrics reference characters and themes from cowboy classics, and it also echoes MC Solaar’s 1994 track ‘Le Nouveau Western’, which transposed American myths to the streets of the French capital (“But Harry in Paris got unlucky”) – a sort of baguette-y western, if you will. Emodrill crams in a lot in musically as well, with the young guns contributing tracks including Retro X himself, Jorrdee, Lala &ce and Skinny Sixbool, and the range and quality is impressive. The project leader goes from the cloudiest of cloud tracks, ‘Ma Vie Est Un Film’ which samples Boards of Canada’s ‘Amo Bishop Roden’, to the straight up drill of ‘5ème Symphonie’, Allikey Tyler’s ‘Prêt Pour La Guerre’ combines slick, autotuned vocals with a dust-dry guitar lick, there’s the deliriously energetic ‘Killa’ by Crix Le and Splinter x Spencer’s hardcore assault ‘Voodoo’ as well as the heavy lidded R&B of ‘Ciao Bye’, while London-based Lala &ce brings her slurred delivery to four tracks including the twinkling trap-pop collaboration with Sali ‘0 À 100’.

Wit. hails from sunny Montpellier but his music is frequently sombre and near-industrial – crucially though, over the course of this 11-track mixtape, it’s also consistently inventive. Following in the footsteps of cohort Laylow, his is a ‘digital’ rap sound that is anything by antiseptic – beats are like pistons, caked with dust and rust, basslines stalk you through vents and down deep shafts and synths glow like halogen lamps.

TripleGo’s latest EP feels a bit like as stopgap – one of the tracks, ‘Morenita’, was originally released last year before the Yeux Rouges album – but also one that seems to be aimed squarely at the dancefloor. The pop/deep house of ‘Game Over’ and ‘Zombie’ feel a little too generic, in spite of Sanguee’s swirling vocals, but the reggaeton-inspired tracks are a treat – the elastic ‘Morenita’, ‘Sans Parler’s warm, oozing bass, the hooky but atmospheric ‘Brrr’. Only ‘Que Tu Reviennes’ bucks the upbeat vibes with its heartsore lyrics and tragic Andalusian cadence.

Various Artists – Maghreb K7 Club: Synth Raï, Chaoui & Staifi 1985-1997
(Sofa Records/Les Disques Bongo Joe)

This is a terrific, compact compilation featuring artists with origins from across the Maghreb but based in Lyon and released on cassette on the Édition Merabet, Top Music and SEDICAV labels. That degraded but punchy sound is one aspect of these recordings’ appeal, as well as the feeling of picking up a hidden gem from a market stall, but these rich pickings: the clip-clopping percussion and distorted vocals on Zaïdi El Batni’s Malik y a Malik, the sprightly drum machine funk of Nordine Staifi’s ‘Zine Ezzinet’ and Mokhtar Mezhoud’s dreamy, spacious ‘Rahoum Yegoulou Sabirine’ (the most recent tune here). Throughout there’s evidence of the musicians assimilating French pop trends, although sometimes belatedly – Salah El Annabi’s Hata Fi Annaba is from 1993 but cops the tune from ‘Oxygène IV’ by fellow Lyonnais Jean-Michel Jarre.

Mino Cinelu and Nils Petter Molvær – SulaMadiana
(Modern Recordings/BMG)
Bada-Bada – I

SulaMadiana is the first collaboration between Norwegian trumpeter Molvær, who has collaborated with Bill Laswell, Moritz von Oswald and Sly & Robbie, and veteran French percussionist Cinelu, whose CV ranges from Miles Davis and Weather Report to Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. The results of their meeting have a tangy, Fourth World-y flavour, with trumpet electronically treated to sound punchy and guitar-like or dissolved, flowing around Cinelu’s intricate but driving patterns, and they both contribute guitars (acoustic for Cinelu, electric for Molvær). The tracks here simmer beautifully for the most part, but ‘Take the A# Train’ achieves rhythmic lift-off, and the title track is a righteous tribute to Cinelu’s mentor Manu Dibango.

Bada-Bada’s debut EP places them among groups of young innovators doing something similar to the new UK jazz scene, absorbing influences from electronic music and minimalism in a way that feels fruitful and unforced. ‘Phantom’ breaking into a hip hop or even Boards of Canada (them again!)-style passage half-way through and ‘R4G3’s thunderous drum assault are highlights.

(Prohibited Records)

The trio of brothers Nicolas and Fabrice Laureau and drummer Jean-Michel Pirès are celebrating 20 years of existence with a new album that maintains the groove-based essence of the group while presenting a limpid new vision – drums (and drum machine) coated in reverb, guitar that’s frequently run through what sounds like a granular pitch shifter, naïf vocal and synth melodies and big, thick piano clusters. The permutations explored, all named after the first eight letters of the alphabet, range from the jazzy ‘B’, and ‘D’’s dark and slightly off waltz to ‘H’s sweet and spritely shuffle.

Thousand – Au Paradis
Marietta – Prazepam St.
(Born Bad)

A couple of bright indie-pop sparks here; the latest from Thousand aka Stéphane Milochevitch has found fertile ground where MOR chanson-rock – some of Alain Bashung’s work for example – meets Chris Rea or Dire Straits. Not necessarily appealing on paper, but done with a lightness of touch and a lyrical acuity that is refreshing and genuinely touching; the wide-open vistas of ‘Le Rêve Du Cheval’ are a stand-out example.

Guillaume Marietta’s territory, meanwhile, is somewhere between glam and weirdo US folk, Beck included, all warped acoustic strumming, cruddy drum machine rhythms and gaudy synths. What appeals most here is the tension between his adeptness with pop structure and a desire to pull it all apart, scything through and scuffing up his own confections.

Quietus Mix 22

NLF3 – ‘H’ (Prohibited Records)
Skinny Sixbool, Retro X, Gizo Evoracci – ‘MA3’ (Maison Blanch.)
Bada-Bada – ‘R4G3’ (Self-Released)
Mino Cinelu and Nils Petter Molvær – ‘SulaMadiana (For Manu Dibango)’ (Modern Recordings/BMG)
Bernard Grancher – ‘Je Rêve Encore De Toi’ (Castles In Space)
Marietta – ‘Prazepam Street’ (Born Bad)
Thousand – ‘Aux Enfants De Saturne (Talitres)
Film Noir – ‘Hustling His Way’ (Albé)
Ascendant Vierge – ‘Faire Et Refaire’ (Live From Earth)
Bnat El Maâna – ‘Hata La Lile Ya Moul Jalab Tayfiya’ (Sofa Records/Les Disques Bongo Joe)
Cerrone – ‘Experience ft. Laylow’ (Malligator)
TripleGo – ‘Brrr’ (Twareg)
Wit. – ‘Fragment’ (Jeune à Jamais)
Mondkopf – ‘Morning’ (Opal Tapes)
Lionel Marchetti – ‘Mouvement 4 Pt.3 – Onde de Vie Marine’ (Self-Released)

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today