(This article comes in two parts and was written with the precious help of Sara Stella, amazingly keen on French electro music.)
Because there’s a story to everything this one is no exception.
A few months ago at a party i had a very interesting chat with a good friend i had not seen for ages. She was about to work on a film based on the life of a French popular Dj of the 90’s whose name got forgotten and needed to understand more about the notion of French Touch. First thing i told her was that this “French Touch” thing was just crap labelling made up for marketing purpose to penetrate the anglo-saxon music business as there was no other possibility for French artists to coexist with big names of the electronic music industry (after a bit of research it seems that the expression appears officially for the first time in 1997 in the magazine Muzik). But then it was not enough, so i did my homework and presented her a few details from my personal analysis of this (non) phenomenon.
It’s important that you guys who are reading me realize that i do not even slightly try to boister about my knowledge of French electronic music. What i’ll write from now on, is just the pure expression of my personal point of view and should be seen more as a base to pursue a more thorough work on the topic.
For that purpose i’m going to mention and then cross out very quickly some names of the list because it’s not about finding the true pioneer of the « French Touch », it’s about how this expression was branded and used.
THE NON-FRENCH TOUCH BECAUSE TOO EARLY
Pierre Henry « Messe pour le Temps Présent »
An amazing piece of work, made for the French choregrapher Maurice Bejart, impressive especially when we know the conditions of its creation. Yes it was recorded partly with live instruments but it’s also a product of the concrete music school and the collaboration of Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer. Both used micro-sampling before samplers existed, they had to do it with cello-tapes and scissors.
Too artful, too intellectual, critics will find difficult to assimilate Pierre Henry’s work to electronic music considered at that time as a low-end product.
THE FIRST WAVE
Wanna be but can’t be.
If i had to pick up hashtags to describe the first wave i’d come up with something like that : #lost #inadapted #clumsy #touching
The music and images express an idea of beating on like boats against the current (to badly quote F. S. Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby). We would like so much to look alike our big American brothers and then we kind of fail on our way to success. The first wave plays a lot with the idea of beautiful loser.
There were others before, but we don’t care because AIR is going to be with Daft Punk the first band to really initiate something, to give a shape and a content to the idea of French Touch.
A couple of inoffensive French guys lost in the Big City, not fitting, touching because of this aura of clumsiness that surrounds them.
It’s electronic music but it is deeply flavoured with French psyche-glam of the 60’s/70’s, the vocals are a blend of English and French, sensual, reminding of a Brigitte Bardot / Serge Gainsbourg collaboration. It’s pop, light, not aggressive and not exactly fitting standards.
Booming in the world with the tune Dafunk, the band is depicted again through the features of touching and slightly inadapted character. Though he has a perfect accent everything in the video shows how much he’s not a member of the communitee. His dog head, his broken leg, people rejecting his contribution because he’s not been long enough part of the neighborhood, « Charles » when he’s about to find at last a match fails and wanders lonely in the Big City with his blaster booming a weird (but catchy) tune.
Around the world also from the album Homework uses the idea of slight madness, with this tune with the only lyrics repeated : « around the world » and a video with a non-sense choregraphy.
Flat Eric, weird character, pastiche of a French President who tries to imitate an English Minister or an American President, smoking sausage in the manner of Churchill, seated at a 70’s desk (beautiful but not fitting the decoration style of the walls) with big large outdated technologic devices.
THE SUPERMEN LOVERS
Again a bunch of weird characters in this video, a potato guy and a rat trying to make it big in the city.
Cassius is the transition between the first and second wave, we find other elements that are going to be re-used after in a more impacting manner. We still find the fascination for America, caricaturized through a collection of TV memories of the 70’s : big typos we used to find in Starsky&Hutch, vehicule chases, references to Wonder Woman, etc…
The video is a tribute to what American TV gave us, with a plus… this French grotesque superhero is a pastiche of Fantomas, great movie character of the 70’s.
Dreaming of America, the tall skyscrapers, the oversized trucks and infinite roads are essential to understand the essence of French Touch. Here in Daft Punk again :
Since we were kids we’ve been raised with this image of success. If the video of Burnin works great with Anglo-saxon audience, it even works better with French people who saw many times The Towering Inferno.
THE ONES WHO DIDN’T MAKE IT
Whatever the reasons are for not making it out, they are to be included in the French Touch, even if their music never crossed the border.
Talented artist Alif Tree had little fame in France, his music which got better and better however remained confined to a small audience.
We don’t know much about Purple Confusion, the name and this track appeared on a Trax Magazine comp (Trax is one of the big music magazine in France), and the track Wounded Knee Creek was used for an arty short movie played at the international short film festival of Clermont Ferrand a few years ago. It is to be mentioned that Villeneuve is also a member of Team Ghost with Nicolas Fromageau former member of M83.
So this is how i personally see the first wave of the French Touch, something intented mainly to the French music market surfing on the fascination we have for the States and all that comes along : quick success, gigantism, adventure…
The French Touch II : The Second Wave coming soon.