posted on March 11, 2008 19:00
The annual South By Southwest (SXSW) music convention opens today in Austin, Texas. Acts from around the world will perform in showcases and hope to catch the eye of record industry figures.
There's a sizeable French presence at this year's event. The French Music Export Office will hope to capitalise on a successful 2007, which saw worldwide sales of 27.6 million units for la musique française. As we noted in our recent Victoires de la Musique feature, though, that figure includes French-made albums by non-French acts like Feist.
Intriguingly, the French delegation will take part in what they call "a speed-dating session involving French and American music professionals." Always the old 'French lover' routine; works every time.
At the time of writing, 13 acts have been confirmed as representing la hexagone in Austin this week. However, like with Feist, the definition of a French act seems quite broad and almost arbitrary on the part of the French Music Export Office. The criteria is that the act's releases be produced in France, thus representing the French music industry. For instance, the French delegation is putting forward Digitalism - who are from Germany. But as their 2007 album 'Idealism' was released on the Paris-based Kitsuné label, the Teutonic techno duo find themselves on the other side of the Maginot Line for SXSW.
It's the same story for two other non-French Kitsuné acts. First, the LCD Soundsystem-esque Thieves Like Us. Two of their three members are Swedish and one is American, and the three met up in Berlin. And Los Angeles-based producers Guns n' Bombs were born in places like Italy and Denmark. No matter: for SXSW they'll all be wearing berets, going "ooh la la!" and so forth. Le French touch is certainly a useful flag of convenience for electronica acts hoping for an easy sale worldwide.
Similarly, many pop fans will be surprised to see the gentle indie-folk-pop of Herman Dune (left) lining out for France. Surely they're Swedish too? Well... no. The Herman Dune family have a French father and a Swedish mother, that's for sure.
But they see themselves as Gallic as Edith Piaf eating croissants while strolling down the Champs-Elysées: "The band is French," they unequivocally told Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet in January 2007.
There's also some confusion about the nationality of Yael Naim, also representing France in Texas. Born in Paris, she moved to Israel at a young age and grew up there. Naim returned to Paris in 2000 to begin her music career. The matter is complicated by current anti-Israeli feeling in France, including a call to boycott a prestigious international book fair in Paris because it features Israel as the country of honour.
In any case, Naim can claim dual nationality and as a French-based recording artist she (like Feist) also won a Victoire recently. Enjoying priceless exposure as the soundtrack artist to the current Apple MacBook advertising campaign, Naim is primed to be one of the big hits of SXSW.
No such nationality doubts about The Parisians. We featured their Libertines-influenced garage-indie back in 2006 when they appeared on the influential 'Paris Calling' compilation of new French bands. Continuing the Libertines connection are US-based Rock&Roll, chosen by Pete Doherty himself (so the story goes) to provide the music to fashion designer Roberto Cavalli's spring-summer 2008 collection.
Other French rock acts at SXSW are the Strokes-like Neimo and two Paris guitar bands with an eye to the dancefloor: Adam Kesher (actually a six-piece band with no member of that name) and Cheveu. The electronic contingent is completed by Fluokids, while The Rodeo (anagram of Dorothée, the singer's name, who also fronts a band called Hopper) will provide indie-folk back up Herman Dune (who are French, okay?)
So, those are the acts officially being presented at SXSW by the French music industry. But that's by no means the end of the Frenchness in Austin this week. Another 'Paris Calling' band, Brooklyn will be there, looking to build up momentum before the release of 'Clandestine' their debut album. And you can count in yet another French electro act, The Toxic Avenger.
Here's our pick of the French acts at SXSW 2008: The Rodeo, performing 'I'm Rude':