posted on February 12, 2009 18:00
The town, Chelles, is half an hour by train from Paris. The venue, Les Cuizines, is another half hour on foot from the station. And the bus service stopped at 9:30 in the evening. This is one of the reasons why the place was only about a third full for tonight's show.
The satellite towns round Paris have many such venues: cultural spaces or community centres hidden in hard-to-reach residential areas. Luckily there’s local government funding (and pricy beer) to offset the meagre door takings of some shows.
Tonight's concert featured Bertrand Burgalat (right). While certainly not famous in France (the other reason for the low turnout), Burgalat's name is familiar to most French alt-pop fans. He played a show at classy Paris jazz venue New Morning the previous week, but the CLUAS Paris Correspondent couldn’t swing a pass. And so we’re in the middle of nowhere to see him. The bus, last of the evening, swung by industrial estates, shopping centres, motorways and other isolated landmarks that we tried to remember for the 30-minute walk back to the station and the last train back to Paris, departing 30 minutes after the show ends. This would want to be worth it.
Why go to all the trouble? Well, Burgalat has said that his current series of shows will be his last live appearances, so we wanted to see a genuine French cult pop star while we had the chance. Also, his guest on these shows is April March, another idiosyncratic pop figure that we thought worth seeing. (In fact, she merits a blog post of her own: we’ll tell you all about her very soon…)
Burgalat’s brand of retro-futuristic electro-pop, not to mention his nationality, invites comparison to that of Air, but it might be more accurate to compare him to his Finnish counterpart Jimi Tenor. As well as making dreamy electronic pop, they both have the carefully-crafted persona of a kitsch electro-nerd. Burgalat wears your granddad’s clothes and the NHS-style square glasses popularised by Jarvis Cocker. But tonight he is also sporting the same kind of five-day beard as his indie-kid backing band, thus giving away the fact of his hipness. (In the same way, Tenor's nerdy image is somewhat undermined by the fact that his ears are pierced.) That, and the news that he’s just agreed to design a collection of clothes for fashion house Azzaro.
Burgalat's back catalogue is pleasant, though undemanding and familiar-sounding to fans of retro-pop. His plain, unaffected singing style evokes both Kraftwerk and his compatriot Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab. And yes, if you like ‘Moon Safari’ you’ll like Burgalat too.
But while his albums haven't made him hip, Burgalat's in demand outside France as a remixer, arranger and collaborator. He's worked on records by Supergrass, Depeche Mode and Nick Cave, and his lovely 2007 duet with Robert Wyatt, 'This Summer Night', has become something of a cult favourite.
He has his own label, Tricatel, which features acts as diverse as one-hit-wonder DJ Mr Oizo, French comic actress Valérie Lemercier (his partner), our own The High Llamas - and Michel Houellebecq. In 2000 the controversial writer and film-maker released ‘Présence Humaine’, on which he sings his lyrics to music by Burgalat. It sounds quite… no, actually, we’ll let you find out for yourself.
Anyway, we enjoyed the show very much and just made it back in time for the last train home. We believe there's a Burgalat/March album coming out soon; in the meantime, check out Bertrand Burgalat's MySpace page to hear tracks from his previous albums.
Though it’s still wintry in Paris, here’s a Bertrand Burgalat song for the season to come; ‘Spring Isn’t Fair’: