posted on October 22, 2009 19:00
Much has been made here in France of Phoenix and their growing popularity in North America, with reference to two sold-out shows in New York's Central Park at the end of last month. However, these weren't huge outdoor events on the scale of, say, Paul Simon's legendary shows in 1981 and 1991 - the French band's gigs were in an area of the Park called the Rumsey Playfield as part of a cultural series called SummerStage.
Similarly, you may also have seen Justice and their 2008 documentary 'A Cross The Universe', which chronicled their eventful U.S. tour. (Highlights include a quickie marriage and an arrest for assault.) That pair's spiritual forefathers were celebrated in LCD Soundsystem's fantastic 2005 single 'Daft Punk Is Playing At My House'. And celebrity blogger Perez Hilton has taken under his wing a French singer called Sliimy, a cross musically and physically between Mika and Prince. So, pop from France has found a niche in the American music scene.
Attempting to build on this, while Phoenix were rocking New York a dedicated French music festival called 'Ooh La L.A!' took place in Los Angeles. As reported by Les Inrockuptibles, three shows took place over the weekend of 23-25 September at the Henry Fonda Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.
(And yes, French people really do say "ooh la la!" - though it seems to us that the most common users are irate drivers and excitable sports commentators. At the risk of destroying your image of France, it's not really something a pouty Parisian model or extrovert Breton villager would utter.)
The first night's bill featured Sebastien Tellier, still telling the unfunny joke that is his 'Sexuality' album. (However, as we reported last February, his live show is worth the ticket price just to hear him play the wonderful 'La Ritournelle'.) Also playing were a French Letter favourite - Cocoon, the Clermont-Ferrand folk-pop duo who've become hugely successful in France. (How could you not be charmed by an album called 'My Friends All Died In A Plane Crash' and released on a label called Sober And Gentle?)
And then there was piano-pop artist Gonzales. Real name Jason Beck, he's actually Canadian but following a few years in Berlin he's now resident in France. He produced both 'Let It Die' and 'The Reminder' for Feist. On 18 May he set a world record by performing a solo concert that lasted 27 hours, 3 minutes and 44 seconds. And his piano-playing hands were cast as those of Serge Gainsbourg in the forthcoming biopic on the great man, though we read that his contribution hasn't made the final cut.
Unfortunately his recent music is nowhere near as interesting as those little pieces of trivia. But back in 1999 and 2000 he released some catchy tunes on the Kitty-Yo label, the best of which was a slinky single called 'Let's Groove Again'.
Rather appropriately, the second night of the festival starred Hollywood Mon Amour (the '80s movie theme version of Nouvelle Vague) and Franco-Finnish indie duo The Dø, whose singer Olivia Merilahti is quite irritating. Sadly, French Letter favourite Emilie Simon had to cancel for personal reasons (a bereavement, apparently) and she was replaced by Soko, the acoustic singer-songer whose track 'I'll Kill Her' became something of an internet hit.
The final night of 'Ooh La L.A!' was dedicated to French electronica. Brodinski and The Shoes are both from the north-eastern city of Reims, also home to Yuksek, while Jamaica are a Parisian duo formerly known as Poney Poney (not to be confused with fellow French bands Poney Express, Poni Hoax or Pony Pony Run Run).
Aside from the electronica/Reims clique, you'd be hard pushed to construe any kind of coherent French scene from the 'Ooh La L.A!' line-up. For one thing, none of the artists currently perform in French, apart from the absent Emilie Simon's previous album, 'Végétal'. Still, it's a good time for French bands to head for America. And, combined with annual global Fête de la Musique celebrations such as Let's French in Dublin, world domination seems to be on the agenda.
We've already raved at length about Cocoon and Emilie Simon so here's that Gonzales song we mentioned earlier, 'Let's Groove Again':