We have a habit of slating the French, calling them “cheese eating surrender monkeys” and so on and so forth. Having lived with them for a while now, I have slowly gotten to grips with the quirks of the Montpellier music scene and the differences between a night out here as opposed to our beloved Blighty.
Our froggy friends never really experienced to the same extent the rave scene that blossomed in England in the late 80s and early 90s; they never had the prominent sub-bass of Jungle and weekend-long Acid house parties that Thatcher so hated. However it was towards the end of the latter decade that the French House boom, led by luminaries such as Thomas Bangalter, Phillipe Zdar and Etienne de Crecy, became an integral part of the development of the electronic music scene and provided a platform from which the sound could progress in both commercial and sonic dimensions. I would struggle to find anyone of our generation that doesn’t think “Music Sounds Better With You” is an absolute banger and it is undisputable that Daft Punk’s first album, Homework, united fans from all genres of electronic music in popularizing the synth-driven, feel-good sound.
The cultural differences that separate us are all too evident on a night out. Whilst raving and generally taking things to excess seems to be socio-culturally intertwined with the British music scene, the more minimal, refined and cynical approach to beat-making is evident in the work of many seminal French producers- Laurent Garnier being the most notable. At the moment, however, the French sound is pioneered by Parisian labels such as ClekClekboom, and artists French Fries, Panteros666 and Manaré, drawing plenty of international attention for their Bassy, Housey, Jersey Club-inspired rhythms.
Whilst House music in England has blown up massively and the new aficionados shuffle to garage-infused bass lines, sporting Air Max and a short back and sides, the French do it a little differently. The slicked-back hair and exceedingly tight t-shirts, worn by a large portion of the crowd at house and techno nights, (because drum & bass or dubstep nights are not something you want to experience here, unless you enjoy getting jumped on by sweaty teenagers wearing Obey and moshing to Modestep), are reminiscent of our very own “spiceboys” that charge about Oceana on a Saturday night, searching for a failed glamour model in which to spread their steroid-laden seed. On first arrival the standard “you having a good night mate?!” (or it’s French equivalent) is met with a Gallic shrug and glare that imply “of course not, I’m here to drink pastis and hit on drunk girls, you English cretin”. This is far from the usual empathetic bubble in which you and your new best friend have oh-so-many things in common and both agree that Zomby is, in fact, a bellend. I’m not saying that all French people are aloof and unfriendly- my broken French possibly being a communication barrier – however I didn’t get the same all-welcoming vibe that is often the case on good nights in England, although that may be due to the high price of MDMA here rather than anything else.
Montpellier is France’s 8th biggest city and the fastest growing by far. Although home to a thriving student population, nightlife options can at first appear a tad restrictive if you want to try and avoid the sweaty, pretentious, clichés where the music comprises either Jason Derulo or Martin Garrix on repeat and entry is denied unless you have a gaggle of saccharine blondes on each arm. Rockstore, the main venue for both live music and DJs has played host to notable acts such as Andrew Weatherall, Dusky, Faze Miyake and Mount Kimbie to name a few. However, while these acts tend to deliver the expected musical calibre, the DJs supporting seem to make it their job to deliver the loudest, brashest mixes which never fail to include some sort of Skrillex or All Trap Music tribute. Their lack of subtlety and musical nous is compounded by their reliance on gimmicks and extra-musical spectacle. Don’t get me wrong, it was hilarious for a whole two minutes when two DJs got their dwarf mate to start dancing on the decks, but this only served to deflect focus away from their shabby mixing and ended up making me feel a bit uncomfortable. Like any animal with a penis I was able to appreciate, on a different occasion, the boobies and skin on show when 8 or 9 sexy, (although a bit dumpy) women were brought on stage to spend a good 4 hours or so dancing like they’d been taking tips from a Benny Benassi video. It was, however, too much for me to handle when some dickhead started jumping about in a wig and speedos as if it was gonna add some sort of comedic element to the show. I know right, SPEEDOS!!!!! How outrageous is this guy???!!!
In slagging off these elements of French nightlife I mean to take nothing away from the more underground labels, promoters, DJs and fans of new, innovative dance music: Montpellier’s Ugetmetv crew holding it down on their live stream; artists such as Tealeaf producing meticulously structured, almost spiritual rhythms; and Lyon’s Tielsie, accompanied by Nikitch, forging a French footwork sound that is as shuddering and sample-saturated as anything stateside. Whilst nowhere here could ever really compete with the established scenes of Bristol, Leeds and Manchester, the more inconspicuous heads here contributing to the musical dynamic are no less avant-garde than their British counterparts; they just seem to be less concerned with crossing over to a wider audience and compromising their music to do so, thus making them less accessible and popular. However, as these artists are more widely received, I have no doubt that their popularity will increase, inspiring more belief in home-grown artists and less of a reliance on big English DJs to sell out shows, hopefully lowering the excessive ticket prices and making good quality Dance music more accessible and popular in France.