Irene Mackie talks about how, despite the shambles that is Brexit, the French and their music are still making waves across the channel.
Just over a week ago, I spent ten days in Lyon, France and it quickly became one of the most inspiring cities I have ever been to. Besides developing an undying love for Camembert and vastly improving my French past mutterings of “d’accord” and “est-ce que je pourrais…”, my already strong love for French music was augmented. French music is so great because it manages to embody the mystery and extravagance and wonder and romance and utter gorgeousness of France itself.
This article started life as a “definitive guide to French alternative music” but that failed. For me, it is hard to talk of alternative French music due to the fact that true alternative music, in the British sense of the word, is so distinctively different to what I have come to know of French music. It’s nothing like The Smiths and it’s hardly Radiohead. There are, of course, similarities: a jangly guitar riff here, a ferociously infectious hook there but ultimately all of these individual components come into their own and create something that just sounds so uniquely French. According to the eternally wise words of Urban Dictionary alternative music “is a music genre for those who have no music genre”. Based on this definition most French music is, essentially, alternative music because it is just so idiosyncratic. I would (and have) struggled to put it into a genre. Therefore, to be as bold as to declare that the following songs are alternative would be silly. I guess, to me, French music just sounds timeless, dreamy and sensual. It’s glorious and surely that is all that matters. Is it really worth dwelling on what genre it would fall into?
So, in lieu of a “definitive guide to French alternative music”, here is a list of my five favourite French songs. No genre has been assigned to them; they’re not post-punk or alt-rock or folk – they just are and, if you ask me, they’re great.
Keren Ann – Que N’ai Je
Keren Ann is a wonderfully talented musician based mostly in Paris but also Tel Aviv and New York City. Interestingly, I discovered this song just before my trip. It was used in a programme I was watching about the marvels of the French countryside and was accompanied by an extremely fitting image of a car driving along a seemingly never ending road.
Nouvelle Vague – Guns of Brixton
Nouvelle Vague are a cover band led by Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux and I could not recommend them enough. If you like the idea of French music but are (foolishly) put off by the foreignness of, well, a foreign language then they are perfect. They sing in English but masterfully capture the spirit and mystery of French music. This song is originally by The Clash, an English band, yet they manage to make it sound so dreamy and so French.
Nouvelle Vague – A Forest
I know, another Nouvelle Vague song – I am nothing if not diverse. In the typical style of Nouvelle Vague, this is a cover of The Cure’s “A Forest” and is just as enjoyable as the original but, naturally, not as anglicised. Like all of their songs, it’s dreamy and rich.
La Femme – Sur La Planche
La Femme originated in Biarritz and are said to be influenced by The Velvet Underground and Kraftwerk. “Sur La Planche” is youthful, hypnotic and exciting. For me, it really represents the exciting and compelling nature of French cities.
Melody’s Echo Chamber– Quand Vas Tu Rentrer?
Melody’s Echo Chamber is the dreamy, almost psychedelic, project of Melody Prochet, a young musician born in Puyricard. When in Lyon, I would listen to this song every night. This is my favourite French song of all time and the first forty seconds is a strong contender for my favourite piece of music ever. I just think it’s so cool and mysterious. Lyrically it is gorgeous but even without understanding the lyrics, I think the sense of longing is clear.
If you take anything from this article let it be that French music is totally dreamy and definitely worth checking out. If it isn’t already painfully clear, I absolutely adore it and, as the title says, so should you!
Words by Irene Mackie