Tag Archives: France

Big Ups: Sunn O))) Pick Their Bandcamp Favorites

Sunn O)))

Photo by Ronald Dick

Over the course of Sunn O)))’s two-decade-long career, the group has managed to find a lot of space within space. Core members Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley have become infamous for their lumbering approach to modern classical, black metal, and noise—or to put it in layman’s terms, for stretching out every last, hulking riff for as long as possible. Continue reading

The Paris Punk Family Tree


Gomme. Photos by Harald Hutter.

“Do you know about the six degrees of separation theory?” says Victoria Arfi, a member of two Parisian punk bands, P.M.S. and Mary Bell. “In Paris, especially in the punk scene, it’s more like one degree.” If you spend any length of time talking to Parisian punk bands, soon enough, you may find yourself reaching for a bar napkin so you can start sketching out the complicated connections within the scene’s sprawling family tree.

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The Stubborn Independence of Born Bad Records

Francis Bebey

Francis Bebey

There is no shortage of French labels boasting quirky and revolutionary rosters (La Souterraine, Almost Musique), but Born Bad Records take eclecticism, aesthetic stubbornness, and independence to new heights. Jean-Baptiste Guillot, a former art director who spent at least a decade working for major labels in France, founded Born Bad in 2006, smack dab in the middle of the illegal downloading boom that weakened the stronghold that majors like Universal, EMI, and Sony had on the market. Starting a label while the industry was essentially falling apart was a gutsy move, but Guillot combined the lessons he’d learned over the course of a decade with his life-long knowledge of the Parisian underground—along with some hard-earned street cred—to launch Born Bad as a home to artists and musicians who shared his vision.

In an interview with the Lyon magazine Le Petit Bulletin, Guillot explained that the label’s success and cultural resonance was in part due to his own staunch policies for selecting records to release. The key, he explained, was to avoid becoming a prisoner of your own niche. In that sense, Born Bad Records may be recognized for its excellent garage rock releases and reissues, but it’s also known for putting out a host of soundtracks and compilations from genres as disparate as zouk, pop, French boogie, and Saharan pop, as well as unearthing the hidden histories of French synthwave, exploitation punk, and African electronic music. It’s also recently diversified its business into book publishing, collecting the works of Belgian poster artist Elzo Durt, who has also designed many of Born Bad’s album covers.

On the occasion of the label’s 10th anniversary, we took a deep dive into their catalogue and created a not-at-all exhaustive guide to some of the label’s must-hear artists and compilations.

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The La Souterraine Label Keeps French Pop Freaky

La Souterraine

“There’s all these great artists and musicians in France, but they’re just never portrayed anywhere, because they’re kind of odd compared to the normality so enforced upon us. You’re not allowed to be a freak in France.”

These words were spoken to me last year in an interview with Laetitia Sadier, cofounder and leader of the legendary band Stereolab. The topic came up when I asked her about La Souterraine, a French music collective that released a compilation on which she appeared. Founded by Benjamin Caschera and Laurent Bajon, precisely to give a voice to all those “freaks,” La Souterraine’s now-extensive catalog documents the French underground (its name literally means “the underground”) through smooth variations on classic French pop, tweaked with odd arrangements. Lo-fi recordings rub up against elegant, precise performances; solo projects sit side-by-side on the label with avant-garde groups. The one constant is that all lyrics are written and sung in French. (One of my favorite recent discoveries was listening to one of the label’s releases and realizing the artist was delivering a melodramatic version of “Hotel California”—in French, of course.)

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Album of the Day: Various Artists, “The Calais Sessions”

An estimated 5,000 migrants from Africa and the Middle East live precariously in the so-called “jungle” in Calais, France, and lot of them are gifted musicians. With all too much time on their hands, several of these temporary residents took advantage of an onsite mobile studio to record this diverse and moving album. They got help from visiting volunteers from the United Kingdom, where the migrants hope to find work some day. Reflecting loss and optimism in equal measure, it humanizes a group that many are far too willing to depersonalize and ignore.

Sales from The Calais Sessions will benefit Citizens UK, a group that seeks to aid unaccompanied refugee children. The project’s facilitators included a couple of their own tunes to show solidarity with the campers. But their well-intentioned contributions sound a bit too comfortable beside tracks like “The Lost Singer,” a sprawling, beautiful song by a Syrian named Moheddin. The Afghan singer and dombra player named Ismail—who’d been shot and burned by the Taliban for playing his percussive instrument—turns in an impassioned performance. And Abdullah Kathim, a 21-year-old member of the “stateless” Bedoon ethnic minority in Kuwait, sings a meter-less solo “mawwal” improvisation about his betrayal by a friend. “This eve,” Abdullah sings in Arabic, “I want to bewail [my fate] and tell you of my sorrows.”

Members of an Eritrean and Ethiopian group, along with UK group Get Gospel, sing happier notes—including the self-evidently optimistic “Yesus” and “Halleluyah.” Romanian folk-fiddle virtuoso Bogdan Vacarescu contributes a Balkan fiddle tune. And a melodica-tooting Oona Chaplin joins Sudanese drummers and Molotov Jukebox accordionist Natalia Tena for the Bollywood hit, “Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega” (Every Heart That Loves), which closes this moving musical sanctuary.

Richard Gehr