Nearly all of us has a French friend proud of his country’s heritage, whether it’s enthusiasm for expensive wine, stinky cheese, or music. If you’re lucky enough, this friend will beg you to join him to attend a Justice concert while proudly wearing an Ed-Banger T-shirt… Unfortunately, in the worst-case scenario, it seems that our French friends might have abandoned their souls to a darker side, and have adopted the deeply philosophical devise “F*** ME I’M FAMOUS”. Yet the “French Touch” should not be summed to these extremes, the movement has a history, and has evolved in other directions, sometimes impenetrable to the French themselves.
Chapter One: We gave a French Touch To House Music
As many House related stories start, it began in the early 90’s, when the UK born rave phenomenon sailed oversees, escaping from Thatcher politics, and landed in France, unleashing House and Techno sounds from the unknown. At the time FNAC –which was still selling music at this point, decided to give a chance to House music, through an adventurous label called “FNAC Dance Music Division”. Aside distributing the Bleep Techno anthems freshly imported from Sheffield, they supported local artists in order to develop this music as yet in its infancy in France.
This enthusiasm suddenly allowed the French pioneers (Laurent Garnier, Shazz and Ludovic Navarre aka St Germain… to name a few) to polish their unique sound, bringing together Chicago House and Techno with Acid-Jacid, Soul and, let’s admit it, a dollop of cheesy Disco. The UK was the very first country to give French House music some love, warmly welcoming St Germain’s Boulevard album in the more specialised magazines. It didn’t take long for the phrase “We gave a French touch to House music”, to be printed on many French DJs outfits and to become the new genre’s nickname: French Touch.
When Daft Punk released Homework, back in 1995, the movement kicked off internationally, and when Cassius followed with his album 1999, the major players saw in “French Touch” the next industry cash cow. Let’s avoid lingering on the Guettas, the Solves and Sinclars…for now.
Chapter Two: apogee and decay
After nearly a decade, the early experimentations of the French pioneers influenced a fresh new wave of artists. Former Daft Punk manager, Pedro Winter (aka Busy P) felt investigated from the mission to federate this clique, and for that reason formed the label Ed Banger. Bringing together the crème de la crème of the indie French electronic scene: Mr Oizo, DJ Mehdi, Justice… Together, they perpetrated a sound inherited from the unique House music their predecessors tried their hands at, yet adding progressively more and more cheesy disco into their musical recipes.
Yet, since this era it’s like the clocks of music history have stopped ticking in Paris and the province. The same names keep on making headlines, and when new ones appear, they seem particularly determined to reproduce the exact same sound. From Kitsune to Bromance, the labels are extremely keen on basking in their screeching aesthetics, forever supported by a halo of inescapable lurid press… whilst Pedro seems passably happy to have his record label’s logo printed on bottles of Heineken lager.
Final chapter: Rebirth
Please don’t be mislead by my words, the purpose of this article is not to bring French music into disrepute. The French Touch might have sold itself out in the past decade, yet this hasn’t prevented artists all of ages from composing incredible music in France, music that has passed the test of time and eluded the industry’s faux pas. Let us not conclude without mentioning the remarkable work of the team Infiné -home to artists such as Rone and the audacious work of Concrete Music, who not only looks after a marvellous label but also organises renowned parties in Paris. Let’s also acknowledge the artist Horror Ink who released what could probably be considered as the finest Deep House album in 2013 and in a similar spectrum, Cabanne and his wonderful label Minibar, releasing some of the finest Minimal Techno on the continent. Also note worthy is Marc Antona’s label Dissonant and the even more underground ones such as Holdyouth or Early Dub… and the list could well go on.
Together, these labels and artists got rid of the exclusiveness of their past and started writing a simple future without all the added marketing to confine their art. They don’t necessarily have the common conscience to belong to some national movement, yet the combination of their efforts make the French capital and the province thriving again. From its scattered ashes, French Touch has given birth to a fertile ground of artists who are overstepping borders to deliver what could be considered as a fine art. French Touch is dead, long life to French Touch.
By Jonathon Greenwood