Roots of the French Undreground

posted Wednesday May 31st, 2006

France is exactly what America is afraid of. Suave, strange, surly and superior, but yet it's culture is so firmly rooted in ours, we often forget. Despite your all-American breakfast staple, french toast, and that good ol' American fantasy, the menage a trois, we are often speaking their language so regularly most of us hardly notice. Cliche, facade, resume, rendezvous, matinee, hors d'oeuvres, lingerie, escargot, etc. we speak it all the time, so why not get acquainted with the music? We'll start out with the sixties, where the French culture really came alive and the videos came out even better.

You may not know it just yet, but French music is some of the greatest music ever created on earth. Just casually listening to the smooth yet punchy 60s kick of Jacques Dutronc, Francoise Hardy or Antoine & Les Problems and you can feel the attraction develop, but there's just not much you can do about it when you've only got a fraction of the coolness. Although someone more qualified could easily write a book on the history of the French music, it's still a secret sect that's criminally overlooked throughout history, especially in the USA. Just the guttural vocal inflection is enough to get even the most stubborn person to bend an ear, and when those sounds went underground in the late 60s until the early 70s, some very interesting things happened. Psychedelic and progressive bands like Gong and the Chico Magnetic Band (the French Jimi Hendrix as he's been known) got the weird gears turning and pulled the music out of the Euro prog-hell and clearly set the stage for the impending punk sounds to take form in the next few years. In the early 70s they even had their own stab at mainstream glam in the form of the Frenchies (called the French New York Dolls), who released their androgynously swinging album Lola Cola in 1974. Check it out if you're inclined to dig deeper into the bizarre world of underground and obscure glam music as pioneered by the excellent Velvet Tinmine and Glitterbest series of comps that came out recently. Then, there was the act known as Magma. The bizarre alien-borne group of freaks who spoke their own language and noodled off into obscurity before anyone could figure them out, at least left us with video of their prog-gone wrongedness to scratch our heads to. Check out the clip below from a rare French film from 1971.