French Undreground: 70s-80s

Metal Urbain debut 7
Metal Urbain debut 7" Panik from 1977
posted Wednesday May 31st, 2006

The pre-punk years showed great promise with the formations of several very important and influential bands like the Dogs (click for free mp3s), Angel Face, Shakin' Street, Bijou, Metal Urbain, and Asphalt Jungle, who's impeccable style, delivery, and raw sounds breathed fresh air into the otherwise stagnant mid 70s European musical landscape. As the punk sounds were made across the globe in all the other primordial incarnations by the likes of the Electric Eels, Ramones, Saints, London SS, etc, the French undreground launched a very impressive arsenal of raw face-smashers, but yet stayed far out of the international punk spotlight. The seminal year of 1977 saw the beginning of an avalanche of classic releases by the likes of Gasoline, Metal Urbain, Marie et les Garcons, Guilty Razors, Warm Gun, Electrick Garbage, Starshooter, Les Olivensteins, Electrochoc, and Calcinator and many more, but most of these classic tracks were first heard by a new generation having been compiled in several slots in the Killed By Death and Bloodstains series of bootlegs in the early to mid 90s.

At the dawn of the 1980s, although there was a thriving music scene undoubtedly, it was The Dogs that seemed to have the best, most timeless grasp on rock'n roll out of the vast French soundscape. There was clearly no shortage of new singles by bands with strange and intriguing names like Electronaze, Wild Child, Dements Tragiques, Fuzz, Dum Dum Bullet, Les Electrodes, Brigade, and Soggy. By 1983, the mainstream was clogged with tame new wave stuff like Telephone, some of which is good, but only about 15% despite their suave attire and disinterested glances. Labels like New Rose (ran by avid music fans Patrick Mathe and Louis Thevenon from 1981-92) with a firm grasp on American underground music, made it seem like the French fans definitely had a deeper appreciation for most groundbreaking US bands (like the Real Kids, Johnny Thunders, and the Cramps) than their homeland ever did. Skydog had even predated New Rose to the early 70s, establishing itself as one of the first recognized punk, yet international record labels in 1973 with their release of the Flamin' Groovies' Grease EP, and later, the legendary Stooges Metallic KO LP. Let's just say they knew what they were doing, and that's why the Americans (and anyone else outside of Europe) had to pay import prices for records in the 80s. The Real Kids, for example, had their debut 7" released on the French Sponge label, ran by Philippe Garnier, despite never setting foot on Europen shores until years later, and with an avid Boston following. So many classic albums had "made in France" imprinted somewhere on the sleeves that it just became synonymous with excitement for another great band that the US labels weren't paying attention to. It's almost as if they've known how important some of our national rock'n roll figureheads were, years before we stopped to notice. Gene Vincent, Screaming Jay Hawkins, and Alex Chilton are all treated like royalty in France, so they know what's going on on more of a national level that we could ever imagine here.