International Spotlight: My (Unbiased) Guide to French Electronica
Larissa Dunn explores the fascinating world of French Electronica.
“Alexa joue ‘One More Time’”
We have all heard of Daft Punk. Indies and Made in Chelsea enthusiasts will have heard of M83 – coincidentally whose album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is reaching its tenth anniversary (keep an eye out for the limited edition orange vinyl). And film buffs, Ryan Gosling fans or anyone who has seen the film Drive will certainly recognise Kavinsky. However, this guide aims to take you through the niche back alleys of French electronica, proving that although French Touch might be a thing of the past, they have certainly still got it.
Starting off with a sound as French as it gets is Bon Entendeur. Their humble beginnings start off in 2012 on Soundcloud; the trio rose to fame by releasing monthly mixtapes consisting of sound clippings (interviews, films) mixed with electronic backings. The group took the words of French icons like Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Tatou and Vincent Cassel, and transformed them into music.
Fast-forward to 2021, the group now have two albums on Spotify: Aller-Retour and Minuit. Both albums consist of remixes of classic French songs of the 60s and 70s, such as Francois Hardy’s ‘Le temps de l’amour’, a song instantly recognisable for a francophone audience. Collaborating with these well established household names such as Jane Birkin and Isabelle Pierre, Bon Entendeur managed to rebirth the classic French sound, modernising the music that got French parents everywhere saying “back in my day…” Whether it be the electro-swing sound of ‘Le Temps est Bon’ or the disco fever of ‘I Love To Love’, Bon Entendeur are to be enjoyed whilst grooving at a festival, not on a dusty 45 in your grandma’s Parisian apartment.
Polo & Pan
Now let’s move on to the beautifully vibrant Polo & Pan. The duet, who met in a nightclub in Paris, also take inspiration from classic French tunes while departing the boundaries of the Hexagon for more exotic shores. Musically magpieing from the most unlikely of places, the pair have sampled Scottish band Pilot’s ‘Magic’, Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ and Native American hymn ‘Ani Kuni’. With three albums in the bag, Polo & Pan are taking the electronic scene by (tropical) storm. A particular favourite ‘Attrape-rêve’ captures the essence of their music – a dream-state capable of transporting you to a far away land. However, not far enough that you can’t catch them on their current European tour – don’t walk, run.
Defined by their “space-electronica sonics” this band take pop, disco and electronica to a place out of this world, yet still somehow manage to touch down on French soil. Their early career was defined by their more ambient tracks – or what I personally like to call “music of the French Riveria”. Songs such as ‘Vanille Fraise’ and ‘Sonate Pacifique’ see you sipping your Kir Royale on a beach in Cannes.
A defining point for the band was the introduction of female band member Flore Benguigui for their EP Odyssée. The honeyed vocals of ‘Agitations tropicales’ are supported by funky guitar and bass. A fun fact: this EP was re-released, but in a slower format, due to a fan accidentally playing their vinyl at the wrong speed (and liking it). More recently, the release of their album Tako Tsubo in 2021 demonstrated a personal, even political side to their music. ‘Peur des filles’ (translated as ‘Fear of girls’) playfully dismembers misogyny (you think I’m joking).
In the music video, the band looks back to the 60s, specifically to the cult horror phenomenon, to denounce traditional female stereotypes. Followers of the band will be aware of Flore Benguigui’s own gendered struggles in the industry, and the song playfully balances satire with the therapeutic. What is the most striking for me about L’Impératrice is their willingness to stay true to their francophone audience, whilst also being accessible to their anglophone one. They chose to cater to both with the bilingual double release of Matahari. My particular favourite, ‘Error 404’, resonates in both languages – it also turns out that the gist of “bon voyage, imbécile” is universal. Get you a band that can do both.
All three of these groups are unregretfully French. Whether it is in the French vocals, or in homages back to the golden era of the country’s pop and dance scenes, this blue, white and red electronica is Made in France. But they also cross borders, physically, with English language releases, and metaphorically, with their auditory transportation to different lands. In writing this article, I hope you can hear their journey.