At last, something to rave about
France's contribution to the world of popular music was once a subject of derision in the English-speaking world. But the balance of power has shifted dramatically during the past decade, particularly when it comes to electronic music.
One of the best known tracks of New York dance rock act LCD Soundsystem (aka James Murphy), whose recently released Sound of Silver has been widely hailed as the album of the year, is Daft Punk Is Playing at My House, a nod to the influence of the French band.
Other French acts such as Air, Laurent Garnier and Dimitri from Paris have long been international stars. Madonna turned to Paris-based producer Mirwais to save her career with chunky French beats several albums ago, and the use of the repopularised vocoder made Cher a sexagenarian chart-topper.
That's nothing compared with the current French dance scene, which is thriving as much, if not more, abroad than at home. The brand of noise emanating from France has reshaped the sound of British and Iberian clubland during the past year, and leading lights such as Justice have been sought after for remixing by acts as diverse as Fatboy Slim, Mystery Jets and Britney Spears.
The success of these acts is something Pierre Hurel plans to celebrate with France Touches Hong Kong, an all-night dance party next week that will fuse the best in French music and fashion. The event, part of Le French May, will be held at Lan Kwai Fong hotspot Volar. Hurel's company, Py-R2, is bringing out big names such as Busy P, considered by some as the founding father of the French electronic scene, and one of Busy P's recent proteges, Justice, from his maverick electro label Ed Banger Records.
Hurel admits that the early influences on the French scene were outsiders: the likes of German electronica pioneers Kraftwerk, British bleepmeister Aphex Twin and various US techno DJs he began listening to in 1993.
'At that time in France big legal raves as we know today would be cancelled for no reason,' he says. 'I thought maybe it was worth listening to, so at night I hid under my blanket playing a radio show at low volume so my mum wouldn't hear. That's how I got into electronic music, listening to Laurent Garnier, Jeff Mills and Derrick May, to name but a few.'
Since then, Hurel has witnessed the development of the French electronic movement into one of the most influential in the world, although he doesn't look at it nationalistically. 'I've never been into French electro particularly,' he says. 'I've been into electronic music and some French are very good at it.'
Very good, indeed. Busy P (aka Pedro Winter) launched the French rave scene in 1992 and, after dropping out of law school, helped guide Daft Punk to success. In 2003, he set up Ed Banger and, with acts such as Justice, helped create a distorted sound that's unmistakably French yet globally seductive, with clunking beats, vocoder vocals and a knack for turning noise into music.
Justice - Gaspard Auge and Xavier de Rosnay (below) - are probably the pick of the Ed Banger crop, best known to clubbers for their remix of Simian's Never Be Alone. Their recently released untitled debut album (it simply bears a cross) is packed with tracks that are filling DJ bags. The duo's first release was a tribute to 80s British act Buggles, whose prime mover, Trevor Horn, is probably the closest thing to the French electro scene that Britain has produced.
Along with acts such as Electrobugz from the Heretik Sound System (who also appear at Volar), Justice producing the sound of the summer of 2007. 'I chose them because when I listen to their stuff, I can't stop banging,' says Hurel. 'I hope Hong Kong will do the same. The massive success of Daft Punk and others have contributed, and still do, to the new school success in all fields of electronic music.
The Volar event also features DJs Amil Khan, Teoh and Vincent Aze.
France Touches Hong Kong, May 25, 11pm, Volar, Basement, 38-44 D'Aguilar St, Central, HK$200 (members), HK$300 (register at firstname.lastname@example.org); AfterTouch, 11pm-late, Club Magazine, 8-11 Lan Kwai Fong, 3/F Cosmo Building, HK$200. Inquiries: 2810 1276