whitehot | June 2008, Disco Babel
As a resident of Paris, one is constantly reminded by innumerable visitors to the city that the French capital lacks the lascivious choice of London, the nightlife of New York, or the underground adventure of Berlin. All these things are partly true; Paris does not have a thriving, easily accessible party scene and debonair sobriety often reigns supreme. Numerable evenings have been spent non-plussed in the crowd of the Nouveau Casino, Elysée Montmartre or The Bataclan for example, to see visiting luminary label gigs like Warp or Ninja Tunes for example, while everybody nods along to the banging music, sipping politely on a fluid ounce or two of grand cru for 10 to 15 euros a pop.
But if you stick around for a while and keep scratching away at Paris’ formal surface, it is possible to catch on to other carry on, by and large in the northerly and easterly neighbourhoods. One agency/collective DISCO-BABEL, in collaboration with Julie Tippex in London, are doing their bit to spread the net by hosting, originating and booking multifarious events and goings-on to expand the Parisian scene. Whilst it would be impossible, or more likely too lengthy, to discuss the full gamut of their work, I shall endeavour to highlight a broad selection of their oeuvre here.
Starting with being the booking agent for James Chance, a leading figure in the hybrid mishmash No Wave genre which funked up punk and much besides in the late 1970’s in New York, a movement which loosely encompassed other disparate artists such as Suicide, Lydia Lunch, some say Sonic Youth, rock n roll filmmakers like Amos Poe, and boiled down into a fine 1978 compilation with Brian Eno entitled ‘No New York’, Disco-Babel organised 15 shows in a European tour for Chance in April/May 2007 whereby he continued to affirm the vitality of his music.
Differing from the rest of this avant-garde scene by commanding a high level of musicality from The Contortions (his band) and a more recent French line-up Les Contorsions, he is lauded as the ‘sax maniac’ and for his rabble-rousing intense performances and flagrant tussling with the audience back in the day.
Other punk funk mixers in the D-B clan include a revived line-up of early 80’s NYC club rockers Bush Tetras, whose guitarist Pat Place cast aside her slide as a member of the original Contortions to play a more scabrous style with this post-punk three-quarters female outfit. Minimal post-punk trio Young Marble Giants, (a highly underrated group in my view and trivially a favourite of Kurt Cobain’s along with The Meat Puppets), who formed in 1978 in Wales, with ties to Rough Trade, Scritti Politti and Cabaret Voltaire, and furthermore, ‘art-errorist’ Krautrock legends Faust, who began all the way back in 1971 and are making a beatific return to the festival circuit this summer, also have the pleasure of the Babel booking.
The org are not just lucky enough to have attracted the attentions of fabled originators like those listed above, but are ploughing into the future with new talent in the age of machines meets musicianship.
Striking a chord with The Chap, whose amalgam of melodious Dadaist Kraut-Pop on UK label Lo Recordings, merges electro, cello and synth rock with entertaining lyrics (“sex with you is better than asthma- it’s good to breathe”). They have built up a firm following in France since 2005 with an abundance of European gigs. If you have the pleasure of seeing them live anytime soon, grab it and stand near the front.
Likewise with Zombie Zombie, a home-grown Parisian duo on the ‘Versatile’ label, comprised of Etienne Jaumet, saxophonist, theremin player and a vintage synthesiser wizard, and Neman, who moonlights as the drummer with Herman Düne, is a dab hand with analogue equipment and harbours lungs like a banshee. Discernable influences include the inimitable Can and Sun Ra, especially in the sense that as a live act, Zombie Zombie appear to be a spot-on yet free-form electronic tour de force.
Newer acts of searing originality edged with humour include coveter of cassette tapes Cockland, ‘electric ukulele in the rock idiom, bolstered by electronic beeps and bangs’, absurdist Wevie Stonder, and discordant New Zealanders So So Modern, alongside fantastical Brooklyn based folkers Skeletons and the Kings of All Cities. Boosting the French half of the roster are video artist and melodic French pop rocker Mendelson, oldschool Casio lovers and centre of the growing werd-punk/shitgaze scene Cheveu, plus purveyors of so-called ‘fruity rockabilly’, Gable.
On top of all the live frenzy, Disco-Babel are not the sort to shy away from more bookish pursuits, publishing Le Carte du Tendre on the subject of rock and amour, plus an annual series entitled Minimum Rock ‘n’ Roll, featuring French writers with philosophical slants on rock legends like PJ Harvey, The Cramps, and Billy Childish alongside icons like Betty Page under unexpected themes- the hidden depth of hair (Rouflaquettes, poils de torse et cheveux à chouchous), the attraction to fast cars/speed (Bagnoles, dragsters et autoroutes de l’enfer), footwear/leather (Escarpins, boots de cuir et claquettes à Pap) and the eroticism of rock star lips (Lipstick, patins mouillés et gorges profondes).
Besides which is a burgeoning fanzine movement, which became an exhibition entitled DIY Boogie in December 2007 at the Point Ephémère, an artistic centre, bar and concert space in the 10th arrondissement of Paris in an erstwhile construction materials shop. In a celebration of the DIY attitude with its roots in punk and artisan activism, the expo united the handmade arts of flyers, poster culture and most importantly zines, alongside an animation programme. With over 1000 visitors to the events and about as many inspired happy customers, all the more considering there was also a free record exchange on the go, the creativity and sheer assortment of experimental and quality output from Disco-Babel is quite thrilling, especially in a town like Paris where the times need a little push in an interesting direction.
Visit the Disco Babel website and myspace pages for more information. From here, links and information in French and English about all the artists mentioned will certainly open up the audio radar of most listeners, but if you prefer things a little faker, they also organise the French arm of the Air Guitar championships, and it’s more embarrassing younger sister, Le Collectif de Brosse à Cheveux for anyone that gets a kick out of miming into a hairbrush. It takes all sorts.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief