Music is often described as a universal language that crosses all barriers. While this may hold true for the euphoric ups and downs of a great chorus or the shared ecstasy of acid house, lyrics are easily lost in translation.
I came away from this year’s Rock on Seine festival, held in the heart of Paris, with a few interesting new bands, most of them English and already famous, but a few French groups caught my eye (ear) enough that I checked them out on returning home.
The first, The Melting Snow Quartet, I met in the crowd watching Nine Inch Nails. Before the brilliant din kicked-off, the lead singer (of TMSQ) Florian and I got talking about our respective musical cultures. The Quartet have just released their second album, Living The Dream, and most curiously sing (very well) in English. The enunciation and the music have familiar hints of indie but with a twist.
Their first record, Another Trick is capable, but you can already hear the progress made with LTD. The songs bristle with a quiet unease and tension, the rhthyms are slightly off-kilter which adds to a Nick Cave, The Carny, spookiness and creeping banjos drive songs forward rather than plinking along daintily (take that Mumford and Sons and Co.) It’s nice to hear a band that have some of the romanticism of Jeff Buckley and taut guitars that remind me of angry Radiohead. Florian’s singing also has some of the depth and timbre of John Frusciante, a singer I really admire.
Another group that left an impressionistic streak from the festival are Fauve. The band’s logo is the inequality symbol which represents their politicised agenda. Moving from sung lyrics to a more rapid-fire hip-hop delivery (in French) Fauve are less a band and more a collective of musicians and artists who happen to have released socially-conscious music of no fixed genre. It’s hard to understand every word (I know a little French) but the sentiment often shines through, and their Blizzard EP is well worth a listen as something different with spoken word set to beats, keys and guitars.
A more established group that share with Fauve a hip-hop edge are Sniper. Perhaps even more political, they have been around for a while and seem to speak up on the behalf of ignored outer- Paris satellite districts. Their lyrics are deemed so powerful, they were almost sued by the then- Interior Minister of France, one Nicolas Sarkozy. By turns, attacking Israeli treatment of Palestinians (which had the group tagged as being anti-semitic) and even France as a nation, Sniper bring back some of the power-baiting fury of RATM – not necessarily something you’d expect to hear about a French group.
Though the UK is one of the biggest and best exporters of music worldwide, it still surprises me that more of us don’t go a little bit continental and check out other groups from across the water. Unless UKIP get their way, we have a lot in common with European groups, but also a lot to learn. The Melting Snow Quartet, Fauve and Sniper are just a few examples and are well worth checking out.