Modern French electro-pop has made its way into American ears... sort of. Sure, a few bigger names have dotted our playlists in recent decades—Daft Punk in the '90s and beyond, Yelle in the 2000s, and Christine and the Queens as of late—but the current, ultra-creative scene is booming and has a slew of newcomers very much worth discovering.
A label-based climate with plenty of niche variety, the scene in Paris—and around France, in general—is undoubtedly an exhilarating one. Up-and-coming artists are flourishing, the sounds are packed with varied influences, and there's a notable “return to roots.” People are singing in French again, and it’s marvelous.
Here's a close look at a few favorite French creators, their sounds, their thoughts on this vibrant music scene, and what they’re currently listening to. Queue these kids up; the next time the aux cord is passed, this is what you’ll want to put forth.
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In meeting six-member “space pop” group, L’Impératrice, it becomes clear the crew is close-knit, collaborative, and flat-out chill. But perhaps equally important to their success are the varied experiences that come to bear: They’ve toured India; started a writing atelier at Pile ou Face, a brothel-turned-bar in their home neighborhood of Pigalle; and their keyboardist is also the owner of MEE, a hip Korean bistro in Paris’s 1st arrondissement. The group’s newest member, jazz singer Flore, brings a fresh facet to the previously instrumental band. Despite French not being a very singable language, the group’s first full-length album, set to release next fall, will feature their native tongue. In addition to the French touch, listeners may feel a faint influence of the groups’ diverse musical predilections, which range from melancholic chanteuse Juliette Armanet, to Bob James, to ACDC, to 17th-century Russian composers. They’ve not toured the U.S. yet, but in my opinion, it’s only a matter of time.
Born and raised in Paris, the duo POOM—comprised of Camille Ferrera and Siegfried de Turckheim—met at the École d’Arts Graphiques. Instead of jumping into the graphic arts world upon graduation, they decided to make music. A mix of disco, funk, and classical French chanson, POOM's sound is a continuation of greats like Michel Legrand, Serge Gainsbourg, and Françoise Hardy. “We want to surprise people, by appearing soft and light, to finally address fundamental themes such as death, boredom or despair. One could say that it is ‘bittersweet.’” Thanks to finding the current French scene fertile for newcomers, the duo looks to success stories, like the petite powerhouse Christine and the Queen, for inspiration.
Med students-turned-musicians Jabberwocky are a Poitiers-native trio formed in 2013. Represented by Grand Musique Management and self-identifying as “pop-electro,” the group’s layered sound proves complex. Each of the three guys—Camille Camara, Emmanuel “Manu” Bretou, and Simon Pasquer—has a different musical inclination and a range of influences that contribute to their sound, from Slash to Odessa. “We want to create a specific climate for every individual piece we create, to illicit images,” Simon confirms, a goal successfully furthered by their powerful videos. “[The scene] is big, with niche labels that are continually developing. It’s exciting because you can really find what you want here,” the guys add.
Born and raised in the suburbs of Paris, Jean Tonique is a classically trained percussionist who starting making his own music five years ago. Feel-good pop with a funky undertone, Jean Tonique’s aim is for others to enjoy the experience of listening to his music, to dance… to just feel good. It’s no surprise his favorite performance was at Calvi on the Rocks festival (held on the beach in Corsica… I mean, c’mon) and he has dreams of one day playing Coachella.
Jean Tonique is also represented by Grand Musique Management, and agrees with Jabberwocky’s take on the current scene in France, adding:
It’s really varied… Kartell, FKJ, and Darius have a sound that is getting bigger. Superpoze is in a really different part of the music scene, but also getting a lot of attention right now. Jacques is creating some cool new stuff too; he records a lot of elements—chairs, tables—and makes music from it. His live shows are really impressive because he records in real time.
Simon Henner, the Marseille-based artist behind French 79 (as well as Husbands and Nasser), was raised in the north of France prior to heading south 12 years ago. Two years ago, Henner found that the music he was producing was “too electronic” for both Husbands and Nasser, but intriguing nonetheless. He had a simple solution: launch a solo project. Voilà French 79.
French 79’s inspirations run the gamut and make for original outputs. From Nirvana and Beastie Boys to jazz artists like Avishai Cohen, he tries “to be inspired by things completely different from what I do. I even draw from African chord suites, Baltic rhythms, and Indian songs.”
In regard to the French music scene, the sentiment that it’s highly creative and quickly expanding is shared. “The French music scene is still very creative at the moment, and I notice that it is expanding better and better. The groups begin to sing again in French... I also noticed that some American groups were singing in French. It's a good sign!”