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French Touch

24 Mar

Want the lowdown on French Touch? No, it’s not a seduction technique.

French Touch is a type of house music pioneered in the 90s by artists like Daft Punk, Cassius, Etienne de Crecy and Air.

I won’t bore you with the details (apparently ‘most tracks in this vein feature steady 4/4 beats with a tempo range of 110–130 beats per minute.’ Thanks, Wikipedia.) It’s basically house music with notes of electro and disco thrown in, performed by French artists.

The term was actually coined by an Englishman. Journalist Martin James used it in his 1996 review of the first Super Discount EP by Etienne de Crecy. The term took off in the French media and became a recognisable musical genre by the late 90s.

Who can forget Daft Punk‘s catchy rhythms? The most well-recognised French Touch duo (Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo) met at school in Versailles, and are famous for their club anthems and eccentric get-ups. Who knew posh boys – or indeed anyone – could party like this pre-Gaga?

Air (Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin) are a personal favourite. Their work on film soundtracks is particularly interesting, namely on Sophia Coppola’s “Virgin Suicides” in 1999 and their psychedelic 2011 soundtrack for the restored version of George Melies’s iconic “Voyage dans la Lune.” This is one of their best-loved songs:

The term has been much used and abused, and can now be applied to almost any electronic French group or DJ. Bob Sinclair and Justice are good examples of how French Touch has evolved.

Justice have achieved international success since 2007 with their electro pop tunes like “D.A.N.C.E”. Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay’s latest album has more of a rock feel, but could still be described as French Touch. In my opinion, any label that gets French music recognised internationally can’t hurt!


French films triumphed in 2011

22 Jan

2011 was the year of the French film. Last year’s success stories like “The Artist”, “Polisse” and “Intouchables” prove French and international audiences alike have fallen back in love with the French film industry.

Silent flick “The Artist” is definitely France’s best shot at international recognition in 2012. Michel Hazanavicius’s black and white risk has paid off, with international acclaim for the film and its cast (including cute pooch Uggie) as January sees it hit screens ‘outre mer.’

And now Jean Dujardin‘s recent Golden Globe awards have made him a hotly tipped contender for an Oscar. He’s poised for international fame and blockbuster roles – like Marion Cotillard after “La Mome.” It’s good to see people paying attention to French actors and films for once in a predominantly American scene.

But the award for the home-grown favourite of 2011 goes to “Intouchables”, the laugh-out-loud story of a young guy from the hood who ends up looking after a stuffy paraplegic bourgeois. Genuinely HILARIOUS. Omar Sy’s facial expressions are genius.

It’s already brought in 17 million viewers and is still being shown in French cinemas months after its release date – making “Intouchables” the third best-ranking French film of all time. And it certainly deserves it – here’s why. Let’s hope people outside of France sit up and take note too. Enjoy!

A musical ode to Paris

22 Jan

What better than a tune to bring back memories of a place?

Lise – ‘Paris’:

Quirky French singer Lise puts her own musical stamp on Paris. Lovely video and a lovely girl (whom I was lucky enough to meet.)

Joe Dassin – ‘Champs Elysees’:

This classic French anthem makes me want to skip along the Champs with a grin on my face.

Patrick Bruel – ‘Mon Amant de Saint-Jean’:

A great cover of the original song, with a nostalgic nod to happier times.

Le Lapin Agile

18 Sep

In need of some good old fashioned fun? Look no further than famous Paris nightspot Le Lapin Agile.

This quaint cottage nestled on the Montmartre hillside is a little frequented gem, more visited by tourists searching for an authentic french experience than locals. After years of living in Paris, I finally ventured through the Cabaret’s doors, dubious about what was in store.

Le Lapin Agile - a right song and dance

Le Lapin Agile has been going strong since 1860, with traditional French singers performing every night from 9pm til 2am. Visitors are ushered into a small, dark room and seated on benches around the walls. Then a motley crew of about ten singers march in to take their places at the middle table.

On the menu: old fashioned French tunes – from classics like Brassens, Aznavour and Piaf that French oldies know all the words to, to popular folk songs and shanties. It feels like stepping back in time to a more innocent era.

The idea is that (after a complementary cherry liquor or two) you’re encouraged to sing along as the troupe mingle amongst the audience, accompanied by various instruments.

lapin agile

Lapin Agile: famous since 1860

Unfortunately most of us were tourists and could only hum along (although a lively Chinese man did give it a good go) , but the whole atmosphere was so entertaining that the evening flew by. The place prides itself on keeping french traditions alive, and it certainly isn’t dull.

The Cabaret screams nostalgia, from the decor and artwork on its walls to the rustic feel of the performance. It seems incredible that a place like this remains so popular today, and that the format hasn’t changed. It’s well worth a visit before the rest of the world catches up with it.

And since many famous singers and poets were apparently discovered here, you might spot the next big thing in la ‘chanson francaise.’

Le Lapin Agile, Tuesday-Sunday, 24 EUROS plus drink, metro Lamark (12).

Paris according to Sedera

31 Jan


Presenting: Sedera

British Girl in Paris talks to Sedera Ranaivoarinosy about her personal experience of Paris.

A journalism student at NYU, Sedera is something of a music guru who loves good films and experimenting with photography. The 20 year old has lived on three continents; oringinally from Madagascar she has resided in Paris most of her life but now studies in New York. Read her weekly musings on her blog.

What is your absolute favourite thing about Paris?

les quais, la Seine

Les quais de la Seine

I love the quais because it’s so calming to walk along the water (the Seine and the canals), or sit there to read, eat or even nap. I also love the parts of the metro that are above ground, like around the Boulevard de Grenelle and near Barbès. I like the design of the bridges the trains run on and the way you can see into the life going on around you (the train is on the same level as many apartment windows). I don’t mean that in a creepy way; I just like seeing the city flash by me.

What areas do you like best and why?

I like the area where I live, the 20th arrondissement by the Gambetta métro stop, because you can tell people live there and interact unlike the 16th arrondissement for example, which is very fancy, but in my experience, rather dull. The Canal St Martin is a very nice area as well, especially during the summer time when you can hang by the water. It’s surrounded by lots of cute places to go to for a nice bite. The food selection around there is often a bit more edgy than other areas.

If you only had 24 hours in Paris how would you spend them?

I would visit the catacombs because I have never been and have always wanted to go. Then I would visit a museum, probably the Musée D’Orsay, which I haven’t been to in a while. Finally, I’d picnic at the Parc des Buttes Chaumont and finish off my day by eating a blanc manger at the restaurant Hôtel Du Nord, where the movie of the same name was set. I’m not exactly sure what the ingredient is, but they put in little crunchy things in the dessert that create a sort of firework in your mouth. It sounds ridiculous. Until you eat it. It’s delightful.

What are the most overlooked attractions in your opinion?

vintage clothing shop barbes metro

Vintage clothing shop Guerrisol near Barbes metro

Paris is known for its shopping options, but going to the Galeries Lafayette and the Boulevard Haussmann won’t really give you a selection that is that different from other capitals of the world. If you have the patience to dig through the masses of throwaway clothing, the thrift stores of Barbes like Guerrisol are full of good finds. A thorough search through the racks at a thrift store could lead to a much more unique, and sometimes much cheaper, find.

What is the one thing you like least about Paris?

The métro, as convenient as it is most of the time, only runs until 1 am on weeknights and 2 am on weekends, which always makes my evenings end early. I don’t have the type of stamina that would allow me to party repeatedly until 5:00 am, when it reopens, so it would be nice to be able to hop on a metro at 3 am sometimes instead of waiting for a night bus or taxi. Parisians also need to pick up the habit of cleaning up after their dogs.

Any favourite films set in Paris?

One of my favourite films of all time is Les Chansons d’Amour by Christophe Honoré, which is set in Paris. There’s also Amélie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet; I love the playful way in which it represents Montmartre.

What about music – any songs that you feel capture the essence of Paris?

An old classic, Jean Renoir’s “La Complainte de la Butte,” which Rufus Wainwright covered, comes to mind because it references an iconic area of Paris, Montmartre. For a more updated view, Thomas Dutronc’s “J’Aime Plus Paris” and Camille’s “Paris” articulate well the love-hate feeling that can arise towards Paris after a while. In both songs, the protagonists sing about their disillusionment with the French capital and threaten to leave, but do not succeed. The stress, the dirty sidewalks, the early nights etc. cause annoyance but it’s a city like no other; it’s hard to get away once you’ve made your nest there and its advantages always manage to trump the inconveniences.

How would you define being Parisian?

That’s a really tough question because the socio-economic make-up of the different arrondissements are so different but I would say first and foremost that a Parisian is an urban being. He/she cannot function outside of a big city, no matter how enjoyable a few days away can be. It’s only enjoyable because it’s not a permanent move. Also, an encyclopedic knowledge of the metro map, as wellas the exact places to be on the train to get to your exit of the metro stations the fastest, is essential. I always used to feel odd telling people I was from Paris when I lived in the suburbs. Now that I am in Paris intra muros, as they say, and the metro is not the mystery it once was, I feel like much closer to owning that “Parisian” moniker.

Pont des arts, Paris

People relaxing on the Pont des Arts in Paris

Do you think the Parisian stereotype is true?

If by Parisian stereotype you mean the idea that the Parisien is pretentious, stylish, unpleasant and intellectual all bundled into one, there’s some truth to it in the sense that Paris doesn’t always emanate friendliness: people seem rushed, nervous, and never run out of things to complain about, especially when public transportation employees are on strike. But in more personal environments, Parisians like to chill with a bottle of wine and have a laugh as much as the next person.

And even though there is lagging sense that being Parisian is better than being from other places in France, which I don’t agree with, I think the problem is due to the way France is represented elsewhere: unlike what could be inferred, this fancy image of Paris applies to a specific population and area. The way it is often depicted as being representative of the entire country unrightfully brings down the other regions and cities.

French commercial radio – a real earful

4 Nov

French radio is obliged by law to comply to a 40% French song ratio. This supposedly promotes French national identity in a world dominated by big Anglophone superstars.

How many of you have heard of last summer’s huge hits by Nadiya, Superbus or rap collective Sexion D’Assault? Didn’t think so… there’s probably a reason. Much of French commercial music is shockingly bad. Yet these songs are still massively overplayed on popular Parisian radio stations such as NRJ or Voltage.

Of course there’s David Guetta, definitely in the running for most famous Frenchman du jour. But as a DJ featuring massive American stars who sing in English on his records, he hardly counts.

It seems the French have found a new way to get around this law. They are well aware of the fact most of their audience want to hear popular songs from beyond the hexagon. Therefore: the Franglais blend is born.

Listen to this – the French version of Jason Derulo’s ‘Watcha Say’.

Some verse and chorus parts have been badly dubbed by a French woman who seems to confuse singing with whining. Jason’s still chimes in every now and again though, hooray.

This is sadly a growing trend on Parisian radio. Another more successful example is:

Lily Allen featuring Ours sounded horribly wrong at first. The lyrics are very longwinded and have little to do with the original ones. It grows on you… but Ours should be making his own songs catchier instead of riding on Lily’s coattails.

Innovation and quality content is seriously lacking on most of the radio stations in the Paris area. Compared to the myriad of shows and music range available on British radio, it’s repetitive and uninspiring.

So I say forget the law, or at least play some decent French music.

Opinions welcome.