Metal Urbain / Dr. Mix & the Remix
Anarchy in Paris! / Wall of Noise


lthough they never matured like their Anglophonic counterpart Wire, Métal Urbain established themselves as caffeinated progenitors of synth-punk, influencing genres as distinct as pigfuck and shoegaze. From 1977 to1980, Métal Urbain’s Eric Débris summoned three incarnations: first, Métal Urbain, fronted by the cataclysmic Clode Panik, a first-order primal screamer; followed briefly by Metal Boys’ primitive “industrial electropop” and culminating in Débris solo as Dr. Mix & the Remix, reinventing his favorite garage and psychedelic tracks with chaotic synth accompaniment. At once austere and playful, Débris gave France’s lettristes and situationistes a dose of their own bitter medicine.

You see, Métal Urbain didn’t play well to French audiences, who quickly tired of punk’s novelty; however, art rock didn’t fare well in Boston either, where bands like Mission of Burma and The Girls would sputter out like the vans that carried them up and down I-95, leaving fully twenty years before they would find their audiences. Moreover, so the story goes, Métal Urbain eschewed connections to the art rock scene (despite the admitted influences of Eno, Roxy Music, and the Velvet Underground) seeking to be viewed more conventionally as lumpen-punk riff raff. While their combination of 60’s garage rock and the avant-garde progressive pop of the early 70’s condemned them to obscurity, bands like Warsaw/Joy Division would capture their freneticism, while Clinic reinterpreted their style on Internal Wrangler.

As Débris’ project, Métal Urbain clicked along as fast as their Korg Minipop 120s would carry them. Their lyrics appropriated popular tropes in punk music: rampant consumerism, the boredom of senseless vanity and a mixed, libertarian/anarcho-syndicalist politics, the three combining so that they, like many of their brethren in the U.K., were mistakenly tossed in the Nazi-symp dustbin. As far as expressions of No Future go, theirs was uniquely oblique and opaque—especially for the English speaking world that popularized the punk/post-punk idiom. But since no one got it, the joke must’ve been on them. Songs like “Cle de Contact” maintain the Dexedrine-aided precision of “Ex Lion-Tamer,” while “Fugue for a Darkening Island” alloys The Modern Dance with the shadowy side of Roxy Music, a sound that would ultimately reach Steve Albini and augur Big Black’s migraine masterpieces. As a compilation, Anarchy in Paris! is exhaustive without being exhausting. The ongoing punk/post-punk revival has thus far spared any attempt at Métal Urbain’s aesthetic, although “Créve Salope” and “Colt 45” remind the listener of the most interesting aspects of Internal Wrangler with prerecorded gunshots and empty room reverberations. The sustained compositional austerity is a difficult act to follow, but its appeal is undeniable.

As Doctor Mix and the Remix, Débris could torturously apply his savagery to a greatest hits compilation of sorts. By détourning his idols, he underscores the indebtedness of punk to garage, much like Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets. Wall of Noise features inventive covers of songs by the Seeds, Troggs, Stooges and Kinks, lumping in art rock analogues with an unexpected cover of Roxy Music’s “Grey Lagoons” and the requisite “Sister Ray”. Of the originals, “He Was A Man” stands out as a pastiche of reified rockabilly, proving that where Metal Urbain had tongue firmly in cheek, Doctor Mix were earnest, or at least tongue-not-so-firmly-in-cheek. Débris maintained the notion that punk always held within it a profound sense of humor and a deference to certain acts that never quite hit the mainstream, which mingled with the confrontational fashion and politics that overshadowed those lighter elements to the tone-deaf or uninitiated. Though these compilations may overstate the influence of French punk, it’s simply a byproduct of the obscurantism so cherished among record collectors and simultaneously a tribute to the aforementioned values punk excoriated: studious narcissism and the will to purchase history!

Editor's Note: Metal Urbain's Anarchy in Paris received a score of 7, Dr. Mix & the Remix's Wall of Noise received a score of 5. The 6 is an average of the two.

Reviewed by: J T. Ramsay

Reviewed on: 2004-10-19

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