Volga Select Presents So Young But So Cold: Underground French Music 1977-1983
t was punk that hardened them. After the fiery blast of energy that revitalized popular music-making, artists moved to the opposite pole. Enter the ice of post-punk and the somber sounds of Joy Division, Magazine and Durutti Column. Sure, the groups were full of the same emotions that produced punk, but their artistic visions were realized with synthesizers and textures, rather than guitars and snot.
But, as the aforementioned artists indicate, the mass of attention that was paid to the music focused in on the British underground, rather than continental Europe. Luckily, the good people at Tigersushi have rectified one country’s omission from the collective musical narrative of the post-punk/new wave underground: France.
And what a fertile underground it was. Over the course of 73 minutes a panoply of sounds and ideas are presented, all tied together loosely by the sounds of the synthesizer. It starts with the lonely bleep of Nini Raviolette’s, which transforms into a lilting lament that needs no translation to affect. It’s a slow start and the smoldering continues with J.J. Burnel’s “Euroman”, whose only immediately recognizable lyrics are its title. Despite this, it gets its point across by the tendrils of guitar, roiling bass and a manic drum machine.
Things pick up considerably with Metal Boys’ “Carnival” and a double shot of the Hypothetical Prophets. But it’s the title song by Kas Product that sticks out here. Lead singer Mona Soyoc barely keeps out with the out-of-control drum machine, belting her lyrics hurriedly, getting herself out of the way of the sound effects that rise to the surface at odd times.
In the final quarter, though, are the major highlights that transform the compilation into something approaching essential. Tim Blake’s “Lighthouse” humorously references Star Trek in its opening moments and, predictably, it turns into a Germanic kraut-rock ambient-trance moment that trumps much of what has come before. Until Bernard Szajner’s “Welcome (To Death Row)” is unleashed, its furious Patrick Cowley synths and hammering drum machines destroying everything in its path. Unexpectedly, all of this is background for a glorious piano loop and, eventually, a guitar lick that mirrors it for a short time before going off on its own tangent. If anything, this song is worth the price of admission alone.
And, as the closing strains of Richard Pinhas’ “Iceland” fade away, it becomes clear that while the underground of French new wave was a cold proposition, it was also smelted by the same fire that drove punk to prominence. A desire to change the landscape of music forever. To create hybrids that had never been heard before. To create something else. And that’s just what this compilation is. Something else.