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V/A - BIPPP: French Synth Wave 1979-85

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Artist: V/A

Album: BIPPP: French Synth Wave 1979-85

Label: Everloving

Review date: Mar. 24, 2008


Act - "Ping Pong" (BIPPP: French Synth Wave 1979-85)


The fairly recent resurgence of interest in French electronic music has no doubt given a massive boost to the attention surrounding the US release of BIPPP: French Synth Wave 1979-1985. As Justice receive push-after-massive-PR-push in the US, and Daft Punk, some three years after receiving an indie-cred amplifying namedrop from LCD Soundsystem, now find themselves in a second heyday and performing alongside Kanye West, musical esotericists dig to unearth the obscure origins of the phenomenon.

BIPPP, which got its release in France a little over a year ago, features 14 tracks gleaned from post-punk era French 7"'s, some previously compiled, some not. A brief, blurb on the compilation’s jacket gives an outline of the birth of the French wave of minimal electro-pop, a scene and style that followed the same trajectory of plenty other independent music scenes that existed at the time throughout Europe. In the wake of the breakup of premiere (and unfortunately named) Parisian punk band The Stinky Toys, member Denis Quillard, a.k.a. Jacno, and Debbie Harry-esque singer Elli Medeiros formed Elli et Jacno. BIPPP’s liner-notes ascribe the rise of French minimal synth-pop exclusively to this band’s instrumental, “Rectangle.” The track, which brims with starry-eyed analogue romance and Kraftwerk worship, mysteriously makes no appearance on BIPPP.

Even without the seminal track referred to in the sparse liner notes, the tracks on BIPPP show France as having been home to an icy synth-obsession well in tune with the then emergent Mute Records sound (which was itself, debatably, an adaptation of the even earlier punk-meets-Kraftwerk DIY ethos of Sheffield bands like The Human League). Covering a six-year span (albeit with no specific indication of when individual tracks were made) in which the guitar was eschewed for the synthesizer, BIPPP paints a picture of a scene that didn’t give into the maximalist production flourishes that made a few excellent U.K. electro-pop bands comparatively embarrassing by the mid-‘80s. Every track on BIPPP is dated, in a good way, firmly in the shadow of The Normal and Fad Gadget.

The songs that comprise BIPPP, though, have the same downsides as more identifiable tracks of international minimal-wave from the era. Like Belgian bands 1000 Ohms and Neon Judgment (less obscure only because they’ve ended up on New Wave compilations that, as if existing in a black hole of copyright law, also feature hits by major label acts), the tracks on BIPPP tend to be amazingly catchy, but require some suspension of disbelief. The drama piled on in the vocal grunts of the first track, A Trois Dans Les WC’s “Contagion” sounds out-of-place against the backdrop of the track’s synthesized austerity. Les Visiteurs Du Soir’s “Je T’ecris D’un Pays” skews too far in the other direction, the lackadaisical vocal delivery on the track is almost frustratingly affected. But the weird vocals and obvious amateurish tint of the songwriting found in a lot of European minimal synth is also part of its charm, and that’s definitely the case on BIPPP.

The U.K. may have had Vince Clarke making perfect pop tunes, but BIPPP exemplifies that elsewhere in Europe, the synth-sounds remained more slapdash and stripped down. Vox Dei’s “Terroriste” takes a melody familiar from Adam Ant’s “Here Comes the Grump” and squeezes it inexplicably through a couple of key changes before the vocals kick in. Act’s “Ping Pong” chimes frenetically, onomatopoetically bouncing back and forth, building as though it’s heading towards austere dance-floor catharsis, and instead stumbles through a mal-tuned guitar bridge. Whether in Ruth’s slow-moving “Polaroid/Roman/Photo,” which takes its cues from Kraftwerk’s “The Model,” the almost ready-to-pogo “Touche Pas Mon Sexe” by The Comix, or the Units-like “Partie 1” by TGV, the tracks on BIPPP are eminently quirky, yet always deadpan.

Without much guidance from the liner notes, it’s hard to tell where each track on BIPPP falls in the canon of French dance music. However, tracks like “Aller Simple” by Vitor Hublot provide some clue. The song’s vocals are distinctly reminiscent of the kind of stylish, tweeness heard from French ye-ye singers in the ’60s. Sterile, analogue moods and oddball songwriting alongside this kind of classic Gallic pop sentiment are the crux of BIPPP. The compilation shows French minimal wave as a post-punk phenomenon that, like its U.K. and U.S. counterparts, was at one point poised to become the new pop music.

By Matthew A. Stern

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