Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Underground Paris

Paris in the 1970s is an object of endless fascination for me, particularly the punk, gay and clubbing factions: Le Palace, Bazooka, Mathématiques Modernes, Alain Pacadis, Jenny Bel Air—all names that set off a thousand fantasies for the provincial girl I was. That scene was in its death throes when I landed in the capital in 1982 to attend college, but the agony was still glamorous enough to project a mystical aura. A number of books by and about luminaries of that time have been published in France in the past half-decade, including a collection of Alain Pacadis's writing (he roughly was the Gallic version of Michael Musto), François Jonquet's lovely biography of Jenny Bel Air, and the reissue of NovöVision, Yves Adrien's new-wave cult classic. Music-wise, the compilation Des Jeunes Gens Modernes is absolutely essential.

For a thorough overview, however, check out a site created by a man named Bernard Bacos, who lived in that city—or perhaps I should say he lived that city—and celebrates it at Paris dans les années 70. If you don't read French, I suggest going randomly, as Bacos has unearthed a treasure trove of great photos and provides sound samples of several of the bands. And if you do read French, I guarantee hours of fascinated clicking.

Bacos starts off with the late ’60s and early ’70s, covering the "baba cool" (ie hippie) bands; check out, for instance, the page about the 30 ans d'agitation musical en France box set, complete with streams. (Here, Gilles Deleuze reads a Nietzsche poem, backed by a band called Schizo. An entire era is summoned…) But his coverage of is extensive, each section shooting out into numerous nooks and crannies. The page about Fabrice Emaer's Palace (Paris' answer to Studio 54, and newly reopened) is delicious, for instance, linking out to other classic clubs such as cold-wave temple Les Bains Douches, and the one about the punk art collective Bazooka reminded me of how brutally prescient they were. (Watch this TV doc on Bazooka.)

Bacos is straight so the gay underground doesn't get as much in-depth coverage as the hippie one, but he still has fascinating stuff about the likes of Les Gazolines, a gender-queer group that ran parallel to the radical-leftist FHAR, ie Front Homosexuel d'Action Révolutionnaire. (See Le Rose et le noir, Frédéric Martel's page-turner about the history of contemporary homosexuality in France.) It would have been hard for Bacos not to deal with Les Gazolines anyway, since its members popped up at Le Palace, wrote for Libération, etc.

One for the road: Taxi Girl's stone-cold classic single "Cherchez le garçon," from 1980. The band released only one album, 1981's sepulchral Seppuku, produced by Stranglers bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel. The lanky guitarist on the right in the video is Mirwais, who would go on to produce Madonna's Music. As for singer Daniel Darc, he of the bee-stung lips, his career was derailed by drugs but he resurfaced in 2004 with the rare superb album that also happens to be a commercial hit, Crève-coeur.


JamesChanceOfficial said...

Hi Elisabeth - funny, I just rediscovered this - http://discorough.blogspot.com/ - yesterday. Its by Edwige but hasn't been updated for a while. Maybe you've seen it?

Anyway, have a good holiday.


Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

Oh yes, I love Edwige! I actually did a post on her last year (with MP3s, too): http://determineddilettante.blogspot.com/2007/11/safely-pinned.html

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your note, well seen and written !