Pitchfork takes on Paris

Mes chères hipsters français,

Save up your money and start hydrating now – Pitchfork Music Festival is coming to Paris. The über-indie gathering of flannel-wearing artists will be transplanting itself from its usual stomping grounds in Chicago to Sarkozy’s backyard (not literally) 28-29 October, and it’s sure to be a musical playground for all the cool kids in town.

The festival, created by the music-blog powerhouse Pitchfork, has a reputation for its lineups de la mode and ticket prices cheap enough that you can still afford your cigarettes (€79,90 is much lower than the average fest). Even though the complete artist roster has not yet been announced, headliners already include Bon Iver, Cut Copy, Wild Beasts, Aphex Twin, Jens Lekman and Pantha du Prince. Chills down your spine? Yup, me too.

Alright, you can go back to being apathetic now.

Pitchfork, who teamed with French music agency SUPER! to put on the festival, secured La Grande Hall de la Villette for the two days. So, being that it’s inside, you will not have to worry about the weather as you shimmy into the wee hours of the morning with 5,000 of your closest friends who will be there too.

And while this may be Pitchfork’s first time taking on a major European event solo, they’ve had some practice; they teamed with the UK’s All Tomorrow’s Parties this year and Barcelona’s Primavera Sound Festival last. They know how it’s done, they won’t let you down. Already, they’ve promised a club night with DJs playing until 5 a.m. – sure to be spinning only samples that no one knows – and a special guest on Saturday.

The rest of the artists will be announced in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, mark your calendars and learn your lyrics. For those of us on the other side of the Atlantic, we will be raging with jealousy sending our most positive vibes your way.

Cut Copy Pitchfork Music Festival, Chicago, 2011

Thinking in French, singing in English

Chances are that you’ve probably heard of a band called Phoenix. Even if you don’t know them by name, you’ve surely heard at least a song or two by them on the radio, an advertisement for Apple, or in countless 2010 television and film releases. What you may not know about this band with impeccable English lyrics and an enjoyable electro-pop sound is that they are French.

The band’s front man Thomas Mars and his fellow band members grew up just outside of Paris in Versailles. Despite their French background, the band has struggled to gain popularity in France largely because of French sanctions that require the majority of the music played on the radio to be in French. Until recently, Phoenix had been more or less shunned by their homeland because they weren’t singing in their native language. It’s interesting that Phoenix was all but rejected by the French because of this. Though I think it’s almost certain that you wouldn’t hear an entirely French song on American airwaves, a French verse or two often seem to sneak their way into some popular songs.

Even though they weren’t necessarily accepted in France, doesn’t mean that their French background didn’t influence their music. Of growing up in Versailles, Mars explains that it was like living in a museum. He says, “The frustration we had was that everything great happened in the past, and they wouldn’t give the chance for anything new to happen.” Mars and his young band mates were determined to make something new happen, despite this background. The band was also heavily influenced by the French yé-yé music of the 1960s.

Finally, there’s the aspect of language in their music. What drives a native speaker of French to create music in English, especially considering that some of the greatest poets and authors have been French? Perhaps it is simply a ploy to be more marketable, or perhaps this relates back to the band’s resistance to the versaillais opinion that all great things have been done. Instead of going along with tradition and singing in French, they have chosen to do something new and sing their French thoughts in English. Perhaps, I’m over thinking this though. Mars says, “When I started writing, the first thing that came out was in English. I liked a few French things, but they were very overwhelming.” He also says, “It’s much easier to sing in English because it seems that all the words are more separate; they don’t have to blend.”

It seems as though that this choice to sing in English has certainly paid off for the French band. Since the release of their 2009 album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, they have had a song hit #1 on Billboard’s Alternative Rock charts, earned a Grammy, and have finally started playing gigs in front of welcoming French audiences.

C’est le wild wild West, Y’all!

You’re walking through the streets of France, and you see something that stops you in your tracks.  A cowboy hat, a red, white and blue denim vest, a denim, floor-length skirt, and cowboy boots. It gets worse. This American stereotype and her group of cohorts begin dancing.  Not just dancing, but line dancing. You are officially embarrassed to be an American. But then something strikes you as odd. The dancers aren’t speaking English. They’re speaking French. You must be dreaming, but you’re not. Line dancing and American country-western culture has grown extremely popular among the French population, especially among the older generations.

When I was in Saint Raphaël, a town about an hour away from luxurious Saint Tropez on the French Riviera, I was lucky (?) enough to stumble upon a line dancing performance that took place on the boardwalk. I immediately experienced the same embarrassment previously mentioned, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the dancers. Admittedly, I became fascinated with the whole situation.  I was perplexed by the fact that something that even most Americans consider to be a part of low-culture was almost being celebrated and taken seriously in France where such an emphasis is placed on high-culture. What was happening?

Line dancers in St. Raphaël by Julia Spiers

France now plays host to upwards of 50 country western themed festivals with some of the more popular ones including Country Rendez-Vous in Craponne-sur-Arzon, France and Festival de country musique Mirande in Mirande, France. Country Rendez-Vous prides itself in showcasing authentic country music, featuring mainly American performers and vendors hawking “authentic” western and Native American garb to the attendees.  The festival in Mirande is quite arguably one of the largest in France, attracting over 150,000 visitors annually.  The festival here offers similar experiences as the one in Craponne including musical acts, line dancing competitions, vendors, and even a pétanque cup.  One of the festival goers, Françoise Seube , describes how her love affair with country music began, saying, “At first, I was an Elvis Presley fan who dreamed about driving across route 66, then I discovered line dancing and I never stopped.”  Some natives of Mirande aren’t necessarily welcoming to the Festival, saying they would prefer the legend of their local hero, d’Artagnan (of Three Musketeers fame) to be revived. However they are still able to recognize that the festival has benefited their sleepy town.

Indeed, after French musicians began reproducing American country music in their native language, the French obsession with everything country began to take off.  The festivals began popping up along with line dancing clubs and a club de lasso.  This obsession can even be found in popular French destinations like Disneyland Paris where a popular attraction called Frontier Land mimics the style of an old American frontier town.  Some French are even taking this obsession on vacation with them as dude-ranches have become popular vacation spots allowing a hands-on experience of the American frontier lifestyle.

It’s hard to say what spurred the French interest in country western culture.  But what spurred American interest in French culture? Think about it. What comes to mind when Americans think of France?  Wine, cheese (gastronomy in general), châteaux, high fashion, etc.  The list is probably endless. The point is that Americans don’t have a history of these things that we so strongly associate with France and it seems that France becomes romanticized because of these things that aren’t a part of American history.  This is why most French people will tell you that Americans don’t really have a culture or a cuisine.  Our history is so new that we haven’t had time to develop these things, leaving the French without any romantic notions of our culture.  But the American frontier and the “Wild Wild West” is something that is uniquely American and exotic and unknown to French history and culture.  It seems that the French therefore romanticize this notion of the American West and everything associated (music, dancing, fashion) with it, much in the same way that Americans romanticize their culture.

Click here for more French line dancing.

Written by: Danny Wuerdeman
Research/ editing: Jaclyn; Thimotheus Hoffman