A guide to the essentials of French music in 2019, by a Frenchman

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Growing up in France, I never really felt like there was an indie scene going on. It was necessary to dig on Skyrock blogs for that, and to personally translate each sentence from English to French (Google Translate was not there yet).

It was painful and we were often disappointed with the true meaning of our favorite songs that we had sung in gibberish. Fortunately, things have changed.

In 2019, a truckload of sensational French music came out. Enjoy a selection of eight French artists the world should listen to.

NLP

NLP; the acronym that stirred the world of French music this year. Like the mythical Daft punk, the two brothers from the troubled districts of Paris (where they made their living selling hashish) have created an esoteric mystery around them. They refuse interviews, and rumor has it that they pushed back Duck.

But there is more to this story. PNL offers something different, something I haven’t seen often in French rap – which is strongly marked by a long history of social and political commentary. PNL manages to use simplistic words (with neologisms and Franco-Arabic slang) to convey a sense of resilience and nihilism that characterizes a disenchanted French youth.

The duo illuminates its part of the world a little more with each disc. With a solid hold on France and Africa, but also England, Germany and Japan, PNL was the first French group to have a single crack Spotify’s World Top 30.

arabic acid

Acid house? Techno Chaabi? Oriental electro? It’s easy to get upset trying to label Acid Arab. The two Parisians would just tell you that they make French music.

“We do not stick oriental sounds on western beats, we want to embody the two cultures without claiming to reinvent oriental music or delude ourselves into believing to invent oriental dance music. We just want to be a part of it and contribute to this brilliant and huge masterpiece that is this music, and have been for thousands of years.

The result is a brilliant combination of oriental music codes – an emphasis on melody and rhythm, as opposed to harmony – and a throwback to 80s acid house. Perhaps a little bit of Byrne and Eno also. Their new album, Jdid, brings together different oriental influences from Turkey to Syria, deepening the dialogue between the northern, southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean.

Acid Arab takes us from the basements of Berlin to the smoky nights of Casablanca, from the concrete to the Sahara desert, from border to border.

Wife

Since La Femme’s first album in 2013, Psycho Tropical Berlin, the French rock galaxy is not quite the same – and could still evolve after their new release, The Hawaiian, a sweet and captivating journey.

La Femme moved away from the cold-wave surf music of the late 1970s that originally earned them their reputation. The group dares opulence; they are symphonic, raw, exotic.

The Woman gives voice and poetry to carefree youth who read indie and Machiavelli zines, “dancing under acid” (Sphynx, a hallucinatory title loaded with biblical and oriental allegories), and deals with STDs (Fungal infection, a hymn to genital yeast infection).

Louis jucker

Should we listen to Louis Jucker’s new album recorded in a cabin in Norway, near the border of the Arctic Circle? Absoutely. Because the Swiss artist (okay we cheated a bit here, but he is largely based in Paris) avoids the traps of indie-folk-bearded-who-sings-intimate-songs-in- a-cabin-in-the-woods.

His album Kråkeslottet is a collection of rough, cobblestone songs that bother with next to nothing. The strange sounds of recycled instruments, the beating of the wind, the crackling of the wood, the people speaking behind closed doors… this record could not have existed anywhere else.

Ibrahim Maalouf

Ibrahim Maalouf plays a four-piston trumpet instead of three, which allows him to articulate the quarter-tones essential for various classes of non-Western music. Born in Beirut and raised in Paris, Ibrahim Maalouf creates a bridge between American culture and Arab culture through jazz.

His fantastic cover of Beyoncé’s Rule the world girls) is concrete proof of this musical cosmopolitanism. For his eleventh studio opus, the trumpet virtuoso – but also arranger, composer, producer – has flown not to his favorite city, New York, but to the Caribbean and Latin America. From there, he borrows tempos and sounds from elsewhere for a curious and euphoric album.

Agar Agar

Agar is a gelatinous substance obtained from red seaweed used in Asian (and now vegan) cuisine. It’s also a French duo – Clara Cappagli and Armand Bultheel – which mixes hypnotic synth-pop and shameless experimental electro.

Their music translates fantasized images into sound, offering an auditory dystopia with a touch that is both humanistic and humorous. Their first album, The dog and the future, is inspired by animal memes. And just for that, you should listen to them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yp257b5APog

Isaac illusion

Isaac Delusion are the masters of dreamlike, cottony folktronica. Their singles Midnight Sun and Early in the morning, released in 2012 and 2013 respectively, were enough to propel the Parisian group to the forefront, making them one of the first French groups to play at the Pitchfork Music Festival Paris.

Everything from the arrangements to their video clips invites contemplation and that strange floating sensation. Light rhythms of a distant hip-hop lineage combined with echoing guitars, a high voice and elegant electronic loops; it is the formula of Isaac Delusion. Their new album elevators it’s like a candy melting under the tongue.

Felicia Atkinson

Musician, poet and inspired visual artist, Felicia Atkinson navigates between artistic disciplines to create an ASMR universe where the senses meet, meet and reveal themselves.

Felicia Atkinson’s music is like a thesis on the physical qualities of music, on what we normally think of as intimate sound. Will his nearby whispers make you uncomfortable? Probably.


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