So Frenchy So Chic’s music programming has always been united by a distinctly French angle, but this year the impressive slate of 2018 performers spans a wider range of genres than ever.
The 2018 iteration of the festival brings together the globetrotting hip-hop of French-Nigerian artist Féfé; the African-inflected indie-folk of Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains; Juniore’s blend of throwback psych-pop, surf rock, noirish country and French chanson; General Elektriks’s synth-steeped electro-funk; and the female trio of L.E.J’s pop bangers via classical training.
However diverse those individual sounds, these artists share a common adventurousness. Ahead of their visit to Australia, we talked to each of them about where they’re at, where they’ve been and what’s coming next.
At 34, Anna Le Clézio is not old. But when she decided to start a band four years ago, she felt that way. “I asked my friends to come play with me,” she says. “We were all kind of old – in our thirties – so we thought it would be funny to call ourselves Juniore.”
Le Clézio was born in France but spent much of her youth living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where her father – an author and professor – was teaching. Now perhaps best known as hometown to Walter White in Breaking Bad, Albuquerque was to Le Clézio a “very strange city”. At 28 she started playing music professionally. Two years later, homesick and watching French music videos on YouTube, she decided to move back to France and form Juniore.
Since then she’s been the mainstay of a band line-up that has changed multiple times. Despite the changes, the trio’s music has always occupied a sweet spot between French chanson, surf rock, psychedelic ’60s pop and noirish country. The current band members are Swanny Elzingre, who took up drums in her twenties, and keyboardist Laure Weisdorf, who’s classically trained. (Producer Samy Osta also plays guitar with Juniore on occasion.)
“Swanny and I are quite audacious,” says Le Clézio. “We always want to play things we technically can’t. We always want to believe we can play whatever we want. So it was a great benefit for Swanny and I to have Laure, because we’re very passionate but not very organised, and she is. She’s very passionate as well, but really understands music in a way that’s completely mysterious to us.”
Le Clézio says Juniore’s songs tell “small, insignificant, everyday stories.” The song Panique is based on the experience of a friend who would freak out every time she saw the person she was in love with. “I used to hate love stories,” says Le Clézio. “I used to feel like it was really easy to write about love, something too clichéd. But then I completely changed my mind and realised it’s universal.”
Samuël Adebiyi is a familiar face at So Frenchy So Chic. Better known as Féfé, the French-born artist of Nigerian descent has performed at the festival twice before. “I’d keep doing it every two or three years forever if I could,” he says. “Australian audiences are curious and open-minded, musically.”
Festival attendees will get the chance to hear from one of Féfé’s most personal albums to date: Mauve, released in January 2017. It’s inspired by his visits to Nigeria, Cuba and Brazil to reconnect with his father, who walked out on his family 20 years ago, and with his tribespeople, members of the Yoruba.
What he found on his travels was a culture with “real problems, but still smiling, still having dignity.” The people’s positive, forward-thinking outlook inspired the singer. Formerly a member of successful French hip-hop collective Saïan Supa Crew, and a solo artist since 2009, Féfé’s second album, released in 2013, failed to make an impression on the charts. “I was like, ‘This is a bad point of my life, but it’s a good day,’” he says. The experience instilled in him a sense of looking for the positives in all he does, a unifying theme of his latest album and represented in the title. “I have blues, but I have pink in my life, too,” he says. “It’s mauve.”
Féfé’s trip to Nigeria also inspired him musically, prompting him to embrace more electronic elements for the new record. He settled on modernised Afrobeats, “trying to put more 808s and machines inside.”
Joined by a band of three on stage, Féfé’s live show is high-energy. “Someone said, ‘You’re only four on stage but it feels like 10’,” he says. “They said, ‘The sound reminds me of George Clinton back in the day’.” Despite the feelgood nature of Féfé’s music, his message remains deeply personal and political.
“10 days ago 300 people were killed in Somalia, Africa, in a terrorist attack,” he says during our interview. “Almost no one talks about it on the news. It saddens me that life is cheaper in Africa than in Europe or Western countries. This is something that has to change.”
Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains
Frànçois Marry was “dreaming about British pop culture” when he moved from his hometown Saintes, in France’s south-west, to Bristol, England in 2003. The birthplace of Massive Attack and Portishead, Bristol proved inspiring for the then 21-year-old; he formed the first incarnation of his band, Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains, there. “I think the music they make there is really humble,” says Marry. “People don’t have very glamourous ambitions, which I think helps the music and artists focus on quality of sound. I feel like I still want to keep some of that approach.” Marry’s influences now extend well beyond Bristol; his music is a combination of indie-pop, folk and African rhythms, the latter enhanced by a band trip to Africa in 2013 where Marry connected with local musicians in Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Benin.
After six years of living between Bristol and France, Marry moved to Brussels, where the band’s latest record, Solide Mirage, was written around the time of the 2015 Paris attacks. “I spent a lot of time reading the news and not being able to protect myself in the future of the world,” he says. “The record is about stopping complaining and trying to find solutions.”
Marry recently moved to Paris, while the other band members are spread throughout France and Glasgow. Consequently, they don’t rehearse much. But the distance doesn’t phase him. “It’s a matter of feeling very confident with the people you play with because you know them so well,” he says. “I’d rather not practise. There have been times when it’s not always worked out, but the connection between us is always there and we can always have a good time on tour.” When asked what sets French music apart, Marry says: “Potentially this will sound very pretentious, but people from my generation have quite a good education.” In France, the arts are highly valued, and students have art history and philosophy drummed into them from an early age. “Up to now, I feel like the people making music in France are quite cultured,” he says. “They’re very keen to connect to work that has been done before by other artists.”
Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains are playing at So Frenchy So Chic in Melbourne and Sydney, and will perform exclusively at Adelaide French Festival, Dunstan Playlhouse Adelaide Festival Centre on Saturday 13 January.
When Hervé Salters moved to San Francisco in 1999, it wasn’t for the music; he and his partner Sarah simply fell in love with the city. And their 12-year stint there proved creatively fruitful for the musician. Better known as General Elektriks, Salters had been working in his native France as a keyboardist with a penchant for vintage synthesisers, playing with the likes of Femi Kuti (son of Fela) and DJ Mehdi.
In San Francisco Salters hooked up with the Quannum Projects hip-hop collective and became a session musician for seminal hip-hop outfit Blackalicious. He also formed a funk trio called Honeycut. While both Honeycut and Salters’s side project, General Elektriks, were signed to Quannum Projects, the latter eventually became his main focus.
Salters admits to being “a fan, but more of a tourist” of hip-hop on his arrival in San Francisco, but Quannum Projects’ exploratory approach to the genre was a good match for his mixed-bag style of playing. “I was just burying myself in my basement with my keyboards,” says Salters. “The concept was to not calculate what was going to happen. Don’t do strict funk or hip-hop or Afrobeats or whatever,” he says. “Just put all these elements through my filter and see what happened.”
Salters has put out five albums as General Elektriks, and a sixth is on the way. Salters says he’s moving in more of an electronic direction, which is partly influenced by Berlin, his home for the past five years. “It’s a mix of this electronic aesthetic and an organic approach to music, so still just playing the instruments.”
The video for the album’s lead single, Different Blue, gives a good idea of what to expect from the live show, showing Salters dancing with such wild abandon behind his keyboard it’s a miracle he manages to hit the right notes. “We try to bring a lot of energy and make it a fun show,” he says. “When things go well, people give us back the same.”
They’re friends, but L.E.J members Lucie Lebrun, Elisa Paris and Juliette Saumagne say they feel more like sisters. Elisa and Juliette have known each other since they were eight months old; they met Lucie when they were four. All three grew up in the outer Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, where they attended music school and spent many afternoons playing piano, singing harmonies and writing lyrics. Juliette studied cello, while Lucie and Elisa concentrated on vocal technique. “We always knew we wanted to do music, we just didn’t know how and when,” says Paris.
In 2013, a competition organised by French band Tryo invited entrants to cover one of their songs with vocal harmonies. The three friends, not yet known as L.E.J., won. It encouraged them to start uploading videos to YouTube. “We didn’t want to be famous,” says Paris. “We just wanted to make music between friends and share it with people who liked it.”
It turns out quite a lot of people did like it. The trio’s Summer 2015 Saint-Denis video – a mashup of acoustic, sweetly sung covers of pop hits including Major Lazer and DJ Snake’s Lean On and Rihanna’s Bitch Better Have My Money – has now amassed nearly 70 million views. “It was just for fun,” says Paris. “I think that’s why it worked, because it wasn’t supposed to.” L.E.J. went on to open for Pharrell in Monaco and covered a song from the Hunger Games soundtrack at the movie’s Paris premiere, where they met Jennifer Lawrence. “We were like, ‘We’re in a totally different world’,” says Paris of the rise to fame. “We didn’t know where we were, but we were sure of one thing: we want to stay here. Because it’s the most beautiful thing ever, to live off what you love and have so many people coming to the show and singing and dancing. It’s amazing.”
For the past three years L.E.J have released compilations of covers for summer. But their next release will be their debut album of original songs sung in French. “We never know how to describe it,” says Paris. “There’s some hip-hop and electronic influences, French song influences, rap influences and of course classical music.”
Broadsheet is a proud media partner of So Frenchy So Chic. So Frenchy So Chic comes to Adelaide on January 12, Melbourne on January 14 and Sydney on January 20.