You may remember that a few months ago I sat down and listened to a number of 1970s and 1980s Bordeaux bands as featured on a desirable dou...

Welcome to the Bordeaux Rock 1988-1998 listening party!

You may remember that a few months ago I sat down and listened to a number of 1970s and 1980s Bordeaux bands as featured on a desirable double-CD compilation released by the local music association Bordeaux Rock. Well, it turns out that, around 2006, Bordeaux Rock followed up that first well-received collection with two more twin-CD sets, one celebrating the scene as it stood in 2006, followed by another which rewound back to the artists operating between 1988 and 1998. Once again, I thought it would be interesting to sit down, stick my headphones on, and assess how the well the music had stood the test of time, three decades on.

The package proved promising, featuring disturbing in-your-face artwork by one Caroline Sury, inspiring all-caps introductory notes by Bordeaux Rock lynchpin José Ruiz, and informative mini-biographies of each band (40 in all!). The time capsule was ready to roll, CD 1 was in position, all that remained to be done was to hit "play"!   

Note to younger readers: this is a CD player.
The album opens with the jangly guitars and Velvet Underground overtones of Soap, and the wide sonic expanses of Mary’s Child, both of whom suggesting much of the Bordeaux scene had already moved on from its 1980s fixation with punk to a more grungey indie pop atmosphere. We are four tracks into the compilation before a first French-language song makes an appearance, in the shape of the funky, organ-driven Donald Raccrocha Sans Répondre by Mr Kuriakin, a vehicle for the songs of Paco Rodriguez, who had previously been with moderate hitmakers Gamine. 

I then find it quite heartwarming to hear a track by Charming Boys, a tuneful band who were heavily influenced by The Smiths. In a previous life I may even have been in a group who performed alongside them on a couple of occasions. At the time they were on a bit of a high having recently supported the up-and-coming Blur, and they did rightly gain a solid reputation as a tight live band - if anything the track that features here, What a Way of Life, is little more than a solid live arrangement immortalised on disc. Not sure what became of them but it would have been interesting to hear what they would have achieved if they’d been able to develop into a more highly engineered/produced studio band.  

The accompanying booklet is genuinely interesting to peruse.
Lemon Curd’s strummy offering, Freezin’ Manchester, reminds me a lot of Lloyd Cole or low-key Prefab Sprout. That can be regarded as a compliment! A few tracks down the line, Pimple Shame definitely score points for the best band name so far, Nuer avoid language barriers completely by delivering an instrumental (three of the four musicians are credited as playing sequencers, which is a bit scary), ahead of the energetic Real Atletico also staking a claim to the best band name on the compilation. They apparently featured a mandoline player mysteriously called Pierre "Suspense" Emery. I manage to pick out a bit of his playing deep in the mix and it makes me feel strangely happy. 

There is more pleasingly melodic pop on its way in the shape of Bonjour Chez Vous's Je Veux Être Sous La Mer, complete with heavily chorused arpeggio guitar and twinkly synthbells all very much of their time. It's all very polished and tuneful but comes with an added sense of poignancy upon this listen given the knowledge that singer Thierry Sabir - who later collaborated with the aforementioned Paco Rodriguez in Sitarsonic as well as releasing his own solo album, Apollopop - sadly passed away at the very end of 2023. Rest in peace, Thierry.

Bordeaux’s biggest musical export from that period, Noir Désir, feature next with Un Jour en France from their fourth album. It sounds very big and a class above the rest, but still today it’s difficult to listen to the band without one’s mind wandering back to the life-altering events that took place in 2003. Disc 1 closes with Tortilla Flat, who I am excited to read are reminiscent of XTC and Bowie. Listening to their track Walking, taken from their sole release, a 3-track cassette (different times…), there is indeed a definite hint of Bowie in singer Jérémy Vacances’ vocal delivery… and even a bit of the Silencers in the harmonica lines!    

The second half kicks off with Sleeppers and a hardcore track that feels a bit like being stuck up close to some radical roadworks with no safety earmuffs within easy reach. But I’m already looking forward to the "duo iconoclaste" (in the words of the booklet) coming up on track 4. It’s the (literal) drum’n’bass jazz core pairing of Belly Button, made up of Fred Bourdil and Franck Stofer, both of whom I knew back in their student days. They went on to make a name for themselves as festival favourites around the world. Belly Button actually reformed a few years back but, from what I can make out, Franck is now head of coordination and development at le Grand Palais Immersif in Paris, while Fred remains an active musician living locally, performing as the Fredovitch One-Man Band and collaborating with formations including King Khan & The Shrines and Ardi’town. The track that features here, Mister Hamster, is 1’58’’ of pure energy. I suspect that when they were recording the song they were bare-chested and drenched in sweat, but I may be wrong.

It remains similarly raucous throughout much of disc 2, culminating first in Glu vocalist Pierre Poirier shouting into the mic like there’s no tomorrow, to the backing of fellow band-members Yvon Tutein and Bruno Lacaussague, the latter amusingly credited with "guitare approximative". The liner notes refer to their "textes en français et assumés" as if bands at the time had to almost apologise for singing in French, which goes some way towards explaining why so few tracks on this compilation are in la langue de Molière. This performance is equalled by Petit Vodo, a solo musician who would apparently simultaneously play drums, guitar, sing and throw in occasional harmonica, and reportedly garnered critical acclaim in Japan. 

We’re now up to track 16 and TV Killers' Channel 666 in which I can hear hints of Beastie Boys, but by now it’s all so relentlessly relentless that I’m kind of wishing the album was over so I can switch to some serious easy listening (I have a sudden desire to put on some Carpenters). I finally make it through to the closing track by blues rockers Art 314, described in the liner notes as the "house band" at legendary venue Le Jimmy. It’s almost a relief when their upbeat song, The Race, the title track from their only album, comes to an end. 

The tracklisting in full.

What then is the verdict? Well, for a start, I think this is a compilation that is best enjoyed when dipped into rather than listened to from start to finish. That hair-raising succession of slightly soundalike bands all trying to out-yell each other on disc 2 is certainly something I’m struggling to un-hear, but there were enough melodic rays of light elsewhere to make the set well worth digging out. Another thing that is striking, other than the shortage of French-language lyrics, is how predominantly male the bands are. From what I can make out, only a handful of the featured artists had women in their ranks (Charming Boys, Kim et Marie, Skullduggery, Basement, and Wunderlich Ausgang, I think that's all). It is therefore ironic that the cover artwork should depict a female singer, but perhaps there’s something I’m not quite getting here. 

Still, once again it’s great to be able to travel back in time to explore the local music scene as it was in the 1990s, so fair play to the Bordeaux Rock team for putting the compilation together; it serves as an excellent record of the ways things were, which appear to have been mainly gritty, energetic, raucous at times, but overall quite dark and earnest. Anyway, right now, in order to recover, I’m off to listen to some Carpenters. 

If you would like to purchase and listen to the album yourself, copies are available online from the Bordeaux Rock website, priced €10.
> Join the Bordeaux Rock 1977-87 listening party!
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français ! 

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The Invisible Bordeaux podcast is back after being away for some time! (Hurray!) In this comeback episode, we catch up with Yann Le Cor, bet...

French-language podcast #18 - Yan Le Cor & Enfant Bordeaux

The Invisible Bordeaux podcast is back after being away for some time! (Hurray!) In this comeback episode, we catch up with Yann Le Cor, better known as Papa Yann, the man behind Enfant Bordeaux, which started out as a site listing kid-friendly activities and has developed into a much wider offering including a bona fide guidebook, a label, an active online community, and much more!

Let's get to know about this professional blogger and his quest for events, addresses and tips to pass on to parents! The podcast covers the Enfant Bordeaux philosophy, how Yann became a professional blogger, the breakdown of who his followers are, some memorable encounters, and the reasons why Yann is now seeking to build a network of bloggers who make things happen in Bordeaux!

You can listen to the podcast below or else over on SpotifyAmazon MusicApple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, Podbean and RadioPublic! Be sure to subscribe to the podcast so that you never miss an episode! 

Click here if player does not display properly!

Find out more:

Enfant Bordeaux website

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