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B.I.P.P.P.: French Synthwave 1979-1985

Rating: 6/10 ?

February 29, 2008
A plethora of very fine electronic music has been produced in France over the years. From Jean-Michel Jarre, via Air and Daft Punk, to last year's big dance bomb, Justice, the French have always had an ear for great melodies and a sensibility for synthetic sounds to go with them. While musicians from Le Havre to Lyon have proven themselves adept at churning out deft keyboard- and beat-driven cuts, from dance tracks to ambient dreamscapes, a blanket statement on French electronica would be ill-advised. For all the tenacity of the above-mentioned electronica wiz-kids, more than a few dudes in berets have dropped major clunkers over the years, and stuck in the middle has been a mass of less-popular but nonetheless wily tunesmiths.

In the pre-Internet days of French electronica, acts like Vox Dei, Mary Möör, and Ruth all went rather unnoticed, even though they had produced fairly good songs. Some of France's most talented acts just didn't make it past Go and withered away for good, while others would vanish from their own time and place only to resurface decades later on obscure compilations. Originally released in the fall of 2006 (and currently fetching upwards of $30 at online retailers), B.I.P.P.P.: French Synthwave 1979-1985 is one such compilation, a 13-track goldmine for lovers of little known acts, both good and bad.

While it covers a good deal of ground in a short number of steps, there are no more than a handful of truly good songs on B.I.P.P.P.. Of the notable standouts, A Trois Dans Les WC's "Contagion," Comix's "Touch Pas Mon Sexe," and Ruth's "Polaroid - Roman - Photo" stand out as obscure gems in the rough, the latter having only sold 50 copies upon its initial release in 1985. All three songs share certain generalized traits that land them firmly in the camp of synthwave; very theatrical vocals, up-tempo beats, and a futuristic and repetitive feel.

As is often the case with compilations in general, and obscure/niche compilations in particular, B.I.P.P.P. also lines up a few stinkers, proving that the synthwave scene was not as rife with top-shelf talent as Comix or Ruth might color it. At its worst, this collection highlights the fact that French youngsters in the early 80's needed more than a synthesizer and a funny hairdo to reinvent themselves as true synth-pop scene stars. It would be awesome if it was that easy, but a sense for melodies and creative songwriting is also a requirement, and a number of the artists presented on B.I.P.P.P. flat-out failed in those departments. Even with its overall rough shape, this compilation is fun to spin through in it's entirety at least once, as one area in which it truly excels is making apparent just how underground the French synthwave scene was a few decades ago, and how badly some hacks wanted to feel the adoration of a football stadium full of screaming Gauloises smokers.

While the misfires are good for a laugh and a few cracks about baguettes and bicycling Pierres, one cut from B.I.P.P.P. deserves a particularly honorable mention for wasting away in obscurity for so long. Rarely does one stumble across a synth-pop song so sugary good, in any decade. It has all the good ingredients; gloominess, sounds that have not been used since 1983, and French lady-vocals. Mary Möör is the artist in question, and her contribution, "Pretty Day," is in itself reason enough to track down a copy of B.I.P.P.P.. If all the synthwave in France had been as solidly assembled as Möör's track, we would scarcely have need for any other genre of music. Instead it was starry-eyed kids waking up with outrageous hair and an urge to produce music far beyond the scope of their talents that dominated the country's scene for decades.

Reviewed by Daniel Svanberg
A contributing writer for LAS, Daniel Svanberg now lives in Boston, far far away from Sweden, where he once lived, although the weather is the same.

See other reviews by Daniel Svanberg



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