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The French Misfits in Indie/Rock

April 25, 2011

I’ve recently come across ‘Hard to Cry’ by The Bewitched Hands (from Reims, France), a band who I first thought to be English, and one that you may well like as to me they sound like many other “indie” bands that are out and about in the UK at the moment. But after listening to their debut album – Birds and Drums – and especially after watching some interviews and live videos of them, I realised, for me, they didn’t quite have what it takes to compare with a good ol’ English band. But why is this? Maybe it’s their French accent (which I though should be a plus) and their lyrics that sometimes sound weird and inadequate. This must explain their lack of success here in England…

The Bewitched Hands – ‘Hard to Cry’

The Bewitched Hands On Top Of Our Heads is a French band made up of 30 year old geeky-looking guys, beardy with glasses and beer bellies. They don’t look very cool (not even in the “so un-cool it’s cool” way) and don’t really have much charisma. But, it seems that recently they’ve been working on their image: new haircuts, shorter beards… as they explained in an interview: “The public is bored of seeing very beautiful people. We answer to the public’s demand for having fun, for seeing something light. There is a carnivalesque side in our music in the best sense of the word.” The band also shortened their name to enable people to remember and pronounce it properly: “ThE bEwItChEd HaNdS oN tHe ToP oF oUr HeAdS” became “The Bewitched Hands” because, as Benjamin said in an interview, “only 1 out of 10 people remember, the rest forgot or mispronounced the name,” ironically mispronouncing the band name himself in a very French way as “The Bee-witched ‘ands.”

They started playing in local bars in Reims, and surfaced when they created a hippie cover version of ‘Tonight’ by Yuksek. Following their success on the live circuit, they self-produced their album. The Bewitched Hands are quite extensive in their number of musicians, there are 6 of them: Benjamin (guitar, vocals), Antonin (guitar, vocals), Baptiste (drums), Nico (bass), Seb (guitar, keyboard), Marianne (percussion, keyboard, girl), with everyone singing at some point. The collective works well on the record, but after watching some videos of their concerts I found that the band is quite disappointing live, especially since they claimed that they started gigging long before the album was recorded and thus surely felt comfortable on stage. Live, their music becomes a bit messy, and you sometimes wonder why they need 3 guitars, the voices are quiver and go out of tune and this spoils the harmonies that actually sound quite good on the album. I still recommend you have a listen to Birds and Drums, particularly the title track, ‘Happy with You’ and ‘Hard to Cry’ which are some of the best songs to me. I hope that you won’t find their accents too off-putting!

The Dø

The Dø –  ‘On my Shoulders’

Now, let me tell you a little bit about The Dø. They are a Franco-Finnish band composed of D (Dan) and O (Olivia). Their name is not only the association of their initials but also represents the musical note “do” or C (and is thus pronounced “doe”). They used to work together on film soundtracks and theater/dance shows and would jam during breaks. In this way they ended up creating some material and The Dø was born. ‘Playground Hustle’, the first song they composed, reflects the fact that they wanted to do as they pleased without being directed, they became self-confessed “kids in the studio”. With Dan’s classical and jazz background, and Olivia’s more contemporary one (she included Queen, PJ Harvey, Peaches, and Sia in the bands that she listens to), The Dø is a really interesting blend. As I’ve mentioned in my previous article, Olivia didn’t choose to write in English in order to increase audiences but because “English has always been the natural language that [she has] used for singing, [she has] never asked [herself which language to choose.]”  The Dø’s music can sometimes seem chaotic (listen to ‘Playground Hustle’ or ‘Queen Dot Kong’ on their first album A Mouthful) but they are two real musicians and both masters of what they do. Dan is multi-instrumentalist and Olivia has a beautiful and strong soprano voice, she also writes the lyrics and, maybe thanks to her Finnish origins, is fluent in English. Thus, I believe they have all it takes to prosper in the UK and indeed the world, and if you haven’t listened to them yet, I really advise you to do so soon!! Now is the best of times as their second album, Both Ways Open Jaws, was recently released, including the single ‘Slippery Slope’.

To conclude, I will present to you a singer I’m a bit perplexed about: Izia. She is the daughter and sister of two French singers: Jacques Higelin and Arthur H, who are both quite well renowned chanson française musicians. But her music differs significantly from that of her ancestors. I would call her the French equivalent of Courtney Love, probably without the drug addiction. Izia does actually seem really down to earth and said that she regrets having dropped out of school at 15. Surprisingly (she said it herself), she won two awards at the 2010 Victoires de la musique – the French version of the Brit awards – with the track ‘Let me Alone.’ When I heard this song I couldn’t help wondering how on earth did the label (Universal!) let her sing something that, even in the title, doesn’t sound like proper English. When I found out she was Higelin’s daughter, it suddenly made sense (Paris Hilton anyone?). So now tell me, is the phrase “let me alone” English?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. R.Biz permalink
    May 9, 2011 12:40 pm

    Very interesting. I have to agree about the Bewitched Hands, that their very stereotypically French english accents are slightly offputting, and the lyrics at times nonsensical. I think I would have preferred to hear it in French, like my favourite french indie artist, Albin de la Simone (will you be talking about him soon?).
    http://www.myspace.com/albindelasimone/music/albums/albin-de-la-simone-13587828

    And as for Izia… you’re right, I’m sure “Let me alone” is not used in modern English! I don’t think a native speaker would ever use that phrase, so I can only imagine that the record company were just humouring her. I marginally prefer the song to Paris Hilton’s, though.

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  1. The French Misfits or the Effects of Globalisation « things we listen to

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