While my recent month-long jaunt of DJ gigs around Europe didn’t allow me much time for sleeping or eating, let alone exploring the local music scenes, I was lucky enough to have a variety of musical items cross my path in one way or another. Whether it was my fellow-DJs’ favorite bands, a CD I grabbed at a random record store, or just something I saw on TV, here’s some of the most memorable music from my trip. It’s heavy on the France cause that’s where I spent the most time… sorry, Belgium.
10. Sasha* (Germany)
Okay, I get one of these. This came on TV when I was in Germany, and while the song is a rather dull piece of throwaway pop-rock, and the video isn’t anything to write home about, holy crap is he cute. Look at his little beard and his little T-shirt and his adorable little hairdo!! Who cares about the song, Sasha speaks the international language of hot. (*Not to be confused with slightly-less-hot-but-far-more-talented Welsh DJ Sasha)
Sasha “Hide & Seek” (from Greatest Hits–who knew he had any?)
9. DJ Moule (France) (check out his website here)
Not that the other artists on my list aren’t attractive men and women in their own right. For instance, this Bordeaux-based DJ and musician accompanied me on the French leg of my little tour and was liable to lift up his shirt and show off his abs at climactic points in his sets. Well, he deserves whatever silly indulgences he wants, since his productions are flawless pieces of energetic mashuppery, seamlessly blending classic rock riffs with breakbeats from the Chemical Brothers or Fatboy Slim.
MP3: DJ Moule “Dig It On” (Chemical Brothers vs. T-Rex vs. Anne Lee vs. Marvin Gaye)
8. Village Kollektiv (Poland) (check out their MySpace here)
Blending the indigenous music of Poland and Bulgaria with dubby beats and drum ‘n’ bass rhythms, Village Kollektiv avoid the usual clichés of “world music with a beat” through sheer musicianship and a kind of dark intensity. Based around the creative partnership of producer Rafal Kolacinski and his wife, singer Weronika Grozdew-Kolacinski, the combo also brings together a wide range of traditional local musicians on instruments like the gadulka, the dulcimer, and everyone’s favorite, the hurdy-gurdy.
MP3: Village Kollektiv “Wysoki Ganecek” (“High Porch”)
7. DJ Mehdi (France) (check out his MySpace page here)
I’ve featured Mehdi’s epic electro track “Signatune” in my Top Ten previously; the track’s surging chords were an oddly perfect fit with the awesome accompanying video‘s tale of competing car stereo systems. His second full-length album, Lucky Boy at Night, fits in with hipster Ed Banger labelmates like Justice and Uffie, but Mehdi’s roots in the French hip-hop scene (along with his Tunisian background and childhood in the rough northern suburbs of Paris) show through in the music’s gritty intensity.
DJ Mehdi “I Am Somebody”
6. Plastic People of the Universe (Czech Republic)
The day I left for the tour, the New York Times featured an article about the Plastics that proclaimed the psychedelic combo had “catalyzed democracy in Czechoslovakia.” Well! So, um, how does it sound? I stumbled into a record store in Prague and cobbled together a half-Czech sentence or two to ask the clerk what CD I should buy from the band, and he pointed me towards Egon Bondy’s Happy Hearts Club Banned, more of a collection of demos and live recordings than an album per se, and a little challenging of a listen on the iPod. More accessible is “Nikdo” (“No One”) from a 1997 collection: its rolling rhythms evoke both Can and Frank Zappa.
Stream: Plastic People of the Universe “Nikdo” (click here and scroll down to the music player)
5. Yelle (France) (MySpace here)
24-year-old Julie Budet may be full of youthful pep, but her hit electro-pop number “Je Veux Te Voir” began life as a track dissing the, ahem, endowment of a Parisian rapper. So she’s no Debbie Gibson, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the neon colors and bubbly cartoons in her video, plus the subtitles can help you practice your French!
Yelle “Je Veux Te Voir” (“I Want to See You”)
4. dDamage (France) (here’s their MySpace page)
These guys played a set before my late-night gig in Belgium and maybe I’m biased, since they were hanging around backstage with me and were hilarious goofballs. Their music, on the other hand, is hardcore in the best sense: dirty, heavy electronic beats, somewhere between Aphex Twin and Atari Teenage Riot, with Sonic Youth in the sampler machine.
dDamage – “Ink 808”
3. Daft Punk Alive 2007
Okay, I know that the only artists I’ve written about more this year than Daft Punk are good old Arcade Fire and M.I.A., but the day after I got into Paris, the duo’s triumphant live album was released, and it was inescapable: the nightly news closed with clips from the band’s show, every record store had racks and racks of the CDs positioned right up front, and I succumbed and bought the French limited edition even though the only difference is the “printed in EU” notation. But it was the soundtrack to the trip, and their remix-heavy live show inspired a lot of what I did in my DJ sets, so let’s use this as an excuse to watch another live video, why not.
Daft Punk “Harder Better Faster Stronger / Around the World” (from Alive 2007)
2. Dionysos (France) (check out the MySpace page for their new album here)
The emotional folk-rock of this French five-piece brings comparisons to Arcade Fire or Neutral Milk Hotel, but the band’s fascination with surreal imagery is uniquely French. Their 2005 album, Monsters in Love, features a song about a guy turning into a cat, and their new album, La Mecanique du Coeur (“The Mechanics of the Heart”) takes the title phrase literally, with the video showing a heart’s inner workings like a cuckoo clock full of gears.
Dionysos “Tais-toi mon couer” (“Be silent my heart”)
1. Idir/Various Artists La France Des Couleurs
Algerian-French artist Idir may be almost 60, but for this album he joined together with some big names in French hip-hop for an album that combines a folksy accessibility with contemporary sounds. The result is, in a word, joyful, with a cross-cultural appeal that’s neither forced nor patronizing. This single has a melodic complexity that’s almost wistful, and Idir’s voice is like a cool breeze in the chorus.
Idir feat. Fefe and Leeroy “Je viens de la ou l’on m’aime” (“I come from where I’m loved”)