Growing up, I had no knowledge whatsoever of a ‘french punk scene’. The word punk brought up some vague Sex Pistols image at most, and it ended there for years to come. Then my mother put on a Metal Urbain record, a band she said she’d listen to often when she lived in the south of France, and I was blown away.
The moment someone steps outside their own assumptions about a piece or genre or ‘form’ of music and takes a look at how the rest of the world and other cultures treat that piece of music, it all becomes much more interesting. Metal Urbain started in ‘76, often referred to as the first year of punk music in France; followed vitally by Edith Nylon (79-82), Camera Silens (81-88), Ludwig Von 88 (83-…), Parabellum (84-91), and, brilliantly, by Les Beruriers Noirs (1983-2006). French Punk had, and has, it’s own style, and more importantly, it’s own strange and cynical spirit. These essential facets are best displayed in two realities: a song, and an event.
The Song: Les Bérurier Noirs’ Salut a Toi, likely their most popular song, is my favorite; it’s simple, is written as a list, has a few saxophone solos, and, at the end, a kazoo. But the entire song is a bitter sendoff to almost the entire world. It’s a political, social, personal, destructive piece directed towards all idols, icons, bureaucratic structures and leaders; and this, more than anything, is perhaps the spirit of french punk, based on a tradition of working class fury and disaffection which bloomed into this artistic bonfire. Saying goodbye to anything and everything that’s being destroyed by a despised system in anger and shouts and the everlasting crowd in the background; hidden yet always present. And kazoos, honestly, may be the most ironic element of the song; bloody ears are a medal, meaning you listened long enough to what had to be said.
Les Beruriers Noirs
Camera Silens has their own place in this same strain, yet not in the same musical manner. Their actions are what solidify a concept of french punk.
The Event: In April of 1988, the four members lead by their bassist Gilles Bertin masterminded and executed a 12 million franc ($3.5 million) heist on a Brink cash depot in Toulouse, France. All three were caught and proceeded to languish in prison as their bodies deteriorated from HIV (which some had caught due to swapping heroine needles); all except Bertin. In the 2000’s, he was even declared dead in France. In reality, he was recovering from heroin addiction in Barcelona. This really is another part of the very essence of french punk: desperation, grasping, and running for all you’re worth to yourself and only yourself.
Heist Man: Gilles Bertin