The daftness is a factor too. From the mainstream of Bob Sinclar to the underground of Noze, loopiness seems to be a value close to the French dance heart. Even the strain of ‘serious’ (read: EBM-influenced electro) popularized by the likes of Chloe & Ivan Smagghe is kinda sly at its core. I read a feature about this record a while back that attempted to tag it as ‘New Goth’, but au contraire: if there’s anything that is not Goth, it’s a sense of humour.
But it’s easy to misunderstand what’s going on. This record has a ‘concept’, which at first glance seem a bit, er, academic. The cover features Ivan and Chloe as I’m-gonna-screw-with-your-head menwomen, like a slide from a 1988 women’s studies class, while the liner notes frame the concept of the CD with more sexo-politico baggage. ‘”What is the genre of this CD?" asks you neighbour, "What is your gender?" asks your Mum. Genre, gender, genre, gender...’ Something is lost in translation here. Is ‘gender’ the same word as ‘genre’ in French? If it is, I think I understand the concept of ‘The Dysfunctional Family’: let’s mix up rock and roll and dance music and frame it as social theory. But all for the sake of a daft pun? How, er, queer. (Okay, I admit it took me ages to understand this. My suggestion: they should have riffed on ‘gender-bending’ and ‘genre-bending’ in the liner notes to cement the connection in English. Ivan, call me, my rates are low.)
My incomprehension probably stems from the fact that this kind of politics-of-my-band is very rare in Anglo spheres nowadays, even as a pisstake. Gone are the days when musicians felt obligated to have an earnest opinion on the Sandinistas or agit-pop was a genre. Punk had its politics knocked out of it way back, and now politics of any sort just seems, well, oddly eighties. And if I know my French onions, Chloe and Ivan were indeed sniggering up their sleeves when they dreamed up this stuff. There’s even sloganeering: ‘Dissidence’ a voice breathes (whatever that means, but hey, sounds radical) in the middle of the gnarl of the techno, while the first half builds through the dark and fun (and thankfully rather silly) electro-inflected funk of Dapayk and Egoexpress to culminate in the manifesto of a generation: a dig at the sixties self-congratulation of Starship. ‘We didn’t build this city on techno’ a voice intones. Ho ho.
But that’s all words, words, words. What about the music? My guess is the second half is by Ivan Smagghe – it certainly sounds like it. Here the splices are more impressive: The noughties Krautrock update ‘Hummer Party’ by Bot''Ox nicely segues into Troy Pierce’s ode to the comedown ‘Grace (Anxiety)’, and one of the best Kompakt releases, the overplayed ‘Wombat’ by The Wighnomy Brothers, is suddenly made fresh again when, out of the blue, it pitches down a key. Clever.
But it’s the genre-bending which spoils ‘The Dysfunctional Family.’ It’s bookended by two rock cuts, Billy Childish & Holly Golightly’s ‘Let Me Know You’ and the drama student carnival spaz of PlanningToRock (That’s the nub I think: Chloe & Smagghe were not goths, they were art students), while midpoint there’s a dose of lo-fi blues from Jason Edwards, which is nice enough, but deliberately placed to fuck with you. Willful eclecticism might be another alternarocker value, but for us Anglo squares still fighting the cold war, these tracks just don’t sit well with the techno.
Dysfunctional as a mix then, but intentionally so. My problem with it is my problem with a lot of concept art: it starts with a theory and then it attempts to squeeze the material into it, with overdetermined results. But stripped of the politics-as-style trimmings, there’s a beating heart and a funny bone to this, and it’s got the balls to crate dig in unloved sections of the record shop, which, middlebrow Anglo that I am, are simple pleasures that I salute. Oh, France, your lesbians love not acoustic guitars but German techno, how great thou art. This one is daft and punk.
Fri / 24 Nov 2006