French history does not seem like a particularly metal subject. It seems like it would be heavy on horizontally-striped shirts, excessively long cigarette holders, berets and baguettes. But oh, that is not the case.
Take for example the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. At the time France had a feudalistic system of government with three estates: The First Estate was the clergy, the Second Estate was nobility and the Third Estate was the other 98 percent of the population. The French Revolution was what happens when the 98 percent of the population not allowed by law to have any power or authority says to themselves, “Wait a second, we’re 98 percent of the population; we don’t have to take this.”
The king was above all three estates and could do literally anything he wanted for any reason, and when he wanted to arrest someone he sent them to the Bastille Saint-Antoine, a fortress in the middle of Paris that the king used as his personal prison. One day, specifically 230 years ago Sunday, due to a series of events too long for a music column, the Third Estate successfully stormed the Bastille. Nobles fled the country, the homes of wealth landlords were burned down by their peasant laborers, literal heads literally rolled in the cities.
Let’s celebrate this triumph of the people over the aristocracy the only way I know how: By listing five songs.
La Femme — “Sur la Planche”
First a disclaimer: I don’t speak a word of French. So if any of these songs have objectionable themes don’t blame me since I don’t have a clue what any of the non-English lyrics mean.
Fortunately I don’t need to know what the lyrics mean to love La Femme. If you’re in a situation where you can’t click play on that video up there, it’s new wave-tinged psychedelic surf punk; think along the lines of The Okmoniks with more polish and a solid dose of the ’80s, but also very different.
Look, just listen to the song, OK? It’s great and you should be aware of La Femme.
Daft Punk — “One More Time”
Arguably the most famous French band, and inarguably the most famous robotic music duo in the world, Daft Punk had to be on the list. In fact, the only reason they weren’t first on the list is because you people have the attention span of goldfish and I wanted to make sure you saw La Femme before getting distracted by someone jingling their keys and forgetting what you were doing.
The hard part was picking a Daft Punk song to put on the list. I already used my first choice, “Get Lucky,” last year. My second choice also got used last year. Last year was just my favorite songs from every year so I pretty much used up everything I like. It was poor long-term planning.
Fortunately there are so, so many good Daft Punk songs.
Jacque Dutronc — “Il est cinq heures, Paris s’éveille”
Since the column is called “Rewind” I have to throw in an old song, and Édith Piaf is a bit old-fashioned even for me, so you get Jacques Dutronc.
Dutronc is a great example of late ’60s mod cool, the evolution of early ’60s surf rock that got pushed out by protest music and The Beatles. It makes you feel like you’re in a cheesy spy movie, or an office with flat white walls and wildly inconvenient pod chairs.
And yes, I would absolutely put a pod chair in my office. Just not as my office chair.
Justice — “D.A.N.C.E.”
“Why didn’t you pick Phoenix,” you may ask. “That’s the obvious choice, being a hot French band and all.”
Long story short, I didn’t pick them because it’s the obvious choice. What’s the fun in seeing bands you know? I’m trying to show you new things here, people. Expand your boundaries!
Anyway, France has a type. Not all French music sounds like this but there’s a definite style to French music that takes hold globally. They’re very much the best at doing this.
Justice is somewhere in the middle of it, maybe sliding toward the Daft Punk side of the scale. Sometimes they’re a bit toward the La Femme side but with more metal influence, but for this one it’s some robotic weirdness away from being a Daft Punk song.
Also, the video is awesome. That had to be a pain to animate but it’s worth it.
Deathspell Omega — “Ad Arma! Ad Arma!”
Just because music that spreads outside France is similar doesn’t mean it’s all the French can do. For example, behold! Black metal!
“Wait, isn’t there a band called Bastille?” you ask, being a hypothetical straw man who periodically pops in to lead me into an explanation. “Where are they?” They’re from England as it turns out. The lead singer, Dan Smith, was born on Bastille Day. Very confusing, I know.
But as I was saying before you rudely interrupted, why wouldn’t the French be good at metal? After all, while the United States sent a strongly worded letter to the monarchy and England gave an entire chamber of Parliament to the nobles, France burned down the aristocracy’s houses and lobbed off their heads. They have a tradition to uphold.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.