Film POP Opens With Screening and Concert Revolving Around French Coldwave

  • Etienne Daho and Nicole Calloch’ at the Rennes transmusicales ® Pierre René Courtesy of Pop! Montreal

The attempt to trace the origins and influences of the French coldwave and post-punk movement shows such a vast net of convergences with other realms of art and society that it deserves its own movie.

Jean-François Sanz’s documentary Des Jeunes Gens Mödernes, which will screen as a part of Film POP, the section of POP Montréal dedicated to cinema, embarks on this challenge through a series of interviews with the people who helped to shape the coldwave scene, be it the writer Yves Adrien, who formulated the theories at the base of the then-upcoming musical genre, or a protagonist of the scene such as Jacno, of the synthpop duo Elli et Jacno.

In the late 1970s, only a few years after the word “punk” had gained its most modern connotations and was being used in relation to acts such as the Sex Pistols, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Patti Smith and other primarily English and American bands, musicians on both sides of the Atlantic already felt a need to subvert the genre once more.

The change was made all the more rapid and radical by the quick diffusion of portable, fairly-priced synthesizers—a technology that until a decade earlier was oversized and out of budget even for rock stars the calibre of Mick Jagger, who, upon hearing the price of the Moog 900, seems to have remarked, “Man, that’s a lot of bread.” Most of the time the synthesizer didn’t even come in the shape of a keyboard, but rather in that of a seemingly functionless agglomerate of knobs, inputs and valves.

By 1977 and 1978, however, the keyboard synthesizer had become the symbol of the new genre, dubbed as ‘coldwave’, a term first used to describe the German duo Kraftwerk, who pioneered electronic music, and were a driving force of inspiration for the electronic scenes to come.

Coldwave spread mainly throughout France and its immediate surroundings. It approached the rapid development of technology comparable to the historic avant-gardes of the early 20th century with apprehension and excitement. The excitement was inevitable as the new technology—synthesizers—represented an unexplored vehicle for music and new forms of expression.

The apprehension, then, was utilized, oozing through the often dark and dystopian atmospheres of the music, reflecting a terror in the face of a rapidly altering music scene and world.

Reference to machines, mass production, war and other similar concerns are abundant in the output of coldwave artists, whose names are often very suggestive themselves: Guerre Froide, Modèle Méchanique and Kas Product are among some of the ones featured in the soundtrack of Des Jeunes Gens Mödernes, which is being released by the excellent Paris-based label Born Bad Records.

The coldwave movement also resembled the historic avant-garde movement for its artistic ethos, which avoided the mainstream circles of production and distribution and maintained a strictly underground appeal.

It’s easy to see how the influence of the avant-garde extended upon the aesthetic choices of the bands as well. The dramatic white face paint and the black eye makeup, for example, already adopted by post-punk precursors like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, clearly drew from the imagery of German Expressionism, bathed in Gothic tradition. If you take a look at the cover of Lou Reed’s Transformer, you might find a striking resemblance to Nosferatu.

On the other hand, the TV performances of Elli et Jacno are characterized by a surreal, ironic undertone that, purposefully or not, give out the echo of a Dadaist blague.

In 2008, before being a documentary film, the material that constitutes Des Jeunes Gens Mödernes was part of an exhibition that took place at Galerie du jour, organized by Agnès B.

The film consists of a number of interviews, interwoven with experimental videos and archival footage, capturing very well the spirit of a time with such a great amount of flourishing creative talents have for the most part been forgotten—despite their key influence in shaping modern rock, punk and electronic music.

The film premieres internationally in Montreal on Sept. 17 at Quartiers POP (3450 St. Urbain) and will be accompanied by a performances by Montreal-based Xarah Dion and Polices
Des Mœurs. Xarah Dion’s synthpop, dark disco songs, as heard in her latest single “Sillage et Caprice,” represent a contemporary take on a genre that started with the coldwave movement in the late 1970s, and has since evolved into a variety of different styles. It looks like it’s going to be a perfect match with Jean-François Sanz’s film.

As Ariel Esteban Cayer, Concordia student and curator of the Film POP section, notes, the aesthetics and atmospheres evoked by the coldwave artists are still deeply relevant today, where the preoccupations with mass surveillance and a dehumanized world have been intensified with the advent of the web. If the French coldwave artists sang of a dystopian society, some contemporary artists might find themselves living in that society.

In addition to Des Jeunes Gens Mödernes, the Film POP program offers among other screenings, a retrospective on filmmaker Sho Miyake, at Concordia’s Cinéma J.A. de Sève, the Quebec premiere of the Arcade Fire documentary The Reflektor Tapes, at Théâtre Rialto, and a real treat, Paul Verhoeven ‘s Showgirls, which will take place in the legendary erotic movie theatre Cinéma L’Amour on Sept. 18.

Concert-Screening: _Des jeunes gens mödernes with Xarah Dion and Police des moeurs // Sept. 17 at 5 p.m. // POP Box at Quartiers POP (3450 St-Urbain// $15//_

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