Without certain localized musical movements, the face of music today would have severe gaps, or at the very least, would not have evolved in quite the same way that it has. Were there no Manchester post-punk (or Madchester), no New York or L.A. punk, no Krautrock, or no Bristol trip-hop, what we listen to now could sound very different. While these cultural epicenters may have been integral in shaping the landscape of music to come, it’s easy to forget that there have been countless scenes with smaller influence but are nevertheless responsible for some amazing, if largely unheard music. For instance, there’s a very small chance of an average New Order fan having a large collection of synth wave singles, but those singles are out there, and, hard as they are to track down, are most certainly worth hearing.
Everloving Records has made finding those French synth wave singles much easier with the release of B.I.P.P.P., a compilation spanning 7 years of France’s most amazing, moog-wielding bands. The compilation was originally released on French label Born Bad as a means of resurrecting these amazing, yet unknown acts, and now, Stateside, we’re lucky enough to be privy to this unique slice of musical history.
With contemporaries in the UK such as Gary Numan, Ultravox, Soft Cell and The Human League, the artists represented on B.I.P.P.P. all have one very important thing in common—analog synthesizers. That is why they call it synth wave, after all. How they wield those Moogs and Rolands varies, however, with results ranging from the sleek to the abrasive. First track “Contagion” by A Trois Dans Les WC is something akin to Tubeway Army combined with The Stranglers, with bubbly synth riffs offset by growling vocals and a generally rough sensibility. ACT’s “Ping Pong” is more guitar-oriented, somewhere closer to Magazine or The Sound, but with a sing-songy chorus, bouncing back and forth between vocal paddles.
Les Visiteurs du Soir sound much closer to Depeche Mode or Yaz with “Je T’ecris d’un Pays,” driven by ethereal synths and snapping drum machine snare. Comix’s “Touche Pas Mon Sexe” is faster and more intense, and a super fun track to bounce along to, for that matter. “20X25” by CKC features some raunchy funk bass and eerie synth hooks, making it an instant standout, while “Pretty Day” by Mary Möör reveals the first female vocalist here, and for that matter, one of the only cases of English sung lyrics, with lines like “it’s a pretty way to die/ it’s a pretty way to lie.”
What’s most striking about B.I.P.P.P., aside from the high quality of each track, is how innovative and contemporary many of these songs sound. To clarify, they still sound like lost new wave songs from a bygone era, but given how many bad post-punk imitations are currently floating around, these analog drenched pop tunes come as a breath of fresh air. “French synth wave” may sound like the kind of genre invented specifically for music nerds, and given its rarity, probably was, but B.I.P.P.P. is such a stunning collection, it deserves to be elevated higher into the public consciousness.
Various Artists – Sexual Life of the Savages
Various Artists – The Post-Punk Chronicles: Scared to Dance
Gary Numan and Tubeway Army – Replicas
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.