In the mid-nineties, the French hardcore scene was dominated by bands playing heavy, mid-tempo punk with political and emotional lyrics. Known as screamo – and not to be confused by the current subset of poppy suburban teen hardcore – the music picked up where the original emo movement of American bands like Embrace and Moss Icon had stopped just a couple of years prior. Instead of the spoken vocals and almost indie rock-feel of so many of those groups, this was pounding and very, very angry.
Groups in the French scene had a lot more in common with the late nineties and early oughts American political hardcore movement than anything else. You still see descriptions of current bands that will compare them to both a French band – Finger Print being one of the most popular; we’ll get to them in a second – and an American one from the same era, like Orchid or Saetia.
While they might have had something in common with the American bands, it’s lyrically where the parallels are exceptionally clear. It’s not just the political content of the songs. After all, it was the mid-nineties, when all hardcore was tinged with the political. It’s more the attitude artists brought to their work, and their place and time in history: while in the States everyone was dealing with the almost-utopian fervor brought on by the election of Bill Clinton, in France it was the start of Jacques Chirac’s dozen years in office. Both of these leaders were elected on promises of stability and economic growth for the everyman and socially ‘liberal’ platforms.
While oppressive and conservative political environments tend to foster excellent music and inspired activist scenes, liberal ones mostly just lead to a strong feeling of inaction and frustration. That is quite apparent in the lyrics of Anomie, for example, which even in translation reek equally of passion and despair. This was before the WTO protests in Seattle reignited political and cultural activism, especially in the US. Everything felt quite futile and stale. Musicians were looking for a way to reinvent the sound and fury of punk in a manner that felt relevant.
There isn’t a lot of information available in any language about much of the French screamo scene of that time. It seems like in France, most of the attention is on slightly newer bands active in the last decade like Amanda Woodward, Sed Non Satiata, and Daïtro. While there is a very active screamo scene in France, it not surprisingly strongly resembles what is contemporarily going on in the States, which has little to do with any of the first wave bands.
Sometimes stylized as Fingerprint, this band started in 1991 and recorded two 7” EPs and a number of compilation tracks before breaking up. The music itself is fast and melodic, with interesting time changes and longer songs, not unlike many of their contemporaries. What sets the band apart from anyone else at the time are the vocals, which are delivered in a snarled scream that occasionally crosses over from hardcore to metal. It’s a style that would not become popular for another few years – Orchid’s 1999 debut album “Chaos is Me” is a great example – which probably speaks to why Finger Print is one of the lesser known bands in that scene.
Anomie is considered one of the quintessential French screamo bands for good reason. Formed in the Orléans region in 1994, the band managed to combine the mid-tempo, almost-pretty sound of early ’90s emo with harsh, fast breakdowns and screamed female vocals, oftentimes in the same song. The lyrics touched on the political as well as the personal and the whole thing is just so furiously driven and raw. Like with Finger Print, it’s more reminiscent of bands that would come along much later. Anomie is oftentimes compared to 1905 from Washington D.C., who were a political hardcore band with a female lead singer who were active in the early 2000s.
Peu Être put out a split 7” with Anomie and a three-way CD with Carther Mathra and Rachel. Their music was a bit slower and more in the vein of the D.C. emo scene or some of the Ebullition Records releases with spoken and screamed vocals over heavy but catchy music. The vocalist often sounds out of breath, which makes everything feel a bit more realistically emotional.
A slightly later group, Daïtro was formed in 2002 in Lyon. Unlike the bands previously mentioned, Daïtro toured extensively outside of France, even reaching the United States in 2007. Along with Amanda Woodward, Sed Non Satiata, and Raein, they are considered the harbingers of the modern French screamo scene. Their music is reminiscent more of bands like At the Drive In, with mostly polished vocals and guitars and lots of interesting time changes, though everything is very much tinged by what came before.
While they were around from 1998 to 2006, Gantz sounds much more like Finger Print than Daïtro or Amanda Woodward or any of the other bands who were popular at the time. This might be the case of the earlier style of music finally catching up to the scene which helped originate it. In this case it’s heavy, loud, and dissonant, something that would fit quite well alongside a band like Botch or even earlier Cave In. While the lyrics don’t seem to be posted anywhere online, a description of the band refers to them as being very emotional and depressing, which sounds about right.
Photograph courtesy of yosoynome. Published under a Creative Commons license.