Underground French Pop: The Sound of Freaksville 2006-2016
You may be aware of a popular English parlour game, where contestants are asked to name 10 famous Belgians. Eavesdrop on caravans up and down the country on any given wet weekend, and you might just hear the names Rene Magritte, Hergé, Papa Smurf and Hercule Poirot being recited. Have a go yourself, it’s harder than it looks.
It thus proves that Belgium, a sovereign state of 11 million people, steeped in history and rich with cultural caché (and home to the European Union lest we forget), is the most arcane and unfathomable land in the whole of Europe. So it makes us wonder: just how recondite must the underground scene of Europa’s most underground country be? The answer to that question is “very”, and the purest embodiment of this almost Marxist underground ethos of creativity, is the wonderful FREAKSVILLE record label, originating in the eastern municipality of Liège and now based in Brussels.
Freaksville takes DIY punk culture and sci-fi b-movie underground culture as its inspirations, and over the last decade, it has been a living testament to how cooperation on a shoestring can reap handsome benefits. Since 2006, this artistic cooperative has been exploring lushly-arranged French pop, retro synthpop, garage rock, sunshine pop, chanson, motorik, psych rock, noise pop, library and the avant garde, to name just some of the genres on offer. To celebrate this great abundance of creativity, a retrospective triple album featuring the very best of the last 10 years of the label is about to be released september 30th.
Underground French Pop: The Sound of Freaksville 2006-2016, features 40 beautifully produced songs in all. Every track featured on the compilation has been played on Europe’s most influential radio stations, from BBC 6 Music in the UK, to France’s beloved antenne musicale éclectique, FIP radio. Quite an achievement for a small independent label that was just getting started when the music industry was being administered its last rites a decade ago. Against all the odds, this group of plucky musicians from the Wallonian region of Seraing threw caution to the wind, and pressed ahead with the raison d’etre to produce the most scintillating mutant underground pop music going. And they succeeded.
Fast forward to 2016, and Freaksville Records is in the rudest of health. Led by Benjamin Schoos - aka Miam Monster Miam (a writer, composer, producer, singer, actor, illustrator, radio entrepreneur and svengali), Freaksville is the Belgian Brill Building, The Wrecking Crew and Gold Star Studios all rolled into one. In fact there’s something Spector-esque about guru-master Schoos (with a “personnage à la réputation excentrique” according to the Belgian press). “In 2006, social network websites such as MySpace helped us to sell music and find and promote gigs,” he says. “For a French-speaking music label, we never expected the artists on our roster to tour outside of the francosphere in countries like China, Vietnam, Japan, Spain, Great Britain, Germany and even Russia. So that’s been a good surprise!”
As well as Schoos himself, the stable of artists includes cult Brusselian Jacques Duvall, French chanteuse, actress and socialite Marie France, New Yorkers April March & Aquaserge, plus a host of other Belgian artists including The Loved Drones, Phantom, Mademoiselle 19 and Goldenboy. Add to that, the galaxy of cult collaborators over the past decade, that includes: Damo Suzuki, Laetitia Sadier, Mark Gardener, Bertrand Burgalat, Jean Jacques Perrey, Alain Chamfort, Telex, Chrissie Hynde, Emmanuelle Parrenin, Coralie Clément and Barbara Morgenstern. Schoos had even lined up a duet with Emmanuelle star Sylvia Kristel for his lauded album China Man vs Chinagirl, but sadly ill health intervened. The cast is a mightily impressive one, especially in the face of the adversity that almost all independents have suffered this last decade.
“A crisis is often a period which is interesting for art, even if it’s more difficult,” says Schoos.
The highlights on this triple album are almost too numerous to mention, though there’s everything a listener seeking great underground French pop will be looking for, from the swoonsome romance and Melody Nelson-style strings of ‘Je ne vois que vous’ by Schoos and Sadier, to the catchy, almost zoonotic bizarreness of ‘What’s Up Duck?’ by Jean-Jacques Perrey & David Chazam. And while you’re waiting for Underground French Pop: The Sound of Freaksville 2006-2016 to drop, how about coming up with some more famous Belgians? Let’s see, there’s Audrey Hepburn, Stromae, Jacques Brel, Adolphe Sax…
released September 30, 2016
" une triple compilation anthologie de près d’une quarantaine de titres donnant un panorama assez juste de ce qu’est le son Freaksville : une certaine idée de la French Pop vue par le prisme rectangulaire du surréalisme belge. Une musique qui pourra peut-être paraître surannée aux oreilles de certains à une époque où le jeunisme fait rage. Et pourtant. Et pourtant. Et pourtant… Trois fois Et pourtant." Idoles Mag
"Natürlich gibt auch Labelchef Benjamin Schoos einiges zum Besten. Keine Frage: Freaksville Records mit seiner immensen Palette an unterschiedlichsten Künstlern, zu denen neben den hier vorgestellten auch noch eine Latte an internationalen Acts wie Chrissie Hynde, Barbara Morgenstern oder Damo Suzuki gehören, muss man zu den Top-Labels des französischsprachigen Raums zählen. Auf der Webseite des Labels kann man stöbern bis zum Abwinken."
"La Freaksville Record compie dieci anni di attività. Il tocco francofono dell'etichetta Belga tiene alto il vessillo di un suono che vedeva in Plastic Bertrand, e Lio alfieri di un artigianato ormai scomparso, ma c'è spazio anche per lo psych pop, per il punk, per Laetitia Sadier e April March, e persino per Sabino Orsini e il suo progetto sulle radici del crimine calabrese. Indispensabile" www.indie-eye.it
"Freaksville Records fête ses 10 ans avec une triple compilation. L’occasion de redécouvrir quelques trésors du label crée par Benjamin Schoos." 100 % Bandcamp
"Tra una cinematografia fin de transmission di Modern Tanz Music e il tocco garage di Motorcycle Girl con Michel Moers, trova spazio anche l'Aspromonte brigante di Sabino Orsini, tra Paul Getty rapito e scacciapensieri" Rumore (Italia)
"E Poi ci sono anche ospiti illustri come Laetitia Sadier che duetta proprio con Schoos" Rockerilla (Italia)
"There’s the odd sprinkle of retro-futurist electronic sparkle, but fundamentally this collection is all sitting comfortable in the elegant indie pop side of things rather than anything particularly vanguard-y." Freq.org
"S'il n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer. Depuis dix ans, le label Freaksville sert (de terre) d'asile à une joyeuse bande de francs-tireurs pop." Focus Vif
Freaksville is an indie record label based in Belgium. More than a label, it's a family of french music lovers, a
team of amazing musicians, illustrators, producers, cult artists, lyricists from belgium and foreign countries. Our LPs sound different in the small world of french pop music.
Avec l'aide de la Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles...more