As a teenager in the late 90s I jigged school a lot. Almost every day of the week. Mum and Dad would go to work and I would kill time down the park or somewhere else and come back home when I knew my parents have left for work. I knew I didn’t want to be at school but really, what else was there to do?
I watched TV.
Unfortunately back in those days there was nothing on TV during the day. Between the hours of 10-5 (when my parents weren’t home) the best thing on all five major networks was Springer. To be honest I don’t even remember what else was on daytime TV in Australia back then. Was Ricki Lake still kickin it? Don’t remember. Don’t care. I was too busy watching French music videos on TVS.
For those who don’t know; TVS is the community TV station in Sydney. At night they have the same kind of shows you will find on community TV in any other city. Want to learn how to paint a tropical island ‘properly’? TVS. Keen to see what kind of inedible slop some shitty band you have never heard of cook when they have nothing in the larder? TVS.
Of course the thing about members of the public paying for a silly little act of self-indulgence like having their own TV show is they all want to be aired in a decent timeslot. The public weren’t ready or willing to make daytime TV but TVS needed something to air, so obviously the logical thing to do was run a real time broadcast of French cable music network MCM.
MCM started in 1989 as a French alternative to MTV. Being French, they were extremely proud of the content coming out of their own country and didn’t feel the need to provide further exposure to American artists. The majority of what MCM played was French pop, hip hop and reggae. I don’t remember ever seeing an American music video on MCM and my adolescence was better for it.
Although I wasn’t attending school anywhere near as much as I should have been, I was receiving an education in Francophilia. Artists like IAM from Marseille were as thug as Wu Tang but as they didn’t have American accents they seemed way more real. Saian Super Crew’s Angela was so complex and melodic that it had to be from another realm. That song alone taught me more about music than every music lesson I had in High School.
Now before I continue I don’t want to encourage any kiddies out there to skip year 9 so you can watch French music videos. You will get found out. Your parents will bust your ass and you will have to repeat year 9. Repeating year 9 sucks balls because year 9 kids are fucked. Khmer Rouge fucked.
The other thing is the youth of today don’t even need to access foreign TV networks to find this stuff. YouTube has made it so much easier. I fell in love with this stuff by accident because I hated school. I hated everything. That’s why the first video I remember seeing on MCM was Petit Frere by IAM.
This video follows a boy who should have been at school, doing what he was told. Instead he was rebelling. It wasn’t bullshit Nirvana/Korn/Limp Bizkit rebellion nor was it celebrating American gangsta shit. It was realer than anything I had ever seen on TV and I didn’t even know what they were rapping about.
The French also know how to make things infectiously catchy without being obnoxious. At the time I wasn’t aware of past masters like Serge Gainsbourg, Nino Ferrer and Jacques Dutronc. I had no idea about a ‘French Sound’. The track Stock Option by Le Scenario (or it could be Le Scenario by Stock Option) was a video I saw a handful of times and no matter how many times I searched this song on Google or on the MCM website I found absolutely no information about the artist. All I know is that the beat was dope. A huge hip hop beat with a cinematic French feel. The hook was incredible too.
Eventually I ended up going back to school – for a little while anyway. By the time I dropped out of high school TVS found something else to put on telly during the day. Things like making money and growing up got in the way of hiding from my parents and watching daytime TV, but for a couple of years TVS and MCM provided me with the best education an acne scarred, socially awkward, Australian teenage boy could get: A one year crash course in French pop. It made me think the way I do today and I wouldn’t have done things any other way. It also made me realise that the French make sick music. Like their cuisine, their music has its own mood and feeling. For me it started with IAM, Supreme NTM, Le Scenario (?) and Saian Super Crew but it led me into a pretty major Serge Gainsbourg obsession, a need for Air and Justice and a devout worship of Sebastien Tellier.
Merci France – Cheers for the tunes.