Les rave parties, oui; le french pop, non!

Thanks to a government diktat, French radio listeners have been force-fed ghastly Gallic schmaltz. But now the DJs are fighting back. Julie Street reports from Paris
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The Independent Culture
Teenagers, the French government declared recently, must be weaned off American grunge and Britpop and given something more patriotic to chew on. To this effect, it cooked up a controversial new law: all French radio stations, with the exception of local community radios and those playing classical music, must ensure that 40 per cent of the music broadcast between 6.30am and 10.30pm is by French artists, singing in French. Trickier still, half of this output must be "new productions" or by "new talents".

This musical correctness, in force since 1 January and under review in Brussels (where commissioners have objected to its over-protectionist nature), has already proved a big headache for radio programmers. "It's a nightmare," complains Nicolas Du Roy of Europe 2. "The greatest difficulty is finding French talent to play. Out of every 10 records I get sent, five are sub- standard rap, four go straight into the bin and only one is worth putting on the air."

Max Guazzini, vice president of Radio NRJ, agrees: "The problem is that French producers and musicians are suffering from a crisis of inspiration and no amount of quotas can fix that."

Meanwhile, station directors such as Bruno Delport of Oui FM complain that, thanks to the quotas, rival stations all beginning to sound the same. "We've spent years finding out what our listeners want," says Delport "and that is 80 per cent English and American rock. At the moment we're desperately trying to comply with the quotas by programming 100 per cent French rock on Sundays, when we get hardly any listeners anyway."

It appears that most stations have come up with similarly cunning ruses to get round the law. Skyrock has opted to cram its 40 per cent into a two-hour slot at lpm sacrificing lunchtime listeners to save the station's other programmes.

Other stations have taken to looking for loopholes in the law. Some have taken advantage of the fact that re-recordings of old material count as "new productions". Hence Johnny Hallyday and his rock dinosaur cronies can remix their Sixties hits and be programmed as "new music". Others have leapt on the law's definition of a "new talent" as a musician or group with fewer than two gold discs to their name. Technically, even Edith Piaf could be billed as a new talent as the practice of awarding gold discs for record sales was not introduced in France until the Seventies.

Caroline Davigny, responsible for musical programming at Fun Radio, has her own bag of tricks: "Sometimes we play just part of a French record; or we programme French singers who have teamed up with English bands. When we discovered that The Fugees had recorded a French version of "Killing Me Softly" we played it three times a day, even though, between you and me, you can't understand a bloody word of it!"

While the Fugees have unwittingly got themselves classed as French, homegrown groups such as La Mano Negra who choose to sing in a foreign language are excluded from the quota lists - as are some of the best- selling French hits of recent years, such as Mory-Kante's "Yeke yeke", and the Gypsy Kings' "Djobi djoba".

William Balde, the lead singer of Yuda, a top French act, is sickened by the hypocrisy of the law: "One of the most exciting musical trends happening in France is metissage, which is a fusion of different cultural influences, created by France's so-called 'second-generation' immigrants," he says. "That's not the kind of image France wants to promote." Rap is another hotbed of new musical talent but, while artists like MC Solaar have improved the country's reputation on the international music scene, many French rappers get scant airplay at home. Hard-hitting lyrics about police harassment, violence and drugs are also regarded as not really French.

While musicians and DJs anxiously wait for news from Brussel's, music fans like Veronique Cantero remain unperturbed. "A few years ago we had a law banning English words from the French language," she says, "but I can assure you that young French people still go to 'les rave parties' at 'le weekend' - and no law will ever induce them to dance to French music!"