It's all a question of Tone

Le Tone is quirky. Le Tone is smart. Just don't say that he sounds French. By Fiona Sturges
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The Independent Culture

FROM TIME to time, when the charts are choked with more rubbish than usual and the festivals have run their course, the music press likes to announce the advent of a new trend. Such statements are generally based either on several bands emerging from the same area or a crop of groups with similar taste in music and/ or haircuts.

FROM TIME to time, when the charts are choked with more rubbish than usual and the festivals have run their course, the music press likes to announce the advent of a new trend. Such statements are generally based either on several bands emerging from the same area or a crop of groups with similar taste in music and/ or haircuts.

Over the past couple of years we have had a Welsh revolution (Super Furry Animals, Catatonia, Manic Street Preachers), a Scots rebellion (Arab Strap, Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian) and a psychedelic revival (Super Furrys, The Beta Band, The Flaming Lips).

But the prolonged love affair with the likes of Daft Punk, Air and Motorbass has pushed the trend-spotting fetish to the limit. What have they in common? Well, they are all exponents of dance music, but they cover every corner of the genre from drum'n'bass and house to Seventies kitsch. No, their real uniting force, their radical edge, is that they're French.

Pardonnez moi?

And, if you thought this almost three-year fixation with all things French was reaching its natural conclusion, think again. This year has already seen releases from Cassius, Quentin Dupieux, aka Mr Oizo, Kojak, Rinocerose and house svengali Alex Gopher.

Gasping for breath amid this profusion of French revolutionaries is 26-year-old Le Tone (he refuses to reveal his real name), a hip-hop enthusiast whose quirky debut single "Joli Dragon", has been filling dancefloors across the country. So what exactly does he have in common with his various gallic counterparts?

"We play football together," he remarks dryly. "That's all."

So why the fuss? "Who knows? People only talk about the French renaissance in England. Maybe it's because our generation of musicians are finally making the music they really want to make. But they are all just big acts doing their own thing."

If you were pushed to find similarities between Le Tone's sound and the work of, say, Daft Punk and Air, you might observe a sense of playfulness that is sorely lacking on the British dance and hip-hop scene. "But it stops there," he warns. "Bands like Air are making music from the Seventies. I want to be doing something new."

Le Tone's album Le Petit Nabab, splashes gaily through French electronica, hip-hop and dance, if anything parodying our whole preconception of French music. A short-lived "Intro" samples car horns, neighing horses, a crowing cockerel, a goat and a ringing telephone, chaotically arranged over a dizzy piano loop. Elsewhere, Le Tone utilises horns, reggae grooves and orchestral samples against a morass of weird bleeps, belches and synthesised whirrings. It makes anything by Daft Punk sound like "The Last Post".

But there are moments of sobriety - a sampled Billie Holiday sings "God Bless the Child" in "Bitter Crop", while the buoyant reggae groove on track nine almost drowns out a wistful voice in the background asking: "Is it love you're missing?"

"There are melancholy moments," admits Tone, "but the album is carried by humour."

Tone had no musical education as a child, beside listening to his parent's classical record collection. "It was all I knew until 1989 when I discovered hip hop. I hated jazz and I thought rock was for the brain-dead."

It wasn't until he began experimenting with a sampler that he realised he could make his own music. "I realised hip hop was a lot of loops working together in the same song. It seemed really simple."

Tone started taking his career seriously when he was a student in Bordeaux. He worked as a rapper in a hip hop band and toured south-west France while tinkering with instrumental music in his spare time. He also sent demo tapes of his various projects out to record companies.

He says: "My hip hop album was rejected. The guy said 'your voice is too white'. So I decided to find a deal for an instrumental album."

Tone was mostly inspired by the French electronica pioneer Jean-Jacques Perry though British trip-hop also played a part in his development. Observing a Parisian scene, which he calls "a bad copy of the worst side of American hip hop", Tone resolved to create an album that would take music forwards. "I wanted to use samples and the keyboard to create a new discussion between the instruments and the songs. I wanted to create a sound that was fresh."

How about French? "No. Just like nothing else you've ever heard."

'Le Petit Nabab' is out on Creation Records

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