Pop: Planet plastic

Quelle horreur! Philip Sweeney goes to Cannes and finds that vinyl is spinning its way back
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The crush in the grand art deco lobby of the Martinez Hotel, late- night networking and beer-swigging hangout for the 31st Midem was still as dense, deafening and as motley as ever. Malaysian techno-producers, Bulgarian saxophone sensations, wheelers and dealers from Aberdeen to Auckland, hasbeens and wannabes all mingled.

The concert programme, which fills a dozen venues every night, seemed smaller this year but contained pleasant surprises - really excellent pop by Japanese artists Sandii, and the Boom, a Celtic rock night featuring Carlos Nunez, the new bagpipe virtuoso from Spain, Latin jazz from Tito Puente and Giovanni Hidalgo, Jamaican jazz guitarist Ernie Ranglin, and more. Classical music events included the presentation of the 1996 Cannes Classical Award to Einojuhani Rautavaara, the Finnish composer of the best selling contemporary symphony Angel of Light, and a production of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale with spoken parts by Gerard Depardieu and his son Guillaume.

Midem (Marche International du Disque, de l'Edition Musicale et de la Video Musique) is also about radio and television producers buying and selling to each other, politicians reacting to the increasing perception of music as serious industry, and technology. No single big story here, it seems - just the steady development of online music sources, available down a phone line or through a modem, and the stagnation in France and other parts of Europe (but not Britain) of CD sales after years of expansion.

This didn't stop the annual crop of novelty CD-case launches. The eight- sided Octobox sample hit visitors this year, though I can't say I like it as much as last year's flat, round CD tin, which is very handy for paper-clips. Vinyl, it seems, is hanging in there, due to dance DJs and, indeed, the British vinyl disc printers ASL reports rising demand. Ray Young, managing director of PR Records, says vinyl sales have increased by four per cent for the second year in a row.

A return to vinyl would be most convenient for Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, which still consumes much of its music on good old 45s. One of the most welcome items in my press box, stuffed daily with PR handouts, was a spanking new 45 disc with no message save the names on the label of the artist (Daddy Juice), the company (VASCO Records) and a phone number in Kingston. With the decline of traditional industry, the Jamaican government was concentrating on developing knowledge-based exports, explained Commissioner Jacqueline Neath at the large Jamaica stand. The result is that an unprecedented 170 Jamaican delegates had come to Cannes with 58 artists including Jimmy Cliff and Shaggy dominating the opening night with a terrific concert.

Legendary Kingston producers such as King Jammy, Gussie Clark and Mikey Bennett did deals with some surreal results. The dreadlocked Richard Bell, manager of much-fancied newcomer Anthony B, had been to an adjacent Saudi company's booth, and attracted, he said, considerable interest. One trembles at the prospect of some future Jah-praising young dread penetrating the kingdom's rigid borders; he'd be getting off very lightly with mere decapitation.

The British at Midem were firing on all cylinders. There were almost 500 listings in the directory, and the first visit from the British ambassador to France. Dance music is still our hottest product, and success stories abounded. The last one I heard was the licensing to Lithuania of a dance compilation for pounds 400 by a company called Music of Life, of which the Tory MP Sir Nicholas Bonsor is a shareholder, and, according to the firm, a man looking to become more musically involved "after the election". It takes all sorts n