"I had a lucid dream in which I was cancelling all the planned gigs" says Fred Magnon, a Frenchman better known to the discerning music fan by his middle name, Avril (French for April). "I actually did it the following day. The idea was to get back in studio and re-record the first album live with the band."
Avril is talking about ?Members Only?, the follow-up to his 2002 debut, ?That Horse Must Be Starving?, the original version of which was junked because it didn?t measure up to the energy Avril was achieving live. "I remember giving our cover of ?French Kiss? one more bpm every night," he says. "We finished the shows at 150 bpm, me raping a Theremin and even setting a Powerbook on fire at times."
Avril may have won the Prix Constantin (the French version of the Mercury Music Prize) with ?That Horse Must Be Starving?, but there was no way he was going to rest on his laurels for album number two. Live bass and drums were drafted in, as were the lush sounds of Serg. ?It?s a modular synth designed for Luc Ferrari," says Avril.
The result sounds like The DFA transplanted to Avril?s home turf, the 18th arrondissement of Paris. The opening ?Urban Serenade? sooths with its acoustic guitar and washes of languid string that recall Avril?s countrymen Air, before ?Be Yourself? crashes in with its droning synths, splashy percussion, guitars, punk-funk bass and French spoken word vocal, while elsewhere ?TV Dinner? is sophisticated Euro-electro that looks to the future, not the past.
Avril admits that his musical partner Marc Collins was crucial to the genesis of ?Members Only?. "When I was pregnant he made the baby come out," he says. It?s a child of mixed parentage, fusing Serge Gainsbourg and the French chanson tradition with the same dance-driven English guitar stylings as Franz Ferdinand ? see the stomping pop thrash of ?Can?t Stand Your Ex?s Rock Band?, with its scathing "Upper class wankers satisfied with their hooligan?s role/They wouldn?t hurt a fly" couplet, and ?Power?, a blast of feral energy.
It?s no accident that the coolest DJ in Paris, Ivan Smagghe of Kill The DJ, is a huge fan. ?Ivan was one of the first people to be interested in my music, even before I signed on F-Comm," says Avril. "I used to go to the first nights at Pulp, the club where Kill The DJ is held, and I swear that there were only 12 of us in that club. Today they have 40 feet queues all the time."
Asked to compare ?Members Only to its predecessor, Avril has this to say: "We?ve been recording live takes of the voices, drums and bass to capture the energy. For that reason I think it?s more direct and straight to the point."
Forget the filtered loops and euphoric house that was ?the French touch? in the late-?90s: in 2004 cutting edge French dance music is about the interface of guitars and electronics, and no-one is doing it better than Avril.