“Oh, it’s a big responsibility,” Francois Marry laughs, when asked about representing France when his band, Francois and the Atlas Mountains, comes to Adelaide for the inaugural Adelaide French Festival in January.
“I don’t know if I wanna be thought of as an ambassador – I’ll try not to think too hard about that!”
Despite maintaining a quintessentially French pop sound throughout their five-album back catalogue, Francois and the Atlas Mountains’ most recent LP, Solide Mirage, has been a more global affair.
The band has for a long time been based in the south-west of France, but they moved to Brussels to find a new perspective.
“It’s quite a cheap place to live; people compare it to Berlin a few years back, in the sense that it’s quite cheap and there’s lots of squats and places where bands and artists can experiment with no financial pressure,” Marry says.
“We fancied a change, and we were looking for somewhere cheap and friendly, and that would be quite convenient to experiment, because it’s near London, it’s near Amsterdam, it’s near Paris – it’s very convenient to travel around as an artist.
“It’s always a challenge to create new energy in a band… because when you’ve been with a band for so long, and you start fitting into habits, you need to find a way to break them.”
The resulting aural landscape of Solide Mirage is recognisably French guitar pop, with the introduction of African rhythms, courtesy of the band’s interest in gqom, a South African style of house music that has recently travelled out of the townships and into club nights around the world.
Lyrically, Marry wanted to try something different, too. The album was written during the French election and not long after the country suffered a spate of terrorist attacks, so he decided it was the right time to start being more direct with his lyrics.
“I didn’t have a very clear and precise approach to what I wanted to say politically, but I was hoping that… when I play music and when it turns up on radio, bringing the questions in a sensitive way would echo the awareness of people from my generation who are trying to find solutions,” Marry says.
“A lot of the artists I know, a lot of the musicians, really appreciated that… but I had a sense as well that maybe the wider public wasn’t so ready to be asked to think too hard about what they’re listening to.
“[So] I wouldn’t say it was a great success, taking that approach, but I’m sure it was necessary, and I’m sure it will bring good things.
“A guy who works with new migrants told me he played my music to them and that they were really receptive to it, and really touched that someone from the western world would make the effort to sing something about them.”
Employing a more empathic approach to writing was important for Francois, and he is hopeful that this will have an effect, but he doesn’t believe a greater good can be achieved through music alone.
“I wouldn’t trust a musician that would say, ‘I’m changing the world with my music’. I don’t think that’s actually what’s happening.
“It’s people working in non-governmental organisations, people who are doing lots of volunteer work, who are actively trying to help migrants, and raise money to build a school… I think that’s what really changes the world.
“But I’m hoping that by bringing those topics in my music, I’m at least using the hype around my band to say … we’re aware of the issues in the world, and we are hoping that everyone is aware of these problems, and we’re trying to go in a direction where people think about the political effects of what they buy, the way they spend their money, and where they find energy, and what type of food they buy, and that type of thing.”
Francois and the Atlas Mountains’ aim in travelling with their music seems to be less about being ambassadors for France, and more about representing the kind of progressive thought that can occur in their country, despite the divided politics currently rippling right across the world.
Add to that their penchant for sweet guitar pop, and it’s a show you don’t want to miss.
Francois and the Atlas Mountains will play the Dunstan Playhouse on Saturday, January 13, as part of the inaugural Adelaide French Festival, which will begin on January 12 with the So Frenchy, So Chic picnic and party at Pinky Flat.
The 2018 Adelaide Festival season will include six major musicals, 17 world premieres and 26 Adelaide premieres and exclusives.
Festival Centre CEO and artistic director Douglas Gautier says that after the disruptions caused this year by the Riverbank redevelopment work, the centre is looking forward to its biggest season yet in 2018.
Other season highlights include:
The musicals Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show (December-January), The Wizard of Oz (April), Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (August-September), Mamma Mia! (October-November) and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (December).
Ben Folds: American singer-songwriter Ben Folds brings his Paper Aeroplane Request Tour, in which audience members request songs via paper aeroplanes thrown onto the stage (above), to the Festival Theatre on February 9.
Provenance: Jazz heavyweights Vince Jones and Paul Grabowsky in “intimate musical conversation” as they play songs from their ARIA-winning album Provenance and more, at the Space Theatre on April 7.
Bosom Buddies: Musical theatre stars Nancye Hayes and Todd McKenney give “a candid glimpse of life backstage” in this Adelaide premiere at the Dunstan Playhouse on June 10 and 11.
Guitar Festival: Tommy Emmanuel and Friends (Pedro Javier González and Richard Smith) and Grammy winner Albert Lee are the first acts announced for the Festival Centre’s Guitar Fest in August.
The Merry Widow: Director and choreographer Graeme Murphy reimagines classic operetta The Merry Widow in the glamour of 1920s Paris in this State Opera production, at the Festival Theatre from November 29 – December 6.
For more information see the Adelaide Festival Centre website.
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