The Valérie Collective: Friends Electric

Rockfort takes a look at the world of the Valérie Collective, a group of post-French Touch electronic music makers from Nantes, all children of the 80s obsessed with the gloss of US pop songs, films, computer games and TV series of their youth. Below, we also talk to the collective's founder member, David Grellier aka College. 

What constitutes a local scene – is it just groups developing a similar sound at roughly the same moment, or is it more about mutual support? Is a thriving scene dependent on affluence (or the lack of it), or the facilities, opportunities and support structures available in an area; or is there really something less tangible in the air of a particular place that finds its expression in the musicians based there? In the majority of cases it’s a combination of all of these, with the exception of that last notion – ‘something in the air’ – which is surely fanciful to a large degree, if easy to succumb to. In a review of the second album by the Nantaise duo Mansfield TYA, I tried to suggest that their music was somehow permeated by the atmosphere of Brittany’s chilly blue and grey skies – their music certainly evokes that for me. But to find that Carla from the group is also a member of the playful and somewhat anarchic duo Sexy Sushi (don’t tell anyone, it’s supposed to be a secret!) put paid to the notion that she’s entirely suffused with the melancholy of the north-west Atlantic coast. 

What is true of France even more so than Britain, though, is that artists based in ‘province’ (anywhere that isn’t Paris!) have often felt a need to do their own thing, create their own buzz, independently of the capital and sometimes as a challenge to it (cf: the birth of the Les Transmusicales festival in Rennes). Of course, that state of mind exists on our side of the channel too, and it’s certainly a big part of the story of Manchester’s music, for example, but nowadays the UK’s musical infrastructure is so well oiled that there aren’t very many well-kept secrets; many groups even of nominal worth are quickly picked up by the conveyor belt. This is still not the case in France, where big labels are slow on the uptake, reluctant to take risks, the gulf between the left-field and the mainstream is wider, and the promotional mechanisms aren’t in place to take local acts to the national level in a hop, skip and a jump.
In a recent paper on the use of MySpace by self-produced artists, sociologist and economist Jean-Samuel Beuscart ('Les usages de MySpace par les musiciens autoproduits') drew conclusions which certainly apply in the UK, but which are even more pertinent in France: “Intensively using MySpace, and following a few tricks of success, can bring artists significant capital (in terms of) online reputation. This capital can be turned into opportunities in multiple local scenes: concerts, collaborations, releases on micro-labels. But MySpace does not allow artists to bypass obstacles on the way to the music industry.”
If applied more broadly to any use of the internet by musicians, then this is pertinent when considering the Valérie Collective who, via their blog, have not only built up a strong local following, but also a coherent and alluring musical, visual and conceptual identity. However, while the obstacles to the Paris-based music industry may remain, the internet has also given them a reach that transcends the country’s borders. This is in part down to their interest in and deployment of 80s pop cultural references, largely from the US. Valérie’s ‘leader’ David Grellier/College talks below about what he sees as the relative innocence of that era’s consumer culture, which is bound up with recollections of childhood insouciance and naive wonder; and when Anoraak (below) came to the Resonance studios for a session, he discussed the romance of the KITT 2000 car gliding down a dusty road at dusk in the credit sequence for Knight Rider.
There’s none of that supposed love-hate relationship the French are supposed to have with the States – for Grellier and the other kids who grew up to be members of Valérie, this is all about fetishising the surface sheen and texture of the myths that America has written about itself through TV, pop music and Hollywood. Grellier says this is part and parcel of his roots in the suburbs of Nantes, but given the global pervasiveness of US pop culture (it’s clearly not only people who lived in the suburbs of Nantes who have a lingering affection for John Hughes’s teenage archetypes), this is really a language that almost anyone can speak, and Valérie are very open to collecting ‘friends’ and like-minds from around the world. In fact, they are set to release a compilation of tracks from the collective’s own artists together with some from loosely affiliated producers and groups called ‘Valérie and Friends’, and Valérie’s ‘online capital’ at an international level also translates into opportunities for gigs in the UK and outside Europe. So ‘Valérie’ are part of two scenes at once, one based in Nantes, and the other a non-geographical, but still close-knit, community in the blogosphere – and these scenes function both as practical support networks and as clubs where the members can legitimise, and magnify, their obsessions. 
Interview with David Grellier/College
Rockfort: What is Valérie?

DG: Valérie is both a collective of artists from Nantes comprising six projects (Maethelvin, The Outrunners, Russ Chimes, Anoraak, Minitel Rose, College) and a blog. The Valerie blog is a bilingual multimedia platform (in English and French) that each week in its posts presents the work of the artists in the collective. Live recordings, information about gigs, personal favourites, but also the discovery of new international projects which fit with the sonic identity developed by Valérie. 
Rockfort: When did you start this collective?

DG: I created the blog in April 2007 and then the collective came together in July of the same year.
Rockfort: What were your reasons for starting the collective?

DG: I think there should be a different approach to making music nowadays. I was interested in presenting a complete universe with a real identity. And then, being a collective also means helping each other, collaborating on projects, sharing, it’s a good spur to creativity.
Rockfort: How do artists become members of Valérie?

DG: I am the law and I decide (hahahah) but there have been six members since the beginning and we’re sticking with that for the moment.
Rockfort: What service or help do you provide to artists?
DG: The blog allows us to air new tracks and mixes, to establish each artist’s identity and to test it as well. And we’re all friends, so we’re always exchanging ideas on our creative methods, which are all very different.

Rockfort: Who's responsible for your visual identity and how important is it to you?
DG: Our graphics are designed by German collective The Zonders, who we discovered through the Discodust blog, and with whom there is a real artistic meeting of minds. They design our sleeves, like the one for our compilation which is out on 27 May. Having a strong visual identity was a key consideration for me from the start. We’re very lucky to have such a close working relationship with The Zonders, who like us make use of references to the past.
Rockfort: Any plans for starting a record label?

DG: Small organisations, like Futur, Esr and Free Danger aux USA and others, have sprung up to support Valerie projects. I’m always interested in meeting and exchanging ideas with new artists so why not another project, if I find the time and the money!
Rockfort: Do you set up collaborations between musicians and artists working in other mediums?
DG: For the moment we’re mostly working on our respective projects. But cinema and film soundtracks are possibilities that we’d like to explore.

Rockfort: What's special about Nantes' music scene?
DG: The scene is very prolific and covers all manner of styles. We call that the ‘east coast effect’!

Rockfort: Your vision of music seems to differ quite dramatically from that of Papier Tigre's Effervescence collective, also based in Nantes. What's your relationship like with them?
DG: I know their work well, and although we move in different musical spheres, I think it’s great that a number of collectives are emerging – there’s strength in numbers, we’ve understood that in Nantes.

Rockfort: Is Valérie purely nostalgic, or is it more complicated than that?

DG: It’s nostalgic and kitsch and that’s very important to me. I grew up in the suburbs of Nantes and my cultural roots are there. The 80s, toys, TV series, all those little moments that I want to relive indefinitely – Valérie is about that too. It’s appropriate to the times we’re living in. Consumer society is no longer as innocent as it was then.
Rockfort: If you could choose a few films or songs that sum up the Valérie aesthetic, what would they be?

DG: There are lots obviously, but I’d say Toto’s ‘Africa’ as the song and ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ for the film… 

Article: David McKenna; Interview: Ludovic Merle and DM, translated into English by DM