French garage rock cottage industry label Closer Records is reknowned for keeping the standard high and costs low. For Louder Than War, Joe Whyte investigates.
Coming to my attention via the recent release by Glasgow’s finest exponents of down and dirty garage rock, The Primevals, Closer Records is an excellent little label out of Le Havre, France, that is quietly setting the standard for top quality releases by some (at the moment) little-known homegrown acts.
Closer has also been responsible for some pretty neat re-releases of later Ramones albums, as well as The Lime Spiders, the Nomads and many more. They have also released some utterly crucial albums by The New Christs (from Australia, led by former Radio Birdman singer Rob Younger); new(ish) album Incantations summons Black And White-era Stranglers to the usual stew of pulsing Seeds-style garage fury.
France has a long history of fans embracing the outsider rock of such legends as The Stooges, Flamin’ Groovies, The MC5, Patti Smith and their ilk; it’s not particularly well-documented, but French youth were amongst the first to take up the torch of punk rock with guys like Marc Zermati and Eric Debris putting on gigs for the Pistols, Damned and others as well as the legendary Mont De Marsan Festival. There was actually a mid-70s Parisienne subculture known as Les Punks who were huge Lou Reed fans in a similar vein to the later Bromley Contingent were with Roxy Music and The Dolls.
Local heroes such as Little Bob Story, Shakin’ Street, Stinky Toys and the mighty Metal Urbain were doing the Brit Invasion/garage rock thing long before most suburban British youth picked up cheap guitars and started annoying their neighbours in the wake of the Pistols et al.
Phillipe Debris (no relation to Eric as far as I’m aware!) is the main man at Closer Records. He’s been beavering away, since 1984, releasing records that are mostly under the radar of contemporary rock but well-known to connoisseurs of the type of music that has more in common with Detroit circa 1973 than whatever is tickling the hipster beards this week. Psych rock, garage rock, whatever you want to call it, is one of those slightly odd scenes; it’s never gone away, has never not been cool and exists in a twilight world of vinyl seven-inchers, word-of-mouth gigs (well, not really, now that the internet has taken on that role but you know whaadamean) and little labels that are labours of love rather than cash-generationg behemoths. The Medway scene, the garage-punk thing of the late eighties, jeez, even the revivalism of The White Stripes, the Strokes and The Datsuns have paid homage to the Nuggets box-set and its aftershocks.
Anyway, to Closer Records and it’s very fine releases.
Current albums that are making waves include The Plastic Invaders whose bubblegum take on psychotic boy-girl rock is well-served on current album “Who’s Number One?” They lay waste to any seriousness with some quite lunatic song titles and are great fun indeed. A bit of The B52’s, a bit of The Cramps and a whole lot of attitude make them one to watch at the moment.
Three Headed Dog are, for me, the pick of the current crop. Their magnificent “Howling At The Sun” is a lysergic, demented set of songs that is as immediate as it is multi-layered. They stand out a little from the rest of the stable of bands simply due to ones inability to adequately pigeon-hole them. There’s a little of The Gun Club psycho-blues, a hint of glam stomp and the power of prime-period Sonics about them and they play it very much like they mean it, maaan.
The Guttercats, whose latest offering is “Beautiful Curse” are a little nearer the well-spring; hints of Nikki Sudden, Johnny Thunders and the “Exile”-era Stones inform songs of love, lust and late nights. Frontman Guts Guttercat has the dreamy, opiated Thunders drawl and some of the ballads on Beautiful Curse such as Dead Loves Shadow are simply broken-down gorgeous. A cover of Roky Erickson’s “Night Of The Vampire” is taken to an after-hours speakeasy and submerged in The Guttercats’ subterranean world.
Radiocity Shakers are a gritty, sleazy Detroit-obsessed bunch of hooligans with an album that is pedal-to-metal from start to finish. “Carrying Out This Act Of Glory” takes hints of Arthur Lee’s Love and a spadeful of The MC5 and mixes it up into something quite psychedelically wonderful. Creating their own take on the Motor City beat, they’re quite a proposition. Taking criticism and turning it backwards, “Why Don’t You Sing In French?” lightens the onslaught. Slightly.
These are the current movers and shakers on Closer. There’s a whole raft of others, equally as intriguing. Check out The Dum Dum Boys (fast and furious psych-pop), The Trap, who are a mental surf-psych group and the Dark Rags whose new album Paranoia Blues is perfectly named.
Keeping it garage since 1984, Closer Records are one of those well-kept secrets that you should know about.
Search them out.
All words by Joe Whyte whose Louder Than War author’s archive is here.