Soundtracking the Resistance - Vive la France?

A Discussion About the French Elections with Florent Vincelot from VedeTT

Apr 28, 2017 By Stephen Mayne Web Exclusive
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This week we're talking French politics with Florent Vincelot from VedeTT, a band based out of Angers (a couple of hundred miles from Paris). If you're wondering why, the results from the first round of the French presidential election are in, and they bring seismic change.

By voting newcomer Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen into the run-off election on May 7 (as no one secured over 50% of the vote, the top two go into the run-off), French voters ignored the Socialist and Republican parties that have swapped the Presidency between themselves for nearly half a century. Imagine if Donald Trump came third back in November and Hillary Clinton a distant fifth and you start to understand how much French politics has turned on its head.

It's not that it hasn't been quite a week in America either. The Trump juggernaut/clown car/car crash (delete as appropriate) roles on towards the 100-day mark with budget shutdown squabbling, all part of a desperate attempt to turn Trump's fantasy wall into more than just a xenophobic mirage. There's also talk of tax cuts and a renewed tilt at healthcare on top of a second weekend of protests after the science community took to the streets to urge evidence based decision making as opposed to the whims of cable news.

But for all that chaos, we're sticking with France. The country couldn't have left itself with a starker choice, and whatever happens it's going to be interesting. Macron and Le Pen are polar opposites. The former is an ex-banker who is unashamedly globalist and pro-EU, while his rival heads the ticket for the far-right National Front (FN); economic nationalists with a nasty anti-immigrant streak.

What's even more startling is the fact Macron has never run for elected office before (he did serve in the outgoing administration before leaving the Socialists) and only founded his party En Marche! last year. Le Pen is also an outsider, although she's worked in politics all her life, gradually applying a gloss of respectability to the unpleasantness her party is rightly known for.

While it looks likely Macron will win, stranger things have happened in the last year (I'm looking at you America and Britain), and a Le Pen Government would not only represent a horrible lurch to the right, it would also threaten the entire future of the EU, an institution she has repeatedly attacked.

So there's your context and I hope you understand why we're heading across the Atlantic to catch up with Vincelot. As a musician, his solo project VedeTT has been gathering praise and he comes off the back of a successful run of performances at SXSW in Austin this year. After starting out playing metal, Vincelot, who performs under the name Nerlov Amish, has moved to a mix of New Wave flavored with streaks of shoegazing. Think Joy Division with a Gallic twist.

Speaking a few days before the first round election, Vincelot might keep politics out of his music, but it's a topic he's keen to expand on. He discussed the worrying situation in France, the reasons behind the rise of the far-right, and the way the French music scene has, and hasn't responded.

Stephen Mayne (Under the Radar): How would you describe the mood in France?

Florent Vincelot (VedeTT): A few days before the first round of elections, the overall atmosphere is hesitant. Most people I meet do not know who to vote for, and sometimes if they want to vote. For months, politics has been pervasive in the mediaTV, print media, social networksand in discussions. Moreover, polls influence people's vote. The mood right now is doubt, excitement, and overdose. A dangerous mixture.

How has France reached a situation where a far-right politician has an outside but genuine chance of becoming the next President?

In several elections the extreme right has appeared at the top in certain regions of France. The reasons are numerous but I think ignorance and manipulation are the main causes. Among these people there are some who are really xenophobic and who have a vision of a purely Christian and white France. I think, and I hope, it is a minority.

The far-right shows the best scores in the countryside, where immigrants, or French people of foreign origins, are rare. These are people who are far from reality and who do not confront these populations. The main window they have is their television. I sincerely believe that the media, and television first, are, intentionally or not, the cause of this situation. When you turn on your TV in France, you are very likely to come across a debate about "Islam in France," or to see a report on "the dangerous districts of France." This is not representative of reality.

What people who are afraid of Islam, who are afraid that one day they might be forced to practice this religion, and who will vote FN do not understand is the more we stigmatize minorities, the more we create tensions between communities. I will stop there, but I will give advice to people who are afraid and who vote for far-right parties around the world. Switch off your TV, open your window, open your mind, and develop your empathy.

Le Pen's main opponent and the favorite to win the Presidency is also a political outsider. Why are people turning away from the established parties in France?

People turn away from the big parties of the left and the right (Socialist Party and Republicans) because they have governed for a long time. They practice broadly the same policies, with some social nuances, but do not tackle the major problems posed by globalization: the inequities between the very rich and the very poor, ecology, etc. The promises made by the outsiders are more radical. But the real question is: who can really impose political choices on large multinationals and banks? They have all the power because of their money and often find ways to make the leaders of countries go in their direction.

In America a number of artists have used their music to protest the rise and eventual election of Donald Trump. How has the French music scene responded to the National Front?

In France, very few current and mainstream musicians are actually fighting against the FN. Today the problem is that the FN has been part of the political landscape for a very long time and its discourse has become democratic. I also think that many do not want to commit for fear of losing the public. There is some discourse, but it is necessary to seek it in more underground circles. Overall, few artists put politics into their art. It may be perceived as a lack of courage, and there may be a bit of that, but I think it is mostly disillusionment and disgust at the whole political class. People no longer believe in politics, and musicians are people!

What role can music play in the current political environment?

Music and art in general open minds, bringing people together. In rap for example, some rappers are true leaders of opinion. Politicians surround themselves with artists during their campaigns though. It is dangerous as I think music, no matter the style, often plays a contentious role. Art is more often opposed to power. It is supposed to bring another perspective on society. It is rare to see or hear works legitimize the power in place. But some artists support political programs. I hope that one day the policies will be so good the artists and the politicians will go in the same direction. But the healthiest position for an artist is to remain independent in my opinion.

How much do political convictions influence your songwriting?

There is no real politics in my texts. My songs essentially talk about things I feel: feelings, anxieties, relationships between people. I keep my political opinions for the interviews.

So this all seems like a pretty bleak situation. Is it going to get better or are we all doomed?

On Monday we are doomed, on Tuesday I have a little hope, on Wednesday we are doomed, on Thursday I have a little hope. Sometimes it changes several times a day. That's what happens in my head. But really, I think we're doomed. But there is a little hope. But...

Song of the Week: Algiers"The Underside of Power"

We're back to America for the release of the title track from Algiers' upcoming sophomore album (out June 23). If we are doomed, the Atlanta outfit, fronted by Franklin James Fisher, is refusing to go quietly. The band name alone references the anti-colonial struggle that saw French imperialism eventually overthrown, and their songs pull no punches. "The Underside of Power" does the exact opposite, throwing plenty. With a video depicting the plotting of the revolution, Algiers tear through an evocation of what it's like to be on the receiving end of vicious and misused institutional power. It also helps that it's one hell of a tune. Listen up because we might be edging into song of the year territory, never mind song the week.


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