The latest installment in the Kitsune Maison series appears to herald the decline of the French arbiters of cool.
You can’t blame some members of the bloggerati for branding Kitsune Music a bringer of “Now That’s What I Call Music” for hipster playlists. Because that’s what the record label essentially does. Thanks to Daft Punk’s Homework and Discovery albums, French electro became cool again. Kitsune Music (a branch of a French-Japanese clothing company of the same name) was set up to capitalise on Daft Punk’s formidable fame by backing artists that mutated their debt to the robotic duo into something achingly up-to-the-minute and hybridised. Thus we got Digitalism’s scuzzy dance-punk, Simian Mobile Disco’s bleeping techno-minimalism, Crystal Castles’ arcade game noise-pop, and Autokratz’ techno-pop. Kitsune also realised it had an audience in indie rock kids. So it extended its velvet hand to post-punk revivalists with affectations for the four-to-the-floor metre, such as Bloc Party and Late of the Pier. The annual (or twice annual) release of the Kitsune Maison compilation gave us a reliable cross-section of the latest in clubland cool.
On the eighth and latest issue of Maison, Kitsune noticeably swings its emphasis on dance with pop tones to pop with dance tones. Just within the compilation’s first half, we have a string of indie-pop songs: the Empire of the Sun-like “Up All Night” by the French Horn Rebellion; the whistling, riffing CBGB-sounding “Let’s Go Surfing” by the Drums; and the Pippettes-esque “Friction Between the Lovers” by Amwe. Could this new development be the label’s admission that the underground is finally ready to cash out of the electro-dance-punk and the so-called French Touch bubbles that consumed most of the noughties? If so, then, like its American counterpart DFA, it might be in for a drastic rethink of its raison de etre. Unlike labels peddling straight-up drum ‘n’ bass, techno, and house -- genres so fundamental in the history of electronic music that they are unlikely to lose all relevance anytime soon -- Kitsune’s pet projects and artists were founded on what they thought fickle hipsters would listen and dance to. Kitsune was lucky the fad for indie-meets-dance lasted as long as it did.
This precariousness is reinforced by the fact that among the compilation’s more club-ready tracks, not much seems to herald the coming of the next Justice. Midnight Juggernauts, an act that rode to indie darling status during the peak of the synth-revival movement in 2007, show they still have plenty of that beguiling Aurora Borealis prog-disco shtick left with “This New Technology”. Delphic, meanwhile, have been touted as the freshest dance-pop act to come out of Manchester, and they make a fine entry here with “This Momentary”, an inspired blend of New Order industrial disco and First Wave rave. The blogosphere has also poured its praises on the so-called “chillwave” poster boy Memory Tapes. His song on this compilation, “Bicycle”, grafts an eerily washed-up aspect onto disco dreamscapes, and so is certainly a worthy proposition. But these moments of relish are overshadowed by an unwarranted amount of filler, such as the abysmally unlistenable “I Love London” by Crystal Fighters and Logo’s MOR '80s dance track “Junocide”.
But as with all declines, mooted or real, it is the anticipation of what follows that is most interesting. Will Kitsune continue to scrape at the bottom of the barrel for that last crumb of post-punk-electro in a hopeless attempt to justify its existence so far? Or will it grab hold of the next hipster-baiting niche, appearing disoriented and even irrelevant?