Noir D?sir
1980 † November 00, 2010
France
Music group
Rock music doesn't come naturally to the French. A Latin country, with more affinity to poetry and melody, France has very rarely produced talented rock musicians. Rock music has other, more Anglo-Saxon ingredients : fury, excess, electricity. After Téléphone in the 80's, Noir Désir is one of the few French groups to have produced the right mix. Our honour is saved.

The story of Noir Désir began in 1980 when Bertrand Cantat, newly arrived in Bordeaux from his native Normandy, made a group of friends at the local lycée. Sharing a common passion for music, the four friends went on to form their own group: Denis Barthe (on drums), Serge Teyssot-Gay (on guitar), Frédéric Vidalenc (on bass) and Bertrand Cantat, unable to play a musical instrument, ended up as the lead singer.

Punk and new wave were already on the decline when Noir Désir got together, but the foursome were greatly influenced by these Anglo-Saxon movements nonetheless. Between 81 and 84 they performed gigs in local clubs and bars, spending a great deal of time rehearsing in the studio as well (although this was essentially for fun, not because the young musicians ever dreamt they could get a professional recording contract). It was during this period that the group's charismatic frontman Bertrand Cantat began to develop an interest in literature and poetry (particularly the work of young 19th century poets Rimbaud and Mallarmé). None of the members of Noir Désir had got on particularly well at school. In fact the young rebels could hardly wait to leave, and when they did they each began a series of odd jobs, working as caretakers and roofers as well as getting short-term contracts in the music and theatre world.

Dark Heroes

The group's big break came when Théo Hakola (ex-lead singer of the group Passion Fodder) heard them play one night. Impressed by Noir Désir's original sound, he immediately offered to produce a mini-album for the group in 1987. "Ou veux-tu que'je'regarde", heavily influenced by the 'alternative' Anglo-Saxon sound yet infused with a poetic vein which was most unusual in the rock world, was a crucial first step towards forging the Noir Désir sound.

Two years later the group were back in the recording studio, putting the finishing touches to a new album "Veuillez rendre l'âme à qui elle appartient". The album, produced by Ian Broudie, was proved an enormous hit with rock music critics who hailed it as a veritable masterpiece. The group was by now well on their way to success. After their new single "Aux sombres héros de l'amer" had rocketed into the French Top 50, the group found themselves the proud owners of a "Bus d'Acier" award (presented by the French music press). Noir Désir then embarked upon an extensive tour of France, followed by an international tour which included dates in the USSR, Canada and Czechoslovakia.

Yet Noir Désir remained wary of their lightning success. They were determined not to become a passing fad and fought hard to retain their independence. After the release of Noir Désir's second album, this free-spirited approach began to cause a few problems with their record company. Noir Désir absolutely refused to participate in prime time chat shows to promote the album, insisting they would only give interviews to serious publications. They also insisted that the group should always be interviewed together, to avoid attention always being focused on the charismatic lead singer Bertrand Cantat.

Tortured Romantics

After an intensive period of touring, the group went back into the recording studio in November 1990, spending two moths honing their new album to perfection. "Du ciment sous les plaines", released in February 91, featured 14 new songs including 4 tracks in English. Noir Désir had by this point established a reputation for their alternative sound and poertic, tortured lyrics but this album found the group getting into a much more aggressive rock style, the lyrics becoming more and more dark and pessimistic. The album proved popular with fans, however, selling 120,000 copies and the group had soon lined up a whole series of concerts from Paris to Tokyo, via Canada. "En route pour la joie", the first single release from the album was also doing well in the charts. Yet the group were already beginning to feel the strain, tiring of the predictable routine of recording, promoting and touring. After three years of commercial success the group were starting to feel that they were losing the militant passion of their early days and selling out to the mainstream. Not surprisingly, the music scene was soon a-buzz with rumours that Noir Désir were on the verge of splitting up, rumours fuelled by the fact that lead singer Bertrand had lost his voice as a result of the group's excessively loud, aggressive live shows.

Noir Désir felt it was high time they took a break from the music scene, retiring to the Bordeaux countryside to relax and gather together some new material. The group eventually returned to the studio, however, recording an eagerly-awaited new album in England with British producer Ted Niceley. "Tostaki" (an adaptation of the Spanish expression "Todo esta aqui" - "Everything Is Here") was released in December 92, much to the delight of the group's ever-increasing following of fans. The group's thrashing guitars and hard-hitting lyrics exploded onto the French music scene with the force of a Molotov cocktail, proving that the group had lost none of their revolutionary fervour. The album proved a major hit with French teenagers who readily identified with the group's idealistic approach and their refusal to sell out in the interest of fame. The tour, which followed the release of the album, proved phenomenally successful, tickets selling out weeks in advance. Noir Désir gave a truly memorable performance at the Olympia (February 3rd and 4th 1993), Bertrand Cantat's wild stage antics whipping the audience into a frenzy.

Anger

Cantat's explosive performance and Noir Désir's aggressive raw energy during their extensive 93 tour were captured on "Dies Irae" ("The Wrath of God"), a double live album accompanied by a special video of the tour, which were both released in January 94.

Following this period of intensive touring and general excess, Noir Désir took one of their habitual breaks from the music scene in order to recharge their batteries. The members of the group also decided it was time to take a break from one another and they went their separate ways for a while. Guitarist Serge Teyssot-Gay went off to work on a solo album (released in 96), Bertrand Cantat relaxing and trying to recover his voice and bass-player Frédéric Vidalenc officially quitting the group to pursue his own projects.

Noir Désir bounded back to the forefront of the music scene in November 96 with a new bass-player, Jean-Paul Roy, and a brand new album, mysteriously entitled "666.667 Club". The 13 tracks on the new album were in the same aggressive rock spirit as "Du ciment sous les plaines" and the hard-hitting lyrics as incendiary as ever. The group's performance at the Zénith in February 97 proved they had lost neither their energy nor their explosive rage. The group's triumphant tour in 97 involved a special concert in Toulon (in the South of France). Right-wing National Front councillors had recently taken control of the local authorities, banning rap groups and left-wing literature in the town. Noir Désir organised a special resistance concert in conjunction with local protest groups, inviting the hardcore rap group to perform on stage with them in defiance of the right-wing authorities. Noir Désir had never adopted an explicitly political position in their songs, but the group's actions in Toulon certainly spoke louder than words.

Throughout their carer, Noir Désir have also been involved in a number of humanitarian and charity projects. One of the most important of these was the "Un jour à Bordeaux" mega-concert which the group organised in an abandoned railway station in Bordeaux in June 97. The concert, performed by Noir Désir and a dozen other local rock groups, proved a huge success, drawing crowds of over 30,000. More than sixty charities, anti-racist organisations and anti-National Front associations also took part in the event. Later that year Noir Désir would also perform a special benefit concert at Le Bataclan in Paris (13 October), to raise money for educational organisations in the Third World.

In June 98 two members of Noir Désir (Serge and Bertrand) - accompanied by the group's saxophonist Akosh Szlevenyi - went to Marseilles to meet up with five young up-and-coming rock bands. This was the second time that the group had accepted the invitation of local community associations and agreed to participate in debates and discussions evoking the problems which beset young artists starting out today.

In April 1999 students at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Bordeaux invited Bertrand Cantat to give another series of his famous 'rock workshops'.

Year after year, Noir Désir have gone on asserting their backup to several humanitarian projects. In April 99, they played for the GISTI concert (The Group of Information and Support to Immigrants), where they sang a cover of John Lennon’s "Working Class Hero". In 2001, they took the side of the Tibetans, and recorded a track for the album "Tibet libre" ("Free Tibet"). On July 15th, they took part in a concert for refugees in Vienna (France). They also contributed to two political compilation records, "Enragez-vous" ("Get Mad") or "Quai 213" ("Waterfront 213"), who went quite unnoticed by the media.

Participations

In line with their political involvement, they are always willing to collaborate with other artists. In 1998, they recorded a cover of Jacques Brel’s "Ces gens-là" that was released in a tribute album to the Belgium star entitled "Au suivant". They went on and gave a hand to their friends, Têtes Raides’, for the album "Gratte Poil" (2001) and to Denez Prigent for "Irvi" (2000). Their name also appeared on the covers of Alain Bashung’s "Climax" and Yann Tiersen’s "Black Session" (1999).

Meanwhile, some members of the band chose to work on their own. In 2000 Serge Teyssot-Gay repeated his 1996 venture and released a solo album. A very personal piece of work, it offers musical backing to Georges Hyvernaud’s writings. The latter, a French writer who died in 1983, had mostly written on the theme of war.

Others chose to perform on other artists’ albums, as did Denis Barthe on la Berlue’s opus in 1995, for example.

Faces and features

However, the group soon reunited and released a most awaited single in July 2001. "Le Vent l’emportera" prefigures their forthcoming album, "Des Visages, des Figures" (a pun on two synonymous words meaning ‘face’ in French) that is scheduled for September 11th, 2001. They went back on stage in the summer of 2001 to celebrate their reunion with a new show featuring their latest creations. Overcoming their stage fright, they brought the house down at Les Vieilles Charrues (a breton festival) before ending their flamboyant gig by a magnificent duo, entitled "Identité" (‘Identity’), with the Tetes Raides.

After keeping their fans in suspense for the past five years, Noir Desir, who had had ample time to get back in touch with their inner selves, eventually released the awaited "Des Visages, des figures". Probably their most accomplished album so far, it was produced by Sonic Youth and Hot Chili Peppers’ collaborator Nick Sansano. It features, of course, the single "le Vent l’emportera" on which Manu Chao’s guitar can be heard. Akosh, one of their favourite guests, played his sax on the diabolical "Europe"—the 23-minute-and-43-second-long track chanted in duo with Brigitte Fontaine. On most of the songs Bertrand Cantat has learned to master his voice, when he almost lost it a few years ago. More emphasis has been put on the texts and the lyrics suit the music to a greater extent than before. Nevertheless this accomplished album will not fail to surprise Noir Desir’s fans as it defers from the band’s usual style and starts out to explore uncharted sound spaces. No less indeed was to be expected from such artists who have always been prone to artistic questioning.

By the beginning of 2002, "Des Visages, Des Figures" had sold 900,000 copies and the band was nominated five times at the Victoires de la Musique (the French equivalent of the Brit Awards). Yet fans were disappointed not to be rewarded by the possibility of seeing their stars on stage. Since summer 2001 when they had toured briefly – 5 dates including one in Hungary, Noir Désir have rather shunned going back on the stage. They performed once in Toulouse in September 2001; then, later that year, they gave a benefit concert for the GISTI in the suburban town of Trappes. Afterwards, they were no longer heard from until they announced the dates of a new tour, mostly outside France, from March 2002 onwards.

Bouts of rage

On March 9th 2002, the band was awarded the Victoires de la Musique Award for Best Rock’n Roll album and Best Video Clip ("Le Vent L’Emportera"). During the ceremony, Noir Désir made a show of themselves by haranguing the CEO of Vivendi—the group which owns Universal, the label that produces Noir Desir’s records. They accused the company of exploiting their band’s name in order to pass itself off as a multicultural label. The event caused quite a sensation in the French music world.

A few days later, the band set off on a tour around Quebec and Europe (Poland, Holland and Norway) and went on touring up and down the Middle-East in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Turkey.

Back in France, they voiced their anger once more, organizing four unexpected concerts in reaction against the Extreme-Right landslide at the first tour of the Presidential election. Accompanied by the likes of the Têtes Raides, Dominique A, Yann Tiersen, Rodolphe Burger from Kat Onoma, and Thomas Fersen, they raged against the ‘racism and hatred’ that this electoral choice epitomized.

In May Noir Désir hit the road again, travelling around France until winter. The dates were all sold out long in advance. Meanwhile, sales of the group's latest album continued to rocket. And in July 2002 the International Record Industry Federation awarded them a platinum disc after sales of "Des visages, des figures" topped the 1 million mark.

In Spring 2003 the band met with the Toulousian band Zebda and began to prepare for Septembre Ensemble. Announced during a press conference given on May 21st, Septembre Ensemble was presented as a musical venue with versatile ambition--debates, art exhibitions, shows—to take place during two weekends in Toulouse and Bordeaux. Noir Desir was expected to play there and then head for the fête de l’Huma—the yearly party thrown by the French communist newspaper—on September 12th.

Yet, at the end of July, Bertrand Cantet flew to Lituania to join his girlfriend, actress Marie Trintignant. Whereas both already married, the lovers had been living together for the previous six months and shared a very intense relationship that reflected their passionate dispositions.

During the night of the 26thof July, the actress was found severely injured and died a few days later. Suspected to have beaten her to death, Bertrand Cantat was arrested.

Following the event, the band had to cancel all their plans including the concerts and Septembre Ensemble. Their future seemed rather jeopardized. Starting at the beginning of August, the judiciary investigation inquired on the actual involvement of Bertrand Cantat who had been sued by Marie Trintignant’s family and been accused of ‘intentional bodily harm’ and ‘failure to assist’ the injured actress.

Adored by thousands of teenage fans and extolled by French music critics, Noir Désir have enjoyed huge commercial success without ever compromising their original beliefs. Often hailed as the new version of the legendary French rock group Téléphone, Noir Désir have nevertheless developed their own distinctive sound, fusing raw aggression with committed lyrics.

(source: RFI Musique)
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