"There was a terrible rumor throughout Europe that started back in the 1960s," explained David Martinon, the consul general of France in Los Angeles, during a Champagne reception in a posh Beverly Hills backyard. "While we were looked at as a country that excelled in art, literature, fashion and movies, it was also believed that France didn't know how to rock. We're here to change all of that."
Martinon's solution is the first Ooh La L.A!, a three-day festival of French pop music happening at the Music Box @ Fonda on Sept. 23-25. Though the lineup boasts such marquee acts as Sebastien Tellier and Nouvelle Vague, the festival is to be an annual breakout party for new artists like the Do and Jamaica to a wider audience in America.
"I've been working with up-and-coming artists for years at a French label called Barclay's, and know how hard it is to export yourself beyond these shores," explains the festival's artistic director, Sylvain Taillet, in halting English. At Barclay, he's helped establish French acts like Emilie Simon, who has gone on to win multiple Victoire de la Musique awards (France's equivalent of a Grammy) and create the original score for the French version of "March of the Penguins." She performs on the festival's second night.
"My main idea was for American audiences and media to see just how rich the French music scene is today," Taillet continues. "From a French perspective, Los Angeles feels very exotic, even more so than New York City. And there are also the film and TV industries here, and we very much would like to be in front of the big music supervisors," he adds, laughing.
"European governments are prepared to sponsor cultural exchange, so the invitation was a nice reason for me to go over there and help them to put an itinerary together," says Jason Bentley, music director and morning radio host on KCRW, one of the festival's presenting sponsors. "They showed me around France, where I met with lots of labels and managers and checked out venues."
Festival organizers were especially keen to pick Bentley's brain on the lineup, and he was honest in his assessment.
The acts at this first festival are representative, including dance music from the city of Reims (Brodinski, the Shoes) and the oddly authentic Americana sounds of male/female duo Cocoon.
"It's hard to describe, but there is a similarity that runs through French music, even though we all sound so different," insists Marc Collin, the primary producer behind expansive musical collective Nouvelle Vague, who will present at the fest "Hollywood Mon Amour," a special tribute to the music of 1980s movie soundtracks like "Flashdance" and "A View to a Kill."
"Maybe it's the crazy mix of music we grow up with," Collin adds. "There's a lot of jazz, world music, pop and the huge electronic scene."
For Tellier, the festival is a good excuse to return to L.A.
"There is a real deep love for entertainment and pop culture in Los Angeles," he raves excitedly. His bearded French playboy persona and synth-soaked album "Sexuality" caught the attention of controversial American Apparel Chief Executive Dov Charney, who distributes Tellier's music in his stores. "In Europe, what I do is considered like a joke. But in L.A., there are so many people dedicated to creating pleasurable experiences for the user. It's very inspiring."
Ooh La L.A! music festival
Where: Music Box @ Fonda, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
When: Sept. 23-25
Price: $25 per night; $65 three-day pass
Contact: (323) 464-0808; www.oohlalafestival.com