Beast Records Festival Showcase
As a teenager growing up in Rennes in the Brittany region of western France, Sebastian Blanchais was confronted by the pummelling rock’n’roll sounds of AC/DC. “Then when I was 16 I heard the Beasts Of Bourbon on the radio, and I thought ‘That is exactly what I want to hear’,” Blanchais recalls. Some years later, and the Beasts Of Bourbon rolled through Rennes, waist deep in a typically debauched Beasts tour. “Spencer [P. Jones] and I became good friends, a lot of booze and a lot of concerts,” Blanchais laughs.
Blanchais was so infatuated with the Beasts Of Bourbon’s dark, tribal rock’n’roll attack that he named his fledgling label Beasts Records. And Blanchais’ support for Australian musicians went far beyond simply providing a platform for performing and recording: Australian bands touring France would receive the full suite of French hospitality, with Blanchais and his family offering a level of hospitality largely unimaginable on the Australian touring circuit. “Seb’s always there to help out when you’re over there,” says The Spoils’ Sean Simmons, whose band enjoys a cult following in continental Europe. “And when things don’t quite right – which sometimes they do – Seb and his girlfriend, or even his mum and dad will cook dinner, which was the last time we were there” Simmons says. “I’m not a professional, so I want to make a difference,” Blanchais says. “All the Beasts artists are my fucking family.”
While France is renowned for its institutionalised support of the arts, Blanchais says he was impressed with what he describes as the “humble and simple” attitude of the Australian musicians he came to know. “If you start to play in France in front of 200 people then you get a big head, and you start to change.” Blanchais also points to the creative edge common to the Antipodean acts he’s signed and supported. “They are not scared to write some poetry in their lyrics,” Blanchais says. “Someone like Spencer is not afraid to write about his life. If you have a French band singing in English it will be a story about someone else – no-one wants to have poetry because they are afraid what people will think.”
Blanchais differentiates the social intercourse of the residents of Brittany to the more stuffy, and sometimes brusque style of Parisians. “In Paris it is very hard to make conversation, even when you buy a beer the guy will not even look at you,” Blanchais says. “But in Brittany you have a good sense of humour about booze, about parties, you have the same type of culture in Brittany that you do in Australia,” he muses. “I think we have a connection between Brittany and Melbourne. And I think Memphis as well.”
With the 80% local content and language requirements on French radio stations, it’s often difficult to find a regular medium for showcasing rock’n’roll in France. Add to that the prevailing disdain for down-and-out rock’n’rollers, and it’s clear rock’n’roll has a long way to go before it’s anything more than a cult interest in France. “In France everybody knows you can’t become a professional musician – it is a one in a million chance,” Blanchais says. “The government only wants polite, common people – if you are a drug addict, then no way. There is this cycle, and it is impossible to get into it. You can’t make something if you don’t someone.”
Blanchais puts his Australian bands into two broad categories – the deep, brooding style most often associated with Nick Cave (Sean Simmons is surprised and flattered when Blanchais puts him into this grouping) and the frenetic, take no prisoners style of Sixfthick. Blanchais tells a story of a woman at a Sixfthick gig in Rennes rubbing her crotch on Ben Corbett’s leg before being turfed directly into the crowd; Simmons affectionately labels the Brittany audiences as “crazy”, and describes gigs where glasses were routinely broken as an indicator of the audience’s sense of excitement and satisfaction.
When Blanchais mentioned that he’d be coming to Australia for a holiday with his partner and young child, there was a mad rush to offer Blanchais a local reception to pay back the Frenchman and his family for their support. Sixfthick and the Holy Soul will travel to Melbourne from Brisbane and Sydney respectively; local artists including James McCann, Michael O’Halloran, Spencer P Jones and The Spoils welcomed the opportunity to participate in the hastily convened three-day Beasts Records festival. “When Justin [Cusack (Black Pony Express)] started off with this event, it was just going to be one night with four bands, and it’s now grown to 14 bands playing over three nights,” Simmons says. Just before leaving France, Blanchais received a plaintive email from another grateful musician, former Powder Monkeys guitarist John Nolan. “John sent me a message before I left and said ‘Do you think I’m not good enough to play! Doesn’t he know that I love you!’,” Blanchais laughs.
Blanchais is, not surprisingly, looking forward to this weekend’s trio of gigs, beginning with shows on Friday and Saturday night at the Retreat, and concluding with a Sunday night show at Yah Yah’s. Blanchais recognises that seeing out 15 bands over 72 hours will have its challenges – though he’s going to seek out some survival tips from an unlikely source. “I think I will need some help to stay alive after three days. I will speak to Spencer and see if he can help me,” Blanchais smiles.
BY PATRICK EMERY
The BEASTS RECORDS FESTIVAL SHOWCASE will be held on Friday July 20 (Sixfthick, The Spoils, Holy Soul, Sonny Chiba) and Saturday July 21 (James McCann and the New Vindictives, Spencer P Jones, Sixfthick, Horrortones) at The Retreat, and at Yah Yah’s on Sunday July 22 (Roller One, MJ O’Halloran And The Sinners, Bad Vision, Head One and The Horrortones).