It’s 31st July, summer 2009.
In front of the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, in the sweltering summer heat, around 15 different musical artists from Clermont have come face to face for an electric guitar battle with their Bordeaux counterparts – a city whose musical pedigree needs no introduction.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Clermont usurps their title of the “Capital of Rock”. Up on stage, three artists represent an eclectic local scene: the guys behind the label Kütu Folk, a somewhat reductive name that doesn’t fully sum up the soul, pop and noise accents of what its members’ are really all about; The Elderberries are ambassadors of a raging rock reminiscent of the 70s; while Mustang are a stylish retrofuturistic trio who revisit the codes of the Swinging Sixties while singing in the language of Moliere.
Knowing sure well it won’t change their everyday lives, the winners of this title of honour wondered just what to do with it. All the same… while not nothing new, this reality, this state of affairs never really established itself in the collective unconscious, be it on a regional or, a fortiori, national level.
So, is Clermont truly the city of rock’n’roll?
In fact, what else could it be? From its industrial past (similar to that of Detroit) to its twin-city of Salford (in the outskirts of Manchester, the birthplace of one of the most influential bands in the history of post-punk, Joy Division) via the “dark” walls in the city’s old town and the city’s ever-regenerating university population that’s a breeding ground of activity, all these circumstances have come together to create a melting pot of emerging groups and solo artists with varying ambitions, non-identical influences and different destinies. From the Fraises Des Bois’ EP in the 60s right up until present day, various movers and makers and music venues have never stopped fuelling this Auvergne city’s rock imaginary.
In the 80s, after changing his last name to Murat, Jean-Louis Bergheaud would have to wait patiently before reaching the stars. At around the same time, the Real Cool Killers were turning the volume on their amps right up to the max, The Cure and Metallica graced the stage at the Maison du Peuple, and the record store Spliff first opened its doors – and they’re still open to this very day, in 2019. Be it in journalism (Jean-Luc Manet, Patrick Foulhoux, Giles Dupuy, the magazine Rock Sound) or as a musician, the city has multiplied its callings over the years. From Jack & Les Éventreurs’s intense rock, to cold-wave from Coldreams and the velvety-smooth pop from Karma Antica, they’re all visible signs that paved the way for the likes of Cocoon, who were met with dazzling success both at home and abroad.
The start of a new millennium brought with it the opening of numerous new concert venues: the Coopérative de Mai would go on to play a major role in developing this emerging local scene, one that sees the bigger musical picture and is free from genre restrictions, embracing just as much electro as it does hip-hop, or even the most noisiest of rock to the most refined pop sounds. Yet there was still room for other venues to fight passionately for the same musical cause. From the Raymond Bar to Bikini, the Bombshell to Fotomat, plus the Baraka and the 101, they all attest to the old saying: you can never have too much of a good thing. And the Clermont scene has never been so creative and alive as since the 21st century.
Real Cool Killers
Appolo & Scryss
In 2019, abundance and diversity go hand in hand.
Pain Noir are working on a much-anticipated second album. Meanwhile Mr Nô – a figurehead of the electro scene – will finally release his debut LP, the wonderfully titled Plaisirs Obscurs. Super Parquet now make “psychedelic music from the Massif Central region”. Representing hip-hop you’ll find numerous amazing names (Alchimiste, Spec Music, Appolo & Scryss…). The label Freemount is unearthing incredible bands (Dragon Rapide, Woody Murder Mystery), and DAMIER is France’s first ever “cluster” to represent the music industry.
And as for the Europavox festival, which was created in 2006, every year it brings together 40,000 festivalgoers who come to witness the best of the continent’s musical offering, putting the city on the European map of music. So today, “Capital of Rock” is not only an honorary title for Clermont, it’s perhaps now more than ever a reality.