French culture has the reputation of being haughty, no doubt culled from the word haute (high) and just pronounced incorrectly until it got bogged down in English. Perhaps the oral equivalent of going to a refreshing British music festival – you go looking like a million Topshop ‘festival collection’ dollars and come back mentally deficient with brown stains. I digress. French culture as it happens has a pretty good reputation for both refinement and peasant simplicity, plus all routes in-between.
So what do their radio stations sound like I hear you cry? Well, cruising around the Haute-Vienne (there’s that word again) countryside surrounding the city of Limoges you encounter few cliches about France and if you are lucky, and we were, some incredible musical discoveries. Yes, there are one or two white cotton wearing Johnnies (or Jeans in the local dialect) floating about putting hand to accordion and generally hamming it up for the tourists, but the cheese is still incredibly good and the wine plentiful and cheap. And then there is Beaub FM.
Beaub FM is the aural equivalent of a fine undiscovered vintage, some cheeky new Beaujolais maybe, I don’t know. What matters is that it tickles the nose, excites the palate and gets you wasted. Beaub marries a complete ignorance of commercial pressure to some frankly brutal music selections, everything from grinding filthy electro to chord-drenched angst pop. Opiate inspired hip hop and hard trance vie for space with obscure indie bands and minimalist electronic jazz. That is the sort of musical soundtrack you need when you’re presented with natural beauty and picturesque Medieval towns at every turn.
Station president Laurent Poingt kindly gave me the rundown on what is a Beaub FM exactly and why it eschews playlists in favour of good old-fashioned sonic experimentation. Beaub is a local community station project established in 1987 in the Beaubreuil district of Limoges. From the beginning it was innovative and different. It was the first community broadcaster in the region and later set up the region’s first internet station. The station retains a strong group dynamic and Laurent insists there are no ‘star’ DJs on the staff. Instead the station cultivates 30 or so hard-edged volunteers with a love for music. “We have no leader,” he says. “We just know that we have an audience that loves listening to real musical discoveries, and many listen to us via the internet.”
A quick snatch of Beaub online reveals some artfully attired house rudely interrupted by motorik bass and punky chords. No, I don’t know who the artists are. No, I don’t care. It just works. “We try to offer a true musical diversity that listeners do not find on other radios,” says Laurent. “Topics are often on themes overlooked by ‘big media’. We try to offer a political musical, social alternative, broadly defined.”
In essence, they might not make money but they make things infinitely more valuable: beauty and novelty. So Laurent offers this simple message to all UK listeners, to listeners throughout the world: “Open your ears, be curious and support the emerging culture!” Vive la France et vive la difference.