Bruno Leys

Sweeping the forgotten corridors of sound, Scott Blixen sets his sights on Bruno Leys

I suppose it boils down to how mad you want pop music to be. If you want it chaotic, feral, exploratory and downright rude, then you’ve struck gold with Bruno Leys.

Leys and a clique of cosmic cohorts recorded a quartet of songs in 1969 that tested how far French pop was prepared to go in its psychedelic heyday. That they were only being pressed onto wax over 50 years later is both criminal and sublime.

Although billed under Ley’s name alone, these precious recordings are a testament to a celestial partnership. Leys met Emmanuel Pairault when they were students in 1967, just as the latter switched to a music degree and gained access to an ondes Martenot. The coupling of Pairault’s proto-synth compositions and Ley’s wild lyrical stylings was an explosive mixture that attracted Parisian label La Compagnie, then home to artists including France Gall.

If the backing band on these recordings sound like they’re in a distant shed, it matters little, for they’re eclipsed by the ondes Martenot’s unearthly oscillations. On the gorgeous ‘Eve’, an extraterrestrial orchestra is seemingly conjured out of electrostatic and enthusiasm. ‘Dans La Galaxie’ is subjected to stomach-churning phase, and is Echoplexed to the outer limits of good taste and reason (needless to say, I mean this as the highest possible praise). ‘Hallucination’ represents the seamless integration of electronics into pop, in terms of both melody and texture, and on ‘Maintenant Je Suis Un Voyou’, Leys unleashes his inner thug, closing with the line, “Salut salope / Tu me regrettes pas”. I only have schoolboy French but I know that’s not polite. In 1969, I doubt it would have endeared him to emergent feminists.

Shortly after recording the four songs, Leys was called up for military service, which led to a loss of momentum and, eventually, the tapes. French pop operated on a brutal sink-or-swim basis in the 1960s, and it’s chilling that these incendiary excursions all but vanished into a black hole. Two tracks were issued on a promo seven-inch in Canada, but somehow failed to ignite interest, while the other two survived only on acetate. A tantalising tale for seekers of lost treasure.

I had long dreamed of a Bruno Leys seven-inch EP (it’s surely what the Gallic gods intended and would comfortably encompass his whole music career), and in 2020, Born Bad Records duly obliged. Prepare to have your synapses blown.

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