To say that France is not known for cutting-edge rock is akin to noting that elephants don’t generally travel in Subarus. The French love synthesizers. They also love ’50s music, like basic rock’n’roll, rockabilly and R&B. While les Thugs are French (from Angiers, to be exact), this is one elephant of a band. They sing mostly in English, sometimes in what they call yoghurt (meaningless syllables that only sound like English) with pleasantly curly French accents, and play a twin-guitar assault with nary a synth or slap bass in sight. A punk band in the very earliest sense of the word, les Thugs’ records are a pre- hardcore blast of pop-rooted pounding, from the same school as the Buzzcocks.
Formed in 1984 from the ashes of a new wave band called Dazibo, les Thugs debuted with Frenetic Dancing, a four-track 7-inch (later remastered and reissued as a two- song single). Following the relatively primitive Radical Hysterie, the band made Electric Troubles, an EP that comes as close to perfection as a record can. Hard without being metallic, packed with a knock-over energy punch, it’s fueled by guitars that saw and scrape, deliberately undermixed harmonic singing and pacing that won’t quit. “Dead Dreams” opens with a native American recording that crossfades into an Arabic slink of fuzz guitar, then explodes in frenzy. “Bulgarian Blues” gallops with shaking percussion that sounds like a train.
Though not reaching the same heights, Dirty White Race still blows most other vinyl halfway to Jupiter. It’s mixed slightly brighter, takes its guitar playing a bit more seriously (including some isolated barf-awful metal clichés) and makes fine use of dynamics. “Hedgehogs” particularly plays with the loud and soft buttons, simmering down with an angelic choir of background vocals while an accompanying guitar slinks in hard peals of chime before the band gears up for a recharged sonic assault. The American Electric Troubles album combines Dirty White Race and the Electric Troubles EP.
The Iain Burgess/Tim Lewis-recorded Still Hungry is les Thugs’ most sophisticated production, but that doesn’t mean more than a slight detour in getting their energy down your ear canals. With les Thugs’ records, you can’t lose.