Living colour

TTC are the latest hip-hop sensation in Paris. French rap has got its groove back, they tell Dan Han

It's midnight at the Bloc Weekend festival in Norfolk, and in their disorganised Pontin's chalet, the Parisian rap crew TTC are sleeping like babies. All apart from the frontman, Teki Latex, who has cut short his pre-show power nap to introduce me to the strange world of Fluokids, the youth movement his band has spawned in France. The name refers to TTC followers' eye-popping Day-Glo clothing - though today Latex is wearing a restrained mauve hoodie and grey T-shirt. But, he explains, being a Fluokid is about more than clothes: it's about attitude.

"Fluokids grew up watching Back to the Future, really wanting that hoverboard," he says. "They are people who don't like dull music, who don't give a fuck about what's commercial and what's underground, but just take the best from everything, as long as it's positive and exciting. We appeal to people who don't want to have to listen to something ten times before they can start to appreciate it. It's a fast life, and I don't think we should discourage that. We should embrace it."

TTC's irreverence has already made stars of them in France, and so has their infectious musical mix of hip-hop, pop and electro. One critic at the influential arts magazine Les Inrockuptibles described them as "one of the most fascinating developments in French music of the past ten years". With their third album, 36 15 TTC, out on the Big Dada label in the UK, they are fast gaining a following this side of the Channel. Formed in the late Nineties, the band consists of three rappers - Latex, Cuizinier and Tido Berman - along with an eclectic array of producers. Theirs is the inclusive, popular sound of modern France: party rap for impoverished tower blocks and well-to-do hipsters alike. On 36 15 TTC, they draw on, among other things, Serge Gainsbourg and the hokey-cokey. It sounds both self-confidently French and appealingly cosmopolitan.

The group's success also represents a renaissance for French hip-hop, which went into decline after the success of a "first wave", with acts such as Saïan Supa Crew and MC Solaar, that broke on to the international scene in the Nine ties. "About five or ten years ago, French rap was very successful. But it was very, very French, to the point where I didn't really relate to it, because the rap I grew up listening to was either American or American-influenced," says Latex.

"It was a phase that French hip-hop had to go through to affirm its identity, but now the music has evolved, and young rappers are more in tune with the global sound of rap. While they're maintaining a certain French influence, most of these kids are immigrants, and they're mixing some of their northern African culture with the music. But they're not doing it in a self-consciously 'ethnic' way; they're doing it the way [the American rap producer] Timbaland does it."

The new generation of hip-hop acts includes the Greek-Cypriot female chart-topper Diam's, whom Latex describes as "a cross between rap and Édith Piaf", and Booba, a half-Senegalese gangsta-style rapper whose latest album is called Ouest Side. On his website, Booba is shown posing with guns and scantily dressed women, and appears dressed in the American hip-hop style uniform of black bomber jacket and baseball cap. Yet Latex sees the American influence on French hip-hop as a sign of a growing confidence, rather than cultural insecurity. "Unfortunately, French musicians have this thing where they have to be humble and keep a low profile, whereas hip-hop in the States is totally free of that. It's totally outrageous and eccentric - with the jewellery and the cars, it's like it's replaced rock'n'roll. I really think rap is about charisma."

By his own admission, however, Latex is no political animal. "I'm too egocentric to care about it, if I'm honest. I don't really have political ideas. I was raised in a left-wing household, so I have trouble considering myself 'à droite'. But I'm not entirely convinced by Ségolène Royal."

By 2am, the group has been roused from slumber for the show - for which, reassuringly, they are properly kitted out in bright pinks, yellows and greens. The raw energy of the three rappers, who bound around telling the crowd to move - in English and French alternately - is a world away from the moody, head-nodding atmosphere that often characterises hip-hop gigs. Woodblock samples and wonderfully warped keyboard melodies form the backdrop to the rappers' deft wordplay, which works even for those who don't understand the French lyrics.

"How many people in here speak French?" Teki asks the crowd. Only ten or 20 sheepish hands go up, and I suspect that some of those belong to monolingual fans who are just getting a little bit carried away with it all.

In a daring piece of musical egalitarianism, the group dishes up a completely irony-free cover of that ultra-kitsch piece of European pop, "All That She Wants" by Ace of Base. The crowd laps it up. And there lies the crux of TTC's appeal: they don't care what is "cool" and what isn't, and they wear that indifference with such swagger and enthusiasm that the kids - "Fluo" or otherwise - are going mad for them.

"36 15 TTC" is out now on Big Dada Recordings

This article first appeared in the 09 April 2007 issue of the New Statesman, France: Vive la différence?