Mail & Guardian

Petite Noir: Cape Town star on the rise

10 Dec 2012 12:17 | Lloyd Gedye

The highlight for Lloyd Gedye at this year's Trans Musicales festival in Rennes, France was Cape Town-based musician Petite Noir. (Supplied)

The highlight for Lloyd Gedye at this year's Trans Musicales festival in Rennes, France was Cape Town-based musician Petite Noir. (Supplied)

There has been a lot of hype around Cape Town-based Petite Noir, a young man born in Belgium to Congolese and Angolan parents who relocated with his family to South Africa at an early age.

He was recently signed to British independent label Domino on the back of one single, the much-loved Disappear, and subsequently relocated two weeks ago to London for this new chapter in his career.

Disappear channels the spirit of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, while an addictive new wave rhythm throbs in the background.

It's a moment of transcendental pop bliss that seems to have captivated the music world at the moment.

Backed with the more somber down-tempo Pressure, these two songs have staked a claim for Petite Noir or Yannick Ilunga as he is know to his friends, as a dark melancholic global pop star.


Starting on a high
Petite Noir has been on tour with British rock band Foals for the last few weeks, playing to rave reviews if Twitter is anything to go by. And his performance at Trans Musicales presented an opportunity for this critic to assess the young star's live show with his new UK-based band.

A massive crowd was waiting for him when he took to the stage at 9.45pm in hall four at the Park Expo.

He scoured the stage in a colorful shirt and skinny jeans, a baseball cap pulled down over the front of his face, his white Gretch hanging from around his neck.

The crowd got into his groove, and he seemed to be enjoying himself in a moody detached way.

Four or five songs in, the audience started clapping along to a cyclical rhythm the band was laying down, and Petite Noir even cracked a smile.

As the show drew to a close, the crowd called for an encore and the band came back for another take on Disappear.

For a festival like Trans Musicales, which happens over three days in December every year, an encore is not a common occurrence, so Petite Noir's set was a victory. The future looks bright for this young star.

The rest of Friday night was a bit of a let down, with many bands only half-impressing.

I caught 20 minutes of British outfit Thumpers's set, a decision based on the fact that the programme sold the band as a psychedelic group similar to The Flaming Lips. They weren't.

Montreal DJ Sinjin Hawke impressed with a banging set of twisted and warped hip-hop and R&B, while Algerian rocker Rachid Taha seemed to have the crowd entertained with his new Zoom project, although I got bored pretty quickly.

One band I had been looking forward to the whole night was O Children.

Any band whose name comes straight from Nick Cave's fantastic album Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus would peek my interest. But the London band was more new wave and less gritty rock 'n roll than I expected, and the lead singer Tobias O'Kandi's mutterings on stage when trying to engage the audience became a little tiresome.

The French music scene
Earlier in the day I had spent the afternoon getting in touch with the French scene.

Trans Musicales offer a great opportunity to touch base with where the French music industry is at. Judging from the talent on offer it is currently in a rich vein of health, even if some of the bands appear to be copy-cats of sounds well developed in the global musical consciousness.

The day started at the L'Etage venue in the centre of Rennes.

As I arrived a young new wave synth-pop band from Rennes called O Safari were closing off their set.

The two-piece combining keys and drums had an engaging live show but the music was hardly original.

The hardcore math-rock outfit from Rennes, We Are Van Peebles, hit the ground running with an angular set that flexed the band's muscles.

The band is a three-piece, with two guitarists – both who sing – and a flamboyant drummer who also has a microphone for screaming backing vocals – think Fugazi, Sonic Youth and Swedish hardcore band Refused.By the time the drummer left his stool to hurl some EPs into the crowd – one of which landed in my outstretched hand – I was sold.

The programme says We Are Van Peebles are part of a burgeoning Nantes hardcore-math-rock scene, alongside bands like Papier Tigre, Fordamage and Consorts, and based on their performance I will be researching this scene a little more.

The final French act on the L'Etage line-up was First Lady.

A blues-rock two-piece in the mold of The White Stripes and The Black Keys, they  certainly got the crowd moving. A cover of Blackstreet's No Diggity went down a treat but their sound was pretty generic.

I had hoped to get a ticket to La Cite', a venue in the North of Rennes, to see a young singer/songwriter from Leeds called Paul Thomas Saunders, who, in the programme, was compared to Thom Yorke, Jeff Buckley and Bon Iver. But demand was high and I was too late.

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