Home to the first film in history, the highest amount of Nobel Prize winners in literature and priding themselves on being the world’s most visited destination; France has more notches in its belt than it can count for. Having said that, upkeeping the title of being one of the most romanticised touristic countries in the world comes at a cost: “No one cares about us.”
Hailing from the “Pink City” of Toulouse, Julien Virgos (guitarist and vocalist) of punk band Nightwatchers explains how the punk movement of France is and will continue to be left on the sidelines to make way for gentrification and the mainstream. Using their music and platform to challenge typical French ideologies, the band stand firm in their indisputable right to address the issues they want, how they want. Having only released their debut in 2019, the punk Frenchmen are due to release their sophomore record Common Crusades, a melodic and unapologetic attempt at uprooting France’s colonial history through a critical lens.
Between the release of their latest single ‘1905 & The Muslim Exception’ and gearing up for their album drop in October, Julien Virgos shares a straightforward punk guide to France with Blunt Magazine.
How did you become a punk?
My best friend was into punk and hardcore when I was in high school, circa 1998. We grew up in a small city called Mazamet, not much happening there. Basically, I listened to hip hop, mostly: Beastie Boys, NTM, Fonky Family and shit. The first tape Julien gave me was NOFX – Liberal Animation. Then Gorilla Biscuits – Start Today and Youth of Today – Break Down The Walls. Some Bérurier Noir and Burning Heads stuff, also. Quickly hooked! Becoming punk then involved questioning my teenage behaviours, I quit drinking alcohol when I was 16. I wanted to stay in control. I became a bit more concerned by social and political issues at an international level. I didn’t play any instrument back then and didn’t think about starting a band someday.
Growing up as a young punk in your hometown, what are some of the places you would hang out?
My friends weren’t all punks. It was a mix of skaters, hip hop lovers, punks, hippies…We hang out at the skate park during the day and gather outside at night. We’ve had different spots because at some point the neighbours always called the cops, so we had to move a bit further…First, it was at the electric transformer, then the World War I Memorial, then the Lavoir… We didn’t do much, just hanging out, drinking, smoking, fighting, talking shit.
How would you describe your typical punk from your hometown?
My friends and I were more into punk hardcore, the typical punks were the ones with mohawks, bleached jeans and shit…I guess they were a bit more nihilistic than us. Most of them have had troubles with hard drugs. Like I said, my hometown was a bit shitty and boring, so addictions escalated very quickly for some of us. My friends and I had plans, or at least we didn’t want to get stuck there, so we tried to give ourselves a chance.
Are there any unwritten rules for punks in your hometown?
Not that I’ve heard of. But I guess some people in our scene have their own unwritten rules and [I] can’t stand [it]. We don’t give a fuck about over-stepping their lines.
How does the general community in your hometown take to punks, and punk music?
They don’t know and they don’t care about punk movements and punk music. It’s a very small world around here, you know. No one cares about us in the real world. I’m fine with that. Some will dig and find out there’s interesting things to discover, but also a lot of shit, just like in the general community.
What do you think is the biggest threat to the punk community in your city?
I’ll talk about Toulouse because I’ve lived there for years now, I moved a long time ago from my hometown. The biggest threat in my opinion is the gentrification of the popular neighbourhoods. All the small bars and self-organised places feel the pressure increase year after year. Our mayor, Jean-Luc Moudenc, would like to watch them die and keep the live music in the few dedicated professional venues of the city. Of course, there’s not much place in that kind of venue for punk bands and organisations.
All over the world, politics and punk go hand in hand. What are some of the political issues that influence you and other punks in your hometown?
Our community actually tries to deal with the problem of sexual violence and sexual harassment. Some of the women victims now dare to talk and you can feel the fear and the desperation in the violent statements of their abusers. They claim it’s all gossip and lies. They cry pretending it’s a witch hunt…We’ll watch them fall one by one. I do believe punk is political, but I also believe there’s different ways to express and enact your political views. I know some of us don’t agree with that and would like to impose their doxa, but that’s not my thing. I address the topics I want to address, the way I want, and you totally have the right to disagree with the way I’ve chosen. And I also have the right to not give a fuck about the way you feel about it.
Are there any other locations in the city that are important to its punk community? Tattoo studios, for example, or clothing stores, or bars and underground clubs?
Bars and squats, I’d say. I’ve spent a lot of nights at le Ravelin, les Pavillons Sauvages, la Cave à Rock… There used to be more, but like I said the municipality did an impressive effort in the last 5 years to shut down all the alternative and popular places. Some record stores as well, if you visit Toulouse you should stop at Vicious Circle and le Laboratoire.
Who are some great punks, or punk bands making moves from your hometown we can check out?
What are your tips for any punks traveling through your hometown?
Have a drink with Christophe Stonehenge, he’s the best in town.