There are few things in this world that are effortlessly cool. Swing is one of them. So are the French. And depending on your level of kink, vintage black and white porno. Caravan Palace check all these boxes.
Written by Olivia Patt / 22 Jul 2012 Photos and illustrations by Richard Johnson / Burst
The French electro-swing band played a blinding headline set at Secret Garden Party last night and have just come out with their second album, Panic! (which we'd usually advise you against), and are hitting every festival Britain has to over this summer in an attempt to crack all three. We caught up with them to talk music, festivals, high-school French and porn. Ooh la la!
Is it true that you formed after being asked to provide the soundtrack for silent pornographic movies?
Yes it is! A French TV channel wanted to revive old illegal blue movies and they needed music that mixed old and new material. We were in a swing band, and also making electronic music on our computers, so we just mixed both influences, and the band was born.
It's been four years between the release of your first album (self-titled Caravan Palace) and your latest release, Panic! What have you been up to?
Touring - all the time – in a lot of countries! The album has been ready for a year, but our label wanted to delay the release a little bit. We worked on the album for a year, constantly looking for new forms of electro-swing and recording.
Tell us about your new album, Panic!
Our first album was really influenced by gypsy music. This one is more influenced by old school jazz, big band and other North American sounds. It is also more electronic, with a lot of work on the sound and the beats. All live instruments have been mixed as if they could be samples from the thirties. We like that the listener can't tell if it's a sample, a synth or a real guitar, for example. It creates a sound homogeneity. The vocals are also mixed in the same way, so the listener will wonder - is it an old school jazz vocal sample? Is it the singer Colotis Zoé?
You've got a pretty hectic schedule this summer - what's the best thing about playing festivals?
Travelling! Festivals are often in "lost places" that we'll never know usually. We always discover a lot of really nice places, and of course people. Festivals are always a good way to meet some new public and make new fans.
I had a sneaky look at you playing live on YouTube and I'm really looking forward to seeing you now - it's an exciting performance! Do you think electro-swing is something that needs a live audience?
Considering electro-swing is part of "dance" music, yes you could say that. We represent the live part of the genre, but there are also a lot of great DJs playing the genre in clubs. In both cases, it needs a live audience! But lots of people are also listening to electro-swing at home, for the energy it can bring, but also for the warm old school sound that can't be found elsewhere.
There are seven of you up there - what's the process when creating your music? Do you all produce the songs together?
We have four "studio producers". Hugo, the violin player, Charles, the bass player, Antoine, responsible for the machines on stage, and myself, the guitar player. Generally, we begin some short tracks at home, individually. Then we email them to the other members. If you get a great feedback from the three others in less than two hours, it’s a good sign. If nobody replies within a day, ok... deal with it, and try something else. When all of these shorts tracks are approved by the group, we go into the studio, and begin to arrange them. Recording a lot of instruments, additional musicians, featuring singers...
My school French stretches about as far as "Je voudrais un sandwiche" (and I'm not even sure that's right) so I'm very impressed by your lyrics. As a French group, what made you decide to write some songs in English?
Well, swing culture is mainly American and English - most of the jazz standards are in English. Unfortunately, we find that French does not sound as good as English for this kind of music. And of course, when you sing in French, it's very difficult to play abroad.
Who or what inspires you?
In term of music, jazz swing from the thirties and fourties is our main musical influences. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey and Django Reinhardt for example. We listen to a lot of electronic music too. French music, like Daft Punk or Justice, but also German minimal stuff, like Isolée or Villalobos. From England, bands like Mount Kimbie, SBTRKT, Massive Attack or the roster from Ninja Tunes or Warp. We're also very influenced by old sci-fi movies, like Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still and, of course, Metropolis with all of the steampunk retro futuristic culture. We really like cheap old school robots, as you can see from our album covers.
Caravan Palace finish their Secret Garden Party set
What's next for Caravan Palace?
Touring - a lot! All summer we’re playing in Europe. In the UK, we just played at Secret Garden Party Festival in July and we’ll be at Boomtown Festival in August. Then we'll be back in November for gigs in London, Bristol, Brighton, Norwich and peraps some other cities. We're also going to tour the US, Canada, and Australia. We have our single 'Clash' out in the UK on the 30th July with the album coming out in Autumn. Then it’s on to our third album!
Caravan Palace’s new single ‘Clash’ is out on 30 July. You can catch them at Boomtown Festival, 9-12 August. Find out more at caravanpalace.com