Friday, 23 October 2015

It's all about George

For most readers of this blog Caravan Palace really don’t need any introduction, but in case there’s any newbies about here’s one anyway: The French seven-piece, more so than almost any other act apart from (maybe) Parov Stelar, can claim to have laid the foundations of the Vintage Remix scene. There’s little doubt in my mind that the energy of their live performances and the unrelenting pace and drive of their first two albums created an excitement around the sound without which things may never have taken off in the way that they have.

In those early years, before the scene started gathering momentum, tracks like “Jolie Coquine”, “Suzy”, “Dragons” and “Brotherswing” (Caravan Palace – Caravan Palace, 2008), “Rock it for me “ and “Clash” (Caravan Palace – Panic, 2012) popped up in just about every electro-swing set.  But since 2012 things have been a bit quiet on the new music front.

That’s all changed now, with the release of the band’s latest offering “<I°_°I>”. By the by, if you’re wondering how to say this, you’re not alone.

We love the idea that our album title is unpronounceable but it seems people desperately need a name for <I°_°I>More...
Posted by Caravan Palace on Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I'm not used to there being a more important George than me in the room, so I'm going to go with Robot.

Further down the page I'm going to give you my thoughts on the album but before that, here's a little Q&A with Antoine Toustou aka Mighty Mezz, the band's trombonist and knob-twiddler that I carried out over email. I would have liked to have some follow-up questions too, but sadly it was not to be.

1. You've been working on the album for a while... has it been hard work compared to previous releases?
Every Caravan Palace record is hard to make, but this is particularly true for this one. I think as time passes, our tastes and vision change, but when we all agree on a track, we know that we have something good.

2. I'm lucky enough to have heard the new album, but for those who haven't, can you say, in your own words, what they can expect from the new album?

It’s a much more current album; we refined the way that we produce tracks. At the same time, we put more ‘pop’ in it. We didn’t just systematically use Lo-fi effects on the voice to get that vintage feeling this time! And there are a lot of ‘glitched’ saxophone parts and drops.
3. This question comes from Sophie, aka DJ Tallulah Goodtimes. She asks: Were the songs on your new album written with a specific sound or concept in mind - a conscious choice - or did they come together as a result of a more organic process? Where did you draw inspiration from?
We listen to many different kinds of music, and we could not ignore some, like Future Bass and Trap. There is something incredibly powerful in these genres and that's something we look for in our music. So I think in this record you can feel this kind of inspiration.

4. The "electro-swing" sound has moved on a long way from when you first started and lots of people would cite you as pioneers of the sound. Did you ever expect it to take off in the way it has?

We didn’t expect that much, it's been 9 years since we launched Caravan Palace, and we never thought we could reach so many people in so many countries.
5. What do you think of some of the new kinds of electroswing that have emerged over the last few years - styles like swing n bass, Swing-hop and so on?
Mutations are a good thing, for it shows that the genre is alive. We don't listen that much to electro-swing, to be honest, we take our inspiration elsewhere, but it is very interesting to see how that genre has become a sort of ‘label’.

6. I saw an interview from a few years back in which you said a lot of the production in the wider electroswing world was sub-standard - do you still have that view?

Unfortunately yes, as a DJ, it’s hard for me to find some really good new Electro Swing tracks for a DJ set. I think this kind of music needs a lot of work, if you want to find something new every time. There is an easy way to make it, because swing is in essence groovy and stirring, but we know now that it almost never results in something good. That's my personal opinion though!

7. You played a few festivals in the UK this summer - I caught your set at Boomtown - did you get a chance to party at any of them, and which did you enjoy the most?

We were on tour, so it was difficult to have a real party and to enjoy festivals. But we really adored Boomtown, it’s totally crazy! There is nothing like it in France!

8. Do you prefer playing at festivals or at indoor venues - have you got a favourite gig ever?

We don’t have preferences, it depends on the crowd. If people are ready to switch on their ‘crazy spirit’ button, it’s always a pleasure to push it!
Personally, my favourite gig was in LA some years ago. We were playing in front of a pool outside (what an idea!), and they stopped the concert because people got totally crazy, and jumped into the water to dance!
9. You're touring soon: where and when can people see you?
We'll tour in the UK in December. This is our schedule:
10-11 Thônex - Genève (ch)
12-11 Le Bikini - Toulouse (fr)
13-11 Le Rocher - Bordeaux (fr)
14-11 Espace Julien - Marseille (fr)
18-11 Stereolux - Nantes (fr)
19-11 Aeronef - Lille (fr)
20-11 Olympia - Paris (fr)
24-11 Cooperative de Mai - Clermont-Ferrand (fr)
26-11 Le Radiant - Lyon (fr)
27-11 La Laiterie - Strasbourg (fr)
28-11 Le Cirque Royal - Bruxelles (be)

10-12 O2 Academy - Bristol (uk)
11-12 O2 ABC - Glasgow (uk)
12-12 The Ritz - Manchester (uk)
14-12 Concorde 2 - Brighton (uk)
15-12 The Forum - London (uk)
16-12 UEA - Norwich (uk)

29-01 Kosmonavt Club - St Petersburg (ru)
30-01 Red Club - Moscow (ru)
03-02 Gloria - Cologne (DE)
04-02 Mufftathalle - Munich (de)
06-02 Mojo - Hamburg (de)
07-02 Heimathafen - Berlin (de)
12-02 La Commmanderie - Dole (fr)
14-02 L’atelier - Luxembourg (lux)
10. This one from Syed: Are you playing in Toronto soon?
It’s not planned yet, but we could possibly come in 2016.

There's some interesting stuff in there too, some of which I'll pick up on in this review.

SO... is George gorgeous? Or is the Robot more of a tin-man?

Let's start by saying that things start with great promise. The opening track, Lone Digger opens with a clarinet sound (at least, that's what I think it is) that is almost a trademark for the band. A short time later and you're in no doubt at all that its Caravan Palace you're hearing - Zoe's whispery verses and shouty choruses, a pounding beat... all the ingredients from their previous dance floor thumpers are there.

But come track two, the first single from the album and you quickly realise that they have continued the experiments that they began with Panic all those years ago. Comics, for this is the name of the track" is simultaneously light in feel yet dark in tone. Its driven along by a pulsing, almost droning bass sound, while over the top all sorts of scribbles and squeaks and ragtimey piano create a very weird feel. It is probably my favourite track on the album. As I listen to it right now it makes me rock back and forth in my chair like a heroin addict craving a fix, it has a mesmeric quality that is hard to describe. It is also worth noting that although Comics is far slower in tempo than lots of Vintage Remix it none-the-less rocked the Boomtown crowd earlier this year.

If you're a traditionalist (if such a thing is possible or desirable in electro-swing), fear not. Hot on the heels of Comics comes Mighty a track which snaps us back to the house-led vibes we associate with Caravan Palace. Its not quite as full-on as some of the early stuff, which could be overwhelming - this is more like a track for the middle of a set, rather than a climactic explosion. Interestingly. it sounds almost more like Parov than it does Caravan Palace.

Unfortunately, after this things start to go a little... I'm not sure... maybe flat is the word? Aftermath, while undeniably gorgeous, is more suited to the... well... aftermath of a party than to the party itself.

Wonderland nearly rescues things with some farty baritone sax, insistent vocals and glitchy, lasery synths, and its dark tones could see it feature in a few Halloween sets in the next couple of weeks. Midnight, is up there too, and has a similarly spooky feel, something exacerbated by trappy beats and meandering horns. However, both of these, plus Tattoos and  Russian feel very much as though there's something missing - they just don't quite reach the peak that one hopes they will.

The next two tracks, Wonda and Human Leather Shoes For Crocodile Dandies are hard to fathom. Maybe I'm just not musical enough to appreciate them, but to my untrained ears they sound ever-so-slightly fillery.

The final track, Lay Down is actually a great track - it samples what sounds like the Golden Gate Quartet, but rather than taking that spiritual, bluesy sound , they've used guitar and vocals to create a very Spanish sound - almost like flamenco.

All in all, this album has some very fine tracks - I literally can't get Comics out of my head, but it is at times slightly disappointing. Perhaps, in this era of digital downloads, I'm expecting too much - wanting every track to be a certified banger. My suspicion, however, is that in searching for a sound that will bring them commercial success in the French charts, they have left behind something that gave the music life.

I'd also like to pick up on the comments from the interview above regarding the quality of the production on other electro-swing records. It has taken Caravan Palace 18 months to produce this album, and while I am not really knowledgeable enough  comment one way or the other on the production of this record or any other, I do wonder whether the focus on production has taken some of the life out of their music. Jazz, swing and blues were not exactly heavy on the production the first time around, and I rather like the dirtiness and home-spun nature of electroswing.

I'm also interested by the comment about not really listening to much electro-swing. I am always converned when I hear acts say this - The Correspondents said something similar a couple of years ago, around the time that they started to distance themselves from the wider Vintage Remix scene. It just makes me feel that maybe they think being an electro-swing act is not enough - that they want to throw off the tag - it backfired (in my opinion) for The Correspondents, and if that's what happened with this album, its backfired for Caravan Palace too.

Don't get me wrong - this is not a terrible album - its better than a great deal of the rest of the scene, but I do think it is somewhat thinner in sound than previous offerings. One or two tracks surpass previous releases, and Comics is interesting enough to appeal to a broad range of listeners. But its not a great album either. Its a good album. And that's not bad.

I must also say that like a lot of Vintage Remix, Caravan Palace really are best experienced live. I saw them at Boomtown with one electro-swing fan and one sceptic. When the sceptic started shouting "Fuck Yeah" every couple of minutes, I saw that we had a convert. Their performance was one of the best of the weekend, and I had a proper  boogie. I've seen them play in London before too, and they blew me away then. They rocked the open air stage at Boomtown just as hard they did whichever converted theatre it was I saw them in before. They are unmissable live, so get your tickets now, before its too late.

And finally, if I had could give the band one piece of feedback it would be this: don't be tempted to stand outside the Vintage Remix scene and just take part when you have an album to promote. We're a super-friendly bunch and we won't bite. Come and party with us, get involved with the debates on social media (and here), and above all, find out what new directions the scene is taking - you started it - come and check out the monster you birthed!