The Penelopes

 

Wednesday 7th March 2012
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Ladies and gentlemen, meet The Penelopes. Friends since birth and raised practically as brothers, Axel Basquiat and Vincent T (for it is they) hail from Paris and make the kind of sun-kissed, effortless electro-tinged indie anthems that belie the fact that they're musical upbringing was based almost completely on British bands such as The Cocteau Twins and New Order. Born in the north of Paris, in the same apartment block, they didn't really 'meet', they've just always known each other. “It was like a brother, you never say 'oh, I met him at one or two'. I've always lived with or near Axel. It's very strange and rare” explains Vincent.

“When we were teenagers we discovered the same things, discovered the same bands, rebelled at the same age. We really stuck together” continues Axel.

It's this synergy, this act of naturally being on the same wavelength that informs the music the pair make. Formed in 2005 over a mutual love of the same books and the aforementioned British bands (“Basically we were poor kids from the north of Paris and when we were reading about their lives we found similarities; they were from a grey city, so were we” explains Axel), the pair started out making demo recordings in their bedrooms, working on songs with an energy that only comes from a desire to leave where you are. An early single was released via DJ Hell's International DeeJay Gigolo Records, which was then followed in 2006 by their brilliantly rough and ready debut, The Arrogance of Simplicity. As Axel says, their debut was part of a very “innocent” time, the duo feeling their way instinctively around the songs to create something fresh. “We had our own influences with the first album, like dream-pop, but it wasn't really all there and the production was a little more rough.”

Despite being hailed as 2007's Best Discovery at the French Qwartz Electronic Music Awards the band felt that they didn't really belong in the electronic music scene and basically just hung about waiting for the rest of the music world to catch up with them. “At the beginning we weren't very confident and we were not very comfortable in the electronic scene” says Axel. “We had the feeling that it was not our thing really. We felt we were more like a rock band using electronic tools.” So they waited patiently and played a host of European festivals as well as shows in Japan where Axel was given the slightly odd moniker of the 'Black Iggy Pop' by fans following a particularly energetic show. “That was a bit of a joke because I have a tendency to finish gigs topless” giggles Axel. “We did some kind of stuff that was a bit wild for them.” Playing live is something The Penelopes enjoy but they're not one of those bands that tours relentlessly, sapping all the joy out of the live experience. They'd much rather save themselves for the big festivals and entertain as many people as possible than turn it into a routine.

Though the French electronic scene wasn’t to be the band’s natural home, the worlds of fashion and music collided (as they tend do) when, one day, designer, mentor and patron of the arts Agnés B came to an early Penelopes show.  Together with her, the band have gone on to travel the world playing live and providing soundtracks at Agnés B fashion shows in Japan, Hong Kong and other exotic locales.  Agnés, Axel and Vincent are still very much in each other’s orbit and the designer seems to be a nurturing and benevolent presence for the duo.

For their forthcoming second album and first ever British release the band demoed all the tracks together, just like they'd always done, that instinctive creativity producing a handful of songs influenced by everyone from Prefab Sprout (hence the inclusion of a female vocalist) to Felix Da Housecat to Devo.  

Eager to give the songs a brighter, cleaner sound they played the songs to The Flight (Lana Del Rey, Björk, David Bowie, etc) who abandoned their usual post as programmers and leapt straight to the desk as producers for The Penelopes.  The Vaccines/Scissor Sisters’ collaborator Dan Grech-Marguerat, despite offers from a host of other bands, agreed to mix the album.  As Vincent explains, Grech-Margueret's interest was piqued by an almost indescribable 'Frenchness' that runs through the core of the songs; “When he listened to the demos he found it was really something French and we didn't realise we had these French elements in it.” 

Axel does, however have a theory. “There's a way to do the guitar, it's kind of Chic, funky guitar. Something in the harmonies too. In France, this kind of disco-funk was very present on the radio and I realised this with the album, now I understand something about the French in terms of adding guitars that are quite funky. For us, it's really natural to play it in that way. It makes it a bit more fun.”

Whatever it is, it's there on the forthcoming single Now Now Now, all elastic bass lines, lush keyboard squelches and that funky guitar, underpinned by guest vocalist Laura Kidd and Axel's low, tremulous vocal. Elsewhere Sally in the Galaxy starts small before the chorus bursts through like a glorious ray of sunshine, while that theme is made explicit on the exuberant Summer Life which expounds the joys of being able to laze about in the sun. It's this sense of freedom that's kind of the band's raisin d'etre, especially as they both dropped out of university (Vincent was studying law, Axel medicine) to concentrate on the music. “I never wanted to be a doctor, I just wanted to stay a teenager” explains Axel. “From when we were young we both said we didn't want to work or do a normal job. So, when we became students it was to become endless teenagers.”

Perhaps ironically for a band that started out worshipping Britain's finest exponents of gloomy indie, The Penelopes now find themselves delivering big, multi-layered sparkly indie-pop, but that initial influence is there in the immediacy of the melodies. Brilliantly, the pair describe their sound as a “rainbow” of colour, or, for fans of food-based analogies, “like a big salad” with influences and themes tossed together. However they describe it and regardless of how you discover it, The Penelopes will brighten up your day.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet The Penelopes. Friends since birth and raised practically as brothers, Axel Basquiat and Vincent T (for it is they) hail from Paris and make the kind of sun-kissed, effortless electro-tinged indie anthems that belie the fact that they're musical upbringing was based almost completely on British bands such as The Cocteau Twins and New Order. Born in the north of Paris, in the same apartment block, they didn't really 'meet', they've just always known each other. “It was like a brother, you never say 'oh, I met him at one or two'. I've always lived with or near Axel. It's very strange and rare” explains Vincent.

“When we were teenagers we discovered the same things, discovered the same bands, rebelled at the same age. We really stuck together” continues Axel.

It's this synergy, this act of naturally being on the same wavelength that informs the music the pair make. Formed in 2005 over a mutual love of the same books and the aforementioned British bands (“Basically we were poor kids from the north of Paris and when we were reading about their lives we found similarities; they were from a grey city, so were we” explains Axel), the pair started out making demo recordings in their bedrooms, working on songs with an energy that only comes from a desire to leave where you are. An early single was released via DJ Hell's International DeeJay Gigolo Records, which was then followed in 2006 by their brilliantly rough and ready debut, The Arrogance of Simplicity. As Axel says, their debut was part of a very “innocent” time, the duo feeling their way instinctively around the songs to create something fresh. “We had our own influences with the first album, like dream-pop, but it wasn't really all there and the production was a little more rough.”

Despite being hailed as 2007's Best Discovery at the French Qwartz Electronic Music Awards the band felt that they didn't really belong in the electronic music scene and basically just hung about waiting for the rest of the music world to catch up with them. “At the beginning we weren't very confident and we were not very comfortable in the electronic scene” says Axel. “We had the feeling that it was not our thing really. We felt we were more like a rock band using electronic tools.” So they waited patiently and played a host of European festivals as well as shows in Japan where Axel was given the slightly odd moniker of the 'Black Iggy Pop' by fans following a particularly energetic show. “That was a bit of a joke because I have a tendency to finish gigs topless” giggles Axel. “We did some kind of stuff that was a bit wild for them.” Playing live is something The Penelopes enjoy but they're not one of those bands that tours relentlessly, sapping all the joy out of the live experience. They'd much rather save themselves for the big festivals and entertain as many people as possible than turn it into a routine.

Though the French electronic scene wasn’t to be the band’s natural home, the worlds of fashion and music collided (as they tend do) when, one day, designer, mentor and patron of the arts Agnés B came to an early Penelopes show.  Together with her, the band have gone on to travel the world playing live and providing soundtracks at Agnés B fashion shows in Japan, Hong Kong and other exotic locales.  Agnés, Axel and Vincent are still very much in each other’s orbit and the designer seems to be a nurturing and benevolent presence for the duo.

For their forthcoming second album and first ever British release the band demoed all the tracks together, just like they'd always done, that instinctive creativity producing a handful of songs influenced by everyone from Prefab Sprout (hence the inclusion of a female vocalist) to Felix Da Housecat to Devo.  

Eager to give the songs a brighter, cleaner sound they played the songs to The Flight (Lana Del Rey, Björk, David Bowie, etc) who abandoned their usual post as programmers and leapt straight to the desk as producers for The Penelopes.  The Vaccines/Scissor Sisters’ collaborator Dan Grech-Marguerat, despite offers from a host of other bands, agreed to mix the album.  As Vincent explains, Grech-Margueret's interest was piqued by an almost indescribable 'Frenchness' that runs through the core of the songs; “When he listened to the demos he found it was really something French and we didn't realise we had these French elements in it.” 

Axel does, however have a theory. “There's a way to do the guitar, it's kind of Chic, funky guitar. Something in the harmonies too. In France, this kind of disco-funk was very present on the radio and I realised this with the album, now I understand something about the French in terms of adding guitars that are quite funky. For us, it's really natural to play it in that way. It makes it a bit more fun.”

Whatever it is, it's there on the forthcoming single Now Now Now, all elastic bass lines, lush keyboard squelches and that funky guitar, underpinned by guest vocalist Laura Kidd and Axel's low, tremulous vocal. Elsewhere Sally in the Galaxy starts small before the chorus bursts through like a glorious ray of sunshine, while that theme is made explicit on the exuberant Summer Life which expounds the joys of being able to laze about in the sun. It's this sense of freedom that's kind of the band's raisin d'etre, especially as they both dropped out of university (Vincent was studying law, Axel medicine) to concentrate on the music. “I never wanted to be a doctor, I just wanted to stay a teenager” explains Axel. “From when we were young we both said we didn't want to work or do a normal job. So, when we became students it was to become endless teenagers.”

Perhaps ironically for a band that started out worshipping Britain's finest exponents of gloomy indie, The Penelopes now find themselves delivering big, multi-layered sparkly indie-pop, but that initial influence is there in the immediacy of the melodies. Brilliantly, the pair describe their sound as a “rainbow” of colour, or, for fans of food-based analogies, “like a big salad” with influences and themes tossed together. However they describe it and regardless of how you discover it, The Penelopes will brighten up your day.

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