What do you do if you’ve got the tunes and the look, but can’t get gigs? France’s hottest band relive their ingenious $3,000 gamble
By Michael Hann
It’s hard to imagine a more French version of a rock’n’roll band than La Femme. For all that their second album, Mystère, one of the year’s best, is wholly accessible and dripping with fantastic tunes, it exudes a sense of cool that indie bands rarely manage any more. It tries on a wardrobe of different clothes – psychedelia, surf rock, electronica, krautrock and more – and ends up looking fantastic in all of them. It sounds chic.
It’s also made La Femme proper pop stars in France. As their manager guides me into a brasserie in Strasbourg–Saint-Denis, their home turf in Paris, he’s clutching a copy of Les Inrockuptibles, France’s leading pop culture magazine, to hand to the band’s masterminds, Marlon Magnée and Sacha Got. La Femme are on the cover, although there’s a certain amount of eyebrow-raising about the fact that the only person pictured is their singer, Clémence Quélennec. “It’s like a Vogue cover,” Magnée observes.
At this point, a boiling day in early September, the album has been out a few days, and is No 3 in the midweek charts. When the band’s tour reaches Paris in February, they say, they’ll be headlining the 6,300-capacity Zénith. Proper pop stars, you see. Their increasing popularity, though, has meant they’ve attracted some curious fans. Take George, who is in his 50s and has the words La Femme tattooed across his throat.
“He likes to smoke crazy weed and take a bunch of drugs,” says Magnée. “Before the show begins, he listens to the album and dances everywhere.” At which point Magnée – in so far as he can while cramped into a tiny booth in a crowded brasserie, with his lunch in front of him and a bottle of red on the table – mimes someone dancing in the manner of a deranged ostrich. “Sometimes I have to speak to him. ‘Look, George, I know you’re very happy to be here, but people think you’re weird. And if you’re too weird, they’re going to kick you out.’”
Keyboard-player Magnée and guitarist Got met at secondary school in Biarritz, near the Spanish border, where summer is alive with holidaymakers – and winter is dead. There’s little in the way of live music and nothing much else to do. “There are four bars at a junction where everyone goes to drink,” Magnée says. “But we don’t like it too much, because if you are dressed too rock’n’roll or too hipster or too trendy they call you a fag. So it’s a bit hard to grow up in Biarritz if you are really different.”