The Times Interview With Caravan Palace
Every Woman, Every Man, Join The Caravan Palace Love-In
The eccentric electronica band have become a festival favourite and online hit — despite being completely useless at social media
Chronologic, despite performing several of its songs. Nor did they mention a UK tour early next year, tickets for which had just gone on sale. In fact, the Parisians didn’t even tell a field as packed with impressed passers-by as actual fans that they were called Caravan Palace — a pity, because I saw lots of people ask shrugging strangers if they knew who they were watching.
Interview by: Lisa Verrico (The Times) Date: 2019-08-19
“Did you at least post some video?” asks the manager, now slumped on the floor of the band’s Portakabin with his head in his hands.
“Don’t worry, we will,” says the singer Zoé Colotis, a high- kicking, Charleston-dancing powerhouse on stage, now so chilled she can’t be bothered to change out of her sweat-soaked PVC trousers and is spraying them with a vodka-based DIY deodorant instead.
Two days later a nine-second clip of their set, mostly showing the bouncing crowd, appears on Instagram and gets a grand total of two comments.
Formed 12 years ago as a trio, Caravan Palace took o as part of a short-lived scene called electro-swing, which mixed house and Hip Hop with Jazz and Swing. Their 2008 debut album, Caravan Palace, spent 68 weeks in the French charts and went gold, while their chaotic, mob-handed stage shows made them festival favourites across Europe.
Incredibly, considering their absence of interest in self- promotion, they have since exploded on social media, first on Facebook, then YouTube, where they have more than a million subscribers and have racked up hundreds of millions of views for individual videos, including Lone Digger and Wonderland. Their Spotify streams are fast heading towards the half-billion mark, and last year Caravan Palace became surprise stars on the world’s most downloaded app, the teenage-friendly TikTok, when 1.2 billion watched fan-made videos set to the sax soaked Wonderland. When they play the song at Wilderness, screaming youngsters run in from all corners.
“TikTok is a mystery for us,” says the band’s guitarist Arnaud Vial with a shrug. “How does it work? No one knows. Is it an Asian thing? It is only for kids? We don’t understand how we are on there.”
Colotis says: “We like to watch other people’s videos, but we don’t like to be social ourselves. Who wants to see us eating food? I’m sorry, today we post nothing. We suck at this.”
She’s not wrong. The trio of tracks that have been the band’s biggest viral successes so far — Lone Digger, Wonderland and Aftermath, the video for which spawned millions of memes — came from their third album, released four years ago with the unpronounceable title <|° _°|>. At first fans called it Robot. It’s now known as Robot Face. Ask for the band’s reasoning and they’ll talk only of their love of Daft Punk.
Chronologic, their fourth album, out in a fortnight, has a title, but still delights in wrong-footing fans. Or perhaps I should say freaking them out. The first single, Miracle, not only largely ditched Caravan Palace’s trademark jazz for dreamy electronica, but it arrived with a video so pornographic you have to sign in as an adult on YouTube to view it.
“The real miracle here is that this is still on YouTube,” is one of the comments below an animated soft porno that features full- frontal nudity, a dominatrix, a man clamped to a revolving wheel and some seriously disturbing flowers.
Created by the same French animators who made the risqué videos for Wonderland (a feminist/bondage fantasy) and Lone Digger (an animal bloodbath begun by suave cats in a pole- dancing club), the Miracle visuals bear no relation to the song’s lyrics of brotherly love or, according to Caravan Palace, to the brief they submitted.
“Each time we tell them, ‘Don’t be too trash, try to be mainstream,’ ” says Charles Delaporte, the double bassist. “But they don’t give a shit what we ask for. After Lone Digger we say, ‘No more violence,’ but we were wrong. YouTube doesn’t care about violence. Dicks and pussies they have a problem with. Flowers they don’t like. The guy being tied up? Maybe that’s too much, but there’s worse you see online every day.”
So they are happy with the video?
“When we first saw it we thought, ‘Oh no, not again,’ ” Colotis says. “Now we consider it cool. Of course we were expecting
something strange and of course it’s not great for business, having to sign in to see it. But we’ll take style over views any
Caravan Palace in fact formed to score a remake of a 1920s porn film for French TV. Vial and Delaporte, at the time both 20 and friends from school, had been making trip-hop music at home while paying their rent by performing in a live jazz band. Delaporte’s brother, a film editor, o ered them the soundtrack job if they could come up with songs that sounded at once old and new.
“So we mixed the two sides of our lives,” Vial says. “Jazz and, well, hip-hop by then — we’d stopped trying to sound like Portishead because we were terrible at it.”
They found the half-Spanish Colotis on the social networking website Myspace — she moved 250km to Paris after a single audition, despite Vial refusing to speak to her — and when the film, a pilot, bombed, continued making music together. Their Myspace following mushroomed, their gigs started selling out and within 18 months Caravan Palace had signed a record deal.
Jazz remains a strong influence — their shows are almost all co- fronted by Colotis and the dancing saxophonist Victor Raimondeau — but Chronologic is their most electronic and Hip Hop-heavy album to date, plus their first to feature guests.
Despite its joyous songs, its recording process sounds tortuous. The band spent two years locked away in separate Paris studios, emailing ideas to each other.
“It was so hard,” Vial says, mock-crying. “And so lonely. We had an idea to make a more acoustic album, but we listened to Hip Hop every day to cheer ourselves up and that rubbed off.
“It’s a very depressing way of working, alone in your own studio, but we need to be alone to go deep into ideas. Then you send those on and the reply is, ‘I’m not sure.’ The worst is no answer at all.”
Hence the guests to give them inspiration, among them the Los Angeles-born, Paris-based Charles X, the French soul singer Tom Bailey and Delaporte’s nieces and nephews, who were multitracked into a children’s choir on the funky Waterguns.
“They sound like happy songs, but they’re not,” Delaporte says. “We like to write music that isn’t what it seems. It’s as they say when you’re wrapping a present: put it in bright paper. A sad gift with happy wrapping. That’s our definition of melancholic.”
If the new single, Plume, is melancholic, it hides it well. Lyrics about having a good time and being taken to the sun are set to perky Nineties beats and a chorus that mixes modish Latin sounds with a hint of Aqua’s Barbie Girl.
Plume’s video, in which a robot strolls the streets of Tokyo before meeting a sticky end, may be the band’s next to go viral, not least thanks to its “finger-tutting” intro — a finger dance that features in the video game Fortnite. Needless to say, until someone pointed it out, Caravan Palace hadn’t noticed or known it was hip.
I finally pluck up the courage to suggest that, for future festivals, Caravan Place might consider a banner bearing their name.
“Oh, we don’t need one of those,” Colotis says. “We have a robot with our name on it. Unfortunately, it was too heavy to take on stage.
“Besides, we’re not sure about our name. When we started, it was nice. A contrast, like our music, part gypsy, part classy. And Caravan for the theme from Duke Ellington, for our jazz influences.
“Now not so much. We don’t do Gypsy Jazz. We think our name might put people off. We could change it, but I think it’s maybe too late.”
Chronologic is released on August 30 on MVKA Records. The single Plume is out now. Caravan Palace perform at the Festival du Roi Arthur in Le Mafeu, Bréal sous Montfort, France, next weekend and at City Trucks festival in La Pommeraye, France. August 30 to September 1. They begin a tour of the UK in January