Plastiscines - Zut alors! Bébé rock est arrivé!
All-girl Parisian punks Plastiscines are to feature in 'Gossip Girl' and are on the super-cool label Nylon. Charlotte Cripps discovers their je-ne-sais-quoi
Friday 23 October 2009
The NME describes them as "four super-extra-hot French girls with fat, chunky riffs and brilliant new wave pop tunes, they are literally too perfect to be true" while Music Week claims they could "pick up where the Bangles left off".
Now one of TV's hippest shows is featuring their music. In an upcoming episode of Gossip Girl, the French indie-rock girl band Plastiscines perform their punk-rock track "Bitch" at a high-school graduation party.
It is hard to believe that these four chic Parisian girls, all aged 21 or 22, are just giggly and sweet in real life, when they yell the lyrics "I am a bitch" in Ramones style while taking care to look every inch immaculate fashion models.
How have this all-girl pop sensation from France managed to storm into the American and British mainstream? The band are the first signing of Nylon Records in the US, an extension of Nylon magazine, a pop culture and fashion bible in America, with their catchy debut pop-punk EP. It will be released in the UK on 2 November, on the French independent label Because Music, which already has French electronic duo Justice and Paris-based rapper Uffie in the fold.
I meet the girls in north London, where they are running for cover as another truck drives down the thin alleyway in which a photo shoot is taking place. "Ooh la la!" the girls giggle on cue. Although their English is very good, they converse in French as they flatten themselves against a wall. The nearby Select models agency would seem a more appropriate location for them to congregate than this rendezvous in a street – but after all they are a rock'n'roll band.
The lead singer/guitarist Katty Besnard has a blond beehive and moulds herself on Debbie Harry. "I also love Nancy Sinatra and Sixties girl bands," she says. The long-legged Louise Basilien, the bass guitarist, is known for her classic French-chic look. She is wearing Marc Jacobs skinny jeans and a red-and-black stripey top by French designer Sonia Rykiel. "It's my grandma's – she's really cool, but I like to borrow my boyfriend's clothes too," she says.
The drummer, Anaïs Vandevyvere, with a nose ring, adopts a more glam-rock style. "I love wearing black and long silver necklaces," she says. Marine Neuilly, on guitar and vocals, is a nature girl: "I wear hippy-chic headbands and don't wash my hair".
The Plastiscines, from Saint-Cyr, near Paris, formed in 2004 when Besnard and Neuilly, who were at school together, met Basilien at a Libertines concert, before hiring Vandevyvere two years ago as a replacement drummer. When they started the band, both aged 17, they were the leaders of "les bébés rockers", a new wave of Parisian teenage rock'n'roll sweeping though the European punk scene. They wrote their first track, "Loser", in high school and played sold-out shows with the Hives, the Slits and Iggy Pop across Europe while other teenagers were at home doing their homework.
Their sound is influenced by punk rock bands like Blondie and Sixties girl groups – where all the vocals are very clear and big. "At first people thought it was funny seeing girls throwing themselves around the stage," recalls Basilien. "But we got bored and wanted to be taken seriously as a real band. We want to be more than just a girl band because we do actually play our instruments."
Early on, their precocious talent was noticed by Kraftwerk producer Maxime Schmitt, and they were signed by EMI for the Virgin France label in October 2006. The release in France of their first album, LP1, in 2007 won them a commendation from the French minister of culture, which was, curiously enough, presented by Pete Doherty. Nylon magazine used this to proudly announce that Kate Moss wasn't the only style icon who could lure Pete Doherty to Paris.
"People don't expect us," smiles Neuilly. "We're just 21 years old now, and we've already recorded our second album, travelled... it's not that usual to meet girls like us."
The big break came in April when Nylon launched its record label and styled their first band in retro futuristic outfits, for their first video, for "Barcelona".
"We were over-dressed and over-made-up," says Basilien. "We had nice crazy clothes from Alexander McQueen to Marc Jacobs. We love fashion and we like to dress up for fun."
They soon became the band of choice for fashionistas – and not just on screen with Gossip Girl. The "Barcelona" music video inspired the girl-about-town fashion label alice + olivia's spring 2010 presentation, during New York Fashion Week, where the Plastiscines played at the label's show to guests including Lindsay Lohan, Nicky Hilton, the Olsen twins and Courtney Love. They have also recently supported Little Boots at New York's Bowery Ballroom and played alongside Patrick Wolf, a second signing for Nylon records, while working in New York.
The new single "Barcelona" and their new album, About Love, which will be released in the UK in February, was produced in LA by Butch Walker, who has done wonders for Katy Perry, Pink and Avril Lavigne, and was mixed by Claudius Mittendorfer (Muse, Foo Fighters, Franz Ferdinand). "Butch saw us playing Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walking" and immediately fell in love with us," explains Vandevyvere of the beginnings of the garage-pop collaboration.
The Plastiscines have had to write most of their songs in English rather than French – except for a few songs, such as "Camera" and Pas Avec Toi" – but Neuilly claims that "English words sound more poetic" anyway. Sometimes they throw in the odd French sentence or word – "because it sounds good".
They took the name of the band from "plasticine porters with looking glass ties" in the Beatles' song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". "It was just spontaneous – we didn't think about it for hours," says Besnard. What they did have to think about was the fact that Plasticine is a registered trade mark, so an extra letter "s" came to the rescue.
During the recent teenage punk upsurge in France, the Plastiscines first featured on a compilation album, Paris Calling, with several other teenage bands from Paris. It was released in 2006.
"The press have always been interested because usually in France you don't get kids playing rock'n'roll. It was like, 'wow!', because that never happens in France," explains Basilien. "Most of the time in France it's older people playing rock'n'roll and getting famous."
It's hard to tell whether France's latest export will be more than just a fashion accessory. But, as they get into a London taxi along with their shopping, which includes a fake-fur hat from Camden, it is refreshing that they see through all the hype.
"Nylon has helped us get known in the fashion world – but this is only a means to an end," says Basilien. "We love fashion but we are using it as we would any avenue to get our music out there. It is surely better than playing underground gigs for ever."
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