Emilie Simon, Jazz Café, London

Reviewed,Keiron Tyler
Friday 23 April 2010 00:00

Selling out her debut British show, Gallic electro-pop chanteuse Emilie Simon breached the musical border controls between Britain and France. Her new album, the 95 per cent English-language The Big Machine, is issued here in July and she seized the opportunity beforehand to demonstrate that she's been blazing the female electro-pop trail since 2003. Schooled in musicology at the Sorbonne, she then studied electronic music at the foundation run by experimental musician Pierre Boulez. She's the real deal. A multi-award winner in France, her 2005 soundtrack to La Marche de l'Empereur was nominated for a César, the French Oscar. Yet the international release, as March of the Penguins, ditched her music. The American producers decided her soundtrack was too challenging. You can see why she's reaching out beyond France.

Solo, Simon seamlessly moved from keyboards to real-time programming with a Tenori-On (the electronic plaque on a stand also favoured by Little Boots), acoustic guitar, a weird Eighties Casio synth guitar and grand piano. Throughout, she remotely played instruments and manipulated her voice with "the arm", a Mad Max-looking gauntlet bristling with knobs that coated her left arm. Picked out in Broadway-style lights, her name hangs over the stage. Back projections were screened on a giant cut-out octopus. One side of her head had a Princess Leah bunch, the other a jaunty lace doily. A padded gold jacket sprang off her shoulders like the points of star. A cute "merci" followed many songs, but otherwise it's colloquial English all the way.

Whatever the technology, the songs shine. The Big Machine is packed with upbeat, stomping epics that build and build. Hammering hard at her keyboard, Simon's voice swooped perkily, bringing new life to soaring album tracks "Chinatown" and "Dreamland". These were meant to be heard live. The audience bobbed and sang along – a roam around found many non-French folks: word of mouth had gotten around.

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