The Penelopes: For French bands in London it’s very competitive

Emma Gritt

thepenelopes embed 207x300 The Penelopes: For French bands in London its very competitiveI feel almost like I have shortchanged The Penelopes by making them come and meet me in drizzly Kensington for a wander around the Victoria and Albert Museum. The French electro-rock duo, Axel Basquiat and Vincent Tremel are behind feel good track Summer Life, but the grey sky, a brief blip during 2013’s ‘level 3 heatwave’ (as so dramatically named by the nation’s useless dad, PM David Cameron), seems to betray the sunny sound that has brought them to the attention of me and countless others.

We spent a good hour looking at the pieces showing in the Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s exhibition. The 85 pieces on display were a colourful (and sometime impractical) spyhole to decades past, with pieces by Rifat Ozbek, John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood making you feel guilty for going out clubbing wearing jeans and a T-shirt .

The Penelopes like how the 90s trend for going on stage dressed as you were is long forgotten, and claim to align themselves more with the pizzazz of the decade prior. “We are relatively flamboyant on stage, within reason,” says Axel, revealing that he enjoys having two personas for whether he is on stage or off. “People who know us think we are crazy, dickheads!” he adds. “Sometimes people think we are on drugs, but we are always really straight before playing,” says Vincent.

This duality of character would no doubt please film director and meditation guru David Lynch, whose films often exploit ideas of twinning and mirroring. Just a few weeks prior, The Penelopes found themselves performing at his Parisian club, Silencio, at the invitation of Asia Argento, daughter of Italian gore master Dario.

“In Silencio, all the guys were very ‘French Romantic’, very arrogant, and we were sat quietly at the back until we went on stage we went wild, it was funny,” says Vincent.

As well as flipping the atmosphere, the guys also found themselves faced with an interesting proposition from Asia, who asked them to write a song for a new film project she is working on.

“It’s a cute movie,” says Axel, gushing praise for his “rock n roll but trashy” friend. “We have known her for a while, she DJs sometimes and has played some of our tracks. We met her in a hotel in New York once.”

“She called us up about one month ago to ask us to perform with her in Paris,” interjects Vincent, explaining how she was so impressed with some of the new tracks they performed in the exclusive haunt that she asked them specifically to write something for her.

Does it throw up new obstacles to be writing to someone else’s ideas instead of your own? Apparently not according to Axel, who claims that she is on “the same page” as the band.

The invitation to work on the film music comes fresh from recording a track with Dan Grech, who has formerly worked with The Vaccines and Lana Del Rey, and finishing up a remix for Tom Tom Club. The Penelopes are as apt at DJing as they are at playing live, and some of their reworks have become dancefloor hits. “We are a live band but for us it is interesting to DJ, I don’t like to DJ for longer than two hours, it’s a pain in the ass, it’s boring. But to have to explore and listen to music every week is a good way to explore new stuff,” says Axel. But it does have benefits, including keeping up to date with what’s new and popular in clubs. “You have to listen to a lot of stuff, and you are staying updated,” says Vincent.

“For a French band being in London it’s very competitive. You sing in English so you have a sort of complex at the beginning, but now we feel better with that, more confident. London is very influential, when you arrive at a studio in London you freak out. Our first session when we arrived was at Nigel Godrich’s studio, it was pretty stressful. We did everything in Vincent’s bedroom before, so it’s a big move for us,” says Axel.

The pair reveal some of their favourite music of the moment comes from No Ceremony, Alpines, Destroyer, Is Tropical and M83, and while they have been holed up in the studio working on their new album they have discovered a love for half time tempos. However, they have less pleasantries to share about fellow Frenchmen Daft Punk. Speaking about Random Access Memories, Vincent says: “Really good single. I am not a huge fan of Daft Punk, but maybe it was more interesting on their old records. Get Lucky is a great single, it could have been released thirty years ago.”

“I prefer Pheonix, I think they are really good. I was really surprised. I love when a record sounds simple but is not simple. I love Bowie as it sounds very simple, very straightforward, but actually it is not,” adds Axel. “I love when things are very accurate. The Bowie sound, a lot of people think it’s very simple, but for me it is the opposite.”

We chat about the exhibition, and in particular the Katharine Hamnett slogan T-shirts. What would be The Penelopes’ take on that style? “’Never live another yesterday’, it’s a bit stylish but I like it. I would never wear one of those T-shirts, but I like politics. For me, it’s very important, I’m French. Vincent and I talk about politics all the time,” reveals Axel.

We share a laugh about the French’s penchant for a good strike, which inspires Vincent’s idea for his own statement T-shirt. “I love strike,” he suggests with a smile.

For more information about The Penelopes, visit

Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s exhibition runs until 16 February 2014 at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. More information here.

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