"Can't see your body moving, don't leave the party dying." - Caravan Palace
By Lexi Vollero
When you hear the term “French electro-swing,” what comes to mind? The answer should be Caravan Palace. Though the name of their genre sounds like a piece of futuristic foreign playground equipment, the Paris-based seven-man band preserves the aesthetics and sound bytes of the past by repurposing them for the future. The group, which features a quirky combination of vibraphone, clarinet, guitar, double bass, trombone and electronics, actually began as a trio, with the rest of its members recruited via MySpace (what a throwback). Led by a solo female frontman, Zoé Colotis, their songs are characterized by bouncing vocals and are always punctuated by a lively dance break (skip to 2:14).
For those of you who don’t know me, I am a sucker for all things swing: my favorite bar is a WWII-era speakeasy called “Cahoots,” where cocktail waitresses are clothed in ankle-length patterned swing dresses and swing music is played on loop all night. My favorite band is Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox and yes, I kid you not, one of my recordings of their live concert from this past February is titled “The Best Five Minutes of My Life.” But Caravan Palace isn’t just for the freaks and geeks like me who should’ve been born half a century ago; their quirky, charismatic brand of energetic electronic music and alluring aesthetic are accessible to everyone.
Amid an ever-expanding sea of EDM blend music, Caravan Palace distinguishes itself by leaning into their rich French swing and jazz heritage and by effortlessly mixing French and English lyrics, making their music accessible to a wider audience and giving it a funky edge that has achieved quite an audience in Europe. Their 2008 self-titled debut album charted in Switzerland, Belgium and France and they mainly perform in major European cities like London and Paris. The group's most recent album, <|°_°|>, was released in October 2015 and they tweeted about a fourth album-in-progress in December 2017 that they expect to be “good good good.”
Choosing a favorite Caravan Palace song feels more like choosing a favorite child since I love them all so dearly, but for the sake of simplicity, I have narrowed it down to three essential tracks. In chronological order, the first is “Jolie Coquine,” the single that preceded the release of their debut album. This song set the tone for the band’s trademark sound and traditional jazz inclinations. The song opens with a playful fiddle riff that leads into intentionally-understated vocals that make room for the electronic percussive beat when it kicks in.
“Rock It for Me” is a lively track off their second album Panic, released in 2012. The filtered instrumental lead sounds distant, making the moment when the beat and vocals kick in even more jolting. The vocals on the verses are front and center while those in the chorus are filtered and distorted to the point of being unintelligible. These production techniques, combined with the long instrumental breaks, allow the beat to shine and practically beg you to dance along.
Finally, “Lone Digger” is the opening track of their 2015 album and is the strongest showcase of the band’s technical skill and electronic prowess. Unlike the other tracks, the lead-in is dominantly electronic and intensely driven from the beginning. Colotis’ vocals are especially noteworthy for their fast runs and rap-like flow that compliment the song’s animated spirit.
You can study to these tracks, you can party to these tracks and you can definitely dance to these tracks. But like I said, you can’t go wrong with any Caravan Palace song. Their diverse music is suitable for any backdrop–but it’s much more than elevator music. It’s the perfect blend of cultures, languages, genres and generations with a beat guaranteed to make you move your feet.