The magnetic French duo Kap Bambino — Caroline Martial and Orion Bouvier — arrived in New York City on a crazily hectic, rainy Saturday evening for a whirlwind visit to promote their new album, Blacklist. Playing together since 2001, the Bordeaux-based duo has established something of a cult following on the underground scene. And since the success of few more recent electro-punk acts, these originals are finally garnering some much-deserved wider attention.

Often described as electro-punk or electro-grunge, Kap Bambino’s music is a wild mix of styles that reflects influences from the new wave, punk, grunge and rave eras, as well as Nintendo. Said a friend, it’s “a party or die kind of vibe, like Crystal Castles, just a bit more evil!” Martial describes it as “on the blade” – not quite dance and not quite rock. The duo’s hard-driving, synth-laden songs are generally short — most clock in at under three minutes — with Martial’s raw and powerful vocals (in heavily French-accented English) the perfect accompaniment to Bouvier’s high BPM compositions.

Following the release of three singles in 2009, the new album (their third) will have its official US release sometime in 2010. Twelve tracks of wickedly high energy, danceable electronic rave music with punk edginess, Blacklist beams with such standout songs such as “Red Sign” and “Batcaves” (both singles), “Blue Screen” and “Human Piles.” It will be the first of the group’s albums not released on their own label, WWILKO, and the band has signed to French/British indie label Because Music (home to such artists as Charlotte Gainsbourg and Justice) for European releases.

Kap Bambino’s live shows are memorably intense, with the band performing with the same frenetic energy found on their records. Martial has an electric stage presence that channels the likes of Johnny Rotten and, at times, a bit of Karen O, while Bouvier rocks out behind the synths. The band has shared the stage with such acts as Late of the Pier and These New Puritans, and 2009 saw them appearing at some of the big European festivals, as well as a few dates in the U.S. and in Central and South America. They have just wrapped up their first Australian tour and are planning a return to the U.S. later this year.

The band members both also have side projects. For Bouvier, it’s another ravey electronic outfit called Groupgris, and for Martial, it’s Khima France, a slower guitar-driven sound.

I caught up with Martial and Bouvier briefly when they were in New York.

You’re from Bordeaux originally, are you still there?
Orion: We’re still living in Bordeaux. It’s a good city.
Caroline: Yes, it’s a good scene there, it’s really nice.

It seems that a lot of the other cities in France, like Toulouse, Lyon and Bordeaux, kind of have their own cool art and music scenes going on that people outside of the country may not know about. They’re more underground, but they’re there, so you have to maybe just go there, dig around and see what’s happening.
Caroline: Yeah! Lyon and Bordeaux are really the best! There are a lot of bar/clubs and cool venues. Bordeaux has some really amazing garage bands as well, like Hello Sunshine (which was playing in the background as we were chatting) and Magnetic, who are a really cool, awesome duet with drum and guitar and distortion. There’s also a really nice band from Paris called Frustration.

Do you think it’s better to be outside of Paris?
Caroline: Yeah. Bordeaux is so fresh and there’s more freedom — the mood is very different from Paris. You can do what you want to do, like in the ‘80s. It’s a really nice lifestyle. Paris is a really big city, and like anywhere in the world, it can be hard. We don’t want to live in a big city. So, maybe we won’t have more visibility, but it’s our choice.

With your lyrics being in English, has getting radio airplay in France been an issue for you?
Caroline: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! But when we started, we hadn’t thought about playing on the radio or anything. In the beginning we tried to sing in French and it was really bad [laughs], and we realized early that it sounds better in English, so it was our choice to not sing in French. And we think it’s been a really great choice singing in English because now we’ve had success outside of France, well on the underground, you know what I mean — out of the mainstream. Also, if we sing in French, in a project like electro, it seems it needs to be more easy or more, um, cheesy! [laughing]

What inspires you?
Caroline: Anything and everything! Violence, poetry, friends, smoking cigarettes [as she and Orion are both laughing and puffing on cigarettes]

Your sound mostly reminds me of early 1980s new wave with a bit of punk. Who are some of your influences? Devo, a little, perhaps?
Orion and Caroline both laugh! (Apparently relieved that I had not mentioned Crystal Castles)
Caroline: Thank you!
Orion: That’s it! I’m glad you think that.
Caroline: We also like Nirvana and Suicide, the Sugarcubes.

I’ve seen video clips of some of your European shows, and they seem pretty intense. How have the audiences been when you’ve played in the U.S.?
Orion: We did a tour here before and it was kind of the same.
Caroline: We don’t know what we expect for tonight, but…
Orion: Last time in New York, good, pretty intense.
Caroline: Yeah, it was really, really good! We played the same venue that we’re playing tonight – The Studio at Webster Hall.

So, I’d imagine you’re coming back next year once the new record has been officially released in the U.S.
Caroline: Yes, but at the moment, we don’t know still on which label it will be released in the U.S.
Orion: And we don’t know when yet.

What are some of the major support gigs you’ve done?
Caroline: Someone proposed that we open for Peaches in New York, but that’s tonight and we already had the gig at The Studio booked. And we wanted to keep it since we had a good experience there before, but we’re going to be opening for her The Koko in London next summer.

I’ve heard a lot of European bands say they love playing in Mexico, and I saw on your tour schedule that you’re going to be playing there and in South America after this U.S. tour. Have you been there before?
Orion: It was a cool place.
Caroline: Yeah, it’s cool, so different. We played just one time in Mexico City a few years ago. It was bizarre because at that time we weren’t so known there, and this kid booked us a gig there. Now we’re going to be playing there again and then our first time in South America, Bogota, Colombia, which sounds really, really amazing, and after that Costa Rica. We just had had a show in Toronto and last night played Foufounes Electriques in Montreal, this old school, really rock-n-roll club. Last night was a really, really intense show in Montreal, so we’ll have to play semi-energy tonight! –Teresa Sampson, Photo by Tear-n Tan


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