By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
Acht so! Nobody knows exactly what it sounds like. I think maybe it could be a kind of dance you do with your eyes, like shhh shhh, like moving your eyelashes, you know, in a charming way." This is how Françoise Cactus, half of the plucky Franco-Deutscher duo Stereo Total, describes the puzzling title of their latest album, Do the Bambi.
Stereo Total is like an evergreen lab experiment, with Cactus and her boyfriend Brezel Göring as mad scientists. The two have been employing their clever pastiche of musical genres, electronic trickery, multilingual gags, social commentary, and perhaps, with Bambi, a subliminal message suggesting bestiality, for more than ten years now. In the oft-quoted view of the eye patch-wearing Scottish troubadour Momus, the couple who met at a Berlin bakery has become "the best pop group in the world."
Released this past January, Do the Bambi is Stereo Total's sixth album, trailing breakout albums such as 1999's My Melodyand 2001's Musique Automatique. Adopted by the Kill Rock Stars label, Musique Automatique's Mooged-out danceability and snappy optimism launched the band into the upper echelons of electro-pop cool. Bambi, in turn, is a multidisciplinary experience highlighting the extracurricular activities from which many of the songs originated. The nineteen tracks fluctuate between electro's polar opposites -- dark edginess and merry fluff. The album doesn't have the insta-hit qualities that rendered Musique Automatique so charismatic, but it retains the band's playful, musical thrift-shop aesthetic.
The aloof, falsetto-inflected opener "Babystrich" was initially featured in Christiane F, a play the couple wrote about the German cult figure and junkie of the same name. Many of Do the Bambi's tracks, such as the twee "Les Lapins," a wordplay on rabbits and getting stood up, read like friendly non sequiturs. The rocker "Hungry!" compares a diet of sweets to a now-lost lover. There are songs about a neurotic Europe, tortured party girls, and cannibals, and the group covers the Velvet Underground's "Chelsea Girls."
Other numbers, such as the Clockwork Orange-tinged "Orange Mécanique," take their inspiration from the silver screen. "Some are from soundtracks we did and others were composed to accompany special evenings we did in Berlin," explains Cactus, waking from a bit of shuteye en route to a tour date at Milwaukee's Onopa Brewing Company. "There is a theater called the Volksbühne where sometimes we don't play our normal Stereo Total songs but show a movie and do a new soundtrack to it and play along. So we did that for the director Jacques Tati and also for Weekend, by Jean-Luc Godard," she says. "'Cinemania' was made for the soundtrack to a documentary about people in New York that spend their whole life in the cinema and are complete addicts."
Even by phone, Cactus's gregarious personality is palpable. Her husky French accent is as thick as miel, lending some interpretive difficulty to the rapid-fire thoughts she breathlessly spouts off and punctuates with an infectious throaty laugh. Both she and Göring sing and play an astonishing number of instruments, but it is her voice that carries their records. On Do the Bambi she moves effortlessly among French, German, and English with affectations that closely resemble legendary chansons of another era. "Ooh-la-la!" she exclaims when asked about their influences, and cites "French/Belgian chansons from the Sixties, like Bardot, Gainsbourg, Françoise Hardy. But we are also inspired by an Eighties New Wave movement in Berlin called 'genius dilettantism.' Some artists and musicians said, 'If you want to make music or art or whatever, you just have to have a great idea, go onstage, and do it.' And that's how I started making music anyway because I thought, well, that's really cool."
In addition to the band, each member maintains a separate career. Göring keeps himself busy recording as a solo artist and working on film soundtracks, with his next record to be released on Hamburg's Gagarin Records. Cactus is an accomplished writer and artist; she has written four novels and maintains a growing arsenal of homegrown recipes on their Website, www.stereototal.de/home/kitchen_01.html, including tips for making "Paradisiac Dessert" ("Put everything together. Keep cool.") and "Jumping Potatoes" ("Sometimes verify that the potatoes are not burning. Dégustez."). She paints and knits too, her most intriguing creation being a suggestive, life-size puppet named Wollita. "She's as big as me," notes Cactus. "And she is really famous now because she's really scandalous. It was like 50 times in the newspaper, her photo. I was like, man, I can't believe it! She's also gone to some exhibitions, so she's got her own career."
Certainly all of these creative impulses have helped the duo grow and stay together so long. Cactus laughs about recently celebrating a decade of Stereo Total. "Oui, Brezel is a very patient person. He should get a medal, poor guy!" she jokes. No doubt the Stereo Total mates will maintain their youthful disposition, for they have already schemed the answer to longevity. "If people don't want to listen to us anymore, we will just change our looks," says the normally redheaded Cactus. "I will have long blond 'air, and Brezel will have a little mustache, and someone will change the name, and that's it."