French Synth Wave: St Etienne - 1981
Unless you are a monomaniacal specialist of the 1980s, there is very little chance that Cha Cha Guitri will ring any bells. And yet this band, buried away in Saint-Etienne -- in the very heart of France -- could have easily rivaled Elli & Jacno or Telex. Emblematic of that French touch which tinged new-wave with a bit of sunshine, their electro, retro-futuristic songs have that slightly sweet and sour flavor between casualness and sophistication. The birth of Cha Cha Guitry in 1981 was a landmark for its members, Serge, Dominique, Charly and Marie. Once their hippie phase was over, the guitar, sax and flute were abandoned in the closet while machines took over: an EMS AKS synth, a Roland SH101, and a Roland TR808 rhythm-box. The two couples met in the congenial atmosphere of their "home studio" to record their songs. The boys composed and sang, and the girls sang and designed minimal costumes -- the elegance of which was enhanced by some DIY touches: no need for fabric, paper will perfectly do. As deceivingly offhanded stylists, the Cha Cha crew carefully crafted a music that was both studied and charmingly quirky, making collages of raw pop materials and avant-garde stuff. Scissors in hand, they took what they wanted from the Bauhaus, Moholy Nagy, or Sonia Delaunay's dresses, taping these iconic bits onto the sounds of Kraftwerk and what remained of pop culture (comics, movies, songs of the '30s or easy listening). Cha Cha Guitry, wisely ingenious, modeled tropical landscapes out of cellophane, thus elaborating their own synthetic surrealism. The adventure would not last more than a few years, just long enough to record two cassettes on Kronchtadt Tapes (a local label central to the underground scene that was more into punk) and give three concerts. As isolated as they were in Saint-Etienne, they got nevertheless noticed by Alain Maneval who programmed them regularly on Europe 1, and they could even be heard on Radio Gay. So they went to Paris to meet a manager from Virgin, but they never got the luck, rare in those days, to release a vinyl. Their arty, pop style was also too DIY for Agnes B's freshly-opened shop: their second cassette, though wonderfully packed in a Plexiglas case resembling an icicle, was not to the brand's taste. Serge has been living in the same flat since 1975 and never got rid of his synthesizer. The studio where Cha Cha recorded their songs has not changed a bit. Everything has been kept, ordered, and archived, from the piles of magnetic tapes to the hundreds of Polaroid shots. Born Bad Records are happy to offer you a selection of these. Greetings from Synth-Etienne.