Parisian space-pop group L’Impératrice should be on a world tour right now. They should be in the thick of delivering 60 dates across the globe – including a headline slot at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire: it would have included their biggest shows to date.
But you know by now, that socially-distanced live gigs are scarce – even if backed by the UK government. the world stopped through coronavirus and live music as we knew it ground to a halt. Artists have had to get inventive, delivering gigs from the comfort of their own home or, as we have seen more recently from Laura Marling and Nick Cave, in eerily deserted venues.
Marling and Cave’s virtual gigs set a new, high bar for such performances and now, adding to that list are L’Impératrice who last night delivered a magical set from their native Paris.
The band pre-recorded performances for nine of their standalone world-wide shows, each one unique to the country with a personalised introduction and support slot from a local artist for that city’s ticket holders. The London edition saw the excellent Lynda Dawn bring some soulful funk to her gospel-influenced vocals via an inspired living room session.
“Since this show is a virtual one, we wanted to do things that we usually can’t,” lead singer Flore Benguigui told the London at-home audience from a rooftop garden in Paris. “We wanted to make the experience truly unique,” she added, as the six-piece troupe began by stripping back their delicately layered electro-funk with acoustic renditions from their much-lauded debut, ‘Matahari’.
Performing against a backdrop of Parisian landmarks with the Eiffel Tower visible from afar, the delicate ‘Parfum thérémine’ was an early highlight, its cinematic leanings suiting an acoustic, string-centred uncovering especially well. The sad-banger baroque pop of ‘Masques’ chimed with the setting of the dreamy sunset, as did a lo-fi reworking of ‘Sonate Pacifique’ – one of the group’s biggest hits to date.
For a group known for their love of joyous dance, it was perhaps inevitable L’Impératrice would bring us a virtual dance floor at some point during their recording. Sure enough, at the gig’s mid-point, the location switched to the grandiose La Cigale – one of the oldest dance halls in Paris.
“Keep cool, we wouldn’t spend a night with you without dancing our asses off,” Benguigui shouted, as the stream cut to the band strutting to the disco, dressed to the nines in sparkly suits. “Get up, move the table to the corner and create your own dance floor!”
Against a sea of giant disco balls, the band combined the vintage and the experimental on excellent new song ‘Fou’ which, under normal circumstances, would have surely seen La Cigale’s stalls bouncing. For now, your downstairs neighbours will have to take the brunt.
Leaning towards Air’s more cinematic soundscapes and Daft Punk’s electro-pop – with some added funk and disco thrown in for good measure – it’s matched later by the dramatic art-disco of ‘Agitations tropicales’. Underscored by the impressive Thundercat-like bass of David Gaugué and funky guitars from Achille Trocellier, it’s the perfect soundtrack for a late-night dance-floor.
Bringing in an array of vintage synths and percussion added bite to songs like ‘Voodoo?’ and ‘Erreur 404’, Tom Daveau’s drumming once again a highlight of their live outings. Also impressive was their minimalistic stage-set up, which mirrored that of electro-pioneers Soulwax. Members moved between instruments with greater confidence than in previous live outings and Benguigui’s own turn on the synths is a standout moment of the set, reminiscent of Georgia at her most experimental.
For the rave-inspired ‘Pianotrack’ encore, it was a case of all synths on deck as Hagni Gwon and Charles de Boisseguin pulled out all the stops for this ten-minute blast of pure hedonistic escapism. Still unreleased, it’s a staple of their live sets and usually showcases their ability to unite a large audience in huge moment of shared catharsis. A group well-known for their ludicrously fun sets, this still managed to translate from afar.
Like the many great French electro artists who have preceded them, L’Impératrice promise to be dance-pop pioneers, bringing dance and disco into the 21st Century. Their show was a masterclass in doing a virtual show with thoughtfulness, artistry and fun: it was another game changer for showing just what this new medium can really achieve.