The Music Alliance concert was a treat for fans of Electronic Dance Music

To conclude a series of celebrations on turning 60, the Alliance Française of Madras organised a Music Alliance concert in association with the Tamil Nadu Department of Museums, and the result was a treat for fans of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) in Chennai.

L’Impératrice — Italian for The Empress — is a French cosmic dance, funk and house music band featuring five musicians — Antoine Bigot, the DJ; Charles de Boisseguin on synth; David Gaugué on bass; Hagni Gwon on synth and Martin Neumann on guitar.

The band and its music belie expectations, starting with the name, which is Italian rather than French, and possibly a reference to the scandalous 1934 Marlene Dietrich film The Scarlet Empress. Their music is a guide to several pop cultural icons as well — from songs named after iconic French actresses, Dario Argento horror films and James Bond movies.

Their self-professed genre of cosmic dance may seem like a reference to the Hindu mythology of Lord Nataraja, but it’s actually a synthesiser-heavy, African beats-based branch of EDM that originated in Italy in the mid-1980s. While L’Impératrice sounds a lot like British funk and acid jazz band Jamiroquai, the band claims to be inspired more by their compatriots Daft Punk and American singer songwriter Donna Summer and her producer Giorgio Moroder.

Getting upbeat

The band played a dozen songs, kicking things off with ‘A View To A Kill’, like the 1985 James Bond movie that started things off with a gentle tempo while the next track ‘Aqua Dance’, was more upbeat. They followed that with their maiden EP ‘L’Impératrice’, which was an idiosyncratic spin on house music, or, like Charles said, “It was like the beautiful girl on our poster but instead, it is just five hairy guys, like us, on stage.”

The band usually has an artiste who raps as part of their group, but he didn’t make it for this trip. So, they stuck to playing instrumental versions of their songs. This just made their music sound quintessentially EDM, with a post-modern twist as their songs contained wry references to quirky art house films and events.

‘Blonde et Brun’ for instance was about the friendship between actresses Brigitte Bardot and Annie Girardot. ‘Suspiria’, a track that feigned horror-film vibes, was based on the cult 1977 Dario Argento horror movie of the same name and they even finished it off with a “boo!” for added ironic chills. Their most danceable track ‘1998’ was a pastiche of the kind of French house music the band grew up listening to in the 1990s while ‘Naufrage’ was a moody song about the sinking of a ship in the Adriatic Sea.

They finished off with a cover version of the Daft Punk song ‘Voyager’ from their second album Discovery that got the most claps but the audience didn’t let them go until they did an encore of their eponymous track.

The concert was meant to be an open-air, outdoor one but rain forced a change of plan to move it inside the Museum Theatre. It would have been great music to dance to but the indoor setting didn’t deter the audience from joining in, by clapping to the beats and grooving in their seats.

Rock stars

The band, having performed already in Delhi and Bangalore, now goes on to Pune, Mumbai, and Puducherry as part of its six-city tour of India that, Charles said, made them feel like “rock stars”.

In Chennai, they definitely performed like rock stars and gave the audience a taste of the kind of EDM that isn’t just ambient music.