By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
In many ways, Stereo Total's François Cactus and Brezel Goring are musical ambassadors with a potluck aesthetic: Their pop-addled eccentricity bubbles with playful goofiness and irony, riding an eclectic mix of girl-group pop, garage-surf, new wave fervor and burbling electro-pop grooves. Their pan-cultural approach is further infused with a childlike innocence reminiscent of The Ramones and similarly disguises a more sophisticated sense of humor.
Whether celebrating Patty Hearst, professing their love for Ringo Starr and Yoko Ono (in separate songs), or longing for a superficial life in "Plastic," the act's joyous bemusement frequently engenders a smile.
And, like their music, Cactus and Goring are hipster products of different cultures: France and Germany, respectively. United by an allegiance to the '80s "genius dilettantism" movement, which shares an amateurist philosophy with punk and dada as channeled through boundless affection for pop culture, they discovered one another in Berlin during the early '90s after helming other bands (The Lolitas and The Sigmund Freud Experience) for years.
"We are inspired by a lot of movies, French cultural stuff, older hippie stuff, revolutionaries and completely out-of-fashion stuff," Cactus says backstage before a concert in Cleveland. "Our songs are a mess. Like our brains."
On this tour, the duo's supporting the new Anti Love Song 7-inch, whose cover features a crocheted Courtney Love (Cactus is a visual artist as well) beside a syringe and dollar sign. It's highlighted by a pair of humorous tracks, " I Wanna Be a Momma" and "(I Hate) Everybody in the Discotheque." The former was originally written by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar in the '70s before he went into film, and features Goring professing his desire to have a child, name him Lucifer "and exploit him well." In the latter, Cactus affects the curmudgeonly attitude of someone who's been to the club a few too many times.
But, clearly, for these Europeans, nothing's been lost in translation. Indeed, if there's an overriding lesson the duo's learned in more than 15 years of touring, it's that their worldwide audiences actually have a lot in common.
"Wherever we go, we always find people that are coming from the same place," Cactus says. "In Brazil, we met some people, [and] we have the same trends they have. I think the world is very small."
But, now, as the duo currently finishes work on its ninth LP—with several songs already written and dedicated to Andy Warhol, Divine and cotton candy—Cactus and Goring have also noticed a number of differences between American and European cultures.
"If there are 100 people in Germany playing a certain kind of music, here [there are] 100,000," Goring says. "There are much more things coming out, and things are moving much more. This is why so much is invented here, because there are so many cultures in one country and so many people who are in entertainment."
That, Cactus adds, is why she and Goring enjoy playing in the States as much as they do.
"In Europe, when you are a musician, you are suspicious," she says. "When you come to the airport, they send you directly to the special control area. Here, music is more a part of the civilization. And so, when you come, it's, 'Hello, guys, what kind of music are you doing?'"
Unlike the most practiced ambassadors, though, Stereo Total doesn't have an easy answer to that one.