Electro swing traces its origins back to the 1990s, with bands like Doop and Jurassic 5 experimenting with swing in hip hop, house and EDM. It wasn’t until the late 00’s that the sound began to truly become its own genre.
Caravan Palace’s appearance on the scene in 2007 in France at their first festival, the Django Reinhardt Jazz Festival began to cement the sound of electro swing from an experiment to a style.
Arnaud Vial, Charles Delaporte and Hugues Payen began as a trio with a passion for swing, playing guitar, double bass and violin respectively. It’s rumored that they scored porn together, which seems to have been confirmed in this AMA. Looking to start a touring band, the trio searched for members to add to their ensemble. They posted on Myspace looking for more talent interested in combining new with old, EDM with swing, and they found Zoé Colotis and Chapi(Camille Chapelière), their vocalist and clarinet/sax player, followed later by Antoine Toustou and Paul-Marie Barbier on electronics/trombone and percussion.
Pulling influence from Django Reihnardt’s “gypsy” jazz, Vitalic and Daft Punk’s EDM and Lionel Hampton’s big band and swing, they found their sound and began touring. Caravan Palace released Jolie Coquine as a single and then their first studio album the next year. Self-titled Caravan Palace, this album was a hit in France and did well across Europe. It reached #11 on the charts in France and stayed on the charts for 68 weeks.
Self Titled is fun, with sampled music mixed with their acoustic performances and a healthy dose of heavy bass and dancing beats from EDM. It was a very distinct sound that is a blast to bob your head or full-on dance to. It still feels a bit experimental, playing with the balance of old and new, swing, EDM and jazz.
After their first album, they continued to tour around France and Europe and released a second single, Suzie, which is a fun tune.
Rock it for Me
In 2010, the band took a break from touring to work on their next album. They often worked separately, sending ideas and clips to each other until they finally produced Panic. This album has a lot of variety, taking some more influence from the 40s along with earlier 20s/30s swing influence. Overall Panic feels a bit more contemplative than Self Titled, particularly with tracks like Sydney and Glory of Nelly. It keeps the sound popularized by Self Titled, but it takes some time to slow things down when it needs to. Self Titled may have pioneered the new sound of electro swing, but Panic really cemented it.
Lone Digger (probably NSFW)
Between Panic and their next album, more and more e-swing bands began to appear on the scene. Caravan Palace began to see the genre circle itself, following a lot of the same conventions and tropes. Looking to keep electro swing alive, they took a new direction with their 2015 album, <|°_°|> (styled “Robot Face” when spoken). It goes further toward new EDM, with some unique sounds and beats. The electronic sound brought new life to their library, with some very very catchy beats that still mixed well with their earlier, more acoustic sounds.
This was the album that got me into Caravan Palace, but the change was a bit divisive for fans. To some fans, leaning into EDM didn’t sound as good as their other stuff, but for me Lone Digger is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard.
Throughout all of their studio work, Caravan Palace has retained its personality as a touring band, bringing the sound of this new swing to stages across France, Europe, and the world. When performing, they bring all kinds of energy to the stage, with cool light displays, awesome acoustic performances and dancing. When I saw them live, at one point Zoé brought a (pretty drunk) older lady fan on stage and danced with her. Few bands have as much personality on stage as Caravan Palace, and it’s hard to compete with how upbeat their music is mixed with how good of a frontwoman Zoé is.
Rock it for Me (Live)
Caravan Palace is a pioneer of their own sound and they continue to work toward making interesting songs, combining old with new while never forgetting to make the music swing.