Skip to content

Montreal’s nouveau New Wave

Automelodi makes electronic music vital by staying true to its organic roots

So far, much of the attention that Montreal band Automelodi has garnered centres on the fact that their songs are written in French. To single out a band for this in the big Quebec seems odd – that is, until you listen to the five tracks on Automelodi fait ses courses. “There is a certain set of influences, that seem to always pop up in current production,” explains frontman Xavier Paradis, “and as soon as you get out of this set of influences you stand out.” The 2008 Pop Montreal program expressed surprise that the band is not British; their shoe-gazing, romantic sound recalls New Order and The Smiths rather than the chansons of Quebec or even the typical indie sound of Mile End. Automelodi is part of a francophone-indie renaissance, in which a host of French-language bands have picked up the baton of the anglo-dominated Montreal music boom of a few years ago.

It’s difficult for a band to get attention when they sing in French, but even more so when they reject the Quebec norm. “There is a very limited francophone star circuit, and it tends to be limited to a certain mainstream category,” says Paradis. “There’s not as much media space for diversity to come through.” Paradis may not have record companies lining up at his door, but the musician, who produces acts including Plaza Musique, and Jef and the Holograms by day, hasn’t lost faith in his work. “What initially gets you into doing music,” he says, “is trying to make what you hear in your dreams, or definitely not on the radio…. Either you choose to abandon it or you keep pushing forward. You keep shovelling clouds,” he says, offering a Quebecois expression.

Paradis moved to Montreal from Quebec City in 2000, after releasing a couple of dark dance tracks in the vein of Kraftwerk. “Now anyone can do similar things with just a laptop, but I still had to synch up tapes with a computer,” Paradis recalls of his efforts in the nineties. He quickly met some musical comrades in Montreal, and they began performing as Echo Kitty. Automelodi was born in 2006; “I really felt there was a new context and new songs needed,” Paradis explained. “I wanted to, not necessarily turn my back on everything, but do something a little more personal, hence the name change.”

With Automelodi, Paradis is trying new things, including writing songs in English. Though their output is almost entirely in French so far, the band certainly isn’t beholden to Bill 101, the law that made French the sole official language of Quebec. “To refuse to sing in English would be like renouncing a musical instrument that I like,” says Paradis; the band currently has two songs in English. While most musicians turn to exotic instruments to achieve a worldly sound, Paradis considers every language a unique instrument that is played differently. “I’ve seen some French web sites that tried to correct our name,” Paradis recounts. “They tried to add an accent. There is no accent. I really wanted the name to be non-language specific; Automelodi could be German or Italian. I would sing in four or five languages if I could.”

Automelodi is influenced mostly by British acts, especially Brian Eno. “Eno didn’t do things in a strictly electronic way, and we also integrate some organic elements, real drums, some guitars,” the singer says of his band’s sound. Automelodi tags itself as electronic, but it certainly falls more in the tradition of eighties synth-pop than contemporary electronica. Organic is the key word here, as their songs don’t sound like something made in a lab, but on a stage. The swooping guitar of premier single “Buanderie Jazz,” played by Patrick Gosselin, recalls Johnny Marr, and the ambience evokes a Joy Division song more than Eno’s compositions. Paradis’s anglo tastes have even affected his Quebec French giving him a bit of an English swagger.

Their influences might be easy to pick out, but Automelodi never sounds tired. They take Brian Eno’s aesthetics to the dance floor and use seductive synths to induce nostalgia for right now. The world of Automelodi is French New Wave soundtracked by eighties New Wave-vaguely sinister but efficiently upbeat.

The EP release show was April 4 at the Green Room. The EP is available for sale on the band’s MySpace and at Atom Heart Records.