Sitting and listening to Saint Etienne, you may believe you’ve just discovered an exciting 60’s French pop band, but these incredible three with their totally addictive tunes are born and bred Londoners and are still writing fantastic songs today.
Their groovy TR-909 backbeats revive a classic club culture sound from the ’60s which they merge with elements of 80’s dance music and a pinch of rock, soul and whatever they’re listening to at the time to form an extremely energizing and nostalgic mesh of character. Their upbeat tunes certainly bring light to even the gloomiest days, which is why now is a perfect time to let yourself fall deep into their phenomenal back catalogue.
In 1990, childhood friends Bob Stanley, at the time an NME music writer, and Pete Wiggs, a journalist and DJ, set about to create a band which would have no lead singer, but instead a host of guests supplying voices for their club, synthpop and dance tracks.
As children, Bob and Pete together would create mixtapes of the many artists who would later inspire their music.
They moved to Camden and recorded their debut album ‘Foxbase Alpha’ which has since become a hit record in the underground world, featuring tracks such as ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart,’ a house-tinged cover of Neil Young’s classic hit, as well as many original tracks each as great as the next.
Some tracks on the album, especially the trippy ‘Wilson,’ use voice samples in place of a vocalist, looped sentences spoken by older women and children create a slightly eerie but also trance-inducing feel.
Very soon, Sarah Cracknell, who featured as a singer on the bands hit track ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’, became a permanent member and vocalist for the band and went on to sing all of their later releases, touring with them extensively.
Since their debut album first propelled them beyond the success of many artists which Bob and Pete had written about in NME and other papers, they quit their jobs to focus on the band full time and have been extremely prolific in their output. The quality of their tunes has never seemed to falter, with years of experience in their roles as music journalists, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs certainly know a thing or two about how to make a great song, and they keep on amazing us today.
Their recent 8th and 9th studio albums ‘Words and Music by Saint Etienne’ (2012) and ‘Home Counties’ (2017) have started to explore different and more experimental avenues, with new production techniques being implemented, the band are very much starting to play around with their sound.
In an interview on the 25th anniversary of their third studio album ‘Tiger Bay’, songwriter Pete Wiggs said: “Most Saint Etienne albums are a product of whatever we’re listening to at the time.” Commenting on their third album he said, “At the time we were listening to folk music and techno at the same time.” A method which certainly gives each album its own character.
I’ve featured a lot of their music videos in this article because although I discovered them many years ago, Saint Etienne are just one of those bands who simply do not make a bad song.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything from the band since their last album in 2017, over lockdown many artists have been writing and writing hard, and we’re super eager for them to spill the beans about anything new they may be working on.
On Twitter last month, the band uploaded a picture of a cassette with ‘Tiger Bay Unreleased’ written on the cover, something which has excited fans intrigued to see what may be around the corner.
It looks as if we may have to wait a while for these three to treat us to new music, but until then we may have some unreleased content to hear!
Something we were also given this year was an awesome mixtape released by the band titled ‘Songs For The Fountain Coffee Room,’ a compilation album by Sarah, Bob and Pete featuring some of their favourite tracks which they describe as “fit for a bar in mid-70;s Los Angeles.”
The mixtape is available now on CD from ACE Records.
It’s great to see them work on a project which echos the roots of founding musicians Bob and Pete, and their days of compiling mixtapes together as children long before the band. This almost seems a special hommage to their long-lasting partnership and a reflection of how far they’ve come.
Listen to Foxbase Alpha now – it’s not an instruction, it’s a demand, thank me later!