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Le Couleur’s Electro-Disco is Montreal’s Contribution to French Touch

With an overall aesthetic that's about blurring lines and smudging boundaries, this three piece French-Canadian band prides themselves on doing things differently.

Photo courtesy of Antoine La Rochelle

It’s time you got acquainted with a trio of sophisticated French-Canadians whose sultry, retro-futuristic sound is unlike much else coming out of Montreal. Comprised of singer Laurence Giroux-Do, guitarist/keyboardist Patrick Gosselin, and drummer Steeven Chouinard, electro-disco act Le Couleur have built a sizeable fan base across French-speaking Europe since the release of their debut 2010 EP Origami, setting the tone for their distinctly lithe basslines and throbbing, tongue-in-cheek earworms.


Tucked away in Montreal's east end, I meet all three at Le Couleur’s jam space as they gear up for an impending European tour. First item on my checklist: getting to the bottom of the glaringly intentional grammatical gaffe that is their band name (for those with limited French proficiency, it should read “La Couleur”). “We’re really inspired by English music; that’s what we listen to the most,” supplies Chouinard. “We were inspired by names like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. It’s never anything other than ‘The Something’. We wanted to play around with this non-gendered thing.”

The other two agree, although Giroux-Do issues a slight caveat. “We’re picking it all apart, but when we settled on a band name, we came real close to being Moccasin or Tipi! In hindsight, though, we can really see it was a divine calling.” She speaks the truth, as Le Couleur’s songwriting and overall aesthetic are all about blurring lines and smudging boundaries. Take “Télé-Jeans”, for instance, one of the songs on the band’s synth-laden third EP, Dolce Désir, released in February. On it Giroux-Do commandingly coos: “Fille ou garçon / on se pose la question / une robe et un pantalon” (“Girl or boy / we’re asking ourselves / a dress and a pant”).

Those gender-bending instincts may be part of the appeal, but Le Couleur’s charm heavily hinges on its cheeky, phonetically-minded songwriting. Although the band initially channelled French chanson, they’ve always made it clear there was nothing particularly profound or poetic about their percussion-powered disco delicacies. “Honestly, we’re no Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel or Félix Leclerc,” clears up Giroux-Do, who argues that criticism of French-language music places too much emphasis on lyricism. “As artists who sing in French, I feel like there’s a certain amount of pressure to move people to tears, when we just really want people to dance, to belt out our hyper poppy choruses. If you think of “Voyage Amoureux”, there’s nothing very deep about it, but it’s fun! Our chief concern is making things sexy, chic and moody.”


While Origami channelled Gainsbourg and early synth pioneer François de Roubaix, and Voyage Love (2013) was heavily indebted to Metronomy, this latest offering found the group circling back to their early love for French Touch. Chiefly, Daft Punk, Air and Sébastien Tellier, whom they consider to be group faves. “Tellier’s Sexuality is such a fine example of sophistication and simplicity, two things we’ve always strived for,” enthuses Patrick, who singles out Tellier as an artist they all instantly bonded over. “It’s repetitive but so well produced that you never want it to stop. That’s why it’s so sexy. The guy’s a freaking genius.”

Where France has long boasted a thumping electro-disco scene, Quebec has sorely been lacking. Le Couleur thinks that’s merely symptomatic of the province’s very particular musical heritage. “Montréal is very folky and melancholy,” reasons Chouinard. “That’s all well and good, but it’s just not us.” Feeling a tad isolated on an island ruled by rock demigods when they first got Le Couleur off the ground, Chouinard paired up with producer/manager Julien Manaud to launch Lisbon Lux Records two years ago, filling a disco-oriented void in the city and signing Montreal talent such as Beat Market, Das Mörtal and Fonkyson. “From day one, the aim of the label has been to give greater prominence to Quebec’s electro-disco artists,” explains Chouinard, “When we organized the first Lisbon Lux night,” recalls Julien, “officialising the label and celebrating the launch of Le Couleur’s video for “Vacances de 1987”, many people from the local electronic scene showed up, which confirmed that there was a need for this—that we catered to a different community than Dare To Care, Grosse Boîte, Audiogram or Arbutus.”


Shopping around Le Couleur’s sound as their manager, Manaud became conscious of the impasse on the local front. “For other labels, the priority was selling 30K copies of records province-wide, and I knew that was not likely to happen with this kind of project. I mean, Le Couleur has been to Liverpool and New York, but never to Chicoutimi or Sherbrooke. It’s not snobbery, just picking one’s battles. We often talk about Todd Terje as an influence and in New York, I won’t be afraid to drop his name in discussions with bookers, whereas in Tadoussac, people are going to be like, ‘Todd who?’”

While we’re on the topic of delightful Norwegians with great facial hair, Le Couleur has taken a few performance cues from the disco-inclined musician’s live antics. “He’s a DJ first and foremost, and he performs his songs as one would a DJ set—starting off with the slower, more downtempo fare, and gradually upping the ante until we’re in full-blown party mode,” says Chouinard. “It’s basically a non-stop crescendo, like in a club, and it’s something we’ve recently applied to our own live shows.”

As Le Couleur secures its stronghold over eighties arrangements and sensuous moods—as evidenced by their recent, long-take video for “Club Italien”—Chouinard warns me that their next release will have more distortion and more bite. It then dawns on me that Le Couleur has made it thus far on the strength of its three well-received EPs. A telling illustration of the disconnect between musicians and industry, according to Giroux-Do, who thinks decision makers must catch up with consumers. “Everyone buys singles now. Music consumption habits have changed but the industry isn’t looking inward. It’s like climate change: we know it’s happening but we’re not going to do anything about it.”

With prizes such as the Polaris and Quebec’s ADISQ still shunning EPs altogether in favour of the more traditional album format, Chouinard adds there’s nothing less substantial or worthy of merit about a four-track offering. “Take The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour EP. Even though it had first-rate tracks like “I Am The Walrus” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” It was totally overshadowed by Abbey Road or Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, because these were ‘official’ albums. We work on every project as an album, and refer to them as albums, too. I feel like all these distinctions only exist in the minds of those who create them. Kind of like Quebec’s English/French divide.” Winking at Giroux-Do, who can’t help but crack up upon hearing him bring identity politics into the mix, Chouinard draws his impassioned EP defense to a close. “Those things just don’t exist to me; they’re pure fabrications.”

Michael-Oliver Harding is a culture writer living in Montreal - @olivermtl