Unless you are a monomaniacal specialist of the 80s, there is very little chance that Cha Cha Guitry will ring any bell. And yet this band, buried away in Saint-Etienne – at the very heart of France – could have rivalled easily with Elli & Jacno or Telex. Emblematic of that French touch which tinged new-wave with a bit of sunshine, their electro, retro-futuristic songs have that slight sweet and sour flavour between casualness and sophistication.
The birth of Cha Cha Guitry in 1981 was a landmark for its members, Serge, Dominique, Charly and Marie. High-school friendships and love stories helping, it is in a most spontaneous way that these art lovers formed their band. Once their hippie phase was over, the guitar, sax and flute were abandoned in the closet while machines took over: an EMS AKS synth, a Roland SH101, a Roland TR808 rhythm-box. The two couples met in the congenial atmosphere of their “home studio” to record their songs. The boys composed and sang, the girls sang and designed minimal costumes, the elegance of which was enhanced by some DIY touches: no need for fabric, paper will perfectly do.
As deceivingly offhanded stylists, the Cha Cha crew carefully crafted a music that was both studied and charmingly quirky, making collages of pop raw materials and avant-garde stuff. Scissors in hand, they took what they wanted from the Bauhaus, Moholy Nagy, or Sonia Delaunay’s dresses, taping these iconic bits onto the sounds of Kraftwerk and what remained of pop culture (comics, movies, songs of the 30s or easy listening). Cha Cha Guitry, wisely ingenious, modelled tropical landscapes out of cellophane, thus elaborating its own synthetic surrealism. We’ll offer as evidence the title “Les Yeux Ouverts sur les Beautés d’Aujourd’hui” (“Opening Our Eyes to the Beauties of Our Days”), borrowed from a handbook about mechanics. “We were aware of the beauties of the decade, both visual and aural. That was the spirit of Cha Cha. It was like living in an inspiring utopia: we were at the wheel of a bubble, driving at full speed through the 80s!!!”
The adventure would not last more than a few years, just long enough to record two cassettes on Kronchtadt Tapes (a local label central to the underground scene that was more into punk) and give three concerts. “It was difficult to play our music on stage with studio synths, so we figured out a system in which the fifth member was a Revox. It throned among us on stage, playing the soundtrack as we sang live.”
As isolated as they were in Saint-Etienne, they got nevertheless noticed by Alain Maneval who programmed them regularly on Europe 1, and they could even be heard on Radio Gay. So they went to Paris to meet a manager from Virgin, but they never got the luck, rare in those days, to release a vinyl. Their arty, pop style was also too DIY for Agnès B’s freshly opened shop: their second cassette, though wonderfully packed in a Plexiglas case resembling an icicle, was not to the brand’s taste.
Serge has been living in the same flat since 1975 and never got rid of his synthesizer. The studio where Cha Cha would record its songs has not changed a bit. Everything has been kept, ordered, archived, from the piles of magnetic tapes to the hundreds of Polaroid shots. We are happy to offer you a selection of them.
Greetings from Synth-Etienne!