TOTALITARIAN STATE “What is special about Stereo Total is that we don’t look like musicians,” says Stereo Total singer/drummer Françoise Cactus (left).
The experience of watching Stereo Total (pronounced "to-TAL") live is a little like watching one of those old Hanna-Barbera cartoons — say, Scooby-Doo
, where one second the gang are driving along in the Mystery Machine and the next second a rock song is playing. Usually these two events are divided on your TV screen by swirling colors and the sound of a chiming calliope. Five seconds of rock and then back to our show with no explanation. I believe they call this incongruity.
But Stereo Total don't intend the vibe of a normal band, and on their latest disc — Baby Ouh! (Disko B), with homages to heroes like Andy Warhol, Divine, and Pedro Almodóvar — they make explicit their love of trash and kitsch. "If you open up a music magazine, you always see a bunch of guys looking really cool," says singer/drummer Françoise Cactus. "What is special about Stereo Total is that we don't look like musicians."
Cactus is the French-born half of the longstanding Berlin duo, with German-born guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Brezel ("Prezel") Göring. And for the past 15 years, the pair have been mystifying the music business with their perseverance and moderate but consistent success. In industrial-design terms (to indulge their German side for a moment), Stereo Total are a machine that runs simply because it works. A three-piece drum set, an out-of-tune guitar, a basic sampler, a synthesizer, and a couple of shitty microphones — these are the only tools the duo need to rock the party all night long, weaving among languages (German, French, English, Spanish, and Japanese) with their tasteless tales of perversity, inanity, and (sometimes) melo-dramedy.
Any journalist who writes that Baby Ouh! shows any growth or maturity deserves to have his or her Sam Goody "Replay" card taken away. In their 1995 debut, Oh Ah!, Stereo Total hit the underground with the saucy typewriter sounds of "Dactylo Rock" and a version of Salt-n-Pepa's "Push It" that suggested one of those goofy practice-room recordings where the bandmembers are switching instruments. Unabashedly fun from the beginning, the duo have always begged the question of whether what they create is novelty music. They themselves have a strict policy of not listening to their albums once they're released.
When Cactus met Göring, she was living in Berlin and had quit her garage-rock/French-pop band, Les Lolitas, after they began to sound too polished. Her philosophy is as simple as it sounds: "I want everything to be necessary. If you didn't do it, then there would be no music at all." After noticing each other around the city, the two linked up. It was then that Cactus discovered that Brezel was a member of the Sigmund Freud Experience — a band whose records she found not only excellent but also funny. ("It was really special German music because especially Germans are not really groovy!")