Retro-Futuristic Aesthetics and “Broken Heart Syndrome” Inspire New Album From L’Impératrice

Photo Credit: Théo Gosselin

In the video for “Hématome,” released on March 11 by French six-piece disco group L’Impératrice, a gorilla tries to fit into the human world and is broken-hearted when she can’t do that. It’s a devastating and beautiful animated sci-fi clip directed by French artists Roxane Lumeret and Jocelyn Charles, and produced by Studio Remembers. 

“The funny thing is that they deliver a very different interpretation of the song,” says Flore Benguigui, singer for  L’Impératrice, on a recent video call from Paris. When Benguigui wrote the lyrics in French, she was thinking about breakups, social media and ghosting – “finding that somebody disappears from your life, but at the same time, is still accessible through social media,” she explains.

The team behind the video imagined a different story for the song, but, Benguigui notes, their take also fits the lyrics. “Crazily, it really works and it’s not the same interpretation at all and it’s not the same way that I feel the lyrics,” she says. “For me, that’s very interesting because it really gives another life to the song. It opens it to another audience and another reading. They really did an amazing job with that song.”

For L’Impératrice, aesthetics are very important. “We don’t release many videos,” says keyboardist Charles de Boisseguin, “but every time we have to choose a song, we make sure that the director that we’re going to work with shares our references and influences.”

The same can be said for the cover of Tako Tsubo, the band’s sophomore album, released March 26. Illustrated by comic book and animation artist Ugo Bienvenu, who also co-founded Studio Remembers, the cover depicts the Moirai, or Fates, from Greek mythology with a sci-fi edge reminiscent of the late, great French cartoonist Moebius. “That’s why we work with him, because we share those references – Moebius. Maybe Roy Lichtenstein,” says de Boisseguin. 

The album takes its name from the medical phenomenon sometimes known as “broken-heart syndrome,” where the heart’s left ventricle weakens as the result of a physically or emotionally stressful event. 

As she was writing for the album, Benguigui noticed that her lyrics were tapping into situations of “being on the edge of things, being different in all kinds of ways.” She  heard about the takotsubo phenomenon on a podcast and it struck a chord with her. “The idea of the takotsubo is about creating a rupture in the continuity of things,” she says. “An emotion just gets too big and overwhelms everything and just breaks the course of things.” 

L’Impératrice began working on the album in early 2019, while staying in Morocco. Following a tour of the U.S. and Mexico, they continued writing and recording in France. “It took us almost a year to compose,” says de Boisseguin. 

That a tour came in the midst of the process impacted the results. “I think that the new album has been fed by all these different places and also by the tour,” says Benguigui. “Probably, this also influenced us a lot because it was a big experience for us.” 

“The fact that we discovered new fans, a new audience, in L.A. and New York. D.C., Chicago and then in Mexico, gave us new ideas to compose this album,” says de Boisseguin.

For Tako Tsubo, they worked with producer Renaud Letang. The album was mixed by Neal Pogue (Tyler the Creator) and mastered by Mike Bozzi , who won a Grammy for this work on Childish Gambino’s single “This Is America.” 

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the band opted to write and record one more song for the album, “Submarine,” while the members were situated in home studios in different parts of France. Normally, Benguigui explains, when they write and record, they work in teams, so the process of creating “Submarine” while physically separated wasn’t particularly difficult for them. They were able to send each other parts for the song and build off of them. “That was a really cool experience because it was maybe the only good memory we have of the lockdown,” says Benguigui. 

Throughout 2020, they teased fans with material from Tako Tsubo. A video for “Fou” was released in early April. Live clips for “Voodoo?” and “Anomalie Blue” followed in June and December, respectively. They kickstarted 2021 with a killer video for “Peur des filles.” Directed by Aube Perrie, the clip draws from mid-20th century design and campy sci-fi and horror movies, building on the retro-futuristic aesthetic influences that they appreciate. “The costumes, the set design was incredible,” says Benguigui. It was also an intense shoot, she says, with lots of fake blood. 

“We spent four or five hours under the table with our heads on some plates with real food.  It was really long and really smelly,” de Boisseguin recalls. “I was basically stuck under a table with meat on top and I couldn’t move to scratch my nose or anything.”

The result, though, was impressive, something de Boisseguin likens in style to the Tim Burton film Mars Attacks.

Says Benguigui, “It was worth it.” 

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