Les Rita Mitsouko: an enigmatic history remains largely unheard of by Aussies

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Les Rita Mitsouko: an enigmatic history remains largely unheard of by Aussies

Les Rita Mitsouko
Words by Jack O'Shea Ayres

The talented pair remained active well-into the 2000s, releasing their final album Variety in april of 2007, before the unfortunate death of Chichin later the same year from cancer, ending the group’s career as Les Rita Mitsouko. 

Les Rita Mitsouko; a global phenomenon born out of the French new-wave scene which inspired the sounds that later made bands like Daft Punk, Modjo, and Stardust who they are. A band who, however, remain largely unheard of by Australian audiences. 

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The iconic and critically-acclaimed French pop-duo of the 1980s saw multi-instrumentalist Fred Chichin and Catherine Ringer join forces out of the French new-wave scene; first forming in 1979, the duo reached audiences internationally with their blending of elements from punk, jazz, electronic, and musical theatre, but the duo remained largely unheard of by most Australian music fans. 

Finding a significant European audience in the middle of the eighties thanks to albums like The No Comprendo and Marc et Robert, the duo’s openness and adventurous approach to music, art and theatre saw them constantly reinventing themselves and by the mid-90s, Chichin and Ringer’s work saw them producing musical scores, collaborating with filmmakers, fashion designers and artists to the likes of Sparks and Iggy Pop

The talented pair remained active well-into the 2000s, releasing their final album Variety in april of 2007, before the unfortunate death of Chichin later the same year from cancer, ending the group’s career as Les Rita Mitsouko. 

The duo first joined forces in the spring of 1979, when Chichin and Ringer found themselves working together on the same theatre production. After their first interaction, the pair became inseparable, and their powerful chemistry as a duo saw them leaving the production to form their own rock band, with Ringer taking care of vocals and Chichin handling most of the instrumentation as an extremely talented multi-instrumentalist. The pair debuted as The Sprats later the same year, performing around local clubs and bars for a short time before rebranding as Les Rita Mitsouko, taking the name of French actress and stripper Rita Renoir and combining it with the french perfume Mitsouko. 

Maintaining a presence in the world of theatre, the pair became a popular act due to their highly-stylised look and mix of minimalist art-pop and new wave, going on to compose the musical score of Armando Llamas’ D’Aux Limites shortly before the playwright’s death in 1981. 

The duo released their first single “Minuit Dansant” after signing with Virgin Records in 1982. But, it was the pair’s B-side “Don’t Forget the Nite” which saw them become a radio hit and quickly re-release the track on top. 

Global Stardom and Unusual Collaborations

Les Rita Mitsouko’s success quickly transcended borders. Their 1986 release of The No Comprendo featuring the hit single “C’est Comme Ça,”  catapulted them to international acclaim. They followed up with collaborations which further solidified their status as genre-defying pioneers. In 1988, they worked with iconic composer and producer Tony Visconti on the album Marc & Robert which included a warmly welcomed collaboration with American pop group Sparks on “Singing in the Shower”.

The band’s international appeal continued to grow, and they embarked on world tours, earning fans across Europe, the U.S, and Asia. They even made waves in Japan, where they recorded the live album, En Concert avec l’Orchestre Lamoureux.

The Mystery of Australia’s Deaf Ears

For all their global triumphs, Les Rita Mitsouko remained an unsolved puzzle in the Australian music scene. Despite their innovative sound, catchy tunes, and critical acclaim, the band’s music never seemed to find a foothold down under.

One could speculate the language barrier played a role. Many of Les Rita Mitsouko’s songs were in French, and while this never hindered their popularity in non-French-speaking countries, it could have been a contributing factor in Australia. Yet, language alone doesn’t explain the silence surrounding them here.

Missed Opportunities and Hidden Gems

Les Rita Mitsouko’s lack of recognition in Australia is a missed opportunity for music enthusiasts. Their catalog boasts a treasure trove of eclectic songs that defy categorization. Tracks like “C’est Comme Ça” and “Le Petit Train,” offer glimpses into the band’s playful and experimental side.

Their unique blend of art and pop is a testament to their creativity, with music videos which act as visual feasts. One need only watch “Singing in the Shower” or “Andy” to appreciate their avant-garde approach to storytelling.

An Enigmatic Legacy

The band’s enigmatic legacy continues to captivate listeners around the world. Tragically, Fred Chichin’s passing in 2007 marked the end of Les Rita Mitsouko as a duo, leaving Catherine Ringer to navigate a musical world without her artistic partner. However, her solo work, including the album “Ring ‘n’ Roll,” is a testament to her enduring talent.

Les Rita Mitsouko’s influence can be heard in the music of contemporary artists, from indie pop to alternative rock. Their willingness to push boundaries and their fearless exploration of different musical styles left an indelible mark on the industry.

Rediscovering Les Rita Mitsouko

While Les Rita Mitsouko may remain a mystery to many Australian music lovers, it’s never too late to dive into their rich discography. With streaming platforms making music from around the world easily accessible, their songs are just a click away.

Listening to their music today, it becomes evident why Les Rita Mitsouko enjoyed such widespread acclaim during their heyday. Their songs are timeless, with a vibrancy and creativity which transcends language and culture.

Les Rita Mitsouko’s story is a testament to the ever-evolving landscape of music appreciation. Despite achieving global stardom and acclaim, they remain a hidden gem in Australia, their music waiting to be discovered by a new generation of listeners.

Their innovative sound, quirky lyrics, and charismatic performances are a testament to the boundless creativity which can emerge when two artists come together with a shared vision.

 While they may not have found their way into the Australian music scene during their active years, Les Rita Mitsouko’s legacy lives on as a testament to the power of musical exploration and artistic collaboration. Perhaps, in time, their music will find its rightful place in the hearts of Australian audiences, allowing this French new-wave duo to shine brightly on Aussie shores. 

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