A witty French-German duo with a kitchen-sink approach to pop music, Berlin's Stereo Total combine punk, hip-hop, disco, '60s pop, and rock from France, the U.K., and the U.S., as well as electro and new wave elements into their own intentionally, subversively trashy style. Taking inspiration from all the reminders of socialism that East Berliners threw away in the early '90s, Françoise Cactus and Brezel Goring's early albums, such as 1995's Oh Ah!, were vibrant, noisy collages of styles relegated to the trash heap and tongue-in-cheek covers of hits ranging from KC & the Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight" to Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It." The duo's musical and cultural dumpster diving grew a little more sophisticated on 1999's My Melody and 2001's Musique Automatique, but retained the smart joie de vivre of their previous work. Later in the 2000s and 2010s, Stereo Total found different ways to express their trash-pop aesthetic. Along with quintessentially bold, cheeky efforts like 2016's Les Hormones, they expanded their repertoire to include composing film scores and more pensive albums such as 2019's Ah! Quel Cinema! With all of their releases, Stereo Total proved they could make music as catchy as conventional pop and as committed to challenging society's norms as more traditional underground art.
Stereo Total formed in 1993, when Françoise Cactus, the French singer/drummer with the West Berlin garage rock band the Lolitas, met Brezel Goring, a German singer/multi-instrumentalist whose previous projects included Haunted Henschel and the Sigmund Freud Experience. Together, they came up with a manifesto for Stereo Total that was in favor of cheap gear and influences discovered through records found at the flea market, and against big labels, slick recording techniques, and trendy sounds. The duo soon became a fixture of Berlin's easy listening scene, and signed to Bungalow Records, a label founded by the DJ crew Le Hammond Inferno. Stereo Total's manifesto — along with chanson, Neue Deutsche Welle, rockabilly, and the works of Wendy Carlos — informed their 1995 debut album, Oh Ah!, and 1997's Monokini. By 1998's Juke-Box Alarm, Goring and Cactus were dabbling in 8-bit sampling. That year, the eponymous collection released by Bobsled Records introduced Stereo Total to an American audience, and the band toured Europe and Japan as well as the States. With 1999's My Melody, the duo delivered an album of songs about love that included a cover of the Japanese new wave band the Plastics' "I Love You, Oh No!" that they wittily renamed "I Love You, Ono."
After a decade of consistent touring and recording, Stereo Total expanded into composing film music. Their soundtrack to Underwater Love, a "pink musical" by director Shinji Imaoka, arrived in 2011. The following year, Cactus Versus Brezel, which Stereo Total recorded in a '60s vintage Los Angeles with producer Gus Seyffert, was released in Europe; it appeared in the U.S in 2013. The compilation Yéyé Existentialiste followed two years later, along with another soundtrack, Ruined Heart. The duo returned in 2016 with Les Hormones, their first album consisting entirely of original songs and featuring production by Cactus. On 2019's Ah! Quel Cinéma!, Cactus and Goring contrasted their typically upbeat songs with more somber moments. ~ Heather Phares