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Babylon Circus

(FR)

Never Stop? All right then, but rewind, just like teenagers used to do with the tapes they swapped like a blood oath. You give me rock and I’ll give you reggae – and vice versa. As so often in the music world, BABYLON CIRCUS were friends long before they became a band.

The two singers David and Manu have known each other since high school. It was the late nineties in Roanne in central France and what else was there to do in a small town than to hang out and smoke joints, watch the lorries go by on the main road and dream of being somewhere else? No mention of BABYLON CIRCUS back then, just the Stones, Bob Marley, and The Clash. They couldn’t even make it to gigs by Bérurier Noir, OTH and La Mano Negra. It’s worth pointing out that, although they never came to blows over music, Saint-Etienne-born Manuel Nectoux had been surrounded by reggae from an early age and made regular trips to see his father, who lived in the Jamaican part of Hackney in London, while David Baruchel was born in Grenoble and listened to the same music as his mom and her little brother, whom David calls his “substitute father”. The non-conformist uncle was the frontman of various alternative punk bands, had lots of experience with smoky bars and derelict factories, and took David as a singer and guitarist on a busking expedition to Lille in the late eighties. Early, you say? Not for someone whose mum gave him his first 45-rpm single Argent Trop Cher/Au Coeur de la Nuit by Téléphone at the age of five, before he started to worship his two holy trinities: the Stones/The Clash/The Police on the one hand and Renaud/Higelin/Gainsbourg on the other. As for Manu, he got two Bob Marley & the Wailers tapes at the age of 10 and they sealed his fate. He built up a personal pantheon with, at the top, the great Bob’s song Punky Reggae Party about the contemporary punk bands during his London exile in 1979. Never stop.

David and Manu met through their first high-school band in the early nineties. Singer and guitarist David was looking for a drummer, Manu played drums and soon they became friends for life. They emigrated to Lyon, where they settled on the fertile musical slopes of the Croix-Rousse with High Tone and Le Peuple de l’Herbe. They cemented their friendship with many a shared musical influence and went on discussing the links between punk and reggae including The Specials’ ska 2-tone. They launched BABYLON CIRCUS together in 1995 and it developed into a truly collective project at the beginning of the noughties, after they released the albums Musika (1997) and Au Marché des Illusions (2001). The nine band members set up a second home (for some) midway between Saint-Etienne and Lyons, a mixture of phalanstery and garage, kibbutz and kolkhoz. It was a good place and they still stop there from time to time for a break from BABYLON CIRCUS’s relentless touring, which began in their home area, then took on the whole of France and finally spread to every thinkable country. They have now played over 1,500 gigs in 35 or so countries, from New York’s Central Park to the Sziget and WOMAD festivals.

Their 2004 album Dances of Resistance saw Manu give up juggling drums and vocals to devote himself entirely to singing front-stage with David. They both felt that a change was needed after a decade of BABYLON CIRCUS, but speeded things up. David fell over during a live performance in Moscow and almost died. “My brain was in bits,” he says after suffering double concussion and spent several months recovering from his accident, making the band’s very existence uncertain. The other band members, the long-standing manager and artistic coach Karim Troussi, who had more experience of the theatre than of TV shows, not to mention the late Patricia Bonnetaud (Tryo’s Ladilafè), closed ranks to cope with the challenge. Writing their new album La Belle Étoile in autumn seemed like a group therapy session, even if it’s tempting to say that it was the involvement of outsiders, such as Mickey 3D, Java’s vocalist and David’s famous uncle and mentor on the song Cigarette, that drove this wonderful renaissance. They repeated this positive experience of welcoming other influences on the next album. BABYLON CIRCUS were recording in their new headquarters in the 18th arrondissement of Paris by now, with their regular sound engineer, Laurent Guéneau (Sinsemilia, Cesaria Evora, Khaled, etc.) and their associates Georges on guitar and Olivier on keyboards, who usually teamed up with David and Manu in the studio. By the time La Belle Étoile came out the following year and was hailed by the critics for songwriting based on their tried-and-tested blend of rock and reggae, BABYLON CIRCUS had already moved on to the next project. Never Stop.

That’s what the fifth album is called, its name coming from one of the songs. The band is now back to full strength and is unstoppable. When David and Manu discussed what their new album should be about, they soon decided on the theme of change – from your thirties to your forties, from community life to living as a couple or on your own, from prolonged adolescence and fatherhood, from accident to recovery, from the pure and simple protest of punk to the powerful lyrics of rock. Rock, the first love they shared as youngsters alongside a certain fun, French brand of reggae (the heir to ska, skank rock and rocksteady). That’s exactly why BABYLON CIRCUS represent a kind of link between the generations, as they show on If The Kids Were United. David and Manu have grown in strength since the annus horribilis of 2007 without ever becoming sectarian, and to write even better songs they’ve teamed up with some fine musicians including Leeroy (ex-Saïan Supa Crew) and Polo, the tireless singer with the wonderful Satellites from 1985 to 1993. If anyone thinks that BABYLON CIRCUS have taken their time since 2009’s La Belle Étoile, they should keep in mind that for the first time ever the band gave themselves six months off from touring to finish recording the album Never Stop and then made their long-awaited return to the stage in March 2013.

Another chapter in a story of lasting friendship – one that never stops.

Tour Dates

Show Dates
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Past Dates
Date City Venue
12.02.14
DE - Kiel Pumpe (Support: Matteo Capreoli)
13.02.14
DE - Hamburg Fabrik (Support: Matteo Capreoli)
14.02.14
DE - Berlin Lido (Support: Matteo Capreoli - sold out!)
15.02.14
DE - Köln Gloria (Support: Matteo Capreoli)
16.02.14
DE - München Ampere (Support: Matteo Capreoli)
22.08.14
DE - Odenwald Sound Of The Forest Festival
22.05.15
DE - Eichstätt Open Air am Berg
23.05.15
DE - Ulm Ulmer Zelt
24.07.15
DE - Megesheim Der Krater bebt
25.07.15
DE - Lindau Umsonst & Draußen
07.08.15
DE - Eching Brass'n Wiesn Festival
08.08.15
DE - Rothenburg o. d. Tauber Taubertal Festival
09.08.15
DE - Eschwege Open Flair
15.07.17
DE - Koblenz Horizonte Festival
16.07.17
DE - Karlsruhe Zeltival

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