Stereo Total’s genius vocalist, drummer and sonic ringleader Françoise Van Hove, aka Françoise Cactus, passed away at home from breast cancer at 57.
Over her three-decade career, Françoise Cactus created a vast and versatile discography spanning new wave, punk, yé-yé, disco, and extraordinarily creative synth-pop. She formed Stereo Total in 1993 with Brezel Göring, and the duo went on to create sixteen albums together. No slouch in the language department, Cactus would sing in English, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Turkish.
Their bonkers cut-and-paste compositions referenced psych and garage-rock, as well as midcentury French-pop in the vein of Françoise Hardy, Jacques Dutronc, France Gall, and Brigitte Bardot, but infused that same creative spark found in their hip-hop contemporaries. Stereo Total covered everyone from Salt N’ Pepa to The Plastics to KC and the Sunshine Band, all with an irreverent DIY aesthetic and playful energy. In the same vein as the B-52s, Odelay-era Beck, the Avalanches, and Paul’s Boutique-era Beastie Boys, Stereo Total gleefully galloped around the soundscapes of multiple genres, regurgitating completely unique musique concrete aural collages. They’d throw in eyebrow-raising samples of heavy breathing (a nod to lusty Serge Gainsbourg tracks), unorthodox instruments, and chanting incantations. For instance, Wendy Carlos’s eerie soundtrack title for A Clockwork Orange was yanked into the stratosphere in Stereo Total’s spoken-word, dance-paced Orange mécanique. The band would also incorporate cartoonish sound effects such as percolators, bleeps, bloops, typewriters and zany guitar twangs straight out of a dopey 60s beach movie.
Originally from the Burgundy region, Cactus left France in her youth for greener pastures in Berlin. She founded the girl group Die Lolitas in the mid-80s. Die Lolitas ended up becoming one of the few Western bands to play officially unsanctioned gigs in East Berlin during the final years of the dictatorship. She met Brezel soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the two forged their own new path as adept mashup adaptors. The group made their biggest impression with the 1997 cult classic Monokini, as well as Oh Ah! and 2001’s Musique Automatique. Most recently, Stereo Total released their 2019 album Ah! Quel Cinéma!.
Stereo Total found great success in the European electro-punk scene. Françoise Cactus proudly defied the mainstream music industry, choosing her own path instead. She was an iconoclast, a visionary, a trailblazer, and a brilliant musician. In later years Stereo Total gained a new audience and appreciation through licensing to advertisements across Europe, reviving their popularity in the public imagination.
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Françoise Cactus, you will be sorely missed.