Early evening at the Dresden in Los Angeles is a 1960s time capsule. Rat Pack music plays over the curved white leather booths that line the red walls. All of a sudden, bleach-blond keyboard player Marlon Magnée enters, wearing black leather pants and a fez hat, and he's followed by drummer Noé Delmas in a poncho and a paper wolf mask. Guitarist Sacha Got, with slicked black hair and a rose-embroidered shirt, maneuvers into a booth. Behind him rolls percussionist Nunez Ritter von Merguez, a muscly, mohawk-mulleted guy who looks like a 1930s mechanic in a sleeveless tee and leather vest. Bass player Sam Lefèvre ties a napkin, bandit style, around his neck. Finally, lead vocalist Clémence Quélennec alights on a chair. La Femme is here. The energy of the room has tilted completely—it is young, helter-skelter, ironic, and animated.
The six-member Paris-based band recently played at the Roxy in West Hollywood as part of their two-month North American tour. Their sound, which catapulted them to the top of the digital charts in France when they released their debut album, Psycho Tropical Berlin, last year, is psychedelia electro-punk: heavy on synths and drum beats, with a quivering surf guitar that keeps things light. The music is propelled by the dreamy, urgent vocals of Quélennec and a sensibility that's a bit Kraftwerk, a bit '60s rock, and has rallied considerable fans: around 500 people in Tijuana; college crowds that went wild in Chapel Hill. ("With real red cups," marvels Ritter Von Merguez, "like a teen movie where a guy jumps in the pool naked.")
Magnée and Got, 23 and 22, respectively, grew up in the surf town Biarritz and do all of the writing and visual direction. "The first time I heard surf music was when I was 12 and saw The Wanderers," says Magnée of the 1979 Philip Kaufman film that featured the song "Wipe Out" by the Surfaris. That same kind of dizzying guitar reverb threads through their work. "Sometimes the lyrics are very sad, but the melodies are funny," explains Magnée. "We like the contrast." They also have a penchant for the surreal. The combined video for their songs "Amour dans le motu" and "Witchcraft" is an eight-minute Vietnam-meets-British-colonialism trippy dream. "I heard the arpeggiator in the beginning go pom, pom, pom," Magnée says, imitating the thumping. "I said, ‘Okay, I want a helicopter.' "
Tapped last year by YSL to cover Chuck Berry's "Oh Baby Doll" for a mascara ad starring Cara Delevingne, La Femme isn't quick to surrender creative control. Still, "Sometimes you have to do lucrative stuff so you can work on other projects," admits Got. "Like Robin Hood," adds Lefèvre.