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Although the French band Phoenix draw elements from their eclectic '80s upbringing, an electronic-leaning production style gives their sound a crisp, contemporary sheen. Debut album United appeared in 2000, featuring a guest appearance from Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk) and production work by Philippe Zdar (Cassius). The group's mainstream breakthrough came with 2009's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, also produced by Zdar, a worldwide hit thanks to frequent exposure for singles "1901" and "Lisztomania" on television, advertisements, and the video game Rock Band. In 2019, Phoenix even published a memoir, Liberté, Égalité, Phoenix!. Phoenix grew out of the garage band vocalist Thomas Mars, bassist Deck d'Arcy, and guitarist Christian Mazzalai played in while growing up in the suburbs of Paris. Mazzalai's older brother Branco joined the band on guitar when his band Darlin' disbanded in 1995. The group got its start playing on the French bar circuit, doing Hank Williams and Prince covers to drunken audiences. Two years later, the band took on the name Phoenix and pressed 500 copies of a single on its own label, Ghettoblaster. The A-side was a punk rock song and the other a chugging Krautrocker, hinting at their eclectic tastes. Shortly afterward, they were signed to the Paris-based Source Records. Phoenix became well acquainted with labelmates Air when they performed as their backing band on several U.K. TV appearances. The result of the electronic exposure was a single called "Heatwave," which was very similar in approach to '70s disco. United, the group's debut album, appeared in 2000 on Astralwerks and was recorded over two months. The album featured guest appearances from friends and family, including Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk), Philippe Zdar (Cassius), and d'Arcy's mother's choral society on the track "Funky Squaredance." From that point, Phoenix issued Alphabetical (2004), It's Never Been Like That (2006), and their mainstream breakthrough, the critically acclaimed Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009). Part of the extended break between the third and fourth albums was due to Mars becoming a father (with his partner, director Sofia Coppola). Soon after finishing the Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix tour, the band reconvened in Adam Yauch's studio Oscilloscope Laboratories in late 2010 and embarked on some experimental recording sessions. They continued in Paris the following year and completed recording in 2012 with the help of co-producer Zdar, then mixed the songs on the console used to mix Michael Jackson's Thriller. The results, Bankrupt!, appeared in April 2013. Phoenix began work on their sixth album in 2014, taking a break to appear in A Very Murray Christmas, a Netflix holiday special directed by Coppola. Largely recorded in an old opera house refurbished into a museum, concert hall, and tech incubator, 2017's Ti Amo channeled the joyousness of Italian discos and summertime into a defiant response to the political and social struggles of the late 2010s. In the fall of 2019, Phoenix published a memoir titled Liberté, Égalité, Phoenix!, coinciding with their 30th anniversary as a band, as well as marking almost 20 years since their debut album and ten since the release of the Grammy-winning Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix LP. The oral history book, which included photos from Phoenix's personal archive, was written with the help of Guardian deputy music editor Laura Snapes. They also started working on new music at Paris' Motorbass Studio.
© Diana Potts /TiVo
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