To the naked ear, Radio Radio are a bunch of French guys rapping and dropping a handful of English words here and there (ça et là). But they’re really more of an enigma. For starters, they sing and rhyme in Chiac, a language (or dialect depending on who you ask) native to New Brunswick and parts of Acadian Canada. Marie-Ève Perrot wrote her doctoral thesis on Chiac describes the language as “the integration and transformation of English lexical, syntactic, morphological, and phonetic forms into French structures.”
Gabriel Malenfant, one half of Radio Radio, describes the language’s resurgence to Beyond Words in 2012. “[Chiac] is being legitimized because it’s being seen and used more now…there are a lot more comfort zones where you can talk how you want to talk. I think just communicating how you feel is more legitimized now, because the platforms are there.
“That’s why the idea of Radio Radio and the joie de vivre around the band is implicitly saying that no matter how you talk, be comfortable talking,” continues Malenfant.
Radio Radio formed in Clare, Nova Scotia in 2007 and the band released it’s first EP, Télé Télé that same year. The band soon released their debut LP Cliché Hot in 2008 and within that year the band moved to Montreal. “I was the first guy to say lets do it,” exclaims Malenfant. I always had a crush on Montreal and a passion for music and culture and djing and all that stuff.”
The band’s first single from Cliché Hot “Jacuzzi” is a hilarious song about an oversized hot tub. It’s rife with examples of all sorts of unsexy things that the band might want to do in it (at least that’s my Anglophone-take on the whole thing). “Ej mange des onions rings dans ma Jacuzzi/Chaque jour c’est Noël pis ej paye point d’taxes.”
Two years later, Radio Radio released their second album Belmundo Regal. An album full of dancehall bangers, stylized electronic beats and some serious tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Standout tracks include “Guess What?”, “Tômtôm”, “Cargue´dans ma chaise,” and “Dekshoo,” a song that highlights some of the merits of wearing deck shoes.
Following the release of Belmundo Regal, recognition and success grew exponentially. Radio Radio won four awards including an Independent Music Award for Rap/Hip-Hop Album in 2011 and a Miroir for Best Hip-Hop/Urban performance at the Festival d’été de Québec. The band was shortlisted for a Polaris Music Award Prize in 2010. Not only did this put the group on a national stage, but the comparisons to a French version of The Beastie Boys were drawing thin.
Havre de Grâce was released in 2012, and while it wasn’t an instant classic like Belmundo Regal, it did have more depth, and an eclectic, yet serious tone. Elements of jazz shine through, and arguably the production peaks on this, the band’s third LP.
Finally, we’re back to the present and able to talk about the band’s most recent LP, Ej feel zoo. Radio Radio have slimmed to a duo (but perform live as five), and their newest release is all about the party. Ej feel zoo roughly translates to “I feel zoo” and toys with the idea of not just feeling like an animal, but feeling like an entire zoo.
Malenfant describes the album as a less serious counterpart to Havre de Grâce. “I think this is more in the spirit of freaking out. The last album was a bit more ambient in a sense. It was less straightforward, more trippy and atmospheric. It wasn’t an enigma by any means, but for us, is wasn’t as much as a high energy party album compared to Cliché hot. You know? This album was an answer to that. It’s like the second part of a wedding. The first part is more formal in a sense and then you start freaking out. It was an album made for the [live] show.”
After four LPs, the band hasn’t lost their sense of humour and the album’s opener “50 Shades of Beige” is proof of that. “Nevermind le black on black/Nous c’est le beige/Le beige on beige.“ I honestly can’t tell if the song’s a parody of 50 Shades of Grey or the band just really likes khakis.
The band’s mix of fashion sense, driving beats and how do you say – je ne sais what – feels like a perfect fit for this year’s STRUTT. “For me, fashion as a principal is – you can do whatever you want as long as it’s fun and as long as you don’t take it too seriously. As long as you know it’s only a shell and the real importance is who you are deep down inside,” says Malenfant.
“So that’s when you can enjoy yourself and not take anything too personally. So you can wear some freaky stuff and it doesn’t phase you.”
As for the creation of Ej feel zoo, the band went into a few studios to find that perfect balance. The album shares the raw spirit of their live show, while not having to give up production value. “We did one big session where we normally do it in Nova Scotia and in Alexandre’s cottage – somewhere we can go and just make noise and freak out basically and create a party atmosphere and an atmosphere where you can let it all hang loose. Compared to like when you do it in the city, the animal instinct and there the whole primitive vibe has a harder time coming out – so when we are there usually it comes out pretty well,” recalls the rapper/vocalist.
“We did a couple other sessions – one in a ghetto studio, Alexandre [Bilodeau’s] studio in Montreal there was like a leaky pipe and stinky carpet. That was one session. Then there was a super nice high-end studio in Montreal. This album we had a bit of everything in terms of places of creation.”
Gabriel Malenfant graduated from the University of Moncton with an MBA. He studied international finance, marketing, business and integrated communications. He also taught at the University before leaving for Montreal. While business doesn’t always mix well with art, the rapper explains how Radio Radio keep an eye out for branding while focusing on their art first. “Marketing is the art of positioning something to someone’s mind and that’s what we do. As opposed to a product- that’s very market driven – the pure part of the creation is doing something that make you happy,” says Malenfant. “We’re not marketers trying to figure out what makes someone else happy. First and foremost we want to make us happy. The artist idea should dominate. If you’re too business about it then you’re not being honest with yourself. The idea is to something really honest and then help position it and communicate it and share it.”
If Ej feel zoo is all about feeling wild like animals, what kind of animal spirit does Malenfant feel represents him? “I’ve always been into monkeys and I’m a monkey sign. I [recently] discovered bonobo monkeys. Compared to being a male-dominated society, they’re more maternal there’s less alpha domination and one other great part about them is they use sex for trade. It’s a very sexual monkey and it uses sex not for domination but for pleasure straight up.”
Find out more about Radio Radio and to learn all their songs before STRUTT go here: