I don’t remember exactly what year it was when I first heard French band Les Rita Mitsouko. I do remember that it was thanks to one of the wizards at WZRD—late one night in the early 90s, somebody played an entire side of the band’s 1986 album, The No Comprendo. Perhaps whoever it was just needed to duck out of the booth for a smoke break, but this mystery DJ made me a fan of the band’s mix of punk sensibilities and jazz-influenced synth-pop.
Les Rita Mitsouko were a duo of singer Catherine Ringer and multi-instrumentalist Fred Chichin, formed in the late 70s as Rita Mitsouko (“Rita” for Hayworth, “Mitsouko” after the misremembered name of a Japanese dish they’d eaten together). They added the “Les” in 1985, after achieving some popularity—audiences got confused and assumed “Rita Mitsouko” was Ringer’s name.
My editor hit the nail on the head when I posted about their song “C’est Comme Ça” on Instagram last month: “I just looked up some Les Rita Mitsouko, and wow that shit is EXTREMELY French.” How French are Les Rita Mitsouko? I was going to give you a “ta maman” joke here, but I don’t need to—Les Rita Mitsouko are so French that they’re featured in one of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1980s films.
In fact, when Godard filmed the band for Soigne Ta Droite: Une Place Sur la Terre (known in English as Keep Your Right Up), they were working on The No Comprendo. They were huge in France and Europe in the late 80s and early 90s, owing in part to the creative videos they made with French photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino; his video for “C’est Comme Ça” helped get them some long-overdue notice here in the States when it premiered on MTV in 1987.
In 2007, as the duo were working on what they’d decided would be their final album as a band, Chichin passed away from cancer. Ringer continues to perform as a solo act, and in December 2020 she released a box set (two CDs or three LPs, plus a DVD) called Catherine Ringer Chante Les Rita Mitsouko à la Philharmonie de Paris, which captures two live performances of the band’s songs from 2019. Her backing band for those shows included guitarist Raoul Chichin, her son with Fred, and the album artwork is by their daughter, Simone Ringer. French audiences have responded warmly and immediately to Ringer’s revival of Les Rita Mitsouko’s songs, and she seems to be enjoying this return to the spotlight, doing interviews and launching a band TikTok. v
- Jean-Baptiste Mondino, who directed the “C’est Comme Ça” video, worked with David Bowie on “Never Let Me Down” the same year.
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