Monarchy are the latest installment in the history of mystery in pop. Very little is known about them apart from the fact that there are two and that the sound they make – swirling, symphonic, electronic bliss-disco with coolly emotional vocals – could have come from two or three times as many musicians. They are rumored variously to be French, Canadian and English, and they live and work in London.
Their tale has only just begun, and they arrive fully-formed – no messy, tortuous back-story for them. They launched with a single song and one image on a MySpace with no friends in late 2009, just an admission of admiration for star constellations to tantalize and intrigue. One Tweet later and they were all over the blogs, and yet because they didn’t show themselves the rumour-mill went into overdrive. Was this Tiga disguised, or a breakaway unit from Hot Chip, or Soulwax or Stuart Price or Paul Epworth? Nobody knew. Some got them confused with The Monarchy, a heavy metal band from Montreal. But they did not respond to the conjecture, choosing instead to let the music speak for itself, and put out another track - Black The Colour of My Heart. With no identity and no links, they exist within a bubble, and as a result the focus is on the music.
Monarchy have a powerful message of intent – to massage the masses with mesmeric synth mantras – but they won’t be shouting about it. It’s as though they have some secret agenda or manifesto only known to them, and they are now executing it with clinical precision. Each piece of drip-feed information, every press shot or new track, has been honed and approved by the secret high-council ahead of release.
They didn’t waste time in rehearsal rooms or gigging in dive bars. They snapped into action: soon after launching the project, the remix requests started rolling in. Starting with Penguin Prison on Neon Gold, they quickly moved onto Fyfe Dangerfield, reworking his track into an early-‘80s disco-drenched anthem. Marina and the Diamonds and Ellie Goulding soon followed, and now they are remixing Kelis, Jamiroquai and Lady Gaga herself.
But the focus of their strategy has always been their original material. The first single was Gold In The Fire, released on limited-edition 7” through Neon Gold. The next single, Phoenix Alive, is already set to grace the track-listing of the Kitsune 9 compilation, and is released on This Is Music.
Monarchy are terse where their music is intense, secretive where their songs are sublime. They aim to retain their mystery, less as a way of protecting themselves and more as a means of projecting an aura, a non-presence that could perhaps be described as that old-fashioned commodity, “mystique”.
In January 2010 they were going to play their first gig and reveal themselves to the world, but they changed their minds, and pulled the show on the day. And so the hidden agenda - the secret manifesto - continues to be executed. No worrying about publicity and the practical considerations of explaining their modus operandi for them. It really is all about the music; that plus a sense of divine confusion about who they are and how the hell they do what they do.
And what they do is produce songs – slithers of elegiac melody set to grandiose orchestral disco arrangements - out of thin air. There are precedents, of sorts. Monarchy’s singer is a fan of Prince and Jeff Buckley, admits to liking “a lot of jazz chord progressions” while the production half of the duo favours electronica from Pink Floyd to Bjork, Jean Michel Jarre to Art Of Noise. Their individual tastes intersect at Stevie Wonder and Daft Punk.
Monarchy’s songs – bearing evocative titles such as Floating Cars, Gold In The Fire, Black The Colour Of My Heart and The Phoenix Alive – are dolorous but danceable, poignant yet with the polish of perfect pop. “You couldn’t play them in Ministry Of Sound on a Saturday night,” state Monarchy, “not the originals anyway. It’s music for lovelorn bloggers.”
They explain that a Monarchy song is usually “very personal” but not always – Floating Cars is “more global and flippant, a comment on how technology is replacing religion.” A Monarchy song can be a statement, but mostly they’re about emotions and relationships. Black The Colour Of My Heart is based on personal experience.
“Our music is melancholy yet optimistic,” they further. “We like to hear optimistic songs, or at least melancholy songs with an optimistic outlook. We like that bittersweet element.” When asked whether there was a single song that provided a kind of blueprint for Monarchy’s majestic, minor-key techno pop it was 10cc’s landmark of ‘70s studio invention, I’m Not In Love, which featured the Manchester four-piece’s vocals lushly layered on top of each other, via the wonders of multi-tracking, literally thousands of times, as well as a lyric that seemed to say one thing and mean another.
“The production was incredible,” they enthuse, “and we loved the lyrical aspect, the ambiguity of meaning. Superb.”
Monarchy are such fans of music they call it “an affliction from birth. Some would call it a calling. We could make loads of money elsewhere, but we choose the path less travelled, which is more perilous. But we need to do it. Ultimately it satisfies something deep within us. It heals a wound.”
It is possible to detect in Monarchy’s music a love of ‘80s synthpop and electro-funk. “There is some sonic influence there,” they agree, “some ‘80s disco basslines and vintage drum machines. Some of the ‘80s stuff - with its strong melodic base and solid production - is great. We like early Depeche Mode, OMD, and weirdly A Flock Of Seagulls – groups where the production is solid and tough. The same with The Cure – they had amazing songs, with depth and integrity. Eurythmics are one of our favourites from that era because of the way they took influences from soul and funk but were still synthy.”
And yet Monarchy are not ‘80s fetishists. Like Stuart Price, Fred Falke, Colder and Junior Boys they manage to reference the past yet still sound contemporary. Trevor Horn won’t be finessing their debut album. It will be self-produced, with a shimmering attention to detail, and a sense of the fantastical being brought to bear on songs about love and longing. And it will all happen behind a veil of secrecy that is very Monarchy.
They will, they insist, remain in the shadows in press shots and be shrouded in videos, although they may well reveal themselves live. Throughout, they’re determined that in all aspects of their presentation, the spotlight will be on the songs.
“So many artists shove themselves down people’s throats,” they contend. “We didn’t really intend it to be a statement in itself, we just didn’t want to expose the minute details of our personalities. We wanted to allow the music to breath in itself. But it does become a comment on the cult of personality. That will be one of our biggest challenges, especially now, in this age of information overload. But actually, we think people are bored with the accessibility of so many artists. We’re treating our listeners with intelligence, and they’re responding well.”