What started out as a joke has turned into a national phenomenon in France.
In 2007, Clément Marchand and Alexandre Castagnetti began taking to the streets of Paris on Saturdays to make YouTube videos of themselves singing original and comedic pop numbers.
In the video series, Marchand sits to the left strumming his guitar while Castagnetti plays the keyboard beside him. The duo’s musical style varies immensely, but it always carries a distinctly folk flavor with an ironic twist. Think a French version of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords.
The duo finally hit it in big with "Le Petit Cheminot (The Little Train Conductor),” a whimsical tale about an Englishman arriving in France only to find that everyone is on strike. Uploaded October 2007, the video—billed as episode five of their second season—has reached nearly three million views on YouTube to date
“It was a catchy pop tune that we sang in French with an English accent,” Castagnetti explained to The Daily Dot in a webcam interview. “A lot of people who starting discovering us thought we were from the U.K.”
Called La Chanson du Dimanche (The Song of Sunday), a reference to when the duo’s videos are posted, the two have since become something of an indie sensation in France for the millennial generation. Their Facebook fan page has over 150 thousand likes and they sell-out concert venues across Europe.
“It was the first of its kind here.” Castagnetti recounted. “Others had put clips of their music online, but we were the first to have these sort of virtual weekly gatherings. People loved it.”
Marchand and Castagnetti started their music careers while studying engineering at the university level in the late ‘90s. The musical group was composed of seven back then, and they posted recordings twice a month to a now-defunct website.
The problem was that nobody listened.
“At the time, almost nobody in France had Internet,” Marchand recalled. “High speed did not even exist. It was all 56k modems.”
Nearly 10 years later, the duo tried again with a different format—YouTube.
“It was just good timing,” Marchand said.
With two children each to support, the duo must work jobs alongside of their online music careers. Marchand works as a math tutor while Castagnetti is a part-time film director and screenwriter. For political reasons, the duo has refused to engage in advertising despite lucrative offers. One company, for example, offered the duo 100,000 Euros (about $130,000) to star in a campaign about windows.
“100,000 Euros, that’s 50 times the monthly income of a school teacher,” Marchand vented. “The teacher to whom we give are kids, who takes care of them 6 hours per day, 5 days per week. We make YouTube videos.”
“We won’t sell out for a 100 000 Euros. At 200,000...maybe,” Castagnetti laughed.
While Marchand and Castagnetti don’t refer to themselves as communists, an average American might. The two are politically engaged, with many of their songs touching on salient political issues. They are stalwart supporters of Jean-Luc Melenchon, France’s far left-wing candidate for Sunday’s presidential elections. They even made an upcoming concert free for anyone with the first name Jean-Luc.
But above all, the duo’s political conviction lies in keeping the Internet open.
“It’s something really amazing, the Internet, its culture, our ability to share because of the Internet,” Marchand said. “It’s really a revolution.”
Photo by Khomille