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Phoenix: History and Origins of the French Rock Band

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Formed in the suburbs of Paris, France in the late 1990s, Phoenix started off playing cover songs in bars. After releasing their first single independently, they caught the attention of a record label, who gave them national exposure when they performed on television alongside the electronic duo, Air. Their 2000 debut, "United," found some European success and was followed by their sophomore effort four years later. After some touring and album number three, Phoenix had their mainstream breakthrough with 2009's "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix." They performed on "Saturday Night Live" and charted on the U.S. Billboard chart. 2013 saw the release of "Bankrupt!" featuring the single, "Entertainment." In this video, we take a look at the musical origins of Phoenix.

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They’ll be anything you ask and more. Welcome to, and today we’re taking a look at the musical origins of Phoenix.


Alternative rock band Phoenix formed in the suburbs of Paris, France in the late 1990s. Consisting of vocalist Thomas Mars, bassist Deck d’Arcy and guitarist Chris Mazzalai, the group’s early days were spent playing as a garage band. Mazzalai’s brother and guitarist, Laurent Brancowitz, joined them soon after the demise of Darlin,’ his rock trio with future Daft Punk musicians Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter.


The quartet initially developed their performing skills by playing cover songs in various French bars, but soon began writing and recording their own music. Now known as Phoenix, the band embraced a do-it-yourself work ethic and released their first single on their own label.


Their rock sound attracted the attention of Source Records, which was the label of French electronic duo Air. Phoenix made some of their first television appearances alongside Air during this time and even incorporated some electronic sounds into a non-album single in 1999.


Phoenix unveiled their full-length debut the next year. United was an alternative rock effort that integrated diverse instruments like harp, saxophone, trumpet and more. It also featured several guest contributions, like synthesizer played by Daft Punk’s Bangalter. While the record charted in France and Norway, some of its singles landed on the UK charts and gained exposure through a few American feature films.

Sophomore Effort

It took four years for Alphabetical to hit stores, but fortunately, it was able to reach more European charts. Some of its tunes even found their way into American video games and television shows.


Phoenix spent the next few months bringing their distinctive rock style to the masses by performing shows around the world. The Scandinavian leg was captured and released on 2004’s Live! Thirty Days Ago.

UK and U.S. Critical Recognition

Two years later, the band found themselves on the UK charts with It’s Never Been Like That. The album was also well received by U.S. critics and gave Phoenix some time in the American spotlight after rock band Paramore covered the single, “Long Distance Call.”


Following a Kitsuné Tabloid compilation, the band dropped Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix in 2009. Using the producing and mixing talents of Phillipe Zdar from the French duo Cassius, Phoenix crafted a slick alt rock, synthpop and New Wave effort. Preceded by a “Saturday Night Live” appearance and the rock radio popularity of “1901,” the album became their mainstream breakthrough. In fact, it pierced the top forty of the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and found more alternative radio success with “Lisztomania.” Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix also made multiple year-end lists and earned a Grammy in 2010.

Movie Music

That same year, the foursome kept busy playing live and composing music for the film “Somewhere.” That drama was written and directed by Mars’ future wife, Sofia Coppola.


Though they tried more sonic experimentation with their next record, Bankrupt! still had the signature Phoenix sound. Prior to its 2013 release, the band gave fans a taste of the new material with the song “Entertainment.”

Major Musical Force

Thanks to their blend of pop and alternative rock with synthesizer-influenced electronic and experimental music, Phoenix became a major force on the scene. As critical darlings and music festival favorites, they will continue to see their star rise and rise.

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