Pleymo spearheaded the French neo-metal movement in their early years, experimenting with a fusion of screaming metal guitars and hip hop. But the six-strong band from Fontainebleau have now mellowed towards a more melodic rock sound. Renowned for their explosive live performances, Pleymo have sold over 100,000 albums to date, exporting their French rock sound as far afield as Japan.
The Pleymo story began back in 1997 with a private joke that grew into a band name. The group's future lead singer, Mark, sported a strange bob haircut as a child – a haircut that was uncannily similar to the one favoured by the plastic Playmobilfigures which were all the rage with kids at the time. Much to Mark's embarrassment, a photo of his younger self and his strange haircut surfaced in his teenage years, provoking an outburst of mirth and mockery amongst his friends. The friends in question were casting about for a name for their group at the time and, changing the "a" in Playmobil to an "e", they hit upon the idea of Pleymobil.
The group – which consisted of Mark (on vocals), Matthias (on guitar), Benoît (on bass) and Fred (on drums) – were based in Fontainebleau, south of Paris. But their formative music influences were primarily international, ranging from Rage Against The Machine to bands like Korn and Primus. The foursome soon developed their own distinctive sound, experimenting with a hardcore fusion which had taken the U.S. by storm: neo-metal. (Or, in short, what happens when hip hop groove meets screaming guitars and snappy rap phrasing!) By 1998, the band had shortened their name to Pleymo, recorded two demo tapes, recruited DJ Frank into the band and swapped Matthias for a new guitarist, Erik.
The band went on to set up a collective with a number of other like-minded groups including Enhancer, Aqme and Wunjo, calling themselves "Team Nowhere." Banding together and pooling their individual energy, the groups were able to gain wider promotion and play collective gigs together, increasing audience attendance by pooling their different fanbases. The collective began to make a name on the French music scene and Pleymo went on to produce a four-track EP, which they financed themselves and sent directly to the specialist music media.
Meanwhile, thanks to their explosive on-stage energy and their direct contact with audiences, Pleymo were rapidly forging a reputation as one of the hottest live acts on the concert circuit. Pleymo soon came to the attention of French producer Stéphane Kraemer who, impressed by the live frenzy of their gigs, instantly signed them to the label Wet Music. It was at this point that the fivesome recruited a new member, David, who added a driving new edge to their guitar section. They then headed off to a studio in Belgium to record their début album, "Keçkissepasse," which came out on 15 June 1999. "Keçkissepasse" turned out to be a trial shot that scored an immediate goal, selling 10,000 copies (a more than respectable score for a début!) Following the album release, Pleymo embarked upon an increasingly hectic concert schedule with an increasing number of fans turning out to each show and going wild for cult numbers such as "Nawak" and "Blöhm."
Nowhere in Paris
Pleymo generated an extensive buzz on the national music scene and major labels were soon queuing up to sign France's first neo-metal band. It was Epic (a branch of Sony) that finally won the day, however, offering the band a record deal in 2000. Pleymo now had to face up to their next big challenge, delivering a follow-up to "Keçkissepasse." Two years later, they re-emerged with "Episode II: Medecine Cake," produced by Fabrice Leyni (renowned for his work with leading French rap group NTM). Sales of Pleymo's second album quickly topped the 50,000 mark, establishing the band as a major new French force who could play every bit as well as their American counterparts. Alternating energetic hip hop sections with waves of screaming guitar feedback, Pleymo carved out a distinctive sound for themselves, fronted by Mark's striking vocals which soared from high notes to bass without missing a beat. On their second album, the band even managed to come up with an innovative concept, basing their songs somewhere between pre-war Russia and the Paris suburbs as they followed the adventures of Sacha and Doctor Tank. Enhancer, one of Pleymo's partners in the Team Nowhere collective, guested on several tracks on the album.
Pleymo soon hit the road again, playing some 120 dates up and down the country before playing a grand finale at Le Zénith in Paris where they were joined on stage by the rest of the Nowhere family. Meanwhile, Pleymo's neo-metal fame had spread far beyond French borders to Japan. An English version of the group's album proved a big hit in Japan, in fact. (Perhaps the fact that the cover was heavily inspired by Japanese mangas had something to do with its burgeoning cult status?) In August 2002, Pleymo went on to perform at the Summer Sonic Festival in Tokyo and also in Osaka, sharing the stage with major international stars such as The Offspring and No Doubt.
In November 2002, as fans eagerly awaited the release of a new Pleymo album, the group released a six-track "(Ep)Live", recorded at Les Eurockéennes festival in Belfort. The following year, Pleymo devoted most of their time and energy to getting down to work on their third album. The album title, "Rock," announced a major change of musical direction. Like so many of their contemporaries who had started out on the metal scene, Pleymo decided to turn down the volume a bit and leave more place in their music for melody and vocals. The members of the group readily admitted that this third album was influenced by the work of bands like Pink Floyd and The Smashing Pumpkins. Mark was, once again, responsible for designing the album cover and coming up with the overall concept. This time round, the album concept revolved around the story of a four-year-old blind boy living his life through his imaginary double, Injall. Fellow Nowhere members Enhancer joined the group in the studio once again, guesting on one song, "Kongen" (far and away the most violent-sounding track on the album). "Divine excuse," the first single release from the album, received extensive airplay on French radio.
The Fontainebleau outfit hit the road again shortly after their album release, playing 70 dates up and down the country. The high point of their tour was a concert at the legendary Olympia in Paris on 7 February 2003. Meanwhile, as sales of "Rock" topped the 50,000 mark in France and 18,000 in Japan, Pleymo were nominated in the "Best Pop/Rock Album of the Year" category at the "Victoires de la musique" Awards. Purists who had followed the band from their early metal days may have howled in rage at what they saw as the ultimate pop'n'rock sell-out, but there was no denying Pleymo had settled on a new musical direction and appeared intent on continuing down this new road.
In September 2004, the band confirmed their new sound, recording a duet with teen pop'n'rock idols Kyo. The single "On ne changera rien" was perfectly geared to FM airplay! Boosted by their increasing mainstream success, Pleymo went on to play at major Parisian venue Le Zénith on 5 November 2004.
As Pleymo's career continues to soar to new heights, the first signs of discord in Team Nowhere have emerged. The band Aqme have just announced a split from the collective and rumour has it, Pleymo and Enhancer could soon follow suit.