St. Lucia: South African Band's Unapologetic Pop Has a Tropical Twist
Jean-Philip Grobler of St. Lucia.
Pop music can indulge the lunacies of first love, serve as a catharsis for a broken heart, or, at its most basic, be a mindless escape from the world. More often than not, it's the latter — an amped-up blend of celebratory sounds and stress-free melodies. St. Lucia, a synth-obsessed outfit born in South Africa, unapologetically encompasses all the brightest fireworks that pop has to offer — both on record and in real life.
Founded by vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Jean-Philip Grobler, St. Lucia emerged in 2012 with a self-titled EP that landed them a touring spot with Ellie Goulding. Their 2013 debut LP, When the Night, was a vision of glittering, euphoric, '80s-adoring dance rock. Nearly every song was a blissful, joyous, and completely heartfelt mixture that seemed to combine the best elements of artists like Simply Red, Rick Astley, and Fine Young Cannibals while filtering their sounds through the fingertips of a European nightclub DJ. The album has a distinct island flavor that extends beyond the tropical cover art, similar to when Paul Simon discovered world beat music. Imagine a disco ball illuminating the shadows of a remote jungle while M83 plays in the background.
If that all sounds too brilliant, too shiny, then put on your shades and hide your face, because St. Lucia has no desire to live in the dark. In fact, its latest record, Matter, takes all of the humming energy, the lush voluptuousness of When the Night, and adds a heavy sheen of sparkle and power to it.
On June 14, St. Lucia will set the Culture Room aglow.
It's par for the course when it comes to a band whose driving force grew up during apartheid. In spite of the political and social turmoil around him, Grobler was only exposed to the "poppiest" of music growing up, and that had a lasting influence on him. Speaking to Interview magazine earlier this year, he reflected on the genesis of St. Lucia and the impact his cultural and social upbringing had on the band. "When I was developing St. Lucia—around 2008, 2009, at the peak of Pitchfork culture—what was considered cool was being as alienating to your audience as possible. Now I feel like we've swung completely to the other side; pop is the cool thing. But trying to be really dark and alienating just felt exhausting to me, so I started going back to the music that I grew up with, whether it was African music or pop music. It took me away from being overly self-conscious about what I was doing."
It's a notion that extends to the most important relationship in his life, his marriage. Grobler is married to bandmate Patricia Beranek. Although they're constantly together on tour, it's still sometimes a slog since work often comes first. He's said as much in the past, revealing that, "The best part is being able to see the world together. The worst part is barely ever getting any time alone." And even with the demands of festivals, media, and all the rest, Grobler is relentlessly optimistic in both his outlook and his performances, something that Fort Lauderdale should brace itself to experience firsthand this summer.
On June 14, St. Lucia will set the Culture Room aglow. Florida, Grobler has remarked, appeals to him as much as South Africa. "It's funny," he said in an interview with Fuzzyheadphones.com, "because Florida feels clos[er] to home for me than anywhere else in the U.S. It's quite similar in terms of climate and the way it looks to the east and northeast of South Africa. In fact, one of the places it looks a lot like is St. Lucia in South Africa. So, in many ways I feel quite at home in Florida, and it's always refreshing for me to be there."
With KiND. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 14, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $18. Call 954-564-1074, or visit cultureroom.net.
Get the Music Newsletter
Find out about upcoming concerts and special offers happening in the South Florida music scene.