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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The Caravan Palace band takes its inspiration from the pre-World War II era. This music has a strong (unintelligible) 1930s swing running through it and it produced one of the top records in France last year.

But the band didnt find its popularity among nostalgia fans. As Betto Arcos reports, Caravan Palace has found its niche, or is that niche, whatever, in dance clubs.

BETTO ARCOS: Caravan Palace was formed when the musicians were recruited to compose the soundtrack for a silent porn movie.

Mr. ARNAUD VIAL (Caravan Palace): From the '20s or '30s, something illegal, black and white, of course. And we just had to do a score for this. That's how the project began.

ARCOS: That's Caravan Palace guitarist Arnaud Vial. It's an anonymous beginning, considering that last year the group sold over 150,000 copies of its first CD and reached number 11 on the French album chart.

(Soundbite of music)

ARCOS: At the heart of their popularity is a confluence of gypsy jazz, American swing from the 1930s, and a high-energy electronica beat.

(Soundbite of music)

ARCOS: After all, Vial points out, back in the 1930s and '40s, people danced to swing music, so combining swing and today's dance makes perfect sense.

Mr. VIAL: We come back with this old stuff, with modern electronic beats, and so people just think, oh, I'm swinging, I'm swinging. Just they needed more bass.

(Soundbite of music)

ARCOS: From the beginning the musicians were well aware that they would face all kinds of criticism from traditionalists, especially gypsies, or Roma, as they're more properly called, who depend on the continued interest in their music to make a living. Violinist and Caravan Palace co-founder Hugo Payen...

Mr. HUGO PAYEN (Caravan Palace): We were very afraid of the reaction of the gypsies, but they really understood that we weren't here to do the same job as them. We were inspired by their music, by their culture. So they listen to our music for what it is, dance music, dance music inspired by their own culture.

(Soundbite of music)

ARCOS: Caravan Palace's three founding members, violinist Payen, guitarist Vial and bassist Charles Delaporte started out as jazz musicians, playing standards in a swing band, but all being in their 20s, they also had side projects with electronica bands. Hugo Payen says modestly they found a way to respect tradition and still have fun.

Mr. PAYEN: We didn't have the talent to do virtuoso music, very technical music, so we asked ourselves to know what we found interesting in that style and we tried to entertain the people and we found that it was a strong characteristic of our music.

(Soundbite of music)

ARCOS: The band's concert in Los Angeles drew an audience of nearly 4,000, many of them dancing. The show's promoter, Leigh Ann Hahn, director of programming at Grand Performances, compares Caravan Palace to another Paris-based band that mixes tango with electronic beats.

Ms. LEIGH ANN HAHN: (Promoter): Same way the Gotan Project did it, it's that same sort of hybridity that really works, where they're being respectful of the tradition but bringing it into the modern day sensibility. It's got great energy and you don't have to understand anything that's being sung, all you have to do is dance.

ARCOS: For its second album, Caravan Palace plans to stay true to the spirit of swing. Guitarist Arnaud Vial says the record will be more focused on the sound of the 1940s, with an emphasis on brass instruments.

Mr. VIAL: Now we like a lot of big band stuff - Count Basie, Duke Ellington -to make something maybe different, more trumpets, trombones, all this stuff.

ARCOS: And that will be the band's next challenge: how to find the bridge between the sound of the big band era and the ever-changing electronic music landscape.

For NPR News, Betto Arcos, Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: And you can hear songs from Caravan Palace's CD at nprmusic.org.

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