zondag 19 juni 2011

I wait your answer, Jérôme Fontan.

Shocked. I am shocked when I get a phone call from Bran from France… things are not good with Jérôme… most likely he has passed away… the next day this is confirmed. Jérôme had a cardiac arrest on friday evening (17 June 2011) and the reanimation came too late…

Most people in our music world will know Jérôme as the musician behind the elektro act Porn.Darsteller. Since 2000 he released some of the best elektro music around on the now defunct Invasion Planète label. With Porn.Darsteller he produced a body of work not still only relevant to date, but also influential when it comes to style, references used and image. Porn.Darsteller was erotic elektro with a pornographic touch, but this never was done in a cheap or easy way but always decadent and stylish.

We first met in Amsterdam in 2003 when I got the Invasion Planète crew to perform there at a festival. Porn.darsteller was always an important part of the label, next to Le Syndicat Electronique and It & My Computer, so Jérôme came over to perform live. Later on we met two more times when I set up other concert nights for the Invasion Planète crew in Holland.

I remember best the night we did in Rotterdam. Only very few people came to see these concerts then but the live performances were great. The best I think of the three times we did shows in Holland together. Also I remember we drank too much Leffe beers and drove back to Utrecht afterwards, where I lived at that time, to sleep at my place. The next day we had talks over breakfast, listened to some music and had a nice walk in the city… with me at least trying to get rid off a hangover from too much beers. They had to drive back more then 1000 km’s later that day to get back home.

Porn.Darsteller collaborated on two releases I put out in the early phase of my Enfant Terrible label. In 2005 he contributed an absolute stunning remake of the classic track ‘Covergirl’ by Dutch cult elektro pop legend The Actor. This track was released on the third record I put out. The next year I was blown away and got boosebumps when a cd arrived with his track ‘L’Ingénue’ for the first compilation I was working on.

This record became “Electronic Renaissance” and opened with this track by Porn.Darsteller. I knew this track already from his live sets and for me this record opening with this track was, and still is, more perfect as perfect could be.

Then when Invasion Planète stopped there was no contact for some time. It was an odd period for many people involved I guess but that is also a different story… probably one which will never be told. Anyway… a little more than two years ago I got an e-mail message… Jérôme wrote me that he had been following my label work and that his project Porn.Darsteller had come to and end and the album he was doing for Invasion Planète was cancelled.

Also he wrote me about the soundtrack he had done for an old silent Spanish film from 1929, entitled “El Sexto Sentido” (The Sixth Sense). And… he first mentioned his new project La Mort De L’Hippocampe. From there on the correspondence continued and he sent me the first recordings by La Mort De L’Hippocampe and the “El Sexto Sentido” with his soundtrack on DVD.

The first demo was a collection of tracks with some hints to elektro but rather industrial and experimental. Still this could be seen best as a sort of a product from a transitory phase. Even more as a few months later I got a message he had finished new pieces and when I got these I was instantly impressed by the sheer quality and originality of this work. He had tapped into a truly new world of music and art now.

This work consisted of two long tracks that evolved into different phases. Some parts where pure electronic music, but of the experimental kind. Other parts also incorporated medieval instruments and spoken word. As I was very enthusiastic I wrote Jérôme I was more than interested to make this into a record release with him. He liked the idea so we started to make plans.

In the meantime of course he could not stop being creative and he was always working on new music and he also set up a performance group around La Mort De L’Hippocampe which involved other artists as well.

Also a complete new work was written and recorded. Another two long pieces of experimental electronic music with some strange cabaret like influences in one part and moving in and out of phases of (un)certain textures. The whole of sound and structure made up for what could be called a piece of contemporary art music. This as it has very little to do with pop music in any possible way.

After some discussion we decided to make this the first release for La Mort De L’Hippocampe. Again Jérôme had been busy with formulating plans and making ideas real… he was starting a record label for his own called Verbascripta. We decided to make the planned release a collaboration of his new label and my Enfant Terrible label. Also we talked about this collaboration as a good way of working together… also for possible future projects.

We were both very enthusiastic about this all… both our activities and interests seemed to mix well and there were more then enough ways to work together and still do our own things as well. The record was fully in progress and we were working hard on getting all done for the planned release…

I wrote him on the status and all last Thursday… not sure he ever read my message… as Saturday Bran, a close friend of Jérôme, called me…

Jérôme, you will be missed… for your work and for your enthusiasm… and of course as a person…

So many plans were lying around and I had hoped to do so much more together… I had hoped to meet again later this year as we were talking about... I have always loved your work and I have always valued your opinion… don’t worry La Mort De L’Hippocampe will be released as discussed and planned… so once more people can hear the genius of your work and how you have evolved throughout the years… it is rare gift the talent you have…

I stop here… with the phrase you always ended your writings with to me…

I wait your answer.


zaterdag 18 juni 2011

Flexipop: disposable pop or recycle art?

The article below was already published in slightly different versions, but on paper only, in the Dutch version of Vice Magazine (vol. 5, issue 9) and in Traces (issue 1).

Flexipop: disposable pop or recycle art?

Most people will only be able to guess what Flexipop is. For a few obsessive nerdy music fans like myself it is a cultural standard, a world of its own, or even THE world. Well here is a short lesson into the history of cheap produced minimalistic new wave pop music and how some people today try to turn it into a hype to cash in on it.

The name Flexipop is not a real genre name as it comes from an UK magazine that ran for two years from 1980 onwards. Each edition came with flexible 7 inch record. You know vinyl but not regular vinyl as you could use it as a Frisbee and even bend it and fold it and if it wasn’t damaged that bad it still would play.
Anyway, the focus of Flexipop and the discs was on new wave music. Many well known bands like The Cure, Soft Cell and Depeche Mode contributed tracks for a flexidisc, often the tracks where exclusive recorded. The Dutch counterpart was called Vinyl magazine and focused as they called it themselves on Modern Music. Basically this meant more experimental and obscure stuff from the counterculture and the then real existent underground. The flexidiscs that came along with Vinyl featured mostly these less accessible sounds of the new wave genre with tracks from bands like Tox Modell, Schleimer K and Mecano.

Think cheap, minimalistic and weird electronic pieces and unpolished and raw post-punk guitar stuff. During the 1990’s when all the world was listening to Grunge one music maniac started to make bootleg cd-r compilations entitled A Tribute To Flexipop and later followed by The Return Of Flexipop and None Night Of Flexipop next to some other titles referring to the same tradition. A total for more then fifty cd-r’s where compiled. All featuring something between twelve to twenty tracks per disc. Well that is what I call a repertoire! This was done not for profit but for fun only and to keep this music tradition alive.

These discs feature a fantastic world of music with tracks from tape releases, a-side but mostly b-sides from hard to find 7 inches and tracks from obscure independent vinyl releases. During the years when nobody listened to this stuff the name minimal electronics or minimal synth became some sort of genre definition for this type of 80's minimalistic synth-punk new wave music. Many bands featured found it an honor to be on this series, as back in the days but even more at that time only few people showed interest in their music.

Bit by bit a real cult following began to take shape. During the late 90’s this evolved into a new scene of musicians and labels producing and releasing new music in this stylistic tradition. Next to that some labels were founded that only started to re-release some of the old music. Mostly music that was never put to vinyl before. Some of this was bootleg stuff as not all the musicians that released their music on cassette tapes in the 80’s could be traced down straight away. Remember this was before the myspace, facebook and linked-in era.

Artists like Skanfrom, Bakterielle Infektion, Solvent, Lowfish and of course Le Syndicat Electronique paved the way for many artists to follow, just as labels as Genetic Music, ADSR, Invasion Planete, Suction, Was Soll Das Schallplatten and Kernkrach did their part in spreading the music to a small loyal fanbase. At the same time electro had a revival. Contemporary electro acts like I-F, Legowelt, Luke Eargoggle and in a way also Rude66 helped to shape the new electro scene, even though they had been active already since some years . Although sharing some esthetics and style elements the two scenes did not always meet each other straight away but in the end musicians, labels and audience began to mix.

The recognition of this Flexipop music as an important root for electronic pop music, even though still only for the well informed, give way to a second wave of labels and musicians to take their cue and inspiration from this style.
Social media made it easy to find the old cult heroes and ask their clearance for releasing archive music from the past. In the same way internet made it possible to reach a worldwide audience. While most labels work in the spirit of the old underground, as in a Do It Yourself attitude towards producing, promoting and distributing the music, some seem to see some cash in it.

For some years Peer -to-peer networks like Soulseek already make the Flexipop compilation cd-r’s available to everybody for free, like they possible should. But, today you can also buy compilations of these compilations on vinyl, cd and yes in digital format to pay for, from various labels. Every country some to have a Flexipop re-issue label today and it seems like every month there is a new label born which is doing the same thing.

I agree that some of this music has cultural value and not only because I am an obsessive music nerd in love with this music. I agree this music should be available. I agree some labels are needed to release this music on vinyl for the first time. But, there is a true overkill. There is a reason some of this music never made it to a larger audience as the die-hard cult following from the 80’s and 90’s. Not all of it is that good. It has cult value for sure, but not all of this music has cultural value. It seems not all labels are gifted with selective capacities or with the true blood of this counterculture music tradition.
So for the curious people who are still not sure whether this is simply disposable pop music are true art with meaning and value worth to be recycled I advice to login at Soulseek and download the original Flexipop cd-r’s, have nights of fun with the music and found out what gems these compilations hold for you. Then you can always get the contemporary vinyl productions with the songs that touch you in the end and do not need to spend hard cash on dozens of compilations of compilations. Also it should be in the true nature of any real music fan to be willing to dive into a style or genre and pick the few things that appeal to you and go on from there… and tracing the original releases in the end…