vrijdag 4 juni 2021

Laibach: We Forge The Future


Can art change the world? If you know the history of Laibach, then you also know that the answer to that question is 'yes'. Laibach undoubtedly had an important influence on the history of Yugoslavia and the Slovenian state in the 1980s. And this record - 'We Forge The Future', available on CD and vinyl - is proof of that.

On the disc, you will find a recording from 2018 that was intended to be a new performance of the controversial concert that Laibach gave on April 23, 1983 at the XII Music Biennale in Zagreb, the capital of the Croatian state. It was a turning point in Laibach's career, and the group would receive a lot of criticism as a result. But it was precisely this course of events that made Laibach legendary.

Yugoslavia

Before we look at that performance, I would like to give some historical context. After all, Yugoslavia held a special place in the cold war. After a few years of conducting himself as a fine student of Stalin, the Yugoslav leader Tito broke with the Soviet Union in 1948, and with that, in fact, with all the other Eastern Bloc countries. Tito co-founded the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, an association of countries that did not want to take sides between the two superpowers in the Cold War.

This led to a relatively more liberal policy in Yugoslavia, although the country remained a one-party dictatorship that sent dissidents to prison. Not only as a result of liberalism, but also because of economic necessity and the isolation the country was in, Yugoslavia was very open to Western European culture. Records of many Western rock groups were thus freely available, as were Western films and other cultural products.

Slovenia, the northernmost state of Yugoslavia, was even more liberal, partly because it was more prosperous economically and partly because it operated on the periphery of the Yugoslav federation, where more was possible. Thus, in 1969, Radio Študent was born, an independent radio station resulting from student protests at the University of Ljublijana a year before. Radio Študent operated under the wings of the ZSMS, the Union of Socialist Youth of Slovenia, affiliated with the ruling communist party.

Also affiliated with the ZSMS was the ŠKUC, a cultural organization founded in 1978 that, among other things, released the Sex Pistols record in Yugoslavia, and organized exhibitions and concerts by alternative artists. But all this also arose at a time of increased authoritarianism as a result of nationalist aspirations of young people in the federal states (especially after the Croatian Spring). The ZSMS increasingly became the mouthpiece of the disatisfied Slovenian youth.

This is the context in which Laibach came to the fore in 1980. Laibach's first event, a few months after its founding, was immediately banned after the group pasted lurid posters in their hometown Trbovlje. It took until 1982 before Laibach could perform for the first time in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. This too was not without a struggle, because the name Laibach was the German-language name of Ljubljana, a name that evoked memories of the Nazi occupation and the colonialism of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The performance 'Mi kujemo bodočnost' - We Forge The Future - took place in April 1983 in Zagreb, the capital of the Croatian state. Here too, Laibach already had a bad reputation. After a performance by Laibach at the 1982 Yu-Rock festival in Zagreb, the group was questioned by the military police for using real military smoke bombs as visual effect during the show, causing considerable difficulties for musicians and audience.

Ten days after this concert, singer Tomaž Hostnik committed suicide by hanging himself on a kozolec, a kind of drying structure for hay that is sometimes seen as a national symbol of Slovenia. The group condemned the act and posthumously fired Hostnik from Laibach. Still, Laibach would regularly pay tribute to Hostnik in the future, as we'll see later.

Also in Zagreb, an exhibition of Laibach Kunst – Laibach's visual arm – was banned after a few days because of the shocking images. But the biggest scandal was the performance at the Zagreb Music Biennale. This festival was highly regarded because - as the conditions in Yugoslavia allowed - it invited both Western and Eastern musicians. The festival was mainly based on contemporary composers, but in 1983 the organizers decided to schedule two evenings with avant-garde rock groups.

Music Biennale

However great the freedoms in Yugoslavia were in comparison to other communist regimes, Laibach managed to cross the lines. The problem was not so much the inscrutable industrial music, and the uniforms and visual references to fascism might also have been possible. It was the projected videos that went too far.

As the festival represented high-quality culture, Laibach decided to turn it into a multimedia show with 10 different screens. On it, they showed their experimental film 'Morte ai s'ciavi' (Death to the slav[e]s). The group also showed the agitprop film 'Revolucija še traja' (The revolution is still going on), a documentary retracing the history of Yugoslavia since the Second World War, simultaneously with a porn video.

When at a certain moment a speech by Tito coincided with images of a penis, the organizers broke loose, because the images were undoubtedly also seen by the police informants in the room. Since there are different versions on the internet about the events that night, we decided to ask for the experiences of someone who was definitely there that night, namely Laibach chief ideologist Ivan Novak:

‘The whole event for the Music Biennale with Laibach, Last Few Days and 23 Skidoo started at 24:00. Last Few Days was the first group to play, and it went through well. Laibach was second, around 2am, and we managed to play the show from beginning to end also. But because of our show, and especially the film projections, the police and later even the military arrived soon and they interrupted the concert of 23 Skidoo.

As far as I remember they were not even allowed to go on stage. We decided to go on nevertheless. The three bands took the stage and we would jam together as long as they didn’t pull us off by force, which eventually happened around 4 AM or even later, when the electricity was turned off and the audience had to leave the venue as well.

There were about 1000 people in the room, maybe more. I believe they were astonished from the whole show and to certain extend also entertained by the entire circus that happened when police arrived.’

Someone who wasn’t able to enjoy the show was organizer Igor Kuljerić. He is said to have suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the performance and fled to the Croatian island of Silba to seek peace and avoid legal prosecution. Thanks to the intervention of a number of high-ranking party members – including Ivo Vuljević, then director of the Vatroslav Lisinski concert hall – the consequences for the festival were fortunately limited. Still, the Croatian government would protest to their Slovenian counterparts about the concert.

Panic in Slovenia

Three weeks after the performance, Laibach published its manifesto - Action in the name of an idea - in Nova revija, a literary magazine from Slovenia (which had announced at its inception that its goal would not be action in the name of an idea). In reality, the text was already written in 1982 with the input of Tomaž Hostnik, among others.

A few quotes:

  • Laibach works as a team, according to the model of industrial production and totalitarianism, which means that it is not the individual who speaks, the organization does.
  • The name Laibach is a suggestion of the actual possibility of establishing a politicized ideological (regime) art because of the influence of politics and ideology.
  • All art is subject to political manipulation, except the art which speaks the language of this same manipulation.
  • Laibach practices provocation on the revolted state of the alienated consciousness (which must necessarily find itself an enemy) and unites warriors and opponents into an expression of a static totalitarian scream.

Laibach thus adopts the ideological goals of the Yugoslav regime, in what is sometimes referred to as 'over-identification' or 'over-affirmation'. Laibach poses as the biggest fans of the Yugoslav system, but in doing so also undermine the system, by letting their identification go together with a lot of references to Nazism and by pushing their totalitarianism to a point where it becomes absurd.

Television star Jure Pengov thought it was time to teach the band a lesson. He interviewed Laibach in his TV Tednik program, which was broadcasted immediately after the television news. In the interview, we can see Laibach in military uniforms, looking straight ahead, with totalitarian posters behind them (recorded in the ŠKUC gallery, the gathering place of underground Ljubljana that operated under the auspices of the communist youth league).

The interview refers to the scandalous performance in Zagreb, and to the reaction of the organizers who claim that Laibach promised to refrain from provocations and did not keep that promise. Apart from that, Laibach just continues to play its totalitarian parody:

‘Happiness consists in the complete suspension of one's own human identity, in consciously giving up one's personal taste, conviction, judgment, in voluntary depersonalization and the ability for self-sacrifice, identification with a higher, superior system - with the multitude, collective, ideology.’

Laibach also repeats the statement ‘Art is a sublime mission that requires fanaticism’ several times, including when they are reminded of the suicide of their former singer. This is a quote from Hitler that is included - of course without citing the source - in their discourse, just as Laibach often incorporates references to all kinds of political or artistic figures in its works.

At the end of the interview, Jure Pengov, the interviewer, rhetorically asks whether someone will finally act against these dangerous ideas and expressions. The answer came quickly. On June 29, 1983, the municipality of Ljubljana announced a ban on the use of the name ‘Laibach’. Performing under this name is therefore no longer possible, and Laibach is de facto banned in Slovenia.

We Forge The Future

Now let's look at the new record. This is a new performance of the concert at the Zagreb Music Biennale in 1983. It was part of the exhibition ‘NSK. From Kapital To Capital’ about Laibach and the NSK (Neue Slovenische Kunst: an art movement that united Laibach with other art collectives and which again included a reference to fascism, namely to the Junge Slovenische Kunst under the Nazis) at the Reina Sofia Museum in Spain.

The exhibition was opened by the Spanish King Felipe VI and the ex-Communist Slovenian President Borut Pahor, a sign that Laibach is now recognized in the highest political circles. The booklet with the record also contains an interview with Ivo Josipović, ex-president of Croatia and assistant at the Biennale at the time (later also director). He emphasizes that Laibach's performance was 'not a great artistic achievement', although he does think it should be legal as an expression of artistic freedom.

With a Laibach disc, the layout is always important. The cover shows the group in front of a painting that reminds one of Picasso's Guernica, the masterpiece referring to the bombing of a Spanish city during the Spanish Civil War and which is the main work of the Reina Sofia Museum. But anyone who studies the painting will notice that it is not the Guernica… Laibach has made a Slovenian Guernica, in which it incorporated drawings by Nikolaj Pirnat – a Slovenian partisan during the Second World War.

By the way, on the cover of the booklet you will find Tito with his partisans, although the heads of the partisans were replaced by early members of Laibach like Tomaž Hostnik, Dejan Knez, Milan Fras ... The title is 'The Revolution Is Still Going On', which is of course a reference to the documentary that Laibach played at the Biennale. In the booklet you will find images from the film and from the simultaneously played porn film.

Musically the record most resembles the 'Revisited' box that was released last year, and more specifically the third CD from that box: 'Underground'. That record was also a new performance of the concerts of the early days of Laibach concerts by some of the original members of the group. On 'We Forge The Future', you can hear the current band members, but the records are very similar in terms of sound and setlist.

Those who like to hear how the group sounded originally in these early years, can look for the record ‘Ljubljana-Zagreb–Beograd’. This now hard to find record contains performances from the time when Tomaž Hostnik still sang. I have to say that the sound on this old record is very different from the new ones: it is messier and rougher, but it is an important time document. Anyone who wants to go for a pleasant listening experience will prefer this 'We Forge The Future', which is simply recorded in better conditions and with better musicians.

Legalization

How did Laibach fare after the ban on their name? Initially, the group turned its attention to the international level. They did several European tours and even moved to London. But they would challenge the Slovenian government again by performing an anonymous concert in Ljubljana in late December 1984, exactly two years after Tomaž Hostnik's suicide. The poster only saw a black cross - the symbol of Laibach that the group members also wore on their bracelets - and the location of the concert.

In 1985 the same tactic was used to release Laibach's first album. Here too, we see only a black cross before which a body turns as if it were being crucified. In this way, the use of the name – which was prohibited – was avoided. The record was released by ŠKUC , the cultural youth organization associated with the communist youth league ZSMS. ŠKUC has actually supported Laibach from the very beginning.

The pressure to legalize Laibach increased. The ZSMS had strongly condemned Laibach's first prohibited action in 1980, but in the following years was heavily influenced by the emerging new social movements: punk, LGBT movement, environmental movement, peace movement ... In 1986, the ZSMS openly advocates legalizing Laibach.

In 1986 also, Laibach released its second album 'Nova Akropola' on the British Cherry Red Records, a sign that the band managed to score internationally. On February 17, 1987, Laibach is legalized and can finally perform openly again in Ljubljana, which is celebrated with a Yugoslav tour. A few days later, 'Opus Dei' is released on Mute in the UK and confirms the group's international breakthrough with hits such as 'Geburt Einer Nation' (a cover of Queen's 'One Vision') and 'Opus Dei' ('Life is Life' by Opus).

Yet Laibach still manages to torment the government. Every year in Yugoslavia, Youth Day was celebrated on the day of Tito's birthday. Every year a different republic was responsible for the event, which was preceded by a tour with a torch held by youngsters that ran through the different states of the federation and ended with a large-scale sporting event in Belgrade.

In 1987, Slovenia was responsible for the Youth Day, but the ZSMS had become very committed in its fight against Yugoslav centralism and lacking pluralism. It strongly criticized the Youth Day, even suggesting that the entire event should be abolished. It ordered a poster for the Youth Day from Novi kolektivizem (new collectivism), a designer collective associated with the Neue Slovenische Kunst, in which Laibach played a very active role.

The poster showed a muscular young man in front of a Yugoslav flag and with a number of other typical Yugoslav symbols. The image seemed to reflect the social realism that hard-line communists loved, and was thus approved by the central committee in Belgrade. But they soon found out… that the poster was a reworking of a 1936 Nazi poster by Richard Klein. The Nazi flag and symbols had been replaced by Yugoslav and communist symbols.

Of course, a huge scandal broke out, which shook the whole of Yugoslavia. Worst of all, the ZSMS just kept supporting Laibach. They even wanted to print the poster on the front page of their magazine Mladina, but that was forbidden by the government. So they put the poster on their fold-out center page and replaced the front page with an article about the poster scandal.

Independence

Mladina plays an important role in the Slovenian independence efforts. In 1988 there was a major lawsuit against the magazine for allegedly releasing military information. One of the defendants was Janez Janša. At Mladina, Janša specialized in the army, which was generally regarded as the enemy of Slovenian progressives (among other things because young people often had to do their military service in other republics and therefore in a different language).

Public opinion fully supported the defendants, forcing Slovenian President Milan Kučan to take the lead in the constituent republic's quest for independence. Janez Janša became increasingly anti-communist and has become the right-wing populist first minister of Slovenia today. (In 2012, Novi kolektivizem would also launch a poster campaign against austerity measures by the then Janša government.)

Laibach was of course there to worsen everything when they proclaimed on their ten-year anniversary in 1990: 'Ten years of Laibach, ten years of Slovenian independence'. It led some to blame Laibach when war broke out in 1991 after Slovenia's declaration of independence.

Laibach connoisseur Alexei Monroe argues for just the opposite. It was impossible for true radicals in Slovenia to be even more radical than Laibach, which mitigated their fanaticism. In that sense, Laibach would have ensured that the bloodshed was kept to a minimum.

Be that as it may, I hope to have shown with this article that Laibach had a real impact on the political developments in Slovenia in the 1980s. Conversely, I hope that it is clear that Laibach is a typical product of the Yugoslav system, and did not just arose in a vacuum. Art can indeed change the world, and Laibach is proof of it!

Many thanks to Ivan Novak for answering our questions (click to read our interview with Ivan from 2020)



vrijdag 28 mei 2021

The Imaginary Suitcase: For most of my life, I have behaved the way I thought they wanted me to behave. And this is a scam.

The Imaginary Suitcase - Laurent Leemans' solo project - has released another new epic: "The gods gave you victory today only to make your final defeat more bitter". That is a mouthful and also a very pessimistic quote (from a Roman general after a lost battle against the Celts), two characteristics that we can also apply to the new record. We invited Leemans to explain more about the record and every song on the record, and we weren't really surprised that he had a lot to say again ...

The gods gave you victory today only to make your final defeat more bitter

I know, I know, for those who follow me from the beginning, three years to make an album is a geological era ... The answer to the questions why is usually in the songs, but in short we can say that 2018, 2019 and 2020 were years in which I came across many things that were difficult to manage, many events that forced me to question everything that had structured my life until this date. 

Obviously, if you have to look for a common thread in this album, it’s this: at some point in your life, life shows you through A plus B that almost everything you learned, almost everything that seemed obvious to you, almost everything your parents, school, society, laws, your culture taught you is false, or at least not as clear, more ambiguous, double-edged than you thought. When that moment comes, you are faced with a choice: take this revelation head-on and reinvent yourself, and yes, it means going through tough times, experiencing discomfort, even pain, but you can hope to finally become a free person… or ignore it, carry on as before by lying to yourself, and keep some comfort there, but at the expense of your soul and your dignity. 

It won't surprise anyone if I say that I obsessively listened to 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand while making this album ... Even though I don't share the faith of David Eugene Edwards, I admire and respect him as a musician as well as a man, for his faith is anything but hypocritical, and he has nothing in common with these hypocritical bastards who open their mouths only to condemn, curse, insult, humiliate, and threaten in the name of Christ. 

1. Hey stranger

You meet your soul mate, and for the first time in your life you are sure that you have found the person you will grow old with, you have no doubt that she is the one who will prove this quote from Seneca: "a friend is a soul in two bodies". But soon the outside world decides it's not right, the voices of ancestors who lived in resentment and couldn't tolerate your escaping it begin to whisper in your ear. And you unconsciously begin to sabotage what is most precious, you defile yourself what you have promised to cherish yourself. Until the day when ... 

2. My garden

Watch out for dormant water, never forget that calm is just a break between two storms, never believe the secrets will never be revealed, and don't imagine getting out of it without bruises. 

3. Father

My father was an old-fashioned man, he conveyed to me the values of righteousness, fair work, and respect for all. I love my dad, and he was right. He just forgot to teach me that the rest of the world doesn't respect these values. He was a wonderful man, gifted in everything he did, but I lived in his shadow for too long, convinced that I would never reach half his level. 

4. Pigeons playing chess

A slightly lighter song. In French, we say that arguing with an idiot is like playing chess against a pigeon: regardless of your level, the pigeon will just knock over the pieces, shit on the chessboard, and prance proudly as if it won the game. I admit that I have spent a lot of time in sterile, dumb, senseless, impactless, clueless discussions on social networks. And even today it happens to me to relapse (lol). So, this is dedicated to all of Facebook's fighting cocks, as well as all the activists who are more in love with the fight than their cause. 

5. Hope is a sick joke

A song for men. Please admit it: It's been more or less 4,000 years since we've been the kings, the princes, the popes, the bankers, the bosses, the philosophers, the directors, the presidents, the generals, you name it. And what legacy do we leave behind? With what have we filled the history books? Wars, murder, famine, torture, mutilations, genocides, massacres, and monuments elevated to the vanity of those we have considered demigods. The word of the victims is being released everywhere and this is the best that could have happened to us. Since I have a very high idea of men, I believe we are and can be much better than what we have shown so far. But before that, we must first admit that our entire education is manipulative, unhealthy and is aimed at making us, not men, but good little soldiers ready to fight someone else's war. 

6. Complice

I don't often write in French, even though it is my native language. But since this album is stripping like I've never done before, it seemed appropriate. For most of my life, I have behaved the way I thought they wanted me to behave. And this is a scam.

7. OK Boomer

There is a generation that clings to its privileges with all its might, who would rather see the whole world burn instead of giving up a crumb of its comfort, its privileges, or question its ideology. This generation is losing ground and feels that its time is up. I like Millennials and GenZs. They will no longer be satisfied with a decent place in the system, but claim that the system is rotten and unrecoverable, and they no longer want it. The current backlash of sexism, racism, white supremacy and capitalism is scary as hell, but it is the Von Runstedt offensive of an old world dying out: a desperate attempt - I hope anyway - doomed to fail. 

8. The greatest love

All the songs on this album were composed in 2019 and 2020. Except this one, which dates back to 2015, when I had a really big, totally hopeless crush on a girl. I hadn't included it on the previous albums because I thought it was not in line with them in terms of sound. But here, on an album entirely devoted to torment, to loss, to the impossibility to love, if I hadn't recorded it, where? 

9. No questions asked

In relationships there is (too) often a dominant and a dominated one. And more often than you might think, the ostensibly dominated is actually the real master of the game. Skillfully used, the appearance of weakness can be the nuclear weapon of manipulation. 

10. Coming home

I come from a family where a merciless omerta reigned. It was impossible to talk about one’s emotions, fears and grief or to ask questions. We clenched our teeth and kept up appearances, even if it was Pompeii in our heart. I have never been able to express my emotions, except through the songs I listened to or composed, my only valve for a long time. I have a lot of work still to do with this family legacy, and I will be human, but also ruthless with them. 'Families, I hate you', said André Gide ... 

11. Anachie Gordon

A Scottish Traditional About Forced Marriage. Every year about 15 million girls get married against their will and, contrary to what one might think, this barbaric practice is not at all reserved for the Third World. This horror must stop. My oldest daughter Daria sings with me. She's fantastic, and she's going to be a great singer. I love her and I am so proud of her. 

12. The bungler

The saboteur syndrome, I know it well. Too damn well. It has soiled all my pleasures, all my joys, it has managed to spoil almost all my projects, it whispered in my ear for 45 years that I was nothing, that I was useless, that I would not reach nowhere. But it is over. I'm smashing it’s face with a brick and it feels great. 

13. Sex & drugs & rock & roll

This may be true for famous musicians, but as for me, I have not known this situation where I only have to choose from clusters of girls who were ready to jump on me after a concert. Sadly enough. (lol). This is a satire that can be linked to this quote from Pete Townshend "I learned guitar because with a face like mine it was the only way to pick up girls". This widespread idea that artists are superior beings, made of a more precious metal, angers and revolts me. We artists are in no way superior to a baker, an accountant or an unemployed person. We're shit and angels just like everyone else, and when we're shit, the reverence, indulgence, and impunity we enjoy often makes us monstrous shit. 

14. Whiskey

This album is very dense, heavy, intense and I made no effort to make it comfortable to listen to. But I had remorse to leave you on a complete "low down bummer". So I wrote "whiskey" as a funny and slightly uplifting ending, nevertheless consistent with the rest of the album.


woensdag 16 december 2020

JOHN 3:16: I regularly come across animal remains at various stages of decomposition. That started to affect me, and that's where the concept of the record was born.

Music from the depths of hell, slowly rising in a lava flow with the intoxicating scent of steaming sulfur exuding from the cracks, gradually engulfing the earth, sowing death and destruction, leaving only jet-black cold ashes behind it ...' This is the way we started our review of 'Tempus Edax Rerum', the new record from JOHN 3:16. Since we were overwhelmed and intrigued by this rare knot of sounds, we decided to send some questions to mastermind Philippe Gerber.

Hello Philippe. We are very impressed with your new record 'Tempus Edax Rerum'. Are you satisfied with this new work?

Hi Xavier. Thank you for your kind words. I am  aware that it is a record that is difficult to approach. The songs are long and contain lots of unique sounds, which correspond to different music styles at the same time. I believe I'm satisfied, and that with some distance this will prove to be a sustainable work, because it is very personal.

We can see a connection between 'Visions of the Hereafter' in 2012 and 'Tempus Edax Rerum' in 2020, but we also see differences. How has your sound evolved since 2012?

'Visions of the Hereafter' was also a very personal album. For this record, I started from a very specific theme - the concepts of Paradise, Hell and Purgatory in the monotheistic religions and their representation in the arts, especially in painting - and I had the global dynamics of the record already in my head. The titles of the opus and of the songs were also already fixed before I started working on the music. I have used the same approach for 'Tempus Edax Rerum'. I had the title in mind and the notion of a collection of movements that follow each other long before I recorded the very first note.

What is different, however, is the production. I do believe I have progressed in eight years, especially with regard to the sound of the drums. I have been working for Ruben Nava / Music Junkies in Los Angeles for three years as a composer of music for trailers, films, TV series, et cetera. Ruben is a music director with an incredible musical culture. He has helped me to get out of my comfort zone, especially with regard to anything rhythmic. Of course, that has reflected on my production work with JOHN 3:16. 'Visions of the Hereafter' presented very different rhythmic productions. There is more cohesion on 'Tempus Edax Rerum': the soundscapes of the keys merge with the sound of the guitars. It is sometimes impossible for the listener to perceive all the sounds. I've been lucky enough to work with Carolyn O'Neill, who put her voice and a number of instruments on a song. She also participated in the composing of 'Visions of the Hereafter'.

You present 'Tempus Edax Rerum' as the sequel to 'Visions of the Hereafter'. However, you have published a lot of work in the last eight years, between the two albums. Why is it a sequel to this 2012 record?

'Tempus Edax Rerum' is officially the second album from JOHN 3:16. It is the coherent sequel to 'Visions of the Hereafter'. It is true that I have released a significant number of records: records in collaboration with Mark Harris and Anthony Donovan, a compilation of b-sides, EPs and singles (including '200 Million Horsemen' and 'Sodom & Gomorrah'), a live bootleg and I even had the chance to re-release 'Visions of the Hereafter' on cassette (with the first EP 'John 3:16' as a bonus) via Cruel Nature Recordings from England. I recently made a remix of NIN ('In This Twilight') together with the Belgian group Be The Hammer, with whom another collaboration project is ongoing. All these releases between 'Visions of the Hereafter' and 'Tempus Edax Rerum' helped me to forge the sound you hear now. I've taken the time to edit the sound of the guitars in the studio, I've gone to the trouble of playing some drum parts live, and I've even dusted off some of my analog keyboards. These eight years were essential to find a new direction and a fresh identity.

You made a special and limited version of the record in which you transformed your songs - five tracks on the digital release - into two pieces on cassette. What important decisions did you have to make to make that happen?

I composed a set of 30 songs for 'Tempus Edax Rerum', resulting in over 10 hours of recordings. For the cassette version, I wanted to do something unique by adding two unreleased tracks hidden in two long tracks: 'Mors omnibus' and 'Mors vincit omnia'. It was not that difficult to do as 'Tempus Edax Rerum' is a set of coherent movements which production is homogeneous from the first to the last note.

The songs on your cassette are called 'Mors omnibus' (death to everything) and 'Mors vincit omnia' (death will overcome everything). Death seems to be a prominent theme on your new record. Why?

I've lived in Pennsylvania since 2013. I'm close to Philadelphia, but I'm in a part of Pennsylvania that's still pretty wild. This contact with nature - in a quiet place, in a sense - is necessary for me to compose. Part of where I live is lost in a forest where deer, fox, vultures, eagles and others apprehend each other on a daily basis. I regularly come across animal remains at various stages of decomposition. In a way, that started to touch me, and it is there that the concept of the record was born. The art used for the digital version and for the cassette is composed of photos I have taken over the years, which is a means for me to pay tribute to these graceful creatures.

The religious references seem to have disappeared. In a previous interview, you told us that religion is the main theme of JOHN 3:16. Is this still the case?

'Tempus Edax Rerum' deals with a universal notion - that of a beginning and an end to everything - that is linked in a way to 'Visions of the Hereafter'. In Christianity, for example, the notion of immortality is not natural to humans. Even if one wants to believe in an afterlife, death is an indispensable step that one must accept in a serene way. In Hinduism, death is only suffering, and that justifies the various rebirths until one has reached one's true Self. So, to answer your question: yes, JOHN 3:16 is mainly inspired by religion in the broadest sense of the word. It is mainly occultism in religions that is the focus of attention.

It took you eight years to make a sequel to 'Visions of the Hereafter'. When will the sequel come?

I am working on the next full-length, called 'The Pact'. The theme is fixed. It will be based on the Faust myth, mainly influenced by Goethe's written tragedy. The record should be released in 2022 or 2023. The label has yet to be confirmed. The artwork is already finished. The Mexican artist Nestor Avalos has been responsible for that. He has worked with such bands as Moonspell, Mercyless, Iscariot and others. One song is already in the final mix phase. I will put an extract on my page in 2021.

JOHN 3:16

dinsdag 15 december 2020

JOHN 3:16: Assez fréquemment, je tombe à la rencontre de cadavres d’animaux à différents stades de putréfaction. Cela a commencé à m’affecter, et c’est là qu’est né le concept de l’album.

"De la musique venue des profondeurs de l'enfer, montant lentement dans une coulée de lave avec l'odeur enivrante du soufre fumant qui s'échappe des fissures, engloutissant progressivement la terre, semant la mort et la destruction, ne laissant derrière elle que des cendres froides d'un noir profond ... '' C’est comme ça que nous avons commencé notre critique de «Tempus Edax Rerum», le nouveau disque de JOHN 3:16. Et parce que nous étions étonnés - le tonnerre est l'un des sons qui semblent sortir de vos enceintes en écoutant le disque - et intrigués par ce broui de sons rare, nous avons décidé d'envoyer quelques questions à Philippe Gerber, l’auteur de l’œuvre. 

Bonjour Philippe. Nous sommes très impressionnés par ton nouveau disque 'Tempus Edax Rerum'. Es-tu satisfait par ta nouvelle œuvre ? 

Bonjour Xavier, merci pour tes mots. Je me rends surtout compte que c’est un album qui n’est pas facile à approcher. Les titres sont longs et plein de sonorités particulières, et qui correspondent à plusieurs styles en même temps. Je pense que je suis satisfait, et qu’avec le recul, c'est une œuvre qui va durer, car elle est très personnelle. 

Nous voyons une continuation entre 'Visions of the Hereafter' en 2012 et 'Tempus Edax Rerum' en 2020. Mais nous voyons aussi des différences. Comment ton son a-t-il évolué depuis 2012 ? 

‘Visions of The Hereafter’ est aussi un album très personnel. Pour ce dernier, je suis parti d’une thématique spécifique - les concepts de Paradis, Enfer et Purgatoire dans les religions monothéistes, la représentation de ces concepts dans l’art et en particulier la peinture - et j’avais déjà en tête la dynamique globale de l'album. Le nom de l’opus et les titres étaient également quelque chose qui avaient été définis avant même que je ne commence à travailler sur la musique. J’ai eu la même approche pour ‘Tempus Edax Rerum’. J’ai eu d’abord en tête le titre et la notion d’ensemble de mouvements qui se succèdent bien avant d’avoir enregistré la toute première note. 

Ce qui diffère par contre, c’est la production. Je pense avoir progressé en huit ans, surtout au niveau des sons de batterie. Depuis trois ans, je travaille pour Ruben Nava / Music Junkies basé à Los Angeles, en tant que compositeur pour musique de trailers, films, séries TV, etc. Ruben est un directeur musical qui a une culture musicale incroyable. Il m’a aidé à sortir de ma zone de confort, en particulier pour tout ce qui est rythmique. Ça a naturellement déteint sur mon travail de production dans le cadre de JOHN 3:16. ‘Visions of The Hereafter’ présentaient des morceaux aux productions rythmiques bien différentes. Il y a plus de cohésion sur ‘Tempus Edax Rerum’ : les nappes de claviers se mélangent aux sons de guitares. Il est parfois même impossible pour l’auditeur de discerner ces sons. J’ai eu la chance de pouvoir travailler avec Carolyn O’Neill (Rasplyn, Chicago) qui a posé sa voix et quelques instruments sur un titre. Elle avait également participé à la composition de ‘Visions of The Hereafter’. 

Tu présentes 'Tempus Edax Rerum' comme la suite de 'Visions of the Hereafter'. Pourtant, tu as beaucoup sorti en ces huit années. Pourquoi est-ce une continuation du disque de 2012 ? 

'Tempus Edax Rerum' est officiellement le second album de JOHN 3:16. C’est la suite cohérente de ‘Visions of The Hereafter. Il est vrai que j’ai sorti un nombre important d’albums (en collaboration avec Mark Harris et Anthony Donovan), un disque de B-sides, de EPs et singles (‘200 Million Horsemen’, ‘Sodom & Gomorrah’ entre autres), un bootleg live et j’ai même eu la chance de rééditer ‘Visions of The Hereafter’ (avec la premier EP ‘John 3:16’ en bonus) en version cassette via Cruel Nature Recordings (Angleterre). Récemment, j’ai produit un remix de NIN (In This Twilight) avec le groupe Belge Be The Hammer, avec lequel j’ai un projet de collaboration en cours. 

Toutes ces sorties entre ‘Visions of The Hereafter’ et ‘Tempus Edax Rerum’ m’ont aidé à forger le son que tu peux entendre. J’ai pris le temps de travailler les sons de guitares en studio, j’ai fait l’effort de de jouer certaines parties de batterie en temps réel et j’ai même pris le temps de dépoussiérer certains de mes claviers analogues. Ces huit années ont été essentielles pour trouver une nouvelle direction et une identité neuve. 

Tu as fait une version spéciale et limitée sur cassette ou tu as reconstruit tes morceaux - cinq morceaux sur la version digitale - en deux morceaux sur la cassette. Quelles décisions importantes as-tu dû prendre pour rendre ça possible ? 

J’ai composé un ensemble de 30 titres pour ‘Tempus Edax Rerum’ - plus de 10 heures d’enregistrement. Pour la version cassette, je voulais présenter quelque chose d’unique en ajoutant deux titres inédits dissimulés dans deux longs titres 'Mors omnibus' et 'Mors vincit omnia'. Il m’a été facile de le faire, puisque ‘Tempus Edax Rerum’ est un ensemble de mouvements cohérents dont la production est homogène de la première à la dernière note. 

Les morceaux sur la cassette s'appellent 'Mors omnibus' (mors à tout) et 'Mors vincit omnia' (la mort vainc tout le monde). La mort est un sujet prédominant sur ton nouveau disque, non. Pourquoi ? 

Je vis en Pennsylvanie depuis 2013. Je suis proche de Philadelphia, mais je suis dans une partie de la Pennsylvanie qui reste assez sauvage. Ce contact avec la nature - au calme en quelque sorte - m’est nécessaire pour composer. Une partie dans laquelle je vis est perdue dans une forêt ou cerfs, renards, vautours, aigles, etc. se côtoient au quotidien. Assez fréquemment, je tombe à la rencontre de cadavres d’animaux à différents stades de putréfaction. Cela a commencé à m’affecter en un sens, et c’est là qu’est né le concept de l’album. L’art utilisé pour la version digitale et pour la cassette est composé de photos que j’ai prises au cours des années, une manière pour moi de rendre hommage à ces gracieuses créatures. 

Par contre, les références religieuses ont semblé disparaître. Tu nous avais dit dans une interview précédente que la religion était un thème principal dans JOHN 3:16. Est-ce encore le cas ? 

‘Tempus Edax Rerum’ traite d’une notion universelle (celle d’un commencement et d’une fin à tout), qui est connectée en un sens à ‘Visions of The Hereafter’. En Christianisme par exemple, la notion d’immortalité n’est pas naturelle à l’Homme. Même s’il l'on veut croire à un après, la mort est une étape inéluctable qu’il faut accepter de manière sereine. En Hindouisme, la mort n’est que souffrance, et c’est ce qui justifie les renaissances multiples jusqu’à atteindre le Soi véritable. Donc pour répondre à ta question, oui, JOHN 3:16 est primordialement inspiré par la religion au sens large. C’est l’occultisme dans les religions qui est surtout le centre d’attention. 

Tu as mis 8 ans à produire une suite à 'Visions of the Hereafter'. A quand la suite ? 

Je suis en train de travailler sur le prochain long intitulé ‘The Pact’. La thématique est définie, ce sera basé sur le mythe de Faust, majoritairement sur la tragédie écrite par Goethe. L’album devrait sortir en 2022 ou en 2023, le label est encore à confirmer. L’artwork est déjà prêt, c’est l’artiste Mexican Nestor Avalos qui s’en est chargé. Il a travaillé avec des groupes tels que Moonspell, Mercyless, Iscariot, etc. Un titre est en cours de mixage final. Je posterai un extrait sur mes pages en 2021.


vrijdag 27 november 2020

The Breath Of Life: No, I never considered quitting making music. Nor to taste good special beers.

This year, The Breath Of Life is blowing out 35 candles. And they are releasing a new CD. 'Sparks Around Us' already contains 11 gems, and we can say that this tenth CD is a continuation of the previous albums, under which we do not count any slips or weaker albums. The album comes out at a surprising moment, in full lockdown. It didn't stop us from talking to The Breath Of Life about their career and their latest offspring. 

The Breath Of Life has been around for 35 years now. What made that longevity possible? 

Phil (guitar): We've been meeting weekly at rehearsals for so many years that it's an integral part of our lives. Everything is of course a bit confused at the moment, but we hope to get back to it soon. And as long as the public seems to like our records, it is a sign that we are not finished yet. I also believe that the fact that we don't try to repeat ourselves from record to record gives us the opportunity to keep the fire and motivation to make new songs. 

During those long years, have you never thought of quitting? 

Phil: I personally did take a few years' hiatus and came back for the previous record 'Under The Falling Stars'. I did not participate in two of the ten records. After 15 years in the band, I had the opportunity to take on nice challenges abroad with my work on the one hand and on the other hand a feeling of not knowing anymore in which direction the band should go at that moment, in 2000. But when I heard that Isabelle was starting to love nice beers, I couldn't resist returning to share them with her. My return was quite a challenge for both myself and the band, and I dare to think that it finally gave us a new impetus. We still play today with three of the four original members. 

Isabelle (vocals): For me, rehearsing every week is a bit of a flight, a break that gives me energy and gives me the opportunity to connect with different emotions. I don't feel like I have reached the end of the journey, and as long as I continue to enjoy singing and composing, I will keep on enjoying these happy moments. No, I never considered quitting making music. Nor to taste good special beers. 

The Breath Of Life is one of those bands with a consistent quality. You have never made a bad CD. Are you very aware of the need for quality when working on a new record? 

Phil: Thank you, thank you. This should be communicated to the whole world! The most important thing for us is to make records that are not a copy / paste of the previous record or records. Apart from that, everything happens quite naturally and we have followed the same approach since the early days. One of the musicians comes up with a basic idea that we all work on together during our rehearsals. In this way we make a rough structure of the songs. If it works out, I make arrangements at home with the computer, and we test it out in the next rehearsal. We may make changes from rehearsal to rehearsal. For the final recording we will record everything ourselves and Gilles Martin will contribute with the mixing and mastering. That then gives what you eventually hear. 

'Sparks Around Us' does indeed contain some blinding sparkles. The title is well chosen. How did you come to this title? 

Isabelle: 'Sparks Around Us' represents a multitude of sparkles that I believe can heal us from our afflictions, bring well-being, energy, change… Little things that allow us to move on. 

Isabelle, I have noticed that the characters in your lyrics are always feminine. Is that a premeditated choice, a conscious statement in a rock world that is still predominantly male, or is it more of a coincidence? 

Isabelle: The heroines in my lyrics are mainly feminine because that's how I know them best. It's more natural and easier for me to talk about women's feelings and the world in which they live. 

During our last interview, you told us that the song 'Black Out' on your previous CD 'Under The Falling Stars' referred to Malala Yousufzai, the Afghan girl who survived an attack by the Taliban. Are there any such references on the new record? 
Isabelle: For the song 'My Run Away Call' I was inspired by the touching story of Sheikha Latifa, the princess from the United Arab Emirates who has been untraceable since she tried to flee her country from abuse and was deprived of her freedom. I wrote the song after seeing her video announcing her flight. 

The CD will be released in full corona lockdown. There are no concerts planned, and that also means that fewer records will be sold… Why have you decided to release the record now? 

Phil: It is indeed not such an easy period, but you can also imagine that when everything goes back to normal, there will be lots of records coming out and you will drown in the mass. The songs were ready and we decided that not even covid would stop us. Of course we will feel this in the sales figures, because we sell a lot during concerts. And now we have nothing on our agenda until the Gibus in Paris in July 2021. We hope that the public will understand and will order the record through Wool-E Discs for the physical version, and through bandcamp for the digital version. I'd rather not talk about Spotify, which is important to be listened to, but which makes things very difficult financially for independent bands because they don't help them out of the costs. I think I can put it that way. 

 the other hand, you have used the lockdown to release some remarkable covers from the likes of David Bowie and The Sound. And you also gave an online concert in the lockdown. How do you evaluate these experiences? 

Phil: It was very special because, for the covers, we had to do everything without meeting each other. It was done by communication between us via email and digital transfers. We are very happy with the result. The concert was proposed to us by a local DJ. We were a bit hesitant at first because playing without an audience seemed rather strange to us, but we still agreed. There were some difficulties with the organization, but we enjoyed playing together in person. 

I am a huge fan of Lacrimosa. You released your records on their Hall Of Sermon label for a few years. How have contacts been with Tilo Wolff and Anne Nurmi from Lacrimosa? 

Phil: I believe that, as far as I know, the label is not that active anymore. I have not had contact with them for years. 

Isabelle: I think it has been a big boost in visibility for the band, because we got the chance to play first and foremost in beautiful halls and at big festivals in Germany, and then also in Europe. In general, the collaboration went well. But it was and is always important for us to keep control over our music and our image. 

The goth scene in Belgium has failed to rejuvenate. She still produces a lot of good music, but for the audience, you have to look in the higher age categories. Is this a problem for you? 

Phil: I totally agree. For example, I went to see Whispering Sons in Charleroi before the whole covid thing. And although this band is quite young, there were only people of our age in the audience. It is indeed a small problem because if older people still buy records, they don't go to concerts that much, especially in clubs or smaller venues. I can't blame them. I go out less than when I was 25 myself. Fortunately for my physical health.

The Breath Of Life: website / bandcamp

Pictures: Luc 'Who Cares' Luyten @ W-fest

donderdag 26 november 2020

The Breath Of Life: Non, je n’ai jamais pensé à arrêter de faire de la musique. Ni de boire de bonnes bières spéciales.

Cette année, The Breath Of Life souffle 35 bougies. Et ils sortent un nouveau CD. ‘Sparks Around Us’ contient 11 perles, et on peut dire que ce dixième CD est dans la continuité des albums précédents, dans lesquels on ne compte pas d’album mauvais ou plus faible. Il sort à un moment surprenant, à savoir en plein confinement. Cela ne nous a pas empêché de parler à The Breath Of Life de leur carrière et de leur dernier bijou. 

The Breath Of Life existe depuis 35 ans déjà. Qu'est-ce qui fait la longévité du groupe ? 

PHIL : Nous nous retrouvons en répète toutes les semaines depuis tellement d'années que ça fait partie intégrante de notre vie. Tout s’est actuellement un peu perturbé mais nous espérons qu'on y retourne bientôt. Et tant que le publique semble apprécier nos albums c'est que nous ne sommes pas encore hors-jeux. Je pense aussi que fait que nous essayons de ne pas trop nous répéter d'albums en albums nous permet de garder la flamme et une motivation à faire de nouveaux morceaux. 

Vous n'avez jamais pensé à arrêter pendant ces longues années ? 

PHIL : Personnellement j'ai quand même fait une pause de quelques années et je suis revenu pour l'album précédent ‘Under The Falling Stars’. Je n 'ai pas participé à 2 albums sur les 10. Après 15 ans dans le groupe j'avais d'un côté mon travail qui pouvait m'emmener à l'étranger pour de beaux défis et une impression de ne plus trop savoir où aller avec le groupe à ce moment-là en 2000. Puis quand j'ai appris qu'Isabelle s'était mise à apprécier les bonnes bières je n'ai pas pu résister à revenir pour en partager avec elle. Mon retour était pour le groupe et moi un challenge et au final cela nous a, je pense, donné un nouvel élan. Aujourd'hui nous sommes toujours trois sur les quatre de la formation originel du groupe.
 
ISABELLE : Répéter chaque semaine est comme un moment d’évasion, une parenthèse hebdomadaire qui donne de l’énergie et qui me permet de me reconnecter à des émotions diverses. Je n’ai pas l’impression d’être arrivée au bout du voyage et, tant que je prends du plaisir à chanter et composer, je profite de ces bons moments. Non, je n’ai jamais pensé à arrêter de faire de la musique. Ni de boire de bonnes bières spéciales. 

The Breath Of Life est l'un des groupes avec une qualité constante. Vous n'avez jamais produit de mauvais CD. Êtes-vous très conscient de cette nécessité de qualité quand vous travaillez à un nouvel album ? 

PHIL : Merci, merci. Faudrait le faire savoir à la terre entière. Le plus important est de ne pas faire des albums qui soient des copier/coller du ou des précédents. Pour le reste nous faisons les choses assez naturellement et travaillons de la même façon depuis les débuts. Un des musiciens apporte une idée de base sur laquelle nous travaillons tous ensemble en répétitions et nous structurons grossièrement les morceaux. Quand la mayonnaise semble prendre je fais les arrangements avec l’ordinateur chez moi et à la répète suivante on teste et on modifie si nécessaire de répétitions en répétitions. Pour l'enregistrement final nous faisons les prises de son nous-mêmes puis Gilles Martin apporte sa touche au mixage et au mastering. Et ça donne ce que vous pouvez entendre. 

'Sparks Around Us' contient en effet quelques étincelles éblouissantes. Le titre est donc bien choisi. Comment êtes-vous arrivés à ce titre ? 

ISABELLE : « Sparks around us » représente une multitude d’étincelles qui, selon moi, peuvent parfois, nous guérir de nos tourments, apporter du bien-être, de l’énergie, du changement. De petites choses qui nous permettent d’avancer. 

Isabelle, j'ai remarqué que les personnages dans tes textes sont toujours féminins. Est-ce un choix prémédité, une prise de position dans un monde rock encore très masculin, ou tout juste une coïncidence ? 

ISABELLE : Les héroïnes de mes textes sont principalement féminines car ce sont elles que je connais le mieux. Il est plus naturel et facile pour moi de parler des émotions de femmes et du monde dans lequel elles vivent. 

Lors de notre dernier entretien, tu nous disais que le morceaux 'Black Out' sur votre dernier CD, 'Under the Falling Stars' référait à Malala Yousufzai, la fille Afghane qui a survécu à un attentat des Talibans. Y-a-t’il des références pareilles sur le nouvel album ? 

ISABELLE : Pour le morceau « My run away call », j’ai été inspirée par l’histoire troublante de Cheikha Latifa, la princesse émiratie introuvable après avoir tenté de fuir son pays pour maltraitance et au prix de la Liberté. J’ai écrit le morceau après avoir visionné sa vidéo annonçant son évasion. 

Le CD sort en plein confinement corona. Pas de concerts prévus, ça signifie aussi moins de ventes d'albums... Pourquoi quand-même sortir le disque en cette période ? 

PHIL : Ce n'est effectivement pas une période facile mais on peut aussi penser que lorsque la situation va revenir à la normale, plein de disques vont sortir et on pouvait alors être noyé dans la masse. Les morceaux étaient prêts et nous avons décidés que même le covid19 ne nous arrêterait pas. Bien sûr les ventes vont s'en ressentir car nous vendons aussi pas mal lors des concerts. Et là nous n'avons rien avant le Gibus à Paris en juillet 2021. Nous espérons que le public sera compréhensif et achètera l'album via Wool-E discs pour les commandes physiques ou via Bandcamp pour le digital. Je ne parle pas de Spotify qui est nécessaire pour être écouté mais qui, financièrement, rend les choses très très difficiles pour les groupes indés étant donné qu'ils ne rétribuent pas les groupes. Je pense qu'on peut le dire ainsi. 

Par contre, vous avez bien réussi à utiliser le confinement pour sortir quelques reprises remarquables de David Bowie ou de The Sound. Et puis vous avez fait un concert en ligne en plein confinement. Quelle évaluation faites-vous de ces expériences ? 

PHIL : C'était assez particulier car pour les reprises nous avons dû tout faire sans nous voir. Par e-mail et transferts interposés. Mais nous sommes très contents du résultat. Nous avons volontairement gardé un côté assez intimiste et pratiquement sans overdub. Le concert nous a été proposé par un dj local. Nous étions un peu hésitants au début car jouer sans public nous semblait plutôt étrange, mais nous avons finalement accepté. L'organisation a eu quelques ratés mais ça nous a fait plaisir de nous retrouver et de jouer ensemble pour du vrai. 

Je suis un grand fan de Lacrimosa. Vous avez, pendant quelques années, sortis vos disques sur leur label Hall of Sermon. Comment se sont passés les contacts avec Tilo Wolff et Anne Nurmi de Lacrimosa ? 

PHIL : Je pense que, pour ce que j'en sait, le label n'est plus très actif. Personnellement je n'ai plus eu de contact depuis des années. 

ISABELLE : Je pense que ça a été un grand boost en termes de visibilité pour le groupe car nous avons eu l’occasion, dans un premier temps, de tourner en Allemagne dans de belles salles et festivals et, ensuite, en Europe. L’entente s’est globalement bien déroulée. Ce qui était et qui reste important pour nous est de garder le contrôle artistique sur notre musique et image. 

La scène goth en Belgique n'a pas réussi à se rajeunir. Elle produit encore toujours plein de bonne musique, mais le public est généralement à chercher dans les tranches d'âge supérieures. Est-ce un problème pour vous ? 

PHIL : Je suis bien d'accord. Par exemple, pré-covid, je suis allé voir Whispering Sons en concert à Charleroi et, alors que le groupe est, lui, très jeune, il n'y avait que des personnes de notre âge dans le public. C'est effectivement un petit souci car si certaines personnes plus âgées achètent des albums, beaucoup moins vont encore à des concerts en tout cas dans des clubs ou des petites salles. Je ne peux pas les blâmer, je sors aussi moins que quand j'avais 25 ans. Heureusement pour ma santé physique.

The Breath Of Life: site / bandcamp

Photos: Luc 'Who Cares' Luyten @ W-fest