Les Favoris Favorites, Comelade ... and Faust
Schizophonic Cabarets @ Les Voûtes, Paris [ii]

august 14, 2009.

OK, let's get back to the Voûtes and the Schizophonic Cabaret that was organized there by Vert Pituite some six weeks ago, under the patronage of and as a tribute to Pascal Comelade.

comelade CDThe one-day festival came about in the wake of the making and release of Assemblage de pièces Comeladiennes du plus bel effet (henceforth we will call it AdpCdpbe), a CD/magazine in the Les Zut-O-Pistes series edited by Dominique Grimaud. The tracks on the album/magazine were contributed by a large and divers range of musicians. Some of these in the course of Comelade's 40 year career worked or (as the MySpace page dedicated to the album nicely puts it) "crossed swords" with this "catalan maestro". Others belong to next and younger generations of originals. As Comelade, they can be thought of as explorers and nurturers of a wide range of art-o-musical idiosyncrasies, that transcend too narrowly delimited genres while in general remaining on the in-side, or stay right on the verge, of pop (-art, -music ... in the broadest sense of the term). It is an 'unclassifiable' music that roughly finds its roots in the free art/jazz/pop of the 1960s, then bloomed and spread out, on into the present days, most notably (arguably) via the 'post-punk experimental pop' period of the late 1970s-early 1980s. It comes with an attitude, that of independence and DIY, which continues to inspire new generations of ... indeed: originals, who - apart from making great music / art - enjoy nagging the wobbly foundations of more institutionalized western cultural enterprise, based as it is on a schizoid alliance of commerce and academics.

comelade berrocal

On the AdpCdpbe-CD you'll find a veritable army of - mostly french - musicians. Young ones, still in their twenties. Older ones, already in their sixties. And the others somewhere in between. What links all of them is that 'attitude'. And the appreciation of Comelade and his work; as an inspiration, as a contemporary, or as both. Both the album and the festival aux Voûtes emanate a sense of history, without getting retro or playing on (to some extent unavoidable) feelings of nostalgia. Not backward-gazing, but forward-looking, and actually leaving one in the end with a healthy curiosity about what will come next.

comelade berrocal

Something of an 'experi/minimal/bruitist burn-out' was among the reasons of La Belle Vert Pituite's relatively long period of silence, during which Olivier Brisson concentrated much of his musical energy in the beating up of a pretty much standard drum kit, thus re-tasting the half forgotten pleasure of playing 'just rock'n'roll'. It was therefore that together with Quentin Dubost, Benjamin Commault (both on mighty fine looking electric guitars) and Christophe Marais (electric bass) he gave birth to My Favorite Sideburns Orchestra. (Click the pictures to see bigger ones.)

sideburn1 sideburn2

Though they'd liven up your party as the best of them, you will have guessed already that the Favorite Sideburns are not your run-of-the-mill rock combo. And indeed they are not. My Favorite Sideburns Orchestra is the world's first and only electric guitar band exclusively performing Comelade Rock: every piece on the band's repertoire issues from Pascal Comelade's long and diverse discography. Loud, energetic, catchy and devious, the Sideburns string a 'fast and bulbous' chain of their Comelade favorites. As they put it themselves on their MySpace: "Remaniée, saccagée, interprétée, transformée... mais d'une certaine manière, toujours fidèle..."

While at their premiere, late november 2007, also Aux Voûtes, they were still a bit shaky and weak in the joints, at the Schizophonic Cabaret the Favorite Sideburns were one of the highlights. Could a musician à la Comelade wish for a finer tribute than the tight, explosive, and very much alive set of original interpretations of his work by these four young 'rockers'?


A great many of the contributors to AdpCdpbe came and performed at the Schizophonic Cabaret that saturday at the Voûtes. Just to name another handful: there was MonsterK7's Kawaii; there were the Chapi Chapo; Général Alcazar sang and strummed a right-angled red guitar; and while the already smallish Voûtes got smaller and smaller as evermore people pushed in trying to catch the music and some glimpses of the musicians, David Fenech took to the stage with Ghédalia Tazartès and Jac Berrocal.

And then there was Faust, who are also on AdpCdpbe, and are among the best examples of the attitude this Schizophonic Cabaret was about, as well as a fine species of the proverbial lice in the fur of an industry always trying to make big bucks out of young musicians doing and looking pop. Sort of a pop/rock-Frankenstein even, as Faust was put on track with big bucks in 1970, when they pocketed a royal monetary advance of Deutsche Grammophone and/or Polydor, who were hoping to hit upon a 'new German sound in rock', able to compete with the then prevailing anglo-american standards. Faust got a studio equipped in an old schoolhouse in Wümme, somewhere between Bremen and Hamburg. With Uwe Nettelbeck as their mentor/producer, and Klaus Graupner as a full-time sound engineer, the Faust-boys sure did come up with great new sounds there. But not with the commercially exploitable formats that record pushers were looking for. The band's first two albums were groundbreaking both in content and design, but sold relatively little. They made of Faust the epitome of krautrock though, especially in the UK, where they gained grand cult following.

faust virgin labelIt was thus that Faust were taken on by Richard Branson's Virgin Records, maidenly and frail, which during a short period of time issued some of the most desirable records on earth. As part of the deal Uwe Nettelbeck gave Virgin a complete Faust album spliced together from Wümme recording sessions, which Branson, as a marketing gimmick, decided to bring upon the world for near to nothing. When the album first came out, in 1973, my local Maastricht record store offered copies of The Faust Tapes for 1 guilder (that's 50 euro cents), but for that one had to buy it together with another Virgin album. There was not a lot of choice back then: I got my copy of The Faust Tapes thrown in with Virgin's very first release, Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells.

The Faust Tapes is by far the cheapest album that I ever bought in a record store. It is also beyond doubt one of the best rock/pop albums that I ever bought, and one of the few that to this very day, that is 36 years later, sounds as if it might have been released only yesterday.

But Branson and his Virgin saw things differently. They had other ideas, other plans, and eventually dumped the band (together with several of the other 'lice') after one more regular album (Faust IV). And, as of about 1975, Faust ... disappeared. For as long as fifteen years. The group's myth was kept alive by Chris Cutler and his Recommended Records.

One of the things typical of the 1970s Faust is that the band came across not as a group of individuals, but as one thing, one unit. Until this Schizophonic Cabaret last month I would not have been able to name the individual musicians playing in Faust. I might have remembered Uwe Nettelbeck by name, but then well, he was something like the producer/manager, not one of the musicians ...

But now I can.

In the large and sunny Voûtes courtyard, in between the afternoon and the evening part of the festival's program, I shook hands with Zappi Diermaier and Jean-Hervé Péron, who were sitting at one of the garden tables going through a couple of chord progressions with Rie Miyazaki, the smiling (of course) and charming Japanese bass player that was to join them in that evening's performance.

And while Zappi continued with Rie, I sat down with Jean-Hervé. And we talked. About Faust. About time. About music. And about how they became part of the Schizophonic Cabaret.

"It is not that we know Pascal extremely well," Jean-Hervé told me. "I think we met maybe three times before. But of course there is a definite ... intellectual complicity ... between him and us. And then I found a lot of authenticity, simplicity and love for the music in the emails I got from Olivier. So it is absolutely out of sympathy for Pascal and the organizers that we are here today."

"After many years of nothing we did a re-start with Faust. That was about 1994, and we have been playing again ever since. There actually are two Fausts now. Because of too different interests, at some point we split. There is the Faust of Joachim Irmler. I will not tell you about that Faust, of course. And then there is the Faust which has Zappi and me as original members. We talk about that one. Currently our line-up includes James Johnston on electric guitar, Geraldine Swayne, who is doing action painting and plays the guitar and the accordion, and James Hodson, who is doing electronic manipulation. Because of the limited budget, tonight though we play as a trio, with Rie Miyazaki on bass."

Jean-Hervé Péron was born in Casablanca, and grew up in Normandy. I thus came to realize that one of my favorite krautrockers is not german, but french. It also explains the many french words that one encounters on Faust's records and tracks. "I came of age in Hamburg, though," he says. "That's my ville d'attache. It is where I discovered life and music when I was in my early twenties. And it is where I started to do music professionally, with Faust."

- "How did it feel after all those years of 'retreat' to take to the stage again with Faust?" -

"Being with Faust never before in my life felt so right and so good as it does right now. Faust was a difficult group to be in, with many very different personalities. Which of course was why we were able to come up with such a 'virulent' sort of music. But much of that had to come about in the midst of a lot of pretty heavy conflict. Les conflits sont générateur, mais c'est chiant quand-même, les conflits. Nowadays, with the new Faust, all passes in a very harmonious way. We left the days of conflict behind us."

"I used to be afraid of audiences, because I knew they had certain expectations when they came to see us. With Faust we were always moving on, and when people came to concerts expecting to hear and see the stuff they knew, we ourselves already were at a completely different stage. So there was always this sentiment, this fear, of disappointing the people that came to see our concerts. But all that we have left behind now ... I do not feel any longer that there is something that we have to prove, and I just ask people coming to see us not to expect anything at all ..."
Jean-Hervé laughs. "So I hope also you won't expect too much ..."


"In preparation for today's concert, Rie and Zappi came to my place in Schiphorst, where we rehearsed for two days. We put together a program, picking certain themes and elements that we would work with, and developed, say, a 'concept' for the evening, or better: a dynamics."

"After 40 years, each of us of course also has things to say and express that would not easily fit within Faust. That is why Zappi and myself have our different solo-projects. Zappi has 'Der Schlaeger', in which he takes on German Schlagermusik in a personal and avantgarde context. I myself have always had a special interest in 'industrial music', and am currently finishing a piece for bétonnière (concrete mixer) and orchestra. A French composer is helping me with the writing of the score, and we are going to take this piece on a world tour, which I'm looking forward to a lot, as you may imagine. This is something I have been wanting to do for such very long time already ... I often used a concrete mixer within Faust, but never as a solo-instrument. It will be a concerto in four movements, lasting about 45 minutes."

- "You will play the concrete mixer, Jean-Hervé, I presume?" -

"Oh, of course! J'y tiens! ... At least the first year, say, until the work has become an 'established piece'."

Jean-Hervé seems utterly confident and optimistic about the possibilities to all over the world - even with a minimal budget - find musicians and orchestras willing to play his piece. "There are theaters and cultural centers everywhere that have their orchestras, and they are looking all the time for new things to perform," he told me. "Apart from the bétonnière the concerto will include a part for Ondes Martenot, played by Nathalie Forget, and one for electric guitar, which will be played by James Johnston."

- "And a french composer is going to write the score?" -

"Yes. Because I have the ideas, but I am not very good in writing down notes on paper. So that is what Ivan will do, Ivan Bellocq. I met him by chance, when one day I heard someone talking about music in french, in a small village in Germany. So I said hello, and we started talking about music. About what he did and what I did, and then Ivan appeared to be fascinated by the concrete mixer concerto idea. And as I needed someone that could write up the things I have in my head ... we will be sort of co-authoring the piece."

"We will do a world premiere - the Urausführing - in a couple of weeks (july 18th). In a somewhat reduced form, as the orchestra will have only 5 musicians. Also, these will be musicians rather with a free music background, so it'll be more of an improvisation that first time. Just to put the machine into motion. It's important that things do not remain abstract and mere talking. They need to become concrete, they need to be created."


Concrete and highly physical, indeed. Faust's performance aux Voûtes fitted the adjective that Jean-Hervé had used earlier: it was virulent. Rie Miyazaki ceaselessly pumped the bass, never once letting go of her broad Nippon smile; Zappi hit and hit and hit his small kit, while Jean-Hervé strummed guitars and other strings, cutting his hand in the process; then blew his lungs out into an old dinted trumpet, fumbled with electronics, and messed up the stage with all sorts of wires and papers with (mostly french) lyrics that he whispered, sung, or just screamed into the microphone. Most of it was new, almost all of the rest was recent. But Faust also did the Shadows, and an occasional classic of their own making. All of it was bloody serious and all of it was lots of fun, which is the paradoxical layering of senses that this 'schizophonic' trio mastered as much as the old Faust did. We all hopped along with Rie and Zappi and Jean-Hervé, playing as if this would be their last time, with a determination and an energy that rang on long after the music stopped.

Towards the end I let my digicam fill up the few remaining couple of minutes of its memory. The image and sound are crappy, but the short uTube montage will give you an idea, with the trio performing 'The Sad Skinhead' (from the album Faust IV), backed by Pascal Comelade on toy-piano.

Postscript: The Avantgarde Festival

Jean-Hervé Péron is living on a farm in Schiphorst, a village in the north of Germany, halfway Hamburg and Lübeck. agIt is in and around his farm that for a number of summers together with his partner Carina Varain he runs the avantgarde-festival. What started as an informal gathering for friends, family and neighbors, developed into a yearly recurring festival for experimental music. For music with an attitude. And all of it still happening in the barns and on the land of the Péron/Varain farm.

This year's edition is taking place over the last weekend of august, from the 28th till the 30th. You can take your horse or donkey. You may drop in parachuting. You are welcome to bring your tent. There's free camping on the festival site and on a meadow nearby.

tags: Krautrock, Faust, Paris

# .327.

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