Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Interview with XHOHX

(interview from early 2008)
The other day, I received an email from French XHOHX asking me whether I would like to review their latest self-released album KARYOTYPEXPLOSION. As everything about their uncomfortable record is DIY, the band deserves any exposure it can get, especially with respect to the music, which makes you run out of the usual comparisons and be stunned by both the instrumental and conceptual prowess it displays with every note. It’s heavy an maybe even more heady an experience for sure, but no fist-in-the-air metal. Actually, talking to the two eloquent Frenchmen behind the project corresponded to the feelings I got from listening: highly interesting, but afterwards, it’s time to revisit some music for enjoyment’s sake, something that is graspable emotionally without a doctorate in whatever science. Never has an Iron Maiden record sounded better than after KARYOTYPEXPLOSION. I can tell… Anyway, all good things in all good time, no pain, no gain and all that. Have more than a glimpse at XHOHX, maybe beginning with this interview…


(interview by Andreas Schiffmann)
What was your musical socialization like, and what inspired you guys to eventually pick up instruments? Also, what education did you receive musically?
Ramon Ribas Coca: We learned music and to play instruments on the job, but with the help of quite a few books too. We have a passion for music since our teen years, and a distinctive feature of the two of us is the fact that we have been trying to work out a music of our own in a way. Before forming XHOHX, we experienced almost every form of rock style in several bands going from punk and new wave to pop and prog rock. In fact, for the most part, it was easier to get rid of our musical education, it was a long term work. So our music proceeds from this long development. As we have always been rather political, we get ourselves involved by showing through our material the ensuing social discontent… at least we hope so. That's why the Rock In Opposition tag suits us and we agree to such world views.

So as you mentioned politics, what exactly is it you address on a political scale? - Do you refer to global issues, or are do you also criticize political events in your own country? By the way: How much Hollywood does it get with the recent media craze about monsieur Sarkozy and his life and love?
“Oregolakatzor”: Every action is politics. To my mind, everyone manages with what they can give: it's more about individual will which follows from a mass change, an inner revolution which leads each of us to this consideration: Do we really wish to be the legitimate holders of direct democracy? As things look at the moment, I'm sure it has been taken by elites without any power over ordinary people's concerns since the beginning, and we suffer the consequences for the world as well as on a local scale. To get back to our main subject, it results in kind of a brainstorming mentality, a confused situation organized by the high Treasury which surfs across the counterculture or at least what is left of it! Art is not spared anymore by those who make money with anything, like an ordinary soap powder: We are knocked off our feet in the "institutionalizing" of protesting. The new conventionality is the anti-conventionality. In plain language, to be cool, one has to look like a rebel, and too bad if underneath, the hidden ideas are whisked away... Now, this has not been so all the time. Until the early eighties and a few rare events in the nineties, rock was rebellious, it upset the "bourgeois" and clerical morality, imposed some changes. Since then, it has gone over to the other side, emptying the concept of its substance to only keep its "packaging" for appearances' sake. Early people who have lifted the curtain on this deception are the Crass, No Wave and Rock In Opposition collectives. That's why the music of XHOHX is in unison with this spirit. Concerning the last part of the question, leave its answer to the French journalists , that's the only thing they should know... On the whole, they delight in some communication made up by the Elysée Palace to play to the gallery instead of asking the real disturbing questions. This is the collapse of democracy too, the media attitude that doesn't fulfill their job being an counterforce, because, you know, that's the matter here: "Shhh... Quiet please, we're asleep!"

In terms of infiltration of allegedly genuine rock music: isn't RIO or whatever you may call it in a similarly dangerous situation now that it is catered to relatively blinkered crowds such as the metal ones or lovers of classical prog? Do you feel that your brand of music and its philosophy could be diluted in the process of sinking into such conservative music cultures? Bands like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Unexpect from Canada have gathered some fame for being "freaky" and "odd", but listeners seem to be unaware of the additional contexts behind these bands. After all: is it more important to enjoy the music, or do you feel that ideology weighs equally heavy, if not heavier?
Ramon: Yes, you've put your finger on a key issue. Rock music has undergone a revival which still goes on. Taking the easy way out, it's a good choice to entertain some people who want to amuse themselves, and it's true this is the basis of rock and roll, all things considered, and quite a lot of other stuff we're in dire need of as well. Those bands know how to handle the media, and business happens on a mutual basis - Who is going to earn the most? Try to guess; your guess is as good as mine... It's this famous story of the people in power who reassure themselves that people will spend their not thinking of any other thing than themselves. When you think that RIO used to fight against it! The spirit of the present RIO bands is the quite the same as in those days; we are lost in the majority crowd although we're respected, and many people are very fond of our music and perhaps even our philosophy. We are in agreement about the idea that art marked by politics can change the way people think. As I said, the media are not a great help, but the situation is not hopeless...

Oregolakatzor: It's a blessing, even a miracle, that something like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Unexpect get such an aura, but it's certainly not the fruit of chance - Those are lovers who fight for their artistic continuance as sounds artisans and serve a conscious public which knows what it wants and what it does not. I think, perhaps naively, that a large part of this public is sensitive to the philosophy of these bands. Otherwise, cutting this Gordian knot where music and political views are intermingled would be nonsense, because the former revels in the latter and both make up a whole. It's as if you'd asked Jaz Coleman to shut up - Impossible! It's the same with us. Planning our music in order to make it smooth amounts to censoring our personality. In KARYOTYPEXPLOSION, an explicit message exists...

Which is? - And going back to the very beginnings: I guess it was not the ambition to vent your political anger when you first decided to pick up an instrument. I guess it must have been every artist's aim to get recognized for his or her ideas which they convey through their respective forms of art. So in a way, the initial purpose is self serving, almost narcissistic and not as noble as the will to trigger societal changes, right?
Oregolakatzor: Okay. First, let's place the background about when the album and its musical content were realized. Except for the mastering assigned to Ugo Sanna at 3X8 Studio (also Goryptic's guitarist, a brutal death metal band), it's been created from a to z by ourselves, artwork included, at our humble Telluric Studio. So, it's do it yourself through and through. For KARYOTYPEXPLOSION - and I do insist on this point for this first opus - we used a virtual drummer in the person of a computer whose first function is to endlessly repeat the military pounding of the sound of jackboots on the pavement. It's a celebration of the eternal conflict of man against machine in which the organic matter tries to overcome the robotic beat from crushing bone factories and achieves its aim, destroying the metronomic system with some non-rhythms. With polyrhythmic structures, things played backwards, fortuitous tempos and so on, this framework carries some tortuous rhythms along unitonal roads. voluntary abstractions of intervals introducing their own climate, colors and atmosphere. Voices are these of a contemporary regression, a dizzy fall towards the early time to snatch away from the archaic cerebellum... The primal scream of a misshapen person shouting: Our captivity in the realm of conventions is over!

Ramon: "Conventions" in place of "empan" in French is a term from the field of physiology, for example, it stands for beating a 4/4 time naturally, unconsciously. The topic of KARYOTYPEXPLOSION, as its name indicates, is the drastic change of the structure of all chromosomes within our cells, perhaps in order to cure humanity from its inborn stupidity, which will be the ruin of all of us as well as our environment. In any case, that misshapen person may represent what is wrong with us: the irremediable aspect of our condition expressed in a manner of speaking. In fact, it's an act of provocation that prompts us to call ourselves into question. It's the problem of this modern society - we think we have gained control over everything which surrounds us, although we ourselves are our own worst enemies…

Oregolakatzor: As it is the case with most people, it's the passion of music which drove us to make the transition from an ordinary enlightened listener to a protagonist, but at the same time, we can't deny the fact it is the cultural and social setting which naturally influenced us. There's nothing new telling you music is a great medium to pass on your thoughts... it's one of the very few modes of expression where we can have a crash and find ourselves back unhurt. Life is too hazardous... If we want to explore new areas and venture in forbidden territory, we should also wonder what our relation with the universe is.

Ramon: ...after we have felt the uneasy mind of the society.

Speaking of the purpotedly "natural" 4/4 metre: given that other cultures deem different metres, even odd ones, to be more natural, does it eventually depend on culture and coinage what people consider to be genuine. Is the unconscious and intuitive, after all, a product as well, maybe shaped already before a person's birth? In this context, would you consider expanding your tonal system with respect to, for example, 12 tone philosophy or even Eastern half and quarter tone systems? Are we Westerners actually able to distinguish between these subtle nuances?
Ramon: You're quite right - we really try to be out of the usual scales. We do certainly have a dodecaphonic side where each note stands for itself and has its own life too. Rhythm is its blood, and this makes up a whole to live up to our music and set it against cruel reality. Besides, that enables us to write more freely and with real tonal exploration - without going to that kind of serialism which requires effective and combinative notes to be meaningful... Mind you: For the moment, we avoid this process, but who knows... Within our musical minds as Northerners, odd times and intricate rhythms most probably call for a great deal of effort; musicians with an Asian cultural background, remarkable rhythmists, get the same results much more easily. It shows that culture is an important part of music, and as I said, the mnemonic musical span ("empan" in French), has not the same value in different musical and cultural circles. Musical education has been formalized in the West, and somehow, our ears have accommodated to that. Therefore, everything is relative, even though we can play music in all its forms, ours being a part of it. One thing's for sure: We have invented nothing new, but only put forward our world view through our music, and we know there's no accounting for taste, so we just somehow give vent to our own weird ideas - after all, that's the main purpose of art.

Well, there won't be any love songs in XHOHX, I guess...
Oregolakatzor: It goes without saying...

How can you reconcile the back-to-the-primal approach with the fact that you rely on modern technological achievements in the process of creating your music and promoting it?
Oregolakatzor: What a coincidence! It’s explained in these plain terms inside the CD: "We are all organisms thrown into the future. Back from a journey to the archaic sources, with help from technology, we cut flints, echoing resoundingly in the valley of our consciences. Hermits on the human mountain, we belong to this community which provides us aid. Thanks to the crumbs falling off the table, it is an accomplice to our rise..." I think there is nothing further to say...

Ramon: It's also a representation of the conflict between man and machine, a challenge as it happens for us...

As for the language that is used on the album: where does it come from, is it entirely arbitrary or does it follow certain rules? You were apparently influenced by Magma in that respect, were you?
Oregolakatzor: Right then, contrary to what one could think, our language has no contacts at all with Kobaïa, which happens only in a dream, and actually Kobaïa, its sensitivity and Vander’s manner of playing are closely connected in their live performance. The language practically makes sense only within this context. I don't know if you know Nosfell - he's an artist who uses his own language as well and yet he has no connection to Zeuhl as far as I know. However, I won't be so objective about Koenji Hyakkei, for instance, or our friends from Corima... Anyway: Yes, the only common point lies in the fact that it is organic - no, in fact, it's a musical language we can easily compare to onomatopoeia, to an unhealthy inner search similar to a trying trance, the purpose of which being purpose to fetch the idea I get about primitive sounds uttered by early man. Most reviews are focused on "growls" like "death metal" but in fact these are simply the expressions of feelings like doubt and anger. Moreover, other vocals styles permeate KARYOTYPEXPLOSION - like whispering, rattles, semblances of melodies, starts, aspirations and so on.

Not that it actually musically relevant, but it came across my mind that in countries like France, you can get the people to start riots more quickly than in Germany or the US. I was thinking about these incidents two years ago, when the suburbs of Paris kept burning for some nights due to this youth that has been killed by the police. As I don't see bands of the RIO-type or something similar here in Germany, I wonder if it is a national phenomenon or at least dependant from your respective locale and how you have been raised politically. After all, American RIO bands are largely to be found in California, which has always been more of a liberal place...Is it maybe even a genetic predisposition with, for example Southerners being more hot-blooded and easier to stir by injustice?
Ramon: Genetic… Certainly not - it's rather the historical context which makes the difference. Assuming that neither politicians nor economists will resolve anything, it's the reaction of the people that matters and moves things - otherwise nothing comes about; social history has proven that... I don't know Germany’s home policy or the German social angles that well, but over here, we attach importance to social injustice. Injustice to people's living conditions is to appeal to the emotions; they say we are grumblers, the people… We are unfortunately not often enough... Seeing that injustice of all sorts always triumphs in the end, and that we're still being on the wrong road... Both the past and future know! Is it not our duty to let the powerful breathe? - A band like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum from the US west coast clearly illustrates this point by assuming a tough stance towards the world's condition, but I don't think it's the consequence of a certain freedom of thought because over there, you can find both the best and the worst things - like everywhere else.

Oregolakatzor: Well, I'm not going to simplify this debate by deliberately avoiding historical and socio-economical points of view within this sinister business, which makes me step beside myself with rage: These events from two years ago - and it's not over - are the consequence of the carelessness of the administration. Its inoperative actions to solve problems of ghettoization and pauperization as well as the lack of mixed social community leads to this end result: It's breaking while others wave the spectre of insecurity... It's a global complication; the Black Block got famous by the definite positions of these countries against all kinds of injustice. The words "genetic predisposition" gave me a shock and threw me back to the gloomiest days of our history! In France, "the country of human rights", the police have been taking DNA systematically from people in custody since 2003. This file, created in 1998 by the socialist government to go against paedophiles, has spread to the whole population because they say our citizens would be more secure if their DNA data was collected. Like all state files, they count on the presumption of guilt. All in all, it's the very principle of individuals observed by the state, which disgusts me as well as the driftings which will ensue from it today and tomorrow, given what history taught us...

With the trivialization of extreme metal and its singing style in particular (vocalists screaming and growling because they want to fit conventions rather than because they have the urgent need to), do you think that a brand of extreme music like yours could be the "new" black or death metal with respect to its relevance concerning the general development of modern music - in short: As common ears have gradually become used to hear elements of these genres in middle-of-the-road music released by (disguised) major labels, can your stuff assume this role in an unspecified future?
Ramon: It's not our ambition; we'd really like to, but our album is a drastic change all the way through. The few people that told us, they find it difficult to listen to. We surely skip some steps in the process.... It's not easy for us to get appreciation for our music as such, and I'm only talking about a limited musical environment and not even about major labels. Anyway, the question is: Will an evolution really be necessary? We are optimistic and fighting our way through conventional styles for our own definition of music.

Oregolakatzor: I quite agree with Ramon - it would be pretentious on our part to try to embody anything within these musical styles. They have their own brand names and are split up into a multitude of gradual emotions, even if apparently for the neophytes, some aspects remain conventional within the same circle. That's why there are different breeds in the metal family... Concerning XHOHX, I know it's appreciated in a certain grind and death as well as blast or crust environment… Curious, isn't it? At the moment, we receive some new reviews almost every week, and the least we can say is that there have been names galore which try to define it: Punk-jazz, brutal progressive, noise math-rock, metal artbear zeuhl and so on. I think it's difficult to cling to certitudes, XHOHX is a living musical proof. I don't know what to say… We are very grateful to you, since you are one of few people in Europe to support us alongside some others in Scandinavia. From the US, we get a lot of support; other interviews from these people will come to complete yours, say on Aural Innovation by Jerry Kranitz and more...

So in the end, what will the future bring to your project? Any live activities planned, and do you actually see any potential to establish yourselves as a long-running capacity and institution of your respective genre, however one may call it? Would you like to be seen as a seminal band in the future?
Oregolakatzor: We are indeed setting up to tour France in early May and the rest of Europe in October - first the Northern part: Germany, Benelux, Poland and Scandinavia. After that, we’ll go to the Southern part with Switzerland, Czech Republik, Slovakia, Italy, Southern France, Spain and Portugal. We are keen on doing a maximum of gigs this year to promote KARYOTYPEXPLOSION in the independent international network. It's too early to take stock of the situation, because it's only the beginning... We keep going and focus all our energy to get our music appreciated - making connections with those who wish to support us, playing with bands whose music suits us, strengthening the connections to those who hearten us today. In that respect, we are very honoured to appear in Lamentations of the Flame Princess because without your passionate mission of discovery, nothing would happen.

Ramon: We keep honing our art and transmitting what is dear to our hearts... Everything is said.

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