Tuesday, August 12, 2014

an interview with BEAST AS GOD

BEAST AS GOD are from Nottingham in England. There are five of them. They sound like Unruh and Catharsis having a barfight. Inspired by yhe more confrontational ends of 90s metallic hardcore, they are far from any kind of nostalgia, but definitely a band old farts like me will probably have a soft spot for straight away. They have things to say. I have allowed vocalist Jérémie to say them here. While reading I suggest you listen to their excellent demo below

So Jérémie: what prompts a bunch of people to start a band like Beast as God at this point in the 21st century? Was there a specific set of ideas or goals in forming BAG that you had in mind once you got together? For example there’s a very definite hint of certain types of 90s metallic hc, that I don’t really hear any more going on in both the music and lyrics – so was BAG an attempt to bring that back? Are you trying to fill a void?

I had been thinking about starting a band in this vein for years, but the chaos in my life did not allow me to make it come into existence until last year. Coming out of that period and into a reconstruction phase meant getting a start on that project became more pressing, so I asked Steve (who plays guitar in Moloch and does Rum Lad zine) if he would be interested in playing guitar in a band in that vein, which luckily he agreed to. Perfect synchronicity meant that Matt, who was in Dead In The Woods with me, had returned to Nottingham and he soon joined the project. A common friend introduced us to drum wiz kid Steve and when Boulty, who is a long-time friend and also plays with Steve in Huffin' Paint as well as being known to many as the man behind 'Stuck On A Name' studio (and for a dubious love of nu-metal) offered to play bass, we finally had a band!

Yes, when we got together, there was a strong idea of what it would sound like, I did a mixtape to Steve and Matt, both guitar players, and we discussed our sound much before even having the full line-up. The idea is clearly to hark back to that 90s sound, from Rorshach to Acme via Catharsis and Unruh, all bands who obviously were raised on Maiden and Slayer before they discovered Black Flag, with a hint of that heavy metal proficiency and the unhinged-ness Japanese bands such as Deathside and GISM have. It is also a reaction against both Tragedy clones and Entombedcore. I love both Tragedy and Entombed, but I think between the HM2 fixation and the easy melodies, something has been lost of the primal Slayer addled heaviness of mid-90s hardcore.
So in a nutshell: His Hero is Gone, not Tragedy, The Swarm, not Cursed!

I can only speak to myself here, but for me, there is a long tradition of bands that exist in the hinterland between punk and metal which are influenced by both, but are really neither, combining the no thrill roughness of punk hardcore, with the heaviness and musicianship of metal to create something else. I would be happy and honoured for Beast as God to be seen as aligned with bands such as GISM, Sacrilege, Amebix, Crow, Bolt Thrower, Antisect, Starkweather, Integrity, His Hero Is Gone, Neurosis, Unruh, Catharsis, Gehenna, etc.

The type of metallic hardcore we play was my very first true love music wise. I came to age in the early 90s, and was into francophone punk, then moved to Uni in Bordeaux and was introduced first to the more ‘tough guy’ side of things with bands such as Stormcore and Kickback, and then the ultra-DIY, political side of things with bands such as Undone, Öpstand, etc… I liked the music of both, and made friends in both scenes, but the posturing of the former was not for me, and the politics of the latter, whilst worthwhile, was a bit too much at times. Then Stalingrad, Catharsis and Gehenna came to town in short succession, and they were mean, no “network of friends” hippy bullshit (even so I deeply care for the DIY network), confrontational, but not posturing, just pure take no prisoners punk hardcore fury, with a thick metallic sound, I was hooked for life!

I am not sure if I get you right, but I am going to try to answer you there on the last point. Currently, there’s a resurgence of a sort of “holy terror” hardcore, I had given metallic hardcore up for dead in the early 00’s as ‘metalcore’ became a swearword, all pretty boys playing overproduced bullshit or knuckle-dragging e-chugg boredom, but bands like Pulling Teeth and Rot in Hell reminded me how much I loved that stuff! There are a lot of newer bands doing it right, like Children of God or Withdrawal, but I find that too many bands go for the pseudo-occult, neo-folk, Process fixated aesthetics of later Integrity only as a packaging, it all rings very hollow to me, with Beast as God we ally ourselves more with bands like Unruh, Artimus Pyle, (early) Catharsis or Gehenna, seeking solace in acknowledging the more sordid corners of humanity, exploring the raw sewage…
No master plan to bring anything back or fill a void, just play the music we want to play, and rage.

What prompted the name “Beast As God”? Is it an allusion to paganism? A statement about humanity? Or was it purely just cos it sounds rad? Do you feel the name ties into the lyrics?

Very prosaically, Beast as God comes from Integrity's song “Beasts as Gods” (which I am pretty sure is influenced by the NON album God and Beast), losing the ‘s’ to make it roll better out of the tongue!

And yes, it is a statement about the dichotomous nature of humanity, we are the beast, and we are god. This indeed ties nicely with the lyrics, as my lyrics explore the extremes of human condition… I am a staunch rationalist, I live in a world of causes and effects, however, my lyrical world is a world of vengeful gods and half-forgotten myths, as I find those tap into strong atavisms for the listeners (assuming they are culturally western). I was raised a catholic, so biblical imagery speaks strongly to me, but I am very interested in the interaction between humanity and the natural world about which pagan traditions have much to tell us.

(photo by Andy Greenstreet)

The artwork on the tape looks great, what does the Japanese writing on the cover mean? And for those who missed it (ie: most people) can you tell us a bit about the “special edition” with the sort of military looking art?

Thanks, those are the Japanese characters for “Beast” and “God”, Momo who does Flower of Carnage record in Japan and his Friend Toshi did them with a proper calligraphy brush and I love how they came out!

The special edition, ha! Ok, it is a handmade, numbered edition of 13 with a GISM rip-off over-sleeve. Andy from Viral Age and I are suckers for that kind of thing, small handmade editions meant for friends and supporters, not to make it into ebay fodder, but as a way to make it a bit more special and personal… That one was definitely not meant for general consumption as it has some borderline nazi aesthetic that would be wrongly interpreted by anybody not familiar with the cover of GISM's last album (SoniCRIME Therapy)…

It is also a nod to my Laibach obsession, 20 year old me would have hated it, as I used to call for a boycott of Laibach based on their aesthetic! But then I heard their cover of a Queen song as a Teutonic marching band and realised the humour in what they were doing (“Geburt Einer Nation”seek it out, it is one of my favourite things ever), I love how they toyed with this martial imagery, but made it into something very kitsch, maybe not to be shared with everybody, though…
So yeah, that’s what the Ltd tape is about: a cheeky GISM/Laibach homage.

I get the feeling there are some specific nods to the Catharsis/Inside Front/Crimethinc gang in the music, lyrics and aesthetic elements of the band. I know you personally are a fan of that particular period in HC history – what is/was it about that corner of the scene that appealed to you so much? Do you feel the sense of revolution that movement was trying to push so hard has been lost in punk/hc at this point? How do you feel the musical and written elements of that movement have held up the best part of two decades on?

Here we go, how many pages do we have? Haha… Yes, you are right Catharsis is a very special band for me, and by extension, so are Inside Front and Crimethinc, musically, I think they fully exemplify what I was saying about a band being neither metal, nor hardcore, but both, and then some more. With the benefit of hindsight, I feel some of the revolutionary fervour of the whole Crimethinc thing to be more than a bit cringe-worthy, for sure. Their more outlandish drop-out facet looked very different after I met my current partner, who had been a single mother for 6 years before I was welcomed into her and her son’s family: drop-out of capitalism and become a vagabond? OK, but that would not put dinner on the table, innit?

Still, around the time they released Samsara, that whole thing was the perfect package: a band musically head and shoulders above most of their peers (listen to Alexei’s incredible drumming and Brian's weird on time but not on time delivery) which was entirely dedicated to their revolutionary mission. It sounds corny, but for a while it all made sense, they were the vanguard, their way of life and art combined offered a glimpse into another way of living… Of course it could not last, but being there at the time was exhilarating! So I hope we take the best of that period, but don’t fall into the trap of being too ebullient about it, just keep what made it so powerful.

If I am being honest, what makes that particular period of music for me is that it harks back to my formative years, so of course I am looking at it through nostalgic lenses... I am at war with the narrative that wants the 90s to have been a low point for hardcore punk. A period that spawned bands such as His Hero Is Gone, Acme, Zorn, ABC Diabolo, HHIG, Catharsis, Breach, Headway (mostly the Frenchies will get that one), Stalingrad, Botch, etc. cannot be so easily cast aside! And yes, there was a revolutionary fervour which is lacking nowadays. I can see how the whole PC thing can been seen as borderline ridiculous now, and some bands/people went too far in their zeal, but those questions needed asking, and at risk of sounding like the old man I am, I sometimes despair that we have almost lost that, the constant discussion about sexism, food not bomb, etc. those were worthy endeavours, and made punk more special than just posting pix of coloured vinyl on Instagram.
How does it all hold up after 20 years? I am not sure. I think some amazing records came out at that time, for sure. As far as the written element is concerned, I was indeed a fan of Inside Front anti-MRR approach to things, when MRR was and still is a quick, to the point snapshot of the scene at any given time, short interviews, shorter reviews, Inside Front wanted itself to be more akin to an academic journal, taking its time to get in depth into the matter. I am not saying it is the only approach, and that the written aspect of hardcore punk culture should always be that verbose, far from it!!! but I liked this (can’t you tell?) and I worry we’ve almost totally lost this in a world of Facebook posts and Twitter…

(picture by Fat Robbie)

You’re a Frenchman living in the English Midlands. We always have this slightly romanticised idea that the punk scene on the mainland is slightly better organised/run than it is in the UK or Ireland in terms of autonomous spaces, DIY venues and the like, but I’ve noticed there seems to be a lot more of these type venues popping up in the UK nowadays, like I know of JT Soar in Notts for one. How do you think the DIY aspect in the UK now compares to in France at this point?

When I first came to England, I was shocked by how many promoters were not providing hospitality, this is taken for granted in France and the rest of Europe, to promote a gig means finding a venue and a line-up and of course actually 'promoting' the gig beforehand so people turn up but IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING that it also means cooking something hot and nutritious (go vegan so you’re sure to cater for everybody) and find some friendly dry floor place for the band to crash on!! It was shocking to have to beg the audience for a place to crash and to have to buy food on the go from an already meagre budget! Luckily this is less and less the case, but still there is room for progress on that one…

I’ve now lived in England for 13 years, so I am not an expert on the French scene anymore (if I ever was)… and I haven’t been on tour for years, so I don’t feel I can really answer that one. What I can tell you is that the DIY punk hardcore network in the UK is the healthiest I have ever known it!!! At some point, it looked like the legendary 1in12 in Bradford was the sole standard bearer for DIY run places left! But of late places like Stuck On A Name studios and JT Soar in Nottingham, Wharf Chambers and Temple of Boom in Leeds, the Lughole in Sheffield, etc. have been proving me wrong!

Similarly, I’m always interested in the local vs global aspect of punk. I feel like in the scene while things like touring and putting out records , which are obviously a means to reach the wider scene, are all fine but there’s an element within punk whereby the importance is more about what role your band plays locally. I suppose what I’m getting at here is I’m wondering if you’re happy for Beast As God is a band that is more interested in interacting and participating in the UK scene primarily, or do you wish to reach a wider audience? Or is that something you even think about?

Beast as God as a band is not going to ever be that busy, we’ve got other bands, jobs, kids, older bodies, etc. which means we’re never going to be a band planning global domination!!! So by default we are going to exist primarily as a local band, but the global aspect of DIY is one of its best aspects, I have directly and indirectly interacted with people from all over the globe thanks to the DIY network, and I certainly hope BaG is a part of this. Knowing that some of the tapes went as far afield as Japan, Malaysia, Latin America and New Zealand has been great! Likewise, I'd like to think that we are part of a network of like-minded folks/bands, across the globe...

I agree with you that the local aspect of DIY is paramount, it is what got me into it 20 years ago, the realisation that your scene is in your hands, getting into bands like Stormcore and Out For Blood (Neglect inspired Belgium band) and then realising that if I wanted to see them, all I needed to do was to get them to play my city, which we did together with a mate and was revelatory, it switched me from a musical consumer to an actor! And 20 years down the line, even so I often grumble about it, I won't let it go just yet.

We’re almost all promoters in the band, and all partake in the local scene’s life: I put on gigs with two friends (I think the names Andy and Henry will be familiar to you and any readers following the Nottingham scene) as the 593 Collective, Steve's (gtr) artwork is often seen on posters for local gigs and he also puts on gigs semi regularly and so does his partner Tanya from Bismuth, Steve (dr) also puts on gigs, Boulty runs the legendary 'Stuck On A Name' studios and Matt’s artwork is also often seen on posters and records for local gigs/bands.

The older I get, the less interest I have in what you might refer to as “The Discharge Haiku” approach to lyrics. Thankfully you’ve avoided that. I wanted to ask about two of the songs on the demo in particular – firstly, “Eschatological Visions” can you perhaps explain this one a little? I’m curious about the mention of “breaching the walls of Jerusalem” for example.

First of all, I beg to differ with you on the Discharge Haiku thing, like most things punk/metal, it is awful when done badly, and of late, yes, there might have been a lot of that! But when done right, it is devastating; check Bloodkrow Butcher’s lyrics for “anti war”:
“Who declares the fucking war? Not the corpses. Anti war”
Fucking genius if you ask me!

Eschatological Visions is what it says on the tin, a vision of destruction, annihilation, pure rage. Like all the lyrics of the demo, it directly concerns a recent period of my life when I was thrown in absolute turmoil, I shan’t go into the specifics, but it has had a profound and life changing effect on my family, and myself. Coming out of that period battered and bruised, I felt the need for an outlet allowing me to express primal emotions, something brutal and to the point, so I could channel out the negativity.
This song is a declaration of war to the human race, after years of taking abuse from all directions for sticking to your guns, after seeing people reduce you and your loved ones to mere shells because you stood right (and were later proven so in court) in something that was a matter of life and death to a child, I can tell you at some point, if I had the power to pass judgement on humanity, I would have happily called time on it! Of course it doesn’t mean I am for voluntary extinction, or anything like that, it is a snapshot of my emotions at that specific moment, just incandescent rage.

I will breach the walls of Jerusalem besieged/and unleash a storm, with it comes pestilence”

Like I have discussed before, I find religious imagery to be extremely potent as a lyricist, those lines of lyrics are a denial of the separation of good from evil, you know the idea that people who are doing evil deeds are “monsters”, so that most people are good, they are Solomon's temple, and on the other side of the walls are monsters, evil hordes besieging Jerusalem? Nope, the monsters are us, the urges that make those people kill, rape, steal? We all have them, those evil paedophiles? They might be great mates, a laugh down the pub, good brothers who remember your birthday, neighbours etc...they are not “like” us, they are us.

So I (or at least my demonic avatar in the song) tear down the wall creating that false separation, and call time on the whole lot!
Not beast or god, beast as god...

(picture by Charlee Rowton)

And secondly, can you talk a little about the song “Eulogie” – my French is crap but I can understand the bit at the start about “we are living, brothers and sisters, in a life of agony” and then something later about “everything will be possible, everything will be permitted”; can you explain a little about this song and what made you write this one in your own language rather than English?

Almost right! The first part means "We are alive, brothers and sisters, alive in a world in agony" and the other part translates as "everything was possible, and everything was permitted".
This song opens with a celebration of survival, we are alive, in a world in agony, maybe, but still alive when too many people aren't, but after that, it is a litany of nostalgia and reliving memories, memories of moments when one felt alive with possibility, you know: first love, first riot, first gig, that kind of thing.

I am almost forty, life half-over as Geriatric Unit helpfully puts it, and I just took a battering, and yes, sometimes I yearn for the innocence of my earlier days, to be once again that cocky little prince who walked the world like he owned it (I was horrendous!) and not that scarred veteran! The end of the song translates as "And when each evening/I close my eyes/on my defeats/I find myself alive/alive but lost in a dying world/and I can hear the cries/of fallen angels/they are my brothers and sisters/fallen from a sky ablaze/their wings torn away/their heart broken/here they are laid/ on the floor bare/this cruel fate/condemned them/to an eternity/spent crawling". A declaration of heartbreak at the people we have lost, because they choose an early exit, or because they just gave up and joined the production lines...

So where the first song of the demo is a snapshot of pure rage, this one, the last song, is a snapshot on a moment of quiet despair, of absolute lassitude...

Why did I write it in French? I try to have at least one French song on every record I put out, it is my own tongue and I think it is important, coming back to the international dimension of hardcore punk, it is great, but at times it feels like it is just another part of globalisation, you know, Indonesian, Ecuadorian or Pakistani kids shouting in English? Now I am not saying it is always wrong, but it can be very odd, reading the texts of some of my friend's old bands back in France, trying to say worthwhile things, over a 2 minutes song, and in barely understandable broken English!!!

You might remember that band Ire, which became the Black Hand? Radwan the singer was a Lebanese kid living in French Canada, so they released that 7",and it had one song in English (I think it was about work), one in French (about the futility of the tension between French and English in Quebec seen against the genocide of the Native Canadian) and one in Arabic (about the Intifada), it left a very long lasting effect on me, how he used all three languages he spoke, but also how each language was suited to the subject matter... So from that example, I made the conscious decision to have French on every record I did, but it is easier said than done, French grammar does not suit the short sharp shock of hardcore, at all. It is great for chanson, and hip-hop, but not for fast! So the initial reason that song is in French is that it is the more mid-tempo song we had, and when I heard it, I knew it would fit French lyrics...

Right, the big question you knew this was coming: we’re both parents. How, if it all, do you feel being involved in punk/hc culture has affected your approach to raising children? How easy do you find it to balance still being active in a band with being a parent?

My partner of 13 years had a 6 year old son when we got together, so I sort of was thrown in at the deep end when I became part of their family... and we now have a 5 year old daughter. Being into punk hardcore definitely has affected my parenting, and being a parent has definitely changed my outlook on punk hardcore!

I come from a very middle class, liberal, catholic family, and I try to bring to my parenting the good side of my upbringing, and from punk hardcore a healthy mistrust of authority as well as trying to teach my kids to see through the trappings of consumer culture, with varying results, of course, but parenting is definitely an art, not a science!!

Having a daughter has been a learning curve, as I am one of 4 boys, and the exposure to feminist theories I had through hardcore punk culture definitely informed my parenting in that matter.
I have already said how difficult the last years have been for my family, going through that time has put my musical activities into perspective, as at the end, it doesn't matter at all compared to the well-being of my loved ones, but at the same time, having somewhere to escape it all and lock myself in a room with good people and make an infernal racket for two hours a week has been salubrious! So on top of influencing my parenting, the outlet offered by being in a couple of bands, and going to raging gigs certainly makes me a better father...

However, there is an intrinsic tension between home and musical activities, which are by and large nocturnal, and therefore clashing with parenting duties. It is hard to establish an easy balance between the two and it has had an effect on how many gigs I can play, and certainly go to, I seldom go to gigs I don't play or put on anymore.

Another unexpected benefit of being a parent has been to take myself out of the punk hardcore fish bowl, and throw me into the real world, interact with ‘real’ people… It did put things into perspective. Some things I got from hardcore punk became very futile, some others even more crucial…

This also made me much choosier about which gig I will play. If I go to play a gig, it will likely cost me money (the joy of DIY in 2014), it means my partner has to stay home, and can't socialise and it is likely I will be slightly under the weather and grouchy the following day, so a gig has to be worth it for me to play it, so if we don't like the bands we play with, or are friends with them, or are not reasonably sure there will be some petrol money, chances are I am not going to play it. I wish it was not the case as I am sure this means missing out on some belters, but it is the price to pay for playing that game at my old age...

Almost done – I know most if not all of the BAG members are involved in other bands; want to tell us a little about those?

Sure, Steve (gtr) plays in Moloch (http://moloch.bandcamp.com/), who play monolithic sludge, they have released a couple of split 12" with Meth Drinker and Ensorcelor last year, two slabs of pure hatred!

Steve (dr) and Boulty (bass) play gonzo fastcore in Huffin' Paint (http://huffinpaint.bandcamp.com/) they have a split with Chevin out and regularly play all over the country. Boulty also plays in Death Tripper (http://deathtripper.bandcamp.com/) a grindcore band who have recently released a split EP with Meatpacker.

As of very recently Matt (gtr) plays keyboard in Nadir (http://nadirmurk.bandcamp.com/), a weird psychedelic sludge band in which I also do vocals and abuse a Theremin, we are about to release a tape album on Viral Age records. Matt also has a couple of not heavy musical projects on the go, but nothing finalised yet.

And finally: what’s next for BAG?
Playing more gigs and writing an album, then finding people willing to release said album. Maybe do a mini tour out of the country next year. Rage on...

(picture by Charlee Rowton)

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