Artful Static [2014-07-22]Frenchman Julien Skrobek is one of the more interesting & thought-provoking figures to appear from the European HNW scene. Firstly the sound of his many projects is often anchored in a progressive setting( be it edging his work with none ‘wall’ elements, or producing his ‘walls’ in a creative manner). Secondly he’s often picks unusual & varied themes for his releases such as :French surrealist poets & writers, Italian directors & philosophers, 1980’s sleazy slashes, art & artists, voodoo/African culture, etc.
He first appeared on the scene in 2011 with the CDR label Slow Death records, which saw him release works under project names such as Ghost, The Sandman Wears A Mask(with Alois Richter), and Bones- sonically the focus of his work in this period saw him mix ambient(and ethnic) elements with HNW to help create the ANW (Ambient Noise Wall) form. After this he went onto release a slew of releases on various underground noise labels, and in this period he carried on with his progressive take on walled noise, but he also released work under projects like Ruine, which saw him focus in on a more brutal & fixed HNW sound. Then, all of a sudden in mid-to–late 2012 he completely disappeared, and wasn’t heard of again until early 2014 when suddenly reappeared with his new label Ink Runs Recordings, which saw his sound moving towards a more static noise/ HNW setting, but still with a progressive edge( this time in the way the ‘walls’ were constructed & produced). Since his return to the scene he has released work under projects such as Butch Bag, Static Park, Sadistic Fall, Flesh Clocks( with his wife Charlotte), The Killer Came From The Bronx, etc. I caught-up with Julien for a lengthy yet fascinating email interview, discussing the past, present & future.
m[m]: Tell us a little bit about what trigged you’re return to the HNW scene after been away from it for a few years ?
Julien Well I had been a long time without the drive to make HNW when I decided to pack a few CDs before I went on holiday. Nowadays I would usually take a hard-drive full of MP3's but this time I wanted to focus on just a few records I would listen to repeatedly, a way of listening to music I kind of lost along the way with the amount of music available digitally. Anyway, one of these physical releases was Werewolf Jerusalem's Confessions Of A Sex Maniac 3 CD set. I had not listened to anything related to static noise in years but when I heard this many emotions came back to me. I kept going back to it and when I came back home I revisited my collection and it wasn't long before I took my gear out and tried my hand at wall-making again. I wanted to be sure before I released anything so I waited until I had an aesthetic and a new sound that pleased me before I really came back to the scene.
m[m]: You mention Werewolf Jerusalem's Confessions Of A Sex Maniac, as one of the things that got you interested in the wall form again- what qualities appealed to you in this release, and do you think it’s effected your new take on walled noise/static composition ?
Julien I like everything about it to be honest. First the quality of the textures of course, the variety achieved. Then I am amazed at the narrative qualities of these tracks. There is just enough subtle variations to keep one's interest up while letting some space for imagination at the same time. In general this is what appeals to me in Richard Ramirez's work: He sets up an atmosphere and creates a texture that generates this “HNW auditory illusion” I am so attached to, when one wonders if the movement is in the sound itself or in the mind, but he also introduces just enough movement to keep things going when the mind is tired of trying to make sense of one noise and could escape the illusion. When one gets deep into his stuff, the changes are so artfully done the listener moves from one auditory hallucination to the next. This was a huge influence on the Ink Runs Recordings projects, as I started actually touching the pedals while I was recording, instead of just setting a satisfactory texture and letting it run its course.
m[m]: For the most part the material you have released since your returning to scene has been fairly different in both sound & theme from the work you put out on the Slow Death label- for example your projects on Slow Death had an often leaning towards voodoo/African culture themes, and sound wise the projects were quite progressive sounding with dark ambient & ethnic touches. While your releases on Ink Runs Recordings theme wise have focused on more art related themes, and the projects sounds have been more brutal & less progressive in their walled noise nature . Please tell us a little bit about how & why these elements have changed, and do you think you’ll ever return to the Slow death days sound/themes?
Julien It's interesting you find it less progressive and more brutal than the Slow Death material because I tend to think otherwise... The sound of the newer projects is very different because while I was away from the HNW scene I worked a lot on production techniques, such as sequencing, compression and so on, and I try to apply this to what I do these days with static noise. What has also changed is that most of my walls nowadays are not monolithic, contrary to the Slow Death era ones. I introduce little or big changes in the walls, such as cuts, filtering or even changes of textures. I tend to use juxtaposition more than movement per se. I don't make completely static, 20 minute long walls anymore because it wouldn't go with my current attention spam. However, the new walls might indeed be more brutal, but it is not intentional and I have not listened to the older material in a long time so I can't really compare. It is true that I have lost interest in “Ambient Noise Wall” as a genre, if it ever really existed, because I can now find the same state of contemplation with harsher sounds, something that was perhaps more difficult for me at the time.
Julien As for the themes, I do all the artwork for Ink Runs Recordings, and let the artist chose what they want for Bad Rip Series. I am still very interested in Voodoo but I felt I was at the end of a cycle as far as using it for a theme went. I started doing a lot of painting and collaging these years so I wanted to incorporate that in my releases. It's always more personal than taking a picture from Google Image.
m[m]: Ok, Yes I can see your point regarding your new projects been progressive because of the production & the way you now construct them- but I guess I was using the term ‘progressive’ to describe the way you used to edge your walls with non-wall/non -noise elements, such as ambience, experimental sound texturing & subtle ethnic elements- so you can’t see yourself using these elements again in future releases, or do you have an ideas to use other non wall/ harsh noise elements in future releases?
Julien I see. Well it's true that with the projects associated with Ink Runs Recordings I've been trying to make something that sustains interest using strictly abstract, static noise elements. Sometimes I use a little movie sample as an intro when I want to make something “in the HNW tradition” or I layer some little scraped percussions here or there, especially with the Serpent Sex project, but that's about it.
Julien All the experimenting with non-noise elements is done with Static Park. There is no limit with this project, I've used it to mix wall elements with tibetan chanting bowl, acoustic and electric guitar, voice, hip-hop beats, samples from old electro-acoustic records and so on...
Julien In this sense I think you could say that I've turned to a more “pure” form of static noise with the Ink Runs Recordings projects and gone further into the “progressive” side with Static Park.
m[m]: It’s interesting you mention you have lost your interest in ANW, why do you think this is? Also you made a aside comment ‘if it ever existed’ regarding the ANW form- could you tell us what you meant by this ?
Julien When I say that I lost interest I mean that I don't think about it in terms of “harsh” or “ambient” anymore. Most HNW artists had tracks that were less “intense” than the others on their releases, did that make it ANW ? Are crackling studies ANW ? Is a track with a strong driving bass HNW even though the texture itself is not really harsh ?
Julien I think the term ANW made sense some years ago when a HNW release was systematically praised as “brutal” or “devastating” in the label PR. I'm not sure people expect speed and harshness anymore when they listen to a release tagged as HNW. Moreover, I believe the “harsh”, “ambient” or “progressive” trends in HNW belong to a very Euro-centric point of view where everything that deviates from Vomir's sound has to be tagged something.
Julien I'm a big fan of the U.S. Scene and I follow it closely. I don't really think of it as HNW because there is such a variety in their sound, it goes from minimal electronics to extremely harsh washes of white noise and yet you really get the sense that they share something in their conception of sound. In my opinion it's best described as “static noise”.
m[m]: Going back to Slow Death label- have you any plans to reissue any of the labels back catalogue, or maybe do a compilation release taking in some of the highlights from the label?
Julien I have been asked a couple times about reissues and I might do a compilation. It would probably be digital so that more people would be able to hear it. However, it's extremely difficult for me to focus on things past. When the moment is gone it is usually gone forever as far as I'm concerned.
m[m]: Tell us a little bit about how your set-up has changed since you returned to the scene?
Julien My set-up and my way of making walls has changed a great deal. I now own a respectable amount of gear, but I don't use a lot of pedals at the same time. For instance I would never use two distortions simultaneously... The source can be radio, white noise or piezo mic, fed into one fuzz (Fuzz Factory, 4 Eyes or Dreamcrusher) then I chose one distortion and add some effect (reverb, delay, pitch-shifting...). I'm not going to list everything I use, but the basic principle is I choose 1 pedal of each “category” as I would chose musicians to form a band.
Julien Usually I have taken notes of the sounds I need and record until I have enough material. Then I upload everything on the computer and do some sequencing. I don't process the sound further with the computer because I want to keep the sound of the gear intact.
Julien Another thing is I never record “in the red” and add just a slight compression in order to keep my textures as they are naturally. Most of my output is less loud than is common in HNW but I don't mind that. There is a “loudness war” going on in most fields of contemporary music, but I'm not interested in this aspect. I don't want to “harm” the texture just to make it so loud people will have to jump and turn down the volume when the track starts to play.
m[m]: In a fairly short time Ink Runs Recordings (& it’s movie themed sub label Bad Rip Series) have amassed a fair few releases- please select ten releases that mean the most to you & explain why they do?
Julien The Girl With The Stanley Knife - Cradle Of Blades - IRR02
Solo release by my wife, Charlotte, and my favorite in the 1st batch of Ink Runs Records. It's also by seeing here working with the piezo mic that I decided to incorporate it in my set-up.
DEF - 110111101111 - IRR08
A very special release by my friend Lorenzo Abattoir, aka Nascitari. This is actually a video-cd containing a movie and its soundtrack. This is the visual equivalent of the crackling studies in static noise, except as usual with Lorenzo it's filled with a dark romanticism that's really emotional contrary to all the sterile experimental movies that go along minimal electronic music. It think this is a masterpiece and it could reach a far wider audience. I'm very proud to have released this.
Artigli Su Un Suolo Di Marmo - Bad Rip - IRR04
This project is very personal for me and I'm very happy with this release. It is inspired by Italian cinema and popular songs, but in a twisted way as I associate a lot of potential violence and danger with it. The name means “claws on a marbled floor” and that's the sound I aim to find with it.
Where Is This - Stumbling Lips - IRR11
I love the music on this one, as always with Where Is This, but I also picked it because I think it's the nicest packaging I've ever done for a release. I was so happy with this release that we did 2 editions that are now sold-out.
Fear Of Mirrors - Criminal Reflections - IRR07
I think this is the best thing I did in the minimal-noise / drone field. It is one of the very few things of mine I go back to sometimes. I'm very proud of this one.
Velfaerd - Alt Er Vel - IRR09
Velfaerd (who has many other aliases) is a mysterious young man from Denmark, who wishes to remain anonymous for reasons that escape me a little. I think he has a lot of talent. You can hear that he knows his HNW, but he also has his own sound and mixes HNW with ambient in an extremely personal way. You wouldn't call it ANW for instance. The first time I heard it I didn't really like it, nor could I identify it with a genre, which is always a good sign for me.
La Goccia D'Acqua - Tradere - IRR17
I think this is the best “subtly crackling” HNW piece I ever did. After this one I thought I would stop doing this kind of crackling sound because I wouldn't be able to top this one. As for Fear Of Mirrors it's something of mine I can stand to listen to from time to time.
Cuttings - Scar Tissue Frequencies - IRR12
A collaboration between Charlotte, me and mister Clive Henry. I'd been wanting to do something with Clive for a long time and I love the way this collaboration came out. It was also the first time I took part in a 3-way HNW collaboration.
Carrie - Send An Army Of Angels - BRS 11
Excellent release by Mr James Killick. When James sent me this one I was considering going “digital only” and stopping making physical releases because of the costs and everything and I thought there wasn't enough interest. However this one was sold-out in a couple days so I thought I might go on after all.
Figures Of Solitude - The Night Watchman - Bad Rip Series 07 – 2014
Again a very personal release. Double Cdr set describing the hours of a night watchman, from 7:30 PM to 7:30 AM. That's the job I'm doing these days and I really had to translate the feelings it brought me into sound.
m[m]: You mentioned been very satisfied with your collaboration with Uk waller Clive Henry- who else would you like to collaborate with ?
Julien Well I have recently collaborated with Lorenzo Abattoir/Nacitari but the result has not been released yet, and I'm doing a long-term duo with Joseph/Black Matter Phantasm called Black Meat. We are working on our second release these days.
Julien As for others I'd like to collaborate with Tissa Mawartyassari.
m[m]: How do you feel the HNW scene has changed since you were first in it? Also what do you see as the most important new developments in the scene?
Julien The scene has changed a lot. First of all there are fewer releases. The way I see it, many people seem to have widened their interests. They listen to and make lots of other music and are less obsessive with HNW in general. On the other hand, HNW seems to have become more “accepted” within the harsh noise community and has now become an influence, or rather an element among others. I see many harsh noise acts with HNW tracks for example, where things used to be more kept apart.
Julien The drawback is that a lot of what is termed HNW nowadays doesn't have much to do with what I consider HNW, but perhaps that's inevitable. Maybe “static noise” would be a more appropriate term for most of it.
Julien Other things have changed. It is now extremely difficult to sell Cdr releases. 4 or 5 years ago a release could be sold-out the day it came out, today it takes longer. Tapes do better but then again, most people want to trade, not buy.
Julien I think this is a problem because a scene cannot live when everyone is an artist. You need an audience. Just as a show is not a success if the only audience members are the musicians from the other bands playing. I love to trade, but there is a limit. A scene needs musicians, writers, promoters, zines AND an audience, however small.
Julien When I look at the statistics on Bandcamp, I can see there is an audience, but it doesn't want to pay for anything anymore. And why should they, when there is so much music available for free on the internet ? There is enough music for one's whole life, who will pay and wait for weeks to get a physical copy of a release before he can hear it ? The only reason would be to support the artist, but when you consider yourself an artist you can get the feeling that you don't have to support anyone but yourself I suppose.
Julien All this has accelerated and affected HNW in the recent years in my opinion.
Julien I'd like to point out another major change: the insane postage rates from the USA to Europe, which prevents most people from having access to the US static noise material, at least in a physical format.
Julien However, the most important development would have to be digital platforms for music. A new project nowadays will not make a tape and send it to 10 people. It will set up a Bandcamp with a couple walls and post it on Facebook.
m[m]: Recently you’ve set up you own blog Static Park, covering HNW / GEAR WORSHIP / SLACKERS / HARSH HEADS / FUZZ / 90s / SKATEBOARD- please tell us a little bit about why this came about?
Julien Static Park started as a project I made to mix static noise with other sounds, such as guitars and beats. I set up a blog for it because I wanted to detail the gear I was using for each track. I've always been interested in the “gear worship” aspect of some HNW and wanted to have a go myself. I'm also a big 90's hip-hop junkie and I'm in love with skate culture, slacker rock and so on. I guess it's not very common in HNW where people tend to come from a more “metal” background, so I thought it might be interesting to mix all of this. It was supposed to be an “anything goes” project, so after a while I started posting HNW playlists and discussing artists that inspired me for specific tracks... Around that time I realized that music forums were completely dead and that everything had migrated to Facebook. It made me sad because Facebook is completely ego-driven whereas forums gave a real sense of community and shared knowledge. Everything disappears in a minute on Facebook so everyone is desperately trying to draw a little attention on what he does while he can. I wanted to do something a bit more “community-minded” so I thought I could keep the Static Park blog but open it up more to other people. I still post whatever I used to post about my own sound, but I'm also talking about noise in general.
m[m]: You mention both 90’s hip-hop & skate boarding as key interest- I know you mix hip-hop beats into Static Parks sound, but would you like mix these more hip-hop/ skate elements into your sound, for example rapped vocals, textures created by skateboards etc? Julien Well the skateboard as source thing as been done beautifully by The Rita on Skate / Snorkel so I wouldn't do that again. As for vocals, I would have to find someone who is really into this kind of sound and not manny rappers are, maybe just the guys from Clipping. What I have done though is use some skateboard videos or skateboard-related movies soundtracks as source for noise.
m[m]: One of the constant features on the blog has been your HNW questionnaire- where you pose a set of questions to a HNW act. So far you have interviewed 14 projects- please selected a few of your favourites. And who would you like to interview next?
Julien I can't pick favorites, really. It's always fascinating for me to read how people got into this kind of sound, what gear they use, or even what records they listen to. These are the things that interest me, just the questions I'd like to ask to every noise artist: “What's your favorite record ?”, “What's your favorite pedal ?” It's really the noise geek in me talking. I have something planned for the next Questionnaire, but it's a surprize so I'm not going to tell you. Sorry.
m[m]: Your wife has been connected with more than a few of the releases on Ink Runs Recordings- tell us a little bit about how she became interested in the HNW/ Harsh Noise Scene? And is the work on your label the first stuff she done/ released?
Julien Charlotte was never really into harsh noise, feedback and cut-up stuff, but she fell in love with HNW. She can put on some Vomir or Cannibal Ritual to go to sleep without any problem. Shortly after we met she started doing covers for me or for others such as the Tickling Of Throats compilation or Vomir's Wall Upholstery. We made a duo project called Gyokusai but we never released anything “officially”. I still have these recordings and last time I heard them I was surprised how violent they were. There's never enough bass for her.
m[m]: What’s lined up next for the label & your many projects?
Julien I've got three tapes coming out as Static Park on other labels in the near future: a tape called Doctor Z on Nahàsh Atrym Productions, another called Samecore on Kim Tapes and a split with Wram called Color Balance on T.R.U.P. Rec. There is also a split with Starr Party called All Doors Thrown Wide Open coming out on a lathe, it will be a co-production bewteen Aught Void Records and Ink Runs Recordings. I'm working on a double-cdr set called Uma Cruel Mutação which will be the soundtrack to an imaginary zombie movie (you see I'm still into zombies and voodoo after all !) it's a lot of work because it will be almost 2 hours long but with many walls and atmospheres, not just two one-hour long walls and that's it. I'll also include prints and stickers... Other than that I don't have any releases lined-up for Ink Runs Recordings or Bad Rip Series, but I'm always open to submissions.
m[m]:So have you plotted out the imagined movie behind the Uma Cruel Mutação release, and if so can you let us into any of the plot details?
Julien I have actually, but it's a long story. I'll tell you half of the story, which represents the first 5 tracks: A boat from Angola reaches an un-named, imaginary country. A young couple are on the beach and they see it approaching. When the boat is far enough the boy decides to swim and see what's on board. However once on board he finds out that the boat is completely empty. He pushes his investigation into the hold of the boat and there he finds a man completely ravaged by a mysterious disease. His whole body is covered with purulent wounds. The boy tries to take him out but the sick man dies and coughs some blood on the boy's face. The boy swims back to the beach and tells his girlfriend about it. They leave in their car and go to the nearest police station to inform them about their discovery, then go back to their place. The next day the girl wakes up and goes downstairs to make some coffee. When it's done she yells to her boyfriend to wake up but there is no answer. She eventually goes back up to shake him but when he turns around she sees an horrible mark on his face, just where the man spit some blood. It's as if his flesh was burned and the wound was filling with green pus. She immediately calls a doctor. While they're waiting for the doctor to arrive they start hearing a strange thud on the window. Some sort of horrible butterfly is trying to get into the house. It looks like a slab of swollen, rotten meat with two large wings...
m[m]:You mention still having a interest in both voodoo & Zombies- please pick ten items( these can be either books, movies, comics, or artworks) that have inspired you with-in these subjects, and explain why they have?
Jean Rouch – Les Maîtres Fous
This is the movie that started it all for me. Rouch films these men who have almost nothing, who work hard all day long, but when the time has come, they gather around the voodoo priest and accomplish a series of rituals that puts them in a state of trance. Through that trance they are able to capture the essence of figures of power of their time, such as the “colonel” or “the general”. The fact that they believe in it makes it real, and there is no doubt they believe in it. It's a very impressive movie, and Jean Rouch was a superb film-maker.
Jacques Tourneur – Vaudou (aka I Walked With A Zombie)
This is for the fictional side of it. A very beautiful, eerie movie, one of the first about voodoo possession.
Maya Deren - Divine Horsemen – The Living Gods Of Haïti
This is one is halway between fact and fiction. It's a documentary but Deren's way of filming it embues everything with a dreaminess that makes it even more surreal than it already is.
Wes Craven - The Serpent And The Rainbow
A more recent fiction. It takes voodoo rather seriously for this type of production. I have a certain tenderness for this movie because Charlotte gave it to me as a gift when I started the Ghost project.
Jess Franco - Oasis Of The Zombies
… and a completely silly one to finish. Nothing to do with voodoo per se as the zombies are really German soldiers brought back to life to save the gold they were carrying when they got attacked by the allies. Yet I had to name at least one zombie-horror flick and I could not avoid this one by Jess Franco, who is by far the director I'm most interested in. Some of his movies are fantastic, many are terrible, this one is OK. I like the way he did all this without any money at all and with a certain craziness I find admirable. I could also have named Jean Rollin's Lake Of The Living Dead, which is the same movie but done by another director because Franco wouldn't finish it for the company at the time. But I guess I'm straying off-topic here...
Leah Gordon - Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti
This is the book from which I took most of the covers for Slow Death Records. Maybe only two or three come from other sources. I would scan the page, crop the picture and then print it on red paper. I thought Gordon's picture were striking in black and red and I thought it put people in the right mood when they were about to listen to a new Slow Death release. It's a beautiful book that describes the Kanaval procession in Haïti and explains all the symbolism in the costumes.
Collective - Le Vodou, Un Art De Vivre (aka Vodou, an Art of Life)
Another book, probably more in-depth than Gordon's as far as Voodoo practice is concerned. It goes in detail about the objects used in the rituals. Unfortunately, the pictures are not as striking, but it's still a very good source.
Rara in Haiti - Street Music of Haiti
I sampled this one on Ghost's Fetish release back in 2011. This is very minimal, hypnotic sound, which doesn't seem so pleasing to the ears at first. It takes time to get accustomed to it and accept it. I think you really have to be looking for something inside this music to take it in. It has many similarities with HNW.
Drummers Of The Societe Absolument Guinin - Voodoo Drums
Only drums on this one. It is “pure” Voodoo music, if pure means anything when we're talking about something that is born out of mixing. As with the Rara one, after a while the pulsations of the drums start to coalese into something not unlike static noise and you start wondering if the changes are in the music or if your mind is playing tricks on you, trying to make sense out of this overload of signals. Very intense music.
Ti-Coca & Wanga-Nègès – Haïti Colibri
This has nothing to do with Voodoo, it's just folk music from Haïti, about work, love, party, poverty etc. I'm very interested in Haïti as a whole and not only Voodoo which is just one manifestation of this people's singularity. One cannot be interested only in Voodoo, you have to take the rest in too.
Thanks to Juilen for all his time & efforts on the interview. Ink Runs Recordings blog can be found here , where you can find information on most of Juilen’s recent work. Also you can check out Static Parks blog here , where you can find out how to order the two disc Uma Cruel Mutação release which has just been released