Secret Thirteen Interview - C-drík

Secret Thirteen Interview - C-drik

Photo by by Andrea Kriszai

Digging as a neverending obsession - an interview with C-drík

C-drík Fermont (aka Kirdec) is a musician, singer, composer and drummer originally from Congo based in Berlin. He specializes on releasing electronic, experimental and industrial music from Asia, Africa and South America. Although he's lived in Europe for most of his life, his origin as well as innate curiosity have lead him since the 90s to explore the unknown fields of non-Western unusual music, which he releases on his label Syrphe. He's been also making a lot of music by himself both in solo projects and bands of various genres from breakcore and industrial to ambient and synth wave, as well as music for film and theater. He's a straight edge, who respects the nature, antisexist and antiracist and his approach to life is wilful and thorough. This interview was originally conducted in September 2013 in his community flat located in suburban part of Berlin and was updated in September 2014.

You run a label, write a book and essays, play with different people, create music for different projects, give lectures, travel around the globe – how do you manage being your own boss?

I prefer to do most things myself, because when something goes wrong, the only responsible person is myself. I don't have to get mad at somebody except me and I also know which direction I take and why. I work a lot and some people wouldn't follow me, if I would work with collaborators. Some of the projects I do take a lot of energy and time and I can afford to tell myself: OK today, I can't sleep, cos I need to do that. And I would never ask somebody else not to sleep because of me.

I take some path which is not really usual, for example the label's direction, organising tours and playing in places and continents where most people don't especially go. And it's easier for me to do that alone, because many of my friends don't want to follow me in some countries for example, thinking that there is nothing interesting or it's not worth it or it's dangerous because of unstable political issues.

Are you a person of no compromises?

Mostly yes (laughter).

You have both European and African origins in your blood and you also lived in different places of the world. Would you mind to tell a bit about your past and how did it affect you, not only in terms of art and music, but also in terms of your life direction?

I was born in the Congo (Zaire), Africa and lived there for only 2 years. Then I moved to Belgium, where I grew up and lived most of my life. Then I also lived in the Netherlands for a little bit. After that I stayed for 6 months in Far-East Asia, but moving from one place to another, on tour basically. Now for four years I live in Germany.

How did this affect me? I guess that even if my culture was somehow more Western European back then, I always had a connection to Africa. Through the family or food and eventually music. So that shaped me a little bit.

Then I wondered why I saw so few Africans in this scene – let's say electronic, industrial, punk and so on. I wanted to understand why we were so few and why most other people of African descent I knew weren't at all into this music. I guess all this shaped me somehow. I also travelled here and there for holidays when I was a kid and I always wanted to know more about different cultures, languages, music etc.

In the primary school I was the only non-white kid, back then it was still possible in Belgium. Some excluded me somehow and that shaped me as well, regarding the fact that I am a stubborn person – when I do something I want to finish it, I want to look like I want to and nobody will never forbid me to dress like I want, to have the hairdo or piercings I want and so on. But I've been in conflict many times with everything: family, teachers... I fought for it and I won anyway.

So you are a discoverer since you are a kid. Because that's what you still are now, you discover new musicians for many years.

Somehow yes, but when I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronomer. In fact I got a lot of books about astronomy and astrophysics as well as scientific books for kids and teenagers. I was totally into it and with the time I'm still into astronomy. I do read a lot, but I don't study it, cos I have no time for that.

When I was a teenager I started to listen to alternative electronic music like EBM or industrial music, I wanted to discover more and more, all the time. I discovered Front 242 first, then I discovered other bands like Skinny Puppy and Esplendor Geométrico, Laibach, Borghesia. And I thought OK, if I can find a band in Yugoslavia or in the USSR, maybe I can find something in Japan or in Brazil. So I wanted to go further and further and I started to dig. It became an obsession and so it still is now. I was thirsty all the time, it was never enough for me. I wanted to discover more and more and more music.

So let's talk about Syrphe for a while, cos that's were this passion leads to. You started it in early 90s and we think it was the first label that was focusing on this kind of music those times?

I started the label in 2002, but I run a tape label between 1991 and 1996, indeed. It was not called Syrphe, but it's connected anyway. I published there my music and some artists from a bit everywhere, like De Fabriek from the Netherlands. But I also published some compilations including bands from South Africa, Chile or Japan and back then it was not always common, except for Japan. So I was one of the few ones and then with Syrphe I've been probably one of the first person to focus on alternative electronic music artists from Africa and Asia. There were few things before, but not so many. I think of Sonic Arts Network which published a very interesting compilation in 2007 with musicians from Iran, Palestine, Egypt, Angola... Or Somnus which published a Japanese, Taiwanese, Hongkongese compilation in 1994 or Etat Lab ten years later that was also focused onto Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and of course the South African tape label Network 77 that started to publish music in 1984 already.

For me it was important to be focused on it because this non-Western music is somehow oculted. It's going better, mostly for the Middle-Eastern music or Arab experimental and electronic music, as well as the Chinese scene.

So how has this musical scene evolved during the years you have been focusing on it and running the label?

Wow, it exploded! Definitely. I remember, when I founded my tape label Sépulkrales Katakombes, it was so difficult to find anything from Africa. I just found Jay Scott in Cape Town producing tapes with international bands, but also bands from South Africa like his own project, Sphinx, and others like Willow and Carnage Visors as well... But this was my only contact there. I was trying hard. I wrote to some punks from the Philipines or Panama – and it was without internet back then. It was difficult. There were certainly little things going on here and there, but it was difficult to reach those artists. Now with the internet it's so easy to communicate, and also a lot of people travel easily. Some of the musicians have members of their family living in Europe for example, so they come to visit them now and then. They bring back music eventually...

I'd say that during the past 10 years it literally exploded in many countries: China, Lebanon, Egypt, Indonesia... It's pretty impressive. There are lots of young people just going deeper and deeper and now in some of those countries you can find something like an identity. In the past it was often a copy of what you can find in Europe, US, Australia, Japan. Now its changing. Quite fast.

Interview with C-drik

Photo by by Andrea Kriszai

So they are searching for their own way or style of music.

I think so. They possibly copied Japan or Europe... But we copied them too anyway.

Would you give us some tips for the non-Western artists and musicians of experimental electronic and industrial music, who have this identity or specific sound?

I can give few examples: Victor Gama (Angola), who builds his own instruments, many artists from the Mid East or North Africa like Hasan Hujairi, Hassan Khan, Munma, Omar Raafat who use samples of and/ or traditional instruments, local music scales. But it's already an old history back to the Iranian pioneers Alireza Mashayekhi and Dariush Dolat-Shahi a few decades ago. There is also Dickson Dee in Hong Kong who collaborates with many artists in Mongolia, Tibet, China or Tuva (such as Sainkho Namtchylak). There's also a wave of artists working a lot with field recordings from their local environment, I think of Yan Jun in China or Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng in Vietnam to name a few, and many artists who make onkyokei like Goh Lee Kwang in Malaysia, Pei from Taiwan or Toshimaru Nakamura in Japan.

If you search in the academical world, you'll find many who compose for electronics and traditional instruments, Slamet Abdur Sjukur was one of them in Indonesia already in the 1960's, nowadays you have composers like Yao Xi in China who composes for electronic and er hu (Chinese violin).

Apart of the label, you also do lectures, wrote an essay and everything leads to a book you've been writing since 2005. How is that going on?

Well I don't write it every day, not even every month anymore. I'm super slow. Sometimes I do interviews with artists I discover about some topics for the book, write notes, read a lot and then write every day... And then I stop doing it for a few months, like this year, I toured Asia during six months, also to gather new information and contacts but the tour was so intense that I hardly wrote anything. Now that I'm mainly back home, I'm regularly working on it again, so the book might be ready by the end of 2015. I wrote two essays, one is about noise performance in Asia and Africa, it has been published in Belgium in the book Le Performentiel Noise (Les presses Du Réel). You can now download it for free in French or English. I wrote about the particular identity some artists can have in Africa and Asia regarding their own noises – not only in pure noise music, but also in some forms of experimental music, urban music from China or Vietnam, which is typical from there to me. And a second essay will be soon publish by Kibla in Slovenia, paper edition too, it is a brief introduction to electronic, electro-acoustic, musique concrète and so on from Africa and Asia, from 1944 until the 1980's more or less and few notes about today. The book I'm writing is an extension of it that will also cover some other topics than historical ones. I take this date because of Halim El Dabh who composed one experimental piece in 1944 in Cairo and I think it's the starting point. I've never found anyone else before him in Africa or Asia. Then I describe the history – for example what happened in 50s in South Korea, in the 60s in Iran, Indonesia and so on. But I also speak about censorship and political, religious and social issues – why does it work in some countries or areas and not in other ones. I don't understand everything yet. New generations and music styles have developed there, some really typical music styles born in those places, influences of their own countries or other continents, biographies...

Well, Africa and Asia are 2 huge continents. You can't put everything in a single book.

Indeed, that's not possible. But I want to make it as large as possible. Because there are only some essays written by Bob Gluck in the USA about the history of this music in Iran, Japan, South Korea, China, Israel and Turkey. But he's the only one who really wrote about that as far as I know. I haven't found anything else regarding this music in official books when I was at school, when I studied electroacoustic music. I never saw that. The starting point for France and Belgium is Pierre Schaeffer in 1948 in Paris, in Germany it's going to be probably Karl-Heinz Stockhausen or Herbert Eimert and other composers from the 1950s, in the USA it's John Cage a bit earlier. They were people earlier anyway, and there were people in Asia, Africa and Latin America as well. And I never see their names anywhere, which is a shame.

That's right. In any case we are really looking forward to the book. You mentioned studying. What did you actually study?

I studied too many things and finished almost nothing (laughter). I have a problem with schools... I studied electroacoustic music, orchestral drum (when I was a teenager), theater, poetry and improvisation for theater, modern art school (but only 1 years), silkscreen...

How was studying under an electroacoustic composer, Anette Vande Gorne, who, besides other things, took also lectures by Pierre Schaeffer?

She's deeply focused on acousmatic music - electroacoustic music spread through an acousmonium, so a lot of speakers, not only stereo which is a great thing. But it was not about mixed music (so instruments and tape or computer) and other forms of electroacoustic music. She's very interesting, but like many academical people she is really into her world and not always opened to other music genres. You can't listen to everything of course, I understand that, but I personally couldn't be focused on one or two music genres only and that's it.

...We think that's quite obvious.

Yes (laughter).

Can you even sum up everything, what's going on this year?

After doing an extensive Asian tour (6 months, 18 countries) across Asia, I came back to compose a new album with my band Axiome (our new CD will be out in October and another one is in progress), finish to mix the second album of Tasjiil Moujahed, mix and master an improvised album recorded in China with Zen Lu and another gu zheng improviser we met in Guangzhou and work on some solo projects. And I just finished an electro-acoustic piece for the IMA and ORF in Austria.

I'm working on some new releases on Syrphe as well but can't tell more now. And of course, I play a lot of concerts.

In how many bands are you actively right now actually?

It's not 7 or 8 anymore, due to my extensive travels, lack of time a few other projects. It's mainly two: Axiome and Tasjiil Moujahed plus a few collaborations here and there, especially in Berlin and China, where I collaborated with various artists such as Zen Lu, Lao Yang or also Lương Huệ Trinh in Vietnam (we are working on a record together), often live or sometimes in studio, but no real long term projects I think. There's still the band Elekore in a way, I have to find time to edit some old sessions we made years ago in Rotterdam and Singapore, but I don't know if or when we could play live again, as we all three live thousands of kilometres apart of each other. Nevertheless, I hope we could publish a second record thanks to those sessions. I might start a new band in Berlin later this year as I wish to work with a singer, being myself a very bad one, even though I made most voices for Tasjiil Moujahed's new album to be released this year.

You play in these bands, you have solo projects and collabs and also create soundtracks and music for film or theater. What are the differences in the creation process and an approach, when making music in a certain music style with other people, a conceptual work for a specific project and making music as an solo artist, with an absolute artistic freedom and no borders?

I like both. I like to work alone, because like you said, there are no borders, I do whatever I want. No pressure, just freestyle and that's it. But I like to work with other people, because it forces me to adapt, see how others work and see how I can change or improve my work and it's really an exchange. I learn, they learn. And we create something I would have never done by myself. This is what I like. Then, I like working for short films or theater or dance companies, because there are some imposed rules that also shape my music. I don't want to be totally locked into something. I need some freedom, but I like to get a direction which also pushes me to do something I would have never done in a certain way or it would have been different.

I need to use my mind and I also focus on the image or theme, which also influences my music in that case. I did recently some music for a board game and there is a theme. And it happens in a certain place and environment, so the atmosphere of the music has to correspond to that. The game is not joyful, my music has to be deep, low and oppressive. But these rules made me do something a bit different. As far as I have my freedom with other projects, I don't mind working on projects like this, when it doesn't go too far into rules. I would never make dance music for example. If somebody asks that, I say no (laughter).

Do you work a lot with field recordings?

A lot. Unfortunately, I don't publish most of them. I record a lot and sometimes I put some of them online, sometimes I play live with them. I filter and mix them together to recreate landscapes, mixing impossible places together. Like the sea and a big crowded city or the jungle all together. But making it kind of real. When you hear it, it works. So I create an impossible space. As it is only music with no image, it works easily for me.

I incorporate them in my music pretty often. Pure or filtered, you can hear them in many of my tracks. I'm working on some new projects with field recordings but with human voice, but that's still kind of a secret. I love field recordings, because they remind me situations I lived, but in people's mind it would evoke something different. And this is better than cinema to me. Cinema imposes you those images. Unless it's really abstract, the filmmaker is conducting people with his story.

With field recording you are also conducting people, but in a different way and it's way more like a book to me, somehow more free than the cinema, because you don't have images. I don't have anything against cinema, I like it as well, but it's a different way of working. There are also many details you miss in sounds. There are field recordings to which I listened 10 times within 2 or 5 years and then I realise: Oh, I've never heard the sound of that insect! And it's nice, it's a new discovery. It's like a painting with millions of details - you always miss something.

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About Author

Zuzana Friday Přikrylová is a Berlin based music journalist writing since 2006. She studied new media and popular music, made PR for music events, worked with artists, makes music and generally keeps being an eternal music nutso.

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  1. Pingback: Interview with C-drík for Secret Thirteen | Sky Wire

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