With „Le Cœur Bat“ NON SERVIAM might not have created a perfect album, but one that is nevertheless impressive in its uncompromising experimentation between extreme metal, shoegaze, trip-hop and industrial. We asked the anonymous head of the decidedly anarchistic, anti-capitalist and anti-moral band some questions on the occasion of the release. In our interview, the French multi-instrumentalist talks about what artistic freedom means to him, how musical and political radicalism intertwine, and how to work against work.
How are you doing at the moment? How are you coping with the situation under the ongoing pandemic?
We’re more or less fine, we have been affected by the pandemic, like everyone else, but on the whole we’re fine. On the other hand, the state of the world under the pandemic is unbearable. More than ever, authority, police, justice, bosses, property, work, prisons are taking advantage of the situation to extend their power through laws, restrictions, confinement and repression. One hopes that an intelligent wind of revolt will punctuate this maze of submission.
Many artists release their music anonymously, for example to avoid putting themselves in the spotlight as individuals or even to avoid negative reactions in their everyday life apart from music. What is your reason for staying anonymous in NON SERVIAM?
The main reason is to put forward our music, our artwork, our lyrics. We are formatted to receive the narratology that surrounds the music all the time. The PR, the photogenic, well-normalized good looks are to music what television is to life: a useless artifice of commercialization of human relationships. As far as NON SERVIAM is concerned, we have decided to focus the spotlight elsewhere than on the identity of the musicians, which in our opinion is of no interest at all.
With „Le Cœur Bat“ you released a very experimental album. How did you perceive the reactions to it?
We were very surprised. First of all, it’s hard to realise that your own music is weird when you’re „weird“ yourself. Everyone seems to be impressed by the strange and volatile character of our music, which we didn’t expect. We know how difficult our album can be to access for many people who are used to more traditional forms of expression, to a certain respect of genres and conventions accepted to be in the scene. We don’t give a shit about all that. In music as elsewhere, we are happy to transgress conventions, even if it means shocking. There have been some negative reactions, the worst coming from the most reactionary and redneck fringe of the French metal scene (a webzine called „thrashocore“ – which we call „thrashobeauf“- which expressed all its malice towards us), but for the rest, we have had amazing and dithyrambic feedback and reviews we didn’t expect, from magazines and international sites that we read on a regular basis. Receiving 10/10’s, appearing in top albums, etc. This recognition invites us to continue, although we would have continued no matter what.
You seem to avoid musical conventions as much as possible. From your point of view, does art always have to cross boundaries?
We have no idealistic notion of what things should be. To think that art must necessarily overturn conventions is just another convention. One could rather say that for us art that through some sort of klinamen and spontaneity manages to transcend boundaries and norms, whatever its original ambitions, can be seen as a positive achievement for the destabilising forces of the old world for which we try to compose songs.
Experiments always carry the risk of going nowhere or at least being perceived as aimless. In your opinion, is musical experimentation a sufficient end in itself?
Nothing for us is an end in itself except freedom. This is expressed in our compositional process. Experimental music that goes nowhere is perhaps the saddest thing you can witness. Experimentation and improvisation are not separate practices, at least for us. That’s why they can’t lead anywhere, they start from a place that is already magical, from there the automatic language can only produce wonders. Musicians who are afraid of experimenting or improvising are maniacs without real enjoyment and/or money pumps.
Since your songs are so diverse and hard to get into, it’s hard to discern a clear pattern in your compositions. How do you approach your songwriting?
NON SERVIAM was born as a one-man-band with composition methods derived from electronic music. Today other musicians intervene in the composition, various instruments, electric and acoustic, have entered fully into its soundwriting, through musical and human encounters that bring other horizons and other elements and methods of composition to the collective, but there is always this back and forth with very solitary, hermitic and intense moments that are the moments when the song takes shape, metabolizing the new elements that are added. This process moves forward in very rapid steps and a song can find in a short time an almost finished form, but it will only be really finished much later, after a long maturation of the listening and the retouching that extends over time, sometimes new detours that can modify it enormously or even become the essence of the piece. It is an alchemy that resembles a birth and unfolds according to its own temporality. In any case, it is clear that, apart from a few exceptions, no song ever comes from an idea, a concept or a decision that would be prior to it and to which it would conform.
The album has an incredibly harsh sound. In all honesty: Did the rough, partly downright chaotic production really 100 % turn out how you wanted or is the sound from your point of view not necessarily perfect because it was either not that important to you or you had limited technical possibilities?
We are not 100% satisfied with the sound, but it’s not that simple. In fact, the only reasons that push us to think that are external, and ultimately not very defensible: respectability. We like dirty, damaged, damaging music and it’s getting harder and harder for us to stand the overproduction in metal. The best albums in our library have sounds that have been deemed too dirty by most critics, even in extreme metal. After all it’s a matter of taste, we wouldn’t want to have the sound of bands like Cannibal Corpse for anything. However, we would enjoy their budget! Because that’s where we’re dissatisfied: We don’t have the gear we’d like, nor the means to afford it. It’s the same problem we have with the possibility of live performances.
The finished tracks and the demo „Je Contre“ don’t seem to differ much from each other in terms of production. What else would you have changed about the song to make it complete?
„Je Contre“ is the first fruit of a collaboration between two musicians. It was composed and recorded with many instruments that were available to us at the time, such as an electric organ. This recording session and its backups were lost before the mixing and even the composing was finished. All that was left as a result of this unfortunate technological setback at the time was an MP3 version. We were gutted that we couldn’t finish it, but as we listened to it, we started to love the track and got great feedback from people around us, so we decided to release it as a demo, albeit unfinished in terms of both composition and mixing.
Song titles like „Infanticide“ and „Salem“ indicate that you’re tackling all sorts of dark topics on the album. In this regard, what is the common thread that connects the songs on „Le Cœur Bat“?
While the tracks each take different and seemingly contradictory paths, what links all the tracks together could be the social and existential malaise of this world of money, domination and cops, and the vigour with which it must be savagely fought.
You openly proclaim political positions such as anarchism in your art. How did you develop this worldview and why is it important for you to express these views in your music?
It’s not particularly important for us to express anarchist views in our music. It comes quite naturally. Anarchism and revolutionary thinking are not things that just fell into our laps last week by watching videos on the internet or buying a patch with a circled A on it to look pretty. We’ve all been anarchists and revolutionaries for decades, participating in all sorts of publications, meetings, demonstrations, etc. This is how we met each other and it has always been a huge part of our lives (the most importat indeed) as we’ve all participated in struggles here and there over time and went to prison for varying lengths of time related to those choices. That’s why anarchism runs through our music and through everything we do.
An example of your anarchist message is your version of „Inno Individualista“, which, however, is hardly recognizable as a variation of the song. Can it even be said to be the same song at all?
This is a question that arises for all covers, what is kept from the original song, how do we move away from it. A cover version that proposes an identical remake would be more than useless. The idea for us (and we will certainly do others) is to start from the song and go as far as it can take us, with what we are as musicians and as individuals. This path, which depends on it and on us, as in the construction of a relationship over time and sometimes very different musical universes, as in „Inno Individualista“, can lead us away from the starting point, but the idea is that when we listen to it, something remains and that this path can be retraced in the opposite direction, that listening can link the cover version to the original song again. For this traditional Italian anarchist song from the beginning of the 20th century, it’s a bit special because our attachment to this song is indistinguishably musical, emotional and political. So what we have kept from it is this fervour that makes the heart of the revolt beat, but effectively the path we have made it take has come to where we are today, and we can say that even before we made it, it had already been transformed in us, accompanying us in our revolt against this world. The heart of what moves us in this song and the reason why we have covered it, is this disqualification of non-violence which is already contained in its original version.
Especially in extreme metal, there are unfortunately many bands that propagate extreme right-wing ideas, disguise them by presenting themselves as apolitical, or indirectly tolerate them. Why do you think this genre attracts so many people from this political corner?
The attraction of radicality in itself can lead to opposite corners of the relationship to this world, and that is why it is not enough to presume the quality, interest or relevance of what is being heard or produced. Many other things come into play in order to know in which radicality one evolves. When we say that, we may be taking too seriously something that exists and should be treated as such, especially in early black metal. But more often than not, apolitical and/or Nazi metalheads only take this radicality, which is already problematic, as its folklore, to which are grafted simple, easy, and abject ideas such as national cultural rootedness, the refusal of otherness, the constitution of stunted communities around a musical identity that mixes with other stupid identity aspirations, and leads to hating others instead of rebelling against this world. There is nothing exciting about this situation and it invites contempt and sadness, but there is no denial, and it is essential to find subversive paths by fighting against this state of affairs. We are in favour of hunting down Nazis wherever they are and without mercy, in metal as well.
In this regard, many argue that one can separate the artists from the art. What is your opinion on this?
It is a complex question, which can act as a trap if we think we can solve artistic questions by morality. It goes far beyond the framework of extreme music, especially in the way it is posed in our time and age. Obviously, an artistic production cannot be reduced to who its author is, and it must come from somewhere else that certainly cannot correspond in every way to the aspirations and positions of the person receiving it. If this were the case, one would only allow oneself access to the works of one’s exact peers, how sad! No encounters, no strangeness, no otherness… There is something terrifying and terribly authoritarian about this ideal of ideological purity. But it is also obvious that one cannot be indifferent to the massive ideological elements that the work brings with it, most often from its author, such as the unacceptable and dangerous reference to Nazism for example. It seems to us that there are two ways out of this quagmire. The first is to put the author back in his place in art practices, a place which is not nothing, but which is certainly not everything either. The second, and most relevant, is to fight against these mortifying ideologies and against the world that produces them, but not only when we make or listen to music. It is this struggle that makes sense, more than the denial of the sometimes undeniable musical quality of certain music made by and for Nazis, and conversely than the denial of the fact that it is produced by and for Nazis, or the banning of it by third parties, which is another way of avoiding the necessary direct confrontation.
In addition to „Le Cœur Bat“, you have also other releases on the go with „Work“ and „Live Improvisations – Vol. 1“. How did you manage to gather so much material?
The songwriting material we have is very prolific and we keep starting new projects while others are being finished. In fact we never stop working on songs that are in all stages of maturation because we never stop making music, never. What limits us are the material constraints of completing physical releases, which require almost total concentration and attention. But even if we talk about it as a limitation of the band’s release possibilities, that’s not how we see it, because the challenge of creating a finished and complete object, which also includes the elaboration of the artwork, which will then be able to live its autonomous life, seems to us to be primordial, and for nothing in the world would we be satisfied with broadcasting in the wind a profusion of tracks that no one would be able to listen to and appreciate. In the case of these two records (3 in fact since „Work“ and „Live Improvisation Vol. 1“ are physically united but constitute two distinct EPs), they were released at the same time because of the delays linked to the pandemic, but they each took their time to be completed, one after the other, „Le Coeur Bat“ first, last spring, then „Work“ and „Live Improvisation Vol. 1“ this year. But we have many projects in store that will take shape little by little over the coming times.
As you yourself seem to cheekily imply with „Freeing Up Some Time From Work For A Work Against Work“, on the one hand you denounce meritocracy, but on the other hand you create an extraordinary amount of art. How does that fit together?
Indeed, this title somewhat cavalierly captures a complexity that affects every activity that is part of this world, and there is none that is not part of it. It remains vital, however, that labourism does not take with it all activity to which one devotes care, time, effort and attention, which also constitutes labour in a sense. Without illusions about the limited nature of the „freedom“ evoked in this term (we should probably find another one), it is nevertheless possible to work to „free“ time to work in one way or another for the destruction of this world, even if capitalism has shown a dangerous capacity to recuperate any subversive creativity that is born in its interstices. In any case, it’s certain that fighting against work and its ideology doesn’t necessarily imply any kind of injunction to idleness, inactivity or laziness, even if everyone does what they want with their days, and if we happen to be particularly hard-working sometimes! In this case, the fact that this work is not immediately offered to a boss undoubtedly helps us to get through the contradictions you point out, without any illusions, once again, about the forms of commodification now inherent in art and its market.
Many of your releases have a baroque aesthetic. What is it about this period of art that attracts you so much?
This question can be answered in two ways, which are obviously linked. The first is that the baroque aesthetic, that of the baroque period, but also the baroque as an aesthetic tendency to subvert frameworks and all normative classicisms through the search for the abundant, the bizarre, the disymmetrical, the sublime against the beautiful, inspires us and is consistent with our approach. Beyond the music, this baroque and anti-classical disposition in a very broad sense is visible for example through the artworks we make, as well as some of the themes we go through, such as vanity for example, next to others that have little to do with baroque in themselves, such as the work in „Work“, but that we go through with the same aesthetic disposition. The second is more anecdotal, but it also gives the music a baroque flavour in the strictest sense of the word (without being historically faithful either…): The meeting with a harpsichordist who, in addition to the possibility of including instruments such as the harpsichord or the spinet in the compositions, brought a relationship to improvisation and musical proliferation that was immediately and smoothly included in the musical universe of NON SERVIAM.
What are your next plans for NON SERVIAM?
We have a certain amount of material ready, both for a new album, a new concept album and a compilation of demos and experiments around extreme metal and electronic music. We can’t say much more about it at the moment.
Let’s end our interviews with a quick brainstorm:
Revolution: Without transitional phase.
Pop music: As decadent and rotten as the target population.
Social media: Vanity.
Optimism: Heals with the sight.
„Never change a winning team“: Dismantle the winning team.
NON SERVIAM in five years: Dissolved in the ongoing insurgency?
At this point, thank you once more for your answers. The final words may be yours:
The old world has to burn, and the old guard has to watch it.