I must admit that P.H.O.B.O.S. appeared to me in a quite surprising manner. I was actually eager to find some good harsh industrial / metal records and found in “Tectonics” the best output within this type of music. How the entity of P.H.O.B.O.S. did come to exist?
It all started with my strong desire to generate slow, heavy, dark and hypnotic music, as personal as possible, not just playing for fun. But originality could not fit with the common basis of a metal band with a drummer, guitarists, vocalist, keyboard and bass players. In the former years of P.H.O.B.O.S., most of the energy was focused on rehearsing and recording demos. Songs and sound design were lying on my shoulders, with an unbearable turnover of lazy and uninspired members that drove me mad. Then I felt that to be really outstanding in the extreme industrial metal field, P.H.O.B.O.S. should be nothing more than a studio beast, dedicated to creation. Thus the uselessness of “music players”, rehearsals, live performances, etc, which are visual entertainment, but stay restraining barriers when sonic landmarks has to be erased to reach other dimensions. Intelligent listeners do not need to see the human interface to feel the darkness.
I am a huge fan of Godflesh first records as I find them quite revolutionary in the way the “machine-factor” is used without concerns about genres stereotypes. It is simply inhuman, precise and almost trancelike. I experienced this feeling again with your music. What is the importance of the legacy of Godflesh, early Pitchshifter, Scorn or Swans for the formation of P.H.O.B.O.S.?
I agree with the importance of the “trancelike” and “inhuman” feelings you have quoted. Before starting to play music, I was also hooked by these bands: Godflesh’s “Streetcleaner”, Pitchshifter’s “Desensitized”, Scorn’s “Gyral”, Swans’ “The Great Annihilator” or Treponem Pal early albums are true hypnotizing masterpieces that changed my perception of heaviness. The childish metalhead I was back then discovered that efficient riffs were not enough. In addition, they have to be slowly repeated, along with strange electronic loops to leave a deeper impact on the mind. From this revelation, listening to music was not a physical thing anymore, but a mental experience. Something I guess these bands were also longing for, thanks to their dub or techno culture. Here are rooted the foundations of P.H.O.B.O.S., but sound-wise I was looking for many more low and droning frequencies. I think that focus was reached with the first album “Tectonics”.
And what about your relation to the Industrial genre? What kind of music do you listen to?
As “industrial” I guess you mean ‘true’ industrial music, such as Test Dept, SPK, early Neubauten, Throbbing Gristle, etc., not electronic metal? (so many bands like Ministry, NIN or even Rammstein, despite they are good, are often dubbed “industrial” by ignorant people). Anyway, I am into as much pure industrial as any industrial subgenres like harsh electronic noise, ambient, drone-based, or when it is blended with techno, rock or metal. But I think that most of those fields have already been explored in the 80-90s. Nowadays industrial music owes its survival to improvements in technology, but not to its originality. Same goes for metal, which seems to be alive and well, but is in fact artistically dead since the mid-90s. Today it is hard to find metal bands who really keep on breaking the boundaries the way Celtic Frost or Voivod did back in the day. However, I must admit that such a conservative country as France is now paradoxically giving birth to outstanding (but relatively confidential) extreme metal projects, namely Deathspell Omega, Reverence, Blut Aus Nord, Eryn Non Dae, or Asmodée. But I do not really care about metal or industrial as I used to, despite they are the core of P.H.O.B.O.S.’ music. Depending on my state of mind, I am mainly into other vibes, provided I feel something pioneering and thoughtful, or if bridges are launched between distant styles. At the moment I feel more excitement when listening to The Bug (industrial dub/raga dancehall), Wardruna (Scandinavian folk/trance drones), Tim Exile (between pop and IDM), Groundation (jazzy reggae) or Bloody Panda (ritual incantations, doom and black metal), to name a few interesting acts.
The slow motion barrage of sound creates a heavy and menacing soundtrack that has this “end of times” feeling to it. Is there a main concept or idea behind P.H.O.B.O.S.?
There is no main concept in so far as my music comes out very naturally: I work on some sonic material, they attract me or not, but they are not voluntarily filtered by thinking “OK, this sample will remind this object, or no, this riff must sound like that”, etc. Music-wise, when you want to express something personal, having in mind too many driving objectives is somehow distorting the process of discovering the “inside reality” you want to unveil. My material evokes something massive, perverted or ominous. From there, miscellaneous topics that I truly mean can be expanded, like geological dangers, earthly powers as a coming punishment towards human insignificancy, or deviant behaviours to oppose to several forms of submission. Although being recurrent on my albums, those ideas always come AFTER the music, when lyrics are undertaken. It appears that P.H.O.B.O.S. is unconsciously dark, suffocating, twisted, etc. This is mainly a reflection of my very soul, not a calculation to play a role or to fit to something precise.
You seem to play a lot of attention to the visuals in all the elements related to P.H.O.B.O.S. Both in “Tectonics” and in “Anœdipal” there is a lot of emphasis on geological elements, but you always manipulate them, almost as if you made a sculpture out of boiling lava, so once again, we have an imagery that relates to something heavy and above the human scale. Can you talk a bit about your artwork and how it relates to the music?
As previously explained, my sounds are thought and created first. Afterwards lyrics and graphical stuff help to enhance their power. Sometimes music in itself can be too hard to digest for the listener, thus words and images can be the additional media to ease the impact. The heaviness of “Tectonics” was an efficient pretext to develop an artwork based on geological stuff like rocks, lava, etc. I was born (and used to live) on a still active volcano island, where I realized what an actual and tremendous danger may be. Satan’s coming or industrial misery are fairytales compared to earth shakes or erupting flames. I have taken a lot of pictures of these topics, but to display them without manipulation would not have been relevant. I like to transform too obvious images the same way I like to transform sounds. The results may evoke something strange, but they remain related to the weirdness of the music. “Anœdipal” is a more psyche-oriented album, and the human parameter needed to be included in the artwork, something I am not really good at, graphically speaking. I was fortunately helped by a friend, Stefan Thanneur, who was keen on melting several matters (geological, organic, liquid, etc.) with my input, while keeping the tangibility of the album themes.
It’s interesting to see how your sound invokes images of grandiosity, sometimes like a flat open wide landscape, others, like we are trapped inside the Earth. The common factor is that you always seem to work with scales. One band that transmits such visual emotion is, for example, Khanate, but where Khanate plays with breathing spaces and tension between notes or absence of sound, P.H.O.B.O.S. does it by adding an immense amount of sound layers. Does the notion of “space” play an important role for you? Do you tend to visualize any sort of landscape or situation when you compose your material?
Your feeling is certainly right, but, once again, there is no landscape or scene consciously kept in mind when the tracks are composed. Talking about time scales, it is true that I need lengths to allow some complex atmospheres to be installed and be persistent throughout the tracks. Same goes for the density of P.H.O.B.O.S. sound that I want to maintain continuously thick and overcharging. Maybe because I am somehow stressed by the absence of sound and I need to be permanently suffocated under a stack of distortion. Even when I work on ambient parts, I cannot stand the primal quietness very long. It unavoidably ends with powerful multi-layers that erase the breathing spaces that you are talking about.
In my opinion while “Tectonics” is an album a lot more open wide, on “Anœdipal” you seem to create a certain tension that comes from the inside. It’s hard to explain, but while both albums can be perfectly put together, there is this exterior/interior difference between them, almost as if “Tectonics” was more expansive and “Anœdipal” is more intimate and dark. Do you agree?
With some distance now, I think your comparison is right. Although this evolution was not premeditated, “Anœdipal” is musically more introvert. Perhaps because it has been totally composed and assembled in solitary confinement in my studio, on a relatively short period of time; whereas some of “Tectonics” material were rehearsed as a band and destined to be played live, then reshaped when P.H.O.B.O.S. became my solo project. As far as the lyrics and themes are concerned, the first album, feels more ‘opened’ on outside apocalypses, whereas the last one deals more with autobiographical experiences, which can be uncovered by the booklet artwork and lyrics. But I cannot define which one is darker than the other, it really depends on the listener’s perception angle of both albums.
Can you tell us a bit about your working method? Where do you start? How is your relationship with technology?
I foresee no specific modus operandi when composing for P.H.O.B.O.S. It may simply begin with a guitar riff, followed by drum loops or samples. Or on the contrary, a raw sound layer may appear so powerful and relevant that it will be pushed in motion with percussions and melted with distorted basses or guitars, then becoming a main pattern. My recipe is always different from one part to another. This can be compared with painting, sculpting or even cooking: you start from basic ingredients, several possibilities are explored, balanced and then finally frozen. Each ingredient is made of my own sources (guitars, basses, machine samples, field recordings, drum kits, etc). These personal banks have been created on the same machines for years, and have hardly evolved, keeping P.H.O.B.O.S.’ sound consistent throughout the albums. In fact, right from the start, the mixing and post-production steps are anticipated in my mind. Unlike in rock music, managing the production parameters (frequencies, FX, levels, BPMs, etc.) is more important than ‘playing instruments’. This process obviously relies a lot on digital science and programming; thus my relationship with technology is a kind of love/hate affair: Frustration when you have to spend several months to master new hard/software techniques without artistic input (that is my painful duty at the moment …). But fascination when you are bewitched by new amazing sounds, which will not have been possible by human musicians.
Thanks for the interview.
Thanks for your support, it is always interesting to share some thorough ideas between like-minded musicians. Keep up the punishment with Sektor304 !
transmission zine 1