In September Audition Records released Syrphe: Noise Music in Africa & Asia. This promotional compilation gives us an insight into the stock of a database, which is collecting experimental and noise music from Africa and Asia since more than ten years. The aim of the database, run by a label called Syrphe, is to let people know that alternative electronic, experimental and noise music also exist in underrated continents. Read the interview with C-Drík Fermont, curator and producer of the Syrphe-database and listen to the tracks of the compilation.
[Julian Bonequi]: C-drík, who are you?
[C-drík Fermont]: I’m a musician, composer, sound engineer, event organiser, dj, label manager and so on.
[JB]: How do you get started in music?
[CF]: I started to learn orchestral drums and percussion at the age of 13, together with oratory, music theory, choir chant and later theatrical improvisation. About ten years later, after going to different schools (art academy and other stuff) but finishing almost none of them, I studied a bit electro-acoustic music in Belgium under the direction of Annette vande Gorne. I set up my first band in 1989, I was 17 back then and decided to play some noise and industrial music, simply because I liked those styles way more than punk, I was full of rage (beating metal scrap and screaming in microphones mostly). I’m happy I didn’t start to play with a computer. I had to experiment with cassettes, walkie-talkie, metal sheets and pipes and other objects. I was forced to use my mind, to be creative, even if when I listen to some of our old tracks, I think that not all of them were good pieces of music. I regret nothing, I learned a lot. I quickly started some other projects, solo or bands, playing different styles from noise to dark ambient, industrial or minimal music and later breakcore, electronica, drum and bass, digital hardcore and so on.
[JB]: Which kind of projects are you running?
[CF]: Some of the projects I can mention are Axiome, Crno Klank, Ambre, Dead Holywood Stars, Moonsanto, Tasjiil Moujahed, Elekore, Tetra Plok, Kirdec. But there are many more. Those were published (and are still for some) on labels such as Ant-Zen, Ad Noiseam, Hushush, Hymen, Puzzling Records, Mad Monkey Records, Independenza Records, Klanggalerie, etc. I also run a tape label called Sépulkrales Katakombes, between 1991 and 1996, on which I published my music and some other artists and compilations including musicians like De Fabriek, Deleted, Simbolo, M. Nomized, DSIP, Wejdas, Schistosoma, Notstandskomitee, Yximalloo, Sphinx, etc. In 2002 I created another label called Syrphe to publish cd’s and its sublabel Textolux on which we released two minimal wave/electro vinyls composed by Tetra Plok.
Nowadays I’m still running Syrphe, publishing some of my works and collaborations and compilations of artists from Asia and Africa, mostly. I organise some events, mostly in Berlin, do some audio mastering, remixing and editing for artists, occasionally compose music for theatre, dance, short films or cine-concerts, collaborate to the Staalplaat radio show once or twice per month, programming experimental music from Latin America, Asia and Africa, I give presentations and lectures now and then, and write a book about African and Asian electronic and experimental music. I often tour in those continents and across Europe (especially eastern Europe). I collaborate and improvise a lot with artists while being in Berlin or while traveling, various studio or live collaborations have been made with Mick Harris, Mark Spybey, Yan Jun, Effie Wu, Alok Leung, Aluviana, Choi Joonyong, Dickson Dee, Naofumi Ishimaru, Pei, Nguyen Van Cuong, Lin Chi Wei, Jawad Nawfal, Luo Chao-Yun, Hui-Chun Lin, Aldis Oslozs, Damo Suzuki, Mathis Mootz, Contagious Orgasm and dozens more. I had the opportunity to play twice for Ðào Anh Khánh Studio in Hanoi and once for the Guangdong Modern Dance Company in Southern China.
I sometimes sleep.
[JB]: Where are you originally from?
[CF]: I was born in Zaire, when the country was still called like that. But I only lived there two years (in Lubumbashi and Kinshasa); I’m of Congolese, Greek and Belgian descent. I’m earthling. I then lived and grew up in Belgium. I left that country around 2003 to live in the Netherlands, until late 2005, then spent six months in far east Asia, kind of came back to Belgium or better said, between Belgium half of the year and the rest of the world other half of the year. I moved to Berlin in 2010, still traveling a lot though.
[JB]: Why Berlin?
[CF]: I was and am still somehow fed up with Europe. And the only place where I feel good here around is Berlin. That was Berlin or far east Asia anyway but for some personal reasons, back then, it was at least better to stay in Europe. Now things have changed. I could one day or another end up in far east or south east Asia. Berlin is to me like an island in a country I dislike a lot and a continent quite decaying. I may be wrong but I perceive things like this, pseudo economical crisis hence a so-called lack of money for education, health and culture, rise of fascism and philosophical and religious intolerance, sexism, racism, etc. I say «pseudo» because if goods, housings, food and social services were properly shared there would be no crisis. We don’t lack of housings or food or gas, water and so on at all, they are simply not fairly distributed.
The rigid and absurd German bureaucracy gives me nausea, this is an oppressive place where poor people are getting crushed day by day. The so called European model is an ultra-capitalist place where individuals pay tons of money to a corrupted state, dishonest insurances and wealthy conservative politicians. One could say it’s a global phenomenon and yes, it is, it has even been constant in some parts of the world but I often feel we are close to what happened in the 1930’s in Europe, at many levels. Meanwhile, some say Berlin is not what it used to be. I say it’s good so; stagnation means conservatism. Berlin definitely lost some of its freedom but is still more opened than any other European capital. I know no other place where one can go out seven days per week, twenty-four hours per day and cross so many people from everywhere at parties, exhibitions. I learn and share a lot here: there are plenty of alternative scenes (any form of art). One can learn plenty of languages and customs, you meet creative people, etc. I like the local social interactivity: collective gardens, people’s kitchens, artistic collectives, DIY places to print, to repair your bike, etc. Connections with real humans. There are some downsides of course but less than anywhere else in Europe to me.
HISTORY OF SYRPHE
[JB]: When did you start with the first attempts to create your own label and why? At what point did you decide to create an experimental music label with musicians and works coming from Africa and Asia? And which ones were the motivations to create a label with such approach?
[CF]: The very beginning of the label happened in 2002, a follow up to my defunct tape label, partly due to a need to publish some of my music myself and to my friend Dimitri della Faille who was behind the label Hushush Disques in Canada. The first published CD was a co-release with his label. The decision to publish artists from other continents started in the mid 1990’s with my previous label Sépulkrales Katakombes, on which I published some artists from South Africa, Japan, Chile and Brazil. But it is only in 2007 that I published a bigger project on Syrphe: Beyond Ignorance And Borders – An African, Middle-Eastern, Asian noise and electronic compilation. It took me two years to get in touch with enough artists to produce that CD. After spending months in the far east and having collected some more contacts in North Africa and the Middle East, it was time to show that there were some very active experimental and electronic music artists over there.
I had enough to hear people telling me there was nothing happening in those places; that they couldn’t understand what I was doing in those countries, etc. When I studied electro-acoustic music at the conservatory, we never heard about any composers from non-Western countries, that disappointed me a lot. And if you study nowadays in France or Belgium, nothing has changed. According to most academics, Pierre Schaeffer invented everything, no one existed before him and nowhere else was there any experimental music composers. It was to me important to share my knowledge in this matter and to, so to speak, re-write history, speak about what the west concealed again. The situation is similar to the way modern art from non-Western countries but a few (China, Japan, Turkey…), do you often hear about Tanzanian contemporary art? Indonesian audio-visual installations? Of course not.
[JB]: Do you have some type of external financing for your label to produce and compile the physical material? Or it’s a personal initiative managed exclusively on your own?
[CF]: Until now, I financed all compilations by myself, this includes the production of the CD’s themselves but also the travels to meet the artists and see what they do, make some research. Some of the other albums were financed with the help of a few of the artists whom I collaborate with. It gives me or us a total freedom. I could get some help in the future, I don’t know, we’ll see; it became indeed harder nowadays to get your money back when you publish a disc, I even don’t speak about making any benefits but I still prefer that way to the pure digital release one.
Digital releases are easy to publish by yourself (if you’re a good promoter) or through various networks like Bandcamp to speak about one of the few I trust and like. But what I see is this: plenty of people downloading the music you give for free who listen once, twice or never to what you offered because the market (sadly it is a market) is saturated: too many artists, too many releases, too many labels. Many people consume music in stead of listening to it carefully. This is why I favour physical releases. Once you pay for getting an object, you don’t let it rot in a drawer (I hope !). I don’t know how people who buy digital music listen to what they download. I just hope they do more than simply collecting and forgetting.
I publish CD’s (and vinyls again in the near future if things work well) because CDr’s aren’t trustable at all, they die fast, sometimes within a few months, they perfectly reflect the rotten system we live in: cheap, fast made, fast dead, it’s almost a useless format to me, they are part of this programmed obsolecense; even cassettes last longer.
[JB]: Any suggestions for independent producers and new labels?
[CF]: There are not so many advices that I can give but for those who want to start a label, they have to know that it needs a lot of time to promote the releases, find concerts, get reviews and other forms of exposures. I see some who publish a CD or a vinyl and never send any copies to the press, they only promote via one or two social networks and sell almost nothing of course. Perhaps unless you have a strong core of fans, you have to regularly remind people that you published something, that you play somewhere, better tell it thrice than once or twice. The world is overwhelmed with information, people get lost, not counting all those who have only a short term memory.
And promoting doesn’t mean to stay home and spam through the internet, you’ve to meet people, you’ve to print flyers, etc. Making special packages or offers, producing original music (or dull popular sub-genders!) and properly master your releases are also important steps. You’ve to behave like a businessman or businesswoman. This is pretty awful, isn’t it? I don’t like this idea of survival for the fittest, so I don’t try to crush other labels or promoters, I keep myself visible but promote my friends when they need it. It is only through friendship and collaboration that you can generate some good work and networks, to me there should be no place for rivalry. Anyway, don’t expect to make a living of it even though some manage well to do it or at least to survive.
[JB]: Do you consider that «experimental music» scene is changing?
[CF]: There are some changes in a way but not so many, in the end few is really experimental. So much has been done already. Experimental music is this year 100 years old, electronic music almost as old as that. Experimental music should renew itself day by day, as soon as one copy another while not improving the process, there’s nothing experimental left. The term experimental music is often misused, I misused it too somehow; what was experimental twenty years ago can’t be experimental today, it still can be avant-garde, possibly… or not!
[JB]: How will you describe the sounds collected by Syrphe?
[CF]: I don’t know how to describe or define Syrphe’s sound. I think that I’m too close to the projects to give any objective answer and the label published so many various genres. From harsh noise to digital hardcore to electronica or electro-acoustic music.
[JB]: The concepts behind Syrphe Database?
[CF]: The main concept behind the label is to stir up a hornet’s nest by showing that many alternative artists from Africa and Asia exist and deserve to be known everywhere. I always refer to both continents but it could be the same with Latin America; I published a few artists based there too. I hope to change people’s point of view and biases regarding those scenes. Even if this electronic and avant-garde circle is a bit more opened than let’s say the pop scene it stays a lot Euro-centered and I want that to change. I want that people stop being surprised to discover noise music in Algeria or electronica in Palestine and I want more interaction, more travel, more exchanges, to build bridges not only between the east, south and west but also between countries.
I want people, even those from alternative scenes, to not only eat what their favourite (alternative) media provides, I want them to dig for it too, mainstream medias are biased and tend to push listeners where they want them to go or where big labels want them to go, alternative media are sometimes not better. The first time I went to Vietnam, no artist in China knew there was a (small) scene there, the same happened with people in Singapore who ignored that there were some electronic musicians in Indonesia in the 1960’s already. Until recently most non-westerners would look at what happens in Western Europe, the USA, Japan, eventually Australia, nowadays it finally starts to change.
[JB]: I know you have a lot of political and social convictions, how is this related to your work?
[CF]: Regarding the political aspects and philosophical viewpoints, I would say, it’s not a major point in the label, except that fascism, racism and sexism aren’t welcome at all; that means that I need to know at least a bit every artist promoted on Syrphe, also those listed on the database. The few fascist once I found aren’t represented in here, I can’t be totally neutral. Because of some releases, we may consider that there is some kind of «accidental» direction taken by Syrphe, one may refer to Elekore and its anti-capitalist ideas, my own tracks mentioning animal rights, veganism or politics, the compilation Art Of The Muses including female composers only but I think these are some projections of my personality.
On the other hand, yes, on my personal pages on various social networks, I don’t hide my opinions, it’s possibly not commercially efficient; I know some people refused to book me because of some of my statement but I don’t care. I don’t need them to live. It’s a good way to select whom you want to interact with. So my private life (such as the one of many other netizens is now partly public) sometimes interbreed with the public/artistic one. You can feel some of these influences in some of our products (yeah, I unfortunately find no other word): some of the covers are printed on recycling paper, others are home made silkscreen painting and folded by myself and not by a slave in Romania, the few T-shirts I produce are also printed by myself on organic and (let’s hope) fair trade cotton, not made in Bangladesh or North Korea; I tend to avoid to release CD’s in jewel (plastic) boxes, etc. It’s not perfect, I’m also part of this capitalist society but I try to minimise that impact.
[JB]: Important changes in Berlin you’ve noticed with gentrification?
[CF]: … do you think that these social changes are feeding the rage against people coming from abroad… with this kind of «tourists-artists» who never work – seems like —, and living in a kind of eternal celebration… is not even that they are stealing the jobs of people…
[JB]: What do you think about this cultural way of living and the crescent boom of Berlin?
[CF]: It’s funny, I’m in a way a foreigner myself but make a lot of critics towards some of those lazy artists, pseudo-artists, tourist-artists, you name them and all those aliens who refuse to learn German, finding lame excuses to not «integrate». They are often the first ones to complain about the lack of money here and the first one to ask you to add them to the guest list. Indeed they don’t steal German jobs and anyway when I observe the different existing scenes in the capital, I notice that most events around noise, experimental, improv, electronica, break and speedcore, are not organised by German citizens and even the audience is manly not German. Only scenes like minimal techno, industrial, gothic, punk, hardcore, rock are more connected to the Germans.
So what would Berlin be without those coming from abroad? Even more poor and bleak I feel. Berlin resembles a hedonist city for some indeed; to me abuse of alcohol and all sorts of other drugs and run-of-the-mill parties aren’t why I’m here. This city offers plenty of art but we have to select the best of it and I boycott as much as I can low quality events; some artists go to parties only for getting wasted, I go to see performances, to discover new artists, follow and support other ones I appreciate and get some new inspiration.
[JB]: Experimental festivals in Africa and in Asia?
[CF]: Some (theorically) still active festivals:
– Unyazi Festival (experimental, free jazz, electro-acoustic, etc. in South Africa)
– Fete de la WSK (experimental music festival in the Philippines)
– Seoul International Computer Music Festival (electro-acoustic, in South Korea)
– Lacking Sound Festival (experimental music in Taiwan)
– Irtijal (free jazz, improv, noise and experimental in Lebanon)
– Yogyakarta Contemporary Music Festival (electro-acoustic, modern classical, etc. in Indonesia)
– D-Caf (audio, visual and performing art, electronic, experimental, improv, hip hop in Egypt)
– 100 Copies (electronic and experimental music in Egypt)
– Sally Can’t Dance Festival (experimental music festival in China)
– Fu You Festival (Ephemeral Festival) (international post-folk music festival in China)
– Musiacoustica Beijing (electro-acoustic music festival in China)
– Mini Midi Music Festival (China)
– Le Fest (festival for digital art, Tunisia)
– Hanoi Sound Stuff (experimental, classical, avant-garde, rock, etc. in Vietnam)
– Camafestival (pop, rock, electro, noise, experimental, etc. in Vietnam)
– Kill The Silence Festival (post rock, noise, experimental, in Macau)
– Destroy Transmission (((Signals))) – new festival for noise and experimental music which will take place in October in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur
– Pulsation Sonore – Festival in Algeria dedicated to experimental and electronic music
– Sound Reasons – Electronic and experimental music Festival in India
[JB]: Other labels related to experimental music and noise in Africa and Asia?
[CF]: As for the labels, I’d like to give some names, not only connected to experimental music:
– Tien An Men 89: a label which publishes punk music from other niches than the one from the West : punk from Iran, Pakistan, Madagascar, Transnistria, Suriname, Tatarstan, Morocco, Cuba, Kyrgyzstan, Karelia, etc.
– Sonic Arts Network: based in the UK, they were (are still ?) organising events and publishing music. Their compilation Periférico: Sounds From Beyond The Bubble includes various artists from Cuba, Angola, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Iran. Most of them into avantgarde.
– Sub Jam and Kwanyin Records: Chinese labels owned by Yan Jun, publishing a lot of Asian (mostly Chinese) experimental artists.
– Ruptured: Lebanese label promoting artists (experimental, electronica, alternative hip hop) from Lebanon and other foreigners who perform in Beirut, from Palestine, USA, Europe.
– Noise Asia: Hong Kong based label owned by Dickson Dee who publishes a lot of Asian artists in different genres, also experimental and avant-garde.
– 100 Copies: label owned by Mahmoud Refat, based in Egypt, he publishes electronic and experimental local artists.
– Sublime Frequencies: US label that publishes obscure, old and forgotten traditional, pop or psychedelic music from the Mid East, Africa, Asia.
– Awesome Tapes From Africa: more a blog than a label that includes tons of rareties collected in Africa : afro-pop, zouk, electronic, psychedelic, jazz.
[JB]: Some bands from your native country and in Belgium?
[CF]: I don’t know much underground music coming from the Congo (DRC), related to what I do but I could say Konono N°1 (Congo/Angola) which is a traditional music band performing with kalimbas but with DIY amplification that distort everything, and some other composers from the 1980’s who were based in Belgium too, who mostly played some afro/electro-pop: Denis Mpunga & Paul K., Zazou/Bikaye/CY1
[JB]: Tell us some artists who influenced your work?
[CF]: I think I’m influenced by the entire environment surrounding me, whether it is the urban space, nature (I love gardening and walking in the «wild»), politics, etc. I can’t really give any names.
[JB]: Previous attempts of labels and curatorial processes in history making compilations of experimental african music?
[CF]: I don’t know many. There’s this Extreme Music From Africa published on Susan Lawly many years ago but it is a hoax. William Bennett did all the tracks himself. The same year I published Beyond Ignorance And Borders (in 2007), Sonic Arts Network published Periférico: Sounds From Beyond The Bubble which includes a few artists from Egypt (Hassan Khan), and Angola (Dembo, Victor Gama). Previously, there was the South African tape label Network 77 that published the compilation Munen Muso 1, a few electronic artists from South Africa were included on the cassette: Divan Japonaise, Carnage Visors, Kalahari Surfers, Alan Day, Willow and Sphinx. They were mostly related to ambient electronic or electro-pop.
[JB]: Which are the advantages and disadvantages of independent venues?
[CF]: Any suggestion to change the reality on the autosabotage from experimental musicians who play for almost nothing. A problem affecting the scene and to the musicians who try to make a life of it – no matter some people says almost always: «experimental music can not be a job.» It depends on which independent venues. Perhaps you speak about your own experience in Berlin and Mexico, and indeed in Berlin and some other places like London, New York, Tokyo, etc. Independent venues often pay very little money to the artists due to a lack of audience or funding/gross revenue but it is not true everywhere. Even in Berlin you can find a few independent venues where artists are reasonably paid and well treated.
I’ve played in independent punk venues in Germany that were paying better than official art galleries. And I performed in museums, universities and art galleries which offered more freedom and better salaries than most independent venues I know. Some say that we should never collaborate with official institutions as they are part of the state. But if you refuse to take these opportunities who knows what kind of project they will support then. This money that is reinjected in art and culture has been collected through various taxes that we paid, so it is also our money. Unless you pay no rent and grow all your food and collect (or steal) other goods like clothes or furniture, never pay public transport and download free films, music, art and don’t use a phone and connect for free to the net, you always pay some taxes in a way or another. Nothing is black and white only. I think that in most cases artists should not play for free, it kills everything – the audience and organiser may treat you like shit because you’re cheap, free entrance attracts anyone – people who are curious and idiots who find funny to ruin everything and would have never come if they had to pay. If organisers know you play for free, then you become some kind of cheap labor for them and everybody wants to book you for nothing. We all need to eat, pay a rent, buy new gears, why would we play for free all the time?
I don’t often accept to play for nothing; there might be a good reason for it (playing for a cause, a good friend or in a place where I know there’s really zero money or too little audience for example). I sometimes made this mistake to play for free and saw the club owner make tons of money on my back, that makes me sick, a mistake I won’t do anymore. When you ask to get paid because you know there might be some possibilities to bring people, the organisers do their best to promote the event because they take a risk, when you play for free, some don’t care, they have no reason to promote a lot. I noticed how well treated one can be in Indonesia, Bosnia or in Algeria to speak about a few, even if people have no money, they try to cover at least a bit of your travel, they provide you a meal and a couch, they give you all what they have, they thank you to invest time and money to perform in a place where this music is not so common and then you have some European organisers or clubs who treat you like shit because you dare to ask for a bottle of water and remind you what a great honour it is to perform for them.
[JB]: Communities, venues and labels for experimental music in Africa, Asia and around the world you want to recommend?
[CF]: – My database on Syrphe which contains more than 1000 references from Africa and Asia (including the ones hereunder)
– China Music Radar (website about the music industry in China, especially pop, rock, electro, alternative, etc.)
– Chinoise (blog over outsider music in China)
– Rock In China (portal about all sorts of Chinese music from rock to noise)
– 100 copies Radio (internet radio for electronic music from Egypt, the Arab world and international)
– Ruptured (Radio Liban) (rock, post punk, jazz, noise, experimental, electronic, improv, etc.)
– Rock In The Fine City (’80s-’90s Singapore independent music archives)
– White Fungus (New-Zealander/International art and experimental music magazine based in Taiwan and New Zealand, published in Chinese and English)
– Bantmag (online and paper magazine about music, cinema, art in Turkey, in Turkish)
– Electronic and electro-acoustic music in Turkey (group about electronic music in Turkey)
– Noisepaper (Uzbek webzine about experimental, ambient, noise, punk, metal…, in Russian)
– Hanoise (blog about the experimental scene in Hanoi and also about Jackson Garland’s projects, based in Hanoi)
– Hanoi Grapevine (blog about music, theatre, dancen art in general in Hanoi)
– Alphamanbeast (worldwide electronic and noise music directory)
– Art.A.K (Collective which promotes current mediterranean cultures and wishes to interconnect artists coming from the whole mediterranean area)
– Berlan Allee (weekly radioshow by Pharaz Azimi & Iman Deeper, he main idea of Berlan Allee is to focus on Iranian artists and Artists from varies countries)
– Bidoun (magazine for art and culture from the Middle East)
– Bob Gluck (essays and interviews – Electronic Music in an International Context)
– EMSAN (Electroacoustic Music Studies Asia Network/Réseau d’étude des musiques électroacoustiques de l’Asie orientale) [a research project initiated by the MINT research unit (Observatoire musical français).
– Les Carnets Du Bourlingueur Alternatif, interiews abiut C-drík’s travels, scene in other countries, etc. In French.
– Nokteez (Nokteez collects and shares slices of contemporary Iranian culture, in the fields of art, music, design, theatre and film)
– Super Sonic China (Japanese blog talking about the electronic scene in China)
– Tenzenmen Forum (Australasian tour board providing information such as bands, venues, travel info, etc.).
– The Future Sounds Of Folk (preservation and archiving of folk music, sound art and experimental music featuring traditional music and new ways to re-invent folk music and more)
– Zenith Foundation (topologies of authority, technology and production in contemporary Middle Eastern Music Practices, MazaJ festival)
Conversation between C-drík Fermont and Julian Bonequi. C-drík, Berlin 16.08.2013, originally published here.
Download the Compilation Syrphe: Noise Music in Africa & Asia at archive.org.