Complot: Rennes and Now
Founded in 1981, Complot (aka Complot Bronswick) were a key band in a thriving Rennes scene that emerged in the late 70s in the wake of punk and led to the creation of the Transmusicales de Rennes festival. Despite undergoing numerous mutations over the years, they are still very much a going concern. At this year's Transmusicales, they performed twice - once in 5.1surround sound. Here, Rockfort presents a transcript of our radio interview with two members of the group, Yves-André Lefeuvre (aka Peking O) and Éric Trochu (aka Ert).
Two images of Complot Bronswick live in 1981, with original singer Arnaud Le Brusq featured below. He worked with Complot on their 2009 album 'Rouges Rêves'.
Rockfort: Complot is not your original name…
Yves-André Lefeuvre (drummer):
The original name was Complot Bronswick. To give you the short version, Complot Brunswick was a Canadian fictional short film that showed TV that had incorporated subliminal images into its programming, encouraging people to buy whatever – tyres, three washing machines – so it was a conspiracy of images, of manipulation by images. And since we’re a group that likes images – we worked a lot with dance and theatre groups, we’ve has an affinity with that for a long time – this documentary about the manipulation of people though images appealed to us, so we took this film, called ‘L’Affaire Bronswik
’, as the basis for our name.
Éric Trochu (keyboards): In our group there’s also a musician who was a graphic designer and a painter from the start, which is also handy for the record sleeves.
Rockfort: It sounds as though the group emerged from an artistic collective…
Yes, it’s a bit like that really. It’s a group which has a variable geometry; there’s a nerve centre of three people who have been there since the beginning, Maurice, François and me, and then there’s Eric who was in another group at the time called End of Data
and we went to the same school, so he naturally found his way into this group. But with Complot there are at least 50 or 60 people who have passed through the group, we’ve had three singers which is pretty rare. So the identity of the group isn’t fixed around the singer, it’s the concept of the group itself which is important. From there, it’s completely open, anything is possible. For several years, François Possémé was basically Complot by himself and I wasn’t part of it for a while, then I came back, and so on.
Rockfort: Do you see yourselves as a post-punk group? That was the era wasn’t it?
Y-AL: It’s complicated – almost straight away we were interested in theatre, and we had this quite lyrical, grandiloquent side. We weren’t really reared on punk, not at all.
ET: But there was a rock-y energy.
Y-AL: To sum it up, I’m not that interested in the Sex Pistols, I don’t know that much about them. I was more interested in The Clash, musically speaking.
ET: Yes, but we liked PiL too.
Rockfort: That’s more what I’m getting at, that you’re part of a generation of groups like PiL who were liberated by punk…
ET: Yes, it freed up the musicians at the time, because anyone could pick up a bass guitar and play or whatever instrument, it liberated French musicians from hang-ups.
One important thing is that there was a real connection, which Complot helped a bit to establish, with Belgium. The Rennes-Belgium axis was something that Jean-Louis Brossard, the director of Les Transmusicales, was also a part of, it was something important for him. All that wave – Tuxedomoon, Minimal Compact, the label Crammed Discs
– was very vibrant, very exciting scene. There was also The Honeymoon Killers
, who are not well known enough today but which I rediscovered and they’re extraordinary.
Below: Complot Bronswick in 1984
Rockfort: You’ve always been based in Rennes, haven’t you?
Y-AL: Yes, 100% Breton!
Rockfort: What was the scene like here as you were starting out?
Y-AL: Anything was possible. You could work for a week to put on a show for one night and then never talk about it again – it was finished, done.
We’d find ourselves together on stage, I’d be singing with Philippe Pascal (Ed: from Marquis de Sade and a duo with Pascale Le Berre called… Philippe Pascale!) who’d be covering Joy Division, with people from other groups as well, we’d have only known about it the day before. We would perform Tuxedomoon covers with Daniel Paboeuf (Ed: who played in Ubik and Marquis de Sade
) and the bassist Pierre Corneau (Ed: from Private Jokes – a group also featuring keyboard player Arnold Turboust, who also played on Marquis de Sade’s first album and later worked with Etienne Daho)
, and all that would have come together in 48 hours.
Rockfort: So are there some mythical groups that people remember from the era that maybe only ever played one or two gigs?
Y-AL: Well not Ubik, they were a proper group, but there was a lot of ‘happenings’, yes – Philippe Maujard (Ed: Also from Ubik) playing bass by himself wearing a thong was undoubtedly a great moment!
Rockfort: Les Transmusicales started really thanks to this local scene, and all the groups from Rennes pretty much played at the beginning – Fracture, Marquis de Sade – were you close to all of them?
Y-AL: Yes we know each other, we’re all still in touch.
ET: And I’m working with Fracture, they’re going to re-release some tracks.
Rockfort: These groups, for the most part, didn’t cross the channel...
Y-AL: We’ve never played in Britain, actually.
Y-AL: Yes, but Taxi Girl were Parisians! Although what they did was also very good.
ET: We nearly played there…
Y-AL: But as I was saying, the connection was more with the north of France and Belgium. We were all moving in a similar direction, making music with a bit of an industrial feel.
Above and below: Complot Bronswick in 1985
Rockfort: How would you describe the music you make now?
ET: Once again it stems from a theatre production, a play called ‘Iceman’ (Ed: an adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s ‘The Iceman Cometh), and we were three musicians on stage together with four actresses, sleeping at the back of the stage and suddenly exploding and perform one very powerful song with a real rock-y energy. We were also inspired by the theme of the play, this sense of things being stripped to their essentials. It gave us the impetus to carry on together, and we’re now a five-piece on stage.
Rockfort: So it’s really things outside music that inspire the band.
Y-AL: I’ve realised that they really are a motivating factor for us, because every time something happens with Complot, it’s usually because François Possémé – and it’s usually François who is the instigator – has said “Listen, there’s a project with a theatre group…” And each time we go “Ok, why not”! (laughs). So yes, we’re undoubtedly a group devoted to performing fairly theatrical music; to save time I say that we’re a rock group but there’s a lot more to it than that.
Rockfort: Is that evident in the performances, do you present yourselves like a rock group on stage?
Y-AL: I think our formation on stage is a fairly standard one, but it’s in our manner of moving, or of the lighting – we’re working with lighting engineer at the moment – and the music itself that is rather lyrical, grandiloquent.
Rockfort: Lots of artists of your generation have ended up working on various projects in theatre, dance and so on. Do you ever have a desire to get back to basics?
Y-AL: I think, fundamentally, what we do hasn’t changed that much. I’ve been listening to the old stuff recently and it still works in the same way for me.
ET: There is something that has changed, though. The meeting with the producer Gilles Martin contributed to us working more with machines. Gilles is a very well-known producer who has worked with a lot of groups in France and Belgium, and he brought a real attention to sound that has helped the group to evolve. As I also mix some of the music, I’ve been conscious of that side of things developing.
Yes, but we started using machines pretty quickly, on the second album we were already working with Gilles Martin
. Maybe it was embryonic but we had already started using drum machines and other things that triggered sounds. But let’s say that on stage it remains fairly organic, and it always has been.
Rockfort: So always pretty rock-y on stage?
ET: Yes and no. Because we take part in theatre and performance as well, I write for contemporary dance and François is also very much involved in that, we’ve worked with two dancers that we met working with another company. The show wasn’t really contemporary dance, but Yves-André, who’s usually a drummer, was playing electric guitar, I was playing guitar as well and I’m normally a keyboard player. So there’s also this aspect to what we do. It enriches what we do with the group, even at the level of the song writing. Our roots are in the 80s but I think we’ve evolved all the same.
Rockfort: Can you imagine the 2009 model Complot crossing the channel?
Y-AL: We’re waiting for your invitation! Even just for a weekend, to take tea together… (laughs) The last time I went to London was on a school trip!
Interview by David McKenna, with assistance from Radio Grenouille's Rob X. Translation by David McKenna