Frank (Just Frank): Cold Calling
Interest in France's Cold Wave scene has never been greater: following a series of French compilations of electronically inclined French post-punk acts, a new UK release on Angular charts the scene and its parallel movements in other continental European countries. Co-compiler Pieter Schoolwerth is behind the 'Very Rare' scene and the New York-based Wierd label's roster of acts inspired by the early 80s European sound. Here, Wierd signings Frank (Just Frank) - aka Anthem and KD - tell Rockfort about how this music inspired them.
Rockfort: How did this project take shape? What’s your musical background?
Anthem: We formed Frank (just Frank) in high school seven years ago. We decided to make music together under heavy influence of British post-punk and new wave bands such as The Smiths, The Cure, Siouxsie Sioux and Depeche Mode.
Rockfort: How did you get involved with Wierd Records?
A: We're signed to Wierd records - they found us one day on the net, and asked if they could play some of our tracks at the Wierd nights that take place at Home Sweet Home in Manhattan's Lower East Side. We agreed, and it turned out after a year or so they played tracks from our 'Brutal Wave' demo every week. After playing two gigs in NY last year, Pieter Schoolwerth - the headmaster of Wierd - offered to release our first LP.
Rockfort: On your MySpace you describe yourselves as ‘Brutal Wave’. How useful are these terms – ‘Very Rare’, ‘Cold Wave’ etc?
‘Very Rare’ is Wierd record's motto. ‘Cold Wave’ is specifically related to the French and Belgian post-punk/alternative rock scene in the 80s. The most famous French cold wave bands would later introduce the 'Touching Pop' genre in the early 90s with bands such as Asylum Party
, Little Nemo
and Mary Goes Round
It's important for us to define ourselves as ‘Brutal Wave’ in order not to give people the impression that we're an 80s revivalist band. We take our inspiration from bands that formed in the 80s but we play a new and different style. ‘Brutal Wave’ is intended as a new wave of post punk music that is inspired by 80s alternative bands. Thus the term 'wave'. ‘Brutal’ comes from the fact that KD and I used to listen to a lot extreme metal, so anything cool was ‘brutal’, which described all the most extreme Death and Black Metal bands. As we integrated a few black metal elements into our music, we decided naturally to name our style 'Brutal Wave'.
KD: The reason we felt we should come up with a term for our music was because we wished to express the sources of our sound without re-using a specific genre name; we never want to simply reiterate a past style, but rather draw out of post-punk music (I mean post-punk in its broad sense ie. all the genres that were spawned by punk, ranging from industrial to new wave) isolate musical elements and re-assemble them afresh. I feel as though 'Brutal Wave' for us meant a conscious, reflexive approach to the making of post punk music.
Rockfort: With quite a few of these acts being from New York and seemingly dreaming of being French (or German), do you have a slightly different perspective on this music?
A: The irony is that I've got French-American dual nationality and my Yankee origins come exclusively from New York. All I can say is that the people from the Wierd crew are incredibly cultured and know more about France than I could ever dream of.
Indeed, it seems as though the New York scene is more aware of European music history than most Europeans themselves; I find Americans have the strong advantage of being unbiased towards this history, and thanks to this, it is actually through Wierd that we still discover forgotten European acts. Take for example the compilation currently being released through Angular Records (UK), 'Cold Wave and Minimal Electronics Vol I
': thanks to the collaboration between Pieter of Wierd and Joe of Angular these tunes have been literally unearthed, perhaps even saved from oblivion. These genres can have the tendency to remain within closed circles of experts, therefore it takes such initiatives to reveal to the broader public of the old continent the relevance of its musical history. I would go as far as saying that the distance, both geographical and cultural, which American bands, have towards past European scenes allows their progressive musical approach, leaving aside the risk of pure revivalism. It takes more energy for European bands to shed the burden of their musical precedents before producing something radically fresh.
Rockfort: There have been quite a few compilatioms (‘So Young But So Cold’, ‘Bippp’, ‘Des Jeunes Gens Modernes’, ‘IVG’) of French Cold Wave/Synth Wave acts – have these been important to you in the way that, say, folk reissues recordings might have inspired the new folk boom?
: It's great to make people discover this style of music which indeed contributes to a revival of the genre. However we never bought any compilations of the sort. Only the Wierd compilations which were composed of new bands, mostly coming from the US. The French compilations had no particular impact on me. What did have a huge impact on me were the reissues of these particular artists' albums. The label that launched this idea was Infrastition Records
. That's who I bought a compilation of two Asylum Party discs, including their demos, from. That's also where I found Danse Macabre
, who made early Darkthrone demos sound like techno-pop.
As it happens, when we started we were little aware of the plethora of European acts preceding the current scene. Sure, some of the bands on these compilations were on our playlists, notably Kas Product
and Charles de Goal
Rockfort: What is the ultimate Cold Wave act?
A: I usually don't refer to acts but rather to albums because 80s bands change a lot throughout their career. So if it was up to me, I'd say the milestone of Cold Wave is Joy Division's 'Closer'. Joy Division kill you with their music. They are nihility in music. Along with that I'd say The Cure's 'Faith'. This album is completely funereal. It could make a sunny day rain. This album turned my world upside down. In France it would be Asylum Party's 'Borderline'. It's quite simply some of the most beautiful music you'll ever hear along side with Bach and Mozart.
Rockfort: You appear to be based in Paris – are there any kindred spirits or club nights with whom or where you feel at home?
Part of the band is actually based in London, but as far as Paris goes, there is a fantastic Cold Wave/Synth Minimal night called 'Methods of Dance' which is hosted by a group of three very stylish DJs called Les Saigneurs de la Night who tend to play at La Mécanique Ondulatoire
but also in Le Klub
. The crowd is very mixed, between modish-looking synth fans, dark fashion girls, death rock goth punks, 80s nostalgic retro boys and retro girls mixed up with EBM skinheads.
Rockfort: How do you record? Do you set yourself any technical/technological limitations?
KD: Our main limitation came from the fact we are a duo, and although we get a third musician to perform live, the challenge is to produce a rich sound with limited elements that six hands can still convey on stage. We play on the dual nature of the band in our recordings, creating a balance between the fast-paced precision of the drum machine and a freer guitar sound, or between a deep and sober vocal line and a more flowing and allusive keyboard melody. The fact that we keep switching instruments and main vocalist on stage participates in recreating this balancing effect in concert. The integration of analogue electronic instruments to a guitar/bass core, or vice versa, allows us and our sound to evolve.
Rockfort: What is in Frank (Just Frank)’s future?
The main focus is currently our first LP which will shortly be released on Wierd. One of our tracks currently features on a compilation, 'Circuit d'Actes', released by the La Forme Lente
label from Provence, France. We are also preparing a split CD with the band Soviet Soviet from Italy on the label Mannequin, and should soon participate in a covers compilation under the banner of Fatal Object from Bordeaux. Amongst all this we still have a few gigs planned, the next is in Bordeaux in February, followed by more in Europe and the US.
Interview by David McKennna