Gangpol & Mit: Loony Tunes
Gangpol & Mit aka Sylvain Quément and Guillaume Gastagné are an impossible-to-categorise duo who combine sound and animation to delirious and disturbing effect. Rockfort spoke to Sylvain on the occasion of the pair's first London gig, in Hoxton.
Rockfort: What were you and Guillaume doing before you met and started Gangpol & Mit?
SQ: It’s totally classic and absolutely not fascinating – we were art students in Bordeaux and met while we were there.
Rockfort: Did you immediately have the idea that you were going to combine music and animation?
SQ: Yes, it came quite quickly. In that university, which was absolutely… I dunno, I think nobody is happy with their art school generally, but let’s say we weren’t happier than anyone else, but there was a nice visual department with one good teacher at least, and we worked on nice and visual relationships that were maybe a bit unusual. After university I started doing the first Gangpol demos and quickly it was an issue of making the cover artwork, and then onstage we knew we wanted to present something with both visuals and music but also something different from the usual VJ work cos Guillaume doesn’t always like the VJ aspect. So we wanted it to be a specific project with us really working together, not like a VJ joining someone for one night, but something very close and intricate. Then, step by step, we ended up being a kind of cartoon project.
Rockfort: How does it work on stage then? What’s the difference between your shows and a VJ/artist performance?
SQ: People have problems categorising us because on the one hand we’re not like a band, but on the other hand we’re not like an animation studio with a team of people working on something. We’re really a live project merging cartoons and music, so we know a lot of good musicians and like their work, we know a lot of graphic designers, but we don’t know so many live projects of this kind.
Rockfort: What is the live aspect of the animation on stage?
SQ: It’s a bit like a band that knows exactly what happens on when through rehearsals. For my part I have a multi-track system, with the computer being like the band and I add some sounds like vocals and electric ukulele, plus effects and a mid controller for the computer. Guillaume’s is a live sampling system. So he triggers sequences depending on the timing of the tracks, and he makes a kind of live edit of this, and he can play a ‘chorus’…
Rockfort: So you might have a sequence that repeats during the musical ‘chorus’…?
SQ: Yes, for instance. He also uses cardboard puppets shot with a webcam for some tracks that are integrated into the videos.
Rockfort: Is the idea of Gangpol & Mit that neither the musical or the visual side takes precedence over the other – they’re both equally important?
SQ: Yes, it’s really 50-50.
Rockfort: You seem to be heavily influenced by TV and film soundtrack composers.
SQ: My tastes go more in the direction of composer-producer music, rather than band music. Of course there are lots of band that I appreciate and find extremely interesting, but I have to admit that the thing that touches me the most is arrangements in tracks, the way they are built and the way sounds are chosen, the way it is produced. Maybe because I was raised this way, I never had a big culture of bands when I was a teenager.
Rockfort: It’s an unromantic side to music in a way – arrangers and film composers are musicians for hire, they’re paid to do a specific job.
SQ: I don’t know because most of the musicians I like worked largely solo - François de Roubaix was the first to build his own studio in France and played everything.
Rockfort: So is Chapi Chapo a bit of an influence?
Actually that’s not my favourite from him – I’m really not in a childish state of mind now, maybe Gangpol & Mit was a bit more like that four or five years ago when it started, but particularly the upcoming tracks are particularly getting further away from childish references or a ‘kidult’ aspect. I don’t know, I’m getting a bit older maybe as well! There are different issues in life generally, and we try to put the maximum content we can in the music. But apart from that Jean-Jacques Perry
also worked alone a lot, Robert Wyatt as well, and I’m always fascinated by these characters.
Rockfort: You have done children’s workshops and things like that, though. Can you explain how those work?
SQ: Yes, I was speaking more about the content of the music before, but we really want to do things for various audiences – it’s something we really care about and which also takes us away from being a classic band. What’s really nice for us is to play at a nightclub in Hoxton one night and then the next to do a workshop with children in Serbia – different contexts and different audiences. We have a side-project called Carton Park, which is really a concert for children, with two other people: Mami Chan and Norman Bambi from the band Juicy Panic, and apart from that we do workshops quite often because people ask a lot and it’s always nice. We just try to communicate a kind of DIY attitude to children – the concert is all about that, showing that you can do things with cheap keyboards that you find in your basement or at a second-hand market.
Rockfort: What age are the children?
SQ: I don’t think we’ve gone younger than five, but then it goes up to 11. We haven’t really done teenagers yet but that would be good too.
Rockfort: Do you get any interesting musical results?
SQ: To get really interesting results you need time, and usually people book us for one or two days maximum. It’s more about communicating with them, getting them to practice, it’s a kind of random explosion of everything! (laughs). It’s more about ideas – they always have lots of suggestions and ideas, “the character could do that”, or they want us to make the voice sound a certain way with a vocoder or something. But to get proper tracks or something we would need a longer workshop – I hope we can do it at some point.
Rockfort: In terms of not being a normal ‘band’, how do you go about releasing music, what kinds of formats do you use?
SQ: We’ve done quite a lot of things and we like the idea of spreading across different media. We’ve done T shirts, Guillaume makes prints… we can really do almost anything. We’re going to release a custom game for the iPhone for instance. I really like the idea of being a studio that’s able to produce for almost any media, but we just released our first DVD a few months ago (Ed: 'Fait Divers') and it was a bit like the first object that has merged all the aspects of the band.
Rockfort: You now live in two different countries (Sylvain is now based in London). Have you ever had a studio together or shared the same workspace?
SQ: Actually when we were in Bordeaux we almost never worked in the same physical place because every week or two we’d be going to play somewhere so we’d meet quite a lot. Sometimes when we came back to the city we’d have a dinner or a party but never working together. From the beginning we had a kind of ‘ping-pong’ filesharing system, so we don’t really need a physical room to work in together apart from to play live.
Rockfort: Is it more often the music or the images that come first?
SQ: We really share it step by step and it can really start from either the music or the visuals. I can start a quick melody, just a general idea of what the track will sound like and send it to Guilaume and he’ll send some pictures back, or it can start from a few drawings from him or a storyboard. We keep on sharing until we’ve decided to finish.
Rockfort: Why the decision to come to London?
SQ: I’d spent ten years in Bordeaux and I decided it was time to move and try somewhere else.
Rockfort: You mentioned the arts school before, but what did you feel about Bordeaux and its music scene? You worked with Kap Bambino didn’t you?
SQ: Yes, we met Kap Bambino four or five years ago and they put two of our records out on their WWILCO label. I met them through the live events – I saw them a couple of times and I thought “ok, something happens when they play.” In general Bordeaux is a very, very nice city and I don’t think I would have moved to another place in France, for instance. The energy of the city is very surprising if you know where to go; in the long term it always renews itself, when places close, new places open and there’s a kind of basement tradition with lots of concerts. It’s quite a big and exciting music scene there.
Interview by David McKenna