It's great to see that, after 30 years, this movement is still completely alternative
23/01/2013, Philippe BLACKMARQUIS
Few bands can claim to offer a complete show for their fans, with sound, video, lights and especially performance. ROSA†CRVX is one of these bands. A legend from the 13th century tells that a hermit gave himself the pseudonym of Rosenkreicht and devoted his life to a research about the body and its limits. Olivier Tarabo, then a student at the School of Fine Arts in Rouen in 1984, used this pseudonym to chose the name of his new project: ROSA†CRVX. In this name, the rose represents the beauty of life, the ephemeral, the symbol of love and purity, while the cross stands for sacrifice, death exposed (in public), cruelty and intolerance... Peek-a-boo met Olivier Tarabo after the impressive concert his band gave at the Methuselah's Ball in Brussels. You can listen to the interview on Youtube or read it below.
Olivier, thank you for this interview! First, can you tell us what was the initial impetus for the creation of ROSA†CRVX?
It was in 1984. The School of Fine Arts in Rouen was an ancient ossuary, one of the last ossuaries in France or even Europe. It's a courtyard filled with sculptures representing pestilence and death. As it was a sort of grave, people said that delving into the ground, you could find teeth. There were thousands of plague victims buried there. A place that marked me as I spent 5 years there. Obviously, I've always been naturally drawn to 'dark' things since I was young, like many people in the goth and punk communities but in a place like this, it is amplified. So I decided to create a new group concept. The idea was not to write texts but to dig in libraries and I started singing in Latin. I conducted a year of research to manufacture parchments and today we sell exact copies of these in the ROSA†CRVX Box.
You had already started to work as a craftsman...
Yes. When one seeks to revive documents or artifacts, it becomes quickly like a role-playing game, like a a game of runs. So, I realized there was a huge potential. At the time, no band in the world had never sung in Latin. Only a French band called Magma...
Yes, he invented a language. That's why people kept bothering us for years by saying that we imitated Magma. So we adopted the Latin language and ancient texts. When you have the fear of being judged, it's easier: the text are not from me! I only have to find a great music to accompany the texts.
It was already with Claude Fenny?
Yes. I've known Claude since we were 15 years old, in college. She was playing piano and I had my college band, so we decided to play together. At first, she was playing bass on the synth, a bit like the Doors keyboardist...
Yes. Later, she worked with samplers and we experienced the arrival of drum machines. We were really on the lookout for technologies. That's what's fun in ROSA†CRVX: we are digging in the ancient but at the same time, the technical side is very hi-tech..
Indeed. I have a great passion for technology. But without being addicted to it. When you work with drum machines, for example, you can't stand a human drummer who is playing wrong. That's why we created the BAM (Batterie Automate MIDI, or MIDI automated drums), which took 4 years to develop. Then, Claude, who was playing a sampler, wanted real instruments. So we looked for a bassist, and then we manufactured a carillon and added a human choir. With our keyboards, we only play with a limited set of sounds: bagpipes, organ and piano. Now, we have a project to do a test with a violinist. A few years a go, we had bagpipe player, who unfortunately left the band because he left the Rouen area, but it was very nice. Recently we boosted our live sound with a percussionist. So in fact, the band includes a kernel, Claude and me, and guests who stay for a certain period.
This craftsmanship is important as you manufacture most of your instruments yourself?
Yes, I am trained in fine arts, especially in construction, sculpture and modelling. So, I have a natural reflex, when I think of something, to ask myself how I could manufacture it. With experience, we manage to create anything we want. As we are a team, I tend to start projects which are impossible to do alone. We are like a small corps, like a squad.
And you're working as a sort of artists' cooperative in a mill in Rouen, right?
Yes, this is something that I created with Claude. When we finished school, we had nothing, so we created the structure to be able to share a place where we could work. The idea came from the 'Quais de la Gare' in Paris and 'L'Usine' in Geneva, which served as models. These are squatted buildings, organized, where people stay, with a music store, concert halls, theaters, nightclubs...
We had something like that in Brussels in the late '70s, it was called the 'Plan K,' where Joy Division played. It was also a concept building with several floors where you could attend concerts, book readings,...
Excellent, I did not know.
Tonight, you played several new songs, which means you are preparing a new album?
We've been talking about this for three years. The album is composed, recorded and for some tracks already mixed. But we don't want to release it now because we are still trying to improve our sound, especially the guitar and the bass. Here, the bassist has a 5-string electric double bass that goes down very low in the bass and he tested a new amp. I am with a tube preamp plus a speakers simulator. We are testing a lot. We are signed on a major label, Trisol, but we don't have much support, because we represent only 2000, 3000 sales per year. So we have to provide them a finished recording. We do everything DIY, it is a horrible burden that I hate. I don't like having to adjust the sound and all this stuff. The only advantage is that you sort of become the band's sound engineer and it can help, especially on stage.
What is the evolution of your sound, compared to the previous albums?
Tonight we played old songs and if you compare them with the original versions, it is completely different. 'Aglon', eg, which is a fairly simple song, boom-tchac, acquired a grandiose dimension because we have updated it. There are tube amps for guitars. The organ sounds are real sounds we sampled ourselves. The bells are our own bells. We're really working a lot to select sounds and after a while it pays off. The band operates like that. And its's still a lot of fun to play the old songs because they have been boosted. It's like the Stones: they always play 'Satisfaction' but the versions are completely different...
Tonight, you played with a percussionist in addition to the automated drums. It brings more power...
Yes, Vincent has been playing with us for a little less than a year now. The BAM is good for drums and snare because even if you don't hit hard, it sounds good. By cons, for the toms, it is a little weak. The mechanical arm can not provide a powerful beat. As we know since Joy Division, the bass tom is very important in postpunk, it hits hard. So Vincent gives us a more powerful sound.
The ritual aspect is very present, for instance with the 'Danse de la Terre' (Earth Dance). Here, there was obviously no room for the cage performance. Are you planning to develop new performances?
Installations and performances have been a huge work for me. I spent 15 years of my life to it, completely isolated.
I saw the 'Octabasse' in Rouen, it was huge...
Yes, it was the third time we were using it in concert. To bring it here, we would have need one more truck! I have 12 or 15 machines like that in Rouen.
You can see a video called 'Jeux de Fer' (Iron Games) on the Trisol dvd. All these machines are installed in Rouen. There's a 18 m rail with two people who push a giant chisel that folds and unfolds to 3 m in height. There's also the rat hurdy gurdy, I have 12 of them. These projects are a little stupid sometimes, but the idea is to make an orchestra. I once managed to have 4 rats 'playing' at the same time but it's a lot of work to learn them how to do it.
Do you have a project to organise a special concert in a quarry, for example?
We are always on the lookout. TV shows are becoming interested in our work. It is a slow and laborious process. We are taken a little more seriously. In addition, the goth/postpunk scene has grown and some people have become owners of places even managers. A bit like the 'sixty-eighters' who are now in our governments. In 10 or 15 years, there will be goths in our governments (laughs). But it is important as you need permissions for performances in special places. It's like when you are shooting a movie.
In addition, there is a stigma against dark/gothic music. Tell us the what happened in Rouen after your shows...
Yes, in our city, where we have always lived and where everyone knows us, well we did a concert in an old church that had been adapted to be a concert hall and we rented this church via the city council. 350 people came two nights in a row.
It was the Dark Ritual?
Yes. The guy had never seen so many people dressed in black and coming from all kinds of places. They were afraid and they did a survey to verify that we are not Nazi's of extreme right fanatics. This is a very heavy prejudice. But somehow, I like this because it's great to see that, after 30 years, this movement is still completely alternative, that's fine (laughs)...
I've read that you don't listen to music, is that true?
This was true in the beginning.
To have a clear mind?
Because we used to rehearse 4-5 hours a day with Claude. So after that, we were only listening to classical music or to 'unwilling music', the one you hear on the radio. But I knew nothing about bands. Of course I was going to gigs but I did not own any records. It was a chance because it allowed us not to do what many others did, Cure, Joy Division-like music. There were many of 'alike' bands.
And there are still a lot of them!
Yes and it also applies to metal. It has become a recipe. There were Téléphone-alikes, then AC/DC-alikes and now everyone is playing metal, like eating the same hamburger.
In a way, your music can be compared to Virgin Prunes or Dead Can Dance but overall, it's quite original.
Yes, Virgin Prunes for the ritualistic aspect. Some of the drums sound like Joy Division. It was a sort of anti-disco reaction. There was a hatred of disco music, of the rednecks.
And also of prog...
There was still a little respect for Genesis, especially for Gabriel.
Punks were against the idea that musicians had to be pros, musicologists...
Yes. Punk did a great job, it was like a breath of fresh air. It showed that with swing, with groove, you could achieve something with only 3 chords. But you must be good to do it right, it is not within the reach of everyone.
It is deceptively simple because it is actually very difficult to do!
John Lennon told a reporter: "French rock? It's a bit like English wine!” (Laughs)... We don't know how to make the wine, you don't know how to rock. In a way, it's true. Everyone was jealous of the English at that time. With Africans, it's the same thing. Blues comes from the black people, from the tribal side. This is perhaps what differentiates the goth/postpunk scene, it's to have succeeded in getting its own organization, its press, its productions, its concerts. In fact, they invented the 'indie' movement. Today, everyone thinks 'independent' is Radiohead but this is wrong, the postpunks invented this from A to Z! And the sacrifice is part of the principles of the tribes. There have always been totems, fires, dances and rituals and when you can do this on stage, it's magical. There is a particular audience, with very close affinity. Tonight, everyone has everything to be friends with each other. The only thing we have to do is to celebrate, to party together. And if we, as a band, can offer people something, a show, that happens in the middle of the room, it's awesome!
We talked about the band's early days but when did you get your first impression that you were different?
It happened in college, in 4th grade. I was one of the disruptive students. We realized that we could buy instruments and become the college band. Then, as we were self-taught, we fell into a punk delirium, unintentionally. In '79, it was in the middle of the punk wave, we were listening to The Cure etc.. Joy Division was unknown at that time....
Yeah, they finished in '80 but became famous much later in Europe...
Yes. In Rouen, a label called Sordide Sentimental released a Joy Division single 'post mortem'. Their big success came after Ian Curtis died.
In Belgium, it was different, because it was the first country where they were welcomed besides England, in '79, and it was because Ian Curtis was dating a Belgian woman. That's why they came to Belgium and we got to know them so well.
It's a fantastic opportunity to be able to live this...
When you talk to them about the concert at the Plan K in '79, they still remember. I met Peter Hook a month ago and we talked. He told that on the first floor of the Plan K, there was a book reading by William Burroughs. Ian Curtis came to him and asked if he could get a book, for free. Burroughs said, "Get lost!". (laughs)
OK, Olivier, thank you very much for the interview.
You're welcome, it's a pleasure.
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