« Long distance noise-rocker » : an interview with Xavier ( SONIK fanzine/ Perte & Fracas webzine)

It’s probably hard today to imagine how vital fanzines were in underground culture back in the 80s and 90s. These cut and paste magazines were almost the only source of knowledge and information and making a fanzine was almost as cool as playing in a band. It could open  a whole new world of bands and scenes to you and that’s exactly what SONIK did for me. It introduced the hardcore-punk kid that I was to music that sounded similar but not quite. Music with rythms weirder and more intricate, music that could borrow from jazz or experimental or electronic music. I became familiar with names like Sabot, Zeni geva, Dog faced hermans, Heliogabale,  Pain teens or Melt Banana, among many, many, many others. More than 20 years later, Xavier is still publishing like a madman on his webzine Perte & fracas about the weird punk that he loves and so missing the chance to interview him was just unthinkable – even though this is just an email interview. Big, chunky answers, raw, honest and passionate, like you would expect. Thanks a million, Xavier.

The number of reviews you publish is impressive ! How do you find the time to listen to all those records and write about them ? Errr… You do listen to them, don’t you ?

Thanks to iron discipline and a perfectly healthy way of life. And also an amazing professionalism that makes me actually listen to all those records, yeah. Unfortunately, at times. In fact, I listen to music from morning to evening, all the time, whatever the weather and through whatever means the modern world has made available to us, even if, in the end, it’s my good ole record player that gets the most use. I think I just love that. It’s been almost 30 years I’ve been writing reviews so it’s like a daily gymnastics routine that has become really easy (most of the time), like a second skin, like eating or pissing, it doesn’t take much time, as opposed to listening to the music. There, I can be quite long before starting the review of a record, I like to think I know the record perfectly even if that’s impossible. So the reviews often come out late after the releases but I don’t care, there’s no hurry. Then again, reviewing a record is by no means a difficult job. Years ago, I bumped into this book by rock journalist Alain Dister with this quote on the back cover that said something like « Any fucker can write about rock’n roll ». I fully agree with that. And he said that at the beginning of the seventies when the internet, all the blogs and webzines hadn’t come into existence yet, whereas nowadays anyone can give their opinions really easily. A real visionnary, that guy.

Let’s come back to prehistory : can you tell us about the transition between your fanzine SONIK that you were doing through the 90s and Perte & Fracas ? What brought about that transition to the digital medium ?

Time and money ! SONIK stopped at the eighth issue in May 1996. It was around 120 pages, with a print run of 500 copies, the cover was in colour and each copy cost me 25 francs (around 4 euros, for the youngest readers !) and I used to sell it… 25 francs ! I’ve always been such a brilliant manager. At the time, 25 francs was already a nice sum of money (the price of a 7 inch, or even more) and selling it at a higher price would have been too much. And as I had to send it at my own expenses through the post to various distribution places thoughout France, I was losing too much money. Just a pack of 10 copies cost me 50 or 60 francs, so that was it, I closed up shop, sadly… Some time later, Internet started to be available to the public and with Kfuel – the collective I’m part of – we built up a site to publicise our activities – mainly the organization of gigs. That was when I was able to resume writing reviews, by creating a zine section on the site – that was around 1997. That’s actually the reason why you can find loads of reviews on P&F spanning the 1996-2003 period, whereas the webzine only started in 2004. I had brought back all the reviews I had written to have some content right at the launch of the website. So, that’s what it is : money, publishing on the internet made so easy, making your stuff available to the whole world in just one click, the lack of time, not spending my nights laying out the zines, forgetting about the scissors and the glue. I’m still toying with the idea of putting out a paper version of P&F one day, I’m missing it, maybe once in a year to recap all or most of what has been written during the year but I think I’ll never come round to actually doing it. Except if someone comes up and tells me they are ready to take care of it !

Do digital copies of the issues of SONIK exist ? Is there any place where we can find them ?*

No, not to my knowledge, no digital copy. And don’t count on me to do that, I don’t even have all the issues. Only the templates and in a really bad state at that. However, I learnt recently that the fanzinothèque in Poitiers has all the issues… and also some friends but there, it would be more complicated !

In SONIK, there were extra-musical articles – I remember a whole section on the writer Louis Calaferte – that are not to be found in Perte & Fracas, is there any particular reason for this ?

Time and… Well, no, not money ! I’d like to do much more. More reviews, live reports, articles of all types but, even if I don’t sleep a lot, I don’t manage to. And then, you need to feel the urge to write about something other than music, find the topic that is going to motivate you but, in fact, I don’t think I’m looking for anything. Even if there are plenty of non musical topics that I’m interested in I keep them to myself now. Perte & Fracas is really about music and nothing but music.

You have published a handful of interviews too but the last one dates back from 2014. Is it something that you are not interested in anymore ?

Oh yes, enormously but just like the previous answer : lack of time (except for answering them, hahaha) and laziness. In fact, good conditions to make good interviews are pretty hard to find. When a band comes for a gig, it’s often quite tricky to catch them between balances, dinner, the gigs, in the corner of a noisy backstage area – not to speak of bands who don’t give a shit. On top of that, my English leaves a lot to be desired. If I manage to make myself understood, I don’t get half of what they say (or maybe I should just do French bands?) Better do it through writing then but that has its limits too. You can’t build up on answers, you can’t have a real conversation. I also think I’ve been quite disappointed with some of the interviews I did in the past, not much interesting really came out of them. The best would be to spend a whole day – outside of tours – to have a real chat with a band, with no time pressure, no stress – but I’m dreaming here. And then in the end, to be perfectly honest, when I go to a show, I’d rather drink beers and chat with mates, because musicians, they’re all wankers, ha ha ha !

The art of losing and Oldies – bands biographies, commented discographies and records free to download – are absolutely killer sections. What made you want to do this « historical work » ? Did it have to do wih the fear that some pre-internet bands might fall into oblivion ?

If a record has just been released or if it dates back from a number of years, the principle is the same, the desire to make people discover that record. I don’t give a fuck about the year written on it, there’s no expiry date for good music. During my whole life (and still today), I’ve discovered records long after they came out, records that I still tremendously enjoy listening to. So my point is, if I can get people to discover bands like Glazed baby, Dazzling killmen, Craw, Dog faced hermans and so on, more obscure records that would have deserved more light, why shouldn’t I do it ? In fact, I’m still in the skin of a high-school boy who would trade tapes with his mates at breaktime. Hey, I’m gonna make a copy of that band for you, you’ll tell me what you think and in return they would make me copies of other records, we had a whole traffic in tapes. The only thing is that now we trade mp3 links. I also learnt while talking to people younger than me – but not only – that bands that seem totally obvious to me, that I figured everybody knew, well that wasn’t the case at all. I was totally out of sync ! What, you’ve never heard of Dazzling killmen !!!!???? You don’t know the first two singles of Blunderbuss ??!! Were you living in a cave or what ? Well in fact it’s not suprising at all, not only for a question of age but also because most of those bands in The art of losing or Oldies are rather confidential, only a handful of people were into them at the time when the internet didn’t exist and when it was harder to make your band known whereas now you just put your first demo on Bandcamp and you’re all over the world. So that’s what it is, I hope that with these two sections, younger people can discover plenty of records and older ones can blow the dust off their musical culture or fill in the blanks. No will to make a historical work as you say, even if, with time, it’s starting to look a bit like that and that suits me just fine. No fear either, for all of this is not really planned from my part and in the end I’m just quite pleased that some of the records that I cherish so much can be heard again, that a trace might remain. Having said that, it must be important to some of the bands not to fall into oblivion, some have asked to be portrayed in the The art of losing section… I’ve also managed to get my hands on some records that had never been released because the band had split in the meantime. When the members of the band came across the articles in The art of losing by chance, they spontaneously got in touch with me and were really happy to have a chance to make the recordings that had never been released heard… I even learnt a few years ago that the English band Headbutt had put the article devoted to them in the Oldies section as « official » link on their Discogs page !

Humeur massacrante (« Foul mood ») is a section that I must admit I read with a somewhat guilty pleasure. I can imagine it’s not to everybody’s taste… What does it represent for you ? Do you think that, deep inside, every music fan is a little dictator that thinks he holds the ultimate truth, worshipping certains bands and vilifying others ?

I believe you’re not the only one that reads it with this guilty pleasure, like you say, I have had some feedback in that sense. The more shit you talk about others, the more people love it. Humeur massacrante reveals the darker side of you all !! And yes, it’s not to everybody’s taste. Especially of the bands that are in it, even if most of them takes it really well and even anticipate it when they send me their records and say to me I’m gonna have a good time having a go at them… Well, in fact, I take no pleasure in doing that. First, because I’m forced to listen to those records (a professional to the bitter end!) and sometimes it’s a real torture for my ears ! And because I’d rather spend time writing on music that I like, it’s much easier ! If I started this section, it was to stuff in all the records that I had received (or that I had made a mistake of buying) and that I didn’t like or I wondered why they had been sent to me since they didn’t fit at all with P&F. I could very well have ignored them (I do that sometimes) or bin them straight away (I do that often too) but as people had done the effort to send them to me, I wanted to make the effort to write about them. At the beginning, I was just thinking of writing a few lines, rather neutral and descriptive but it became quickly very boring to do and read. So I started wanting to do it in an ironic way and the idea of Humeur massacrante quickly came to me. But this section is to be read with humour most of the time (and this, lots of bands have understood), with bad faith and a cheesy sense of provocation, stupid humour, a very uncensored and direct way to speak about music, exactly the way you talk about music with friends in a bar. It’s not to be taken too seriously, but then again sometimes it should be… And that will teach some a lesson who send promotional material without being aware of the fundamentals of who they’re writing to. That has always freaked me out.

It’s a way to go against all the hipocrisy that I can read on numerous blogs/webzines that will lick the asses of labels, bands and communication agents with no critical outlook whatsoever, or just copy and paste all the biographical elements that they are stuffed with or are happy with just writing about what they are sent for promotion without ever trying to discover records by themselves or buying their own records, which is why a lot of webzines look alike. Or even fight against some labels or bands that try, artfully or not, to put some pressure on you so that you write positive things about their work of art. No way, I write what I want and you can kiss my ass.

But, above all, I’m the only one who’s responsible for those reviews, positive or negative. I’ve taken care to write on the « Contact » page that « Perte & Fracas only translates the opinions of a humble hard-worker. Read between the lines. Make up your own mind. » I don’t own the one and only truth, it’s just an opinion among other opinions, you can do what you want with it. If someone thinks he holds the ultimate truth, he is a true asshole or maybe his name is Philippe Manoeuvre (which is the same, by the way). I can say plenty of positive stuff or even shower some bands with praise (and that’s the majority of the reviews on P&F, I think) or shoot others down in flames (and sadly they’re often the ones that people remember the best) but in the end it’s only just the point of view of a guy in his Council flat trying to write in the most honest way what he feels when listening to a record. End of story.

Layout from issue 3 of Sonik, butcher style

Perte & Fracas is the exact opposite of typical musical webzine of 2019, stuffed to the mouth with short news, photos, videos. What do you think of that ?

I think that I’m old ! Perte & fracas, an old-school webzine ! Seriously first, I don’t have the technical and artistic knowledge to make a fancy looking website. I make P&F with a version of Dreamweaver that dates back from around 2000, see what I mean ? One day, I’m gonna be seriously deep in shit because of that but as long as it works… On the other hand, I’ve always wanted to make a clear looking website, easy to browse without being overcome with thousands of pieces of information, pictures and of course content is more important than style. So, yeah, nothing very glamorous. I spend more time writing than making super cool looking animations or quizzes involving exclusive listenings… That wasn’t planned at first but now I like the idea that P&F is the kind of site where you stop, you rest, you come back regularly to search, to discover accidentally, off the beaten track, outside of trends, far from the current news or even a little ouside of time. Sometimes I hear that reviewing records is not really useful anymore, when you can just click on a link and listen to what it sounds like, who cares about the opinions of some obscure wannabe writers ? There might some truth in that. But, first, with all the thousands of records that come out, webzines and magazines can act as a filter (subjective, of course) for all the people who don’t have the time or the will to search deeper. And more importantly, I’ve always loved to read about music in general, even music that I didn’t specially like, read about what other people thought about records, learn about bands and so on. I don’t want P&F to become just another news feed about records releases, bandcamp links and youtube videos, cold and without passion, with a mark out of ten for all comment. Speaking about music, that’s important, it’s part of all that rock folklore that I’m in love with. There’s something human behind it all that touches me, the will to go a little bit deeper into that sensation that music gives you, wondering why that record blows your mind, makes such a strong impression on us, how it does speak to you /reach out to us , it’s kind of like giving a little substance to music, a memory that will pass the test of time, a mysticism around music that is important for us to feed.

That’s also the reason why I need to have the actual record between my hands to speak about it and why I take a photo of all the covers. To prove that there are  people behind all this, musicians, sound engineers, graphic artists and so on, who take time, work their asses to make records, visuals, objects that are sometimes really beautiful. Music is not MP3 and JPEG! So yeah, I’ll carry on writing, writing and writing because for me it’s the best way to tell someone to listen to a record, to communicate your desire and your passion.

Your style of writing is really personal and the way you use images to talk about music is sometimes more captivating than the actual listening of the records themselves. Do you write on other occasions than Perte & Fracas ? Have you ever written for magazines ? Has someone ever asked you to do that ?

Thanks for the comment on the writing but the best comment you can make on P&F is « Thanks for making me discover that record or that band » and not on the way it is written. Writing is just a way to make that not too unpleasant, it’s really secondary. And the words, the images that you use, the feelings, the emotions that listening to a record gives to you, the way you look at it, it’s only one part of the problem. The information that you’re giving, the knowledge on the band and the critical outlook you have are more important. The heart of a fanzine is to make people want to listen to such and such a record, not to prove yourself the best writer otherwise you’ve got to stop right now, write a novel or I don’t know what and, personnally, I have absolutely no desire to do that, not to speak of the skills. As I said in the first answer, anybody can write reviews, it’s just a matter of putting yourself to it. The rest of it is practice and perseverance ! As an ad for I don’t remember which sport said, the harder is not to start, it’s to keep going ! So I only write for P&F. I’ve written three or four reviews for a magazine that stopped in 2004, called L’Oeil électrique (done mostly by the guy whose artist name is now John-Harvey Marwanny). Paquito Bolino had also asked me to write something for a zine that he wanted to put out really long ago and I think it never came to being done. That’s all if I remember correctly and nobody else ever asked me anything.

120 reviews from Perte & Fracas

Apart from the pleasure of writing, what does the webzine bring you ?

Errr, the right to answer interviews ? Frankly, I’ve always taken and done P&F with the simple aim to make other people discover bands that I love, present or past. Music and only love of music (beautiful, heh?). I’ve never expected something in return. Now, except a few free records (not enough in my opinion and especially not the ones I really want!), download links (way too many !), to have the huge privilege to listen to the records before they come out, a inter-stellar appreciation that is always pleasant and meeting a few nice people (not too many though, heh!) P&F is good for my daily balance (still lots of room for improvement !), it’s a kind of shelter, a way to escape the harsh and merciless reality of life, a personal world in which I slip really personnal stuff although making people discover records remains the ultimate goal. I do it naturally, I never force myself, taking lots of pleasure in the process, without thinking too much about consequences. I started P&F (and SONIK before that) first for myself because I needed to speak about music – I couldn’t explain it – I have to speak about all these records that I absolutely love and, more and more, to share, in the hope that some people will enjoy the fact that P&F exists. Some collect stamps or get crazy about country western dance. Me, it’s writing about rock’n roll !

Perte & fracas was also a label, the label of one record « The perturbation theroy » by Moller-Plesset. Can you tell us a word about it ? Were there any plans to put out other records ?

That was more the story of some friends that we wanted to help and support. It all started with their first album Rather Drunk Than Quantum that we had put out with Kfuel. After that I carried on on my own when I created perte & Fracas and put out The Perturbation theory. I had plans to put out plenty of other records, to fully throw myself into the adventure of a label but it never came to being done. First because The perturbation theory sold really bad (we still have copies, ask Moller, I gave them the whole lot !), I lost money (the SONIK syndrome…) and more surely I think I didn’t have the will to carry on. If you really have something that is vital to you, you always find the means – money, time and so on – to make it happen, you overcome problems, you get really involved and that just didn’t happen for me… Perte & Fracas, a born dead label, even if you never know, I could fall for something that would make me want to start again…

No more questions… OH YES ! If Jesus Lizard plays in france in 2019, will yo go and see them ? And in 2029 ?

I see you are aware of my passion for Jesus Lizard… The last time I saw them, that was in rennes at the Antipode before the break-up, the first one before the numerous reunions for tours. It’s not really a good memory. Mac McNeilly, the drummer, wasn’t there anymore, it wasn’t even Jim Kimball but an obscure and you could feel the end was near, just a routine gig. But all the feedback on their many reunions are really good so if they play in Rennes I couldn’t help myself and would go and see them but I wouldn’t drive like crazy for them either. I’d rather stay with my glorious old memories like the first time I saw them in Bruxelles and then in Paris (at the Gibus!) the day after. That was between Goat and Liar. I didn’t care about how many kilometers I had to do to see them at that time !! In 2029, I’ll be senile, deaf or dead. But less than them.

*Yes, in fact there are. By doink a simple internet search, you fall upon the  site of the amazing fanzinothèque de Poitiers where you can follow a link to the 3rd issue of   SONIK and also plenty of other really cool fanzines of that era : Positive rage, Tranzophobia, Peace warriors, and so on.

>>>>>>>>>> PERTE & FRACAS