by Eric Bensel
Experimentation is the engine of progress. Without dipping its toe into untested waters, art stagnates, withers, and – perhaps most unforgivably of all – commercializes. However, not all experimentation, all blind flailings of unstructured silliness, results in a creative breakthrough.
But when the avant garde reveals to us what Hendrix called the “first rays of the new rising sun,” it is something to behold.
S.K. Records in Lyon, France, champions such bold forays into the unknown. As a final hurrah for the legendary Davout Studios in Paris, whose doors closed definitively in April 2017, S.K. invited four of its favorite artists to send the venerable recording space off in style. The label could not have done much better in selecting artists for their experimental fearlessness.
Lyon-based trio Noyades, London twosome Tomaga, Dutch lutist Jozef Van Wissem, and Belgian duo La Jungle all embraced the challenge, their contributions packaged within a lovingly garish 12” gatefold LP of transparent red vinyl.
Noyades’ sprawling “Djouhri” finds the French group injecting krautrock repetition into its energetic, muscular psych metal. Tomaga matches sci fi incidental music atmospherics with drums that are busy and meticulous yet in no way overbearing. Having appeared initially on the UK group’s Memory In Vivo Exposure release from 2017, “The Inexorable Sadness of Pencils” is an ambient nightmare that exudes an enchanting, post-apocalyptic escapism. Jozef Van Wissem, collaborator of musician/filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and Föllakzoid guitarist Domingo Garcia-Huidobro, offers two haunting dirges (“The Priests Bones Lie Burned On The Altar, Purged” and “The Shunning”) that pair gentle lute pluckings with wailing guitar feedback. The album closes with La Jungle’s “OK But This Is Not A Parachute,” a sweaty thrill ride through rock, trance, and noise.
On the day of the LP’s official release, all four artists convened in Paris’ Petit Bain for a record release party that was as breathtakingly creative as it was stylistically kaleidoscopic. The final two artists, in particular, demonstrated most markedly the sharp contrast of styles throughout the night.
Josef Van Wissem — dressed entirely in black, a long crucifix drooping from his neck, poker-straight hair dangling and swaying like a bead curtain — was goth chic personified. His hypnotic, intricate lute playing could have sound-tracked a somber burial at sea.
While Van Wissem’s performance was measured and sparse and morose, La Jungle’s was equally unhinged and manic and wild-eyed. The duo merges hardcore punk aggression with kraut drone and techno delirium. Where Van Wissem is pagan sacrifice ritual, La Jungle is Bacchanalian sex orgy.
Successful experimentation often consists of exploring combinations and contrasts that defy common sense and preconceived notions. Kudos to S.K. Records for exhibiting such courage.