'This is not intentionally music'. A Cedrik Fermont Interview Photo credits: Florian Voggeneder

'This is not intentionally music'. A Cedrik Fermont Interview

June 30, 202010-13 minutes read

Written by:

Miron Ghiu

Edited by:

Dragoș Rusu

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Cedrik Fermont has been active as a musician since the late '80s. He released music under a wide spectrum of aliases, including Alien Vegan Sect, C-drík, D-Drik, F-Drik, H-drík, I-drík, J-drík, Kirdec, M.E.3, O-Drík, Q-drík, R-Drik, T-drik, V-drík, Y-drík and many more. Most of them are strongly connected to various experimental sounds, break-core, acid or industrial.

Born in Zaire (current D.R. Congo), of Greek and Belgian descent, he now resides in Germany, activating as a DJ, radio host, event promoter, curator and manager of the Belgian record label Syrphe, a platform focused on experimental, electronic, noise music from Asia and Africa.

Fermont is also the co-author (alongside with Dimitri della Faille) of the book Not your world music: Noise in South East Asia, which in 2017 was awarded "The Golden Nica" prize by Prix Ars Electronica. The book comprises an extensive collection of interviews and essays focusing on countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
In a hyper-connected world I think that the main obstacle is not totalitarianism, but poverty. And even poverty itself is not entirely preventing alternative musicians from making what they wish to do. It’s a complex phenomenon.
Marie Takahashi and Cedrik Fermont at Arkaoda (Berlin). Photo: mutesouvenir.com
Marie Takahashi and Cedrik Fermont at Arkaoda (Berlin). Photo: mutesouvenir.com
You call yourself a "noise nomad". Why a nomad?

My life is more semi-nomadic. I often try to escape Europe when winter comes. I’m up to six months per year on tour and I try to go to as many countries and cities or places as much as I can in order to perform, collaborate, do some research, but also learn from other cultures and political situations. I often feel the need to travel, but when I travel too long I want to go back to Berlin.

How does it feel to live in Berlin these times, with all the gentrification and Covid-19 madness?

Berlin – and Germany as a whole – are way more free than most other European countries during this crisis. Of course, there are officially no concerts, exhibitions and theatre plays anymore; our revenues have collapsed. Gentrification has been there for a long time now; it was already a problem when I moved here ten years ago, it is a problem in many cities all over the world, yet, alternative music scenes are still thriving. Of course the alternative music scene (or scenes) in Berlin and many other places will revive. Did artistic and music scenes stop existing after the Spanish flu, the first and second World Wars, the Iraqi war or the Fukushima disaster? No. I presume some venues will close, some artists will move away, others will come, but nothing will disappear. Many people – and I suspect even most artists in Berlin are not full time artists – have a side job or get help from the job-centre, so it’s mostly those working full time that might be impacted, but even for them, this situation is not entirely a threat, as some little funding is available and in the worst case for those who are fine with it, the job centre can help too. I know not everyone agrees with me on this and I don’t want to minimise the negative impacts that this situation, the state and many politicians have triggered and the financial helps are only temporary solutions to a larger problem, but I can see that we are far from the oppression and struggle that artists, freelancers and people in general face in countries like France, South Africa or India, to name a few. Some say that the whole crisis reveals the precarious situation of many artists. I find it terrible that people are only seeing it now.

Activities will slowly be put in place, we can’t stay recluse forever, even if no vaccine or medicine was discovered, yet, to fight this virus, things would go back to a “new normal”. Maybe not a beautiful one, though we can only speculate now and the little we foresee is not all bright: more control, less freedom.

How does a typical day look for you?

It is a difficult question, because many of my days are not typical; I usually have no routine. Or very little. I wake up whenever, check my emails while listening to new music or listening to the noises of the city, take time to cook, eat and have a nice conversation with someone after waking up. Then I usually work on something: composition, recording, mastering, doing some research, writing, or reading books and articles, taking care of the label, writing projects, answering messages or spending/losing time on social networks, something I do much less than I used to, fortunately. At some point I might go out (or not), or just go out and not work before the evening or night. Gardening or recording sounds outside, taking pictures, cycling. I also might go to some concerts, several times per week, mostly free improvised music, noise, electroacoustic, contemporary classical, sound art and the likes, but I could end up at an electro night or post-punk concert too. Then back home, often to work till late night or early morning, depending on how one perceives it.

Then, because I tour a lot, many days don’t look like what I just described, some of them are pretty intense: waking up, grabbing some food, jumping on a train or bus to the next city, play, maybe explore the place, spend time with the organisers, the audience, then going to the next town or country, and so on. I like it too. Or I stay somewhere during a few days or weeks at best, to play and or give some workshops or talks and discover the place; whether it is a city or the countryside, it’s fine and I try to document a bit what I hear, see, and try to learn about the geography, biotope, politics, history of the place, customs.

Do you still have time for your own sonic experiments?

That is a good question. I have much less time than a decade ago, it’s a clear fact, sometimes frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, digging for specific music and artists, writing about music, taking care of the label, doing masterings, organising concerts and radio shows. But it takes so much space in my life now that there are activities that I almost cancelled such as watching films (except short ones and documentaries). I rarely watch more than five films per year and am not sure it will ever improve. Too bad as I like this medium but one cannot do everything.

Did Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's Mille Plateaux influence you in being active around the globe, connecting people and researching the so-called underground?

I’m well aware of Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic concept. While I apply it in the act of sharing and exchanging knowledge, I must tell I don’t entirely apply it in my field of research, as I see specific cultural and geographic origins of noise or experimental music. Of course, everything is interconnected, but while the concept of rhizome can be applied to alternative music cultures and groups who are influencing and feeding each other – and also being fed by their surroundings – I still find it important to refer to key events, pioneers, etc. as starting points or points of references. I don’t want to put them on a pedestal, but it is obvious that one rhizome appeared before the other ones. Western narratives seem to have excluded many artists from the map, I tend to think that it should be redrawn. Anyway, I guess I should analyse and think more about Deleuze and Guattari’s concept and a full reply to your question would be too long.

How would you define noise, from Russolo's manifesto and Intonarumori to the next KK Null or CCCC album, for example? What's noise to your ears?

To me noise is some kind of energy, therefore, very emotional too. It often generates a strong positive feeling in me, I feel good when I listen to loud noise music I like. Noise can be much more than pure distortion, rough sounds and feedback. I enjoy sitting at the edge of a river’s strong flow or a fall, or stand next to some factories or construction sites, or listen to a plane’s reactor; I also enjoy a lot to stand several minutes between two wagons when I travel by train and listen to those banging metal parts or screeching wheels, the oldest train, the less insulated, the best; I often record these, as I like to stick my ear against the fuselage of a plane while flying and listen to the drones the aircraft generates, change the position of my ears or move slightly to get some effects or other frequencies. This is not intentionally music, but because I perceive it so, to me it is a musical form.

What Luigi Russolo described as noise is not what noise appeared to be later, whether we are referring to works of Pauline Oliveros (compositions like “I Of IV”) or CCCC.

To go back to the concept of rhizome, I don’t see any consciously direct connections between Russolo in the 1910s and noise music from the 1950s or 1970s, as most likely those who made noise music back then had never heard about him. That doesn’t mean that cultural and conceptual connections can’t be drawn, of course.

What's your view on the (huge) discography of the Japanese music project Merzbow?

I think his concept is interesting, but my view is also that if one publishes so much, it cannot always be interesting. I don’t find it necessary to publish every single recording ever made.

Do you have a Merzbox?

I’m not wealthy enough to own a Merzbox unfortunately, but I have quite a few of his releases, since the 1990s, of course.

What's the piece of technology you never leave your house without?

If we speak about leaving the house for touring or travelling, I guess that would be my laptop. Otherwise, when I just leave the house for a walk or else, I rarely take any gears on me. Sometimes a portable audio recorder and/or a camera. It really depends on the circumstances.

What do you find interesting in field-recording?

I like field recordings because what they represent is to me better than a picture. I find them more detailed and they might send me back to the place where I recorded it or make me imagine how a place where I’ve never been may sound like according to the one who made the recording. I find field recordings more vivid than a fixed image or a film. I could compare them a bit with a book. A book doesn’t limit your imagination, such as a film does.
Photo: Frank Sebastian Hansen
Photo: Frank Sebastian Hansen
How did you start melting down experimental breakcore with industrial and noise sounds?

As far as I remember, I always enjoyed music. I started to study music theory and singing when I was 13, as well as orchestral drums when I was 14. I also studied theatre improvisation and declamation. Music was so much part of my life that at 17 I started my first band; this was in 1989. With Crno Klank being born, at the beginning it sounded like amateurish noise and industrial music. Then, in 1990, I started to experiment alone too with tapes, objects, cheap Casio synths, and around the same year Axiome was born. That project still exists and we went in many directions from power noise to glitch, from breakcore to acid or these days electro; we are still publishing music.

I like to experiment. I don’t want to systematically copy what other people do and blindly follow trends. To me, breakcore was some kind of total freedom; you could blend it with punk hardcore, jazz, harsh noise, industrial, speedcore or even mash it up with horrible dance music to create a parody, you could make it political or dark or humorous or abstract, solo as Kirdec or with the projects Axiome, Ammo or Elekore; we explored the genre without any limitations. The industrial music scene had become such a cliché that I felt some total freedom in the breakcore scene.

How was life, in terms of finding new sounds, before the internet and decentralised p2p platforms such as Soulseek?

It was an exciting quest. We had friends and pen pals with whom we’d trade tapes, we would read magazines and fanzines to discover artists we didn’t know, hide money in an envelope and send it to a label, a band, a distributor, hoping no one would steal it and then wait several days, weeks – sometimes months – to receive the cassette or vinyl. We would go to record stores that were specialised in electronic and experimental music, we would buy some music directly from the bands when attending festivals and concerts. The main limitation was money. Networks were present, some less accessible than others. I remember it was hard to get music from many places. While we were easily in touch with artists and labels from Europe, the USA, Japan etc., it was harder to get in touch with those from the Eastern Bloc, Africa, Latin America, Scandinavia, Oceania or Asia. The internet and a place like Soulseek changed everything.

What drove you to electroacoustic music?

I studied electroacoustic music several years before discovering breakcore.

Do you think that breakcore evolved in so many years of existence or is just sitting on its own shelf?

I think that most breakcore produced today just repeats what has been done before; the same applies for speedcore, splittercore, extratone, etc. So I rarely go to any event related to this kind of music and almost never buy any related music. I stopped doing breakcore more than a decade ago; if I will ever record some again, it has to be something different from what I did. I’m not sure I’m capable of doing that.

Are there any coordinates out there, or are we starting to live in a global village through digital communication?

It’s been a long time since small alternative communities live in a global village and with modern communications even more, but there are still many cultural and philosophical differences – fortunately – otherwise the world would be boring.

Speaking of which, what's your view on the growth of the underground scenes in countries with a totalitarian regime such as China, some African countries or North Korea?

There’s nothing like a scene in North Korea. Underground scenes don’t exist anymore, if they ever existed. Almost everything is published on or offline; how can this be underground? Hence I prefer the term alternative, even though it's not always appropriate either. Alternative scenes in some totalitarian regimes are more or less old and well alive. There is metal, punk or noise music since the late 1990s in China; there was breakcore, minimal techno or gothic music in the early and mid 2000s too. In a hyper-connected world I think that the main obstacle is not totalitarianism, but poverty. And even poverty itself is not entirely preventing alternative musicians from making what they wish to do. It’s a complex phenomenon.

The biggest alternative and electronic music festival of Africa takes place in Uganda, the biggest punk and noise scenes in Asia are in Indonesia, there are huge alternative music scenes in China, because China is big and populated; punk music existed in the USSR or Turkey when they were totalitarian countries, death metal bands are well active in Saudi Arabia or Iran, political hip-hop and punk music concerts happened in Myanmar when political oppression was at its strongest, in Afghanistan or Somalia, even if music was forbidden by religious extremists (Taliban or Al-Shabaab) it never stopped some musicians to play small – but real – underground concerts in this case, folk music or else. Oppression will never prevent artists from being creative, quite the opposite.

By the way, who are your favourite artists these days?

There are many and most of them are the same for years. I need years to digest the music and to listen to a lot of releases. In no specific order, and not a full list: Skinny Puppy, The Legendary Pink Dots, Francis Dhomont, P16.D4, Einstürzende Neubauten, Portishead, Non Toxique Lost, Reymour, Les Brochettes, Cindytalk, Officine Schwartz... That doesn’t mean I like every single track or album they made, but I nevertheless feel a strong connection and that triggers lots of emotions in me.

As you see, there’s no breakcore or noise on this list, and it’s pretty Euro-centred in the end. And on an average, the music I do doesn’t sound at all like what those artists do. Very few “new” artists are on this list; I’m not living in the past but need time to feel if this or that artist touches me as much as others. I am also a huge fan of specific genres like electro, electroacoustic, some classical music from Indonesia, Japan or South Korea, like gamelan or gagaku. In the end I may listen six times in a row to an album of DMX Krew or to a new release by Marja Ahti, Na mezhi or Oy. What my favourite artists are is not so important, I don’t listen to them every day or even every month.
About the Author

Miron Ghiu

Bucharest DJ, sound designer, musician, journalist and a vivid passionate of technology and music.

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