Posted on Mar 2nd 2009 01:13 am

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Interview: Philippe Petit

Twenty five years in the music industry is a long time, but that’s exactly how long Philippe Petit, head of French imprint BiP_HOp Records, has been involved with music-related projects. Journalist, record label owner, musician, it all comes under the umbrella of music activism for him. As he celebrates the first ten years of BiP_HOp and his twenty five years of musical activism, Philippe Petit talks to us about the political aspect of his work, how meeting with some of the biggest alternative acts of the early nineties shaped up his vision of what music should be,  giving his artists complete freedom while being available for guidance and help,  and sexual piercings.

Philippe, 2009 promises to be quite a busy year for you with you celebrating BiP_HOp’s 10th anniversary and 25 years of what you call musical activism. Activism is hire a political word. Do you consider your work over the last 25 years as political?
Yes ! Even if BiP_HOp is much less spiritually engaged than my previous label Pandemonium was, I do feel politically conscious and try my best to spread positive ideas. In the early days, Pandemonium Rdz. was a post hardcore label. In opposition to the punk ‘No Future’ ethos, we favoured the HC ‘Do It Yourself’ attitude, and we were engaged on several fronts. Growing up you realise that you can’t change the way the world is turning, unfortunately. So, on a daily basis, at least, I try to bring my little stones to help ‘build a better house’. I am opposed to Capitalism and the way our modern – so-called – societies are ruled, thus I have tried to find a way to live in parallel, develop my paths. To me the simple fact of being able to wake up in the morning and run my life the way I want, deal with what I love most during day, that is music and communicating with other like-minded people, represents my biggest richness: my freedom. That independence is a political action, a choice not to live the way most people do, a decision to favour struggle to spread the artistic talent and ideas of other people rather than fight to gain more and more money.

A couple of years ago, the French went marching in the streets and we could feel that revolutionnary perfume, or so I thought, as in truth when I was in the middle of those march I came to the conclusion that many of the marchers were engaged because they feared the laws that Sarkozy and his government wanted to pass, because they felt directly concerned that they might prevent them from attaining comfort, fulfilling their dreams of becoming part of society, that is successfully achieving their carreer. I felt sad because even if, at that very moment, we were struggling side by side I knew that we were not marching in the same direction. I do not want to generaliSe but you know what I mean, many people want to change the world when they are young and forget all their dreams when they get older. Because they fear that there is no other choice than live the way their parents did, to integrate society and become part of it, because from an early age we are taught wrong values.

Allow me to share a text I wrote:


Right from the cradle
Your parents start nourishing great expectations
Confident that you’ll have enough qualities
To fulfill every dreams… they haven’t

We live in a world where you always have to be the best
Our daily life reduced to a contest
The early bird catches the world
No other choice than becoming n°1

What used to be Machiavellian
Is now a normal attitude, be strong or die
Man is a wolf for man
Men patrol these waters…

No matter what it costs
He who wills the end wills the means
They say life is for the “takers”
I reply : then take it away

To cut a long story short, yes I do consider my work, my life to be political because I have not forgotten that I once dreamt the world could change and every day I try my best so that my world is positive.

You started as a journalist and DJ, and have interviewed people such as Nirvana, Fugazi, L7, Babes In Toyland, the Pixies and quite a few other rock bands of the late eighties/early nineties. What memories do you keep of this, and how do you think it has affected your work since?
There were so many in all those years that I could write a book worth of memories, good or bad so I’ll keep it to what is in relation with my work. Discussing with a man like Ian McKaye of Fugazi has always been inspirational and the way he ran Dischord was/is certainly an inspiration. Another way it affected my work, and life, is that approaching these people whom I tended to idealise make me realise that some of them are like me. I mean they are passionate about music, some you’d hang out with if you lived in the same city. Some others wouldn’t be your friend in real daily life but at least I realised they were human beings, just like me, so from then on when I approach any artist, whether a ‘star’ or unknown I act normally, and obviously that makes relations easier.

Eighteen years ago, after I had done numerous meetings through interviews and had established friendships with quite a few musicians, I had in fact built a network, which is the most essential thing to do for anyone who wants to start a label. Create a network composed of other like-minded passionate activists who will be able to help you spread the word about your work. Obviously it can’t be a one way relationship. You must do the same for others, which is why I have been animating radio shows and deejaying since 1983, then writing for magazines. I want to share my passion for music and that is also a good reason to run a label.

Prior to setting up BiP_HOp, you headed another record label, Pandemonium, which seemed more focused on experimental rock forms. How did you make the transition from journalist to label owner?
For me there was no transition. I see it all as activism; sharing my passion for music, trying to help artists get better recognition. I was writing for a great Greek magazine named Merlin’s Music Box and we were among the first with the likes of Forced Exposure (when it was still a magazine) to cover experimental grounds and at the same time deal with obscure garage bands, or HC-noisy outfits. One day I was in Athens and told Yiannis Kastanaras, the editor, that we should ask all those bands we had supported (Fugazi, Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, etcetc.) if they would give us a song for a compilation to be given away with the magazine. That happened in the early nineties, long before every rag had its bonus CD. My idea was to start a label for that reason, and because of the Greek connection, I wanted to name it after a Greek word. In ancient mythology, Pandemonium is ‘the legendary capital of hell’ and nowadays, it means a ‘state of noise and disorder’, which I thought would work well in relation with the music I wanted to release. So you see, originally journalism lead to me starting a label, but unfortunately Merlin’s Music Box stopped and the compilation never happened. I started the label in 1993 to document Noïz, Post-HC, experimental music. And year after year it evolved to beautiful ambiences, instrumental/cinematic sonorities… Twisted, odd but enthralling and melodious at the same time. A parallel music for perpendicular feelings. To me it is gratifying to realise that I worked with a few bands which are cult or well-established today (Guapo, Unsane, Ruins, Ground Zero/Otomo Yoshihide, Hint, Melt Banana, Cerberus Shoal, Flying Luttenbachers, Condense…) and that many people still consider Pandemonium to have been of importance. Allow me to use this opportunity to thank all those who have not forgotten, for the others, everything is documented on the label’s website.

How did you go from Pandemonium to BiP_HOp?
That was natural as we had released several records dealing with electronics; a disc of remixes of Hint, the first and only album from Alboth! composed with electronic technology, Spaceheads, Andy’s Car Crash… In the mid nineties I turned to listening to electronica: Oval, Panasonic, Pole,  Autechre… Everyday I was developing a bigger interest in those sonorities, bringing me back to what I had loved so much as a kid: New-Wave, Dark and Industrial music. Also I needed a change, I wanted to start a new network. In a way Pandemonium was doing well and I had lost the excitement so I needed to rejuvenate and feel the danger of running a big risk. It happened in 1999, launching a new platform and starting to scout for our BiP_HOp Generation series.

BiP_HOp seemed to be in a bit of a hiatus in the last year or so, between the Rothko album and the latest instalment of BiP_HOp Generation. Was this intentional?
Totally ! These days too much music comes out, so my way to survive is to release less and be much more selective. Unlike other labels, I do not care about building a huge catalogue, I feel fine with keeping it qualitative rather than quantitative.

The BiP_HOp Generation albums have all featured some very varied musical forms by artists coming from diverse backgrounds. How do you compile them?
Well this is a labour of love. My idea was to document good music composed with the help of computers, to gather some active bands or sound designers of importance from all over the world and hopefully leave a trace of the evolution in modern music. Obviously I do not pretend to be exhaustive, as you said I feel happy to feature some friends who can show some talent and even happier if I manage to keep that BiP_HOp Generation series diverse because that is what electronic music need be.

How to do you choose the artists you work with on BiP_HOp, and do you give them complete freedom?
To me the role of a label should be to discover new acts, establish a strong relation with them over the years, help them get promotion, distribution, spread the word on their creativity. But also a label owner should act as a filter and make sure a certain quality is retained, which in a way allows me to express my opinion and maybe discuss track order for an album, you know, exchange opinions, share my experience. But of course in the end the group or composer has the final say. I do not want to impose or force, things. When I chose to work with an artist, it is because I trust his/her talent, and actually most of them are very happy when I express my feelings or give direction because it is important for them to feel that the label owner cares and wants to try his best to achieve the best possible record,  not consider them like one more addition to the label’s catalogue.

Is there a particular album you’ve released on BiP_HOp that you are particularly proud of?
Many, I love all my children and each of them marks a period of my life.

In 2002, you published the first in a series of collaborative albums which offered the opportunity to two artists to work on a common project. How did the idea come up, and why are there only been two volumes, three with the Wire CD? Are you looking to continue the series?
Never say never… Although when I started Reciprocess, my idea was to go against the autistic side of contemporary electronic music. In that spirit, I  had the idea of starting a series of split CDs featuring the work of two sound assemblers and documenting the process of musical reciprocity between them. To push the concept even further, it was better to create an association between two labels so I did that in collaboration with Fällt. In the end Fällt did not do much and in fact the label went down little by little so going on with Reciprocess made no sense which is why only two volumes were ever released. As I wanted to create a very special thing to celebrate ten years of BiP_HOp and my twenty fifth anniversary as an music activist, and not create your usual sampler offering non exclusive music extracted from our catalogue, in the summer I composed a seventy minute plus soundtrack, cut it into pieces which were sent to friends to add their spices to. As that disc was a collection of my collaborations it made sense to name it Reciprocess and give a last homage to a series that came to an end prematurely.

This album is given away to subscribers of The Wire in the current March issue of the magazine. Who got the idea for the project?
The Wire magazine liked the idea and agreed to give it away with their issue #301, the March 2009 issue. That is not surprising as they are open minded to any creative-qualitative forms in modern music. Reciprocess is also given away to people who order records from our BiP_HOp catalogue or records by Strings Of Consciousness from our online BiP_HOp store as I wanted to be able to give a present to those who support the label. I respect people buying our records (don’t we share the same interest for good music?) and try to propose honest prices, good quality and beautifully packaged music. As every of our release Reciprocess will be released digitally and MP3s available through your usual E-music, Napster, I Tunes, et al platforms…

The album features contributions from a wide range of artists, including Douglas Benford, Bela Emerson, Cosey Fanni Tutti, dDamage, Lydia Lunch,  Klangwart and many more. How did you get all these people on board, and how did they contribute to the record?
I should emphasise that to me, collaborating or exchanging is the best way to improve, as one should learn from his/her mistakes but also learn from the experience of others. Obviously collaborating with such talented people was a dream come true. I should say that I would have liked to invite some artists who have released on BiP_HOp but that would have been too predictable. Among all those who had released on the label I only chose to collaborate with Douglas Benford and Bela Emerson. Douglas because he is the one who has released the most music on BiP_HOp and was part of the first act to be signed: Tennis. Bela because she is our latest signing. Symbolically it made sense.

Randall Frazier leads the band Orbit Service and owns Massive Music Promotion who promoted Strings Of Consciousness and does PR for Beta Lactam Ring Records who will release my first solo album in March. Due to his activities we had opportunities to develop a friendship and appreciate each other’s music.

Aidan Baker used to send demos and I have been following his evolution from the early days, Nadja is a favourite too.

Chapter 24 invited me to come play live with them in May 2008, they were celebrating their twenty five years of existence too, so we improvised and the gig went really well. These guys are extremely talented musicians and we have been growing up listening to the same bands. It was great to spend some time and play together, luckily the concert was recorded so we edited it and very soon an album will see the light of day.

I’ve been fan of Throbbing Gristle for years, and even got my ‘sexual piercings’ after reading their interviews in the issue of ReSearch dealing with Modern Primitives. Cosey Fanni Tutti is a very nice lady and I was blessed when she collaborated to an upcoming Strings Of Consciousness album. We both enjoyed working together so I asked her when the idea for Reciprocess surfaced, and now we have completed another track to become a picture disc vinyl on the French label Optical Sound.

As it’s been the case with TG, I have been enjoying the works of Simon Fisher Turner for years and we have been in contact for some time now. I’m eager to meet up with him face to face when we do our BiP_HOp vs. Sprawl event at Cafe Oto on March 25.

Klangwart is a duo from Germany led by my friend Markus Detmer who runs the label Staubgold. We have been animating seminars explaining what an independant label is and how to run/develop it. We love to hang out and have fun together. Consequently when the new Klangwart, which was so good, was released last year, they topped my want list when I started working on Reciprocess.

Markovo is run by Bernard Audibert, a very nice man from Marseille. The structure behind him is Cabaret Aleatoire, a local venue where many of our BiP_HOp nights have happened, and he has supported my work throughout the years.

I got introduced to the work of Kumo through his collaboration with Irmin Schmitt. Our collaboration took shape as I am a huge fan of the sound of the Theremin. Also, Jono is a very nice man.

Eugene Robinson is the singer with avant-rock legend Oxbow, who I met in the early nineties, and we stayed friends ever since. Eugene is one of the most intense frontman you could ever experience live, a great vocalist/narrator. He is a regular contributor with Strings Of Consciousness, and we are working on a trilogy in which I did the music for and he’ll provide texts and record his great vocal presence.

Severin 24 is my old friend Thierry Holweck who used to be in the HC band Garlic Frog Diet, so our friendship dates back from the early days of Pandemonium.

Long before his music became public, Jason Forrest was hosting a tasteful radio show in New-York and he was airing BiP_HOp a lot. That is how we became friends. Then he started releasing music and touring like a mad man which allowed us to meet and get drunk from time to time.

My first exposure to Lydia Lunch was through her album 13.13 in the early eighties. I instantly loved her music and lyrics. I started to develop an interest for the English language thanks to reading her texts, and the ones on albums by Siouxsie And The Banshees. Lydia’s The Agony Is The Ecstasy still gives me the creep, and her Death Valley 69 with Sonic Youth might be my second favourite single, the first being The Cramps’ Human Fly on Vengeance. Lydia’s carreer should serve as an example because, after thirty years in the music business she has managed to stay highly creative and fresh. She is a charm to work with, so talented and open to new ideas, we have completed an album documenting our collaboration, we call it Twist Of Fate, and it should appear some time in 2009. We’ll take the show on the road as well and I feel very lucky to have joined the list of her collaborators as the ones before me were much more talented and prestigious than I am.

Jean Hervé Peron founded Faust, who need no introduction and whose music, along with bands like Silver Apples, Can or Monks, revolutionised music. He is a very nice man, happy to exchange ideas, and is a pleasure to work with.

Talking about Silver Apples brings in Xian Hawkins who once was their drummer. I remember getting his early singles because of that label and I’ve been following his moves ever since. We had been discussing the possibility of collaborating for quite some time so I’m happy that it took place.

I first met Justin Broadrick in the early nineties when Godflesh played Marseille. X-Rated-X, a band on Pandemonium, was opening for them. I interviewed them and we had discussed the possibility of Godflesh appearing in our Erase-yer-Head single club. It never happened so I was happy to finally work with Justin, especially since I love Jesu even more than I ever enjoyed Godflesh.

dDAMAGE is the duo of the Hanak brothers, who are very good friends of mine. These two are crazy and I enjoy going out with them and deeply regret that we do not live in the same city.

Strings Of Consciousness is a collective I have developed with Hervé Vincenti.

Talking of Strings Of Consciousness, how did the project start, and what is the vision behind it?
Early in 2005 I worked on a soundtrack for strings, some ambient atonal music on which I wanted musicians to improvise. We played a gig with Hervé Vincenti on guitar processed through a laptop, Lydwine Vanderhulst on prepared piano, Sarah Elze on double bass and Raphaelle Rinaudo on electric harp. I was doing electronics and playing turntables with rubber bands. At the end of the show we decided that we should go on making music together. Thus Hervé Vincenti and I started working on the next steps of Strings Of Consciousness. Within the last two years we have released quite a few recordings which are well documented on our myspace page so I hope that the music can speak for itself. From the early days our concern has been to try to record music that will stand the test of time, that we and people want to listen to now and hopefully tomorrow. It is also important that each album differs from its predecessor. I find it so boring when bands repeat the same recipe most of the time. Our music evokes some images and many people have labelled it cinematic which is fine by me as I am obviously pleased to provoke some reactions. I hope to convey feelings, emotions and also to manage to create a special atmosphere, once you have understood that then you have some of the keys to compose.

The first Strings Of Consciousness album, Our Moon Is Full, was released a couple of years ago on Barry Adamson’s Central Control International label. Were you tempted to issue it through BiP_HOp, and if not , why?
I feel more comfortable not being forced to self-promote my work and obviously it is even more gratifying when someone else loves your music enough to risk/bet on it.

The second Strings Of Consciousness album has just been released, and it is a collaboration with Angel, the project of lpo Väisänen (Pan Sonic), Dirk Dresselhaus (Schneider TM) and Hildur Guanadóttir. Can you tell us more about the project?
Actually I do not consider this as a proper album and that is our third CD. Previously, we released Fantomastique Acoustica, a disc offering four new songs and remixes of those by Rothko, Mira Calix, Kammerflimmer Kollektief, Gamial Trio, Leafcutter John, Scanner, Marsen Jules, Sutekh and Si-cut.db. As you know I do enjoy working on many projects, each connected in a way but at the same time bringing diversity and enlarging our vision of Strings Of Consciousness. Fantomastique Acoustica was intended to pay hommage to our love for electronic music, not that it is purely electro, but the concept of remixing belongs to that genre. Our collaboration with Angel shows a darker side of us, redesigning with fluidity a certain form of contemporary droney music. We worked on an intricate and imaginative soundtrack with several layers of sound, gathering both organic and sonic elements to assemble a post-industrial sound structure. A noisy magma where unexpected clicks stumble over interferences, where digital accidents happen and where drones and acoustic resonance fill the space in time. A multitude of digital notes slowly stretch to reach a dark-grey chaos, a pure and clean big bang echoing and calling lost sound memories.

Due to its more rock-orientated tone, is Strings Of Consciousness a continuation of some of your pre-BiP_HOp work?
In a way it is a gathering of many aspects, genres in music that I like: Rock yes, but we also incorporate some contemporary/classical/chamber music elements, some minimal-detailed electronic sound design, etc. Our desire is to create a music that we enjoy to listen to and do not hear that often on other people’s recordings.

How do you see BiP_HOp evolve in the future, especially with the rise of digital releases and the decline of CDs?
I grew up with vinyl and feel attached to the physical side of music. I know that there will always be some other passionate like me and thus that a niche for our records should exist. I remember in the early nineties, when I started Pandemonium, you could read ‘vinyl is dead’ in every magazine. And you know in the past few years tons of vinyls have been pressed so I do not fear there will be a decline of physically-pressed music. Formats change but our passion will stay the same whether thousands of folks show interest or only hundreds.

Is there anyone that you would like to publish on the label who you haven’t yet had the chance to work with?
There are tons but I do not miss any and feel happy that so many  talented sound assemblers or musicians have appeared on BiP_HOp. See for yourself here is a list:

Schneider TM, Phonem, Goem, Marumari, Ultra Milkmaids, Massimo, Bernard Fleischmann, Arovane, Warmdesk, Kohn, Laurent Pernice, Neotropic, Pimmon, Zonk’t, Atau Tanaka, Mira Calix, Datach’i, Vs_Price, Accelera Deck, Mikael Stavostrand, Rechenzentrum, D’Iberville, Ilpo Vaisanen, Battery Operated, Alejandra & Aeron, Taylor Deupree, Emisor, Fonica, FM3, Ghislain Poirier, Janek Schaefer, Cray, Komet, Spaceheads and Max Eastley, Bovine Life, Twine, Andrew Duke, Spaceheads, Angel, Scanner, Tonne, Tennis, Stephan Mathieu, Novel 23, David Toop and Max Eastley, Pan/Tone, Losoul, Si-cut.db, Falko Brockseiper & Mia / SubStatic, Andy Vaz, Iris Garrelfs, Same Actor, Leo Abrahams, Teho Teardo, Erik Friedlander, Murcof, Mitchell Akiyama, Tu’M, Minamo, Strings Of Consciousness, Rothko, Kammerflimmer Kollektief, Andrey Kiritchenko, Illàchime Quartet, Hauschka & Antenna Farm, Adrian Klumpes, Bela Emerson, Randall Frazier, Aidan Baker, Chapter 24, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Simon Fisher Turner, Klangwart, Ddamage, Markovo, Kumo, Eugene Robinson, Severin 24 & Kathy Compton, Jason Forrest, Jean-Hervé Peron/Faust, Jesu, Sybarite, Lydia Lunch…

So I think I can consider myself a happy label owner.

Email interview February 2009

Icon: arrow Philippe Petit (MySpace) | Strings Of Consciousness | Strings Of Consciousness (MySpace)
Icon: arrow Bip-Hop Records | Pandemonium Records

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One Response to “INTERVIEW: PHILIPPE PETIT A Better House”

  1. […] recent The Wire cover disc contributor and (even more prestigious!) recent interviewee over at themilkfactory Philippe Petit. Along with all the publicity I’ve just mentioned, his magnificent S/T album […]