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Monday, March 19, 2007

CASSETTE CULTURE #9: BUFFLE

Behold, puny human fleas, the majesty that is Buffle.

Scored a copy of "Constrictor" by Buffle, ooooh ages ago, back last year, courtesy of Roope at Finnish label Lal Lal Lal:



Several factors (children, work, mysterious flashing lights at the bottom of the garden) have all conspired to stop me writing about them. But I can confirm that this casette sounds excellent on train journeys, but can freak you out if you wake up suddenly after falling asleep in the dark listening to it.

Looking back over my notes from last year...ah right, here we go:

"Some masterly-inventive fractured gtr playing on display here, like Robert Quine being eaten alive by mice...scribbly/scrabbly, their little plectrums clawing at the skirting-board. Elsewhere, a flanger imitates a bubble-machine, blowing fat spheres of sound into the aether.

Some fascinatingly off-kilter sound-combinations here, w/ Buffle eshewing trad. gtr/bs/dr/vox formations in favour of pensionable Dr. Rhythym drum-boxes, toxic Blues and No-Wave moves, fretsqueak and retardo flute/pennywhistle combos. It sounds like, uh, a documentary about Les Disques du Crepuscule shot by a caffeine-frazzled Dogme95 director.

Arthritic drum-machines are assisted by tambourines, slapped knees, tapped table-tops, etc. There's a synth in there somewhere.

Queasy Casios are forced to row home, on brittle tarmac, after failing to leave the harbour. On one song, the guitar-line flaps slowly in the breeze like a flag and there's something undeniably touching about it: there's a sense of cameraderie and belonging in the skewed riffage; it hints at the rolling vista of somewhere else, of somewhere that is beautiful and comforting in the minds of the musicians.

Don't forget to mention they're from Brussels."

Later, in a different coloured ink, I appear to have written:

"Angular Funk: like Talking Heads caught busking with a tramp. Synth bobs like a little boat on an uncertain sea. Bluesy funk syncopations: children at a kids disco repeatedly bouncing into and off of each other like oversized subbuteo-players. Inflatable suits on It's a Knockout! Feedback carelessly duels with a recorder, creating an unusual counterpoint. Guitar splutters indignantly, as if caught with trousers down ('boxy' kinda sound...reminds me of something I can't remember: amplifier sounds like it's been packed in cardboard!). Later, the guitars go all (can't read next word, but it begins with an 's'). Someone encased in concrete, trying to get out. Table-rapping seance, trying to contact forgotten No-Funk band who died in a fire in alterno-world 1981 CBGBs (One cassette out on ROIR; written out of history-books by a jealous James Chance). Ha! The rent never got put up in The Bowery in that universe!"

Enuff of the navel-gazing theorising...thanks to the guys for Buffle for putting me right and taking the time to diligently answer my usual half-arsed questions. (Check out some tunes here; hope you dig 'em half as much as me...now go and buy some of their stuff!) All answers are collective, except where indicated by a name:

How long you guys been together?

Xavier: "Since 1995? But we actually knew each other since a long time before. We were friends before we started to play music together... Benjamin and Emmanuel met when they were under 10, I think, and Denis and I are friends since we were at school together when we were 5 years old. We’re like two pairs of very old friends…

Except one or two failed attempts before Buffle, the four of us started playing music together around 18. We were listening to a lot of music etc… Buffle started collecting instruments, objects and toys and then wondering what we could do with them (and in fact it’s always the case today, the same question arises each time we play). We wanted to play in a more free way than what we had done before, using the instruments the way we wanted, just trying and recording. It was mainly acoustic by that time, using what we could find, almost no electric or electronic instruments, but acoustic guitars that we found at our homes, from parents and sisters; flutes, painting pots and film-cans as drums, etc. Later we discovered electricity. We played and recorded quite regularly by then, but didn’t release anything except two or three tracks on compilations, like the tape and cd that were released for the first two editions of the First Steps and False Alarms festival in Louvain-la-Neuve, which put many Belgian bands in touch. Releasing our stuff on our own releases came more recently."

And who plays what in the band? (Or doesn't it matter?)

Buffle: "Everyone plays everything... and we usually forget who played what on a track. It’s more about a collective thing, and that’s the most important. We improvise at home and record almost every session (also because we know that we will not be able to play that music again). When listening to the recordings we can't always tell who played the casio, the guitar, the flute, the drums, etc. Maybe each one of us tends to play a bit more of one instrument than another – especially in concert situations - but it’s never “fixed”… We like - and need - to change."

How would you personally describe yr music....?

Buffle: "Like monkeys trying to play tennis? Funny, happy improvised music? The funny element is important… And the rhythm, the beat too. It has to be funky. An experimental playground for snails? Psychedelic pop played by children? We like to play every kind of music: popsy, punki’s, m’n’m’s, bluesy style, reggaes, funx, techno, country & western and typical walloonisch ritornels… but we’re basically just trying to be a rock band."

I see you tend to do cassettes (which is cool)...is that an aesthetic decision, 'cos you like it as a medium...? Any plans for any vinyl?

Buffle: "Yes, we like the warm, elastic sound of tape very much and the medium as an object, also because we used tapes when we were children and teenagers. And the possibilities for the artwork... Cassettes are great for many reasons. Well, to be honest we just chose the tape format for our first release - we really wanted it to be a tape - we didn’t really choose it for the next ones (the labels did) but it was perfect for us. We will probably do a vinyl more or less soon too. Dennis Tyfus released a CDR of a live session we recorded at his radio program in Antwerp and asked us for an LP some time ago, but we’re very very slow! There will probably be one or two 7”s first."

Are you guys artists, as well as doing music (or just some of you)? What's sooo cool about the Belgian 'scene' is that art and music seem to be so intertwined; people are more into just being 'creative' and no pinning themselves down in an either/or situation....

Buffle: "That’s right… but you know, everybody is an artist in Belgium.... ;-) Very exciting things are happening now and one good thing about it is that people are just doing their stuff with a lot of energy and no pretention. Some people are incredibly active here and this energy is spreading around like a contagious thing. This context is quite influential for everyone… There’s an exciting community of people working more or less in the same direction… and many bands and labels who care for the graphic aspect of the music - especially now of course (with labels like Bread and Animals, Ultra Eczema, Veglia, etc.), but there were antecedents too (like ubik records in the 1990s etc). Our graphic work is not much compared to the one of Dennis Tyfus, Jelle Crama, Bart de Paepe or Zeloot in Holland (or other people in Brussels making beautiful flyers too, like Gwenola). But we have always been interested in graphic stuff, DIY attitude, etc., not only music.

Some months ago we made this small book with drawings and photos by the four of us, a “Yearbook 2005” that took ages to finish. And, last summer, our friend Mira Sanders offered us a small space for one month, a former shop in an ex-shopping mall located in the centre of Brussels. The building was empty and used for various artists projects etc. before they throw it down or refurbish it. We played there several times, at strange hours generally (like Sunday at 9:00 in the morning, then on a crowded Saturday evening). It was very funny as people could see us play from the street, thru the window, but couldn’t hear almost nothing even if we were playing really loud (because of the very thick glass and the street noises).



So it was more a visual performance at the end. Some drawings from the book were hanging on the walls and another of the “artists” there, Christophe Floré, asked us to show some more stuff one afternoon at his place, where he hosts small exhibitions of drawings every Saturday. We played 3 or 4 times there during the afternoon. We like to play in very different contexts like these and we really like to mix music and graphic things sometimes. But not all the time. Anyway, everything is happening like by accident; we just make our stuff…"