Interview in Peek a Boo Magazine
“We are at the crossroads between several styles: EBM, darkwave, techno and ambient”
CRUISE [CTRL], the duo based in Belgium, is a sort of UFO in the music scene. The first two albums of John and Gore, “I Heard It!” in 2008 and “How’s Annie?” in 2010, were at the frontier between techno/trance and minimal darkwave. All tracks had to follow clear prerequisites: a 120 beats per minutes rythm and exclusively analog instruments. With their new album, “…Are Not What They Seem”, released on the American label Signifier, they are evolving towards a more subtle drone, industrial oriented electronica, while keeping the same minimalistic approach. Peek-a-boo talked to John and Olivier.
You have just released a third album, “…Are Not What They Seem”. Is the title a reference to Twin Peaks?
J. : Yes! “Owls are not What They Seem” is a phrase that often comes in Twin Peaks. It is supposed to be a key to the riddle, but in fact it isn’t at all. We liked the idea of saying “We may not be where you expect us to be…”
O. : And there’s an evolution in our sound, in the compositions. It was a nod to both Lynch and to our creative process.
And the evolution of your sound, how do you describe it?
O. : We wanted a change in the rhythms. Now they are more structured, less techno-linear and the sounds are more radical, less smooth than previously.
J. : Another difference lies in the mode of composition, in the editing process. In the first two albums, the sound was central. Olivier created a sound and everything else, the rythms, revolved around the sound. It was a sort of rythmic ambient music because what mattered was the synth sounds behind. In the new album, we changed the rule and we started with the rhythms.
O. : Before, the tracks were mainly based on the sounds from the CLEF.
What do you mean by CLEF?
O. : The CLEF an old analog synth from the 80s, which we found in a flea market. We thought that it had very cool sounds, which fit the style of music that we love.
J. : When I heard those sounds, I programmed a beat at 120 bpm and our project began like this.
O. : The CLEF is rich in sounds but at the same time, it is uncontrollable. Each configuration is unique and ephemeral.
J. : Even when have the right settings to reproduce the sound, the result can be different because the synth will be more or less heated…
O. : As the French singer Christophe said, ‘everything comes from the accident’. You can’t know for sure because any handling error can change the sound completely. In addition, the sounds are modified by a battery of effects, which are arranged in an order that is not always logical. The result may be completely different from the original.
J. : The possibilities are endless in terms of creativity. I recently heard a very strange ambient track, which proved to be in fact a ‘sample’ of a song of Justin Bieber but modified by effects and stretched to 6 minutes. Technological possibilities have become limitless.
How do you manage to reproduce your sounds on stage?
J. : The base is the rhythm, but a large part of the compositions relies on improvisation, so it is important for both of us to be well synchronized.
O. : It’s a bit like in jazz: I go to the background so that John can move forward, allowing me to search for an interesting idea or sound on the headphone, which I will then bring to the foreground 40 seconds later. There is a permanent risk taking and each concert is different.
J. : On stage, we are also using other synths, which are more stable than the CLEF, to have some assurance.
Your music is instrumental, but some songs are sung. How did it come about?
O. : At first, indeed, everything was instrumental, and then we met Jean-Luc De Meyer (Front 242, 32 Crash, Modern Cubism) and he said he wanted to sing on a track.
J. : What he submitted to us was different from what he did with Front and the lyrics were also very nice, so we finalized the track and it became “Man On The Planet” on the album “I Heard It”.
And what about the collaboration with Dirk Ivens on the last album?
O. : We thought it would be good to work with Dirk as he is also one of the ‘Belgian legends’, with a quite different style and he is also an accessible and modest man.
J. : So we wrote a track with music, melody and text and he reworked his part to make it better suit his voice.
The result is surprising because it corresponds perfectly to what Dirk is doing with Dive or in other collaborations, such as “Frozen” with Diskonnekted.
O. The connection with Dive seems quite logical to us. We share the same claustrophobic, suffocating and hypnotic aspects.
J. : I listened a lot to Dive last year, so it may have had an influence on our work.
O. : On the contrary, these cooperations don’t mean we are an EBM band. EBM, for me, is music like Front 242; it is very specific.
J. : The fact that Jean-Luc sings on the first album may have given people the impression that we were ‘just another Belgian EBM band’, but this is not the case. The title of the new album also serves to clarify this: “…Are Not What We Seem” is also a way of saying that we are not EBM.
O. : And the deconstruction of rhythm patterns reinforces this position. We evolved from binary, techno beats, to more elaborate rhythmic styles.
Your music style is more like ambient techno, or trance, in my opinion.
J. Indeed! As Dirk Ivens said, we could perfectly be playing at “I Love Techno”. Unfortunately, we don’t get such proposals. We get proposals to support gothic groups or festivals.
O. : We are sitting on several chairs, that’s our problem. We are stamped “EBM”, “Dark”, but for that scene, we’re too soft, not radical enough. For the techno scene, we are too quiet and for ambient, we are too nervous. We are at the crossroads between EBM, darkwave, techno and ambient and this diversity reflects our musical tastes.
J. : We have a wide potential audience, but we only seem to touch the intersection of all these scenes.
But when I see groups like Agoria, I think it must be possible, right?
J. Indeed, we feel close to them.
In the last album, there are also industrial overtones. There are sounds of circular saws, for example, in “In the heart of a circle of 12 sycamores.”
J. Yes, there are some squeaky, aggressive instruments.
O. We wanted to sound more radical and move out of the gray feeling.
J. : On the first album, one must give everything; on the second, one must confirm and on the third, one must change everything.
O. : We wanted to break the rules to find new motivation. While maintaining the fundamentals of the project.
In which country do you get the best reactions?
J. : In Belgium and France.
O. : The first album had success in Germany, mainly thanks to the presence of Jean-Luc De Meyer.
How do you divide your tasks within the group?
J. : We are complementary. Olivier has a knack for finding amazing sounds. I record our improvisations. These are rushes, like for movies. We take down notes. Then I edit all this on my own and I submit drafts to Olivier and we progress like this. Then, we try to purify the music, to keep only the essentials.
O. : When John returns with his edit, I have a clean reaction, like an oustider, with new ears. It is each time a rediscovery. We work on one track for months if necessary.
Do you produce the albums yourself?
J. Yes, we are in a very DIY approach. We do recording, mixing, cover design, etc. The mastering is done by Cagex. His role is very important because he must harmonize the tracks and make them coherent in terms of volume and sound. He is familiar with our music, so he knows for example that he shouldn’t remove certain sounds like hiss or crackle as they are part of our musical approach.
Yet there is a big difference in sound between the last album and the first 2.
J. : It is because we have worked much more on the rhythms and the other sounds were grafted around it. In addition, we have acquired a ‘drone commander’, a device that is manufactured in the United States and that produces ‘drones’ sounds. Like, for example, at the beginning of the song with Dirk Ivens. It sounds like a synth bass but it is actually a ‘drone’, which has been reworked during the editing process.
O. : It’s also because our musical tastes have evolved. We’re not necessarily listening to the same groups. I, for example, often listen to Suicide for the moment. Pan Sonic, of course, this is not new, but also Actress, Bytone, everything that is on Raster-Noton.
J. : I listen to a lot of the early electronic music, eg Michel Henry. Or neo-classical music like Debussy, Philip Glass and in modern electronic music, I listen to acts like Emptyset…
If you had to pick one album for people to discover the kind of music that you like?
J. : I would say the first Pan Sonic, “Vakio”, which dates from 1995, or “Aaltopiiri” in 2001.
Do you consider yourself as ‘dark’?
J. : It depends on the definition. If being ‘dark’ is wearing a black t-shirt and listen to Sisters of Mercy, then no. By cons, if you listen to our music, there is obviously a ‘dark side’.
What are your plans for the future? Remixes? The song with Dirk Ivens would be great as a club remix.
J. : Our label would like to launch a remix contest to produce an album or EP. The ideal would be to have American and European artists, to get a wider variety of styles. We would like to do another remix album, but with artists that we would choose, such as Franck Vigroux. He is one of the artists closest to us. Or Eric Van Wonterghem, for example.
Thank you very much!