[13 July 2008]
We music critics love to humor many a musician getting on into their golden years. We like to kid around and write up tons of articles and reviews pretending that the music these once vital artists are making is still hip and relevant. Yet in the case of French producer Bernard Fevre, it’s actually true, though he was rarely fawned with such praise in his 30-plus preceding years of making music.
Fevre’s specific age is questionable. It’s known that he put out several fascinating and bizarre Mort Garson/Bruce Haack-style electronic works in the late seventies. It’s also known that he put out an extremely rare 1978 Franco-Italo disco EP under the name of Black Devil, likely with a partner named Jacky Giordano, called Disco Club. It was rereleased by Aphex Twin’s Rephlex label in 2004. The stir caused by the album’s cult fetishization and concomitant controversy (mostly speculation over authorship) lead to a decades-late second album (2006’s 28 After), a remix disc (2007’s Black Devil in Dub), a tour, and international acclaim.
Fevre has otherwise enshrined himself in mystery, purposefully selling himself as a blissfully ignorant pioneer of multiple eras. He has even gone so far as to claim neither direct knowledge of the fashionable space age Milky Disco and After Dark-style revival of the his brand of forward-thinking dance music nor the Moroder and Cerrone brand of club-pop of which the original Black Devil album was an obvious offshoot. Fevre’s honed craft as a fabulous bullshit artist has gained him a great deal of PR in an era where he could have slipped through the information age’s overpopulated sieve-hole even quicker than his first go-around did.
Yet ultimately it was the music itself that secured his status as the hipster-sanctioned weirdo uncle roaming around the discotheque. Beyond its place in the cosmogyny of electro, a pedigree from Alexander Robotnik and Kraftwerk to Mayday and Front 242 on through a Guy Called Gerald and Todd Terry up to the newbies like Prins Thomas and Professor Genius, Black Devil’s Disco Club is an exhilirating album for any era, a whirring hive of analogue chiaroscuro, equally indebted to cocaine, mirror balls, and the Law of Thelema. 28 After and its followup, Eight Oh Eight, pretty much operate on the same format, though Eight Oh Eight is a far less punctilious procedural.
Each of the three albums are impelled by dark, slick arpeggios and impaled by icy synth stabs and unexpected streams of psychedelic sound curvature. Eight Oh Eight‘s press sheet posits it to be the final artifact from the Black Devil Disco Club. That album and its two preceding albums’ six-track limit is a conceptually linked black-magickal pylon, a “666” trilogy to appease the outfit’s satanic namesake.
Eight Oh Eight contains its own personal, numerological conceits. The opening drum track on the album immediately stamps its post-disco footprint, calling into consideration the widely used 808 drum machine of techno’s early history. That track, “With Honey Cream”, gurgles with swirling LFO and falsetto, but its modern instrumentation remains ideologically retro-futurist. The equipment is almost neoterically vintaged, looking back to the future with the advance knowledge that we’re already living in it.
Post-industrial futurism continues to be an appealing sensorial and experiential concept, not because it ignites the imagination, but because it promotes today’s possibilities for the quotidian of tomorrow’s world. Fevre’s work, like that of most futurists, sounds like it is from the future precisely because hearing it in the context of today builds the hope that tomorrow will sound as exciting and fresh as a Fevre player. It’s a hope to decentralize and evaporate our current cliches into relics as esoteric as that first Black Devil album.
In reality, Black Devil Disco Club and their retro-futurist peers are the sound of right now, the blossom of Italo-Disco’s seeds. Yet, on Eight Oh Eight, Fevre sounds for the first time to be stuck in his own time warp. He’s looking forward from the past, but his gaze only carries as far as the recent past.
“Open the Gate” takes on a robotic backup singer, which almost seems like a half-assed electroclash attempt to delineate a Black Devil soundsystem. “Free For the Girl” goes back even further, with Trevor Horn-y hits, Art of Noise stacatto chirps, synth horn snippets, and the like. The repetitive series of “shoops” on “Never No Dollars” even sounds like it may be recycled from 28 After.
As a result, Fevre no longer sounds like he’s trying to amaze you with how pertinent his aging sound is. Instead, he’s trying to take the music further on Eight Oh Eight, without fully reinventing the wheel or escaping his patented formula for propulsive Studio-54-as-S&M-bar club tunes. What he comes up with is a curate’s egg. The more experimental songs, particularly on the album’s second half, are not as catchy nor as tailor-made for bouncing bodies as Black Devil (Disco Club)‘s previous albums, but the electrolytic sonic Santeria does occasionally trip out onto some worthwhile tangential avenues. “Never Do Dollars” maps a proggish directional that may be on loan from King Crimson or even late era proto-new-age, pre-wallpaper wonk Krauts. “Free For the Girl” has an outlandish breakdown that dehisces in all directions before reassembling into a disco monster. Best of all is closer “For Hoped”, a Goblin-style vampire porno with a modern beat and a singalong strobic voice that reminds me the teeensiest bit of “Wanda Wanda” off the video game Katamari Damacy.
Black Devil Disco Club codified themselves in the Maoist mantra of one step backwards to go two steps forward. On Eight Oh Eight, all of its familiar and new delights aside, the philosophy backfires. When it’s trying to stay the same, the album, while still immensely enjoyable in parts, is competitively edged out by its predecessors. When it’s trying to to be different, it stumble as often as it glides. Nevertheless, 30 years after the first Black Devil album, Fevre feels like he’s just getting going. All eschatological black magick aside, let’s hope this is not the last us people of the future hear from him.