Èlg

Our favorite French Bruxellois Èlg effortlessly switches between radical tape music, far out electronics that even scare the shit out of Throbbing Gristle, and French chanson. Although it was one of the highlights of 2016, his latest record Mauve Zone (Nashazphone) has fallen between the cracks of most end-of-the-year lists. Too bad, because Laurent Gérard is on top of his game when it comes to associative outsider music. On a terrace in Saint-Gilles, we had a talk about the unconscious, The Mauve Zone and what the role of all this is in his music.
05 December 2017 | AG 10.1
Niels Latomme

Let’s start with a silly question: there are many ways to write your moniker, EL­G, èlg, ... which one is correct?

ÈLG

Firstly I want to say that this moniker is very boring, they’re just my initials.

NL

I figured that out already, like TG’s moniker. Who was first?

ÈLG

I don’t know, because I only met Thibault afterwards. At first it was EL-G. Hisham from Nashazphone told me I should add an accent on the E. Then it just slowly evolved. I packed all the letters together and it became Èlg. People nowadays say “elgue” instead of “EL-GEE”. Flemish people say “elgh”. I’ve tried other variations with Èlg, like “Bela Èlg” or “Otto Èlg” but that didn’t work.

NL

In your songs, you sound like you’re impersonating differ­ent characters. Is that why you changed your moniker?

ÈLG

No, I just liked the graphic aspect. For the Triste Zoo single (Lexi Disques) I wanted this beautiful font and ‘Èlg’ looked more elegant than ‘EL-G’. I don’t like stuff like dashes and brackets. For instance, I think it’s a good thing that ‘(k-raa-k)3’ changed into ‘KRAAK’. ÈLG is an umbrella for so many things. Although the music covers a wide array of styles, it definitely is a whole. For me it’s logical, an expression of my moods in real life. Sometimes I do spoken word in French; sometimes I sing in an imaginary language; sometimes it’s instrumental; sometimes electronic or acoustic; everything sticks together. It’s the result of the natural-comical way my mind works. For the audience it might seem a bit cryptic, because they don’t know what they will find on the next record or show. I like that, because it’s like a game. A journalist told me once that my music is the representation of all the human moods. It sounds a bit pretentious, but it’s not gratuit, it’s not coming from nowhere, it’s a long and elaborate chemical mutation. After a time it has balanced out. I don’t know, but maybe it comes from an old dream. When I’m working on an album, I don’t always know where I’m going, but afterwards I can understand why I did things a certain way. For example, a lot of thinking went in Mauve Zone. The starting point was very dark; I had some dark material, which I brought slowly to the light. The Mauve Zone is a state of mind between dream and reality, or rather of an altered reality. When you are in reality, thoughts go through your mind. It changes your perception continuously, everything is changing, and nothing is fixed. In my music nothing is ever fixed, because it reflects life. I respond to that system of transformation.

NL

That reminds me of how David Lynch works. He uses an almost Freudian method of associating images and moods. Are you trying to channel unconscious parts of yourself through your music?

ÈLG

I’d say no, because... I don’t know why. I don’t know how my mind works. It’s a bit complex I would say. But the intuition is extremely strong. I sometimes lack self-confidence in life, but I have strong intuitions. My mind is like unknown territory for me. It’s just me with a backpack, entering unknown territory, but I have to go there. Maybe it’s not unknown to someone else, but to me it’s a secret, a mystery. My intuition is behind the steering wheel of the car and I know now, after a lot of work, that this intuition is the framework for everything. Everything in my music is driven by it. It’s never intellectual, that comes afterwards — in the editing and mixing process. It’s like diving, you jump in the water, loose yourself and then come back to the surface again.

I like artists like David Lynch, I like the way he crossfades moods. He said once that you could wake up happy in the morning, and at noon you are crying. You don’t know what happened in between, you don’t know what kind of strange force went through you.

NL

I realize now that there are a lot of similarities between your work and his.

ÈLG

David Lynch likes to fish for what is not visible. With music you can do this kind of thing. At the end I called the album Mauve Zone, but I didn’t have a clue why I called it like that. For me it’s the zone inbetween everything, an uncomfortable place where it is not sure if you are dead or alive, awake or dreaming, you have fear, but are in a very good mood, ... I like this kind of crossfade of things. Afterwards a friend of mine asked: “you called your album Mauve Zone, referring to the book by Kenneth Grant?” I didn’t know that book. Apparently Grant was a disciple of the occultist Aleister Crowley and in that book he talks about interdimensional worlds. This zone is a strange place that you can meet in your life. It was a strange coincidence. There is actually also a forum about Twin Peaks that is called The Mauve Zone.

NL

How did you like the new Twin Peaks series?

ÈLG

Well, there is one scene that really touched me. The one where Andy goes to the Black Lodge (in the series, Lynch is dividing reality in several ‘lodges’, or parallel universes, ed.) He looks like a saint, which is beautiful. The detailed sounds and the field recordings are marvellous. Nothing happens, just long shots that go on for ten minutes. He is just watching images on the ceiling. I thought “wow, I don’t give a shit about the other characters, the stories, it should be just this guy for 18 hours”. The interesting thing is that Lynch shot the series as a whole, and decided only afterwards what the episodes would be. Everything is done in editing. That is true in my work as well. But the comparison stops there. (laughs)

NL

The cover of the album is strange as well. 

ÈLG

It’s a painting by my great-grandfather. His name was Antoine Gerard, I never met him, but apparently he was a strange character. He worked as a chemist, and also made funny movies. Four years ago my mother found his paintings and she asked me if I wanted some of them. I took a look and fell in love with this one. There is something very particular about it. I am very happy to share this work, because he did only one exhibition in Lyon, in the early sixties. It’s a tribute to him. 

NL

A research into your family history? 

ÈLG

No. 

NL

I like the solo at the end of the A-­side. 

ÈLG

Yeah, I wanted to conclude it with something very rough. The album is like a movie and the A-side is foggy and blurry so I wanted something very simple and straight to close it. I tried, and tried and finally I got it, like “hell yeah, I got it”, from the guts. 

NL

Did you record Dylan Nyoukis (who is featured on the record) secretly, or was he aware of it? 

ÈLG

Yes, he was. He was so generous to do this for me. I like his voice, his way of talking, his strong Scottish accent which is very playful. What a character he is. I wanted to have English voices on the album, but I can’t do it myself, because singing in English is not my thing. I recorded him telling me about a dream with Lady Diana and then I did a lot of editing and manipulation of the recording. 

NL

In a very organic way, you blend two musical opposites: avant­garde tape collages and sound synthesis versus 1960s and 1970s French pop music. 

ÈLG

They are actually very complementary. I was raised in a French environment, with French pop music. When you grow up you discover all these new things and there is a strong urge to combine influences and create something new. It’s not easy to work like this, but I followed my intuition into a territory that was new for me. Luc Ferrari did the same, mixing pop culture with avant-garde. Jim O’Rourke was also an influence; he decided to make pop music coming from a minimalist avant-garde background. 

With this attitude in mind, I attempted to find something new, that I could develop myself. I also like to mingle seriousness with humor. The contrast can be harsh but it can lead to very curious results. 

NL

You’ve produced your own music in a very original and careful way. Have you ever produced other people’s music? 

ÈLG

Not really but maybe one day. I would love to produce another artist’s album in collaboration with my brother Mim who is a musician and sound engineer and has his own studio in Brussels. 

NL

Let’s finish this interview with a myth. Rumor has it that at the time of the release of the Tout Ploie (KRAAK) album, you refused to in­ clude the song Armelle, for personal reasons. Supposedly you even got in a fight with Tommy and Steve over it back then. Is this true? 

ÈLG

No, it’s not true. The song was already released on a 7 inch, and I wanted to have new material on the album. It is just as simple as that.