Zad Kokar & Les Combi Beyaz

CREATING A NEW STRASBOURG COSMOLOGY. Strasbourg: mostly unremarkable and rather unassuming, it’s pretty much the designated transit area between France and Germany. But as in all unsuspecting places, there is a rumbling beneath the surface. In this case, it comes from a clanging, echoing protean presence, materialized into a warped dadaist reverie in a hand-painted onesie. Darting unpredictably around a vortex of weirdo noise, free-hand punk and alien hip hop, Zad Kokar could easily embody a modern iteration of the Residents' spirit, equipped with the kind of boyish guilelessness that is as surprising as it is disarming.
15 February 2017 | AG 9

Like many other dudes – and dudettes – that came into this specific world, Zadrien Coquart (real name, according to his email) started his fidgeting in his teenage bedroom. “Before I started making music, I spent quite a bit of time playing video games,” he writes. “Then I really got into video game music, and then only into music and not at all into video games anymore. But I guess the influence is still there somewhere.” One look his quarters, and it's clear that the connection was never lost: his fervent output of comix and illustrations via publications such as the now-defunct Psoriasis and the sci-fi head trip Mendax bear the mark of someone who has never stopped playing.  In the end, playing is all he does. As part of several bands (Sida, Année Zero,  “a secret Strasbourg band”), Zadrien is pretty well-versed in group dynamics. “The first person I ever played with was Luca (aka Ventre de Biche); we used to do these ping-pong concerts where he'd play a song and then I'd play a song and so forth; once he fell asleep during one of his songs in the middle of a gig, which was funny because he ended up playing a single note that came off as a really obnoxious drone.”

Zad Kokar comes in as his solo project, the continuation of the aforementioned fidgeting taken to new levels of concerted spontaneity, of outlined chaos. Enter his friends, the shape-shifters: Les Combi Beyaz are not a backing band, but occasional apparitions that imprint their energy onto Zad Kokar’s sonic transfigurations. “Most of the time it’s just two of us, but during the tour we were three,” he says. “Sometimes I'd like it if there were more people, not necessarily musicians but maybe dancers or something like that. The running joke is that I'm trying to start my own bizarro circus for the freaks.” Les Combi Biyaz are not a fixed entity:  just as the set is reimagined with each performance, the people behind the masks change too, like the masks themselves that are in a permanent state of mutation.

Indeed the masks, which reportedly perplex some folks out there, are an essential part of the visual cosmos haloing Zad Kokar. Like stripped-down iterations of Marcel Janco's primitivist costume art, those blocky, nonsensical creations are closer to expressionless sculptures than headgear, channeling the unconstrained resonances that ooze from within while negating identity and ego. Perhaps a necessary measure to take when you decide to play in your pajamas. And functioning as as obsessive symbolic stamp, there’s that barbell all over the place. The true connecting element? Zad Kokar explains: “In the Combi Beyaz universe, that motif is everywhere and it unifies everything. Some people say it makes them think of neurons. For me it’s above all a visual mantra that I tried to think about every morning at a certain period of my life; it helped me chase away dark thoughts and organize my interior world somehow. Musical and visual patterns really can affect the human brain after all!”

A typical Zad Kokar performance hinges on the atypical. Perhaps a Combi Beyazer will kick things off, standing over a disintegrated drum set and deploying a regular, almost tribal-like beat followed by the spurting of guitar quacks; then it could integrate some vocal pitch shifts or animalistic hollers or saxophone screeches or frantic guitar antics à la Marty McFly. “We almost function like a jazz band, or maybe more like a noise act!” he says about the creative process. “I usually come up with some sort of base, over which Les Combi Beyaz are totally free to do their thing. Recently we really started working on songs together as a trio, which worked out pretty well. I was even thinking it might be fun to somehow transform those songs so I can play them solo – invert the process, if you will.” At this point, the enthusiasm is mounting, and it is contagious. “I really like it that each time, people will hear a different set, played by different people, wearing different masks. In the end I’m there to steer the ship, but I always want Les Combi Beyaz have fun playing with me!”

So far, the physical output has been meager, but it’s only just starting: ideally, there would be taped traces of every formation, every gig. And then there’s the touring: 2016 alone had Zad Kokar travelling to Canada, the US, and more or less all over Europe with acts like Canadian buddies Shearing Pinx and Fountain, as well as the enigmatic and grotesque Christophe Clébard. And leave a strong impression, they did: “Jeremy (from Shearing Pinx) said that people were pretty taken aback with our set, which starts in a no-wave vibe, then goes into funk territory, then maybe into hip hop with the drummers starting to break dance [laughs]. Also when we opened for Psychic TV in Calgary, people were pretty curious. I even managed to sell my two measly handmade T-shirts and CD-Rs pretty quickly, right next to Psychic TV’s super fancy merch.”

The earnestness in Zad Kokar’s approach only heightens the eccentricity of his projected vision. Once you enter that zone, it’s difficult to draw back. There are no pretentions, no frills, no unnecessary artifices: just a personal macrocosm, an intrinsic new language, all of it tuned into the sounds of whatever is present and whatever may come.