:zoviet*france* deliver their post-Industrial molecular music from within a veil of anonymity - behind it lies a hive of philosophy and DIY experimentation. Interview by Phil England. This article originally appeared in The Wire 139 (September 1995).
"One thing that's been an underlying philosophical priciple throughout the history of hte group has been the anonymity of the personnel involved," explains a suitably faceless (at his own request) member of hte Newcastle-based Industrial group :zoviet*france:. "We just wanted to say, "Here's the music, there's no other information to go with it, and it eitehr has an effect on you in particular ways or it doesn't. And we're not going to give you any clues to whwat they are becaues largely they are self-determined by the listener."
The cult of invisibility with which the various members of :zoviet*france: have chosen to obscure their activities might appear contrived, but it is an appropriate response to music which arrives as a series of infernal soundworlds, that wanders between organic, non-linear lo-fi explorations and fake ethnicity, creating a world where nothing is locatable nd everyhtign is suggestion awaiting responsive imaginations.
14 persistent and prolific years of music making at the peripheries of Industrial and post-Industrial culture have meant increasing attention for :zoviet*france:, to the point where they've become an influential reference point for New Edge musicians such as Autechre and Mick Harris (Lull, Scorn).
The group's most recent work largely comprises contributions to compilations, including Isolationism (Virgin), Out There (Pi), The SoundWorks Exchange (First Edition) and most recently Unentitled (These). These tracks use technology more commonly associated with dance music and are in sharp contrast to the four 'lost' albums from 1986 which have just been reissued on the group's own label, Charrm.
Linked together in a series entitled Charrm, Ceremony, Chance, Prophecy, these albums represent the peak of :zoviet*france:'s homebuilt activities with most of the music created on self-made acoustic instruments, which are disguised and abstracted to the point of unfathomability.
The disfiguring mechanism emerges from the group's radical relationship to the cheap technology they were forced to use at the time, out of relative poverty. Machines were wired up in complex ways to approximate effects produced by more expensive models; malfunctions such as crackle and dropout were encouraged and coaxed out of the technology to the point where processors became sound generators; and a variety of 'found objects' were adapted and utilised in a number of unorthodox ways.
"We aren't really musicians in any kind of regular sense at all. We've all been involved in osme kind of regular musical background but we've abandoned all that. What we're working with is just sound, and we see that there is a world full of sond and it's freely available for us to pick and choose what we want out of it, and we don't have any restrictions on that."
Over the years, any discernible changes in the group's aesthetic have been led by technology at least as much asby any changes in personnel. The next shift will involve probing the possibilities offered by editing with hard disk recording - manipulating minute fragments and exploring the 'molecular' structure of music and sound.
For :zoviet*france:, "the hook of the punk DIY ethic sank into us quite deeply as a principle". As well as building their own instruments, mistreating technology, running their own label and producing their artwork, betwen 1982-87 the group also manufactured its own packaging. Their early releases came cased in hardboard, tissue paper, aluminium foil, roofing felt, ceramics and cigar boxes. "We wanted to make the packaging as interesting or unusual as the music itself but we reached a point in 86 or 87 where in order to fulfil the stock that our distributor wanted, we would have had to work 40 hours a week."
For their CD releases, :zoviet*france: now have an aesthetic and (qualified) ecological preference for the digipack over the standard, clumsy jewel case, and leave the more elaborate productions to Dutch experimental label Staalplaat, who recently packaged a reissue of Popular Soviet Songs using felt cut from black market Red Army surplus caps and uniforms. (The packaging of the original cassette release included a feather gathered from the beach at Sellafield, encased in concrete.)
:zoviet*france:'s music might be purged of all obvious emotional signposts and signifiers, but that's not to say it doesn't reach for those elusive states of transcendence.
"One of the principles behind the music is that it's very intuitive. We try and dredge it up from very deep within our subconsciousness. It's very uncontrived in that sense. In a way it's a music that anyone could do, of course it is, because the elements of it are probably within us all. And within that body of human existence are some other fundamental things as well, like belief systems and how they get focused. And we've drawn on elements of that in a very tangential and ambivalent way as influences for the music itself and as component elements in the music. No matter how sophisticated and technologically developed we become as a species, our evolution continues to be built upon a pre-existing base that doesn't go away. But there are still very few inevitables in life apart from death."