It wasn’t so long ago – five years perhaps – that I stumbled upon the name Paris Violence in a blog about the classic French Oi band Komintern Sect: “Paris Violence should be right up your alley”, was a commenter’s advice to frog-Oi loving Anglo-Saxons.
But then, the sounds I found on YouTube weren’t quite what I had expected. Although the Fred Perry-clad lead singer’s vocal style clearly placed the band in the skinhead camp and the melancholic overtones evoked Chaos en France-era memories, there was something else going on too.
For one, a drum machine provided the backbeat, suggesting a Francophone punk lineage that can be traced all the way back to Métal Urbain. Sparse keyboards often created a detached atmosphere not unlike that of cold wave, a French post-punk style that does what it says on the tin. What’s more, the lyrical themes seemed unusual and more intriguing than your average Oi fodder.
Girth surprised me by submitting a completed interview with Flav, the band’s founder and sole permanent member. By then, I had heard wild rumours about him – some of my French contacts found his politics dubious, and the same was true for a band we asked about Paris Violence.
I decided to probe further and send Flav some follow-up questions. Now, it’s no big secret that contributors to this zine lean to the left to various degrees. Maybe unusually, though, we remember that we are children of the Enlightenment: i.e. we believe in people’s ability to reason and make up their own minds, including about ‘problematic’ ideas.
Hence, we’re leaving it up to you to make of Flav’s statements what you will.
Girth: Who are you and what’s your involvement in the skinhead scene?
I am Flav, founder of the band Paris Violence and active since 1994. Back then, I also started drawing for various fanzines – initially punk fanzines, then also skinzines. Pretty soon I discovered Oi music and the skinhead movement. When I was 10-12 years old, I got into rock music. I was listening to heavy metal at first, but soon I preferred punk rock as more authentic. Initially, I got into the bands of the ’77 generation, then the second wave – i.e. the time when Oi music revived punk.
Girth: What was the first Oi record you heard?
My first was the Last Resort/Combat 84 Death or glory split LP. I bought it when I was 14 and on a school trip in London for the first time. I swiftly got other records too, in particular the Oi! Records compilation This is Oi! and the first few volumes of the Oi! Chartbusters series. That gives you a good overview over the artists who made me love the genre: Angelic Upstarts, The Blood, Peter and the Test Tube Babies, Blitz, 4-Skins, Frankie Flame…
We often discover the British scene before we find out there is one in our own country! The French scene was very poor to nonexistent especially since in the mid-90s. On the other hand, there had been some great bands in the previous decade: Camera Silens, Wunderbach, Trotskids, L’Infanterie Sauvage, stuff on the Chaos Productions label, and compilations such as France profonde (1984) and the 1984 series. 25 years on, my tastes have stayed the same.
Girth: How do you think does today’s scene compare to the 80s?
Well, as I said, I only discovered the 80s scene in the 90s. It’s easier for me to talk about 80s music than about my own memories from that period because I was just a kid. Musically, I think the 80s remain a reference point for everyone.
In France, it all slowed down from the late 80s until the end of the 90s – that’s almost 10 years without many new things happening. I reckon the British scene remained more dynamic.
On the other hand, I’m not nostalgic because in the 2000s a new breed has come to the fore, with great bands all over the world.
Girth: Your activities extend beyond music, right?
Yes – apart from music, I make illustrations, though now mostly for my own records. I’m also in charge of the Islika Produktions label, which was founded at the same time as Paris Violence in 1994. We set it up so we had a label to produce our own stuff and collaborate with other labels. We’ve had quite a sustained record production because Paris Violence was conceived from the beginning as a studio project rather than live band.
Matt: Why did you not want to play live?
The reason why we didn’t play live for 20 years was that I had this one-man band concept. During many periods I was doing Paris Violence on my own, and there were too many line-up changes during others. My most important objective was to release songs and records whenever possible, not play gigs. Anyway, when we played live for the first time in 2015 it was a great experience, and we will do it again as soon as we have the necessary time on our hands.
Matt: As the cliché goes, punk plus drum machine equals French punk… Métal Urbain, Bérurier Noir, and Ludwig von 88 spring to mind. Was that tradition also a part of the reason why you opted for drum machines?
I have always loved Métal Urbain, one of the very first punk bands I discovered… Warum Joe and early Pigalle/Garçons Bouchers were also bands that used drum machines and inspired me. I guess my choice was linked to these influences, but I also wanted to add a mechanical, cold touch to my sound. Of course, the more practical reasons had to do with my one-man-band concept: the fact that I had never played drums and that it’s hard to record them with DIY engineering.
Matt: Have you ever tried real drums for Paris Violence?
On some of our most recent recordings, we did experiment with real drums: the Pour le repos de nos âmes 12” (2017) has synth drums, but they’re performed in real-time by Yann. We also have two upcoming releases for 2018, Absinthe et suites and Amante glaciaire: for the first one I used my traditional drum machine and bass programming, but for the second one Yann played a classic drumkit.
Girth: Your music is excellent – some definite goth, black metal and industrial influences alongside your typical Oi sounds. Who are your favourite bands in terms of influence?
Thank you. As for Oi influences in the strict sense, it’s essentially the 80s scene I mentioned earlier. Of those bands, I think The Blood had a particularly strong influence on me: their synths, their very technical composing, and their special atmospheres that broke with the usual clichés. Other atypical punk bands such as the aforementioned Métal Urbain also showed me that the use of electronic elements, including drum machines, could create original sounds.
As to metal, that has to do with my initial taste for heavy rock. From the beginning of the 2000s, when Paris Violence became a duet consisting of Spirou and myself, the guitars took on an increasingly heavy metal sound inspired by Iron Maiden, Helloween, Judas Priest, Motley Crue, etc – the Oi sound and Oi vocals still dominated, though. I’ve never been into hardcore.
During that period, I was listening to a lot of symphonic and epic black metal: Faerghail, Eternal Tears of Sorrow, Children of Bodom, Enslavement of Beauty, Bal Sagoth… I was already using ambient synths, but that stuff inspired me to use strings ensembles and classical music arrangements on some tracks, beginning with the albums Ni fleurs ni couronnes (2001), and even more so on En attendant l’apocalypse (2003).
As for goth, I never really liked that movement aesthetically or musically. Post-punk, however, is one of the influences for Paris Violence – we are more inspired by cold wave. Since 2001, I also have a cold wave side project called Saison Froide.
Girth: How important do you feel clothes are in terms of the skinhead scene? Do they go hand in hand with the music, or is it ‘wear what the fuck you like’ now?
The skinhead movement has created its own dress codes from the very beginning, and that is part of its identity. It shouldn’t be forgotten. If you go to an Oi gig, you don’t want to see musicians in disco outfits. But obviously, the look is not everything; it makes no sense to wear a pair of DMs, braces and a flight jacket or Harrington if you have no musical culture or knowledge of the movement’s history.
Personally, I have always respected those traditions, but at the same time, I also like dandy outfits, old-fashioned suits and ties, and even 19th century outfits. I don’t think it’s contradictory because baroque and fin-de-siècle aesthetics are very present in the atmosphere and literary references of Paris Violence lyrics.
To me, these old-fashioned tastes don’t seem incompatible with Oi music or punk rock: the 4-Skins’ ‘Hoxton’ Tom McCourt is a perfect example of British elegance, and the Damned have a very Victorian style.
Matt: Your songs are unusual for the Oi genre in that they seem very literate, and you just mentioned literary influences. What authors and periods fascinate you most?
Mentioning them all would take up a whole interview… and it also depends on different periods of my life. However, French 19th century classics such as Baudelaire, Hugo, Balzac, Zola, Flaubert, and Maupassant, for example, always remain a safe bet.
PV’s most Decadents-inspired work was written under the influence of authors such as Jean Lorrain, Maurice Rollinat, Georges Rodenbach, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Rachilde, Maurice Magre, Jean Richepin, and of course Oscar Wilde. Some songs refer to Thomas de Quincey, particularly ‘Confessions d’un opiomane’. Our ‘Japanese period’ (Le vent divin souffle toujours, 2008) was inspired by Japanese literature among other things, and my texts about WWI not just by historical facts, but also by war novels.
I like 20th century American classics like Faulkner and Hemingway too, and also surrealism and existentialism. When I focus on a particular atmosphere or period, I’m not inspired by literature only: to return to our 1900s atmospheres, they also relate to painters and illustrators such as Alphonse Mucha, Aubrey Beardsley, Félicien Rops, James Ensor, Norman Lindsay, and ‘modern style’ patterns and figures.
Matt: Autumn and winter are probably the best seasons to listen to Paris Violence… the music seems completely out-of-place in the summer. Would you describe yourself as a pessimistic or even cynical person?
PV’s darkest lyrics were written in the debut period, starting with the demos up until our second album, Mourir en Novembre (2000). Back then, I wrote quite depressive lyrics that took a realistic global view and were set in a rainy or cloudy Paris.
With L’Âge de glace (2001) and En attendant l’apocalypse, I tried to experiment with different atmospheres because I thought I had written all I could in that register. I preferred oneiric themes – some said they reminded of Poe or Lovecraft’s universe.
My historical songs are written in a different vein, they are more epic – even if I always describe war, and WW1 in particular, as horrible. And my latest lyrics such as those on Promesses d’immortalité (2015) are different still: quite complex forms of writing. They offer something like a chaotic and simultaneously intimate point of view.
Anyway, what you write is never exactly what you feel; you just use some of your feelings trying to create something artistic. I’m neither pessimistic nor cynical in real life. I guess I’m actually a quite happy guy.
Girth: ‘Budapest ’56’ – powerful tune. What’s it all about? My French is appalling.
This song is about of the tragic Hungarian revolution of 1956, which was drowned in blood. After East Berlin and Poznan, before Prague and Warsaw, it was one of the main revolts in Europe against Soviet totalitarianism. The insurgents were particularly heroic, and the repression was ruthless. Apart from the historical aspect, which is present in many lyrics of Paris Violence, the song denounces any form of totalitarianism and any repression by the army or police.
Girth: How do you feel about politics in the scene nowadays? Do you think there’s a middle ground or is mostly right vs. left?
My positions on the issue have always been the same: politics have nothing to do with music, whether it is the left or the right that try to hijack our scene. To pretend to yourself that you’re a skinhead as well as fascist is nonsense, and the fact that some people haven’t understood that for over 30 years doesn’t change that.
I think the real skinhead scene – the one that says bollocks to politics, racism, nazism, and Communism – is more alive than ever. That is the one to which I’ve always belonged. But unfortunately, in the 21st century there are still idiots fooled by stupid discourses. It’s up to clear-headed people who have kept their minds free to keep the faith despite all, as well as denounce those tendencies again and again.
Matt: From what I can tell, though, your songs contain far more political commentary than your average Oi band’s repertoire – especially your early tapes and albums. There’s ‘Waffen SS’ (1997), for example, which I understand satirizes a riot police unit introduced by Chirac in the 90s, and there are many others. Would you say your lyrics have become less political over time?
The CRS are actually riots squads created in the mid-20th century for shock operations. In France, they are a symbol of police oppression. The song title derives from a 1968 slogan, “CRS=SS”. Protestors wrote it onto walls because they were violently charged by those police forces.
I wrote this track in a specific context: the government had decided to deport people who had no identity papers and waited for their status to be regularised. They were peaceful and only asked to be recognised as normal citizens, but they were treated as criminals just because they lived in France and wished to have equal rights.
I don’t know if it’s political to find disgusting that innocent people are mistreated, I guess it’s a normal human reaction. I would have the same reaction now.
Matt: I’m afraid we can’t avoid addressing certain rumours that have been circulating about you. Let’s start from the beginning. A French band we interviewed a while back mentioned you have “fucked-up royalist views”. Now, royalism is probably a fairly ‘extreme’ view to take in France, given that it’s been over 200 years since the French revolution… Is there any truth to this?
I don’t know what band told you that; people who never met me, I guess.
The Middle Ages, chivalry, crusades, and ancient France are great topics from an aesthetical and historical point of view, and I have often written about them. But if you’re asking me if they can be anything else, like a political programme or something, I think it’s obvious that wishing for France to return to a monarchist regime in the 21st century makes no sense
Matt: There was also a bit of an uproar when someone posted a photo in a Canadian anarcho-punk forum: it shows someone who may be you attending an Action Française protest. What can you tell us about that?
It seems that some people, whether rightwing or leftwing, have a serious problem with Paris Violence. I don’t know their reasons – maybe jealousy. Anyway, they can’t stop trying to damage the band and, above all, trying to damage me using the most unfair methods.
I guess there are two things that drive them crazy. Firstly, I am not – and I never will be – what they would like me to be or become. Secondly, whatever they try to do, Paris Violence will continue regardless.
Matt: Some of them might be surprised at the commentary in songs such as ‘Mai 68’ or ‘In Memoriam’. Can you give us a bit of background to these?
Yes they might be, if it’s not too uncomfortable for them to change their minds…
‘Mai 68’ is one of the songs I wrote about the Spring of 1968 events in Paris. It was first released on Violence dans l’azur demo tape (1997), but the ‘68 theme was already very present on the previous demos, especially L’Esprit français (1995), which was partly dedicated to this movement.
We also used 1968 aesthetics for the Impossible n’est pas français anthology released last year on a Spanish friends’ label, Common People records. I have always been very interested in this student protest, which turned into a nationwide strike. It was something very romantic, like a moment of youth in a dusty decade.
‘In Memoriam’ was first released on the De colère et de haine demo tape (1998), then re-recorded in the same year for our debut album Temps de crise (1998). It denounces war, capitalism, capital punishment, and above all authoritarian and totalitarian regimes – whether communist or fascist – and all kind of oppression.
I never changed my mind about any of this, and if there’s one Paris Violence lyric that could be considered a summary of my political beliefs, it’s this one. You can regard it as the matrix for everything I’ve written about those subjects since, and a reflection of everything I had written before fused into one song.
By the way, over the next months we are planning to re-record this song for the 20th anniversary of Humeurs Noires and Temps de Crise.
Girth: How is the perception of the whole Brexit thing from a French perspective?
It’s very difficult to judge a country’s political situation from the outside. Moreover, the European Union question is very complex – and I guess very different in every country.
Girth: Moving on, what do you think the future holds for skinhead and Oi music?
Only the best, I hope! For a long time, the media presented the skinhead movement as violent and extremist. But I guess that mentality is starting to change now. In France for example, there has been some very good sociological scholarly work about the movement – for example by Gildas Lescop, a sociologist working on the skinhead movement and hailing from that movement himself.
What’s more, at last the media is starting to differentiate between real skinheads and boneheads and other bullshit that damaged our scene and contributed to its distorted image.
Girth: Paris Violence – are you back, as in gigging or new music?
We have no gigs planned, but new releases are coming up. We’ve just released a maxi 12’ EP with four tracks about WW1, Pour le repos de nos âmes, as a co-production with Shout Proud records. It’s probably already sold out.
The two upcoming releases I told you about, Amante glaciaire and Absinthe et suites, will come as a four-track 12-inch EP and two-track 7-inch EP respectively. They should both come out very soon, I already got the test pressings. The former is a concept record about absinthe and musically in line with our latest LP, Promesses d’immortalité. The latter has a more brutal ‘roots’ sound and is also concept record. It revolves around ice, snow, and a frozen Paris.
We’re always looking for new collaborators, labels, illustrators, and so on because there are always tons of projects in progress.
Girth: Any final words of wisdom?
Thank you sincerely for this interview, it was a pleasure. Best wishes for the new year to you and all those who are reading this. Long live Oi! Love music, fuck politics, and hate racism.
Find our band website and online shop at http://parisviolence.com, where you can subscribe there to our newsletter.
A ces générations baisées au nom des flux économiques
envoyées crever par milliers dans la boue de tranchées merdiques
A tous ces vaillants jeunes gens qui pour une poignée de vieux cons
sont allés clamser à vingt ans à Verdun ou à Douaumont
A ces existences bousillées, à toutes ces familles détruites
pour sauvegarder les intérêts de la machine capitaliste
(To those lost generations fucked up in the name of economic gain / Led to die in their thousands in the mud of miserable trenches / To all those brave young men / Who because of a handful of old farts / Died aged 20 at Verdun or Douaumont / To all those lost lives, to all those families that were destroyed / To preserve the interests of the capitalist machine)
A la mémoire aussi de ceux qui tombèrent au petit matin
Sous les mécanismes ingénieux du charmant docteur Guillotin
jeunes et fougueux idéalistes à l’exécution capitale
car leurs soupirs trop nihilistes faisaient trembler l’ordre moral
Victimes de la bourgeoisie et de la bonne conscience française
celle qui a acclamé Vichy et en 45 tourné sa veste
(In memory of those who died in the early morning / By the clever mechanisms / Of Dr Guillotin’s pretty machine / Young and brave idealists / Condemned to capital punishment / Because their overly nihilist sighs / Made the moral order tremble / Victims of the bourgeoisie / And the French good conscience / Which applauded the Vichy regime / Then turned its coat in 1945)
Aux victimes des dictatures et à celles des démocraties
Tout gouvernant est une ordure tout gouvernement est pourri
à la mémoire de tous nos potes et à celle des inconnus
qui ne reconnurent aucun despote et qu’on a sommairement abattu
à la mémoire de tous ceux qui n’ont plus que nous pour le dire
car étant du même camp qu’eux un jour aussi on devra les suivre
(To the victims of dictatorships and those of democracies / All rulers are bastards, all governments are bullshit / In memory of all our friends and of all the unknown / Who refused to recognise any despot / And for this were summarily shot / In memory of all those who don’t have more means to say it than we do / Because we are on the same side / And we will suffer the same fate)
A ceux qui sont tombés sous les balles de la Gestapo ou de la Tcheka
en Ukraine ou à Stalingrad, au Vel d’Hiv ou à Treblinka
A ceux qui se sont effondrés sous les projos des miradors
la gueule dans les barbelés, une rafale pour passeport
Aucune page de l’histoire qui ne dégouline de sang
Dès qu’un homme atteint le pouvoir, il ne peut virer que tyran
(To all those who died from the bullets of the Gestapo or Cheka / In Ukraine, in Stalingrad, at the Vel d’Hiv or in Treblinka / To all those who fell under the spotlight of the watchtower / Behind barbed wire / Their last passport a burst of machine gun fire / Every page of history / Is soaked in blood / The moment people gain power / They always become tyrants)
Toujours soit bourreau soit faux cul, la pente humaine est carnassière
et toujours l’individu est victime de l’humanité entière
S’il a pas une balle dans le bide et les deux panards dans la tombe
l’homme est un salopard putride, l’homme est un salopard immonde
Tous les paysages se ressemblent, villes merdiques, banlieues pourries
Et les hommes aussi tous ensemble sont égaux dans l’ignominie
(Alternately torturer and hypocrite/ Humanity is a predator / And the individual is always / A victim of humanity as a whole / Without a bullet in the stomach and both feet in the grave / Men are filthy bastards, men are disgusting bastards / All landscapes look the same, gloomy towns, run-down satellite suburbs / And all men are equal in their infamy too)