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Analog Alleyway #4: The Unforeseen Legacy of Bernard Fevre

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Sometime between the 1960s and 1990s the so-called “death of vinyl” was supposed to have occurred. With the 8-track, Compact-Cassette, and the CD all being introduced as cheaper and more accessible alternatives to the large and expensive vinyl record, sales were suspected to halt; factories to shut down. But, here we are post-2000s and vinyl sales are still strong (relatively speaking). In fact, new plants specializing in vinyl production are opening and sales are up 900%. Record Store Day, an annual event used to promote the production and sale of vinyl, is stronger than ever. And, now with the introduction of numerous labels focusing on vinyl soundtrack releases (both reissuing classics and releases modern scores), vinyl soundtrack records seem to be as popular as ever. As horror fans, genre fans, film fans we have an affinity for nostalgia, for the “good old days” of analog, and that is what this column is about. This column is a dedication to those days; it’s a celebration of the vinyl soundtrack (both old and new) and the companies that keep putting them out; and, if for nothing else, this column exists because artwork just looks better bigger.

Ok, sometimes in life you have to cheat a little. When this column was envisioned, the idea was to cover only soundtracks available on vinyl. But what are rules, if not meant to be broken. So here it is, a post that will not cover a soundtrack, but instead the release of three unique, rare albums that by all means should appeal to soundtrack fans out there. The records in question are all born of one man, a man who has remained virtually infamous in electronic circles but otherwise unknown since their release, that man is Bernard Fevre.

10462339_893590714031258_6104777455081932757_nThe story of Fevre is so strange it is hard to believe it is true. This is the stuff of films or books, but not of reality…right? The story goes that, Fevre wrote and recorded the albums within the span of three years and then essentially dropped out of music, not realizing until the aughts that his work was considered extremely influential in the proceeding generations of electronic music (sampled by The Chemical Brothers among others). How is that he could be so unaware of the ‘success’ of his work? One thing, he doesn’t really speak English all that well. In an interview he conducted with Dazed they’ve made note of this, “Not speaking English helps him to not know about [his success], he adds with a chuckle. In many ways, it’s hard to believe; likewise, it’s hard to reconcile this softly spoken Frenchman with such a legendary piece of plastic.” It is an exceptional story, something that simply would be unfathomable in our new world. We are always connected, plugged in to the information feeding, producing system that is the internet. We live in an age of overnight success, not slow, progressive triumph.

While it took nearly three decades for him to realize it, Fevre’s sound has been influential in shaping the landscape of electronic music since its release. One can hear remnants of Suspense, Cosmos 2043, and certainly Black Devil Disco Club in Italian genre cinema composition, as well as what would become of Italo Disco. Further, there is something in the branding, style, and presentation of each record that gives it a pseudo-cinematic feel. In a way, with each record comes a different fragment of Bernard’s psyche. 

There is a noticeable growth from record to record, which does make Suspense feel noticeably more minimalistic. He recorded the record alone, a feat that cost him two months of his life. That time, however, was well spent. “I chose to do everything myself, because I didn’t trust the other producers and musicians; I thought they were way behind the times. Besides, I’ve always found that other people around me paid little attention to music, and seemed old, unfashionable,” Fevre states of his process. While he claims that he never saw himself as a revolutionary person, it is really hard to argue. Granted, today his work may not come off as anything out of the ordinary, we have to keep in mind that he wrote these three records between 1975-78, making him an early pioneer in both synthesizer-driven electronic music and disco. Much of the music on Suspense is dark, slow, and brooding but there are many times that Fevre’s sound breaks into something a bit more melodic and upbeat. Still the word ‘suspense’ is always front and center, listening to induces a palpable sense of tension.

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While you may not have guessed it, Fevre produced his second release Cosmos 2043 directly following Suspense. Despite the short time between the production, there seems to be a massive improvement in technique for Fevre. Perhaps this can be chalked up to the length of production. He did spend four month recording Cosmos, doubling the time he spent with the first release. I would, however, suggest that — while certainly more complex —, Cosmos sound should not be attributed solely to a change in proficiency and/or production time but towards an intentionality in style. Everything about Suspense screams of minimalism. The stark black cover with just the title strewn across, is essentially a visual clue of what’s to come. Applying the same logic, for Cosmos we are met not with a bleak cover but the primitive, scribbled depiction of an intergalactic future. And, that is exactly the sound we are met with. To push the earlier metaphor, its like a soundtrack to an un-filmed science-fiction epic. While Black Disco Devil Club has become Fevre most renowned work, it could be argued that Cosmos 2043 is his finest achievement.

I think that the reason that people have flocked towards Black Devil Disco Club is because of its scope. While admittedly still small by conventional standards, it is nonetheless the biggest production of Fevre’s career. For this record, Fevre enlisted not only the help of a drummer but also a producer (Jacky Giordano). From the record’s opening track, “H Friend,” it sounds almost like a completely different artist. Yet, there is still something notably “Fevre” to it. The drum-beat gives it the dance-feel that would define both American Disco as well as Italo Disco. It is maybe a bit more conventional than either Suspense or Cosmos but it is still radically different than nearly any record released in 1978. Fevre notes this tension between classicality and rebellion, “my pleasure has always been both to follow some musical conventions while rejecting traditional musical theories.” Black Devil Disco Club also sees the introduction of vocals, but not in the traditional sense. With lyrics sung in English, nearly all the vocals are heavily masked by a strong effect that gives it a metallic, cybertronic feeling — almost like an auto-tuned robot. It is infectiously catchy though, residing somewhere between haunting and comforting.

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While we were already big fans of the label, this deluxe 3-LP boxset seems to mark an even higher level of quality for the Berlin based label Private Records. Remastered by Fevre himself, to avoid modern filtering that he believed would “take away the charm of [his] old work,” each record comes individually, fantastically packaged. The three records were then wrapped in a fittingly gold foil wrap and tapped shut with a Black Devil Disco Club sticker. Private has and seems to continue to champion music that has been overlooked by time. With the release of Exterminators of the Year 3000, the label became the first ever to give severely underappreciated score by Detto Mariano a chance on vinyl. Now they become among an elite few who have presented and championed for the world the charming, idiosyncratic, and simply unforgettable music of one most tragically forgotten souls in musical history. However, maybe its not too late, maybe Private — among others — have helped to give Favre a second chance. After all with the promise of new music on the way and following his first ever performances, Fevre certainly sees it that way. Choosing an optimistic stance, he concludes his production notes on a high note: “Today I feel I am really Black Devil instead of Bernard Fevre because Fevre was born in 1946 and Black Devil in 1978. So if I am Black Devil I am 37 years young!”

 

 

About Joe Yanick

Joe Yanick is a writer, videographer, and film/music critic based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Managing Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Noisey.vice.com, and Stagebuddy.com. In addition, he has worked with the Cleveland International Film Festival as a Feature reviewer. He is currently a Cinema Studies MA Candidate at New York University.

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