Interview: Johann Bourquenez of Plaistow

©Janice Siegrist

©Janice Siegrist

Johann Bourquenez is hardcore

As Johann walked into the hotel for our first meeting, I got Plaistow‘s music. Dressed in black, head shaved, lean – he is stripped back. There’s an aroma of smoke and an intensity quivering a hair’s breadth beneath the surface, a rapid rhythm. The albums, Citadelle and Lacrimosa, with their trance-inducing repetition, microscopic detail and Johann’s rounds of claustrophobic piano notes, feel driven by a desire for the raw and pure. It didn’t surprise me when he said in preparing for the next album (due out in April 2015) he woke at 6am, worked 8 hours at the piano, then took a bike ride in the evening…every day for a month. It could be said Johann Bourquenez is hardcore.

‘…maybe it’s better not to go too far with this’

French-born and studying jazz in Toulouse, he met drummer Cyril Bondi doing a gig in Geneva. Their connection is the cornerstone of Plaistow, you can hear it on the albums. Johann moved to a squat in Geneva (‘a big house full of crazy people’) and he played regularly with Cyril, but not seriously (‘I was partying a lot.’). Eventually they felt there was something worthwhile, ‘I said to Cyril, OK but I’m a very crazy guy so if I do a band…I will do it very seriously, very deeply, and I will expect people around me to do the same, so maybe it’s better not to go too far with this, and he said, ‘No, no, no, no, you don’t know me, if I do a band it’s going to be a mother******.’ So we decided to do it.’ That was in 2007 when they recruited, Raphaël Ortis on bass, though more recently, Vincent Ruiz on double bass.

johann_bourquenez_feat_plaistow‘You have to be physically be in the present’

Their musical angle comes from Johann’s early years of immersing himself in drum ‘n’ bass and techno (he has currently got Rrose on rewind), using machines and synths, ‘I had many years of this kind of experimentation with electronics…and computer noise stuff.’ At one gig, pre-Plaistow, fed up of lugging equipment around, Johann decided to play acoustic piano – opening it up to use the strings to create a more powerful sound. ‘I can play this piano the way I played all those machines, but I found the significance of every move I make is very important , if I don’t move there is nothing, if I do a very small thing it is very meaningful…The movement – that is very important…you have to be physically be in the present. So, I said with Plaistow let’s pretend we are just a jazz trio but we actually are filled with techno and noise walls…let’s make that music but with acoustic instruments.’

‘I will take your brain, trust me…’
Plaistow au Centre Culturel Suisse (Paris) ©Simon Letellier

Plaistow au Centre Culturel Suisse (Paris) ©Simon Letellier

To take these ideas further the art and animations of Nicolas Berger will be integral to the new album. Johann understands that visuals [on a cinema-sized screen] can divert attention from the music so they need to be justified by making the performance an immersive experience. ‘It’s an old fantasy of mine, I would like to have a two hour concert the way you would do with a DJ set – I will take your brain, trust me, and then I give it back to you at the end.’ This best sums up Plaistow’s raison d’être, it reminds me of the theatre of Artaud or Stravinky’s Rite of Spring – primal yet with a care for the concept of ceremony, event, people.

In fact Johann’s next project is the Great Noise Choral which will debut in December. It will feature, ’20 to 30 people only using voice and making some noise’. I’m certain it will be something pretty hardcore.

Plaistow live @ London, Pizza Express, 20 November (London Jazz Festival)
Liepaja (Latvia), Hiks Hall, 27 nov
Cesis (Latvia), Vidzeme Concert Hall, 28 novembre
Daugavpils (Latvia), Mark Rothko Art Center, 29 novembre

The Great Noise Choral at AMR Jazz Club in Geneva, 19 & 20 December

 
“Lacrimosa” to be released on vinyl, November here!
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Comments

  1. Incredible review of Plaistow’s performance at the London Jazz Festival on The Blue Moment. The author, Richard Williams, is a highly respected music writer illuminating many genres with his knowledgeable and poetic writing.
    http://thebluemoment.com/2014/11/20/the-road-to-plaistow/

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