We love you Europe!
The free annual Belgian festival Trouwfest offers at least one artist that will perform for the first time ever in Belgium in every edition. This year, this is the case (among others) for the French/Brittish act Riotmiloo, who released the great album La Pierre Soudée on Ant-Zen a few years ago.
It's a very strong album, not only musically, but also conceptually. Emilie is a lady who has a lot to say, something this interview also taught us!
DE: You released your album on Ant-Zen. Recently, Ant-Zen decided to stop releasing physical albums and to concentrate on the digital market. A sign of the times? As a music lover, for me it’s quite hard to pay for a digital album, because just like books, I like to have a copy in my hands. What’s your opinion on this, as a musician?
Emilie (E): When I found out, it really came as a blow. Music is extremely important to me. I listen to music on different formats (including digital) but I buy my most cherished music on physical releases. Ant-Zen fought long and hard. It brought quality in terms of musical choices and strong identity with Stefan Alt’s amazing designs. It went beyond music and design; it was pure Art. But times change and if cds don’t sell anymore, maybe it’s time to try something else? One may argue that vinyls and tapes seem to be trendy again. But how long will it last? I wish Ant-Zen the best for the future. I am forever grateful for everything they did for me.
I guess artists may have to diversify what they have on offer in the future. I started selling t-shirts last year (design by Stefan). People seemed interested by that new addition to the merch. However, I still don’t know how I would feel not to have physical objects to sell at gigs. I guess it is part of all the questions I have to reflect on when my next album is ready…
DE: You started your musical career in the riot grrrl’s punk scene. Can you tell us a bit more about that (which band, period, etc...)
E: I discovered riot grrrl’s music in the middle of the 90’s. Instantly, I identified strongly with that movement: the anger, the messages, the possibility of having little experience but still having a space for creativity and of course the DIY attitude. Kill Rock Stars was a fantastic label. My old time favourites are still Bikini Kill, the Japanese Emily’s Sassy Lime and their album “Desperate, scared but Social.” I still have a lot of affection for Babes in Toyland, Seven Year Bitch and of course L7. I saw Babes in Toyland when they reformed, singing all their songs from the top of my lungs (because I have all of their discography).
When I was still living in France, in the late 90’s, I was invited to perform as a guest vocalist for a friend’s band. It was meant to be a one off. But when I set my foot on the stage, I transformed into Riotmiloo for the first time. I started shyly with my hands in my pockets and ended up confronting the crowd and rolling on the floor. Many people in the audience saw something in me that they liked and encouraged me to carry on.
In 2003, my friend Slideling and I decided to create a female garage punk band in the spirit of Red Aunts and early Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We enrolled the best drummer in town and Venom Seeds was born. Originally, we wanted a female drummer but when Sam auditioned, he blew us away. We got signed and released a beautiful and limited edition 7” in black, red and white on a grunge label in Seattle. Even before, when we self released our DIY interactive demo with wicked stencil artwork, it was well received in England and abroad. This project went far beyond what I was expecting. Sadly the band split up in 2008. If you want to dig more into that bit of my past, here is where to find the info.
DE: What did you decide to change from guitars to electronic music?
E: My love for music is vast. Besides Riot Grrrls, I also like punk hardcore especially bands like Minor Threat and pioneers like Blag Flag and Bad Brains. Simultaneously, I happen to also like trip hop and electronic music. In the early 2000’s, I discovered Atari Teenage Riot and D-Trash records. There was Nic Endo’s sonic assault and Hanin Elias’ amazing live performances. Once again I identified to that sort of music. I thought to myself: should I experiment with this? It was pushing the violence and anger a little bit further.
Shortly after moving to London in 2002, prior to Venom Seeds, I was part of a DIY electronic project called “3 Ant Riot.” We had a tweaked bass, samples, drums and me on vocals. This project enabled me to experiment more vocally with electronic music. In the end, things didn’t work out because some band members wanted more melodies and I wanted more mayhem. ;)
I started getting deeper into electronics when working with the artist and producer Eva|3. At the beginning, we were meant to collaborate only for one track. Then we performed together for a one off gig at Slimelight in 2005 in London to support Pneumatic Detach.
It went so well that he asked me to join him for more gigs and two years we unexpectedly landed at the legendary Maschinenfest to promote Eva|3’s album on Fich-art! (Asche’s label)
DE: You can hear the influence of your riot grrrl period in your current music. Speaking of electronic music: what are the musical influences on Riotmiloo?
E: If we talk solely about electronic music, I am influenced by Haus Arafna and their side project November Növelet. I do like the integration of both harshness and melody. I love Deutsch Nepal too. He excels at converting emotions into music. Test Department, Coil and Throbbing Gristle inspire me a lot too. I am a huge fan of Beta Evers whose cold vocals and music give me goose bumps.
At the minute, I am really into Michael Idehall, Hide and Gazelle Twin. And I have a recently discovered soft spot for Lingua Ignota. I am going to share a stage with her on the 9th of April in London. I can’t wait!
DE: Your gig at Trouwfest will be the first one in Belgium. La Pierre Soudée showed us Dirk Ivens is one your friends, are there any other Belgian musicians/bands you really like?
E: Yes, it will be my first time ever in Belgium. Thanks a lot for the invite. I am really looking forward to it. Belgium is lucky to have so many great electronic artists. Dirk Ivens is definitely a legend and a very kind person. He is very funny too. The other names that spring to my mind straight away are Imminent, Ah Cama-Sotz, Monolith and Solar Skeletons. There is also Empusae. His album, “Lueur”, really spoke to me to the point where it gave me goose bumps. I highly recommend it. Nicolas has a gentle soul and is a talented musician. I also admire C-drík’s musical knowledge and efforts to promote electronic music from all around the world. He is a good laugh too.
DE: La Pierre Soudée sounds very intense, I can imagine live it even goes deeper. How would you describe a Riotmiloo concert, what can we expect at Trouwfest?
E: It took us six years to make “La Pierre Soudée”. Each track is inspired by a real life story, documenting women’s suffering in the world. Each song was composed with a different artist. You can enjoy listening to the songs or if you choose to dig a little bit deeper, get to know each story, find out about the horrors inflicted by wars, by lack of compassion, by political and social harsh contexts. And then you can decide for yourself. Beyond music and words, where do you stand in our society?
My performances have often been described as intense, powerful, energetic and moving. The music creates an emotional journey ranging from dark ambient soundscapes to powerful rhythm and noise, supporting my vocal delivery that is in turn melancholic or intense. Visuals add another layer to reinforce my message courtesy of the brilliant haunting double exposure photographic work of Jessica Hosman. Expect a cathartic and hypnotic experience!
DE: Power electronics and noise in general are mostly a male-dominated genre. But nowadays there’s a fresh feminine air with acts like you, but also Pharmakon, Puce Mary, Sewer Goddess, She Spreads Sorrow... As a woman, do you think the audience/press treats you different and in which way?
E: I think Arts and Music in general are male-dominated (and not just in the making of it). Statistically, the audience is more male than female too. Is it because of bad experiences for women at gigs? Is it because the music is too harsh? On the other hand, many people, from promoters to the audience, seem to be open to something else. I have always been lucky in the sense that what I want to express and say resonates with others. Am I just lucky? Maybe, maybe not, who knows? I have the strong belief that there is space for women in the Arts. I welcome female and trans artists. In my humble opinion, diversity is somehow more interesting.
To be honest, I don’t feel the press has treated me any differently. Photographers are respectful too. People are in general very supportive. The worst that happened to me was being touched inappropriately during a performance in Paris and I lashed out at who I thought was the culprit. It turned out it was a gay friend of mine who confessed many years later. But I have female friends who have completely different experiences…
DE: La Pierre Soudée refers to Masculine Domination by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. In this work he describes how language symbolically defines and perpetuate violence against women. In lots of countries, women are still oppressed by men, often by giving it a religious twist. It’s quite a challenge to stop this madness. Do you think this will ever change?
E: First of all, I’d like to widen the debate. Violence happens everywhere. I wouldn’t want to confine it to far away countries. You have open direct violence, which is spoken about a lot in the media, and you have slow, pernicious and hidden day to day violence. Female Genital Mutilation happens in Europe, in the UK, it is not just confined to Africa. I read yesterday about breast ironing supposedly in place to help prevent sexual harassment and rape. What kind of shit is that? The best prevention is to teach about consent!
What pisses me off is that governments, people in charge of writing laws, are mostly white wealthy men who will decide women’s’ rights. Let’s take for instance the topic of abortion. It is still illegal in Northern Ireland. And people in power like Trump make me feel like we are going backwards to darker times when people accept the very idea that it can be ok to “grab them by the pussy…”
And then there is hidden day-to-day violence like when a woman is shut down, interrupted more than men or even totally ignored. And have you heard about “the mental load”? To summarize, it is when one expects their partner to ask for help to do things, viewing this person as the manager of their household chores. Here is an interesting article if you want to find out more about “the mental load”.
I believe change is possible but we have to implement it ourselves at our own level. And I am grateful that many people agree with me.
DE: On a scale of 1 to 10, how much would you describe yourself as a feminist, and what does this term mean to you, because for some people it has a negative undertone?
E: My definition of feminism is equality and same treatment for everyone. Who can be against that? Following this definition, everyone can be a feminist. It isn’t hard. I would give myself 10/10 of course. And if you take into account non-binary people, this means that they should also be treated with respect. The TERF movement (Trans Exclusionary Rad Feminism) is against that very idea and deserves not to be associated with what I call feminism. Their message is full of hate and discrimination. Mine isn’t.
DE: As I told you before, your work reminds me of the great Meira Asher. Have you already contacted her?
E: Meira Asher is very talented indeed. I know about her work but do not know her personally. I love it when music and song writing incorporate poetry as well as a message. When words and music complement each other to highlight social and political topics, then it takes Art to another level…
DE: Alongside your musical performance, both electronics as vocals, another eye catcher are your quite controversial lyrics. Another thing you have in common with Meira Asher, with subjects such as child marriages, war, landmines, AIDS,... Do you already have stories in mind to tell on a future album, and are you working on it?
E: I spend a lot of time reading articles and taking notes. The theme of “La Pierre Soudée” was abuse of women through story telling. I am currently working on another album. “Blackout” is more a study on mental illness and how it translates into feelings. I want to strip it out of all romanticism and explore a raw territory. Once again, I had to collate information from real life stories, watch documentaries, absorb various experiences and states of mind to be able to translate it into words and music. This time, it is just Eva|3 and me (and synths and patches.) I have recently uploaded a new track called “Folie à deux” which illustrates a story of shared madness where a couple tortured and murdered their nanny. She was "starved, tortured and broken until she could no longer fight. They took away her dignity and finally her life." May her gentle soul rest in peace. Here is the link if you want to listen to it: http://www.riotmiloo.co.uk/media.html
DE: As a French woman living in England, how do you feel about Brexit?
E: Well, I am a product of Europe. I was born in France and I decided to live in London. And I play gigs all over Europe. Until now, it was easy and convenient.
Most people in London are against Brexit. I love London because it has a great mix of different people and we all learn from each other. Even our mayor Sadiq Khan trolled Brexit with an ode to Europe using fireworks display for New Year’s eve. That was so brilliant!
More personally, I feel Brexit is a con; it is a broken plaster failing to contain the pus in England. Who in their right mind would think it is a good idea to go solo in the big wide world?
I blame politicians for this mess. They haven’t lifted people out of poverty. They actually created more of it. Our previous prime minister, David Cameron, used the referendum for his own political gain. Then he lost and resigned, passing on the hot potato to somebody else.
Our current prime minister is doing the same. Theresa May is using Brexit to sell her anti immigration and rotten ideas. She is anti immigration and anti poor.
I think many people were tricked into voting for it. But Brexit is not going to benefit them. In my opinion, there will be more and more suffering and more stories like in the movie “We are all Daniel Blake” by Ken Loach after Brexit.
By contrast, wealthy people will be fine. They have connections and ways to buy passports. Some of the richest businessmen are already leaving England and relocating somewhere where there is less tax, often in Europe.
I feel artists will suffer too. Who will want to come to the UK if they don’t feel welcome? I won’t blame it if people stick their fingers at England. I kind of sadly expect it. It will become harder for British artists who are already struggling to cover expenses to play abroad.
But rightly so, a good friend of mine told me that politicians never really help artists anyways. So I guess it will be up to us to unite and find ways to make it work. We love you Europe! ;)
DE: Last but not least, this burning question: why do you want a fly as a pet?
E: I found those words grabbing. So when they popped into my head, I decided to make something with them. The life story behind the song "A Fly as a Pet" actually comes from a book called “The good women of China.” It talks about a girl being abused and breaking her own bones to end up in a hospital and escape her life as well as her oppressor. There, she experiences the soft feeling of the wings of a fly on her skin for the first time. She decides to adopt it as her pet. In the end, she becomes really ill, crushes the fly by accident and mad with herself, spreads the dead fly on her wound and dies from sepsis. It is a tragic story really…