From Psych Funk 101: Eskaton

From <i>Psych Funk 101</i>: Eskaton

History, Interview & MP3

  • August 17, 2009

Egon spoke to Eskaton’s representative, Alain Lebonn – who rescued the band’s master tapes and restored them for his label Soleil Zeuhl almost a decade ago – about the band’s musical trajectory.

Song: Eskaton “Dagon” (MP3)
Album: Psych Funk 101

Inspired by drummer Christian Vander’s Magma and his surreal philosophies, The Eskaton Kommandestra formed in Paris in 1970. They decided against using Vander’s Kobaian language, and sung instead in their native French. After a personnel augmentation in 1974, the group dropped their surname to become Eskaton.

Five years, and many live performances later, they released a 7” EP entitled “Musique Post Atomique” – an homage to Vander’s apocalyptic musings – and they self-released it on a label of the same name. In 1980, the band recorded and released their first album, Ardeur. That they paid attention to Magma’s early 70s fire is clear: this set is not an insipid, disco-inspired Yacht-Rocking snooze fest. Vocalists Paule Kleynnaert and Amara Tahir might as well be singing in Vulcan, their French-phrasing is so unique. Bassist Andre Bernardi and drummer Gerard Konig’s steady syncopation set the stage for Marc Rozenberg’s inventive runs on various synthesizers. This album would fit well in between Can’s Soon Over Babaluma and Cortex’s Troupeau Bleu – an odd, yet perfect pairing.

The band would record another album, 1983’s funky Fiction, before personnel departures lead to a split. But their three vinyl releases (and their cassette-only 4 Visions) stand out amidst the early 80s rock wasteland as bastions of psychedelic funk. Thus, it’s fitting to close out the compilation Psych Funk 101 with “Dagon,” one of the last recorded examples of psychedelic funk’s golden age.

Why did Eskaton wait so long to record and release their first album?
They were not professional & had to rehearse a lot at their beginnings, while still working for a living. Also, they spent a lot of time & energy touring. Playing live was very important for them as they wanted to deliver a political message (that was the "no nukes" period in the 70s) & live events were more important for them than issuing records. After the shows they talked a lot with the audience. Of course, at one point it became necessary to record.

Why, in the era of bland, simplistic and, uh, “unfunky!” music did Eskaton release such rhythmic, intense music? Was it a reaction to the music of the times? Or was this the way the band always was?
Their funky side was unconscious. I pointed this out to them when I first heard their track "Le Musicien" (which became a bonus track on the CD reissue of "Fiction" and was never issued on vinyl). They were somewhat surprised but admitted that at the time they were listening not only prog rock but also a bit of black music.

What are the women singing on “Dagon?”
No language, no words – just scat vocals.

Which bands influenced them?
They were very involved into their own music & did not listen to many bands. Their true admiration was for Magma (obviously) & also (on the same level) for Gentle Giant. To a lesser extent they also mention Yes and, as I said before, a bit of black music. But they did not have much time for digging out the music of their contemporaries between creating their own music, rehearsing, touring & working for a (minimum!) living. Especially since they were alone (no label, no producer, no tour manager) - completely DIY!!

How was this music received in early 80s Paris? Was there a scene for this type of music or was this, for lack of a better term, “underground?”
It was very underground. The national musical press never wrote on them, only a few progressive / avant-garde fanzines did. It was a time when there were many less concerts than nowdays, so the audience came mostly for proximity / curiosity reasons.

How many copies of Ardeur did the band press and sell?
I'm not sure but I think it was 1.000, in fact they don't remember exactly themselves. By all means it was not more than 2.000.

Do you feel that Eskaton was a psychedelic ensemble? Or is this a term that we can only apply to the band in retrospect?
“Psychedelic,” like all pigeon-hole names, is subjective. At the time they would certainly have 100% denied the connection; nowdays maybe they would admit this assertion but still with strong restrictions - notably in attitude because of their high political involvement. Psychedelia is too much fun-oriented. Eskaton never made fun music for escaping the reality; in opposition their music was a warning for reality.

Are you surprised by a resurgence in interest in the band’s music so twenty years since it was recorded and released?

No, because all strong & emotional musics are timeless ; in spite of numerous passing fashions,. This is a reward for such bands, unfortunately - in retrospect when it's too late for going on.