Despite the quality and originality of their unique analog-driven brand of synthpop, French trio Celluloide saw themselves driven into forming their own record label to release their debut album. This label, Boredom Product, also became a platform for the release of work by and promotion of other French synth and electropop acts like Foretaste, the 3 Cold Men and Dekad.
“Naïve Heart”, Celluloide’s debut album from 2002 was followed in 2003 by the release of “Naphtaline EP” (an free online release) and the critically acclaimed second full-length album, “Words Once Said”. 2006 saw Celluloide signed for distribution by German synthpop label Major Records and the release of “Bodypop”, an EP which shows a maturation and clear evolution in the style of the band’s sound with the incorporation of harder elements and hinting at the contents of “Passions And Excitement” (their upcoming full-length due to be released later this year) and may well be a genre -defining release.
C.B. – Starting from the beginnings of Celluloide. How did you three meet and how did the band come to be?
U-0176: We have been friends for quite some time. In fact, we met via common friends, in highschoool, not knowing that each of us made music. Only much later did we begin to work together.
C.B. – For some reason “celluloide” always makes me thing of the golden years of silent cinema (Valentino, Keaton, Garbo.). Is there some meaning behind the band’s name?
U-0176: Actually, it’s much simpler than that. We really like the way that the word “celluloide” sounds. What is more, it is also a plastic substance, and it sets the context: a sort of artificial music, obtained by synthesis.
C.B. – “Naphtaline”, your freely downloadable ‘virtual EP’ from 2003 is probably an indicator of the musical influences that helped shape your music. What other musicians influenced your musical development? Did you have any sort of formal music training?
U-0176: Obviously, 80’s electronic pop was our first influence, quite simply because that is the music we started to listen first. But we preferred to choose less expected material that we also loved. Also, like its name indicates, “Naphtaline” only picks up old tracks, and that was also the objective with this release: to choose classics so we could have a bit of fun.
Patryck Holdwem: Naphtaline gives a sample of our influences but they aren’t limited to groups and musicians from twenty-five years ago. However, for Celluloide, we stay in a certain ‘universe’ by choice. Personally, I don’t have any music training, I favour instinct and the moment instead of rules so as not to limit myself.
C.B. – Related to the previous questions, what have you been listening to as of late?
U-0176: My favourite CDs at the moment: Sturm Café, Die Perlen, We., Orange Sector, The Rorschach Garden, Militant Cheerleaders On The Move, Placebo, The Organ. I’m certainly forgetting some. I listen to a lot of CDs at the same time, it’s like a drug for me.
Patryck Holdwem: At the moment, I’m listening to French and international artists that are producing pop music, like Anggun and Maddona, but also to artists like Enya, Bjork…
C.B. – Do you draw inspiration from other artistic sources (literary, cinema.)? And what part does ‘real life’ play in shaping your music which, is quite melancholic, despite a certain bleepy cheeriness?
Patryck Holdwem: Books may inspire me but, more generally, I find inspiration in real life. I only have to open my eyes to find inspiration in people, feelings, in nature… Which explains a mixture of melancholy and cheerfulness, because the balance is there somewhere.
U-0176: Me, I don’t draw so much inspiration from other artistic sources, Celluloide’s music and lyrics are mainly emotional. It’s a matter of retranscribing and making one relive universal emotions like happiness, sadness, love, disappointment, etc. This may sound naïve but, in reality, we wish to express universal concepts that will touch the listener at the deepest level. Forcefully, the inspiration for this comes always from personal experiences. I think there isn’t any other way to express sincerity of emotion.
C.B. – Since we’re at it, something that bugs me about your music, since I listened to your song “Synchronize” and your cover of “Amoureux Solitaires”… Even though English makes your songs more accessible, why not make more songs in French?
Patryck Holdwem: Inspiration comes naturally in English, undoubtedly because we listen to more anglo-saxon songs than French ones. To write in French is, strangely, an exercise in style. It could also be shyness to put some distance between us and words. But we’re working on it…
U-0176: We’re actually thinking very seriously about this. But it is a step that we did not want to take for out next album, “Passion & Excitement”. Initially we had very precise ideas about the sound options that our music should take, so we concentrated on this objective. But, for lyrics in French, the will exists and it isn’t impossible that our next album is integrally in French.
C.B. – The first two Celluloide albums have a very clear synthpop orientation but that seems to be changing incorporating EBM elements and becoming edgier, as can be heard in your latest release, the “Bodypop” EP.
What brought this change and where are can be expected from the forthcoming Celluloide full-length album?
U-0176: As I said, from the beginning, we wished to incorporate harder elements into our music because it’s something we like as well. With the “Bodypop EP” we presented five new songs, five new facets of what we will include in our music. It’s a final adjustment before the album: none of the songs from “Bodypop EP” will be in the full-length “Passion & Excitements” and the EP must be considered as a transition experiment.
Patryck Holdwem: The new album will be a continuation of the EP, with this more EBM sound.
C.B. – Was this change in sound somehow related to Member U-0176’s work on his side-project, Thee Hyphen, which has a darker and more industrial feel? And speaking of side-projects, are you involved in other musical endeavours apart from Celluloide?
U-0176: Not at all. We always thought that we’d harden our music at some time or another. Simply put, we first wished to reach a certain quality of execution and production. We think we have reached this mastery with “Words Once Said” and nowadays we’re technically ready to evolve into something even more personal.
Patryck Holdwem: Outside of Celluloide, I work on my own music with the project Evidance ( http://myevidance.online.fr) which is more revealing about my influences, and which deals with subjects which are important to me, namely my involvement with environmental protection.
C.B. – Celluloide’s music seems to be made using essentially hardware analog synths. How do you feel about the use of “softsynths” which recently are beginning to approach the sound quality of many analog synths?
Patryck Holdwem: The granulate of analog synths is much deeper than that of virtual synths. But, at the same time, mixing both is interesting. We don’t force limits on ourselves in that field, depending on the sound one is searching for, it may happen that only a virtual synth may create it.
U-0176: We only use machines that have personality, whether analog or digital. I have nothing against the concept of virtual instruments; still, it must bring some improvement. I think that making an emulation of existing machines has arguable interest. One does not innovate by trying to imitate, even with the best imitation.
C.B. – Can you give us some insight into what the Celluloide live-act is like?
Patryck Holdwem: There’s two of us on machines (U-0176 and I) to play live sequencing and sing chorus while Darkleti takes front stage for the singing.
U-0176: It’s the same roles that we have in the studio. We also have a video based in the graphic ambiance of our albums which is projected synchronized with the music.
C.B. – Related to that, do you have any plans for touring or giving concerts abroad or are such things incompatible with your ‘real life’ activities? I’m assuming you’re not living of your music as Celluloide, correct me if mistaken.
Patryck Holdwem: Effectively, we have other professional activities outside the group, at least for now. But that doesn’t stop us at all from playing live and going abroad.
U-0176: We have just returned from Belgium where we gave a concert. It is true that it isn’t very simple for us. We have little time for music and, if given the choice, I prefer to concentrate on the creative part and consequently the studio. But, given the right set of conditions we will happily play live in concert.
C.B. – An interesting aspect of Celluloide’s ‘musical career’ is that, after a rather good response to your demos, you took the initiative of creating your own label. What prompted that (risky) step instead of aiming to be signed to a pre-existing record label (like A Different Drum, for example)?
U-0176: To be honest, we searched for a contract in the beginning and quickly felt that no-one was interested. Seeing our difficulties in finding a label at the beginning, I thought that we surely weren’t the only ones in such situation in France. Therefore, we decided to create a platform for electronic pop groups living in France which would finally allow them to express themselves.
Patryck Holdwem: Being in our own label gives us the possibility of total creative freedom, our own work pace and the possibility of collaborating with any other artists. Broadly speaking, we are in control of everything and that is important for us.
C.B. – Being signed to the German label Major Records will certainly guarantee Celluloide extra exposure. What impact will this deal have in the activity of Boredom Product and its objective of promoting French electro and synthpop musicians?
U-0176: It is very positive, Major Records takes care of us in Germany and that allows us to promote all the groups signed to Boredom in other countries, starting from France.
Patryck Holdwem: It’s just a matter of promotion and dissemination, an advantage that will also work in favour of French electro-pop in general because. By means of this signing, our own label will be better known and consequently bands signed to it will be gain more exposure.
C.B. – Speaking of French electronic music scenes. Apart from Boredom Product, what other French electronic music labels/collectives/artists would you recommend nowadays?
U-0176: Immediately I think of our friend Communication Zéro and his alias Komplex. There are also The Three Cold Men and Nouvelle Culture who were on the Boredom compilation “Synthétique” and each of whom have found a label nowadays. There is also a electro-dark and EBM scene with groups like Skoyz and K-Bereit. Lately I was advised to listen to Void Kampf as well.
Patryck Holdwem: Personally, I’d recommend a French DJ, originally from Marseille, who sping mainly between France and Germany: Mary Jane
C.B. – Like for many independent bands and labels, I believe the Internet has been an invaluable tool for your music, from a way to present the band to an online store and even press and promotions management.
Despite these benefits, did you notice any negative effects like loss of sales through file-sharing or would you say that most people that don’t buy the music wouldn’t buy it anyway?
U-0176: I don’t have a definite opinion on this subject. I think that people that download an album in MP3 are committing theft but it happens that I also do it. Obviously, I buy the album in CD format when I like what I have heard. Actually we all did that when we copied vinyls into cassette tapes. And then, the price of CDs doesn’t encourage purchases and that drives into piracy. That’s why we try to make that our CDs aren’t very expensive but, with all the intermediaries, that isn’t obvious.
Patryck Holdwem: I don’t think we are the kind of band that people like to download. Those that listen to our music are often people that are interested in a precise style of music and who take more traditional measures to acquire our music. On the other hand, unlike artist known worldwide, we would suffer a lot if we were massively downloaded. Undoubtedly, we wouldn’t have sufficient financial resources to continue producing our albums [begin playing funeral march…].
C.B. – MySpace which seems to be all the rage these days for music promotion and you also have a presence there. Did MySpace positively impact the promotion of your music (especially in finding/creating an international audience)?
U-0176: MySpace in particular, I’m not so sure but for the internet, it certainly did. We hesitated a long time in going into MySpace until we finally did it advised by Foretaste and Dekad.
C.B. – In closing, we’d like to thank you for your time. Do you have any final words or requests? ;-)
Patryck Holdwem: I’ve discovered Portugal last Summer: part of Algarve (from Faro to the Spanish border) as well as Lisbon and surrounding area. It was love at first sight with your country, the Portuguese people and your cuisine (send me some pasteis de nata…). I’d be thrilled to return there, for a live concert, perhaps…?
— interview by Miguel de Sousa (June-July 2006), photos © Lionel Simon.