Menace Ruine

Posted on September 10, 2011

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Being Observed

Credits to Amalgam / Letmo

“A very sad era”, Geneviève Beaulieu writes on our question whether the power of imagination is reducing, as some have argued. “Probably the imagination has lost power because there are less spaces favourable to its manifestation. And then people do everything too quickly, without thinking too much about their basic needs. Some confuse efficiency with agitation, and the need for external validation keeps everything on a surface level. Imagination needs a certain mental space, a zone of calm, to really manifest. Some people are too ‘busy’ to recognize it. I don’t think it’s coincidence that certain people need a severe depression or some other catastrophe to reanimate their creativity or to allow the unconscious processes to flow again…” A story about sincerity, artistic struggles and activism.

Beaulieu is one half of Menace Ruine, a band based in Montreal, Canada – a town “where they feel a little lonely”, because of the lack of like-minded musicians. Together with S. de La Moth she generates music that depending on whom you talk to, is situated in the metal, drone or the folk scene (hear the spirit of Nico), and when you hear it, you might think they’re an industrial, power electronic or noise band. The duo detests to be reduced to one genre or style or to one characteristic that should define them. “We don’t fit in anywhere.”

She grabs our attention with explaining that the core of the MR songs is always “an accidental creation. Nothing is premeditated. We never plan anything in advance, which is probably one of our problems, but maybe also our major strength. What comes is dictated by sounds, words, or even illustrations.” She talks about an organic system in which “the stable core is the basis of synths and amps and the roles they play. Mine as ‘guitar’ and S.’s as ‘bass’. Plus the saturation and distortion, my vocals and the melodic aspects of the songs. That is constant. It’s our identity. And, when necessary, we bring in rhythms, more sonic textures and S. on vocals.”

Witnesses

“Playing shows is not the most natural thing for us, in the sense that we have a few misgivings about playing live” Geneviève writes when we ask if Menace Ruine is an introverted band. “For a long time, I didn’t see the point of doing shows because it seemed like nonsense for me being the centre of attention for 30 or 45 minutes. It seemed so surreal. Why do I deserve all this attention, and isn’t it a little pretentious, or even dangerous, to expose yourself like this?”

She is calmer about it now. She realised that some people want to see them live, just like she is happy to see musicians she likes. And she thinks that their music has “a ‘third dimension’, which means that music measures time and fills a certain space. The third dimension is a physicality, or physical energy. This isn’t something that happens automatically in performance. Often the music doesn’t manage to transcend space and time, and the show brings no more to the audience than a recording would. So this third dimension is a further energetic charge, an intensity that goes further than just volume. It gains intensity in a live situation, and it is for this that we continue to perform. From the beginning we did not want to be only a recording project, and we’ve composed the songs in order to perform them. People who come to our shows seem happy, and at the same time surprised, to discover that everything is played live, except for the beat box.”

At the same time she also likes playing music just for the sake of playing music. She doesn’t need witnesses to play. “What I love is the creative process. The creation of brand-new ideas out of nothing. S. and I are both introverted people and our quest is towards the interior. This is probably why it has taken us so many years to come to the point where we can live with what we do and let it go.”

This also has consequences for the live performances. Some musicians at times reveal another side of their personality onstage, but not us. “I see us more as people being observed. There’s not a big difference on and offstage, except for what the power of the music brings us at that moment.”

Not the f***ing industry

One of the topics that has a central place in the lyrics of Menace Ruine, are the aspects of non-being. What if we connect the idea of releasing and performing music to these ideas? Isn’t that a paradox? “Many aspects of the musical process are very concrete and require being! Not only because there are so many things to co-ordinate, but just by being on stage we’re overexposed. It’s a very physical experience.” That said Geneviève has a fantasy about “remaining in a comfortable in-between state where I could live without interaction or confrontation with the real world, and the least self-consciousness possible, and that my music would also come from this state, like an artefact from another world. A sort of escape via the inside.” This in opposition to what she calls “the typical ambitions of finding some sort of simulacrum of liberty outside of oneself, by economic means or possessions… this is not my way. I want to be as weightless as possible. This idea is everywhere in our recordings.” She also imagines “it would be great to reach the point where you don’t have to care about anything but the music, but music is to be shared, so you have to share it. By hoping to become more and more ‘spiritual’, or immaterial, by trying to eliminate the need for anybody to hear what I do, I think I was just being egocentric. Now we know that some people want to hear our music, even if it is just a few.”

“But why do I have to make it public? Is it because I need people from outside to validate my existence, or my musicianship?” she asks herself. “This would be a horrible revelation. I like the idea of making music because it’s what you love to do, to do it just for yourself and to be happy. It would be much easier not to feel pressure to put it out in public. When I am experiencing too much trouble because of the concrete aspects of making music, then I start to feel that I’m not evolved enough spiritually, because I still feel the need for an exterior audience (laughs) . I can’t really explain why you ‘have to’ … but it absolutely doesn’t mean you have to have an audience to be an ‘artist’, or that having an audience automatically makes you one. But think about all the music you love, and how sad the world would be if everyone was so ‘spiritually advanced’ that they didn’t feel the need to connect with the world anymore… We can think about this from many angles, even the idea that artists have some collective responsibility to share. The problem of legitimacy: being called an artist, or not, being one just because you act like one or because you really are. Is it really important to be an artist, or not? Who can say? Certainly not the ‘artist’ himself.”

“By making music sincerely, and not using it as a means to exist socially and be part of the game… in other words to produce useless shit. We work very hard on what we do and we only publish it when we feel we have something to share.” This gives tension with the economical process and structures that underlie today’s popular and (probably) unpopular music industry. Beaulieu also thinks that many  things in the music industry have become banalised. “Everyone is everywhere, on all the forums, everything circulates at an infernal speed, all the channels are saturated, everything is available instantaneously, everywhere (…) Because of this, ‘musicians’ have less and less time to put effort and care into their work, for fear of being passed by or not noticed. Where are the good old days of the underground when you could dig for real treasures? Everything seems to be a posture now, and any sense of mystery is contrived. Too many people want to put out the most records possible, on the most labels possible, networking and collaborating with the most people possible… it’s dizzying.”

Releasing music, performing etc, throws Menace Ruine “right into the music jungle”. Geneviève thinks it’s easy to be “distracted by all the stress and worry it can bring.” The band lacks the resources to put out the music and is dependent on the economic process “to the extent that we have to find labels to work with. And even if there are many labels, they are all overpopulated. Everybody wants a piece of the cake and the music market is saturated. Not to mention over-enthusiastic labels who promise more than they can deliver. It would be great to simply make music without having the distractions of production and promotion and all that is related.”

A Material Base

We wondered if the fact that MR started touring and maybe even releasing albums isn’t in contradiction with their idea to do the least damage as possible to this Earth, an idea they have displayed in several interviews. “Starting to tour is maybe a little exaggerated…” Geneviève explains. “This tour was my first trip to Europe, and I am 36, so I don’t think I’ve added too much to global air pollution. We are very conscious of all these things and we always take our environmental footprint into consideration. We will probably tour again, but never just for the sake of it, only when it is relevant to our global situation at the moment. The real question is about doing this in public, or not, because this is when your actions have the most consequences. We share our music with people who seem to like what we do, but if the day comes when no one is interested we’ll continue working in private. Our music needs a material base to be shared effectively. We could use only digital media, but then we would lose the physical aspect and presentation, or the sonic character of media like vinyl and tape. We try to do everything as consciously and with as much respect as possible, and so is it really contradictory to release an album every year and a half or so?”

When we shortly spoke de la Moth after MR’s concert in Brussels, april 11th 2011 (Magasin 4), we asked him if the basic structure of the band was folk. He shortly said, “No”. Geneviève replicates “that under the distortion there are definitely songs that are sung in a melodic way, and it’s all very minimalist… so yes, I can see your point.” At the same time she doesn’t agree and in any case they are “tired of being described as metal, or martial, or whatever, in the sense that these descriptions are very reductive. S. didn’t seem to be amused by our spontaneous reaction (that wasn’t necessarily was our best). We asked Geneviève later if they are afraid to be pigeonholed. “We can’t be pigeonholed because we’re not purely in any genre, and so people who need genres to approach music might not appreciate what we do because we don’t adhere to their expectations or rules… Some metal people (don’t like us) because we have no guitars and our music is too noisy, some PE/noise people because it is too melodic and not harsh enough, and it may be too harsh and not pure enough for folk fans… and as for the martial-industrial-neofolk-whatever, we do not share either their philosophy or aesthetics.”

This disgust for too strong descriptions and reductions again show a kind of detachment from the scenes that are connected to the genres. “We don’t really want to fit to some scene anyway, as all of them are overpopulated and there’s too much competitive attitude. Cleansing your ears and thoughts, and figuring things out by yourself is the only way to appreciate music for what it is: using your own personal references and think what you want.”

Trying to unify

S. and Geneviève have also been a pair in real life. As we are not your favourite glossy paper, we are not interested in the zippy details of that amorous adventure. She describes that the band’s evolution has a strong connection with the evolution in their personal life. “We separated after 13 years of living together, in an effort to remain friends, and preserve everything that we had built together, including the music. Separating so as to better work together, through the music, as if we had passed through a trial by fire.” Union of Irreconcilables is in a way connected to that part of their life, as it “uses a lot of alchemical imagery, both for the artwork and the lyrics. Each image represents a precise event in the songs themselves. It was a really difficult album for us – there was a lot of diverse material to try to unify. A little like our lives at the time! Explaining personal references is not the interesting part of the process [of writing lyrics]. In the same way, I don’t see the point of going into my private life in the first degree – how could that ever interest anyone? But if I can channel the emotions and energies that come from my experiences and give them a new form, hopefully it could bring something universal out of something ordinary.”

“Sigil is made up of work in progress that began just after our separation in 2008. We have abandoned this route (though Primal Waters Bed, Not Only a Break in the Clouds… and Collapse came out of these Sigil Sessions), as well as taking a break from making music together for a short period. When Jeroen (Luchtrat, that released the fast sold out Sigil 3”) suggested to put something out on his label, it made sense to us to draw from this material. The symbol on the cover represents, for us, how we found a way to move forward together. You could say that our name suits us very well! We see our lives globally. I am attracted to the idea that the work follows our interior qualities, and that we have to improve ourselves as individuals to attain quality in our work.”

She also reports that her partnership with S. has often been a struggle “especially because we don’t have any predetermined plans, and so for each album we need to find the right direction, the right way to bring the songs to life.” They are very different from each other, which makes it a challenge at the one hand but a winding path that leads them in unexpected directions at the other. “I would say that presently we’re more familiar with the possibilities this project offers and that our ideas gel together much better, but I can’t exactly say what the album we’re working on right now will be like when it’s finished.”

Apocalyptic Miniatures

In the promo-sheet for one of their releases we could read that MR’s form is always connected to its content. We asked if that is really the case. “Yes”, Geneviève writes. She already pointed out to this concerning Sigil and Union of Irreconcilables, but also in the other releases she sees that same pattern.“In Vulva Infernum for example was made under the sign of feminine forces, lunar powers. Dark Mother is a sort of prayer to Hecate, so it was natural that she appears on the cover. Cult of Ruins was inspired by an article I read in an old art history magazine. The main illustration was of cave dwellings in Cappadocia, which finally ended up on the cover of the CD. The article provoked much reflection about the degeneration of our species, and inspired a few variations on the theme of caves, the return to basics, the use of caves in rites of passage, and so on. The Die is Cast was completely different, much more personal… something is going very badly, from any perspective. I would call it a ‘renouncement’ album, turning towards a more ‘religious’ approach to life. Using, and modifying, some apocalyptic miniatures were appropriate, in the sense that the apocalypse is a new beginning. Also, the music was made in a kind of instinctive rush. Just the colour contrast between ‘Cult’ and ‘The Die’ is significant. It is really always connected, in the same way that the music is in step with our natures. It would be very dishonest to appropriate random images just because of some sort of ‘occult fascination’. The occult is fascinating, of course, but to really make something of it you have to understand what you’re doing, otherwise it’s just a sort of aesthetic plundering of images without any meaning. We do appropriate images, but we always modify and combine them to create something new that hopefully adds something to the music. And it’s very stimulating to work this way – the idea of play is absolutely essential to creativity, and often helps to avoid catastrophe!”

The smell of death every day

Menace Ruine has never hid their veganism. Geneviève thinks that bringing up the subject in the first place is the beginning of activism. They remind people that it is really an accessible option. “It seems to be very difficult to remember that, and so why not bring up the subject again and again and allow people to think about it by themselves afterwards, and hopefully change their old habits, acquired without questioning.” She has troubles with the activism in two aspects. In the first place “people quickly feel judged, they are not receptive, they think you’re lecturing them or that you think yourself superior.” “I must say they are right” she further sharpens the discussion “because yes, it is much wiser to be vegan, especially in a society as rich in resources and alternatives as ours. What they don’t realize is that veganism is about improving the world we live in, meaning their well-being too… it’s benevolent and not offensive.” But besides that there is the aspect of strategy with which she struggles as “you can’t change anybody by forcing him or acting superior, because it can produce the opposite effect. For example, all my neighbours in the building I live in have barbecues on their balconies, and it smells like death every day. I could shout at them that they’re wrong, that they’re socially irresponsible, not only the blood that is shed for their lame stomachs, but also all the ecological problems related to meat… but maybe their pride will drive them to eat even more meat. And if I tell them they’re wrong to use a car in a city with good public transportation they’ll maybe just rev up their engines just to spite me! And so I might just make the situation worse by pushing too hard. It’s tricky to find the right way to bring up the subject, but it’s essential to do it, even if it’s just by setting an example, normalising the idea so that people aren’t afraid to try it. Make it sound easy, because it is.”

A last question that comes to mind is if activism can take place in a concert hall. Many have said that activism and activist art should be displayed on the street. Geneviève thinks they can fit, as “in the sense of activism, music is more a means for politics or whatever cause you defend. Does that make it less artistic… I don’t know. Usually, you sing words, so why not try to say something important, instead of the usual banalities… In some genres of music, people are more receptive to political ideas, and in some genres activism is more intrinsic. But if you’ve got something to say, say it.”

Article by Peter, September 2011

Both S. and Geneviève work on a project of their own. Geneviève is in a project called Preterite together with James Hamilton from Nebris and Dystonia EK. Their first album Pillar of Windswill be out in November via Handmade Birds Records. S has been working with (?) on a project called SÈVÈRE that lies between “aggressive synthpop and rhythmic noise”, dixit S.
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