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Orgue Agnès: (from left) Clément Vercelletto, Ernest Bergez, Laurent Gérard

Gouda

Searching for a neverending groove Orgue Agnès brew up a funk of swamp rock and West African rhythm

Vibrations

Perched on top of Orgue Agnès’s Facebook page looms the word FUNK in huge capitals. “That’s more or less a joke,” confesses Clément Vercelleto (drum machine and percussion), “but it has roots in reality somehow. Because we do love funk and dub. I love the idea that we are some kind of funk band, perhaps like funk which has been fermented, or like cheese. If funk was milk, we would be the cheese.”

Orgue Agnès, pronounced like organ yes in English, are a French-Belgian trio that perform with glossolalia vocals and a degree of dirty chaos across infectious grooves. They pump acoustic instruments through chains of effects to defamiliarise them. The funk tag may be a gag, but the group are certainly working the danceable end of the experimental spectrum. Canadian singer and guitarist Eric Chenaux is their number one fan, and as he puts it: “This is electrified ping-pong music. This music pings and pongs. Orgue Agnès bounces in loose time and dances and reflects. It is reflective bouncing dance music.”

“We’ve known Eric for many years,” says Laurent Gerard (aka Èlg, on organ, guitarlele and what’s called alien babble). “He came to our shows very early on, and after each show he was always coming round and raving about it. Last July he performed in Paris and asked us to play with him on stage.” Listening to “L’inalpe” on Orgue Agnès’s debut A Une Gorge (trans: Has A Throat), I wonder whether the trio have pinched Chenaux’s trick of reamping sounds, sometimes via tiny speakers inside the musician’s mouth – but no.  “Ah, like a talkbox,” agrees Ernest Bergez (aka Sourdure, on violin). “I always thought about using a talkbox, but on that track I play violin and sing at the same time through a vocoder. So actually it’s the mouth vocoding the sound of the violin.”

Meanwhile Gerard puts his harmonica through a wah pedal – “Or a mix of overdrive, delay and harmoniser. Sometimes it’s so fucked up I can’t tell you what I did.”

In Bergez’s hands the violin becomes a multitasking chameleon of an instrument. Occasionally there are freestyle blasts of traditional inspiration from his homeland, the rural Auvergne of central France. But mostly he plucks the violin, holding it “like a guimbri (Moroccan acoustic bass)”, as Bergez expresses it, and making it sound like electric bass or guitar. The whole group is locked into their lurching grooves, often in triple time. Gerard begins, “During the recording, we decided to play as if we were all drums.” “I do a lot of triple time rhythms,” adds Vercelleto, “because I’ve learned traditional African music. Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Senegal, the whole of West Africa – all my playing comes from that.”

However, their magnificent “Lou Nina” is an old fashioned clattering stomp from the swamp. To some ears it might recall the faux Tex-Mex of Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs’ 1965 smash “Wooly Bully”. The final minute features the best one-note guitar solo I’ve heard for years – surprise! that’s Bergez’s violin yet again. “We’ve been playing together for four years,” says Gerard, “so a lot of things have cross-pollinated. That track worked in a mambo kind of way, but it was like mambo played by The Godz, you know?” (The Godz were Larry Kessler’s “radical incompetence” New York 1960s outfit on ESP-Disk’. “White Cat Heat” featured the whole group in a crescendo of cat impressions.)

“Much of our album was recorded live,” recalls

Bergez. “It’s one take with really few overdubs. It’s just the energy, and you can feel it’s on the edge. The tricky part is, once you have set a given track, with that bass and that rhythm, at some point we lose the spontaneity and the simplicity of expression. And the work is to find a way back to this simplicity again. What you find on the record is basically that process. These are mostly tracks that were built before, so then we had to play them again and again. Then for the recording we were seeking the path of something that is living, not just a recitation.”

A Une Gorge was recorded at the mountain hideout of Chez Lily, near Lourdes in southwest France. It has the distinction of being released on three labels at once: A1000P (based in Belgium), Standard In-Fi (France) and three:four records (Switzerland). First the album was recorded by Gerard’s brother Mim, who runs A1000P. Then three:four, with their impressive roster of artists crossing over European traditional and underground, had sufficient clout to head up the operation, overcoming problems such as a shortage of vinyl pressing facilities. Finally, Standard In-Fi was established nearly a decade ago by members of France, the drone rock trio driven by amplified hurdy-gurdy. “For us this is a very important label,” says Bergez, “because it has a strong artistic identity, and they are close friends. Immediately after finishing the record we played it to them and they loved it. So the three labels all have specific roles, and Standard In-Fi are the link point between all the others. They are at the very core of this mix between traditional and experimental music in France.”  Orgue Agnes’s A Une Gorge is released by A1000P/Standard In-Fi/three:four Clive Bell

Orliange

Kevin

12 | The Wire | Orgue Agnès

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