The Plague Dancers

France is probably not the first place that one thinks of in terms of extreme music. While it has been home to obscure black metal acts such as Deathspell Omega and Blut aus Nord, the country has not, generally speaking, shown the propensity to produce death and grind bands as Britain or Germany (to say nothing of points further north). But in recent years that has begun to change. France is home to bands such as Lorient’s Direwolves and Laval’s Birds in Row, as well as the prolific label Throatruiner Records.

Hailing from the eastern city of Strasbourg, Haut & Court have been making their own contribution to this scene since the release of their debute, La Vie, in 2012. Their music is complex, aggressive, and sinuous, and has maintained these qualities on their new release, Troffea, which has just become available. Recently I caught up with vocalist Arnaud to find out how things had changed in the run up to their new release.

Souciant: So, it’s been a couple of years since La Vie came out. Has the band’s lineup been stable?

Arnaud: Indeed, we’ve really bonded and the only reasons we’ve been so silent all this time is that we’re bloody lazy…and that we welcomed Merko, our bassist, into the band.

That resulted in a lot of work, because the first version of Haut & Court had no reason to be anymore

So we worked on our sound, on our composition, and Merko brought his experience (he’s been in sludge doom band called The Pledge of Cain, check them out!) and maturity

That took quite a lot of time. We also played shows in France, Germany and Switzerland

Souciant: I’ve heard you guys described as grindcore, or mathcore, or screamo. Do you think of yourselves as representing a particular style?

Arnaud: We have always hated putting labels on our music, because it would have limited us. We’re influenced by so many genres and bands… But right now, for this LP, I think that death/grindcore would be the most accurate, even if there are noise/drone/doom parts. It’s a pity you have to be cast in a particular genre, it convinces a lot of people to avoid your music even if they might like it

Souciant: It seems (looking from the outside) that there is a pretty vibrant extreme music scene going on in France these days. Is this your impression?

vvvvvvvArnaud: Indeed! We’re really blessed with a lot of great bands, labels, and promoters. From every corner of the country there’s material emerging and a lot of band are starting to get quite famous abroad. We’re glad to be part of this scene even if we didn’t do much for the moment.

Souciant: When you talked the other day, you were a little cryptic about your song lyrics. How do the words relate to the music?

Arnaud: I’m cursed with the syndrome of never being happy with what I write. Because everything is evolving so fast around us, there’s always a new topic I want to scream about. That’s why my lyrics are on a strong basis and are changing pretty much every time I’m singing. Call that improvisation, or laziness, ha ha .

Souciant: An interesting approach. It gives your music a sort of postmodern quality, since one can never be sure what it is about.

Arnaud: Thank you! Also, a lot of songs were destroyed by lyrics for me. I know that not a lot of people take that in consideration, but it’s a real matter for me. I prefer the intensity of the moment, rather than dumb repetition. Regarding the news, some subjects might affect me more at the time we’re playing than others. I want that change to be felt.

Souciant: You have a new release coming up soon. Do you feel like you’ve progressed since La Vie?

Arnaud: Yes, we’re releasing it in digital at the beginning of February. With a new member, we evolved a lot. When La Vie came out we weren’t really satisfied with it; something was missing. And having a new member brought us a lot! A new way of thinking, approaching the music and basically focusing on what really matters. It has been a big step for us even if we still have a lot of work to do.

Souciant: If I’m not mistaken there’s a historical dimension to the title of the new release. How does that frame the project?

unnamedArnaud: Exactly. Troffea is the name of a woman who provoked what historians now call the Dancing Plague of 1518 in Strasbourg, our city. We like to think of the action of one person bringing (the) masses to extinction. And it’s a good parallel to what is happening right now in our society. Guided, controlled by a few. We’re here to dance till the end.

Souciant: This seems like a time of trouble in France particularly. Do you try to address this with your music?

Arnaud: In a way, yes, but there’s nothing much to say. It’s been such an awful debate on the wrong subjects. All we can do now is spit out our nausea and keep faith. Even before the killings, our values were sharing, open mindedness, and love. That’s why we love being on the road and meeting beautiful people. We won’t educate the others, but if we can make them think for a bit, that would already worthwhile.

Souciant: Do you feel frightened by the recent events?

Arnaud: Frightened? Yes. Not by the events but by the reactions and the use of those upheavals. Frightened by how people miss the point and put the blame on the wrong issues. Frightened by how hypocritical this situation is… We cried for 12 persons when in the same week approximately 2000 persons died for the same “reasons”. I’m frightened about how the coming generations will interpret those situations and react. We’re knee deep in fear and radicalism – on both sides – when we should just take those acts as they are. It is the work of a cartel, not a new crusade.

Souciant: You have a song on Troffea called “Putin”. What motivated you to write that?

Arnaud: This song is half sarcastic, half serious. Putin is a real example of how the few rule the masses. We always have a grin when we see pictures of that guy riding horses, hunting wales, and petting puppies. Putting a mask of media spin on the face of so many atrocities; everybody knows what this guy is doing. It would be bloody common sense to tie his balls to a tank and make him parade on Red Square. But no, he’s still there. Like all the others.

Souciant: On a slightly different topic, you guys don’t look quite as scruffy as the average grind/death band. What do you do outside of Haut et Cort?

Arnaud: Ha ha, we don’t need to fit into a particular dress code in order to empty our guts and kick some asses. Half of the band is studying, the other half is working menial jobs. We’re musicians before anything else. Fuck a specific lifestyle, we’re open to a lot of things, getting stuck in a particular way of life doesn’t interest us. And it’s quite funny to see people’s reactions when you come to a show with a hip hop band shirt or with a polo shirt. Like if that bloody matters at all…

Souciant: Do you listen to the kind of music that you play? What are your favorite things to listen to these days?

Arnaud: Not really. I can only speak for myself on this one, I prefer to experience violent music live. Most of the time I listen to hip hop, jazz, pop, and sometimes brutal stuff, but that’s quite rare given the enormous amount of music I’m listening to. I think that the others aren’t much different. There’s just Ravind, the drummer who listen to really brutal stuff to relax, ha ha.

561273_550284915015844_395009543_nSouciant: Has being in a band changed your life, or your outlook on life?

Arnaud: Totally! It teaches you a lot. Being in a band is being in a serious relationship. If you want it to work, you have to communicate, make compromises, and understand the others. I’m so blessed with my bandmates, they are god damned talented and I’m always happy sharing the stage with those guys. It also helped me on a professional level: networking, working on logistics and management. If you ever have kids, put them in a band, there are tons of lessons to be learned in such an adventure! Also, you’ll be experiencing quite crazy stuff while meeting awesome people on the road; I know I wouldn’t have been the same without my experiences in bands.

Souciant: When is Troffea due out, and where can people get it?

Arnaud: We arbitrarily picked the 2nd of February to release it, but as we struggle to get all the money necessary to press the vinyl, we’ll wait until we find enough labels to press it. We’re streaming it on the 2nd and hopefully people will spread it as much as possible to help us getting booked on the upcoming European tour we are working on for the end of May. Inch’Allah!


Photographs courtesy of Haut & Court. All rights reserved.

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