A conversation with Parade Ground

This month Dark Entries released The Golden Years, a career spanning retrospective (1982-1988) by Belgium’s Parade Ground.  Last week we asked the band our standard interview questions and the responses we got back were anything but standard!

DE:  What part of Belgium are you from? What was it like growing up there and what music inspired your teenage years?

Jean-Marc Pauly:  We’re from the capital of Belgium and Europe: Brussels.  Belgium is a very small country, we have always been interested by the things around us and angry too, we have always wanted to see elsewhere. Brussels is only one hour away from France by car, one hour from Germany, one hour from Holland and England is very close too, by boat… It’s very enriching to have these different cultures within reach for the mind.
Pierre Pauly:  We got interested in music when we were very, very  young  We went to see our first concerts when we were 11 and 12 – Procol Harum, Alice Cooper, Kraftwerk…Later, as teenagers, we went to see concerts in London around 1976: there was an atmosphere of revolution, of intellectual riot… We saw bands like Wire and Fad Gadget there. Everything was abounding and uninhibited, the sensation of biting oneself.


DE: How did you decide to form the band and choose the name “Parade Ground”?

P:  After a multitude of all very singular and alternative projects, we wanted to have a project with just the two of us, without conflict of ego, with sincerity. We wanted to transpose in music the surrealistic writing and the visual work of the dadaïsts. It was a natural thing and, moreover, we were brothers, which made it a lot easier. We had an incredible hunger for creating, expressing things, howling whether it be in music or plastic art or through writing, with an absolute revolt, an interior savagery.
J-M:   The band’s name was chosen as a reaction towards the obligatory military service and the silliness of war and repression in general.
P:  There has always been a venomous necessity in each of our artistic acts. For us, we always have to instill the venom, the sourness in all we do


DE: How did you decide who would sing lead vocals and play each instrument?

P:  We have always been very close, like twins, we have set up bands since we were very young, 13 or 14 – this happened naturally. Jean-Marc always had a very peculiar and interesting voice, he bought a guitar and I started playing drums. We are self-taught, as many artists of the time. We have had to find different ways and detours, to create.
J-M:   We have always fought against all forms of academism. Creating is de-learning. Since the beginning, we have stated that we do not belong to art anymore. Have we created anything already? Were we born? The past is what remains in a mirror.


DE:  When did you meet Patrick Codenys and Daniel B. of Front 242?

P:  We met Patrick (Codenys) after one of our concerts in a small club in Brussels. He was looking for young talent for the New Dance label, Front 242‘s label at the time. We quickly became friends. We spent quite some time making sounds together. We, with our Boss DR55 and a Minimoog, him with his modular synths – those were incredibly creative and feverish sessions. Patrick rapidly introduced us to Daniel B. with whom we became very close friends.
J.M:   With him, things were more spontaneous. We confronted our ideas and discovered all the new synths and rhythm-boxes together.


DE: Do you remember the set up and equipment for recording your earliest songs?

P:    Yes, we used to work in small studios in very bizarre places, without comfort, factories, a malt-house, but everything was possible, all to do, to be done, with a knife on the throat. It isn’t that much a matter of knowing, rather than being born. There has always been the question of the receptibility of our music; it’s absolute receptibility. Its very existence. It has always been very tedious since the beginning.
J-M:   We ever wanted to put ourselves in danger, we have always created together. We started to work in studios with electronic devices of all sorts, early rhythm-boxes: TR-808, BossDR55, Drumulator, and synth: PPG, Moog, MS10.


DE: How did the evolution of the synthesizer in the 1980s have an effect on your sound?

P:   Enormous. Especially working with modulars synths:  the MS10, the Moogs, then the SH101, MC202, TR808, we used them as the dadaïsts, diverting, inventing. Those are the instruments that we preferred, with the Juno106 (Roland) and the appearance of the first synths and rhythm-boxes, PPG, Emulator II, DX7, R100 Kawaï.
J-M:   The effect was inevitable as we moved on to creating songs with new electronic instruments that gradually appeared at the time.
P:  It was incredibly inspiring, every new device bringing something new and we were forced to put ourselves in question, it forced us to divert and put out of shape the way of creating and using these instruments.

DE:  It is rare to find a band who consistently writes clever, thoughtful lyrics. What were some inspirations for your lyrics over? the years?

J-M:   Thank you. The lyrics were mainly inspired by French movies from before the second world war, Renoir, Carné, Duvivier, Fritz Lang, and Surrealism, Dada, Man Ray…I write my lyrics as short stories, like a film script with striking images and concision in words. Very sharp and square. I find the vocal melodies first and then the lyrics.
P:  I think Jean-Marc is the last crooner. Daniel and Patrick liked the voice and the strictness of Jean-Marc’s work from the beginning and his way of singing songs, very melodic, holding the notes. That’s why they asked us to work on two Front 242 albums in 1994, we found every vocal melody and wrote the words. The plastic work and the way of writing of different artists have made us progress, the suffering in the creation, the cruelty, works of art like Man Ray’sRayogrammes’ or Josef Beuys’Fluxus’, or the ‘cut-ups’ of thoughts of writers such as William Burroughs, James Joyce’s stream of consciousness, Tzara, ‘the waiting’ of Samuel Beckett, Antonin Artaud.
J-M:   That’s it, a translation that we always intended to do. We saw that as a transposition, as a performance. When one speaks about ‘Cursed Poets’; that means cursed by whom?


DE:    How did you meet UK musician Flo Sullivan (Shiny Too Shiny, A Formal Sigh) who sang back-up on your song “Took Advantage”?

P:  Flo Sullivan: we met her during a TV show, she was performing with her band ‘Shiny Too Shiny ‘ from Liverpool, an excellent track called “Waiting For Us,” we immediately sympathized, she was the leader of the band and the composer too. We had wanted a female backing vocalist on one of our records for quite some time. A voice that could fit Jean-Marc especially, for this particular track “Took Advantage.” Flo nicely accepted to come to Front 242’s studio and in one take it was done. She was great, kind, and charming and brought a unique touch to our most gentle number. Time has crushed the years. Flo’s smile is written on the tapes.

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DE:  Who were your musical contemporaries at the time in Belgium or around the world?

J-M:   At the very beginning, Wire and Joy Division. They were major influences. We always felt apart from the Belgian scene except for Front 242 (knowing that here again we were quite different from them musically). Closer to English and American bands.
P:  I have always been more interested by the sounds, the cries and the noises rather by a finished and done shape, a number which is always from the same mould, the same canvas. To me, the music must bring certain spirituality, vertigo, like a wound. An open sore. A number is never finished, terminated. One must constantly be off balance, with an absolute revolt, an interior savagery.

DE:  So much creative and diverse music came out of Belgium in the 1980s, what do you think caused this rich and talented culture?

J-M:   Obviously, the influence of English scene provoked a real revolution and was very inspirational in Europe for all creation: music, art, painting, dance, style, architecture? theater, also.
P:  The geographic situation of Belgium allowed us to be open to other cultures. Belgium is a very surrealistic country, with a constant doubt as to its veracity, a sort of self-vivisection, permanent self-dissection. We were at the margin, with a lot of spontaneity, taking risks; everything was open and had to be done, the beauty of repulsion, the madness abolished the truth.


DE:  I first heard your song “Gold Rush” at an 80s club in New York City when I was a teenager and I Jean-Marc’s vocals got stuck in my head for days!  How did you create your unique “sound”?

J-M:   It’s the brotherhood that makes it. We have the same musical and creative roots, and, I hope, an original, personal attitude towards music. We love melodies and emotion. The voice being the most melodic and emotional ‘instrument’. We love the freedom of creation of a voice.
P:   For us only emotion, creation, spirituality, rage and cruelty matter, to put one in danger, whatever the style, until the asphyxiation of thought. We have always done things as if it were for the last time, as if our life depended on it, to the outmost extremity. We were not transparent through pain.

DE:  Many of the songs on “The Golden Years” have been played in dance clubs around the world. Did you write music to make people dance?

P:   Exactly, so that people would dance, so that they can create and express themselves; to me, each person that dances to one of our numbers or even each listener, brings something to this number, all of their experience, the things they’ve lived out, their creativity. All this rage, this tension, this trance, this primitive anger, all that fury, the aesthetic of chaos.


DE:  Can you describe your most memorable/favorite live gig?

J-M:   It was in 1989 in Jönköping Sweden during a tour. The audience got so excited that we nearly had to leave the stage and find shelter backstage!  That was really great!


DE:  How do you feel about the renewed interest in your music and newer bands thatlook to Parade Ground for inspiration?

P:  It doesn’t matter to us; it doesn’t interest us at all. We haven’t changed. We are the same as thirty years ago, angry young men. Suffering or nausea is not a thing that should be applauded. The danger grows with use. Cruelty never ends.


DE:  Parade Ground released a second album, Rosary in 2007 and continues to tour, what are your future plans?

J-M:   Invading mars with our music and visiting San Francisco as aliens. A new album, more concerts with ‘Electrosary’. Making people crazy, disgusted or hysterical. The old story, you know! …
P:  Yes, Rosary is a very important album to me. This may sound pretentious but this album is perfect, it’s perfection. We are going to release a new album next year , more electro , more in the spirit of our debuts and  ‘The Golden Years ‘. Future plans? Touring everywhere and mostly, we’d really like to tour in the USA. It would be the first time. Time would meet the infinite. It’s something that we always missed. The French writer LF. Céline said that New York was ‘a standing town’… As to the towns in the USA, we would love to find a way to put our music standing in America!

P. / J-M:   We snatch the occasion to thank you, Josh, as well as the whole team of Dark Entries for giving us the opportunity to make our previous tracks dance into modernity.

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