For decades Black Devil Disco Club has been one of dance music’s most enigma-shrouded acts — the Zorro of the discotheque. When Richard D. James, a.k.a. Aphex Twin, reissued the original 1978 Black Devil record on his own Rephlex label, the lost-and-found effect was so striking, the dark analog space disco sounds so eerily contemporary, that it was rumored to be a hoax carried out by Luke Vibert and Mr. Twin himself. The follow-up LP, 28 After, only made matters darker. Who were the shadowy figures behind these mesmerizing, occultish sonics, and what did they want?
As for now, we’re supposed to believe that the new Black Devil record, Eight Oh Eight, is the final leg of a trilogy masterminded by one Bernard Fevre, a French citizen who has been making under the radar music for decades. Here, Fevre, answering questions from France via e-mail, casts whatever dark light he wished on the mystery of the Black Devil Disco Club.
A lot of your early recordings are not dance music at all: How did you come to this sound?
I was drawn to the synthesiser because it enabled me to realize a symphonic vision that previously would have needed many musicians. With the synthesiser I could create the kind of sci-fi music you will hear on the "strange world of Bernard Fevre," and then in the clubs it was the African rhythms that inspired me. I found that by mixing the primal beats with the electronic textures and melodies, it created a kind of "disco" sound. But for many people it was too new, too original, and they didn’t consider it disco at all.
So it was a gradual change created by mixing the different colors made
possible by the advent of electronics. For me it is my own musical hybrid. It is not "disco," per se, but "black devil disco."
The album reissued by Rephlex is from 1978. That’s a long time between records. What did you do in the meantime?
I was always making music — sometimes for TV or for film, and sometimes there were dance records, even acid. But these were secret projects and I don’t reveal them to the public. But also I was conducting musical experiments: exercises in texture, shape and form. These processes feed the Black Devil sound. I did a lot of traveling, but this was more in the form of astral projection rather than physical transportation. It is true that it is possible to explore the whole world without leaving your armchair.
What was your reaction when it was assumed by some people that the Rephlex reissue was a hoax?
It amused me. I have always sought to exist in the shadows, and the mystery
surrounding the project has helped me to do this. But it was strange to hear
that Richard James did not believe I existed. He was convinced that Black
Devil Disco Club was made by Giorgio Moroder.
Black Devil has a very distinctive, very analog sound quality. Can you say anything about your equipment. Do you use anything digital? Do you have a favorite particular instrument or synthesizer?
I like to mix the analog with the digital — the analog for warmth, the
digital for precision. So sometimes I use a Yamaha DX7 along with a mini
Korg 700, but also i use an EMU sampler, which contains many sounds from
vintage synths I have owned but are now in the dust bin.
You have put out some remixes of your work by contemporary dance artists like Prins Thomas and In Flagranti. How much are you in contact with musicians like these, who today seem to have so much in common with your work?
I am not in contact very much with the modern producers, but sometimes I meet them when I play live. I think there are similarities in sound, of course, but I find much modern dance music too simplistic and not inventive enough.
Lindstrom is an exception; he is always trying new sounds and ideas. I like, too, the French sound of Daft Punk and Air, and Sebastian Tellier was magnificent as the French eurovision entry.
Your new record is dense but very focused and ear-catching at the same time. What is your compositional process like?
In some ways it is a complex one. I start with musical themes, which I then
find individual voices for, as with a classical piece of writing. I then add
words. The words are written in French but then translated to English using
the computer. I then sculpt these words into melodic passages, which sit well
with the music. Lastly I add the rhythms, and then I have to make a final
arrangement and balancing. I try to make the music work on many levels, and I hope that it is music that will endure for many years. It is not disposable. I seek to make the music of the eternal night.