As the first chords of “Autre Temps” opened the Alcest show, much the way they open their latest album, Les Voyages de l’Âme, I found it unsettling that we shared the room with less than 100 people. Hailing from Bagnols-sur-Cèze, France, Alcest are arguably the best in the subgenre of musicians combining the density and beauty of shoegaze with the ferocity of black metal. With a sound so much larger than the Larimer Lounge, I would have expected the place to be packed. The low attendance could be blamed on the timing of the show (the Monday after Easter), but I think it has more to do with the fact that this band has been mistakenly associated with a very sensitive black metal scene. The true black metal crowd will shun Alcest for the simple fact that they come from a place of light and positivity, something frowned upon in the black clad kvlt masses. On the flipside, those who associate themselves with bands that are much more comparable (Sigur Rós, Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai) will be scared away by the occasional blast beat and shriek that accompany the crest of a few Alcest tracks. So, Alcest is stuck somewhere in the middle — too melodic for the hardcore and just a touch too frightening for the rest. Maybe that’s the reason the project’s sole permanent member, Neige, told us that he plans on pursuing a dreampop/shoegaze direction in the future, forgoing the metal form that birthed the band in the wake of certain esoteric experiences he had as a child.
After an inspired/slightly disjointed set from local black/doom/goth metalheads Stoic Dissention, Alcest (as a four-piece touring band) took the stage just after 11:00pm. The atmosphere was set with a thick layer of fog and low blue lighting as Neige and his band took us on a journey through a reality that can only be expressed through sound. Based on our conversation before the show, I spent most of the set with my eyes closed, allowing songs like “Là où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles” and “Les Voyages de l’Âme” to make me nostalgic for places and people I have never seen or known. Having no clue what the lyrics mean doesn’t make a difference when it comes to Alcest, both Neige and backing vocalist/guitarist Zero have a way of expressing feelings without a need for translation. In a live setting it becomes very evident that even the black metal screams are just another way of expressing the powerful emotional impact Neige’s childhood visions had upon him. These screams do not make this a metal band. There was no pit, there was no pushing or shoving or headbanging (ok, maybe a little slow-motion headbanging), it was mostly just a bunch of people literally shoegazing while swaying back and forth to the music. “Écailles de Lune – Part 1” and “”Percées de Lumiere” were my personal highlights — when they closed out the main set and the band walked from the stage, it was somewhat like waking from a dream.
The encore wasn’t asked for, it was demanded. The screams of Vive la France and for “Élévation” were slightly out of place, but when Neige returned to the stage and announced ‘you will probably know this one‘, the title track from 2007’s debut, Souvenirs d’un autre monde, closed out the night right. The whole set lasted about an hour, which was way too short in my opinion, but they did cover material from all three albums and it was a great show.
Before the show Brian H and I sat down with Neige to talk about the concept behind Alcest, their current tour, SXSW and the future of the band. In a one-on-one conversation Neige is very humble and very soft-spoken. He also speaks with a heavy French accent. In transcribing the interview, I’ve tried my best to keep it in his voice…
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. How’s the tour been going so far?
The tour is going well. Depending on the show, sometimes it’s very good, sometimes it’s less good, but overall it’s been fine.
You’ve been on the road with Deafheaven for awhile now. I realize their lyrical content is very much rooted in this world, while yours is more esoteric, but the form in which you express your music seems to fit together perfectly. Was this the case in a live setting?
It has been great. We became friends very quickly. They are guys just like us. It was very fun and very cool. They are great musicians and great guys. It’s a very good band. I hope we can tour again together.
You made it to SXSW for a single performance at Lovejoys for Brooklyn Vegan. It seems like a lot of work for a single set. How was your SXSW experience this year?
For the show, everything went very quickly. We had a very short time, only like 40 minutes to play, so everything went very quickly. No soundcheck, nothing, no lights, very bad conditions – so we just played. People were enjoying the show and same for us. That’s all. And for the festival itself, it was really very good. We arrived some days before and we walked into the festival to see the people. It was very interesting.
Was this your first time at SXSW?
Did you catch any bands you wanted to see or had never heard of?
Ah, it was more just walking the street and seeing the people and the mood and the festival. We don’t have anything that can be compared to this in France.
You have mentioned you like to give interviews because you want people to understand what Alcest is all about. You talk about a life altering experience as a child acting as the catalyst for Alcest. What was this experience? And how did it lead to Alcest?
All that you need to know is the basis of the concept of the band is I believe the realities are more complex than what we see with our eyes of flesh. This body that you have, that I have, is just a subjective way to perceive the reality. But we don’t know what reality is. I think that maybe some people, in some kind of state of mind, could have another access to something. When I was a child I had a very special sensibility or a way to see things – and yeah, I had some very precise visions. I know what is a dream, I am not crazy, I know this was not a dream. It’s impossible to describe. It’s impossible to prove. Impossible to explain to the people. So I decided to make this band for this reason – to be able to express myself with just the music and some lyrics.
Is the world of Alcest a different perception of the world we live in? Or is it an entirely different world/reality?
It is completely different. Other colors, other shapes, other sounds. As I said just before, we know extremely few things about this world – about the universe. Maybe it’s like some radio frequencies – some animals can hear sounds we can’t hear, but it doesn’t mean the sounds don’t exist – they are here. Maybe it’s similar for the visions. Maybe there are several realities at once. Maybe there is a life after life. Maybe (the visions) are where I was before being here. So, it can be many things. I do believe in life before life and life after life.
The music of Alcest is full of beauty and positivity. Does this mean the visions were positive?
Yeah. Some of the melodies of Alcest were taken directly from these visions.
Wolves in the Throne Room also speak about how their music is not of this world, even going so far as skipping over traditional venues on their last tour – playing mountaintops, wooded areas, warehouses, art spaces, etc. Any thoughts of taking Alcest to areas where the music might feel more at home?
Ahh, I don’t know, because nothing in this world can represent what I am trying to explain. So I think just a regular bar full of punks is just the same. It works just as well because I bring something up on stage and the stage can be almost anything. But of course, I would like to play in the forest in the springtime with very good weather. Something like this. In a field or in a clearing or just by the sea, because I love the sea.
You spread yourself over several different projects (that may or may not be active today), how do you decide when to write for each project? Or do you just write and decide where the material fits afterwards?
Now I don’t compose for any other bands. Back then when I had Amesoeurs I divided my creativity. Alcest and Amesoeurs were very open.
What can we expect in the future from Alcest?
A new kind of style. I really want to go away from metal. I am going to dream pop and shoegaze, so I guess it will be some of those kind of influences.
Ok, looking forward to it. Thank you for your time.
Thank you. Maybe after the show we can drink.
Là où naissent les couleurs nouvelles
Les voyages de l’âme
Écailles de lune – Part 1
Percées de lumière
Souvenirs d’un autre monde