* Published for the Polish music blog Paznokciami Po Tablicy and for the occasion of GR's new vinyl LP Propel Tension On Polyester Base (2016).


GR – Propel Tension On Polyester Base (Opaque Dynamo, 2016, LP)

* Review translated from Polish

Gregory Raimo (aka GR) belongs to extremely rare, endangered species of artists. Even in the underground zone. Mystician, juggler, alchemist, occultist, pagan, psychonaut, free-thinker, freak, anti-establishment warrior and… none of the above as well. Propel Tension On Polyester Base, Raimo’s last material to date since his 2012’s A Reverse Age, gathers archival recordings captured in different places over the last few years. I had the pleasure to get an early copy, so yes – this review would be a sell-out for both of us. Raimo is hoping to achieve a platinum status after my warm and boot-licking review and in return I'll get a bunch of imported lysergic stamps with Bridgitte Bardot's effigy. But before that glory shows up and falls on our shoulders, I’ll take a step back and see where Raimo first hit so hard, why he popped up on the WFMU radar and why you should give him money and attention right now.

In the beginning was Gunslingers, a band where next to Raimo stand Antoine Hadjioannou and Matthieu Canaguier, personas probably well-known to nowadays heavy psych music fans due to their trio Aluk Todolo. Gunslingers was one of the last, if not the last band in the field of gargantuan, non-nostalgic psych-rock, the one that gobbles genres and spews out their own uncategorizable wild creatures. But to generalize a bit for the sake of common understanding, Dear Reader, you can compare Gunslingers to these unhampered DIY projects from margins of 80's and 90's – Caroliner, Sun City Girls or Monoshock. If you also vote for Chrome or Swell Maps, you won't be hanged for it. But looking back in history, you can feel that impetious energy in the vein of German psych from the 60's (Amon Dull II especially), the artsy but wild ferment of the Canterbury scene (like Gong, which originated from France, BTW) or paganised freak folk if you plug it to the amp turned up to eleven. And Hawkwind, for sure, cause Gunslingers' sort of psych and mutant-kraut is also cosmically mighty and explosive – pieces like « Lighter Slinger Festival » could easily sweep you out of the Earth's surface. For other hints of inspirations, check out the obscure Raimo's and Canaguier's side project from 2006 named Paralytic FluXus, a name which tells a lot. Back to the present, looking at his more recent solo material, in terms of artistic freedom and obscurity or unorthodox hardware worshipping, you can easily match the connection with Michael Yonkers, with whom Raimo recorded an excellent album called The High Speed Recording Complex.

The last ride of Gunslingers, Massacre-Rock Deviant Inqusitors EP, in many terms was their tour de force. It shows that their freakadelic jams can work perfectly even or especially when pushed to the limits of blazing, exaggerating 20-minutes length improvs. That they can ignite a ritual fire and… to do that they don't need to disguise themselves in some pretentious vestures of deadly serious apostles or play as stiffly focused as if suffering from constipation, barely farting in a bass string once in a minute 'cause they need to ”pump the tension and create THE ATMOSPHERE”. Fuck that shit! Just look at these lads and listen to the doomed frolics they're shaking out – they just speak for themselves. If you cannot believe how great Gunslingers are and if you need some father figure on the mic to bring you that revelation, then check out what Julian Cope, The Alpha Rock Druid and The First Music Psychoarcheologist Of The Planet Earth, wrote about No More Invention: ”For, despite the ironical title, NO MORE INVENTION seethes, rages and constantly hollers out great eternal Druidical truths (and with such effortless style) that future record libraries without a copy of this LP will risk being declassified and shut down instantly.” If you know Julian Cope’s extraordinary taste, then you should realize quickly how BIG these words are.

After Gunslingers accidentally shot themselves out in pure rage, Gregory Raimo's kept it full autonomy as a lonely outlaw. He creates music by himself from start to finish, and which includes the running of his own label Lesdisques Blasphématoires Du Palatin, recently renamed to Opaque Dynamo. When in solo mode, Raimo is engaged in home-recording and though he doesn't publish stuff very often, in exchange his music is never compromised. Reel-to-reel recordings nowadays? Hell yes, most of the tracks on the newest album were recorded that way. GR solo means a little less wildly improvising but more playing with structures and ”forbidden” formal experiments, both in musical and recording forms. Propel Tension On Polyester Base, an archival compilation of tracks recorded over eight years (2008-2016), naturally sounds like a hodgepodge at times, and it would be a lie to describe it as a fully coherent and lucid record. It's not a conceptual and tight A Reverse Age, released in 2012 by Mexican Summer, when there was still quality stuff going on there. But nonetheless it's a hell of a record. Raimo continuingly avoids easy labels, corporational requirements and popcultural reproduction. He's not playing under dictation of bored or $-eyed people. Play it again, Uncle Sam. NO. On Propel Tension... Raimo is making noisey psych on his own terms, psych which is speaking in tongues and doesn’t give any respect to all polished squareheads, and this attitude is clearly manifested in such titles as ”Violet Piss In Snobbish Ears”. But he's not pissing over the identical and blindly nostalgic psychedelia just to give you some decadent deconstruction or unlistenable provocation. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's a devilishly creative, peculiar and remarkably vibrant music, equally beautiful in its flaws and strokes of genius.

First song on the album, ”Perforation”, has a westernish vibe. The rhythm is based on strangled and choking wah-wah, and it sounds like an overdriven, cheap percussion FX trying to immitate a gallop. And there's a hint about perforation which can be connected with the destruction of rocks, or maybe some rocky wilderness, where you can spot an old Appalla... Nada, diddly-shit! You can't play with it that way. The songs from ”Propel Tension”, and all GR's solo stuff, are a specific brews, which sometimes can smell like something else, but for most of the time they will intoxicate you with their strange uniqueness. ”Vertical Take-Off (Part 1)”, for instance, is a kind of geometric psych-country. Just listen to this tumultous, yet paralytic percussion, and accompanied by a guitar raised on swamp blues. Where does he get these combinations from? You can feel a lot of folk and blues primitivity in Raimo's music, even there, where it doesn't appear directly – it's more in a philosophy, in its naturalness and untamble expression. ”Vertical Take-Off (Part 1)” rides like a rickety locomotive, where all the parts seem to fall apart in a second, but somehow they stick together and stay on the rails. Accessible music form, but optically rearranged, cubistic. And there you have vocals, sounding like a gnome overfed by suspicious mushrooms or like a spawn of a lesser demon. Therefore, you shouldn't be surprised that ”Vertical Take-Off (Part 2)”, placed further on the album, could be described that way: Chrome goes 60's pagan folk. Yep.

There's no point in dwelling about every single track, but I'm gonna name just a couple of favorites. ”Ritual To The Decadent” is a moody, acoustic song, and because of its darkwave-ish synth pad (Raimo is clearly digging that kind of vibes as well) plus hypnotic guitar, it reaches an almost occult atmosphere. But when GR is occult, he's not a comical guy in a hood, murmuring ”spooky” chants from the edge of a large festival scene. He's more a frivolish kind of guy, in a proper Richard Bishop's way. A quite different mood, kinda cosmical darkness, you can find in ”Altostratus”, which sounds like a Tangerine Dream's soundtrack to a science fiction movie, but reprocessed by an AI which/who wants to break your mind.

”Shock Degress” or ”Quarter Inch Creaks” provide the exact sounds as their names suggest. Shock and degrees, creaks and precice measure. The ”forbidden books” in GR's world are the recording techniques. The album title sounds unfamiliar, surreal, psychedelic, like some Burroughsian or Ballardian tech-poetry. Meanwhile, it's just a technical term and action, probably totally familiar to those who knows how magnetic tape works. So magic and technology are connected here. GR wants to propel a tension on polyester base and to propel a specific tension on the record. He dabbles in technical alchemy, tape voodoo, electric ritual. Sometimes he gets something totally fierce from it, sometimes not, but it's always at least peculiar. The art of Raimo is original to the maximum. There are not so many sound artists who are so uncompromised, especially for over a decade. Dan Melchior, Graham Lambkin and maybe a few more names. It's this kind of music, which invites you to an inimitable universe, not the one which creates a universe you wanted to be in. Put away all these ”new”, bland krautrock and psychedelic bands that only bring cosmetic changes to the original sound/vibe you already heard 50 years ago. If you are a real music traveller looking for a real adventure, then step right up.

- Karol Paczkowski




Karol Paczkowski: When describing your musical activities you like to use specific terminology - alchemy, distillery, etc. Do you perceive music as some kind of wizardly or craftsman-like way to expand mind? I know you're toying with these themes, but still.

Gregory Raimo: In fact, something ridiculously simple keeps fascinating me. If you act at the sound source, and of that sound made you are the perceiver, you thus are the sender and the receptacle. You perceive the sound released by your interaction with some matter. Man, are you fiddling with the matter that you active the cause and receive its effect! Are you identifying a specific way to produce the sound texture of your choice that you can reproduce it ad infinitum and perceive it again more or less identically, depending on certain laws of acoustics. But what I mean is that in a certain way, you instantly experience the synthesis between the sound you create and your perception of it. Will you be using some delay device that your experience of this synthesis will slightly be postponed to a moment later, perhaps one second or whatever.

In other words, the way I perceive music could vary according to whether I am the music maker or not; where I am that one, I experience the sound I create and my (relatively) immediate perception of it brings sudden new fancies to my imagination and that makes my mind navigate eccentrically on the air mass, that sound medium!

As soon as you’re able to (re)anticipate into the playing all these fancies getting from-and-to you again & again the closer you get to spontaneity... and the more often your mind is in motion to suggest & transform more. The term “alchemical free-form” was coined in that view. No matter the words but yes, it constantly expands & transforms not only my mind, but my relation to matter, space & time, the sense of gesticulating in the world. And this needs sustained pursuit & application!

KP: Your newest album, Propel Tension On Polyester Base, is an archival compilation and I assume that the songs are connected rather loosely. But I can't stop thinking that some tracks do share a (somewhat hidden) main theme, namely the recording techniques and their mysteries. Reel-to-reel, 8-track, polyester base from the title. What's with that obsession with tapes?

GR: The tracks aren’t connected loosely, it’s much more purposeful than this... If you pay attention at the back cover infos you’ll notice they aren’t sorted by date of creation, precisely cause I aimed at a very precise articulation between all tracks. I needed something more than a simplistic range of archives or dispersed multi contextual works; it also had to be listened as a whole story from the start track to the final one in a row just by taking advantage of the essential differences most tracks could still maintain between themselves. Their difference would now be the very reason of their connection.

These tracks would now share proximity under a new & unifying set which positively push for deconstructing our stereotypical, standardized representation of “the album”. That’s why that record isn’t a compilation (and as you suggest it in your question).

I think the most shared conception of what has to be an album is based on serial production. In such view, all tracks recognize one another as equals in the serie, by that I mean they are babies from the same belly and all born in the same room, they more than likely do share recognizable contextual sound textures and are recorded in the same context precisely for more homogeneity. Here, it just not follows the logic we are used to.

In “Propel Tension...” you get different contexts of creation, the tracks (and even sometimes the different parts of a same track) are recorded in different places, the recording process only is often similar though a different gear was often used _ I used a bunch of various analog recorders models (stereo 2-track and 4-track, cassettes or reel-to-reel decks) but I can say the process, my method was similar or very close. Apart from that, the material offers various sound sources, at different periods of my life and when my needs for music were different and evolving.

Basically it’s all in the title “Propel tension on polyester base”, the tension of feeling and the tension of the tape path through the recorder’s heads; here’s an analogy which I believe only tapes can offer— this tension, tape it propel it to tapes. — I don’t know if tapes are an obsession to me, it’s just more tangible of a medium in such a way that my intercourse with it was inescapable and I’ve never learned to like any other way.

KP: First glance at your new album front cover immediately brought Amon Düül II to my mind. It looks like ”Yoga” cover burned by infernal fire. I can hear a lot of 60's and 70's inspirations in your music, both in wild improvisations and tape experiments. Faust Tapes, for example. Which bands or scenes from the past would you recall as most creative and timeless? I believe Gong were a French collective at the beginning?

GR: The front cover is based on a photo I shot from an experimental film. The man appearing in the foreground is a highly-regarded-specimen by me. There is some action happening there, but still non-identifiable. It’s all indetermination in burned colors boiling.

The most creative and timeless bands ? — Shhh that would be too massive of a list man, there are more bands which blew my mind that I could ever have imagined with a brain twice the size of my turntable...I need them all and they come from various horizons & eras, they all bring their own respective stone to the big fat house of creative evolution you know; I’m that guy who focuses a lot on the binder to elevate the vision!

Indeed I listen to (insanely) lots of 60s/70s stuff but the scope of my key influences is too wide to just name a few and no others. I know people are often inclined to mention 3 or 4 bands as being the most representative in history but I have to disagree with this. It’s like going to a museum where the same paintings would always be shown as the only real deal.

— And yeah right, Gong was a French collective in its first incarnation, well I think 2/3 of the lineup was French at the time when Daevid Allen lived in Paris.

KP: Is ”Violet Piss In Snobbish Ears” a jab? If so, who is it aimed at? Snobbish critics? Snobbish fans? Both?

GR: The title actually is “Violet piss in snobbish EARDRUMS”. A nuance not to be missed since the eardrum goes deeper for the piss! Everything normative is snobbish. Doubly snobbish if it thinks it invented the wire to cut butter and that it’s good for us... it clearly cuts better with the teeth and mine are born to be cheap! Being normative suits a dominant trend so well that its claim to be the most known & acknowledged form of norm in all its exaggeration is the very cause of its ignorance & disregard towards all of which remains outside; this also applies to more confined circles. — That’s a cultural reactionary mindset towards oddity, distinctiveness, towards the ineligible... a serious & disgusting disease of the non-creative.

The major part of what passes for underground in a while (a term many are currently found of) is pretty average, rooted in fake, normative by nature, conservative & consensual by extension... I don’t need to bother with this that much though, cause my piss is violet in snobbish eardrums.

KP: Jim Dickinson once said that the best songs don't get recorded, the best recordings don't get released, and the best releases don't get played. What do you think about it, especially in the light of modern underground scene, but also from the other side – trite, nostalgic psychedelia, which is now occupying the largest festivals scenes?

GR: Best to whom? To the one who would never hear it? I think your guy is a depressed existentialist praising the Nothing and waiting for knowledge to appear! — You know, for certain people recording transcends the ability; for some others it puts it to the lowest level, or it might just clarifies & ratifies an ensemble of possibilities applying to their playing and inspiration, not more.

Nowadays, we have quite an impressive and massive list of recordings. If you try to consider further the term “underground” (once again, I see lots of people use it a lot these days), it should be applied to the political, at least obliquely. Aesthetics must stay in accordance with this. A disturbing record, aesthetically deviant, or innovative by some sharp inclination, shall spread its impact onto the socio-political sphere. A lot of people in the actual scene have pretentions but with no aesthetical illustrative contents. They might have forgotten that there should be a strong symbiotic relation somewhere yet.

The music people have to offer is what it is, live or studio they do it based on how they feel it and how they’re able to do it, and it sure doesn’t make “the stuff they never played sound better” (you get me uh?!) to justify that what they give you to hear is not more than what it is! You know, imagination is also what happens!

Today’s underground music happens too, it is as real as hidden in some hands, the rest is not underground but only pretentions supported by ridiculously not well informed people (who dig the stuff with lots of credit) trying to make it pass as a proper coherent world organized as a whole... sort of like the new order of things to respect. Fuck that shit man!

We need aesthetical deconstruction. Its highest particularities are (must be) all contestation & disobedience in its core towards the codes of the era it belongs to.

— By nostalgic psychedelia, you certainly mean imitators & wannabees of a wider consensus?! Like NEOSTALGIC!?! — Man, there is even worst than imitators by the way, cause those ones at least focus on the original; we have imitators of imitation, the ones who don’t know that the stuff they try to imitate is not the original one. Got to think about it...

Concerning that psych fests avalanche all around: a wide monopoly of cultural diffusion serving the establishment. Please send’em our brilliant despised ones for me!

KP: Recently you've changed your label name from Lesdisques Blasphématoires Du Palatin to Opaque Dynamo. What was the motivation behind that? Any plans for releasing other artists or you just need it to keep full autonomy?

GR: My previous label name put more emphasis on the heretical in music, right?! I know for certain there was no bible even in the label’s toilets (which remains a favorite spot here) but only holy shit! The new name emphases more on the provenance, it focuses on the active force to be unseen through... hmmmmm yeah man I like it companionable! ... The change was just natural, no effort. ...Releasing other artists? I would dig it and would still keep full autonomy on my own stuff yes...but how about selling my records first in order to do so!?

KP: When playing live you are actively sabotaging or at least bending the structures. When you're doing tape recordings, you're laboriously building them. Which of these provides you with more excitement? Or maybe you need them equally in music and life, in a yin/yang way?

GR: Well, the way I experience multi-track recording brings mixed feelings, it is both performing live (with no public) and processing the recording. Despite all technical labor & process which may interfere, the sensation of performing (live) is preserved and sometimes even increased tenfold as musical parts get layered. It’s getting into several performances layered. It sure is challenging to sustain the running of it all but how fucking intense & enlightening in its gradual elevation!

— The thing is you most of the time have to play with the idea in mind that some other stuff will be played by you and layered to the one you’re actually recording, which is a pretty different approach than playing instantly with other guys in a band. In multi-track recording you both are in the instant and its follow-up, it is hard not to think of what’s to come next, this has a direct impact on what you’re presently playing, on spontaneity & instinct. In a band spontaneity develops in the instant and in immediate relation with the other members, while in multi-track recording it is split in different moments & steps, the excitement is sort of like evolutive... once a new take is layered it takes you to a next level. The full excitement also depends on the global idea you get of the music you’re playing, and it may come up when realizing how all different parts sound in the end once assembled, maybe on the last take when you have achieved or are achieving the full band!

But on my solo recordings I tried different ways of favouring “the playing” over the process, I’ve also been experimenting a lot with the possibility of free improvisation— for example: I start a track by recording free drums and without having to ask myself if I’ll be able or not next to play & record the guitar on it, I want to respect the intuition and all positive accidents. Then (2nd take) I play & record the guitar or bass in the same view while I’m hearing the recorded drums for the first time, etc.

Now another way to combine process & playing— in tape recording the reel-to-reel or cassette deck is the recorder as much as I could also make it act as another instrument integral with the process... tape looping could illustrate this, direct music, or electronic music in general, and I can assure you that my excitement is maximum!

With a guitar/bass/drums set-up, if I need a track to sound raw with minimum treatment, then the influence of the process upon the sound is kept away as much as I would need the sound the less ‘elaborated’ as possible. Never over-produced and all the excitement on the playing.

Soooo, I think the excitement lies in many places, even if I can’t deny that playing all instruments alone is sometimes a pain in the ass clearly, something that makes you ask yourself “why the fuck I do this? ” ...though the answer gets to my mind quite fastly...

KP: Almost a decade ago Julian Cope wrote some nice words about your Gunslingers album, No More Invention. How did you feel being praised by that guy? Is this whole underground psych-rock heritage, with names like Monoshock, Les Rallizes Dénudés, Chrome or High Rise being used along Gunslingers seem right for you? Would you protest sternly if someone calls your music gnostic rock'n'roll?

GR: Yeah Julian Cope puts immoderate enthusiasm into music analysis and words articulation and he is a cool entertainer too. He pointed with sharp light the listener toward an epic appreciation of Gunslingers’ NMI and this has sure made that stuff more widely exposed than it was before he had found out about us.

In terms of possible heritage of Gunslingers’ music, what I can say is that we’ve had a huge amount of influences with a strong appeal for synthesis. Les Rallizes Dénudés & Chrome were in our, say...orbital attraction, we’ve listened to them with particular attention yes. But more essentially and as I mentioned in 2007/8, Gunslingers “... needed to abuse the artifacts of some lost rock synthesis in one total, furious and quintessential record, like an evil paradox of rock.”

— What people might think or say of my music is not my problem really, I mean it doesn’t affect the way I personally feel about it. If they got high climax for calling it gnostic well so be it, it wouldn’t be that bad you know...considering our greatest alumni in art & poetry were possibly gnostic— if gnosis is knowledge and can unchain us up from the slavery state of ignorance (evil!), then music is indeed a way to achieve gnosis by transcending our inner self with continuous pursuit. But my view is that considering rock’n’roll as “gnostic” is already known by all genuine seeker of the holy freakery so... calling it that way is sort of like a pleonasm to me, a useless addition to say twice the same things, no doubt it doesn’t significantly bring more quality to the music, it just orientates the listener’s appreciation in case he’d think rock music is non gnostic in its essence.

KP: In an interview with Psychedelic Baby Mag you came with the character of Melmoth from a Maturin story. On the album ”Reverse Age” you're reading a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley. And the quote about Head and a Disc from your Bandcamp is a paraphrase of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg aphorism. How does literature affect your thinking about music?

GR: Yes, there is also Gunslingers’ The Minister’s Black Veil after Nathaniel Hawthorne and one of our songs was called “Black Dwarf Man” without even knowing at that time that Walter Scott wrote the mysterious “The Black Dwarf” two centuries ago. That’s weird!

A textual material provides lots of metaphors with more or less power of suggestion. I like to think music can put a finger on a high degree of that power to convey those metaphors. That’s not necessarily explicit, music has its own particular way to bring images. In text the action occurs in a given space (as abstract as it may be) and within the succession in time which makes you imagine that action as evolving. Now imagine sound as an action whose continuity & evolution in time is controlled by Feedback or Sustain while the way that action occupies space is all Attack! Just as an example, these are tools to representing metaphors with the emphases of your choice. I am not selling you effect pedals!

KP: Few years ago you recorded an album with Michael Yonkers, a real cult hero of DIY rock music. I know you were both recording in different place, but could you tell us something more about the process of working together? I always thought that you both have a lot in common.

GR: Michael & I did something really special with that record, I worship the way we did it without ever needing to question the running of the project, it was spontaneously brutal, primitive. Michael is an outstanding guy to work with, no need to say I have tremendous admiration for both his music and him as a person.

(From France) I would play the drums & percussions first, it naturally made sense; Michael would then add his guitar wall-of-noise and the vocals (from the US). Recording the drums first and having it to be the initial thing composed in a track is not so easy, knowing you got to record it in one blow for the entire duration of the track and with no other instrument to back it up & give it the pulse. I needed to send the complete drums parts to Michael, no change would be interfering later on with these parts. But I operate in much the same way on my solo recordings so I was used to it. And I tell you what... when you have in mind that to be added next will be Michael Yonker’s monster solid body electric guitar, it eases your task a lot! —He then irradiated the tape with a staggering power, also using analog recorders similar to mine, and we layered the stuff that way. I remember the first track he completed and that he called ‘why didn’t’ was a real shock to hear, man it sounded so loud & stylish!

I then mastered the whole set of tracks to render it as we wanted. I made a new master version for the LP reissue (on the Burka for everybody label), which we thought sounded definitely better than the first one I did.

Man, The high speed recording complex was a frantic rhythm train travelling back and forth the distance between France & the US, we were the only passengers ...I guess nobody really knew what happened to the train...

KP: Do you still live in San Pedro Ville? Is there an interesting local music scene or maybe specific environment that inspires you?

GR: I moved to Lyon just a couple of months ago, my ears are fresh & wide open; to date, the stuff I heard here I found it commonplace. I can’t say I draw inspiration from the local music here or elsewhere in France. The city walls where I live (in their history & spiritual background) are less of an enclosure for my imagination.

I have never been based in San Pedro Ville, but San Pedro Ville is still based in my mind.

KP: Which French bands would you recommend at the moment? I’m really digging Pierre & Bastien right now, quite simple but very well executed and clever punk rock. Do you know them?

GR: Never heard of the band you’re talking about.

The French stuff I can actually hear is non-singular when it might just sound ok, so that’s obviously not enough. I have a preference for the exceptional, it does not lie at every street corner.

KP: Matthieu Canaguier and Antoine Hadjioannou are playing in Aluk Todolo now and you are clearly concentrated on your solo recordings. Does it mean that Gunslingers is a closed chapter or you don't rule out playing together again?

GR: We’re no more on the same page. I’m done with these guys, their musical view (and them as individuals) ceased to be of any interest to me some time ago, that’s crystal clear.

KP: I know that Propel Tension On Polyester Base is still fresh, but maybe you already have some ideas about next solo material that you could share?

GR: I do have some stuff in mind but hell man! ... my hand is unable to put it right now..


Note :

=> Polish review HERE

=> Polish translated interview HERE






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