Les Passagers du Zinc, Avignon
6 October 2012
Zombie Zombie are touring their latest album, Rituels d’un Nouveau Monde, and their stop at the well-hidden Passagers du Zinc – it lives in a strip mall outside the walls of the old city, next to a Norma discount supermarket, far away the tourist quarters of town, psychologically if not geographically – is a welcome breath of excitement in a town more famous to the outside world for its epic theatrical festival and a charming song about a collapsed old bridge.
Tonight, the city’s underground have turned out, if not en masse, then in respectable numbers at least, to catch France’s contribution to the burgeoning crop of analogue synth and drum outfits. Unlike, say, Temperatures or K-X-P, Zombie Zombie eschew rock instrumentation beyond the drumkit, and for this tour Cosmic Neman is joined by fellow batteur Docteur Lori Schonberg of Berg SS Nipple and Antilles on a second kit. With Etienne Jaumet at the keyboard racks between them, their setup onstage is already looking promising as the audience file in from the roof terrace to take their places in what was an otherwise alarmingly empty main room.Magma proud (though of course Christian Vander would only require the one, much bigger drum kit), the set consists of music presumably from the new album only – gone are the more disco dancefloor-friendly straight-ahead beats, and there are no [post=zombie-zombie-play-john-carpenter text=”John Carpenter covers”] tonight. As missed as they might be though, the new material proves itself to be more than adequate for the occasion (especially given that it’s the Rituels tour, after all), and that Zombie Zombie’s sound has progressed, perhaps become a little bit more prog along the way too. Cosmic and Schonberg are also equipped with shakers, FX wibbles and microphones, and when not engaged in twin-drum interaction and bouts of complex polyrhythmic interchange with more than a hint of electro Afrobeat peppering the mix, they provide cover for Jaumet while he goes about the lengthy chore of adjusting settings and tweaking patches on his synths and sequencers between songs.
It seems that the technicalities of taking vintage electronic gear on stage are lost on the more energetic members of the audience, some calling for more beats as soon as the drums go quiet and the more abstract noises chirrup in; but watching Jaumet as he twiddles his knobs and consults scraps of notes for each instrument is almost entertaining enough in itself, and a reminder that back in the Eighties (when most of his gear was new and cutting-edge) the standard put-down of electronic music was “Oh, they just stand onstage and push a button and the synthesizers play themselves” – but Jaumet is hardly letting the keyboards hold the floor alone.Actually, that’s mostly true, but not the whole story, of course; much of Zombie Zombie’s sound is held in place by Roland 808 rhythms, Six-Trak sequences and arpeggiations, over which Neman and the good Docteur play with infectious verve and trance-inducing enthusiasm, Cosmic even switching stage sides at one point to share Schonberg’s kit. All the while, Jaumet shifts from instrument to instrument, an analogue-fetishist’s icon, maybe even deserving the sobriquet of a synth nerd’s nerd, and when he brings out the saxophone for a throbbing rendition of Sun Ra‘s “Rocket #9” the set peaks at moment of hypnotic avant-dancefloor greatness.
But as he switches from keyboard to drum machine in his faded Can t-shirt between the racks of gear emitting sounds no virtual plugin could hope to ever quite achieve, arms outstretched wide in electronic communion, it’s clear that he and the rest of the band are having the time of their lives. So too are many of the audience, some even throwing shapes and grooving – no doubt a bigger crowd, a larger town and a wider underground scene treat Zombie Zombie to a more immediate buzz; but bearing in mind that in hectic scenes like Paris’ or London’s, this might possibly suffer from the jaded audience response that it’s just another gig to be seen at and to chatter loudly about the next gig, the next big thing. In Avignon, it’s an event, and a spectacularly enjoyable one at that.