Casts Comfort Into Chaos with “Red Spells” // An Interview with ALIX VAN RIPATO

WL//WH Interview ALIX VAN RIPATO  

Photo by Antoine DBF & Erik Lafontaine

The debut album “RED SPELLS”, via Belgian independent label Red Maze Records, from Brussels-based DJ and producer Alix Van Ripato, bursts with cold, somberly emotional, and highly danceable Darkwave, transporting us into an epic and ritual journey through her native hazy and mystical Breton landscapes, and, as the title suggests, it can’t help but to enchant us. We had a long in-depth chat with Alix where showed the same intensity and energy she instils in her music.

  • Welcome, Alix. What turned you onto music in the first place?

Thank you for receiving me for this interview. Since I was a child I have always loved singing, being on stage and dancing. For the stage and dance part, I professionalized it by becoming a performer since 2015, when I graduated from art school. But making music was a bit of a secret dream. I have no musical training. Of course, I played the drums when I was younger, learned my solfeggio a few times, and took singing lessons a few years ago, but to make music was a different story. But it seems to me that what is part of you, deep inside, comes out at some point, which makes you happy. If you don’t accept your desires and needs you end up frustrated and unhappy. So the creation of music came to me at a crucial moment in my life as a matter of survival of the soul.

  • What triggered your interest in dark electronic music?

I think my first encounter with dark electronic music was the discovery of the Matrix soundtrack (I was more than an ultra fan of the trilogy as a teenager). One day while listening to the CD (which I had probably pirated, ahahaha the good old days) I discovered in one go, Marylin Manson, Rammstein, Rage Against the Machines and The Prodigy.

Imagine my head as a wise little girl, living in Brittany by the sea and bored to death waiting for something magical to happen. I had been studying German since I was 12 years old, and to my great pain, it was not at all easy to learn. Suddenly the lyrics of Rammstein‘s Du Hast in this soundtrack were crystal clear to me (or almost). A guilty pleasure of entering a distant and somewhat violent, therefore very subversive musical universe appeared to me. I had never heard anything sexier than music that frightened me but that inexorably drew me to meet it in a secret way.

  • What/Who are your biggest influences and inspirations?

I love Depeche Mode from the ’80s, Kraftwerk and New Beat. It has the rhythmic and gloomy but luminous side that I particularly appreciate in life. More generally I love robotic music, music machines, and repetitive rhythms. As I love to dance, anything with a rhythm can get me on board very quickly.

  • What influence has Brussels had on your artistic development? What is your take on your local and Belgian underground music scene? Are there any bands worth checking out?

I arrived in Brussels 12 years ago to study visual arts. This city gave me my place, gave me the chance I was waiting for to exist. I became a Belgian in 2017 out of a need to recognise my belonging to the people who welcomed me. Artistically in Brussels, everything is possible. You can see everything in all forms and all the time. The opportunities to create without means and without places become more and more complicated with time of course, but it is still possible to have hallucinating projects and to make them exist. So the artistic freedom of Belgium, its Surrealist side, has been a determining factor in my artistic development and in the creative freedom I have been able to have.

The Belgian underground music scene is very rich. People are talented and crazy. We don’t really have any limits. I don’t know what the English underground punk scene was like at the time but I feel like I’m there when I go to see certain bands, it’s good to experience it. Some names to check out: the post-punk, synthpunk and coldwave influenced band Prince Harry from Liège, the Experimental Psychedelic Black Metal/Ambient band Wolvennest and the Brussels-based Techno / EBM / Cold Wave band Figure Section.

  • Will you talk about the influence of other forms of art in your creative process (literature, visual arts, cinema…)?

I think Science Fiction is the biggest creative engine in my life. Thanks to it, I discovered the possibility of creating a whole universe that works not only with images and text but also with sound, space and even objects. For me, since this encounter, art is total or it has no reason to exist. The things I create are immersive and present a form of coherence for a valid sensory experience.

What science fiction often promises is that the world will or has already ended. The plight of Science Fiction is liberating and creative because if there is no tomorrow, we are not risking anything by trying. The chaos of a Matrix trilogy or Asimov‘s Foundation Cycle is exactly what an anxious person like me needs to reach a state of calm and comfort. So I think I’m just repeating my science fiction pattern, even though in “Red Spells” we don’t talk about robots, but we do hear about chaos, the end of the world and the magical aspect brought by incantation that is sorely missing in the world around us.

  • I listened to an excellent DJ set from Morze’s Oberwave that came out about three months ago, please tell us about Alix DJ. How is it related to Alix the musician?

Thank you for listening! I was surprised myself to be able to start this DJ activity. It’s not so obvious to be ambivalent in one area. I have to admit that the DJ Alix feeds the musician Alix. It’s a breath of freedom to begin with: before I started DJing I started by taking part in the radio show “WAVES” of the label Red Maze Records under which I released my album. We specialise in dark electronic music which is still very wavey: dark wave, synth wave…

I started my DJ music collection this way. But the need for me to mix genres and push the established limits is too strong. So I try not to put any limits on my mixes, to do unexpected things even if for some people, I guess, what I mix is not so unexpected? What I really like about this activity is the experience of sound in a real way (no longer on headphones in your apartment/recording studio), in a collective way with people dancing with you on sounds you choose and sharing your musical tastes (or not), and on top of that, it’s an activity related to music production but much less stressful than having to do a concert.  So it’s a form of sonic refreshment for my own creation.

  • How much of your creative process is cerebral and how much is instinctive?

I think I am a person who likes order. So my songs are very constructed. However, in my creation, I am very much attached to my instinct to start and find the direction of a song. Let’s say 60 per cent instinct and 30 per cent brain and 10 per cent accommodation between the two?

  • An outstanding quality of your music is how your evocative and haunting voice is perfectly at ease whilst merging organically with the energetic and pulsing synthetic instrumentation, does this come naturally for you or is it something you work hard on? Who are your favourite female singers?

Thank you for this nice feedback. I wouldn’t say it was easy for me because to get this result I had to find a way to do it and it wasn’t that easy: I obviously have a lot of trouble hearing my own voice (it reminds me of that Marylin Manson interview where he said he hated his own). I don’t find it that special. I would have liked to be able to sing like a singer, but having taken singing lessons, the technique required is so heavy and needs to be practised all the time that I didn’t enjoy singing at all. So I try to do the best I can with this fragile voice I have and try to do my best. What I’m trying to do with my vocoder effect is to turn my voice into a full-fledged instrument. So I wanted it to marry the instrumental and be one with it, even if it was a bit incomprehensible. I’m happy with the result even if I think that I should be able to make my voice evolve with time or at least dare more lyrical flights.

The woman’s voice that inhabited me all my childhood without knowing it was her: Annie Lennox. Especially in her album “Medusa”. She made me cry and I made it a point to sing the songs on that album by heart. What a beauty. It’s a big reference for me.

  • Could you give us an in-depth insight into your album “Red Spells”? The title, the influences, the sound, and the recording process that have brought you to the final result?

“Red Spells” is a bloody (not painful) introspection into a past rooted in a mystical Breton landscape. It is a return to the source and a form of healing of what was holding me back. It is a form of rebirth, of sublimation of my personal truth that I had never been able to express. It takes the form of songs with titles that speak for themselves. They are like spells that, by dint of being repeated, heal or reinforce the object of which they speak.

A piece for me is created in stages. I work with Roland machines of the AIRA series. It is extremely pleasant to work on these machines. I have a system-1 keyboard, a TR8 drum machine, a TB3 baseline and a BOSS vocoder. They are real allies in my composition. They have a huge influence on the way I compose, which is a kind of encounter with the machines, a dialogue. I often start in a rather insistent way. I find my melodies by putting my voice on notes that I play on the piano. I often have a melody after that. The mood is set and the lyrics follow. I record a lot of steps at the ZOOM to be able to let the instinctive flow out and build the song in a more structured way as I go along. I sometimes get 20 versions before the song sinks in. I really like to compose with the material that the machines offer me, I don’t think I would make music if they weren’t there with me.

Photo by Antoine DBF & Erik Lafontaine

As for the influences of “Red Spells”, I guess as it’s my first album, it’s a sum of all the music that’s been with me since I was a kid. There’s a lot of pop music in what I’ve stored. It’s a bit like this album is the beginning of my musical life, both creatively and as a listener. I composed this album in several stages. The first versions were written in the confines of the corona in 2020. Final tracks and versions were done in 2021. The creative process took time and the release only took place in June 2022. What an adventure. But I can see the evolution of the tracks between the beginning and now after discovering the whole dark wave sphere and company.

I think the songs were much more naive in the beginning than they are now. I think the resulting sound needed to mature to define what I wanted to be too. Of course, there was a desire to be part of a universe that I like, which can be dark/synth wave, summed up as the family of people I listen to and respect in their work: Boy Harsher, Void Vision, Figure Section, Dernière Volonté, Kontravoid, Martial Canterel, Shad Shadows.

  •  Your music is very immersive, highly danceable and fueled by Celtic lore and legends. Tell us about this mysterious Celtic connection.

Originally from Brittany, the land of menhirs (standing stones in the ground), the sea and magic, as a child, I had already created an animistic connection to the world. I was already talking to plants, making potions in my garden, going to a field next to my garden with my best friend to visit magical ruins and praying to the gods of nature.

Having left my native land for 12 years for my adopted land of Belgium, I had at the time of writing “Red Spells” a huge need to go back and assume this inner child that had not had the opportunity to blossom due to a lack of benevolence at the time. So inevitably this album repairs and assumes this part of me. A part that is undoubtedly kitsch, undoubtedly simple in the links it has with its native land, but which was suffocating. I come back today to Brittany with a new look. I now embrace all its mystical attractions and I am even more interested in it than I was at the time when I didn’t even understand how much my environment influenced me.

  • Looking back at the album if you had the benefit of hindsight, is there anything you’d change or do differently? Which songs are you most proud of and why?

I probably would have tried to be more punk on some songs that I find too rigid. I would also have modulated my voice more. But that’s part of the creative process. You have to start somewhere to bounce back.
I think “SUN” and “DIE” are the songs I’m most proud of. “SUN” sounds like a gothic hit, which I didn’t expect at all, so I’m very happy about that. I like the structure and the subject matter. In the video I made, it is linked to the Breton sea which is my source of energy, which makes it a song that has even more meaning for me.
DIE is the most punk song I’ve been able to be since the beginning.

I owe it to my collaboration with the visual artist Marcin Sobolev with whom we created the group G.A.V. which is a proposal of shamanic techno music including performance art and painting. In this project, I do the musical aspect with much more freedom than in my project. And thanks to this, I am getting more confident in my solo production. So “DIE” is (as you will have understood) a killing of a character that was holding me back until now and that prevented me from moving forward. It is the only song with ALIX where I manage to scream. It feels good. “DIE” is very violent but very joyful, that’s what I like the most, the ambivalent things.

  • Your lyrics are very poetic. How does the writing process happen for you?

My mother tongue is French. But I don’t want to sing in French (not yet at least). I write my lyrics in English with my English originally learnt in India when I was 15 years old and which is not the best in the world! I often start with an idea, a subject. I then develop the feeling I want to describe. Of course, I try to enrich my vocabulary but also to make the text singable with my French accent. So this writing process is a sum of the idea, the sound, as well as the plastic potential it can give. For this first album, I think my lyrics are rather simple. I’m glad you find them poetic.

  • What about your “Live” experiences so far?

I have had the opportunity to play 3 times since I composed my songs. It’s not that easy to create a live show that is coherent with the music you compose. I’m looking for the best set-up to adopt, especially for the machines on stage. Also, the visuals have a big role to play and it’s necessary to dose it well. I want to offer an immersive experience to my audience, not just a classical concert. But is there still room to create or rethink the concert setup? It’s my professional deformation as a visual artist that probably makes me torture myself on questions like these.

However, when I visited the David Bowie retrospective, I could see that he had a multidisciplinary career and that these same questions were on his mind, albeit somewhat more lightly than mine. What is certain is that I enjoy playing on stage because it is a moment of collective communion that you can share with your audience, see how they react to your songs and get direct feedback. I just have to find a balance between the live creation of the song and the stage presence where I sing and dance.

  • Were there any pivotal records or live concerts that changed indelibly your perception of music?

I went to see a concert by a band I liked in my 20s (I can’t even remember the name of the band). I’d been to the first part, which most of the audience had obviously not done. I discovered an extremely good band on stage that made me dance and gave me a real experience. The next band had some good sound on a recorded album but live was not interesting. I learned a lot from this evening. First of all, as an audience, I never miss the opening act, because maybe I’ll make some discoveries and this band needs support. Today it’s my turn, I’m the opening act for several bands. Secondly, the experience of music is not just about the music, but about the experience of the music. Sometimes the album is better than the live performance, sometimes the opposite. So this is a question that concerns me a lot. I hope to be able to offer myself an album as good as a live performance to my audience.

  • A song you wished you had written?

NNHMN‘s song “In darkness”.

  • A song that defines the teenage you?

I had a singing exam when I was 15 years old when I lived in India. You had to choose a song and sing it in karaoke mode in front of the whole class. The test was not easy, we had the stalk and seeing our classmates being applauded despite their false notes reassured us not to lose face but did not help us to know if we had sung well or not. I chose “Hang Up” by Madonna. After my performance, people applauded like crazy and told me: “Bravo, that was so good!… No, it was really too good”. I got the best mark in the class. It marked me, me who still doesn’t have confidence in my voice ahaha.

  • What are you listening to lately?

I listen to medieval and baroque music. My next album will be inspired by it.     

  • Thank you for your time and for allowing us to get to know you better. Is there anything else you would like to share?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express myself and to react to your vision of “Red Spells”. This is as important as the creative part. It’s the only time we can step back and remember why we did it the way we did.
The “Red Spells” vinyl 12″ should be out by the end of the year. Due to the endless production period of the vinyl, which is the reason for our late release of the album, you will have the opportunity to rediscover the album in a new light and I hope you will enjoy it as much or more than when you first listened to it. 

Keep up with Alix Van Ripato:

Photo by Antoine DBF & Erik Lafontaine

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