Eva enjoys ultra-violence (kinda) – who knew?
I remember as, six years ago, presenting a radio-show on ICR with my bro’, I chose to broadcast some songs of one of my favourite bands: INDOCHINE. Last February, short before I left Ipswich, I entered H&M in town-centre. A big surprise awaited me: playing at the radio, “Memoria”, a single from French band Indochine’s last album Black City Parade. Since the 1980’s and after several changes in the band’s constitution, Indochine remains one of the most popular French pop-rock or rock bands, providing both “music and lyrics” as these last years French musical scene remains quite monotonous between rap, mainstream and impersonal pop as it exists everywhere on Earth and “text-songs” – I mean boring lyrics meant to be poetic with very simple music. (I am deeply sorry about what I am writing about French music, but I am “sound-sensitive”, and sound is not, in my opinion, the strong point of French music!)
Recently, Indochine released the video of its last single, “College Boy” from Black City Parade. This ultra-violence feature, meant to denounce violence at school aroused a polemic… We can ask the question: real issue or commercial purpose? Denunciation or manipulation into gaining some “rock credibility”? Did they go too far in showing violence?
Let’s begin with a little presentation.
Indochine was founded in 1981 as a New Wave band, around the lead singer – nowadays the only member of the origins – Nicola and his twin brother Stéphane Sirkis deceased in 1999. They gained notoriety through cult titles like “L’Aventurier” (“The adventurer”, 1982), “Kao Bang” (1984), inspired by exotic – especially Asiatic – universe and comics, or gay-friendly “3ème Sexe” (“3rd Gender”) or “Trois nuits par semaine” (“Three Nights a Week”) both released in 1985 and exploring themes like sexuality. The band evolved through years, in the 1980’s and in the 1990’s, releasing darker and more rock’n’roll stuff. But the 1990’s have been dark times for Indochine, as grunge, techno and rap attracted more audience in France and caught the attention of the media… Anyway, the band released some beautiful albums, especially one of my favourite ones, Dancetaria with its magnificent opening song. It is marked by tragedy, because Stéphane Sirkis died at the beginning of recording.
Nicola continued and renewed the staff. With this team of good musicians, the band knew success anew with the release, in 2002, of the rock’n’roll, loud sounded and energetic Paradize. What I found quite amusing at this time was that some of my schoolmates who told me I liked shitty music as I mentioned Indochine came to me, almost screaming: “OH MY GOD! DO YOU KNOW INDOCHINE! THEY’RE HUGE!” Since then, successes follow each other and Indochine remains at the top of the sales. In 2005-2006, they had the huge success with their album Alice & June – in this album, Nicola Sirkis sung “Pink Water”, a beautiful duet with Brian Molko, Placebo’s lead-singer. Most of the songs were devoted to teenage love. Indochine even released a live at the Opera in Hanoi (Vietnam) with the Hanoi Philharmonic Orchestra in 2006, and performed with the Orchestra in Paris in 2007: I was at this concert and it sounded gorgeous, especially as it gave a new dimension to their old songs inspired by Asia. In terms of music and lyrics, I was quite disappointed by La Républik des Météors (Meteoras’ Republik) in 2008, except by wonderful “Le Dernier Jour” (“The Last Day”). A new album has been released this year, Black City Parade. I have to say I felt quite apprehensive about it and feared a loss in inspiration. Actually it positively surprised me with songs like “Memoria”, “Wupperthal”, “Le Messie” (“Messiah”) or “College Boy”…
- “College Boy” video, an ultra-violent feature
Xavier Dolan, a very young Canadian filmmaker, has directed “College Boy” video. He is considered to be extremely good and audacious, but honestly, before I saw Indochine’s last video, I had never heard of Xavier Dolan, whose realisations, focused on young people love interests and questioning sexual identity, are quite far away from geeky stuff I usually like…
So, what is the specificity of “College Boy” video?… Released in black and white, the video takes place in an Anglo-Saxon looking posh private school, where beautiful – at least according to Parisian criteria, angel-looking boys wearing uniforms. It tells the story of one of them, bullied and finally assassinated by his schoolmates. It begins with paper-balls the boys throw to their bullied mate. Following scenes are more and more violent and gory: the boy is beaten, blood squirts. He’s finally crucified as his angel-looking torturers film the scene, and shooting him with guns. I read some reviews and analysis of the video – some see in it a biblical metaphor, depicting the boy as a martyr just like Jesus Christ on the Cross, showing sacrified innocence… The least I can say, if I dare to express my opinion about it, is that the comparison is not very subtle. But the video really works, and it’s even more efficient if your experienced violence at school yourself, as I did: you cannot do anything else but feeling empathy for this poor boy tortured and killed by other teens, proud of themselves, because they dare to film it. In addition, adults present in the video and other pupils seeing violence wear an eye-band, to show they want to stay blind to what’s going on. Message is clear: ignorance and indifference of people meant to help him killed the boy.
I think it would be dishonest if I say that there is nothing commercial in this video – I think there is. I cannot help it, because since a few years, I got the impression, even if I am a fan, that lead-singer Nicola Sirkis, 53 years and charismatic figure of French rock, shows off and likes to believe that Indochine is more demonic as it actually is: maybe the songs explore themes like sexuality, teenage-love and –sex, violence, anorexia, etc. … but Indochine’s audience is a lot younger since Paradize in 2002, as band members are getting old. So in my opinion they sometimes lack credibility and give the impression that young people only think with their pants and heart, only in terms of annoying big bad adults that don’t understand them and absolutely want to teach them everything… If there were only adults! Teenagers or kids sometimes are crueller to their counterparts! It is my point of view. As you see, I am a fan, but I remain quite critical and sometimes sceptic toward the purpose of one of my favourite bands.
Anyway I cannot deny artistic and visual qualities of the video, and the “rock credibility” of this feature… French High Council for Audio-visual, organization in charge of monitoring and controlling stuff broadcasted on French TV, was shocked. Short after the release of “College Boy” video, it mentioned the possibility of forbidding the video to young people under 16 or 18 years old. You can be sure most French young people have seen it on YouTube. I did it too, but with some difficulty: as a former victim of school violence, I cannot take much distance with this issue and it drives me totally mad each time I hear from a story like this in the news.
- Denouncing violence through violence?
Group members, especially lead-singer Nicola Sirkis, and video director Xavier Dolan defended themselves during this – in my opinion ridiculous – polemic. The singer told he and the director had an educative purpose, and wanted to raise awareness concerning violence at school. For once, I agreed with him – although it seems very ironical from someone singing that young people have to forget what adult tell them, into making their own experiences. If I had been asked if the video went too far, I would have given a supportive answer.
Just to talk a little about my own experience. The fact is school violence exists in high school, even in primary school as it was my case from 4 to almost 9 years old, and children can reveal particularly cruel to each other. As Xavier Dolan said: you’re part of the group, or you are not. I remember, as I was a little girl, I was quite different, even physically. During several years, a long time before happy-slapping and other disgusting new forms of violence, I have been beaten, thrown to the ground as my mates joyfully walked on my back, called names, strangled, maintained underwater at the swimming pool. So, don’t tell me it’s not violent. Even some of my schoolteachers seemed to take pleasure in humiliating me – no wonder that, with such an example, kids felt allowed to brutalize me. The most frightening is I was so used to it, that I didn’t talk to my parents, because adults at school didn’t seem really interested in my problems. As my parents found out, they couldn’t do anything to help me: indeed my schoolteacher in that time was a close friend of someone working for education authorities. I didn’t finish my school year and had to go to another school. So I agree with the message of Indochine’s video about ignorance. I lost my trust in adults, as I was 8, because my teachers, meant to recognize and to help a vulnerable child, didn’t do anything.
I totally understand that some people are particularly sensitive and cannot watch “College Boy” video entirely. I had some difficulty myself, and I found a little bit demagogic that everything takes place in a posh school – maybe an aesthetic choice, with schoolboy uniforms – because it happens not only in difficult schools of French poor suburbs, but in mainstream middle-class schools too. Recently, in French news, we have often heard from harassment in primary school, bullying, pupils committing suicide in school loo or throwing themselves through the window of the classroom. On a certain way, their torturers, kids or teenagers, and school staff have their blood on their hands. So Indochine’s video tells an artistically interpreted truth.
Ultra-violence exists at school; kids are able to inflict it. But I still have the uncomfortable impression that each time, people say that something has to be done into avoiding these kids and teenagers to live hell on Earth at school, but that all interest vanishes as the action of school staff is at stake. I don’t know how it is in Great Britain, but in France, it is very delicate to question the action of public education staff on these issues. As soon as it is concerned, people wear eye-band, like in “College Boy” video. It is terrible for young people dying by torture of suicide, and even for young people who have to live with terrible school memories, and who later experience the lack of self-esteem and defiance towards adults, have difficulties to manage their relations to others and fear rejection whatever they do, and have, after this experience an ambiguous relation to violence. I am not sure that teachers and pupils realise the consequences on personal life.
So if people prefer closing their eyes instead of facing the facts and doing something to protect youth, why couldn’t a rock band use its popularity into placing as many people as possible at the front of those terrible ultra-violent fact? Censoring this video is non-sense. More than non-sense, I see it as hypocrisy, if we consider that High Council for Audio-visual allows rap videos with guys using guns and sometimes killing (I think of “Du ferme” by La Fouine), or R’n’B features showing half-naked women suggestively dancing, or very gory clips educating citizen to road safety and showing bloody corpses. News is not censored, although it shows death, war and violence everywhere!
A few days ago, a rapper from Nantes called Spyk-hz accused Indochine and Xavier Dolan of plagiarizing his own music video released in December 2012 for his song “Les Filles du Collège” (“Schoolgirls”). Indeed video covered the same theme of bullying, with a similar black and white aesthetic, telling the story of a pupil bullied and murdered by schoolmates. What surprises me a lot, is that it never aroused a polemic, although it seems violent the same way. If it is the case, I have never heard of it – maybe because I usually don’t listen to rap (no judgement, it’s a matter of sound). So, why didn’t this shock French High Council for Audio-visual? Is a rapper more legitimate for showing violence than a popular rock band?
As I already wrote, it would be great if something could be done to avoid murder or suicide of youth. Especially as new forms of violence appear like happy-slapping, and as some facts take place at school and in private through the Internet – I think of these girls in North America, who committed suicide after being harassed at school and on their Facebook wall, or after pictures of them subjected to sexual violence by their schoolmates have been posted. So, school staff may be blind, but it cannot control what’s going on outside the school. If you ask me if Indochine and Xavier Dolan went too far, I would answer: NO. ON NO ACCOUNT. Most people could think I say that because of my so-called “goth’ and bloodthirsty” side, of because I have no distance enough this issue. It’s totally false for the first point, and maybe because there is a part of truth in the second point, that I have an ambiguous relation to violence. I just say that sometimes people need a big shock and to face facts – even aestheticized, as the news regularly – too often in my tastes – cover cases of bullying and school violence, and as new forms of violence put more and more pressure on bullied kids and teens. Does it need another dead before we do something against violence at school?
- “Pink Water” (Alice & June, 2005) feat. Brian Molko – official video in France was released without Molko’s voice, because a conflict of interest between Indochine’s production house and Molko’s. So I found another link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jOTuNsp3i0 (In my opinion, relevant for British people, and extremely beautiful… I didn’t translate the lyrics, but they’re absolutely marvellous)
Eva is a lover of literature and politics and writes for VxM as well as Easy Word Portfolio and R-Bl.-Mt.Cl. I.