BORDEL MILITAIRE – Exclusive Interview

by Helene Burkholder

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The first time I heard Bordel Militaire was a few years ago, when one of the band members (David Tonkin) posted a link to the band’s HYPERLINK “http://soundcloud.com/bordel-militaire” Soundcloud page on the Death in June Yahoogroup. After listening to the tracks available on that page, my immediate response was “WHERE HAVE YOU GUYS BEEN ALL MY LIFE?!” Oh yes, I was smitten. Unfortunately I had to wait a bit for the album to finally be released, but it was worth the wait.
They describe themselves in this fashion: “Take 2 parts of 50’s lounge, one part Morricone, one part power-electronica, one part neo-loungecore, a twist of exotica and a dash of bitters. Shake well and serve with an afterthought of reverb!” which is a very fitting description.

To me, their album is the soundtrack to a David Lynch movie yet to be filmed. It’s Flying Saucer Attack, Esquivel’s Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music, and Jodorowsky’ Holy Mountain, all combined into one. They also have cool musical mates such as Douglas P., John Murphy and Boyd Rice. They even cover the song Bonjour Tristesse, which was sung by Juliette Gréco in the movie of the same name, starring Jean Seberg – you can’t get much cooler than this!

Here are David Tonkin, Ben Taylor and Cameron Brew of Bordel Militaire answering my questions.
Chin Chin!

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That’s quite a band name you have there! (Bordel Militaire is taken from the term Bordel militaire de campagne). Why did you decide to name your act after a mobile brothel? Maybe you can explain what it represents to the band.

Cameron: The band name is indeed derived for the BMC, which was referenced in a Scott Walker song (“Next”). This was before my time though, so I’ll let someone else explain….

David: Scott’s version is so much better than the Jacques Brel original. As someone pointed out in the 30 Century Man doco, Brel’s phlematic, sweaty, Gallic sleaze had nothing on Scott Walker’s Roman nobility. I like to think we bring a similar touch of class to what could too easily be dismissed as novel kitsch. Or at least enough cocktails to make them seem that way.

How was Bordel Militaire originally formed? What was the spark that created the band, and what was the original vision of the band? Are you very far removed from what you started at originally?

David: Ben and I knew each other through email and tape trading for a year or two before I asked if he wanted to collaborate on something. At the time I was keen to explore textures a little harsher than the dark ambient stuff my Isomer project was rooted in at the time, and I was a fan of power electronics outfit Ebola Disco, a project Ben and his mate Matt Casey were doing. Ben flipped the idea and suggested we do something more left-field, and we discovered we both liked the loungey stylings of bands like Air and Goldfrapp. So why not put harsh noise and lounge together? We asked Cameron to do a live Apaenitentia set for one of our early BM gigs, where we hit it off. He started contributing superb bits and pieces to tracks, and soon became the third member.

I think we surprised ourselves with just how laid back a lot of the tracks ended up, as the harsh noise/pe elements we threw in often became a small part of the sound palette, rather than the primary theme.

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Are the three of you involved in other artistic venues apart from music?

David: Not me personally (unless drawing with my kids counts as an artistic endeavor). Ben and Cameron will attest to my unreliability as a band member, so I don’t think I could be counted on to do something else too.??Can you describe the creative process involved in creating your music and conceiving this album? Do you work all three closely together, or you each throw ideas around and see what gels?

Ben: The opposite of everything you just assumed. Our creative process isn’t typical to say ‘usual bands’, which suits us fine. These days we work in separation from each other.
Early on with the group, Dave and I spent a few drunken afternoons together when he happened to be in Melbourne, recording samples and basically just drinking and exploring ideas, though due to being in different cities to each other and living very different lives (I’m very nocturnal whilst say Cameron works during the day, Dave lives in a different city..) we just can’t and have never really needed to really work ‘together’ unless in a ‘post’ sense, fleshing the material out for live excursions – which really is quite amazing I think, to see each other play our parts and the songs to come alive.


Would it be fair to say that apart from musical interests, you guys also share an interest in history, or at the very least an interest in a certain era? And in cocktails, obviously.

Cameron: I see the way we relate to Bordel Militaire as a tri-quetra, all of us have interests that are unshared, but on certain points we come together. One thing that can be said about all of us is that we have very broad tastes, but I guess we could narrow it down to an appreciation of exotica, 50-60’s lounge, 60’s French Pop, and Power Electronics. Having said that, the only artists we’ve mutually expressed appreciation for while we’re all in the same room are Throbbing Gristle and the Birthday Party.

David: Yes, between the three of us we have very broad tastes, which for me has definitely helped broaden my horizons. Ben and Cam have both put me onto some fantastic bands which I’d otherwise have never heard of. And if we hold an appreciation of certain eras, it’s not rabid. I like tiki bars, for example, but that’s sprouted from their association with exotica music, not the other way round.??I really liked the artwork and presentation of the album. There is a definite attention to detail that, in my opinion, sets you apart from many other bands just getting started. How important was it to nail the look of the album?

The artwork was very important, and we struggled for a long time to get something we were all happy with. We even had Neuropa offer the services of renowned graphic designers, but their ideas didn’t match ours. We worked really hard to not have a cliche “post-industrial” cover, which would have been easy to achieve, but then our cover would have looked like every other album out there.
We were lucky in the end, as we came across a box of 1960’s erotica slides titled “Girlies, mostly oriental” which will be providing us with cover images for quite a while, I would say. Also, my girlfriend is a visual artist who put a great many hours into processing the images and finalizing the artwork.

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I see on the sleeve that there are seven songs that were produced by ‘(Ben) Taylor and Curelli’. Is Curelli someone only involved in the production of your album?

Ben: That is Roberto Curelli. I am very much about production and ‘co-produce’ with a number of different people in different studios around Melbourne, for instance I originally started working with Adam Tyndall on the song ‘And sorrow becomes him’, have worked on newer material with an old friend Mathew Casey of Ebola Disco and am currently putting together a new studio with a few of the bands surrounding the Nihilistic Orbs label here in Melbourne. I also produce a few bands, though only if I actually like or feel affinity with their project or them with one of mine. It really is whoever I feel suits a particular feel for a track or at least one of my tracks which I determine. I am also in the habit of using session musicians to achieve the necessary ends. It was actually in this way that I first started working with Cameron before it became apparent that he really suited the band and believed in what we were doing to the point that he was asked to join. He had one of our songs as his ring tone! With a lot of my material, the tracks themselves usually have their say on what project they fall into, a lot of my newer material with Mr. Curelli for instance will be released in a separate project entitled ‘Our Lady Juliana’ which as you’ll hear is almost a ‘furthering’ of certain themes you can hear within the first Bordel album maybe whilst the new Bordel album is expanding into new directions of its own.

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I especially love the song So Fear the Blinding White Light because of the guest vocals by Lara Tonkin. Is she your (David’s) daughter, or sister? Did she like the experience?

David: Yes, Lara’s my daughter, now 8 years old, but she was only four when she did those vocals. Ben rang me one night and said he had a great idea for a song, “and it involves your kids” – he sent me the lyrics and I read them out for Lara to repeat into a microphone, as she couldn’t read at the time. Ben took the best of the recordings, added his own vocals and mixed them into the track. Lara loved doing it.

Your album is out on Neuropa Records from Belgium – It appears to me that you went pretty far from home to release your album. Did you feel it would be more advantageous to be released by a European company rather than one in your own country?

Cameron: We definitely feel that our music has more of a connection with Europe than Australia, and we wanted to be released by a label with contacts and distribution in a place where we would be more appreciated. Also, given the size of the Australian music scene, the odds were that our project would simply not get off the ground here, at least in terms of our recorded output, which is our primary focus.??How has the music of Bordel Militaire been received so far in Australia and abroad?

Cameron: Our reviews from overseas have been interesting, made more amusing by Google Translate at times, but the overall reaction seems to be positive, but confused… In Australia we have gotten good feedback regarding the album, but I don’t think we’re a project that can be absorbed with one listen (even my girlfriend refers to the album as “dense”), so the standard review process of listening to an album once through doesn’t really work for us. Having said that, I have very little interest in other people’s opinion of the album, I’ve lived with it long enough to see it as an atmospheric work, which I think sums up a period in our history, but the new songs are shaping up even better.

David: Australia’s a very tribal sort of country, perhaps because of the vast distances between the major cities, so I think each city’s music scene lives in its own little bubble. That, and the fact Neuropa has no distribution channels in Australia (that I’m aware of) means how well BM is received in this country is entirely down to our own elbow grease. We’ve been getting decent airplay on independent radio which is great.
?I know from your website that Bordel Militaire has played live in Australia. How does your music translate live? And are there plans to play in other countries?

Ben: Absolutely, whether you want us or not. I’ve personally booked tours in the past with my groups to places overseas regardless of any actual ‘rational reason’ to play, usually more so due to will to get fucked up on Venice beach in LA, touring the south island of NZ ‘for fun’ or because I’ve wanted to play Hawaii simply to drink there and shoot machine guns. Whilst the local noise kids always turn up, it’s really hasn’t got a lot to do with the point of actually going.
When we first started playing live in Bordel we made a decision not to play the typical tired old live music venues we have in our other projects and just to play ‘classy’ or ‘fun’ venues such as lounge bars, tiki bars etc etc. Because it’s fun for us. I think we’d rather have a smaller more ‘adventurous’ audience then your boring old typical disinterested run of the mill crowd who are out simply because they always go to such places and are really just waiting for the goth DJ to come on at the end of the night or whatever . I don’t think they’d get it anyway and I certainly don’t want to have to listen to them ‘not getting it’ or have to explain ourselves, fuck that. A waste of good drinking time, we rarely see each other and it’s usually worth doing live performances simply to all be in the same bar as each other and have fun ourselves. We do attract a fairly interesting audience of individuals and we certainly look forward to seeing those that are crazy/adventurous enough to come to wherever we wind up playing in europe when we do and are certainly open to any promoters/brothel owners/ foreign legion troops/ oil shieks/ polynesian royalty who wish to book us sometime soon in the future.

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You have already collaborated with a heavy hitter of industrial/noise scene (Boyd Rice, in the deliciously lounge-y track “Coco Loco”), you have a guest appearance from John Murphy, and you thank Douglas P. on the album sleeve… you guys have connections! 😉 I’m supposing one of you knew Douglas P. at first, who introduced you to___ next, and so on and so on…

David: I live in the same city as Douglas P, so have known him for a number of years, and Ben’s been a good friend of John Murphy’s for quite a few years. Yes, Doug had a quiet word with Boyd about contributing somehow, which he was happy to do after we sent him a couple of raw tracks we thought might lend themselves to Boyd’s vocal stylings. They just work with that track don’t they?!

Speaking of Boyd Rice, John Murphy, Douglas P. – They all come with a definite following, BUT they also come along with their share of controversy, or at the very least ‘preconceived ideas’ that naysayers have of them. This obviously could affect the band both positively and negatively. It could make many people see you not for your own merit, but for the ‘company you seek’. Are you three worried about that, or is it something to laugh about and move on?

Cameron: Controversy doesn’t bother me, especially regarding the people who have supported us in our endeavors. I know what controversy you refer to, and I would love for someone to analyze our album and try to find anything even remotely “Nazi” (for want of a better word). Also, I think that people who would try to imply that controversy have a terribly black and white view of the world, and seem to think that appreciation of someone’s artistic output means that you therefore agree with every thought that person has ever expressed in public (or private). As an example, Boyd loves 60’s TV programs, and has waxed lyrical on the subject, but 2/3 of the band don’t own televisions.

Criticism regarding the choices of people to collaborate with can certainly be understood, as it could be seen as a cynical manoeuvre to generate interest in the project above and beyond it’s own merits. Having said that, we never approached Boyd to be on the album, it was something that Doug facilitated, as he was a supporter of ours and though Boyd would enjoy the project. Subsequently, a Cd-r was sent, and Boyd responded that he’d be interested in contributing. I spoke with him on the phone for quite a while about the music, and we briefly had a conversation about a trip to Acapulco I had taken a few years earlier, and then 3 months later the vocals for “Coco Loco” arrived in the mail. Also, that would seem to be an insult not just to us, but to those who have contributed, because why would they risk their own artistic integrity to help a new project from Australia that no-one had even heard of unless they were interested?

David: Personally I’d never apologize for any of my friends or acquaintances, musical or otherwise. If people don’t like the company I keep, who cares?

Ben: I’ve never cared to defend my friends in regards to what they say, believe or more importantly how they are ‘perceived’. Where I come from in North Queensland, Australia – I am more likely to ‘take flak’ or quite simply ‘be bashed for my cover of Death in June’s ‘God’s Golden Sperm’ then any other perceived reason. I certainly believe in defending my friends, though in that regards it quite simply begins and ends with my fists – due to actual physical attack and as far as I’m concerned that is the extent of my personal obligation when it comes to defending my friends and I like it that way. That’s my breeding. Nice and simple. As far as our connection to Doug, Boyd or anyone we choose to run with, I’m actually proud, honored and fuck anyone who has a problem with that.

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Are there other artists in the post-industrial/post-anything-and-everything music arena that you have an interest in collaborating with?

David: As a band? We’ve spoken with a couple of people we’ll not mention, just in case we don’t end up working with each other. Do you think Rolf Harris would do wobble board on a track for us?

So far, has any of your personal political or societal opinions found their way into Bordel Militaire’s music?

Ben: I think we’re all quite disgusted with the lack of 24 hour drinking establishments in our cities here, so I guess local council bylaws? Seriously our political and social opinions are usually expressed like the true gentlemen we are, drunken, enraged and at the bar with a drink in hand in the privacy of our own table whereas like countless young men before us, our musical motivations are maybe more ‘romantically’ driven? That that we don’t usually speak about we sing about? It’s nothing new. I can only really speak for myself in regards to my own lyrics though, maybe Cameron or Dave may start writing few swingin’ socio-political numbers?

What is in the cards next for Bordel Militaire?

Ben: I once drew ‘The Hanged Man’ a few years back and later ‘The Knight of cups’…that’s all I personally will say right now when it comes to what’s on the cards for us. Though really, I don’t think it’ll be too long before you’ll have this question answered for you.

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BORDEL MILITAIRE:
Facebook: “http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bordel-Militaire” www.facebook.com/pages/Bordel-Militaire
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Neuropa: http://www.neuropa.be” http://www.neuropa.be

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