In 1979, an anonymous Parisian musician – Junior Clastridge – dropped an album which acted as the connective tissue between the space disco genre of the mid-1970s and early synth-pop. Electronics-heavy and highly obscure, ‘Black Devil Disco Club’ quickly became a collectors’ item. Re-released by Aphex Twin’s Rephlex imprint in 2004, at first the release was viewed as a prank, an alias of Aphex disguised timestamped as a lost electronic music gem.
It wasn’t, and somewhat sporadically over the next few, Black Devil – with the metaphorical mask removed to reveal library music composer Bernard Fevre – released more idiosyncratic electronic material whose only reference point was itself; wonky, distinctive, paying no particular heed to whatever else was going on in the world of electronic music and evidently showcasing a formidable array of vintage equipment, these albums were a breath of fresh air in a world of increasingly po-faced, onanistic synth music, all delivered with a distinctly French musical accent.
Somewhat depressingly, just as we’ve got used to Fevre’s individualistic take on electronic music being around, the release of ‘Lucifer’ comes with an announcement that this is to be the final Black Devil album. Fortunately, it’s an absolute gem, full of wobbly melodies along with vocals and rhythms that nod graciously back to the disco era that begat Black Devil’s incomparable sound.
Among the highlights is ‘Synth Is Not Love’, its title possibly suggesting that man-caves full of modular gear and nests of patch cables make for poor substitutes for actual lovers. Here you find Fevre’s delicate approach to electronics, with fluttering, spiralling layers of rich synths set to a chunky, percussive beat, his vocal taking on a Bowie archness and occasionally reaching a sort of falsetto euphoria. ‘Caresse Un Opossume’ – literally about caressing an opposum – is playful and skewed, its frankly bizarre lyrics set to a bed of many-layered synths covering everything from raspy bass sounds to chiming bells and jazzy stabs.
Perhaps the strongest track here is ‘Six Six Sex’, wherein Fevre layers the track up with bleeping alarm sounds, springy analogue sequences, staccato vocal refrains and a sound reminiscent of late 80s dance music like S’Express. Disco nostlgia appears vividly here in the form of expressive hand percussion and suggestive moaning female vocals, taking us back to a chic Parisian discotheque in the twilight years of the 1970s.
This is the sound of Fevre going out on a high, its nagging beat and air of sensuality sounding utterly timeless, yet wonderfully, weirdly, unique.
Words: Mat Smith
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