By 1984, electronic music had bullied rock and roll into a rather cold place, as David Bowie explained in an interview in that year. The iconic chameleon was right, of course; with some notable exceptions (Thomas Dolby, Yello, The B52s), extensive use of synthesizers and the growing role of digital devices in popular and rock music resulted in nearly a decade dominated by robotic drumbeats, overuse of digital effects, and a general lack of inspiration and humor. Depeche Mode weren’t tagged with the name Depressed Mood for nothing.
Thirty years later, things don’t look much better. The spawn of 80s electronic music that started with techno pop is represented by dozens of electronica genres and sub genres, including ‘dance’ music that’s not danceable at all, many of these genres sounding like they were created using similar equipment and software. And in addition to the generic approach to music creation, the same lack of humor is a trademark of these genres (Psy’s Gangnam Style excepted). Send in the clowns.
Enter Gilles Snowcat. With his affection for plush felines and Hello Kitty, Snowcat puts a buffoonish spin on the seriousness of rock’s self-important swagger. If you put Frank Sinatra, Calvin and Hobbes, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Serge Gainsbourg into a transmogrifying machine, you’d get Gilles Snowcat. He sings about the places he loves (Japan, Vietnam, Belgium, France), about the perils of fame, about intoxicating beverages, and about the risks and rewards of romance, all with a self effacing sense of humor. (His use of vintage analog instruments is an added attraction.)
In a recent photo, Snowcat looks the part of debonair bachelor, sitting with a drink in one hand, while his left arm drapes across the shoulders of an over-sized Hello Kitty plush animal. Yet despite his clowning, Snowcat can get very serious when discussing beauty and inspiration. “Beauty is not innocent at all,” he says. “It is quicksand with a sweet taste.” And despite his desire to give full reign to his inner Sylvester, Pink Panther, Fritz the Cat or Tony the Tiger, Gilles Snowcat has a serious approach to creating music and lyrics beneath the cartoon veneer, acknowledging the painful or lustful impulses that often accompany musical creation.
“This is probably a necessary part in art,” he says. “Art is not practical and therefore can be fed by any kind of intentions and still remain art. That’s the biggest difference between, let’s say an architect and an artist. An architect, however artist he is to design his buildings, has to respect rules of physics, if not his houses would collapse and therefore would not be houses anymore. A human being is somehow a complicated thing, and is repressed to show the whole self, for obvious reasons. If we didn’t censor ourselves in everyday life, we’d be in a perpetual chaos.”
Snowcat waxes philosophical: “Art not only allows the use of our worst feelings, but it works better with them. You mention rock’n’roll, as if rock’n’roll was more evil than other forms of art. I don’t think so. Rock’n’roll seems more on the dark side cause it shows it as a part of its image. ” For example, as Gilles goes on to explain, a key difference between the rebelliousness of rockers and the seeming innocence of singers of pop standards is tied up in how they present themselves to their audience; what goes on underneath is the same. “There’s not much difference,” he says, “between, let’s say, an extreme rocker who sings ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ about junkies, prostitutes and transvestites, a blue-eyed crooner who whispers ‘Strangers In The Night’ about a love story that begins, or a painter who depicts the pure beauty of an exotic landscape: they’re all driven by a mix of several feelings and intentions, including…devilish ones. Lou Reed will use the bad side to strengthen his image, while Sinatra will hide it as much as he can.”
All the world’s a stage. New York rockers and blue eyed crooners notwithstanding, Gilles Snowcat positions himself as a player in musical theater, in the roles of cat and jester. Since his days as a member of Awaken in the ’80s, Gilles has been a musical experimenter, with an inclination away from self-censorship. It’s this freedom that makes his art and persona so appealing. Check out his newly-released 2014 Christmas single, “Let The Cat Out,” coming soon to www.gilles-snowcat.com . Update: Listen to it here: Let The Cat Out.