Ah, China, the land of…opportunity? Donald Trump certainly seems to think so, and so does Ögenix main-man Gabriel Duceppe, who moved his Montreal-based band to Beijing just over a year ago. Since then, he has been busy building a name in his new local scene, hiring a mostly new lineup, and working on a new video which was just released (you can check it out here). I had the chance to ask Mr. Duceppe a few questions about his heavy-as-hell industrial metal band’s promising future on foreign lands.
What was the culture shock like going from Montreal to China?
Well, I’ve traveled a lot with my family since I was very young. I’ve been to a few Asian countries throughout the years, and actually I came here to China once before. I can’t say I had any type of cultural shock when I moved here (laughs.) Especially since I was already addicted to the food! However, getting used to how things are done is another story. Some simple things we take for granted are really complicated to accomplish here, and other things that would be challenging at home are just as simple as buying a coffee. I would say it’s a very unique bureaucratic nightmare, but the bureaucracy is highly efficient, fast, and accurate. It’s a weird paradox actually (laughs.) However, one thing that took me a long time to get used to it is the distance. Beijing is huge, and the subway is extremely vast, so the average transport time to go from one place to another is about one hour. That was hard at first, but I guess I’m used to it now!
What’s the music scene like in China versus Montreal?
I think that the metal scene is very much alive and well! So let’s say it’s more or less the same size, but I can feel it’s growing really fast. There are concerts almost every night of the week, and you can see just about every style of music. Without mentioning all the local band’s shows I’ve seen in the last year, I can say that I’ve seen Suffocation, At The Gates, Warbringer, and Behemoth, just to name a few. Other bands that [have played here that I haven’t seen are] Megadeth, Linkin Park, Muse, Lacrimosa, Children of Bodom, Fintroll, and Arch Enemy. Bon Jovi had to cancel his show. Oh no! (Laughs). I’m probably forgetting some. But to come back to metal and alternative music, the phenomenon is “newer” than in Montréal, so I think there’s still a lot of interest from the music fans to discover new sounds and to attend live concerts. I see this to be a bit like Montréal and the province of Québec during the 90s actually, when people were going to see random concerts, hoping to discover something new. So it’s quite common to see random people completely out of place enjoying a brutal death show because they’re out on a “discovery” evening (laughs). I find this awesome! I used to be a bit like that back then!
Also, one very big difference is that Beijing’s underground metal scene doesn’t have the oversaturation of bands versus the demand like we have at home. It makes the average music fan very enthusiastic and not jaded by having his plate too full all the time. Another thing that is interesting is that there are many bands that are using traditional instruments, like our folk metal bands but with Mongolian instruments and throat singing!
Are there any Chinese bands you would recommend to your North American audience?
Yes! There are three bands in particular that I find quite promising. Scare the Children are three French dudes and one Brazilian guy who all have been living here for over six years. They have a cool visual concept and masks, but really aren’t like Slipknot. Their sound is like modern and old-school metal and hardcore; it’s really dirty, in your face, and effective. Oh! Did I mention that the drummer is the lead vocalist? This is probably the next band from China that will make it pretty well outside of China!
Ephemerality (朝生暮死) are female-fronted death metal with a cool groove! I guess some people could compare them to Arch Enemy because they have a female vocalist, I personally prefer Tiina’s style and find the band to be more rooted, more solid in a way. Their compositions are not too long, and are interesting without being alienating for the average metal fan. Actually, there are pictures of our last show on our Facebook page, and we can see Tiina singing with us for one song! Never Before are sludgy stoner metal. (Or southern rock? Whatever!) They have a solid groove and a very organic sound, something that is often lost in metal. The vocalist is very good and versatile. Having seen them live a few times, they give quite a show just by playing their music without anything really special except their banners. They’re actually the ex-band of Nico, our bass player! Okay here’s a fourth one, and another ex-band of ÖGENIX’s bass player! (Laughs.) Voodoo Kung Fu (零壹). The composer and vocalist now lives in California, but they are metal superstars here. I was lucky enough to see them last fall when the band came to tour China. It literally is a cult band here, just like Grimskunk was in Montréal around 1998-1999. I didn’t expect anything, since the few recordings I’ve heard online then didn’t convince me. I was just blown away by their performance. I really hope they will record some better quality material and come back to play in China soon.
Do you think the metal scene in America is oversaturated?
Totally! There are too many bands that are there just to be there. I think the music scene is cannibalizing itself, and this will probably have a long term effect on the output of innovative bands with real potential. But honestly, I also think that younger fans have a lack of general musical culture. I don’t know who is profiting from that, but those fans, having grown up in the 2000s, have been stuck in an extremely rigid and narrow stylistic approach to underground culture, creating walls in their heads between newly created subgenres that were all just metal before, instead of widening their perspective to other types of sounds and aesthetics, like underground music “should” do as opposed to what anemic mainstream music does. So it’s also a problem where new bands are too often trying to emulate their idols like clones. (Boring ones!) I don’t know, but I find it depressing when you need to look away from metal to see or hear innovation and evolution.
Do you think it’s important for young metal bands to differentiate themselves in their live shows with lights and props?
Maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many concerts, but I do think that offering something for the eyes is a plus. I mean, we’ve all seen the jeans, black T-shirt combo before, and I kinda look at that like, I may as well stay home and blast some music with cheap dépanneur beer instead of going to a venue, paying three times the price for some horrible beer, and having to deal with smelly and drunk people, right? (Laughs). But seriously, if you look at the successful bands, they always offer something “extra” to their music when they perform live, like Lamb of God have that awesome frontman, Slipknot is like an evil circus of madness, Nine Inch Nails has a very artistic and elaborate and high-tech stage setup, Tool is Tool… you know what I mean, right? I truly believe that the presentation is important, and it did really help us out to stand out and get the band to another level. Look at Bookakee, they are doing that really well. They are being very creative on the visual side of things, it goes very well with their music (which is also very unique), and I think it’s perfect like that.
Do you think your personal interactions and conversations with fans on social media have given you a more loyal following?
I do think it’s important indeed, because you create a personal relationship with a fan or supporter. I’ve actually met some people like that in the past, they eventually became friends!
What’s life like without Facebook? Has it been hard to keep in contact with your fans?
Well, if you want to use the “normal” internet you just install a VPN and voilà! Most people that want or need to do so here are doing it, like all the foreigners living here! So it’s “blocked,” but really easy to get around if you need to. (Laughs) On the other hand, being a huge country that is extremely diverse and self-sufficient, many people don’t need to use the internet past the great firewall of China… There are Chinese social networks, messaging systems, email providers, etc., and they work very well, just like Facebook or Twitter. They’re just aimed at the Chinese market only. It’s a “microcosm” of 1.3 Billion people. (Laughs)
What band got YOU into metal?
I was exposed to Maiden, Motorhead, Metallica, Motley Crue, etc. in the mid-80s because of my elder brother who had many records back then. I was really young, and was quite amazed by the monsters on those record’s sleeves! But what really got me into metal was Ministry and their albums The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste and Psalm 69 and also Body Count. That was the early 90s. A guy I knew had those on cassettes and copied them to me. About Ministry, he was like, “Dude! They don’t have a drummer, it’s all made with computers.” Now imagine those beautiful computers from the early 90s, then imagine the mental image of a band on stage with a computer. This is what I saw in my head for a few seconds when I got my first pirated Ministry tape. (Laughs)
What inspired you guys to get into the remix game?
Remixes are part of electronic music culture. Having been a fan of electronic music from a very young age, I’ve always had that idea that if I ever have a band with electronics, there has to be many remixes of every song floating around. And I kinda like the idea of someone else taking your composition and making something else with it. (Laughs) There was talk of a remix album, but finally it didn’t really work out. It’s not that easy remixing a metal band! (Laughs) Hopefully it will eventually happen. Meanwhile, we will have two more singles that will be released this spring with some interesting remixes from surprising artists. I’m not saying any more for now. (Laughs) The new stuff (along with other remixes and videos) will start to be released in the summer. I’m really excited about it!
Realistically, when do you think you’ll be able to come back to Canada to play some shows?
I can’t say any dates, but I would think that in about a year it would be quite possible. Things are going faster here than in Montréal. We’ve only done a few shows and we seem to be making a very good impression on the local audiences. Promoters are very proactive to try to book original bands, and it seems that we fit in that category. Just to tell you, we were invited to do a few dates with Voodoo Kung Fu in the fall, but the new lineup was not quite ready then, so I had to decline the invitation. Having seen who they were afterward, I realised this was a great opportunity, and we’ll not miss something like that again! (Laughs)
Chances are, if you’re living on our side of the pond, you probably won’t be seeing Ögenix live any time soon, but you can support them by keeping up to date with their online releases which are often free, or you can take a trip to China for yourself and see what all the fuss is about first hand.
Written and Compiled by Syd Ghan
*edited by Kate Erickson