Zoviet France

The UK collective Zoviet France is a strong contender for the ultimate cult electronic band. Anonymous, uncompromising, wryly humorous and famously fond of weird album packaging, the band has grown a loyal and obsessive fan base since the original lineup made their recorded debut in 1982.

artist:
Zoviet France

country of origin:
UK

style(s):
Industrial ambient, experimental, noise, ethno ambient, environmental

decades active:
80's - 10's

essential albums:

  • Popular Soviet Songs and Youth Music (1985, Red Rhino)
  • Loh Land (1987, Staalplaat)
  • Just An Illusion (1990, Staalplaat)
  • What Is Not True (1993, Charrm)
  • Digilogue (1996, Soleilmoon)

Reviewed by Mike G

The UK collective Zoviet France (correctly spelled :zoviet*france:) is a strong contender for the ultimate cult electronic band. Anonymous, uncompromising, wryly humorous and famously fond of weird album packaging, Zoviet France has grown a loyal and obsessive fan base since the original lineup of Ben Ponton, Peter Jensen and Robin Storey made their recorded debut in 1982.

Most prolific in 1980's and 90's, the band's discography presents an original, experimental lo-fi concoction of electronics, found sounds, assorted acoustic instruments, vocal samples, tape effects, industrial clatter and all kinds of location recordings. Sometimes it sounds like a hybrid of experimental electronics and Third World music. At others times it's almost pure industrial, forged with metallic drones and mechanical noise, as cold as stone. It's ambient music, of a kind, though some of it is too abrasive and/or energetic to really be considered as such. Zoviet France's music certainly demands much of the listener, but with listener effort comes reward. If you're intrigued, here are some suggested releases to begin exploring.

The early classic Popular Soviet Songs and Youth Music (1985) sounds - unsurprisingly - nothing like its absurd title suggests. The sprawling 3CD set is a fascinating and strangely seductive exercise in ambient noise and atmospheres with traces of melody and tonality. The sheer variety on offer is the album's greatest strength. "Decoy" resembles early German psychedelic spacemusic, its surreal beauty unanchored by beats or recognisable harmony. "Sidi" is an indescribable concoction of found sounds and fluttering bells. "Sein" is a nocturnal sound painting fashioned with eerie drones and watery effects. It's a good album for newcomers; the short track lengths mean even the most demanding moments don't last too long.

The Soviet Songs album is a Zoviet France template of sorts; many of the band's subsequent albums echo parts of it, or emphasise and further explore a certain element.

The intoxicating Loh Land (1987) and Just An Illusion (1990), for example, both have a deeply tribal current. Zither and flute melodies, exotic poly-rhythms and assorted Arabic vocal samples are electronically manipulated and woven among the grimy atmospheres and metallic rings. These albums are dark, often surreal and strangely cinematic, with definite echoes of prolific British artist Muslimgauze.

The excellent 90's releases What Is Not True (1993) and Digilogue (1996) emphasise another element: drone music, this time explored over longer distances. The 60-minute "Cyclonic Sub Alien" from the former album is a remarkable track best heard at volume in a darkened room. It flirts with muted percussion, harmonic throat singing, sustained bell tones and bright metallic washes of sound, before finally melting into a lovely harmonic drone - the last being somewhat atypical for the band, but making for a highly effective conclusion.

The band continues today, although Ben Ponton is the only remaining member of the original lineup. Some hardcore Zoviet France fans much prefer the music being released by The Reformed Faction, a group formed in 2006 by ex-members Andy Eardley, Mark Spybey and Robin Storey.

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