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Friday, 26 December 2014

Me, Myself and I... the best of myself via Q&A - verse I

[edited. last paragraph on Miguel Zegarra. link added. 14/05/15]

I have to write a few posts on exhibitions, albums, film, but I have decided to wait January 2015 in order to give a better exposure to these important events. And since I don’t want to write on 2014 “best”est” of”...
Meanwhile, I think a Q&A with myself would be “de bon augure” or “a propos”!

Myself: How and why did you start Babylondonorbital?
Myself: I had come back to London to look after a friend who had a brain tumour. We had a deal that I would stay at hers and look after her while I would apply for jobs. London seemed to have become a strange place (not in a good way) and I didn’t get replies. My friend died early March 2013 and I thought I would write articles with a soup├žon of “auto-fiction”. A sort of on-going CV (laughing to myself very loud)!


Back from left to right: Jean-Daniel Beauvallet, Calou, Moi, Christian Fevret, Arnaud Deverre, Serge Kaganski, Rodolphe A D'Ormeuil, Emmanuel Tellier
Front: Eric Mulet with son Boris
Photo taken by Renaud Monfourny

Did you have any background in media?
While I worked as a train hostess in Paris, one day in 1990, I called Les Inrockuptibles. It was the only magazine I wanted to work for. I loved Actuel too but Les Inrocks was my target. I got the job straight away as editorial assistant, receptionist, subscription manager. I made it clear that I also wanted to be trained as a photographer and journalist since I had no time to damage my bottom and my clothes on university benches. I learnt a huge amount of things from tickling a computer to dealing with press officers. There was an element of trust as well as I dealt with people like Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Philippe Djian (Betty Blue’s author), Etienne Daho; I had a massive list of confidential contacts: I was the one sending magazine copies to the famous and infamous artists’ private address. Of course, many people outside the magazine wanted to be friend with me: some wanted a job at Les Inrocks; some wanted info on artists... I learnt to smell vultures and kept my distances. But I was the first and only woman for a good year in a eight male team environment and one of them was constantly harassing me + I worked more hours than agreed + I was learning nothing about photography despite an in-house built darkroom + they were preparing their weekly issues even before they became monthly + I was born with little tolerance on how much crap I can take (I am LOL again). The guys who taught me a lot and showed respect were Serge Kaganski (who recently sent me a nice email); Samuel Blumenfeld; Calou and Arnaud Deverre. Even when I resigned, I kept going every evening after my new job shift, to sort out cheques and cash for subscriptions as it took them a while to find someone trustworthy. As angry as I was to leave them, I never sold the news on their plan to become a weekly mag; not even my best friend or flatmates knew about it. Actuel and Les Cahiers du Cinema offered me a job at some point, but I shot off to London after I finished a photography course in Paris.

All photos were taken by moi: Fun Da Mental, Idjut Boys, 
Lydie Barbarian and dog, Burning Spear
© Sybille Castelain

Did you have a planned job in London?
No, I came back to the family I stayed with as an Au-Pair before living in Paris and I wanted to pursue photography. I met the photography lecturer Bill at Roehampton in 1993 who was a wonderful man, and a great photography transmitter. He eventually offered me a part-time job with him. At about the same time, I became an usher at the Riverside Studios and met someone who was humble and extraordinary, Ed Lewis. Bill and Ed appeared in my life at the same time and guided me for 10 years. They were somehow replicas of Serge and Samuel (no, I was not in love with any of them, they were gods for Christ sake!) – Serge and Samuel are still around in this life, thanks god for the film business! I even was Ed’s cinema assistant from 1995 to 2000.
Eventually, I wrote for some French mags and took some photos / press photos for record companies.
So, yeah, I was no new-comer when I launched Babylondonorbital, but I didn’t want to scream out loud or justify anything. I had to re-build things.

Ed Lewis, Cinema Director @ Riverside Studios
His office, 90's
© Sybille Castelain

Was it easy?
Fuck no! I thought it would be though! That used to be the beauty about London. You could turn up at something, meet people, have a chat, blah blahblahblah. I could surf in between tribes, I never felt rejection. In the music business, I got sent rare stuff, got invited to private concerts in the basement of luxurious buildings in Regent’s Street... looked dodgy, was full of famous people, free cocktails and nobody checked whether I wrote for mainstream this or posh that! There was a real relation between a press officer and a journalist.
Now, it’s a bit down to how many “likes” you are going to harvest on FB and how many followers you have on Twitter that’s going to determine whether you are invited or tolerated (I’ll literally have to be a pain in the ass to get through)!

Unite against racism festival
© Sybille Castelain

And more concretely, what do you mean?
Yeah, am a bit vague... am good at it... I should be a millionaire if such job existed! What’s your job? Oh, I’m an androgyny bisexual vaguist! Well, I consider that I had a very good training at Les Inrocks (in terms of dealing with press officers – music, films, literature) and at GLR (BBC London). So, to me, there was no way I would write about an art event without getting in touch with a press officer. You give me this and I write about it. Since I am alone, I have no time to deal with things I don’t like. I am quite selective. If you send me a CD or DVD I don’t like, I’ll give it back to you. I don’t want my space to be invaded with stuff I don’t relate to.
BFI was one of my first targets. I became a NFT member when Riverside Studios closed down for refurbishment in 1994. Then, when Sonic man Stuart started there in 1998, I renewed my membership as I loved the film-music combination. A dary step for the BFI and I wanted to support it.
Without telling press officers who I was when I started my blog, they were quick to reply. BFI Northbank sent me DVDs and invites to private screenings, BFI Southbank insisted on my writing on some of their specific seasons. Since I was not knowledgeable to some of their suggestions, I invited them to send me info on their African Odysseys seasons, leftfields seasons etc. I have only managed to “do” Tony Garnett eventually. 27 year old press officer clearly wrote that she has no time for me as I am not a mainstream outlets... only proper journalists can get comps / press tickets to BFI seasons. Oh yeah, like Michael’s Atomica girls!

 Editorial Assitant for Les Inrocks / L'Immature (Editions Independentes) + their CD: compilation of Leonard Cohen songs by other artists - photo Weegee, Children Playing in Water.
My writings + photos: Premonition; Coda (FDM, Baaba Maal); Milesahead; Barbican booklet; WOMAD booklet

Don’t you think you write like a pancake?
Ah ah you bitch! But yeah, I thought so too. So, I sent some of my posts to friends I know would have no issue telling me I should change interest. I have to admit that I am not happy with some of my posts, but in general it is not that bad. Even the most aggressive press officers at Soda, BFI Southbank or Second Run DVD admitted my posts on their films were good, but I was not mainstream enough!
This is what I call underground racism or intellectual blockade. They have the privilege to send you to hell! It doesn’t matter how good or bad you write, numbers have a magic “spell” to them: the number of clicks on a link; number of viewers per day; numbers of followers on Twitter; number of “likes” or “fav” on FB/Twit; number of viewers per month and so on. I was asked about my figures or got sent applications to fill about my figures. It’s a bit like wearing a media star on your forearm and its colour would dictate where you can go.
Before going to the private screening of 20000 Days On Earth, I read Time Out and Dazed & Confused articles. I had already my doubts on D&C film critic but since both D&C + TO went on the film makers’ website page as references, I relied on them. I did read the press release as well. If my grammar is not perfect, I am against misinforming readers or raving about something to please artists or press officers. I don’t even want to harvest “likes” or “favs”. Time Out eventually changed its article but D&C “colossal rockumentary” had nothing to do with the film, and yet it gathered a huge amount of “likes” shares” and “favs”. That gives a credit to the film makers.
I could compare the phenomenon with the slave trade: the more slaves you had, the more respected person you became, reinforcing the very capitalist system! You could be the most horrid person on earth; you were respected by some, feared by others. They had power and participated to a country’s economy but didn’t care on their vile actions on human beings.
Not that it is vile to write “colossal rockumentary”, but its only purpose is to gather a maximum of credibility by any means, so film makers can apply for funding in case they have other film plans.
I liked the film, had my own vision on it, have been denied any interview with film makers but I don’t understand their propaganda around it; that effervescence at Barbican? I don’t think the film deserved such a cheap treatment: the “archivist” reading the twits on stage... If this is the future of art-house cinema, then we are heading towards a Gattaca experience!

Euh, you hate press officers then?
I don’t like the new generation attitude. They are like robots on ego-trip. Technically speaking, it doesn’t cost them to invite smaller publications. Recently, I got in touch with an ex music PR who worked for a major label. When the music business collapsed, he had to leave. We had been in a working relation from the 90’s to his departure. It was my saddest moment in the music industry. He never tried to convince me on anything. He knew I had broad taste, so he would send me samples of materials and we worked on an artist, a band etc. He was dealing with obscure sounds and major bands. I was always aware of anything new. I would ask to see some major bands I wouldn’t cover and he would put me on the guest-list whenever possible. Even though, he left London and the music business, he knows what’s said around and he lets me know. It has become a complete circus! I am in it because art can convey vital energy on many levels. This is what I want to defend. Jane Bown (RIP) was in search of perfect light. What was wrong on my post for the documentary? What’s wrong with Soda pictures to jump me off their press list three times in six months when I dealt with more press officers that the four films I wrote for Soda. Having to beg for photos to “escort” the article and finally having to get them from the web (I suppose illegally). This is insane!
Of course, I was told recently, that some PRs are interns who are not being paid for their work. So, in one hand there is a company that invests in a product but has no resources to pay for that product to be defended properly. Then, you have an “in-training” PR who needs a job but knows won’t get one from smaller publications and focus where money is... It is becoming a Man Bites Dog field. It Smells Like Teen Spirit!

3 photos of Basement Jaxx, Into You tattooist, Dave Courtney, Fetish club, Man on Bench (for AOP),Home (for the Independent/Channel4), Carnival Notting Hill with beer ad, Punk neighbours, rainbow family at festival, 
Trafalgar SQ - © Sybille Castelain

Any time you have fucked up?
At first, I did a lot of research on articles written about films I was to write about. I had my own views, so I “copied-pasted” what corresponded to my views. I re-wrote bit and pieces of film critics who I felt close to. However, I never used anything and never read either anything from Serge Kaganski or Samuel Blumenfeld. These two are fine critics and I would find it hard not to copy-paste or get influenced by. Jonathan Romney is an interesting case because I can profoundly agree on what he describes but totally disagree on what he gets into: on the film Archipelago, he describes the film quite perfectly or rather to the way I felt about the film (the colours, the atmosphere) but he disliked the film when I loved it for these very reasons.
Music wise... It took me a while to understand how to download a private link. I used to receive finished CDs... I guess I was a nightmare, but now I ask at least for a promo CD; I have little space on my compu.

Why are you at war with “likes””favs”... mainstream?
I find it freaky! For its fascism aspect when it determines whether you are in or not because of a figure. Also, a figure is no synonymous of success. Success can be dangerous! How do you deal with success? As if, it is something natural and there can’t be any aftermath! Look at someone like Amy Winehouse. She was catapulted to a place where she didn’t feel that comfortable. Unfortunately, her case helped me to understand how I felt when I dealt with Mathew Barney’s DR9 film screening in Peru. I was very pleased to get front pages and many articles written by most publications (and I gave the same importance to blogs and major publications and allocated press tickets to those who wrote... just saying). The film had a unique projection screening at 9.30pm and was free – first come, first served basis. At 5.30pm, I was told people started to queue. I left more than 800 people outside the gate that we had to lock to prevent incident. Everybody congratulated me for its success, I just cried for a week for leaving 800 people outside. Looking back at it, there was nothing I, we could have done. There were so many parameters to respect and so little choice: we did the best we could, but I wouldn’t call it success. Numbers are freaky! You can post your crap photo on FB and harvest 12 “likes” out of your 5000 “friends”, it doesn’t mean your photo is good, it just means you have some supporters! Don’t believe the hype!

What’s art?
Go and bore someone else with your stupid question! I’ll answer it anyway. It’s a trip. If it doesn’t take me somewhere, then I might not get it. I immerse myself into some sounds, images... Since my stay in Peru, I have come to realise it’s also a privilege to experience (art-wise) what others can’t. I used to live with a curator called Miguel Zegarra. He was a brilliant curator and had an immense knowledge despite the fact that Peru didn’t have the resources to provide contemporary art teaching. He spent his time on internet. He was very passionate and we spent nights talking about art; him being gay or not; his depression; his mother, sister; local curators who decided who got a grant to study in Spain. So, now, when I immerse into something, there is another dimension or appreciation. I know for me it’s a luxury and I always view or listen thinking of him particularly, but others who won’t have that privilege. Art should be accessible to those who want to experience, but shouldn't not dictated by those who have got ghost keys.

Sybille Castelain for babylondonorbital@gmail.com


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