in the Category: music

Gothic Jeanne d’Arc, soprano princess & Mylene Farmer acolyte

Mathilde Fernandez puts on many faces. Hailing from Nice, she’s already had an interesting career. She graduated in performance and video art and worked in a theatre company for years before dedicating her life to music. But she refuses to be put in a box; just when you think you can pin her music down as goth electro-pop with influences from Kate Bush and Nina Hagen, she releases a hardcore project with gabber legend Paul Seul. On the subject of her music and shows, she also refuses to bring the expected: her songs are often accompanied by intricate video clips, and her performative concerts are one-time experiences. She called from Paris, which was shaken up and in chaos by the gilet jaunes strike, and talked about performing, upcoming projects and the state of things.

Interview by Wannes Dewit
Photos by Anne-Sophie Guillet, shot in Brussels

You’re in Paris right now?

Yes, I’ve been in Paris for a month. I’m doing a residency at Palais de Tokyo where I’m creating this performance series called ‘Ensemble’, together with Cécile di Giovanni. Cécile and I have been developing this performance duet for three years now. We both have our own fields of expertise. I’m mainly into music and live arts – I graduated in performance art and video. Cécile is more into sculptures, installations and fashion. The evenings we organise for ‘Ensemble’ are very complete experiences, appealing to your sight, smell and hearing. We want them to feel like a wake, a ceremony.

The theatrical, performative gestures came naturally to me

You’ve mentioned your background in performance. When you perform your music, the border between a concert and a performance seems to fade.

I worked for a theatre company for years before dedicating myself to music. First as an actress and later as the stage director and producer. It’s funny because in French the word ‘performance’ is linked to the live arts, but in English ‘performance’ just refers to a show. I’ve always been confused with this term. I never really meditated on how my concerts should be. The theatrical, performative gestures came naturally to me. I feel close to Arca in this way. Her shows are also very in-between and related with the live arts. Every show is different.

If I go to a concert and it’s just one person singing for an hour without anything else, I can be bored. I feel like I need to add something more for the public. My fans are also very loyal. People tend to come back, so I want to keep the experience fresh. I’ve been working a lot with video lately, and sometimes I invite people to perform with me on stage.

You always create intricate image worlds. Where do you get inspiration for this?

When I’m writing lyrics and working on songs, images grow in my mind. So at the end of the songwriting process I have a whole videoclip in my head. I love doing short concept EPs, because this gives me the freedom to explore new worlds every time. When I was younger I practiced a lot of photography, staging my friends and myself and taking pictures. I still feel like I’m doing the same thing with the visuals.

Tell me about your collaborations with Paul Seul.

I’ve been following Paul Seul for quite some time. I was very inspired by the new wave of gabber in France, and especially by the Casual Gabberz crew. Paul Seul’s productions stood out for me, so I reached out to him for a remix of my Hyperstition EP. That was the beginning of a big collaboration between us under the name Ascendant Vierge. We’ve been working on an album for almost a year; I think it will be ready for spring. He recently moved to Brussels, so we work together pretty much every day. It’s very exciting.

You live in Brussels, but work both here and in Paris. How do you feel these cities differ?

I moved to Brussels six years ago, when my primary focus was still performance. I was very attracted to the live arts scene, with companies like Peeping Tom or Les Ballets C de la B by Alain Platel. I also appreciate the attitude of people in Brussels. The quality of life is very different from France; people are more free in their minds. I was a bit bored with the need of French people to categorise art. I got asked questions about whether I was a singer or a performer that I didn’t want to think about. Are you making rock, electronic, classical music? I just don’t want to waste my time with this. I do love going to Paris from time to time because the city is like electricity. It’s full of energy, pollution and misery. 

What have you been listening to lately?

I’ve been listening a lot to Afromanticism by Moses Sumney. I also think the new tracks from Grimes are very good. I’m super excited for her new album, Miss Anthropocene, that’s coming out soon. I also really like a Brussels-based rapper called Sidisid and his Butter Bullets project.

Mathilde Fernandez
25 Feb - Botanique, Brussels
28 Feb - LaVallée (Vraiment?), Brussels
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