Interview Montfaucon: Isolation in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is probably not the first place you think of when you hear metal music. Still, there’s a big scene of alternative music in the former Soviet states south of Russia. Uzbekistan is an overly Islamic country that actually has seen its share of censorship in the best years, but the music flourishes, especially if the lyrics are in English.

With a dense history spanning the ages, it was rather surprising to me to find a band that took its name from a horrible spot of executions during the time France still had kings. Their sound was an eclectic mixture of various genres and this is what drew me to the band Montfaucon. I got in touch with them through e-mail.

Valentin Myamsin has left Uzbekistan and lives in the United States now, but the band keeps working on material across the globe. With a new record just released, titled ‘Renaissance’, the band is keeping it up and staying strong, so we had a nice little conversation about metal in Uzbekistan and Montfaucon.

Could you kindly introduce yourselves as band? Have or are you guys involved in any other musical projects?

Montfaucon has been formed in 2002 in the city Tashkent in Uzbekistan by me (Valentin Mayamsin) on guitar and Mikhail Epifanov on piano. We started actively working on composing songs and have been selected to perform at two day festival ‘Alternative music festival 2004’ organized by British council. (It was quite an event I’d say given that we had rare metal gigs and just a few metal bands). That was a trigger to find a drummer Renat Khidirov and bassist Sergey Sadokov. Over the course of next few years we had on bass Denis Raytuzov and Andrey Astashov and at last saxophonist Andrey Golubev. Today Montfaucon exists as a project since I moved to USA and I am separated with other members by the entire planet Earth. Thanks to Internet we’re still actively composing new stuff, but unfortunately cannot perform live.

How did you get inspired to make metal music? What bands specifically inspired you and why?

We all had different influences in different bands. I personally had influence of a very wide range of bands and styles, most notably Satyricon, Cradle of Filth, Cannibal Corpse, maudlin of the Well, Andromeda, My Dying Bride, Opeth, Emperor, even Pink Floyd. What inspired me to make metal music? When I met Mikhail and heard a few of his dark piano compositions, I realized that it moves me. We combined them with heavy guitars, brutal vocals, and produced a unique and interesting sound driven primarily by piano. I thought that piano is quite unrepresented in metal music and it inspired my to further experiment with it.

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How did you come up with the band name and concept of Montfaucon, which appears to be the place where a huge gallows was positioned in France during the time of their kings. A rather gruesome place?

Indeed. Gruesome, dark themes are found everywhere in our music and lyrics. The band name was inspired by Victor Hugo’s novel ‘Notre-Dame de Paris’. At the end of the book he describes Montfaucon gibbet which somberness stroke me. I have also been inspired by this novel when writing lyrics. The description of torturous imprisonment in a stone box gave inspiration for ‘Prisoner’,  The song ‘The last night’ is set around Montfaucon gibbet and medieval punishment traditions.

 

Musically Montfaucon is an oddity, combining raw death/black elements with progressive and experimental bits. How did you come up with your specific sound?

I think it’s because of my wide exposure to different bands and styles. A friend of mine regularly introduced me to different bands before even Internet became widespread in our country and speed was enough to pirate music. It was late 90’s. He is an artist with extensive connections abroad who supplied him disks of rare bands, demos. Back then we could only find cassettes of popular bands like Metallica, Sepultura or My Dying Bride. But this guy had things like Satyricon, maudlin of the Well, Symphony X, etc. This is what I grew up on, and this is what Montfaucon is heavy influenced with. And this is just influence on my side since every member of Montfaucon brought in his own influences.

Your musical production has been sparse. Are you working on anything right now?

Yes we are! We haven’t had a chance to produce a full length album for many different reasons. Back when we got started we merely didn’t have enough money. Mikhail was first among us who had a computer and we produced a few demos at home which allowed us to participate in big music events in Tashkent and promote on radio. Later on we were busy building our careers and couldn’t find enough time for music. And finally last year we decided that we owe ourselves a decent record and started producing our first album. We recorded everything at home, decent recording hardware is quite affordable nowadays. All songs have been composed a decade ago, but we refined some parts, added layers of additional details. Yet we tried to keep original parts contributed by each member of our band. Legendary Swedish sound engineer Dan Swanö agreed to mix and master the album which turned out terrific! He made every part of every song sound best, he managed to find our unique sound and he even put a few easter eggs for those who will listen carefully.

You’ve got a new album ready, can you tell a bit about that?

The new album is basically what we have composed over the course of active years. There are many experiments with the style and sound. Every song has it own unique sound and feature. We were lucky to work on the album with legendary sound engineer and musician Dan Swanö who made every our song sound the best it can possibly be.  The album was recorded in the comfort of our home without any rush over the course of 6 months and exchanged files over the Internet. We didn’t have any previous recording experience so we involved the leader of ‘The Faceless’ Michael Keene who advised us on the process of recording. I was focused on the quality and I had to rewrite all guitar and bass parts 3 times. Mixing process was challenging as well since we had no clue how piano can be put together with guitars so it wouldn’t get lost. With Dan we went over many variations and experiments with the sound before achieving perfection.

What can you tell me about the history of metal in Uzbekistan and how does the scene look like now?

Well, I don’t think I’m competent to give accurate history of the movement as I joined metal community pretty late. I’d recommend reaching out to Peter Stulovsky for that matter – he can tell about promoting metal on radio and cover history comprehensively. However, I can give you my perspective on that.

When I first visited a metal gig it took place in an old ‘Palace of Culture’ which was quite common at the time. The place was not fit for this kind of activity: there was no dance floor, just dense rows of seats stationary nailed to floor. No wonder when people got high on heavy music and alcohol they started to crash this place and it finished with police and troubles for organizers. This kind of concerts and outcomes were quite common those days and seemed like other clubs learned that and stopped giving places for any gigs. There was a quiet period for a few years when old bands disbanded and new bands formed grown up on Internet and a new radio show called ‘Hard days’ (‘Тяжелые будни’). That was the time when we formed our band as well. Suddenly it was announced on the radio that there is  going to be a two-day festival organized by British Council and there is a call for demos and rehearsals. Needless to say, it was one of the biggest events in music history of Tashkent. Many new metal bands showed up including us, Zindan, Sweet Silence and Titus. Here is a few of videos from that concert:

It triggered a renaissance in metal scene of Uzbekistan. Internet also became more widespread, opened a new metal forum where bands could promote themselves, gigs has been organized and announced. New bands started to pop up every month or so, opened a few more or less permanent rock/metal clubs, new records by local bands played on radio.  A few examples. ‘Sepsis’ playing death metal including covers on Cannibal Corpse and Death. A black metal band from Ferghana (unfortunately I don’t remember their name, hope Peter will help out with that) playing blast beats on crappy Soviet drums. A progressive metal band ‘4th dream’ playing 10 minutes long ever-changing compositions with a vocalist singing in ranges from high pitch clean vocals to growl and screams.

It continued to be this way pretty much till I left the country in 2008. I guess Peter can cover up period from 2008 onward.

To wrap up, I’d say it was pretty isolated metal community. A few of Uzbekistan bands played abroad, mostly in Kazakhstan. A few foreign bands played in Uzbekistan. Although we always followed what happened on Europe and USA metal scenes.

How are the facilities for you in your country? Are things like music, instruments and such easily available? are there venues to play and rehearsal spaces, studioś and such available?

When we got started it was hard to find a rehearsal space, metal music was not welcomed, metal culture has been (and still) stigmatized in many people’s minds. As I mentioned earlier concerts has usually been held in ‘Palace of Culture’ with help of Soviet era amplifiers and speakers. Music instruments was hard to find. Guitars, basses, drums – everything was from Soviet era. Originally I even played on a DIY guitar combined from other guitar parts. I made my own distortion pedal, even tried different schematics found on Internet to achieve better sound. Occasionally somebody brought some wonders from abroad like guitar processors, cardan shaft drum pedals, etc. Rehearsals took place in basements, storerooms or in the best case in ‘Palace of Culture’ next door to some dance studio.

Later on it improved substantially. Some folks managed to find an abandoned high-rise student dorm and turn it into rehearsal space. There was room for everybody and they did not disturb other people. People started selling gear from China and Russia which was both affordable and way better then we used to have. People started hanging out in new rock/metal clubs demanding more metal gigs. Venues improved as well by providing better experience and security.

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If you were able to play anywhere, what places would you most like to play shows at and why?

Haha. I don’t have any place in mind. I just love to play for any crowd.

Uzbekistan being a mostly Islamic country, do you face any repression as a metal musician? I’ve learned that this differs immensely depending on where musicians live and I’m interested to know what it’s like for you guys and if you have some experiences to share?

Well, I have not experienced any repressions on religious grounds. Although most people practice Islam, they are pretty mild. At least in big cities like Tashkent or Samarkand. However people still have Soviet mindset and police is quite repressive. Occasionally there was ‘educational’ police raids which I heard was quite humiliating experience. It didn’t happen to me though and as far as I know it usually didn’t have much consequences to others. Censorship might have existed, but all our songs are in English and nobody seem to bothered to translate what we shouted out from stage.

Do you put something typical Uzbeki in your music? Like note patterns, instruments or such?

Not really, I didn’t feel much influence of Uzbek music on me. Although we have an Oriental instrumental which hasn’t been recorded yet and a few turns in piano parts. Though I may not realize it, others may tell there is an Oriental twist in our music. You tell me…

What bands from Uzbekistan should people check out and why?

I don’t really follow Uzbekistan music scene these days. I hope Peter might suggest something.

What future plans do you have as Montfaucon?

I hope to finish new compositions which will raise quality bar for Montfaucon. We have a few unfinished songs which already sound terrific. I dream of Montfaucon to grow out of just being a project and perform live.

If you had to describe your band as a dish (food), what would it be and why?

Haha. Funny one. Bloody burrito? I dunno, music and food are in different dimensions to me which cannot coexist in close proximity. Say what?!…

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