Agathocles interview (12/2020)
|Conducted by:||RaduP (skype)|
After spending so much of my time on the database and adding every single Agathocles release (Ok, maybe I missed a few), I just really wanted to know why. And also to give my fellow MS-ers a Christmas present, because they were probably also wondering why. In the meantime we might get to know a few things about Belgium and 80s hardcore.
Radu: So we're here with Jan from Agathocles. Can you say hi to us?
Jan Frederickx: Hello, everybody. Is this a radio interview, or do you have to type it out?
Radu: No, this will be transcribed, but -
JF: Okay, yeah. Cheers to everybody.
Radu: It will be transcribed by my editor and he likes it when people say hi to him as well.
[Ed: Actually, I don't like it when other people acknowledge me. Please don't notice me, senpai.]
JF: Ah, excellent.
Radu: So what was the social situation in Ghent back when you first started the band and how is it now? I think you first started out in Mol initially, instead of Ghent?
[Ed: Until this point, I was not aware that Agathocles is Belgian, which makes things awkward now, as the entire nation of Belgium has been my archenemy since a certain pub quiz in Vienna. But that's just how European history goes, ain't it?]
JF: Yes, yes, we started in 1985 in Mol. Mol is situated in the north of Belgium, near Germany, near Holland, that area -
Radu: So it's the Flemish part, not the Wallonian part.
JF: Yes, it's the Flemish-speaking part. In Belgium, we have the French-speaking, the Flemish-speaking, and we have a small part which speaks German.
JF: Well, back in those days - you were talking about the social situation?
Radu: Yeah, back then compared to now.
JF: Ah, yeah. Back then, those days were during the Cold War, between West and East and the nuclear weapons. In Belgium in those days we had a lot of unemployment, I remember, but the guys of Agathocles, we were all still at school, going to school, so we didn't have to work or anything. Well, compared to now, 1985, 2020 now, how should I compare it… not really too much has changed, except for new governments, the coronavirus we have now [Ed: That is a pretty big one, tbh], but politically, not too much has changed, really.
Radu: What would you like there to be changed, and what is plausible to be changed in the near future?
JF: Well, now I'm going to be a little bit technical. [Ed: By all means. Metalheads flock to Radu's interviews for their incisive commentary on continental European socioeconomic policy matters, and I'm only sort of being facetious.] Back in the '80s, more things in Belgium were for the federal government, for the Belgian government, and because of Flemish nationalist parties, a lot of political responsibilities were divided between the communities, the Flemish-speaking, the French-speaking, the German-speaking - you know what I mean?
Radu: Yeah, so it was a bit more decentralized.
JF: Yes, "decentralized", that's the exact word. What I would like to be exchanged, of course, is for example now we have this coronavirus, and it's a responsibility of the Ministry of Health Care, but that one is so decentralized here in Belgium that we got maybe around nine minsters for health care of all the different communities [Ed: How many health ministers does it take to screw in a vaccine?], and in the communities they are even more decentralized, so it's a big mess because there is no straight guideline to fight the coronavirus. It should be more logical and more powerful to centralize everything back again concerning for health care to fight the virus. That's an example which I think could be much better handled in the '80s than, for example, now.
Radu: It's quite strange hearing advocating for more government control coming from an anarcho-communist.
[Ed: One thing that's better about 2020 compared to the 1980s is that back then I would have been arrested by the FBI for transcribing an interview with an anarcho-communist.
Then again, why am I so confident that that won't happen now?]
JF: Ah, yeah, I know, I know, but maybe you've heard about our political ideas, that we - well, we don't believe that much in really oppressive state communism, but we do believe in some socialist values.
Radu: Okay. So right now you would like there to be a bit more centralized government that can help in emergency situations like this coronavirus pandemic -
Radu: Which is obviously an emergency, but also a lot of people are very cautious about giving government more control because obviously they will be profiting from the emergency situation. Like they say in politics, "You cannot let a good crisis go to waste".
JF: Indeed. You're totally correct in that part. For example, right now there is this big discussion going on that during the holidays, Christmas and New Year, that the police can use these drone things, flying robots, to patrol people in their garden, stuff like that. So that's really a very bad thing about state control and state tools to - well, really to control people, what you're doing, so I really don't like things I hear about drones. But on the other hand, during a crisis like this pandemia… Liberal governments always say that people should take up their own responsibility, but as we look at it now, so many people don't take up their own responsibility. They continue to organize secret parties for so many people, which infect each other, and the spiral goes on. The actions will continue to happen, so, yeah, on the one hand, it should be a mix between personal responsibility, taking up your personal responsibility, and some clear guidelines coming from the government without being too invading in our privacy and too oppressive.
Radu: Mhm. I've seen a lot of libertarian people online, which are also anarchists but on the right side of the spectrum, saying that if you are afraid of the virus, you should stay home and it should be up to you whether you want to stay home or not. It shouldn't be the government saying that. But I think that kind of isn't the right way of thinking, because they advocate for that you can do whatever you want as long as you're not hurting someone else, the "nonaggression principle" [Ed: Or the "Molotov-Ribbentrop principle", as I prefer to call it], but if you go out and you infect someone because of your decision, that kind of breaks it.
JF: Yeah, this kind of libertarianism sounds more like egoism. "I do what I want, and I don't give a shit about anyone else." That's nothing to do with being autonomous or showing solidarity with the rest of the people who are in the shithole together, the shithole called corona, and I'm really not much of a supporter of this kind of libertarianism. I think it is more some kind of… responsible way of acting, keeping in mind that there are people with more severe health problems, which can die if you keep on being egoistic and going out everywhere, not taking care about washing your hands, wearing masks, and stuff like that.
[Ed: You can trash libertarianism all you want, but when Reddit comes for you guys, just remember that I always said government-maintained roads are a literal manifestation of Satan.]
Radu: Okay, but let's say in an anarchist society [Ed: In a what?], how would this be handled?
JF: Ha, an anarchist society. I really don't believe in an anarchist society. In an anarchist society, less control by the state is, of course, the utopia we are all looking for, but I really can't imagine how an anarchist society can handle things like a health care system, which is the most important now, or taking care of people who cannot fit the standards of what anarchism is. I guess in an anarchist system there will always be dissidents as well, so how to handle the dissidents? I'm very curious about it. I think we have to reach out for the positive tools which any kind of system gives you and try to use these tools to make best for every one of us, because everyone is different, everyone has their own way of thinking, of handling things, and I think we should all have respect for this kind of diversity.
Radu: Okay. And now let's move to the topic of music, which is the main reason why we are here. [Ed: Not me. Now that I'm not going to school and I can't just take a class about everything I want to learn, these interviews are my primary means of staying up-to-date on European politics.] You're releasing a series of 35th-anniversary LPs through Animate Records. What can you tell us about them?
JF: Oh, it was a really crazy idea. It started maybe one year, one year and a half ago, when I was talking with Andy [Reich] of Animate Records and I just told him for fun, "Hey, next year Agathocles will be 35 years old. You want to make this series of eight LPs of the different recording sessions we did for several 7-inches in the days?" And he said yes, let's do it, and then we were thinking about this theme, how can we handle it, and both of us really liked this Hieronymus Bosch painting [The Garden Of Earthly Delights] and it fitted well to divide to eight albums, so we divided the painting in eight different LP covers, so each LP has a part of that painting of Bosch and contains a full recording session of a certain year.
Anno 1990 - The Happy Land Fire
JF: That's the story, and it was fun to work with Andy on this one, writing some words about the time when the recordings were done, looking for old pictures of those days to use for the album, and I'm just really amazed the way Andy is working. He puts together all the artworks. He's a genius in that sense.
Radu: Okay, so he's handled the packaging as well?
JF: Yes, yes, and he's a mastermind in doing everything perfect.
Radu: Do you know if there's a reason why only the first one of the three released so far is on Bandcamp?
JF: Bandcamp, do we have a Bandcamp? I don't know anything about that. [Ed: Well, that makes this confusing.]
Radu: No, it's on the Animate Records Bandcamp. It's not on yours.
JF: Ah, I see. I think up to now, Radu, the first four are released. [Ed: I want to take a moment to recognize that in all the interviews Radu has done up to this point Jan is the only person to address him by name, at least outside the opening and closing remarks. There isn't usually any need to, of course, but it just feels kind of nice.] On one hand, this lockdown by corona was positive for me, because I have to look for all the old recordings to put together, write the liner notes, so I think just one month ago I sent all the stuff needed for the four other LPs to Andy, and I think the things are now in the pressing plant. So I didn't send all the eight records at one time, because that was not possible; I worked on them record by record, because there are different recordings on each album. It was phase-by-phase, so to say, how the project came along, and how I put together all the writings, looking for the photos, things like that.
JF: But I think - yeah, the four other ones, the last ones, I think they all might be released at the same time.
Radu: I can live with that. You've released a lot of split EPs throughout the years [Ed: What is it with Belgians and going overboard with splits?] and since we don't only write about music but we keep a database of the music, I had for about a month every morning to spend half an hour adding your EPs to our database and your splits, so I want to ask: why? WHY?
JF: Ah… Well, um, it started that way and it kept on going that way. It's like this releasing split records has always been a thing in the punk community, and because as a band, releasing a full 7-inch or a full album would cost too much. That was one of the reasons, so it was nice to split a record together, yeah, just to split money. On the other way, it's also nice to show some friendship between bands, like a cooperation release, and, well, for Agathocles, it continued that way during the years. We always got offers to make split records and we just kept on working like this. It's nice for us because we can spread our records in a lot of different parts of the world through these split releases, and it's also very interesting for people who not only buy it for Agathocles that they can hear other bands as well. So yeah, the split 7-inch, split-release stuff has grown with Agathocles; I think it's a big part of us. [Ed: It's also a big part of our database.]
Radu: Yeah, it's now part of your lore, like the reason for your underground popularity and not only how old and influential you were, starting in '85, back when there were really very few grindcore bands at all, especially in Belgium, but also this huge discography, so it's quite impressive. So I have to ask: what does it take for a band to release a split with Agathocles? [Ed: I think you just have to exist, based on their history.]
JF: How long, or…?
Radu: What does it take?
JF: Oh, oh, it doesn't take anything, really. If a band asks us to make a split record and we like the band and the people and we feel that the band is doing it for honest reasons, then it's okay for us. The style of music really doesn't matter, because we like so many different kinds of music. In every kind of music, there are brilliant bands, and so we did split records with a death metal band, black metal bands, a lot of grindcore bands, of course, punk bands, acoustic singer-songwriter bands, electro bands, harsh noise bands, you name it. [Ed: I think you already did.] It doesn't matter what kind of music; the spirit of honesty and cooperation is the most important.
Radu: Okay. So if I get a guitarist friend of mine to play some noise and I scream over it, will you release a split with me?
JF: Probably, there is a chance, yes.
Radu: Okay, I'll e-mail you with the recordings, then.
JF: But releasing an Agathocles record… Well, we don't have a dime anymore to look for labels and so it's the responsibility of the other band or people; if we have time, we can look for a label, but there's always a possibility, mhm.
[Ed: Heck, I'll give you a hundred bucks and we can make this the first-ever release on Metal Storm Records.]
Radu: So it's not as easy as just two bands getting together; you have to also find the distribution for it, for someone to press the physical media itself, instead of just uploading it online?
JF: No, I don't really like these online-only releases, the digital way thing. When songs are recorded, for me it's important that it's also in a physical way: on tape, on vinyl, CD, CD-R, you name it, but that's maybe because I grew up with vinyl and tapes, so for me it's a pleasure to have a vinyl in my hands, a tape in my hands, before playing it. And you can read the nice booklet.
Radu: Yeah, of course. The booklet and having the cover art in your hand, on the wall, or somewhere -
JF: Indeed, indeed.
Radu: It's really great. Also the feeling that you've contributed financially to the band itself.
JF: How do you mean? When you put out a record?
Radu: No, when you buy a record.
JF: Yes, yeah, indeed.
Radu: And when you buy a record, you also know that - when you stream it, maybe, like, a cent goes to you on Spotify, but if you're buying the record, obviously the label gets their share, but also the artist gets more than when you stream it.
JF: Indeed. I'm not aware of how all the Spotify stuff and YouTube works [Ed: It doesn't], but I've heard many bad stories about it, yes.
Radu: You do have some stuff on Spotify.
JF: Yes, and a friend of mine is checking it all out now, because he found some Brazilian guy who gets money for Agathocles stuff on Spotify, which is really crazy because we never put things on Spotify, so we're checking this out because, well -
Radu: You kind of have to make sure that you're not getting scammed.
Radu: I've seen stories of albums that are put for streaming, but they're not put by the band or by the label, they're put by somebody who is profiteering from it. [Ed: Like Spotify]
JF: It's a really sad thing and a very, for me, annoying thing, but, yeah, a friend of mine is checking it now because he is learning some music business thing, so he's checking it out because I don't really know anything about it. But for me what bothers me most is dishonesty, the dishonesty that, for example, I can make bootlegs of bands and I'll claim a lot of money for it, it's just dishonest. Let the band know what you're doing, give them some copies if you make a bootleg or something like that, but doing everything behind someone's back is so cowardice.
Radu: So when you're releasing a split with a band, how is the process like for Agathocles? How do you decide what gets on your side of the split?
JF: Good question. Normally we have many different recording sessions laying around, and we check out which fits the best or which could be the most interesting to put on the record with another band. Like for now, the physical 7-inches, not the split 7-inch, we made new [Ed: I couldn't quite make this out] records, we're working finishing it up now. But it depends; sometimes we take our grind songs for another grind band, or we do the opposite, we take a very slow song to put on the record with a grind band. It depends. There's no real idea about "these songs go for that band"; not really, no.
JF: It's a spontaneous process.
Radu: Okay. Did you ever accidentally put the same thing on two splits?
JF: I think that happened once, yes. Because the tapes got mixed, yes.
Radu: Okay. What was the longest song that you've recorded?
JF: Oh, very nice question, Radu. The longest song… Let me think. I think the longest song must be about 20 minutes?
Radu: Do you remember the name?
JF: Ah, yes, the whole song was called… Let me think… "From Manipulation To"… I don't know the complete title. Let me check. (typing sounds ensue, as Radu giggles) "From Conversation To Manipulation".
JF: Yeah, that's the one. The whole song is 20 minutes long, but it has different parts in it; it's some kind of Grazhdanskaya Oborona mixed with Celtic Frost, and we cut the song up into two smaller songs, but the original song is 20 minutes.
Radu: Okay. So you named your band after Agathocles [Ed: Correct], who's a potter's son that eventually conquered Sicily and fought at Carthage. Why did you pick him specifically for a band name?
JF: Ah, that one… hm. It was at high school, we got ancient Latin language and Ancient Greek language, and I guess one time we were reading in school about Agathocles and the history of him, and I thought, "Wow, this is quite interesting, and I like the name, so let's go for this name".
[Ed: If you're wondering why I capitalized "Ancient" but not "ancient", it's because Latin is an ancient language and Ancient Greek is a language.]
Radu: And he was rising up against the autocracy of Syracuse back in the day [Ed: "Back in the day" usually means c. 1975, not the fourth century BC] and doing some social reforms.
JF: Yes, so the autonomy, the anarchism is maybe also a little bit in it, that he fought against the oligarchs.
Radu: What other historical figure would you consider naming your band after?
[Ed: Yelü Chucai, because I can't pronounce his name but I like his deal.]
JF: Ah, another historical figure… that's a really nice one as well… hm. Historical figure… I really can't find one now. No, I can't think of one, I'm sorry - because the good ones are already taken. You have Archagathus; you know Archagathus?
JF: It's a Canadian band. It's the son of Agathocles. [Ed: I'm really happy that he knows this offhand.]
Radu: Okay, got it. Makes sense.
JF: But probably a Greek name, yeah. I like the Greek names, how they sound. Probably a Greek historical person, yes.
Radu: Maybe one of those Greek communist fighters after World War II who were fighting against Nazi Germany? [Ed: Like Lord Byron?]
JF: Yeah, yeah, maybe, but that's recent history.
Radu: Yeah, that's pretty recent, yeah. So now that you're in Belgium and you probably know a lot of people there, what do the people generally think about the atrocities that were committed in Congo by the king?
JF: Yeah, very, very good question. [Ed: I mean, it is, and I'm interested in the answer, but it's a strange question for music press to ask.] At this moment, there is… The discussion about Leopold II, the cruel king, is very actual, because there are more and more people who put it in the spotlights, also because of social media and social media is a very powerful tool, and I think maybe 80, 90% of the Belgian people are really disgusted by Leopold II and what he did in Congo, and already in Belgium there are cities who are changing street names which are called after Leopold II, who are removing statues of this cruel king, so something definitely is happening and I think also our government politicians will soon apologize to Congo, official apologies, because what he did was incredible and you cannot just put it under the carpets. The strange thing, Radu, is that this king, Leopold II, he has never set a foot in Congo. All the cruelty was orchestrated from Belgium into the Congo just because he had a lot of debts, he had to pay a lot of money into other countries… it's just insane.
Radu: And I think, like, Kinshasa was called Léopoldville once?
JF: Mhm, yes. During Leopold II, Congo was called "Congo Free State", I believe, and after that it was called "Zaire", and now it's back to the first name, Congo. I know also that Lumumba, a Congolese politician who fought for the rights of the Congolese people, he was killed. It was after Leopold II, but probably the Belgian government was involved in his killing.
Radu: More than likely, I suppose. [Ed: Belgium apologized for their role in it in 2002, so I would say so.] If you could go back in time to 1985 and say something to the 1985 version of yourself, what would you say?
JF: This is again so very interesting. Hm… I would say, "Don't begin to smoke and don't drink too much". I think I would say, yes.
Radu: And would you have listened?
JF: Back in those days, what I know now, I think I would listen, yes. Well, I would say to my older self, "What an old bastard is talking now to me, telling me not to do this, not to do that", but it could also be like that.
Radu: So I know that Agathocles is a band that has always been in between the punk and the metal scenes, and we're from a punk - sorry, a metal webzine [Ed: Punk Storm coming in 2021], so a lot of your favorite records from the '80s like Bathory and Celtic Frost and Hellhammer, we're already well aware of those, but what '80s hardcore and punk records do you think are influential to metal but metalheads do not realize it?
JF: Radu, there are so many - for example, Crude SS; it's a Swedish band that was totally influential for metal punk, or metal, because the sound, it's crazy. They made this record in '84, I think, the sound is pure Hellhammer, for example. They didn't know - Hellhammer didn't know about this band, Crude SS didn't know about Hellhammer, so that's very special for me to have an influence. Also, the old Discharge records; they're more famous, I know.
Radu: Metallica covered Discharge, so they're not that unfamous.
JF: Discharge were on a big label and well-known, but other bands… G.I.S.M., for example, G.I.S.M. from Japan. I think many people who like metal will love G.I.S.M., too. Mornington Crescent from Holland. Zouo is also a Japanese band. Yeah, Belgian band from '86, X-Creta, that's also a very nice crossover band. They have these Bathory-like vocals; the music's more hardcore, but still special. There are so many bands which I think metal-lovers will love as well.
Radu: And one band that you've covered a lot of times is Lärm.
JF: Ah, Lärm, yes, yes, yes. Lärm - a very influential band from Holland. They split up in 1988, I think, but they're still playing under another name. It's quite the same members. Yes, because this was one of the bands who opened my eyes to play fast, to play untuned guitars, because they didn't tune the guitars - they had this really noisy overall sound - and the lyrics were very radical and political active, so I know that they really inspired me, because it was a step further into extremity, music-wise.
Radu: Okay. And one other band that I found when I first listened to them I was shocked that it was in the '80s and it sounded really like something that would come much later on is Siege.
JF: Ah, yeah, Siege, but I'm not a real big Siege-lover.
JF: No, there are other bands, like Revenge Of The Whores [The Corporate Whores is the band, Revenge Of The Whores is the album] from UK, it's older than Siege… Cyanamid, from USA, I think they were the first band to use the grind… blasts, and then Wretched from Italy, is one of the most known bands from '81; it's unbelievable. But about Siege - I think in '87 we used to play a Siege cover during Agathocles gigs.
Radu: Was it that song with the saxophone?
JF: Not the one with the saxophone, no, no. It's the song called "Conform", with the slow bass in the beginning. Very catchy melody.
Radu: Well, you should do a song with a saxophone. [Ed: But then we would have to change their genre tag to "avant-garde grindcore".]
JF: Let me think, did we do one? (thinks) Hm… no, we didn't, we have never done with a saxophone.
Radu: Well, there's still time for it.
JF: Yes. Maybe we can try that out. It's a good idea.
Radu: Okay. So do you have anything else that you would like to say to our readers?
JF: Ehm… Radu, the zine will be in Romanian, written in Romanian?
Radu: No, I'm Romanian, but the webzine is international. [Ed: That means it's written in Esperanto.]
JF: Ah, international, okay. So thanks a lot for taking the time to read the interview. What else can I say? Keep on supporting the band as much as possible through whatever you can do. As for Agathocles - thanks for all the people who showed interest in what we were doing and still are doing during the years, because without people into the underground, it was really not possible for Agathocles to have released so much records, to spread our music everywhere in the world, so it's really nice to see an active community, an active underground community which is sharing things with each other. In the '80s, '90s, it was tape-trading, making tapes and sending tapes out to each other, and then spreading it this way. I guess these days it's sending out digital files or Bandcamp to each other to spread music, which is also a very nice thing, but it's new to me. I was called "digiphobic", something like that; it has to do with my age for sure. All the best with the webzine, and it was so nice to talk with you.
Radu: Thank you.
JF: Thank you for showing interest in the band.
Radu: Thank you.
And thanks to SSUS for transcribing and sparkling some humor. Happy holidays everyone!
Jan also sent us a bunch of old hardcore records to check out:
||Posted on 25.12.2020 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.|
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