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Vox Populi!
Psyko Tropix Sean Kitching , April 28th, 2022 08:03

Sean Kitching is delighted to discover the work of the cult French and Iranian group via an album of largely unreleased tracks from an archive that, if this is anything to go by, has much more fascinating and unclassifiable music still up its sleeve

It’s always a joy when music I take an instant liking to lands in my inbox. In the case of Psyko Tropix, a collection of mostly unreleased and first time for all on vinyl tracks by ‘ethno-industrial’ French band Vox Populi!, who were active from the early to late 80s, I immediately began to wonder why I’d not picked up on them sooner. Perhaps it’s that tag, ‘ethno-industrial’, which recalls the likes of (the also excellent) 23 Skidoo, but which is seriously misleading – at least in this case. The fact that many of their original releases were cassette only, is also certainly a factor. How obscure they are, I really have no idea. Judging from this release, however, they certainly deserve to be more widely known.

Beginning in 1980, Vox Populi’s discography exhibits a huge range of cultural influences, executed with largely self-taught techniques and a sense of the-tape-is-always-running willingness to experiment with all kinds of sonic gumbo. Founding member Axel Kyrou’s parents were avant-garde musicians and filmmakers, who no doubt helped impart a voracious and diverse appetite for many different strands of artistic and cultural influences. Kyrou’s bandmate Mitra moved from Iran to Paris in 1978, followed a few years later by her virtuoso brother Arash who became part of the group at the age of 14. Based in their 14th arrondissement studio – at one time Axel and his brother’s family playroom – Vox Populi! apparently became “a lynchpin in the Parisian experimental scene”. As for the ‘ethno-industrial’ label, it’s not that it is entirely inaccurate, more that the band were likely to exhibit such tendencies but not always on the same record. At the time of writing, the only other album I’m familiar with by them is La Cathédrale Morte, which is also excellent but a rather noisier, sci-fi inflected minimal synth affair.

Psyko Tropix on the other hand, offers several different moods and sonic palettes. Sometimes recalling the psych-drone chug of Faust at their most infectiously kinetic, or the pulsing tribalism of Can. At other times exhibiting an almost New Age or Dead Can Dance vibe, or else dub aspects and hints of cosmic trance, even a touch of the acerbic bile of 70s Residents. Opener ‘Cabalo Blanco’ immediately hits that fuzz-guitar and backwards bits of the groovier end of the Faust spectrum. ‘Mush Dubby Gnarls and Vrooms’, unsurprisingly reveals their dub influence. It is, like a lot of these tracks, very loose in its construction, yet because of its beguiling pulse and throb of effects, it remains instantly likeable with a sinuous groove that is hard to resist. ‘Golpari June’ is something like a 60s psych tune, graced by a beautiful vocal, birdsong and subtle little percussive details threaded through its two minutes and fifteen seconds that somehow provide the soundscape with the illusion of a much larger, naturalistic space. Indeed, if these tracks have any defining thread amongst their genre-hopping tendencies, it is that they often turn into something else entirely at around the halfway mark.

‘Getting to Know Mars and Venus’ floats a zither-like sound upon clouds of burbling electronics, which halfway through manifests a gorgeous, ghostly vocal. ‘Psycho Tropics’ returns once more to that kosmiche pulse, whilst ‘Ethno Space Trek’ is the most nebulous piece on offer, almost dissociative in effect with its sound of mechanical cosmic gears churning. ‘Farewell Cemetary’, meanwhile, hits like Dead Can Dance but with less artifice—as if the listener were eavesdropping in on a private ceremony. This is wonderfully transporting music. Even at their most diffuse, these tracks have a shamanic quality that upholds its promise to take the listener on an intriguing journey. For me personally, this has been a great discovery – one which I’ll certainly be investigating further.