French electronic artist James Kent (aka Perturbator) is set to hit Australian shores for the first time this November, and he’s going to be bringing his dark brand of retro synthwave in full force. OVERDRIVE had the pleasure of chatting with him about the upcoming tour, why he attracts the metal crowd and how 80s culture influences his music.
“Considering the Australian people brought tickets so fast, I’m expecting people to go kind of wild” said Kent with excitement when asked about his expectations for the tour. “Either the Australian Perturbator fans are gonna go crazy or be a bit shy, and I hope they go crazy (laughs). It’s my first time coming to Australia and I’m gonna love it”. Kent recently finished up a North American tour in support of his latest release New Model. When asked how life on the road treated him while overseas, he replied “It was a long, exhausting but super good tour. It was around 30 shows, playing one every day. It was hard to put up with but every show went super well and we’re really happy with that. Now that I’m home and resting a bit before going back on tour, I can safely say that it was a very good experience”.
Kent has had the honour of playing some of the prestigious European festivals like Rock am Ring and Hellfest Open Air, but definitely prefers playing his own standalone shows. “Festivals are kind of harder for me. I’m used to having a metal audience going to most of my shows, but the weird element for me is that festivals are very chaotic. You have to set up your gear behind the stage while another band is playing and 5 other bands are also setting up their gear next to you. It’s very tense because you can’t really soundcheck and just have to get on stage” says Kent. “It’s cool and I love it, but festivals aren’t my favourite. Standalone shows are just a bit more pleasant”.
Perturbator has made waves throughout the metal community not just in Australia but worldwide as well. Wondering how an electronic artist has been able to seamlessly captivate fans from a completely different genre, we asked him how he’s been able to do this. “I’ve never really understood it. I think it comes from a sort of aggressiveness in my music that’s present in metal. It might come from that ‘nerdy’ type culture, but I really can’t put my finger on what makes the metal audience appreciative of my music”. When asked if the occult imagery featured in a lot of Perturbator’s art might help get attention from the metal crowd, Kent replied “That also plays a part I believe. I’m very onto social media and some people can see that I’m pals with the Church of Satan, even if I’m not a Satanist myself. I use this imagery for myself mostly. I think there’s a lot of meaning in symbols and I like to not play with it, but use it in the music to try and elevate it to a higher level”.
“I think a lot of similar artists can use that” he said when asked if the occult imagery sets him apart from other artists in the synthwave genre. “I think I even saw a couple of people using pentagrams and inverted crosses just for the glamour of it, but everyone has their own reasons. I don’t think it sets me apart really. When someone sees a pentagram, they’re not necessarily thinking about Perturbator, they can also think about the band Pentagram or even Venom”.
80’s movies and culture act as huge influences in Perturbator’s music, so we were curious as to which 80’s movie is Kent’s favourite and how exactly that has influenced him. “It’s definitely Blade Runner. I think this movie is gorgeous and just a visual treat. The sadness and melancholy within the story and the visuals of the movie kind of speak to me, which is also quite present in the new one which I saw and loved. It’s actually my favourite movie of all time. I also love Alien, Terminator, Predator, that kind of stuff”. The visuals and music of late 80’s/early 90’s anime also influence the music Kent writes, stating “Anime like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Wicked City too. Even the cheesy stuff like Evangelion and Gundam I love and get inspired by”.
Knowing that Kent has a history of playing in metal bands, we wanted to find out a bit more of his musical past before Perturbator. “Well actually I was a session guitarist in a couple of bands. I never considered myself an actual member in any of those but I’d get called along to play shows. I did have my own band where I wrote a whole EP back when I was 17 or 18 which isn’t that good when I listen back to it (laughs). I’m not the best guitarist in the world but I’m not the worst. It was the whole trying to settle arrangements with band members wore off on me, and there came a point where all the bands I was playing with stopped or went away”.
Kent continued, speaking on the origins of Perturbator. “I found myself in my room trying to find something I could do. I really needed to make music and wanted to find something I could do by myself. I was watching a movie, I think it was Hobo with a Shotgun, and the soundtrack to this movie sounded really recent but also like a homage to the 80’s, and I thought this was something I could do. This is something I could try my hand at. So I did. I brought the software and some synthesisers, and it was kind of hard at first but here we are the rest is history.
“I have a side project called L’Enfant De La Forêt which is a dark ambient project” said Kent when asked if he still played much guitar. “It mixes dark ambient with some black metal, trip hop and dungeon synth. It’s a very dark, depressing kind of thing. Well at least I hope it’s depressing because that’s the point of it right? But yeah I play guitar in that”. Interested in whether he’ll write something on guitar and translate it over to synth for Perturbator, Kent says “It rarely happens, but it still happens. I think one of the most intriguing aspects of the Perturbator sound is the actual ‘synth sound’. I think a lot of people, myself included, can listen to a track and think wow it sounds kind of heavy, but there’s no guitar, just synthesizer. It’s just sounds coming from machines. It gives that special feel to it. I did add guitars into Perturbator but it was more of a background thing than the main focus”.
Kent released his latest release New Model in September this year. When asked how it has been received by his fans, he said “I didn’t look into it too much but I think it divided my fan base a bit which is good because it means people talk about it. I think the people who were really into the whole 80’s aesthetic and nostalgia probably got disappointed a bit, but the people who were looking for something different and surprising got pleasantly surprised. The whole point of the release was to get a reaction and also free myself from some rules and codes within my own genre and I think it did that well. The name is New Model so you should expect to hear something new”.