Costes is an artist who doesn’t like taking detours, and even less, making concessions. His plentiful oeuvre - comprised of CDs, performances, videos and most recently a novel entitled Viva la Merda ! (Long Live the Shit !), aims at putting under the spotlights the false taboos and uneasiness that exist throughout our society in order to better destroy them in public. His work rarely leaves the viewer indifferent and often initiates controversy - as we can see by the numerous court proceedings and violent columns, to which he is victim. After more than twenty albums and hundreds of hardcore performances, Jean-Louis Costes - a performer to the bitter end - is currently pursuing his deconditioning work with his new porno-social ritual, The Holy Virgin Cult.
Maybe we could start by discussing your new performance...
The theme of The Holy Virgin Cult show is religious. Giulio Nesi and I play Protestant pastors who go nuts while under the influence of Haitian Voodoo, something that I am familiar with from Saint-Denis. They start out in suits and then go crazy. There are some moments of very intense trance.
How do the adepts of the new "cult" react ?
Sometimes with movements of uncontrollable panic. Hordes of big buff guys who rush the emergency exits trampling each other while at the same time we’re throwing chocolate syrup on them. The problem that we sometimes run across is keeping the crowd away from the stage, because sometimes there’s a bunch of crazy bastards who storm the stage with one desire in mind : popping our blow-up doll. There is so much interaction with the audience, it becomes too modern ! It is still a relatively reactionary "religious" show. Inflatable dolls are expensive... We would have to do the final group sex scene with the doll all deflated. That would just feel like fucking a wrinkled old grandmother.
It is also a veritable Voodoo trance ceremony ?
I can’t attain the same levels of trance that the Haitians do. They can stay high for a month, possessed by demons. We are inspired by Voodoo, and we try to put ourselves into secondary states, but we are far from their level as we don’t have the culture or the background necessary. What we’re looking for each time we’re on stage is a modified state of consciousness, be it through fear or stress. Being on stage allows me to do things that physically I could never do under other conditions. I don’t know what kind of crazy shit I could do to attain the same level of physical activity, maybe war or sports at a professional level. Sometimes the show bores me, other times it’s fantastic, we just fly off the handle and wake up the next morning still spaced out. And yet we don’t take drugs.
Why are you so obsessed by religion ?
Oh really ? But it doesn’t obsess me beyond that. By the way, I became a Shinto two weeks ago. I’ve even got an alter and make offerings. It’s a really great religion. The gods don’t ask you to do anything except make offerings and in exchange they give you ideas. There’s no moral message, there’s no philosophical coordination, nothing. No two Shintos worship the same thing, there’s no centralization. It’s what they did in their villages, that’s why the beliefs are so scattered, each village had their own. It’s a pagan Japanese thing, it’s not Buddhist. As far as the beliefs are concerned, there are no founding texts. You go knock-knock, and you clap your hands twice. Then, you pick up a piece of paper to see what’s going to happen to you, and if you don’t like it, you put down another 100 yen and you pick up another. You see, it has this instant gratification side to it. What counts is that you pay. They don’t ask me if I believe in something. I don’t even know why I do it, and I don’t think the others know any more than I do. It’s a bit like Disneyland.
You’ve been thinking about playing in Japan... in order to get closer to Shinto roots ? How do you manage to play everywhere the way you do, do you have a real network now ?
For Japan, nothing is for sure. I’ve played there once before, but this time I don’t have any plan, so I can’t say right now. A lot of times we play off my reputation, that’s usually how things come together. My network has been reinforced through the internet. I got all my gigs in Germany that way. In Austria, it happens through Noël Akchoté. He met me through Rectangle, which released Nik ta Race, and he lives in Austria. And it spreads through word of mouth. For this Fall in the United States, we’ve already scheduled three gigs without even really trying. I think we’re going to have ten or fifteen gigs, maybe even more ; it’s going to be pretty easy. I should point out that I’ve played there before.
Is there a Costes network ?
There is a Costes network, since everyone is on a network, we all have a tendency to do that. But in my case, it’s neither a political nor a business network, my network is limited to music, which is my passion. It works on passion only and it’s really powerful. Right now, with email, it’s even more powerful. And after being at it for ten years, you have five thousand addresses, from all over the world, of people who have nothing to do with the music industry, because show business is an enterprise of cultural destruction like you wouldn’t believe, a dictatorship that destroys millions of artists in order to do business with two or three assholes. All of these people are frustrated with that, they’ve managed to organize themselves using photocopying, the internet, mailings, leaflets, little concerts in squats and at this point, it forms a mega-network, it’s nuts. The concert halls that I play in, they’re maybe not big halls, but sometimes it’s the biggest hall in town. Sometimes, a squat can admit more entries than all the other clubs in town combined, and that’s why they fight against it, because they leach away the business. Squats can be really powerful sometimes, when they’re well organized. And it’s a very far-reaching network.
Do you manage to reach circles outside of music ?
It’s strange. You would think I would reach the theater world as well, but that’s never happened. They’ve been spoiled by government subsidies for at least three hundred years, since Molière. The theatre’s been corrupt for a long time. "The little blue flower troupe", or "the players of the green aqueduct", all these fucking names, "vertical transcendence" style, all that’s for the subsidies. They don’t put on any plays, they just wait to get the cash. I mean they’re all ready to put on shit for kids. It’s absolutely disgusting, they take them for idiots. I would actually forbid children to see that kind of stuff.
There aren’t any places where the subsidies are justified ?
None. I think the Ministry of culture should be done away with completely. When I thought that the right wing was going to destroy the Ministry of culture, I fucking loved it, I would have gone straight to the polls, but they didn’t do it. In fact, they didn’t even dare to touch it. Oh no, they should have blown the whole thing up. Okay, so maybe they maintain three or four monuments, but they ruin everything with their subsidies. As soon as a place runs on subsidies, it’s simple, I no longer have the right to play there. Right away, with the subsidies, they do calculations on the content of the performance and after that, they reject us straight away. And then it’s the crafty ones who profit from it first.
How do your films differ from your shows, at the level of improvisation in particular ?
They have nothing to do with one another, they’re just stupid films. I write a scenario and that’s it. There are some where I’m drunk, I switch on the camera, and I talk absolute nonsense. That’s when it’s improvised. The bizarre side of it is that I find half of the actors along the way ; no one expects anything when there isn’t any cash. When it’s based on that principle, the film becomes really crazy. As far as the shows are concerned, they are very little improvised, even for the lines. At the beginning, there is a phase when we test the lines in relation to the audience, because you can’t really predict people’s reactions or the moments that are going to be the most intense. Afterwards, you can exploit the reactions. So, it’s a little improvised at the beginning and afterwards, I change the text just like that, to amuse myself. I improvise the text, except for the songs. Otherwise, I’m not even trying to do a feature-length film because you need to ask the CNC (National Center for Cinematography) for money. I would never get it, they give it all to their mates. For example, Alice aux pays des portables (Alice in Cell Phone Wonderland) is a film I made in its entirety. I worked on it for eight months, it’s not even really provocative. We had found a distributor, we had our hands on everything, but we couldn’t get a single subsidy in order to transfer it to film. They refused to give us any subsidies, they didn’t even want to watch the film.
You can’t show your films ?
It’s completely forbidden. The only cinema halls we can show in are classified as arts cinemas and they run on subsidies. To get funded, they have to show a quota of French art films. And what’s a French art film ? It’s a film approved by the CNC. In order to get approved, you have to have a production company whose capital has been verified by an expert at 50,000 francs, and that’s just the beginning. Once you have your company, they ask you for a pay slip for all your actors and technicians... That’s easy, right ? And if you say, "I made it with my friends", they reply, "you’re not going to tell me you made it with your sister and your mother ! ?" "But that’s exactly it, my mother played my mother, and my sister played my sister", and right there, you’re fucked. Then there’s another thing, the national preference, and that’s downright fascist. Alice takes place in the suburbs, and so there were a lot of immigrant actors and actresses. In a French film, you have to have French actors because each time you put in an actor who’s not French, you lose points. If you have 65 out of 100, your film is approved but if you only get 60, you’re not approved. And my film was full of Haitians ! You also have to have your actors speaking French ; if that’s not the case, they take away points for that too. Fine, you don’t get approved, no big deal, Jean-Louis. Release your film without approval, just get a release certificate. It’s possible, but you’ll never get a distributor because they too get cash for distributing approved French art films. You get the picture, if you’re not approved, they get nothing. But little French art film distributors run exclusively on subsidies. To sum up, arts cinemas need to make a quota of approved films, so they’re not going to run your film because they won’t get their subsidies. In a film festival, if you don’t have a production company, you’re not going to show your film there either. And my films can’t be bought for television, the girl at CNC put it to me this way, "don’t count on getting on television either if you aren’t approved, hahaha !", you know, like, "you poor fool". I almost busted up her office. T.V. stations buy shitty French films on the cheap without any intention of broadcasting them but in order to make quota. Am I making myself clear ? It’s a closed circuit.
Do you have any hope in alternative circuits ?
Yes, cinema is going the way of music, because there are so many people who are making movies on their computers. I was one of the first people to come up with something well-finished. But it also took me eight months to do it ; not everyone has that much time to spend on a project. But there are a lot of good films that are going to come out and the shit is going to hit the fan in the industry because they won’t be able to take it, they’re afraid of losing their business. Therefore people are going to be able to make films with practically nothing.
Did you manage to have secured payment on your site ?
Not yet. The banks are refusing to do it because of all the legal actions against me. They tell me that they are refusing for ethical reasons. Because now, banks have become ethical ? Banks are there for business, and they consider me to be a small business, the ass that I am I would become ethical if they thought I was big business. There are four or five banks that, when put together, have all the banking business in France. It’s scary because if you think in the long term, you can imagine that the internet will become the only means of payment, it will be the only means of survival for the little businesses. If the banks decide that you are "unethical", they’ll refuse you this right.
Where are you at with your trials ?
It’s not very complicated, it has been continuous for seven years. Since the beginning it’s been the same trial. Certain associations accuse me of the same thing, they just find new reasons to do so. Except during the summer holidays, when things are put on hold. These are people who are fighting against evil, but not during holidays. By the time schools starts again, it is always the same guy, on a motorcycle, always hilarious, some sort of bailiff’s messenger boy, who shows up, "Yeah, Mister Costes, I’m distributing the summons. Hey, don’t I know you ! ?" My neighbours must think that there’s some sort of hardcore criminal in the building. In seven years I don’t know how many dozens of summons I’ve received. And it’s my mother who pays. She sold her house, there is a lot of damage, because me, I haven’t paid a dime. In any case it’s my mother who pays for everything, even for the music. For them the trials don’t cost a cent, they’re subsidized. They wait until I have lost everything, until I am practically homeless, until everything I own has been seized and I’ve been thrown out of my apartment. When you have five associations in front of you, even if you only have to pay 10,000 francs to each one, you also have the trial fees, it just gets bigger and bigger, before you know it you owe 100,000 francs that you have to pay immediately. And you can’t get a credit.
Is it you vs. everyone else ?
I am going to fuck them all. The president of one of these associations just said in a magazine interview that the Costes lawsuit was a mistake. He said, "was", but in actuality it still is. He said that to indicate that it is over, but he’s lying. And his other lie was to say, "His site was disgusting", but my site is still the same, nothing has changed. He’s playing the "we fucked him, we dropped a bomb on him but it was a mistake" game. What’s more, he’s claiming that they were responsible for publicizing a foul, marginal artist. Because it’d be thanks to them that I have a reputation ! ! ! In another interview, this time on TV his discourse was more, "Everyone knows that Costes is not a racist. He has just gone beyond the limits of freedom of expression. Art has limits too. We can’t just say whatever we want. He is influencing weak-minded people with his trip because he doesn’t give them the keys to understand". Do you see what I’m saying ? I don’t give keys for pedagogical purposes... And at the next trial they are going to attack me for exactly the same things.
What are their interests ?
I don’t know, I don’t understand them, they are a mentally ill minority. And I can’t even imagine getting damages, because I would have to put a figure to my prejudice, "Ok, you’ve been insulted, but you are already such a piece of shit...". Therefore, the insults don’t really hurt me because socially speaking I am shit.
You had a forum on your site, right ?
Yes, I had a forum. And as if by chance I received 300,000 extremist messages per day. Of course they were all from the same guy. Since I don’t want any censorship, I shut it down completely. Extremist messages are interesting but only if it’s proportionally to their place in global ideology. You have to be familiar with extremist ideology, as well as the ideology of the new right wing, because they evolve really fast, faster than on the left. They go so quickly that sometimes you don’t understand anything anymore. They mix everything up. For example you think that you are visiting a Bolshevik site when in fact it’s them. There are also all these writers who talk about war from the comfort of their own homes. I get e-mails from a friend of my brother’s who is in Hebron. He’s part of an American pacifist movement. They block streets and it pisses everyone off. But well, they get killed, the Israelis just ran over one of his girl friends with a bulldozer - on purpose. They don’t have the right to talk to journalists, the deal being that if they talk to the press they get kicked out of the country. So, they send personal e-mails. War is not at all the way the journalists tell it, war is about shit. Israeli soldiers invest in Palestinian homes and then use them as bunkers, they piss and shit everywhere. It’s the main activity. They’re not going to go to the bathroom between two shootings, so they shit themselves. I’ll just let you imagine the state that the house is in after it’s all over... This is an aspect of war that is very concrete, very dirty, that has nothing to do with nationalism. This also has to do with false taboos like sex, shit, and body odors... All that we don’t talk about.
Speaking of shit, you just came out with your first novel Viva La Merda !
Initially I wanted to write a screenplay, which is why the book is so concise at the beginning. Progressively, the story came to me and I kept on writing more and more, and shit, by the end it wasn’t a screenplay but a book. I didn’t do it on purpose. A priori, I’m not interested in writing novels.
What would you have done if you hadn’t been "Costes" ? You did architecture, right ? What was it that made you dare to go on stage, dare to do what you do ?
I don’t know. When you don’t talk to anyone at school, you’re not cool, you don’t even have the right look. You don’t have anything. You’re not even a dunce, you’re not even rebellious, you don’t exist, so, you make music. I was bored so I did it to keep myself busy or to make myself look better, like an idiot, in front of girls, all the while telling myself that if I was an artist everything would be better. At the beginning it wasn’t anything more than that. I could do something completely different, I don’t have an artistic vocation, and I have never had one. I studied architecture, but the problem was that I was completely antisocial in an architectural office. I worked in this business before. In the beginning I was hyperefficient, but after about three months I would kick the computer to pieces. I don’t have the mental capacity to succeed in this society of psychos.
| Jean-Louis Costes, Viva la merda ! - Les éditions Hermaphrodite |