The post-punk group Société Étrange was born from collectivist roots
By Andy Thomas October 25, 2022
Earlier this year, a mysterious record appeared seemingly out of nowhere, with music that may well have come from the post-punk scene of the early 80s, and an enigmatic cover to match. The album was credited to Société Étrange (Strange Society), and its songs landed somewhere between the dubby punk of This Heat, the kosmische of Cluster, and the kind of early ’80s weirdness that would be reissued by the Minimal label. Wave.
In reality, Chance was the second release from a new French band whose brilliant debut Goodbye, had gone almost unnoticed outside of the Lyon scene where he came from. La Société Étrange (originally La Société Étrange) began in a Lyon squat located on the tree-lined Passage Gonin on the banks of the Rives de Saône to the north of the city. This is where Antoine Bellini, who takes care of the electronic elements of Société, and his old friend Romain Hervault, who takes care of the bass, lived in a common house of artists and musicians. “We found this great place and built our studios and our art space there,” says Bellini. “There was a large group of people living there. We had a room of about 100 square meters where we had performances and exhibitions.
Rehearsing and performing within this community provided the perfect environment for a band like Société Étrange to take shape. “I’ve always considered myself more of an artist than a musician,” says Bellini. “And it’s very important for us, as an inspiration for our daily lives, to be among all these different art forms.”
Also living in the house was a conceptual artist named Lou Masduraud with whom Bellini began collaborating on sound installations and experimental performances. It is thanks to another artist friend that Bellini and Hervault found the name of their group. “‘Strange Society’ was born out of an art project by a friend who was building this huge structure, like a big boat, in which people could live, like a kind of utopian community,” says Bellini. “We were very close to this friend, so we asked him if we could use this name and continue his idea of utopia through our music.”
Goodbye was released as a 10″ in 2015 by SK Records. The small independent label was established in 1998 to serve as a platform for Lyon’s DIY community and has featured releases ranging from Rature’s avant-garde hip-hop to prog rock. electronics of Deux Boules Vanille. “When we started, we had no intention of releasing anything,” says Bellini. “We just enjoyed playing together. But then our friend Nico from SK said, ” You should put out a record.”
The duo’s beginnings were indebted to the funkier side of industrial music, as well as the more translucent end of the German kosmische scene. “We listen to so many different types of music, and it all seeps in,” says Bellini. “From Throbbing Gristle to the first Plastikman,” says Bellini.
Another resident of the Passage Gonin house was a musician named Jonathan Grandcollot, a member of the avant-garde group Pan Pan Pan, who rehearsed at the squat. Grandcollot would eventually become a full member of the Société Étrange, his drums steering the group in a more rhythmic direction.
After a few years of playing live and developing their new sound, the trio released Chance earlier this year on Bongo Joe in conjunction with Standard in-Fi. Here, Société Étrange’s post-punk leanings collide with ’90s post-rock (think early Tortoise), deepening into dub that gives their music space and texture. (“I love using a lot of echo pedals in the studio,” says Bellini.) Check out the opening “La Rue Principale de Grandrif” where Hervault’s woozy bass and Grandcollot’s choppy drums swirl in a sea of reverb and effects.
As they begin to work on material for their next album, Bellini reflects on the creative process that drives their music forward. “We usually start with a rough plan of what we want to do, then sketch it out a bit in rehearsal before we start playing it straight live,” he says. “And so a lot of the tracks are actually composed live, so it’s quite improvised. Sometimes it works out for better and sometimes for worse. But that always means things are changing.