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A conversation between
Bradford Cox & Laetitia Sadier

"Do the rich need the poor to be rich?" questions Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier on "Oscuridad," a song looking into the massive wealth and class gaps that rule this world. "Would there be poverty if there weren't any rich?" The song comes from the French singer's fourth solo release, Something Shines, out this month on Drag City. In advance of its release, Sadier spoke with Deerhunter's Bradford Cox with the intent to discuss the album, one which she has explained as "an exploration through Debord's La Societe du Spectacle, and how it is still up to us to guide and shape our fate, individually and collectively." The resultant conversation, though, was more wide-ranging, covering everything from the complicated politics of independent music and the recent short fallings of leftist thinking, to philosophy and religion and class and war. Throughout the course of this lengthy discussion, Sadier and Cox deconstruct the influence of capitalism and commercialization on creativity, and search for vulnerability and humanness in a toxic, trying world.

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Bradford: I got to finally listen to your new album tonight and I have to say this is my favorite of your solo releases so far. This album is I think the most immediate album you've made. I found it immediately engaging. The first song, "Quantum Soup," I think aesthetically it is very immersive. The title is very good. You've always had such great titles.

Laetitia: Well, thank you.

B: They're very descriptive and make the song easier to contextualize. And the production is wonderful. Who is this producer?

L: It's Emma. We produced it with Emma, my drummer.

B: The sound is fantastic. It's very human and very warm.

L: Yeah. Well that's what we want, huh? Personally that's what I respond to, the warmth. I don't respond to cold. Well, not positively anyway.

B: That's funny because when I think about the conversations we've had in the past, and when we've talked about your early musical influences, I think of this French cold-wave compilation...

L: Oh, yeah? [laughs]

B: Like that icy, disco synth from the late 70's and early 80's. For whatever reason when I hear it, I think, "I wonder if this is what Laetitia liked when she was growing up..."

L: Yeah, of course, but I think a lot of it was still warm, you know? The intent might be to appear quite chilling and very composed and very kind of insensitive but you know that underneath that thickness of ice there is a warm heart beating.

B: Yeah, it's sort of an austerity.

L: I mean it's true. The late 70's in France and going into the 80's, you know it was this idea settling in, "crisis." I was born and it was always, "la crise economique."

B: That reminds me of the film The Devil, Probably.

L: Oh? I never saw that.

B: Really? It's Bresson.

L: Ah. Oh, oui oui. Bresson is super-depressing...

B: Yeah, I know, but what you're saying about "the crisis" just reminds me very much of this film he made at that time, and it's about an existential teenager committing suicide. It sort of relates to that Situationist attitude towards a crisis...

L: Yeah ... But about the cold-wave thing. It was probably about the idea settling in that, "ok, we're in the crisis, and it's going to last, and therefore we have to toughen up, we have to wrap ourselves up into a kind of cold, more insensitive stance." But when I listen back to it, you know, it's coldness and impenetrability is not what strikes me. I think a lot if it is still, not warm exactly, you know, but quite human and still quite inventive and quite fun.

B: Do you think it's warmer through the lens of nostalgia or maybe it's association with your youth?

L: Perhaps, but... I've been out a lot recently. I've been to festivals, and I went out to clubs, and I went out. I've been out. And I've been shocked by the amount of bad music that I've heard. And really stupid music, you know? I know it's always kind of been like that but at some point it's like, "Can we breathe here? Can we have some real music?" Everything is put to a beat.

B: A very quantized and inhuman beat. I think this is a real problem right now.

[smashing sound]

B: Oh my god Faulkner! My dog just attacked the recorder.

L: [laughs] Faulker, come here. You naughty boy. Do not attack the recorder.

B: When I hear modern music, and when I hear modern films and television and advertisements, it's hard not to think of it just as a total commodification of everything. It really seems to lack any depth beyond being a product. Everything about it is seamless and quantized, dehumanized and sterile. I like dance music. I like electronic music. But I think the electronic music that seems to be so popular now, it's very inhuman. There's no latency in the rhythms. It's all very 1-2-3, very digital and perfect.

L: And the P.A.'s, the nature of the P.A.'s that play this music, has also changed. It's very precise and very aggressive. It kind of crushes your ears, like an insect with claws.

B: Compression.

L: Oui, compression, yeah.

B: It is so aggressive, but it somehow can blend in with meaningless conversations very well. And alcohol. That's youth culture now. It seems to be built in to the music of the millennial generation. Millennials are really the hardest generation to relate to. You and I are not really the same generation but we have so much more in common...

L: Yeah we're of the same era and culture and we have the same landmarks. When I started getting into alternative music, I was always looking for what was not normal and there, readily in my face...

B: I remember you once mentioning to me once The Residents.

L: Yeah because they were weird, and I liked that. And nobody knew them in France, so I liked that even more. They also had an identity...

B: ...a sort of mythology?

L: Yes. And something going on that was unique to them. I was very attracted by that, and not by the product that was already handed out. In the 70's and 80's the kind of pop product that was shallow, you know? And readily consumable. I always opposed myself to that. I was opposed to it. I was rebellious. There was an idea in the independent movement that was political ... It was part of this thing to be political and to engage in your reality, and transform it. You would transform things through being artistic...

B: ... and transgressive?

L: Yes, to a degree. Like Throbbing Gristle. They were transgressive. I think they did not want to be readily understood by everyone around them. But at the same time they had strong energy, and a very strong ideology. They had ideas.

B: Mystery had yet to be commodified as much.

L: And to get on to where I came from, and what music meant to me. It meant to be something that would change my life -- a tool whereby I could engage in the world and a tool that was extremely meaningful, and extremely serious. It wasn't just a commodity I had in the background. It was my life. It was extremely serious. I took music, and I still do, extremely seriously. There were people who were the same. I think you are also one of these people who listens to music really like it is a matter of life or death.

B: It's really a form of... it's very religious... to me.

L: (laughs) Well it's spiritual...

B: Religious and spiritual in terms of, I cannot imagine my life without music and all of the things that go along with it. The ideology, the desire for revolution, all the things that I think made up the DNA of all these movements that are interesting. Your lyrics hit on the influence of the Situationist movement. I think a lot of people can see that the Situationist movement informed the punk movement, which informed the alternative music movement. It depresses me that through that continuity, now we have this commercial form of alternative music that's used to sell cars. It's used in Chase bank ads. It's used in football games. It's commercialized. But it comes from the DNA of people who reviled these commercial and commodified...

L: That's a trait of capitalism. The more green they're going to be in a commercial, the more idealist, the more Yoko Ono and John Lennon they're going to be, the more Flower power they're going to be, in fact, the grimmer the reality of that company is. They saw in the indie rock movement, they saw an idealist purity there and that's why they tapped into it. They tapped into that imagery that is captivating to some people to have a better world, and they use it because they are extremely cynical and they see the value there to serve their own ends.

B: I agree but I must interject. For the sake of full disclosure, also just to be fair, A) I am a self-aware cynicist. I am very cynical.

L: You're not cynical like the Apple Corporation, or people who go and do fracking in Africa, and dump nuclear waste...

B: My cynicism is not as self-serving. It's not for capital, it's not for profit. I'm a non-profit cynicist. Let me make another point though, that I think we must acknowledge, that I think both of our groups have licensed stuff to these companies. And done commercials. I always assured myself that there was nothing wrong with it because I have to make a living. How do you feel about this? I'm not trying to put you on the spot.

L: We can talk about these things.

B: I think it's interesting. Deerhunter, we've licensed songs to corporations and video games and movies that I found appalling. But this is why I have a house, the ability to buy groceries and make a living. There is a sort of defeatism in the reality that you must play this capitalist game. I have so much respect for bands that don't license their music, that have a staunch leftist attitude, but I can't do it. This is weird to say but I feel like, its almost sort of a bourgeois attitude, or a luxury to be able to maintain an extremely leftist attitude.

I'm interested in comparing our experiences. In America, I find that the most active, leftist people that I know, they tend to come from wealthy families. So they have the luxury of, you could call it bourgeois skill set. They know about these elitist ideas -- I'm not calling the movements or people elitist -- but there's a sort of elitism in having certain knowledge.

L: I know what you're getting at. I won't be in a position where I sit here and judge people for what they do. As it stands, there are wealthy people, they can do and think what they think, and its good if they have a leftist consciousness, it's great. If they can afford their leftist consciousness and action, it's great. But there is a reality behind people. There is a human reality. The reality is that we're quite vulnerable. We need food, we need clean air, we need a roof over our heads.

There are two types of revolutionaries. There are the professional types, you know, for them the people are great. People are a great force. But they don't need to eat, work, to house themselves. Those are the professionals and it's all about ideas, it's not about the realities.

Then there are the real revolutionaries and people who have organized themselves. Like I'm thinking of the French communes at the end of the 18th century and throughout the 18th century, people who have really organized themselves on a local level and according to their needs. And make this as fair as possible and education as accessible as possible. So you know, these people, they think according to people's realities and needs. And that's what we have to look at.

On Stereolab's first tour of America, we had, I can't remember, the guy from Shellac, getting on his high horse because we had some tour support from the record company and we hired ourselves a tour bus. There were like ten of us.

B: Steve Albini?

L: Yeah, and that meant we all had a bunk, and we could sleep on our bunks, and that meant we didn't have hotels. And he was like, "noooo when you tour America you have to sleep on people's floors, blah blah." These type of ideas are just bullshit. People actually need beds, especially when you're touring, people get very tired, it's exhausting, particularly when you are jetlagged. You need to do it as best as you can. And you need to take the steps that you can to get the best touring conditions that you can. And it was not luxurious conditions.

B: I've never been on a bus tour when I haven't gotten a lung infection from recycled air. I also did the thing of sleeping on floors. I got pneumonia sleeping on the floor of a warehouse when I was 19 or 20 in Philadelphia in the winter, sleeping in rat feces just to play a show at an opening for an art commune thing. I did the punk thing and my body really paid for it. And then I did what people consider to be "big shot" touring in buses and guess what -- I also caught pneumonia. It's all difficult, it's all very hard work whether you're sleeping on a floor or you're sleeping on a bus.

I think what you're saying is very enlightening. There's this staunchness that infects everyone's minds -- and I think this is what tears apart the left in a lot of ways. I know we're talking about something that could seem superficial to people who are concerned with deep, economic patterns -- whether a punk rock band sleeps on the floor or not.

L: No. It all goes hand in hand.

B: It's culture. It's humanism. It's humanity. It's the human condition. It's the human experience. And when you look at the root of everything, we're all just seeking comfort. We seek comfort in everything. We seek comfort in sleeping in a bed as opposed to the floor, or in religion, or in science, or economics, or philosophy. Painting your room a dark color, or painting your room a light color. Buying an iPhone or buying a Volvo. There's different levels of superficiality, and one can be very judgmental, but really it's all comfort. One person's idea of comfort might be the idea of the image, this spectacle, these products. Surrounding themselves in items and objects and luxury.

L: In the end, you might find yourself with all your products around you, but you have no love in your heart.

B: Like me.

L: But you have Faulker.

B: I have my dog. [laughs] ... I think the ultimate alienation is the loneliness of someone surrounded by products. Someone who has rooted their identity in the procurement and the collection of products. And it's easy to pick on people who go out and buy luxury items. But even a Sun Ra record that costs 200 dollars is just another fetishized object. You can be surrounded by your cool books and records and it's just as empty.

L: I would hope that your cool books and records have given you enough insights into yourself and the world you live in, to know you have to engage, and that there is a value in engaging with others with an open heart and an open mind. It can be extremely nourishing. I know not always. Because there is a terrible trend in our world to really despise everyone around you. I see a lot of people who talk to each other really badly, and they think it's cool...

B: It came from France. It came from "Hell Is Other People"... It's very existential chic.

L: It's all about judging each other. There is no love in that. We have to support each other. As we all know, the human condition is quite difficult, it's quite tricky.

B: And dark, and hard to navigate.

L: It's quite dark. It can be very confusing in it's uncertainty. It is totally baffling. It gives you anxiety. I think we could do better than despise each other and be abhorrent with one another. But have some kind of support. What's going on?

B: I'm sorry, I'm listening to everything you're saying but my dog is really freaking out. FAULKER!!! [barking] Faulker are you okay? I think he's just jealous that he's not up here in the bed snuggling with me.

I listened to this BBC interview you did.

L: The one I sent you in the night?

B: Yes. I specifically was really interested to hear you talk about Pasolini. He's someone I've admired as long as I've known about him. For years and years and years. And he's somebody who I return to very often.

L: Why do you like him? Why are you so attracted to him?

B: I think he represents an antagonistic self-examination ... One thing I think you and I diverge on is, you are one of the most positive people I know. You really seek positivity. You keep a positive state of mind. I know this from touring with you. I feel like I come from a darker place. I don't mean to sound like I'm a confirmed nihilist or some shit like that. But when I read Pasolini's writing and read interviews with him, I agree so much, it's almost like biological the response I feel to it. I feel so much. He was quite a negative person and a very dark person. And I'm sure that being a homosexual, being completely outside of society ... Yet he had such an influence on society, which is something you really hit the nail on the head with in this interview with the BBC. Another thing I like about him was he was not afraid to criticize the left and examine the left. He was not afraid to criticize what he thought to be idealist superficiality. I just feel like Pasolini is the type of voice that we don't have anything like around now.

L: No, not really. I'm sure there are people like that but they're not as famous.

B: Neither of us was around really at that time, but he really was given a lot of credence in film. He was given a very loud platform to make very transgressive statements. And people considered what he said. People considered the questions he posed.

L: There was this force after the Second World War, for things to explode, because there was a whole new youth and they wanted to live and there was this desire to leave everything behind and just move forwards and look towards the future. And through capitalism also, because capitalism was fueling this desire of the youth. "Oh kids, you want a new life? Well, buy new things! And build new buildings!" I think Pasolini arrived in that. He was part of this explosion. But of course he was much more lucid than some of the youth of the time and he could see all of the darkness of the system, the corruption and the power games. If you wanted to have the truth shine through, you were in a very dangerous position. He could see all that. It was very corrupt, under the guise of being an amazing era. It was in fact a very corrupt and very dark era. Pasolini knew that the type of fascism inherent to the capitalist system was even more dangerous than other types -such as the Mussilini dictatorship, or even Hitler's Reich- because it would manifest under a disguise and not reveal its true oppressive nature, therefore that would make it much harder to combat.

Because I think, also, the United States had made a choice of leading a war economy, of making weapons, and anyone who wanted to self-determine, like certain countries in Africa and around the world, who shaped their plan of action around marxist theory; when the colonization came to an end, the CIA sent people everywhere around the world to not allow these movements of self determination. They sent people also to Italy, and infiltrated the Red Brigades. They had to demolish any force that wanted something other than the capitalist way of life. Pasolini saw all that. And he thought, "oh my god, the world is going to change beyond recognition" and it did. And a big part of the left was really implicit in keeping the status quo. In France we had people saying they knew what was going on in the USSR with the Gulag, and yet they thought "well we need to get through this evil to get to a better position where the revolution can arrive" . On the other hand people who wanted to self organise according to their needs and really live up to the idea of the Soviet, were only allowed to do so if they were in agreement with the Polit buro. And if they werent they were shot. Both Lenin and Stalin shot lots of people who did not agree with them. The very people who were trying to live up to the very idea of the Soviet.

To finish on this, the Left is in a really deep crisis at the moment as we know. The left now has right-wing policies. There is no deep calling into question of the left, and I think it probably stems from this time when most of the left said, oh well Stalinism, well you know the Gulag, the killing of people who don't agree, it's one evil but for a bigger good, which would pave the way to a much better society. We all know now that that's not how things work, and all the Gulags and killings done under this system didn't lead to a better society; it was just plain old barbarism dressed in a new fashion.

A bigger good shouldn't be at the cost of killing people who don't agree. No, that's not how it works, that's not how you make revolutions. That's not how you make the world a better place. We're just going to have to get on with each other. At this stage, it's a critical time where we have to understand this, that there is no killing this group because they don't agree, or killing those guys because they are barbaric. There's none of that. We just really need to come to a common ground of understanding how we're going to operate in this world together so most humans can be the best they can.

B: Do you think it's possible? Outside of "capitalism versus alternative systems", it seems like most of the problems I see in the news every day revolve around religion and the extreme margins of religion.

L: You're probably referring to Islamic extremists?

B: And Christian extremists, and Buddhist extremists, all extremists. It seems when people are so taken with an ideology that they feel they have to enforce it upon other people and what happens is tragic. Honestly I'm not referring to just ISIS...

L: It's a radicalization. But I think it's a normal thing because when I look at how the world is governed today and who pulls the strings, I want to get radical. I totally want to get radical. This is not good. It's not normal. It's amoral. They should not being doing that. We are being ripped off, Brad. The world is literally at war, like I say in my song "Oscuridad".

B: I notice in the lyrics ("They are a class / they are at WAR") you write WAR in capitals. Was it violent when you typed the word WAR?

L: Yeah. It's very violent. Because it is a violent force. We are being waged a war. I don't know if my sentence is correct here. We are in a war and we are being stolen from, and people don't realize it. They think, oh well, we borrowed too much money and now we have to pay back. Of course I'm angry. I want to get radical. I understand why there are so many religious radicals and also extreme right-wing, because this sense that we are being used and stolen from by the system makes people angry and that becomes expressed in those forms of intolerant radicalism . . . There is big propaganda around all of these things. Around the Marine Le Pen, the UKIPs and ISIS groups for instance. Of course the media use them because there are scary and spectacular, they need to blow them out of proportion so they can sell their papers or whatever media.. They are probably not that bad in size, and significance, BUT by being so publisized they may become more and more real social issues.Thanks to the publicity they are given, more and more people get interested. And then they become an actual problem. It's like, Scottish vote for independence, I think people are angry, they know things aren't right. They know things aren't fair. But in my opinion, they go to exactly the wrong things. They go to the extreme right wing, they go to religion, and they go to separatist movements. When really we need to unite rather than separate, we need to unite and build some sort of movement that says "No." That identifies the real enemy, which I think is the capital, and the mismanagement of wealth.

B: The idea of unification is beautiful, but it requires shedding your identity, shedding your culture.

L: No, no ... I don't think so.

B: To unify and to shed your religion and the religion on your ancestors -- that might be appalling to Western thought, and to Americans, or might be appalling to Scottish people, or whoever. Everybody finds it difficult to really have that sort of relativism. I think there are things that inform culture that are ancient. They are driven by separatism. They are driven by land, geography, psychogeography. Sort of like, you know, African villages, and paganism, and things that...

L: Yeah, but look at what's going on in this world today. Look at Iraq, Iran. You know The French and the English took a ruler and made lines and that created big problems. I think all of these lines have to be redefined.

Generally speaking, I think there is enough room for everybody on this planet. This thing of religion and divisions, no, a lot of things, like for example around Serbia and Croatia and all that area, when the wall came down and there was no more USSR, then of course all these regions became loose again. But people I think generally wanted to get on. Then came the problem of wealth. And there is only a cake like this, and it's the same problem. The people who had a lot already wanted to keep that part and give the crumbs to the people -- instead of being like, this is how much wealth be have, and distributing the wealth equitably so there's not too much misery.

I remember the Germans and the French in fact, re-igniting old disputes from like 200 years ago that had to do with religion, and they armed the Croats and the Serbs. If you start arming people and give them a reason to fight, well yes, they will fight. But generally speaking, I think if the wealth had been better distributed from the get-go there would not have been this horrific war in the 90s. Things don't happen in a vacuum, things happen for a reason. ISIS, all these movements, they have been given arms, shown how to use them, showed how to organize themselves. It's very cynical all of this. ... I think we could really organize ourselves much, much better. It wouldn't be perfect, but it can't be perfect.

B: We need to define ourselves.

L: Yes oh of course, we need to know "ourselves."

B: There are people who don't want to be part of "ourselves." I consider you and I to be "ourselves."

L: I still feel I'm not quite there. There is still a lot of work for me to do. The way ahead is long. It's a daily thing.

B: I agree. So we've spoken about war, about being at war, which you write about in your lyrics, about the anger of being taken advantage of by the ruling interests. We also talked about Pasolini, who is my personal hero and someone we find mutual respect for.

I wanted to you ask you about something from a book I recently read over this last spring. It revolves around Pasolini's Manifesto For A New Theater. It had a quote which I thought was really interesting and it's the only note I had written down for this whole conversation. When I heard your BBC interview, I'd been thinking about Pasolini in the context of certain situations I've seen going on in the media in America the past few years, and the rise of certain well-publicized protests. I feel like they fade in and fade out at the whim on the media. And then I started thinking about this quote. I think we can close with this:

"Written originally in the mid 60s, but revised in the next few years, the verse tragedies illustrate the diminishing space for difference in change, that the ideology of advanced capitalist society leaves. Protest itself has been co-opted as both students and police act out the roles that this ideology has assigned them. The overriding concern of the tragedies is to expose how sameness has ceased control over any possibility of difference ... [some revolutionaries have] realized their revolt is only amassed but ultimately sanctioned protest, supervised by power, and the dialogue between revolution and capital that concludes that all activity whether revolutionary or conformist takes place under capital ..."

It's very long. Let's focus on the first line -- "protest here has been co-opted as both students and police act out the roles that this ideology has assigned them." This analysis is specifically referring to Pasolini's response to the movements of May 1968. He didn't sympathize with the students. He sympathized with the police because he said the police were the sons of the proletariat, who were forced to take the job of the police because the bourgeois would never take such a job. So it's really essentially under the guise of protest, the bourgeois attacking the proletariat.

L: It's interesting because to me, it's exactly what Debord would be saying, and this is why he objected -- this is why in the demonstrations held by the Situationists, which was maybe 10 people, they would go out and shout about chocolate. To them, you're here demonstrating because that's where they want you to be, that's where they can control you, it's really not a place for dissent.

B: Do you think it's ironic that a lot of the sloganeering in the May 1968 movement came from Society of the Spectacle? From Debord's book, when Debord himself would probably despise the people printing his words...

L: Maybe he despised them because he could see they weren't ready. There, you only had a small part of society that was ready to engage with their freedom and potentially work to build a new society. Most people just were still sheep and still wanted to be led. I think we're still at this configuration today, where most still want to be led, and that's why they go to religion, that's why they go to right-wing movements. They're promised easy things. A real revolution is not easy. If you want it to work, the work has to be done every day. The work has to be engaged with every day.

B: You refer to people going towards religion. Do you ever think those people might be going towards religion because they want to go beyond all of the static of the terrestrial world?

L: I don't know...

B: I see value in religion. It's sort of transcendent, it's beyond the dredges of these politics and anti-politics, it's beyond human systems... I understand religion can be used as an oppressive tool but it can also be used by an individual to find comfort.

L: I find value in spirituality. But spirituality is not a system. It's one's own connection with the universe. That I find value in. That cannot be bought or sold. However, religion can be bought or sold.

B: When it is corrupted.

L: I do not know any religion that is not corrupted.

B: What about African religions and tribes?

L: I don't know.

B: What about paganism?

L: It is not a religion. It's about being connected to nature, and there are rituals around that, but it's not a religion, maybe it's more a philosophy. It's about having a connection to nature and having meditations around that, and rituals, and things that have worked over centuries and centuries and centuries.

B: But it's a collective framework. It's an allegiance to a knowledge ...

L: Yes, that puts you in connection to yourself, but it doesn't [attack] you like Catholicism does. Or Islam does. It doesn't occupy that very deep intimate personal space that is yours, your own true light, that you have to find, that you have to manifest ...

B: In that it's your light, do you feel that ... don't you think that Islamic people, or Catholic people, it's their light to give to Islam or the Catholic Church? There are certainly people who are forced into religious beliefs but there are also people who truly believe. The reason why Islam has such power and such a presence is because it's an example of a religion where people really believe what they believe. And that's more valuable than any politics, any economics, any ideology...

L: That's our point. The media have spent decades and decades making sure people will depoliticize because someone who is into a political party is more dangerous to the status quo than someone who is into a religion. Though now we see with all the terrorists and blah blah blah they can be dangerous too. Sorry I don't know where I was going with that one.

B: I find that problem constantly. You know what I think? I think we've had a very interesting conversation. And we didn't even talk about your music! Your album is amazing. I'm very excited for it.


L: Faulker!!!! What kind of dog is Faulkner?

B: He's all sorts of dogs. He's a rescue. He's probably a Mutt, a little working class dog.

L: Good! It was so good to see you!

B: I love you dearly!

L: Thank you. Same, same.

B: I'm going to stop the tape.

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