By Max Dropout
Two boys may begin as good as one another, so how is it that one might end up a solid citizen while the other could end up lingering on the bottom of a compost heap, diminished by the label “trash?” Where does an otherwise good boy go bad? What makes him that way? Every soul I personally know is inside of a life shell made up from a minutia of black wax, sweetened booze, and cold sweat — an amnion within which we are suspended amid a stormy serous of garbage and violence. Every man and woman begins construction of this apparatus themselves from the time they are born, the shape and composition of which are dictated by what the individual is provided with throughout their earliest years. The configuration of this strange cradle is only partially dictated by the individual in question. Some the materials used during its engineering are chosen by a free will while others are simply fated. Within this mechanized husk we have assembled is where our characters are formed. It defines and shapes us into the people we become. Of course, the heavier fate’s hand is, the earlier you may find yourself sequestered inside of this weathering womb. Fate can be cruel, and, more often than not, the elements it assigns us can be of an utmost brutal nature. This is how we are made. Some folks end up surrounded by a slightly more inspiriting atmosphere than others, while some end up stewing in a stormy mire, and for longer than necessary.
This is where Benji Daures comes in, a 21 year old kid living in Saint Ouen, France, a suburb of Paris infamous for its architectural heritage and horde of vendors which make up something of a glorified flea market. The precinct is most appreciated for its social diversity though, a community which hosts every sort of class, from yuppie to trailer trash. From what I know of this particular berg, there isn’t much to do other than roam the streets by night in search of goods vendors couldn’t sell, but luckily the Parisian border is only one block away from where young Ben resides, permitting him to venture into the seamier portions of the city for all the debaucheries spilling out of its filthy metropolitan heart. After a brief meeting with Benji, one begins to realize that he probably had a better understanding of the world at a younger age than most average folks. There is, to him, both a child-like air as well as a childishness nature; both of which even out into a benign tone of utter charm and charisma. Either one of these behavioral patterns could be a gut wrenching annoyance on their own; however Benji manages to temper one with the other to create a sort of grimly hued innocence. Despite his overall boyishness, there is the worldly razor-like wit of a felon lurking beneath its surface. This darker element to his presence becomes all too apparent when he’s agitated of course, or more notably, it is wildly demonstrated in his art. Benji Daures, better known to the public as Benji Creteen, has been making music under the moniker of The Creteens since 2003. There is something sweetly psychotic in the mix of his songs, which are contain an essential rebel rousing violence; his songs are a rusted out death vehicle gleefully running down stupid pedestrians and children on bicycles. The sound is certainly raucous and unsettling as your most brutal trash rock offering can offer, but wailing in the back seat is the sort of infant glee you hear haunting toy store aisles. While his songs sound about as kind as jittering animal jaws around your balls, they are, lyrically, the epitome of good natured teenage horse play which, while not exactly doted on by social authoritarians, aren’t anywhere near as malicious as the package Benji wraps them up in. It’s an oddly appealing juxtaposition of elements.
Benji has had a keen interest in the celebrated self-destruction of the rock n roll lifestyle from a very early age, and had been playing in bands since the age of 15, when he joined a band of girls who went out of their way to imitate Hole. He later joined a band called Zorn, which he wasn’t really into either he claims. “I thought it was fun to drink beers and tell chicks I’m in a band.” Ben exaggerates of course; that’s all part of his humor. He remarks, “I don’t spit on my past.” But it wasn’t until Ben unearthed a four-track recorder and began mixing his own concoctions that the maestro we know as Benji Creteen emerged.
I’m just going to flat out say it: Ben is a weird kid. I love the guy to death, and it is his eccentricities that maintain my fascination with him. He is a byproduct and perhaps even the poster child in favor of unorthodox tyke rearing. His life’s path is an unusual one, and thus far, he’s managed to accrue a decent amount of international notoriety for his surly fuzzed out tunes. I have pondered for a while now how someone like Benji decides to devote their life to the cult of self-destruction that is trash culture. I’ve even asked him, and he is perhaps even at more of a loss than I am, though I am sure he has attributed his personality type to his parent’s lax upbringing. After countless conversations, though there is one particular incident he related to me that I feel may very well have been the nexus of his fascination with rock n’ roll.
Benji’s memories of this particular episode are tattered to begin with, while the language barrier between us only amplifies the abstract qualities of what fragments he can offer. For instance, one of the only details he can recall quite vividly is a radio he would spend most of his day listening to. “It was red. It was shaped like a giant cube”, he recalls. From an early age, much to the credit of more liberal minded parents of course, Benji fixated on music, often listening to his father’s vinyl or the motion picture soundtracks to LaBamba or American Graffiti, or tapes his father had made for him. In fact, Benji’s older sister now plays piano and upright bass for various professional orchestras in France, Spain, Luxembourg. The only deviation in their upbringing though would be that while she went on to attend music academy, Benji shunned what he deemed to be an absolutely para-scholar environment, as it often included active punishment for children who did not meet their curricular standards.
On the particular morning of this selected recollection, Benji was simply laying in his bed positioned amid a virtual wasteland of broken toys. Part was Benji’s unusual upbringing was that he was never subjected to the conventional school system, and so the earlier part of his days were spent lounging in bed until as late as possible. This would later make it difficult for Benji to find or hold a job, as it his body clock had long since rusted out of him due a lack of discipline or the regimented schedule that most children are forced to endure. So, he lay tangled in his bedding, listening to his red cube radio, in his complacent little boy haze. Benji has told me that rock n’ roll really has no place on the radio over there, so to hear anything sort of grating or “sonically disruptive” is an anomaly, and I can certainly attest to this, for during many of my ventures through Europe, the only evidence of music culture seemed to be blinding pink bubble gum pop or what would pass for adult contemporary, or a blend of the two featuring weird choral families that looked like creepy Mormon cults. But it was one of those particularly rare moments when the station he was tuned into broke format and thus twisted his willful shiftlessness into a sort of paralysis that morning. Some sound had struck him like a tangible force of nature, and violently invaded his every sense. At that moment, Johnny B. Goode by the legendary Chuck Berry had broken out over the airwaves. In a way, I envy Benji for having enough consciousness, culturally, to really feel the full impact of this song. In retrospect, I had no comprehension of just how powerful the opening solo to Johnny B Good was in fact. Listening to Berry’s intro now though is like walking right into a wind milling prize fighter and taking a barrage of rights and lefts that leaving you stinging and too stunned to lift your hands to ward any blows. I can only marvel at it now, but I cannot tell you for the life of me when I first heard the song itself. My childhood ignorance, and all the things I took for granted while under its influence, is just one of those things I shall forever remain bitter toward. The electrifying sweetness of Johnny B Good is something we’re raised into without ever really being taught to appreciate it. It becomes mythology. Is any child really shocked when Norman Bates runs into the basement wearing Mother’s frock? Hardly. It is a modern tragedy that these things are just something you’re seemingly born knowing now, and thusly taking for granted.
Benji hardly recalls his reaction, but he does know it was one of those moments where he heard something great and it altered his life completely thereafter. He likened the surge of electricity he felt jolt through his little body to that you get when in the throes of a profound creative groove. He doesn’t exactly remember what he did with the day that followed though. Benji has never put much stock in this instance despite my romanticisizing of the instance. I like to think that morning had something to do with the creation of Benji Creteen. And of course, this is to say nothing of the striking similarity between Benji Daures himself and the title character Johnny B Good.
After several lengthy exchanges with Benji, I had decided I wanted to try and interview him in his own words. After drafting a list of questions, which we were to exchange via email, I waited patiently for Benji to respond, and received constant reassurance from the boy that he was indeed working on his answers. However, he continually expressed doubt that anybody would be interested in any answers he had to give. One night, I finally hijacked him after he got home from a night at the bar which had ended prematurely. Apparently, Benji had developed an upset stomach while he was carousing out at some Parisian bar. The bathrooms, though, just weren’t up to his standards, and so he decided to train it back home. As he exited the train, his stomach began to churn violently. That night, he learned the hard way not to run when you have a “tummy ache” as he so gingerly stated. As he ran from the station back to his apartment, his bowels exploded and he ended up shitting in his pants — an experience he found both demeaning and hilarious. After cleaning up, we began to talk and decided to take advantage of his disoriented state by asking him some of the questions that had been on my mind for a while…
I remember you telling me how your parents were to blame for getting you into rock n’ roll at a very early age, which made me really curious about them. What are your parents like and what are their backgrounds?
I grew up in a very “open” house. My sister and I never went to school, and in France, that’s like being a heretic. By the way, thanks to Segolene Royale — who may be our next president, that bitch — the kind of childhood I had is illegal. I had access to a lot of different things, like music, books etc. We always lived in the poorest neighborhood of the surburbs of Paris, and I met a lot of different kinds of people… interesting people, weirdos, and so on. So, let’s just say that my parents aren’t “rockers,” but they taught me to live in this world with open eyes.
When and how did you realize that rock n’ roll is what you wanted to do?
I don’t know… my sister has always been a musician. She played piano and upright bass. She’s 10 years older than me, so all my childhood I’ve been around live music. So, I always really wanted to play something. When I was six, I went to a music school, but I decided they were all idiots and that they were treating kids like shit, so i left. When I turned fifteen, I decided to learn to play. She and I went to the guitar shop, and I bought my first bass. Soon after that I started playing in bands and i really got into all that shit, like shows and recordings.
Are your parents supportive of your choice to run around the world and make noise? What do they think of your music?
Whatever I would have done, I guess they’d have been on my side. Besides, they really like music and the idea of running around the world, so yeah, they’re supportive.
You basically play a very obscure kind of music – you play what is best defined as “trash rock.” What got you into this sort of music? How did you make the progression?
Probably like everybody else. You know, one record after another takes you deeper into it. It’s “the great rock n roll investigation.” I was a fan of “mainstream” punk records that we had at home, like New York Dolls, the Stooges, and the Ramones …and that guy that worked in this little shop near my house, called Sonic Machine, got me into more “obscure” stuff. From there, it was just going to shows and browsing the almighty internet, which I’ve been doing since 1995 (laugh)… I made my way.
One of the last times I was in Paris, they were having a culture-burning. They were burning American paintings, films, and books, too. They were making the statement that American kind of like this oppressive monolith that was oppressing and perhaps even dangerously close to replacing the national culture. How pervasive IS American culture in France? Why do you think that is and how do you personally feel about that?
I’ve never heard of anyone burning American stuff here. That really surprises me… I’m sure it was more a dumb symbolic gesture from a limited crowd of peole than something Global and truly hateful. I don’t think that american culture is really invasive. I mean, is American culture limited to fast food, hollywood movies, and massive consuming? I think It’s more the “culture” of money that’s invading the whole planet, and I don’t really give a shit. For me, America is blues music, coozies, Rich Evans, and the Oblivians. And unfortunately, NO, that stuff’s not invading France. A final word on this, though, I wanna point out that French people in general don’t hate American people. In france there’s just a lot of ignorance about what America truly is, and from my experience, Americans are just as guilty of that as the French are.
What was your experience like in America? How do you feel about the country as a whole? What do you like and dislike?
I really like America, but it’s like anywhere else. It has it’s good and bad points. I think that America would be more fun if you all had riots and killed all the cops, and military, and government men. I also wish you had built cities that had better public transportation, because I don’t drive. On the other hand, I must commend you for things such as gross and greasy mexican fast food, P’eatza Sandwiches, and those three-hotdogs-for-a-dollar deals at gas stations. (both laugh) If they read that they’ll never give me a green card.
What is the scene like in Paris? What are the shows like? Is it growing do you think?
It’s getting almost impossible to play a show in Paris, unless you go through venues that sucks. They’re about to make it illegal to be louder than 95 decibels! That’s crazy! Those conditions don’t make the city very fun for rock ‘n roll at all. Paris is dead… and it kills everybody there. It’s gotten so expensive that only rich and hateable people live there… Real people live in the ghettos and in the suburbs, and they’re too busy surviving, fighting cops, and burning schools and cars to make music.
Do people go out to shows in France? Like how is it for touring bands? Do people come see bands from America there?
Yeah, there are definitely more people who come out to see a famous foreign band than there would be for any shitty local band. It makes sense… I think touring in Europe is better because you actually get paid at shows. You get dinner and sometimes breakfast in the morning, and most important, a place to sleep! But personally even with all that, touring in America has been way more fun for me. I think in general American people are more “warmful.”
What bands do you feel have definitely influenced the current French garage punk scene? Is there any one specific French band who really triggered it or broke it, or who can be credited as an influence?
I can’t really say what band influenced the French scene as a whole, because everybody’s got their own tastes. As for french bands, I’m not really interested in most of them. I don’t think any of them ever influenced me. This is a hard question for me to answer, because when I start thinking about it, I want to talk about bands I don’t like. I already have enough ennemies. (both laugh)
You’re very diplomatic!
Webshits and blah blah blahs (both laugh)… Sonic Chicken 4 hates me because I said they sounded gay in a review. It’s not an insult though.
How do you figure?
Well, I’m not trying to be mean. It’s not my fault if they actually sound gay. They don’t have a sense of humor I guess.
Funny how a lot of these people playing music that’s supposed to be fun are so fucking serious about it. Like it’s a fucking college essay. Okay, next question… you mentioned that this music is very underground in Paris still — it’s not much better over here. I guess it might qualify as barely a part of fringe culture here. If the Creteens play, do people come out? And if so, how many? What are the crowds like in terms of size?
Well, people come out cause we usually play with other bands (laughs). Regular punk shows in Paris, maybe… 100 to 150 come out. Sometimes more or less. That’s for the best, ’cause we usually play in shitty bars, or squats, or wherever we can. Those places are tiny anyway. Once we had a show under the highway with a generating unit, and woodfire to keep the crowd warm. It was great, but we had to negotiate for two hours with the cops to keep the show going.
Are people crazy at all? Do they go nuts or do they just stand there like a lot of people here?
It depends… but there’s definitely more serious, boring shows than fun shows here.
This is a simple question: who’s the best band in Paris right now?
Duh, the Creteens.
Really? Better than the Hulks?
They’re good, but technically, only the drummer is living in Paris! Ahh!!
Tell me about the Creteens itself. How did the band come to be? It basically seems like it’s you who’s the driving force, which is what’s so amazing about the band. You can land anywhere and make the Creteens happen. So how many different lineups have their been and who all has been in the band? Who is a creteen?
Yeah, I can land anywhere and make the Creteens happen… sounds like I got super powers (laughs). Well, I started to do the Creteens because I needed to. I really like to play music; I don’t have an “ego” or need for control really. I’ve always been down to play in any band with fun people, but it can get frustrating to create music with a whole band, at least for me. One Summer I found myself messing around with my four-track recorder, and I really enjoyed it. Demos circulated around here, and people started to ask me to plays shows. That’s how I started to collect the first line up, which was Slim Ben on bass, who’s now playing with JonVon’s Fourslicks, and Guillaume on drums, who left the Creteens to play with Sublime Cadaveric Decomposition… some grindcore band. So far, there’s been five drummers and three bass players. As for who is a Creteen? Anybody that’s dumb enough and likes to play out of tune songs about Tacobell, killing teachers, veggie burgers, and schools that burn so we can all have holidays. Now who’s not a Creteen? Someone that thinks he will die if he doesn’t have a baccalaur; someone that enjoys a shitty low paying job; someone who’s not ready to play music and who wants to be a part of fucking “show business”; someone that’s too serious about themselves, and someone that’s not serious about rock n roll.
I’m a creteen!
Tell me about visiting Memphis. I heard you played Heart of Chrome and Jay Reatard sang it with you. That sounds pretty cool. What were your feelings visiting such a great city?
Oh yeah, it was cool. I’m sad that Beale Street looks like Main Street Disneyland, though… same for the French Quarter in New Orleans. Jay sang that Persuaders song with us, and unfortunately we blew April from the Rat Traps amp… So yeah, after the tour with the Fatals, I wonder if she’s ever gonna let a French person play through her amp again!
You’ve played in different cities all around the world at this point. What are your favorite places to play in general? What are your LEAST favorite to play? And why to both?
On the last US tour we had fun with the kids in Milwaukee. My least favorite place is probably Limoges in France, ’cause that place is full of creeps and hippies. Some girl peed on our jacket there (laughs).
Why did she pee on your jacket?!
she peed on the bass player jacket. She was fucking cuckoo. I don’t know what went through her brain, but she just did.
What are your plans for the future in terms of Creteens records and touring? And also…What will become of Benji in the distant future?
There’s a 7″ that just came out on Contaminated Records, and a LP should be released sometime this year on Florida’s Dying. There’s live recordings that might be out on a French label, not sure yet though. I plan on coming back to tour the States in March 2007. As for myself, I just joined Jack of Heart, which is a new band with Piero, and the rythm section of the Hulks. As for what will happen to me… I don’t know what I will become, but I know what I don’t want to become! The end.
Man, I feel just like I gave birth.
Well, that’s generally what happens when you shit your pants (both laugh).
The Creteens adventure calender here!