Noktu (Drakkar Productions, Celestia)
by Niklas Göransson
Antagonism and intolerance – Noktu is a French black metal musician and label manager, known primarily from his work with Drakkar Productions and bands such as Celestia and Mortifera.
– Back in 1994, when I founded Drakkar Productions, my intentions were to distribute and produce the music I enjoyed listening to. Besides the fact that the label has grown far bigger since then, not much else has changed. Our first releases were the OSCULUM INFAME and FUNERAL split demo as well the MÜTIILATION debut, “Vampires of Black Imperial Blood”, followed by many other demo tapes as well as the infamous split with TORGEIST and VLAD TEPES.
At the time of founding the label, Noktu worked in a record shop which sold mostly 60s and 70s music on vinyl. The establishment also had a small metal section, which he took upon himself to expand.
– During the early 90s, there were independent music stores everywhere; it was a great time where you could spend hours digging through the shelves, finding vinyl and cassettes from old metal legends. However, it wasn’t quite as easy to find underground releases. I remember introducing the store owner to extreme metal and our first orders were met with a certain degree of success. I also used to sell CDs very cheaply straight from my car in the parking lot of shows, so Drakkar became a very popular name in the area and I got to know lots of people. This was also in times when vinyl was sold for less than ten euro, CDs were far more popular. To me, CD is the real old-school format for black and death metal music. I had a few other jobs which helped fund the first Drakkar releases but, around the year 2000, the label eventually became my full-time occupation and a legal company. Prior to this, Drakkar was just a clandestine underground business – it wouldn’t have been possible to be anything else.
In the early days, the public perception of Drakkar was as a label loosely associated with Les Légions Noire, or The Black Legions – an obscure black metal network centred around the Brittany region, highly influenced by what the Norwegians had been up to. I also recall hearing that Noktu used to live in an actual castle affiliated with said outfit. In a 2017 WATAIN interview, Erik Danielsson was talking about the old and genuine black metal feeling: ‘One of the last times I experienced a similar atmosphere was in France, at the Black Legions castle outside Nimes, when we met MÜTIILATION and DEATHSPELL OMEGA for the first time.’
– Well, if you take our first ten releases, only two of them were associated with The Black Legions. I was never a member of this cursed circle; their existence didn’t last very long and, back then, they were really hated by many people. As for this castle, yes, I lived there for about two years before it was sold and we had to pack up and leave. What the WATAIN boys witnessed was our daily routine – we lived the black metal lifestyle the way we thought it was meant to be. These were also the most extreme years for my own person, we were like a satanic sect, totally outside the world of mortals. We were armed, united, and dangerous. All the people who came to stay with us would probably agree. For example, I’ve been told Famine from PESTE NOIRE still remembers his visits. Apparently, he mentioned this in an interview.
What do you look for in a band?
– I’ve always released what I like, musically and ideologically, without ever taking factors such as sales potential into account. I was just proud to be able to release works by artists who deserved support and recognition. The most important aspect for me was artistic integrity and, of course, good music. Many bands and so-called ’artists’ these days behave exactly like popstars and, in my opinion, this is what destroyed the spirit of our now-defunct old scene. How can you claim to play black metal while simultaneously accepting invitations from one of these ferry cruises, or the Grammy award on television? This is nonsense and also part of the factors which ruined a movement that once wholeheartedly opposed human values, religion, and all kinds of so-called democracy. Death and black metal were an iron fist straight to the face of all religious values and other humanist stupidities. This total rejection of society is what led us both to Satanism and the worship of ancestral values more linked to paganism. As for myself, I’ve always followed my own path – I never really felt the need to be associated with any of the sub-movements within our scene. Life is a personal journey through which we must find our own way; we don’t need to follow a path created by fake gods. We must be strong and be our own god.
Would it be fair to say that Drakkar’s antagonistic traits reflect your personality?
– Yes, the label follows my own experience in the scene. I’m not just some businessman seeking only to profit from the bands I sign; I’ve been deeply involved with this scene for almost thirty years now, starting off as a musician long before ever running a label. I’ve released quite a few albums myself and still enjoy playing music. I’ve also managed festivals, tours, helped bands in the studio, and so on – I even had a paper fanzine from ‘93 to ‘96 – but my main activity has always been Drakkar. Let’s be honest, the label was the fuel of my life. I was able to work for my passion and earn a salary doing so. This has been hard work, of course, and still is today! But I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far and have no intentions of ever stopping. Drakkar is known and appreciated worldwide as the only real independent label in France. Everywhere I’ve been on this planet, I’ve had the chance to meet wonderful people who really enjoyed my label and music projects, which is always pleasant for someone who started from nothing and had to fight to survive for all of his life.
As to usher in the age of music streaming in thunderous fashion, the first few months of 2009 saw Drakkar’s sales drop about forty percent. Now that must have been fucking panic on a near-cosmic scale.
– The entire scene changed and so did the market, as well as the people who are into this movement. With no choice but to adapt to new circumstances, we managed to stay afloat – entirely without support from big distributors, mainstream magazines, or even webzines. Quite the contrary! More than anything else, there was hate against Drakkar and some of our artists were targeted with boycott campaigns. We suffered from these actions at the time, but it ended up making us stronger. So, to all the enemies of Drakkar: sorry, but you failed. We see labels collapsing for each passing year, I’ve noticed the end of several that were producing good stuff. It seems as if the customers aren’t especially interested in underground releases these days. Maybe the mediocrity and over-saturation contributed to this development? I still think there are far too many bands and labels so, more than anything else, this is some kind of a natural selection at play where only the strong survive; the rest are already dead and forgotten by now. Perhaps not such a bad thing after all, eh?
In quite a few interviews, Noktu had some rather harsh words for a number of prolific black metal bands and labels – many of them countrymen of his, ‘Fuck the French scene’, and so forth.
– Yes, fuck the entire planet, haha! When there’s something I don’t like, I say so. I’m a primitive person in that sense and have no issue giving my honest opinion. The life of this label has been an endless series of confrontations with the fake scene and all its posers, imposters, and so on. I don’t like opportunists, liars, or greedy people in general – traits widely seen in today’s black metal scene. I think I’m a frank and honest guy and perhaps this displeases my enemies; those who spend their lives hating others. Usually, these people do nothing with their existence besides being anti something. I am anti-anti so if you’re anti, you must hate me because I despise you and everything you represent.
Over the years, I’ve spotted Noktu at gigs all over Europe – often performing with CELESTIA or MORTIFERA – so I’d have to assume he’s come across people with whom there have been quarrels.
– Sadly, these characters never seem to attend our shows – they just attack us from behind their computer screens. I’m always available for any kind of confrontation and all the musicians who play with me share the same sentiments. But this is also something that’s changed, there was much more violence at shows in the 90s. Sometimes, we would fight someone just because he was wearing the shirt of a band we disliked. Then again, I was young and probably a bit stupid sometimes. I think the reason violence was a part of the early black metal movement was that we were in opposition to a lot of things and this was one way of expressing ourselves. It was probably the same in other musical movements like rock and roll in the 60s and 70s. Violence is a part of our society; it’s a way of expression and men need that. Some in soccer stadiums, others go to war, etcetera.
Speaking of which – during my pre-interview research I was somewhat surprised to learn that Noktu, alongside Drakkar, operates a karate school.
– I practised martial arts back in my teenage years but had to stop because I was playing music and running the label. Still, I always had the idea of taking up karate again in the back of my mind and ended up doing so six years ago, mainly because I wanted to maintain a good physical condition. Well, not maintain, that’s a lie – I had almost no physical condition so returning to martial arts again was very difficult for me. I’ve never been one to shy away from suffering but the first six months were brutal. However, after half a year of hard work I started feeling much better and, nowadays, I’m in perfect physical condition; at least for someone my age. Four years ago, I had the opportunity to take over a dojo from my old master who was also running another school in a nearby town and couldn’t handle two of them simultaneously. The French Foreign Legion is in my area and I met another instructor from there, he’s helped me out a lot.
Established in 1831, the famed Foreign Legion is the only military branch in France open for non-citizens. As such, besides an elite infantry training program, the Legion is known for promoting a strong ‘esprit de corps’, or troop morale. Legionnaires are typically deployed to conflict hotspots for precarious missions which require boots on the ground.
– Later, we had the opportunity to open another dojo within the Foreign Legion. It’s great being able to train with military commandos – when fighting with these guys, you can clearly tell they are no pussies. I have the greatest respect for them. Teaching is something I never imagined myself doing just a few years ago but I’m enjoying it a lot. I guess such abilities come with advanced age; wisdom and patience weren’t exactly virtues I cultivated to any greater extent in my youth but now I’m a calm person who thinks teaching good values is something pleasant to do. I also find values in martial arts which are similar to ideals I sensed in the early age of black metal. Respect and wisdom, for example. Patience, generosity, and so on.
Besides teaching classes, Noktu also participates in full-contact karate matches. In Bardo Methodology #6, D. Rostén of FUNERAL MIST noted that performing before 50,000 people on the main stage at Wacken with MARDUK was a soothing breeze, nerve-wise, compared to fighting in front of thirty onlookers.
– I’ve never played Wacken but can confirm that doing a competition fight is indeed quite something, in terms of nerves. I mean, the guy in front of you wants to knock you out, because otherwise you’ll do the same to him. Personally, I appreciate this challenge – even if it’s difficult for me since I often fight younger guys, or people with much more experience and training. But even losing a karate fight is a victory in itself, I think. There’s a competition coming up now and I’ve just been on vacation in the US without practising at all, so I’m sure it’ll be harsh. Fortunately, I like facing and managing difficulties.
As Noktu mentioned previously, one of his many scene undertakings has been organising concerts and festivals. The first Drakkar event I attended took place in the year 2000, in Waregem, Belgium. At least, I recall it being billed as Drakkar-related in some capacity but, after witnessing events unfold, I’m not sure to which extent Noktu was involved besides performing with CELESTIA. As discussed at some length with MkM of ANTAEUS, getting a behind-the-scenes insight into how this disaster played out was sheer comedy gold.
– That Waregem event was called Armageddon Festival, if I recall correctly – fully organised by Philippe from Tragic Empire. Around the same time, he was arranging a tour with bands signed to Drakkar – IMPIETY, DECAYED, and ABIGAIL – and had this idea to do a festival in Belgium. But, yes, as you mentioned, it turned out to be a total mess; Philippe wasn’t even there, he was sleeping in the tour bus of one of the bands and when he finally turned up it was already too late. I also think he was supposed to be helped by local promoters who turned out to be completely incompetent. I don’t blame anyone since I myself have great memories of this chaos. After this unfortunate series of events, Phil lost a lot of money and eventually left Europe for Australia. I think he’s still living there, I never heard from him again.
Another highly memorable event, one that was definitely Noktu’s doing, was Drakkar Hellfest in Marseille, 2001. The evening featured INFERNAL, MERRIMACK, BARBATOS, MORRIGAN, WATAIN, UNPURE, and MÜTIILATION.
– This was one of the best festivals I ever attended. Together with the rest of the CELESTIA line-up, I played guitar for MÜTIILATION and our show was the most extreme black metal set to ever have happened. We went on stage covered in the blood of cats and rats – dead animals were placed on stage and hanging from ourselves. This was our vision of black metal; it must be vile and disgusting. Of course, these kinds of festivals attracted extreme characters and since there was no security, people with guns were in attendance. One of them received a dead rat in his face which didn’t really please him, so he wanted to kill Willy, the singer of MÜTIILATION. Willy was really scared, and understandably so. He hid inside his truck, probably the best thing to do. When the festival was over, a group of people with weapons waited outside. We armed ourselves with whatever we could find and prepared to leave, but what we didn’t know was that the venue owner had called the police – just as we stepped out and were ready to go, a bunch of cops showed up. We could then leave in peace while watching the police violently arrest our enemies. Incidents of this kind weren’t really exceptional, there was chaos at every show and some people came only for free brawls. Later, in 2004, even with about twenty security guards, there was so much violence that the local metal promoters decided to stop organising concerts and festivals.
The last of the Drakkar Hellfests was held in 2002, in Bladel, the Netherlands. This edition – which offered GRAND BELIAL’S KEY, UNPURE, CELESTIA, WATAIN, and CORPUS CHRISTII – was equally rife with mishaps.
– This one wasn’t organised by me – I was living in the south of France, so the guys of Blazing Productions took care of everything. They were young and didn’t have much experience with festivals so a few things didn’t run quite as smoothly as they should have. Bear in mind that this was back in the days when there weren’t all that many underground festivals happening. Another issue was that many bands were acting like asshole rock-stars; there was no real spirit of a united scene anymore. I’d also like to mention that every Drakkar Hellfest was non-profit, all revenue went to the bands performing. In fact, I’ve always had to pay extra out of my own pocket, but I guess that’s just a detail.
Come to think of it, I seem to recall another French festival using the same moniker.
– Yes, but I don’t think it was intentional and I never copyrighted the name. Nevertheless, people will always remember that the original Hellfest was hosted by Drakkar. It’s a bit ironic really, because Hellfest is the complete opposite of what extreme metal – even metal – was and is supposed to be. I’ve never attended, of course, and I’d never play there with any of my bands. The whole thing is just a big fiesta where frustrated individuals can have fun without danger. These people would probably have been terrorised if they ever set foot at a Drakkar Hellfest back in the day. So, let them have their fun, paying eight euro for a shitty beer while surrounded by people dressed up as monkeys. I wouldn’t be surprised if, one day, this festival is the victim of Islamist terrorism; it’s a place of high debauchery and an easy target for them.
You think we’ll be seeing more of that in the future?
– Oh yes. Considering the current status of society, people will have to prepare for civil war, riots, terrorism, and so on. The democratic policies of Europe have failed and we’re now paying the price for their mistakes. Personally, I’m not really into politics; I focus on the label and my other activities and would like to think I spread good values like respect, rewards by the fruit of one’s labours, and so on. Nowadays, I’ve reached a certain equilibrium and am no longer at war with society or anything like that. I mean, there’s no reason to fight something condemned to perish in flames either way. I say, let the rotten fruit fall and explode on the ground. None of this is new to the world – just look back in history and you’ll see that war is an endless circle. The Roman Empire collapsed because of the evolution of their democratic ideas and Europe will probably fall for much the same reason. Even the North American native tribes were slaughtering each other in the most gruesome ways possible. Look at the situation in Syria nowadays, this conflict is far from over. Nations are built to conquers others, and the empire of USA has done a fine job in that regard. Violence is everywhere also in the streets of France, they just said on the news that we had around 120 aggressions towards firemen each month of 2019. Not to mention rapes, murders on the streets, and so on. And this is just the beginning…