Black Nail Cabaret is a currently London-based pop noir duo, originally from Hungary. Formed in 2008, the group consists of Emese Arvai-Illes (vocals) and Krisztian Arvai (keyboards). BNC had been known for their dramatic stage appearance, which involved theatrical elements, such as performers, dancers and handcrafted costumes in the first couple of years of their stage history. BNC still has a gripping stage presence to this day and Pop Noir has never sounded so good to me…
Interview Meikee Magnetic
Where were you both born and where are you now?
Emese: I was born in Budapest, and grew up in a small town in North of Hungary. In the subcultural sense it was pretty much isolated from anything I got into later, until the internet came into our everyday lives. We both live in London now, but it’s only temporary.
Krisztian: I was born in Tatabanya, in western Hungary.
Is there a good music scene in Hungary?
Emese: There is, but you have to do your research to find it. It is still quite underground, which is a good thing, but also a bad thing. There are many enthusiastic artists and also organizers, not only in the capital but from all over Hungary. There are great bands such as ANEZ (eclectic, avantgarde electronica, reminds me of Björk), Agavoid (electronic, kind of avantgarde, very nice and smooth), Ultranoire (dark synth with erotic male vocals), Apsürde (very retro sounding synthpop) just to name a few. Recently I learned about The Parameters, which is old-school darkwave, very cool, haven’t heard such music coming from Hungary for a long time.
Krisztian: Yes, there are plenty of talented bands in Hungary, but unfortunately only a very few manage to achieve self-fulfillment, or to create without compromises, making music for living. On the other hand, many of them have the opportunity to become well-known for a wider audience or to travel other countries with their music, but in many cases stubbornness and ego gets in the way. Still, the answer is yes, there is a good music scene in Hungary.
What influenced you to make the move to London?
Emese: Frustration. We felt we were not getting anywhere, always running out of money by the end of the month and we couldn’t afford the instruments we wanted. To be honest, this was also due to our mindset back then. Looking back, I don’t think that London was our best choice with the kind of music we do, but we’d never been before, so it was as an exciting move. We had such different plans, but I guess this is always shifting as time goes by. Now I know, that it was meant to be, us living here for 4 years now. It changed us completely and we needed it.
Krisztian: We were newly married. I followed her into the unknown, I wanted to be there for her, no matter where we go.
Congrats on the new album! Describe your sound for our readers:
Emese: Thank you! For me, it’s a mixture of all the music that influenced me during the writing period. There is a hint of dark synthwave, minimal wave, but it is still very pop. This is why I rather call it dark pop, black pop or pop noir. It’s melancholic, mostly mid tempo, analog, pumping, but at the same time melodic and sentimental.
As far as lyrical content, what are some topics you write about?
Emese: Domestic violence, sex and power, breath control games, self-confidence, self-healing, migration, detachment and death.
The BNC vocals are so unique, I love the tone and range you explore. Has your voice been compared to any artist in particular?
Emese: Thank you so much! Yes, in the first years Annie Lennox’s name came up quite often, and Alison Moyet as well. It’s very flattering to say at least, being compared to such names!
Your new album DICHROMATE has the pop noir sound stamped all over it, wonderful. How has the response been to this project and sound?
Emese: We were very excited to finally show it to the public, as we felt that it is much stronger and complete as the previous albums, and the response confirmed this. We have received great reviews so far, and the followers’ feedback is awesome. People already had favorite tracks within a week after release, and were humming some of the choruses, which is kind of amazing.
How are you making and recording your music?
Emese: I write songs and Krisz writes songs. I write plenty of lyrics when “the tap is open” (the tap isn’t always open, but periodically). If I hear a good riff from Krisz, I make him play it over and over pairing it with some of my lyrics that just feels immediately right. Then we work on it, and he creates the structure according to the words. It is pretty much the same when I write a song, the riff comes first, and then I immediately know, which lyrics will fit the mood/rhythm.
Krisztian: I don’t know if they ever diagnosed someone with a disease, that consists of you turning on equipment that makes sound and within minutes you make half-done demos, be it daytime or night time. Well, I have that disease! Mostly these demos are not complete, but as Emese said, a new song, or a draft or remix comes out from most of these occasions. I rarely edit Emese’s demos or mute any tracks in it, only in worst case scenarios, I prefer to keep the intimacy between writer and song. Same thing happens with mixing.
What would you say was your best performance and what do you remember about that night that was so special?
Emese: I have many sweet memories, particularly from the tour with Camouflage in Germany, where we had to prove each night for a new audience, that we are worth listening to. More recently, our Dichromat launch concert in Budapest early this year felt great. I don’t judge it by the sound, I judge it by the feeling, and it really just felt amazing, reconnecting with all those people. The vibe is the main thing. If I don’t catch it, no matter how good it sounds, it’s rubbish.
Krisztian: Someone asked me years ago, which are the bands that I would like to share a stage with. I mentioned Depeche Mode, Camouflage and Anima Sound System (HU). From the beginning, the tour with Camouflage meant the most to me, it was like Christmas for two weeks. It’s memory will last forever.
Tell us a few London hot spots to hang out:
Emese: I don’t go out much, I mean to parties. Electrowerkz is cool, KAOS was fantastic last year, with its awesome minimal techno. REPTILE is okay, too, it reminded me a lot of Hungarian goth parties in the past. Gotta love a hidden picnic at the Kensal Green cemetery or a walk through Tate Modern with a friend to share your thoughts with and take plenty of photos! The Satanic Flea Market is organized quite often by Guerrilla Zoo and Satanic Mojo, it’s rather small but fun. Definitely check out London Month of The Dead for awesome events which is once a year, and A Curious Invitation for the greatest Halloween party ever, and more!
What’s in your iPod?
Emese: Chopin for reading, 90’s pop/alternative for running, a random witch house playlist and a favorite selection from the old Rocky Horror soundtrack through Broken English Club to SQÜRL. Recently on repeat are Gesaffelstein, Tame Impala and Chairlift.
Krisztian: Archive. One can learn from them a lot without even realizing, about the balance between electronic and acoustic instruments, the importance of their roles and how to elevate emotions. Hooverphonic, which is soothing and soulful, and I find their songs and albums so profoundly elaborate. VCMG. I learned a lot from each of them separately, but together. I don’t listen to it because of the genre, I listen for the sound design, which amazes me each time I hear it.
What’s next for this project?
Emese: More shows, more new people, new songs and a new album in about a year’s time.
What does Dark Beauty mean to you?
Emese: My life is full of dark beauty. When I was little, I had less of it, as I didn’t seek it, but I knew it existed. Soon I grew to find my spots, my music, my people and my kind of art, and the craving became stronger. I am always on the look out for new photos, paintings, songs and artists to fall in love with and to be obsessed with. You created a magazine that is a wonderful source for this craving.
Photo Credit infinitebeat.hu