Introducing the Neo-Classical beauty of Benjamin Defer

By Mark Johnson

As one of the guitarists in instrumental post-rock act Fall of Messiah, Benjamin Defer is usually found amongst intense, loud atmospherics and crushing crescendos, so on first listen his solo project may come as a surprise. At the start of January, Defer unveiled ‘Silhouette’, the first chapter in his ‘Damnatio Memoriae’ project, a live concept album filmed in a single-shot sequence.

“Musically, the idea came from the work of Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds, who is one of my own inspirations, mostly his albums ‘Island Songs’ and ‘Living Room Songs’”, Defer explains. “I’m also really influenced by writers like Dustin O’Halloran, Max Richter, Johan Johansson. It’s been a while since I wanted to do a more Neo-Classical project; the creative process is completely different than with Fall Of Messiah. Here I’m the only writer, and once I’m happy with it, I submit my ideas to my strings and we see together if it sounds nice or not!”

To help bring this idea to life, Defer enlisted the services of Juliette Vasseur (cello), Milena Leclere (violin) and Rim Kheirallah (viola), who each brought their own expertise to the project. “Obviously writing for guitar is completely different than writing for violin, so Juliette, Milena and Rim really helped me understand their instruments and what it’s possible to do – or not – with them. Also, they understand quickly what I want, which helps, considering I have no classical music education.”

Defer intends to unveil ‘Damnatio Memoriae’ – a Latin phrase meaning ‘condemnation of memory’ – as seven video chapters, releasing one per month till July. The videos are shot in a very deliberate style, tapping into more of Defer’s influences: “I’ve always been fascinated by single sequence shots, like in Gaspar Noé’s ‘Irreversible’ or Alejandro Innaritu’s ‘Birdman’, so it’s nice to experiment with it on my songs.”

As with the musical side of the project, Defer tapped into his network to help shoot the video sequence. Florent Gerbault, who has co-directed all of Fall Of Messiah’s videos, worked alongside friends Paul Ellis and Yaniss Lambin, with sound recording assistance coming from Clément Decrock, who recorded Fall Of Messiah’s latest album ‘Empty Colours’ and Maxime Urbaniak. “They are all really professional and put so much effort into the project. I’m really lucky to be surrounded by such a talented team.”

With the details of this first release planned, Defer is looking ahead to where the project may go in the future. “I’d like to find some labels to make a co-release on vinyl and a CD for ‘Damnatio Memoriae’. Recording a full studio album would be nice in the future, something more ambitious with more instruments.”

With his base in Northern France, Defer plans to perform a few shows in his native country in 2018, but plans to take the project further afield next year, including a visit to the UK. In the meantime, things aren’t stalling in the Fall of Messiah camp either. The band are working on their fourth album, which they hope to record towards the end of the year. Also involved in side projects are bassist Sylvain Moulin (Colibris) and drummer Pierre Bailleul, who is heavily associated with En Nord Beat Festival in Northern France.

Chapter 2 of ‘Damnatio Memoriae’ will air on February 11 exclusively with Punktastic, so make sure you return to check it out!

‘Silhouette’ is available now at Bandcamp

You can follow Benjamin Defer’s solo project on Facebook here and his band Fall of Messiah here.