Rocking out in Paris with Sylvain Cnudde

[Interview with Sylvain Cnudde by Murray Dewhurst]

You won’t find Sylvain sheltering down the back at gigs, he’ll be right up amongst the seething pogoing crowd, sketchbook in hand, using his expressive style to capture the atmosphere and live energy. Seeing Sylvain’s expressive sketches on Instagram from time to time makes me want to start going to gigs again. Read on and see if gig sketching is for you…

(Above sketch: Mars Red Sky, a Stoner, Psych outfit from Bordeaux, France).

Murray: Why did you start sketching live bands, are you a musician?

The Love Bandits (Italy. Genre: Rhythm ‘n’ Blues)



Sylvain: No, I’m not. Maybe I would have loved to be one. I am fascinated by them and that’s the main reason why I started to draw during gigs: to be an actor of the show, not only a spectator. Actually, the first time I sketched in a concert was in 2006, in a very little cave of Paris (named le Pop In). I arrived late, and there were so many people, I couldn’t enter. I was stuck in the stairs and I only could see one member of the band (the Love Bandits). He was playing harmonica. I had the idea to get out my sketchbook and a pen, and I drew him very quickly, to keep a souvenir. Later, back home, I scanned the sketch and put some colors on it with Photoshop.

At that time, I was a little shy in my drawing technique. I wouldn’t have dared to go at the very front of the scene to draw. I had to train quite a long time. A friend of mine used to organise folk gigs, in another Parisian bar (le Mama Kin). I often went there to exercise my eye and my hand and it helped me to be more self confident, and to be OK with people around, watching what I was sketching.

Djana Gabrielle (Cameroon/France. Genre: Folk)

After that I started to go to noisier concerts, with rock ‘n’ roll conditions: very little dark places, people dancing and shoving me, bands of four, five or six musicians (sometimes more!) moving a lot.

Murray: What do you take with you – what are your tools?

Sylvain: Most of the time, I draw on an A4 spiral sketchbook with watercolor paper. My favorite tool is the brush pen. I have a black one for the lines, and others with grey ink or with color ink and water mixed I prepared before. I also use a little watercolor box, when the conditions are good. As there is not a lot of light, I have a little lamp I put on my left hand or in my mouth, in order to have an idea of what I’m doing.

Murray: How long do your sketches take?

Sylvain: It depends on several parameters, but the maximum time is limited by the gig itself, so 45 minutes, max. I do my entire sketch during the gig, and I never modify it after.

What I am looking for is a dialogue between the music, the energy of the band, and the drawing. So when the concert is over, so is the sketch.

Henchman (France. Genre: hardcore/noise/punk)
Ratcharmer (France. Genre: Balladronoise)

Murray: Do you stand in the crowd and do you get jostled by people? (I once got beer spilled on my sketch at a Kurt Vile gig.)

Sylvain: Yes I do. Sometimes I’m invited to the show, but I never ask for special treatment. First I am here to enjoy the live music, the party, like any random person. If I had better conditions to sketch, I think it wouldn’t be the same. So, I stand in the crowd, I receive some beer drops too, and that’s fun! But most of the time and when it’s possible, I try to keep a distance between me and the pogoing crowd.

Salem’s Pot (Genre: Rock ‘n’ roll Doomsters)



Murray: What’s the craziest gig you’ve ever sketched?

The Dictators (USA. Genre: Punk)

Sylvain: I think it was in a place named la Mécanique Ondulatoire, in Paris, just five days after the horrible Bataclan events, in November 2015. There was an old punk band, named the Dictators NYC, who were supposed to play in a bigger place, le Trabendo. All the shows in the city had been cancelled for security reasons. But the band really wanted to play and they finally did it, at la Mécanique. We were maybe 100 people who really needed a big rock concert, to evacuate all this fear, all this sadness. I was just in front of the band, almost among them! And it was totally sick. I was able to make four or five really quick sketches of each musician, but after two songs, all the guys here became like crazy, pogoing in all directions! It was almost impossible to do anything valuable with my pen. So I stopped drawing, put my sketchbook back in my bag and started to pogo too. I didn’t make very good sketches that night, but I had a big sweaty fun with all the people who where there.

 Mia Vita Violenta (Paris. Genre: Noise/post noise)

Murray: Do the musicians ever get to see your sketches?

Sylvain: Yes. They often see me doing it, so after the show, they sometimes come to me and ask if they can see the result. Or I go to show them directly. Anyway, I always scan my sketches and put them on my blog and on social networks, so everyone can see them, including the audience.

Canari (France. Genre: Soft Rock Psyché)
VODUN (UK. Genre: Afro Doom Fuzz)

If you are in Paris this month and want to catch some art and music, Sylvain has an exhibition of his live sketches at la Mécanique Ondulatoire, until the end of February.

Sylvain is a graphic designer in an astronomy and astrophysics laboratory. He studied visual communication and multimedia in Montreuil, Paris. What he prefers is to fill sketchbooks whenever he can – during gigs, but also in the subway, in the street, at the pub, on holidays. Check out more of Sylvain’s work on his blog, Facebook or Instagram.

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