Stephen Bessac / Kickback (Interview) part I
Read part 2
Scans from Neons #2
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Or scroll down to read the written interview
Scans from Neons #2
Click on the pics to enlarge
Or scroll down to read the written interview
This is the first part of the interview, mostly focused on Thailand. For those who don't already know who Stephen Bessac is, let just say he's a french scumbag who doesn't care about you or anyone. He stands alone. Living his life his own way, without being held accountable to someone for his behavior. He was also the singer of the furious hardcore band Kickback, famous for their violent, unpredictable live shows. But that won't be the subject here. It has already be discussed over and over, with a lot of ridiculous (or not) rumors. Stephen, sick of Paris, and France in general, said one day ''fuck it!'' and left everything behind without saying goodbye, direction Bangkok...
Since when do you live in Thailand? What are the reasons that made you leave France?I have been living in Bangkok for almost five years now. I wanted to leave Rance (wordplay between France and rancid) for quite some time before moving here and having already being to Thailand more than a few times, I always knew I had to go there for more than the too short visit I was used too.
What decided me to leave is a mix of different things. Of course the terrible political/social climate, the high cost of living, the gentrification bringing more and more hideous hipsters and less and less sleaze, the suffocating dictatorship of the politically correct, the joy of multiculturalism etc... are all factors that have weighed in the balance. Everybody is wallowing in their own mediocrity all the while thinking they are doing something important, the whole city reeks of despair, everybody’s angry, envious, full of rancor, ready to jump at each others throats, hysterically trying to impose their triumphant bullshit. I could go on for hours on how I hate this beautiful city and what it has become. And even if L'Atlas (porn theatre) and the B2B (''Bois de Boulogne'', an area where transexuals and prostitutes hang out...) are still there, the closing of the Keller's (famous gay leather bar) was a hard blow.
But simply the pleasure of leaving everything behind (burning bridges has always been one of my favorite pastime), of being by myself and knowing the large panel of possibilities waiting for me over there was enough to make me take a one way ticket. With a hard on and a smile. Dromomania was kicking and I left without looking back.
I started coming in Thailand in 1998. I was pretty ignorant about the country’s manners and customs at that time and the image I had in mind were taken mostly from exploitation flicks, Mondo’s, books or documentaries and sensational tv reports about prostitution and sex trafficking. The whole thing was very exciting, and even if tourism was already rife, it was still a destination that had a very sulfurous reputation. So as you could guess it wasn’t very much a cultural trip, I mostly wanted to see the underbelly of the country and my first stays were spent most exclusively in dirty hotel rooms testing the local drugs in companies of prostitutes, or in clubs, karaokes, brothels, bars and other dimly lighted dens. My first trips were short and intense, but still in the midst of the obvious debauchery I was indulging in, I was more and more getting familiar with the Asian way of life and I knew I had to be back there. I then did travel regularly to Asia, started to visit the surrounding countries, Cambodia, Lao, The Philippines... the more time I spent the more I got engulfed in the local cultures and started to investigate other territories.
What differences do you see between living Paris and Bangkok?
If I could reformulate the question, it would more likely be ''what are the similarities between Paris and Bangkok'' and the answer would be : almost none. For the most part, people here are nice and polite. They love their country. They are very patriotic and respectful of tradition. The Thais are always smiling and are very pleasant to deal with on a day to day basis, so is their way of living and dealing with problems in general. Their main attitude is of Mai Pen Rai ( never mind / no problem ) which if it has been proven to get tiresome for many, has worked perfectly for me so far. Great people, great and cheap food too, cheap alcohol, cheap accommodations, tons of places open 24 hours etc etc... Add to this a very relaxed attitude towards prostitution and sex in general,... you do the math.
A friend of mine told me that the heat and pollution in Bangkok make it hard to live in. So what I want to know is what really attracts you in this city? What in your own point of view, living here, are the advantages and inconvenients?
I love Bangkok, it is one of my favorite place in the world. Being a city rat, I need to live in an urban environment with access to what every big metropolis should provide and so far it never failed. Krung thep is huge. There's 19 million people. It’s a giant anthill. It’s a very hectic place as well as very relaxed. Thailand is a nation of paradox and contradiction at many levels. The city is amazing, I love its smell, its pace, it’s mix of quietness and cacophony, its organized chaos. It's a perfect mix of modernity and tradition. From one street to another the mood changes completely. High tech buildings next to wooden shacks... Rats, roaches, crooked cops, streetwalkers, huge neon signs everywhere, teenage gangs racing and shooting at each others, rotten smell from the sewage, dead bodies dumped in the klongs, pack of vicious street dogs... A definite Blade Runner feel to it all.
The pollution is pretty high yes, and the heat is often hard to deal with. The combination of both can get suffocating at times. Being mostly a night animal, that doesn’t bother me. It’s a city that never sleeps. I fit here perfectly. It is indeed not a place for everybody, and it’s for the best. Tourists hates it and only stay there a couple of days for shopping or stay parked in their assigned areas, waiting to be send like cattle to the islands where they might get raped and bludgeon to death, like it's been the case a few times these past years. Unfortunately, as it is in a lot of countries everywhere in the world, a lot of traditional areas are disappearing, dirty old bars are replaced by new and shiny entertainment places, old movie theaters turning into multiplex, huge malls popping everywhere... But it's still an amazing place to live in especially if you got the good connections and you know where to look.
You have the project to put out a book of photographs? How is it going? Did you find a publisher? What will be the principal themes and subjects?
It's a selection of pictures I took during my 4 years living here, mostly centered on death in Thai culture and other weird related subjects. The book is almost finished, it will be released by TIMELESS Editions from France. The first trip I made I purchased some issues of Crimenews and 191 magazines, both were the equivalent of the Mexican Alarma magazine, they had ads for videos of Death Films, double spread pages in color of murders, rape, drug related shootings etc... All explicit pictures in glorious color. I was in awe. I found some amazing VCDs too, SHOCKING ASIA type shockumentaries, but locally made. They even had a TV channel devoted to similar things, even screening Euro necro-exploitation masterpiece like MOSQUITO DERSCHANDER (aka Bloodlust, directed by Marijan Vajda in 1977).
Amulet markets were another source of amazement. Finding so many objects related to sex, death, blessed and sacred paraphernalia with images of bestiality, animal skulls covered with magical yantra, powerful charm amulets to enhance your sexual prowess... Eros and Thanatos forever entangled. Black Magic here is rampant, you often hear about cases of people stealing dead fetuses or babies from hospital or illegal abortion clinic, selling them to be used in ritual. Roasting the infant corpses to collect an oil that will make a very powerful and sought after item. Living here I had the opportunity to dig further into this amazing culture.
You also visited Hell Temples or Hell Gardens?
A large portion of the book is dedicated to this subject. They vary in size from one temple to another and some of them are really over the top, with their brutal depictions of the horrors awaiting the sinners once they pass the gate of Narok (Hell in Thai). Gigantic statues of demons inflicting all kind of tortures, eye gouging, testicles getting crushed , giant penises cut in half, evisceration, brain and guts all over etc... Some even have depiction of sexual orgies. Pretty extreme regarding the facts that all of them are located in Temples. These places are unknown to the common tourists, most of the time I was the only one in there except for few kids and child monks wandering amongst the gory hell torments. After the first one I discovered, I was hooked and then traveled around the country to visit the most I could. I witnessed my share of bloody accident too. Thailand's road death toll is one of the highest in the world. The excellent book by Philip Blenkinsop ''THE CARS THAT ATE BANGKOK'' is a perfect testimony of that. Total JG Ballard vibes.
I saw in Exoteric fanzine some pictures you took of a dead body laying on the floor, with his motorcycle near him. Were you there when it happened?
Yes. I took the pic you’re referring to. I was hanging out in Surin, in the north east of Thailand, drinking, hanging with a bunch of Thai friends and we just happen to find the body on the side of the road while driving around on our bikes. I think he had just crashed not too long before we found him. We called the rescue team and I snapped a few pics.People then started showing with kids in their arms etc... I was trying to be careful while taking pics, I didn’t want to offend anyone especially being a foreigner, but people didn’t seem bothered at all, on the contrary. A lot of people were staring at me and were more amused to see this white guy in the middle of nowhere then appalled by the dead guy lying on the ground.
These reactions feel weird from an occidental perspective, can you imagine that type of shit happening in Paris? You would get in trouble really quickly. But I guess Thais have a different view towards death?
Thai people’s approach to death is very different than ours. It’s a very simple and refreshing one and devoid of the taboos that usually surrounds ours in our modern and occidental societies. Death is everywhere. Many temples have mummified monks, mummified babies are worshipped too in many places, altar to keep the ghosts away can be found all around …
That's why most of the Japanese Death Films like ''DEATH FILES'' were all filmed here. Kyotaka Tsurisaki has spend a great time here too. People like Kaoru Adachi saw the potential and shot most of the infamous ''MAD VIDEOS'' here or in South America.
I also managed to hook up with some people from the Poh Teck Tung foundation, they are sometimes called the ''body snatchers''. They are a Thai/Chinese organisation that only fonctions on donation. They collects bodies from road crashes, crime scenes etc, and rush them to the hospital or to the morgue. They are volunteers and only do this to collect good deeds for the afterlife. There is another organisation called Ramkatanyu, they are both concurrent and race to arrive first at the sites. They have an ongoing war and sometimes shoots at each others. It also happens that they crash before getting to the scene accident since they drive like maniac. Amazing Thailand! They also arrange funerals for the poor. If the bodies are unclaimed, they get buried in a cemetery where every few years, the corpses are digged up, cleaned and then cremated to make room for other newcommers. This ''second burial'' ceremonies are called Lang Pa Cha. I was lucky to attend a few them and there’s a large chapter on them. The rest of the book will be in the same vein. It’s a compendium of all that and more weirdness I came across. It’s my humble hommage to the Mondo culture I grew up with, Japanese 80's Bizarre mags ... And of course to Thailand’s unknown and bizarre death culture, before most of it gets forgotten and disappears.
What oriental mondo movies influenced you the most, or really hit you right in the face.? Your favorites to sum up. And what titles would you advise the reader s to watch if they don't know anything about this kind of films?
There's no Oriental Mondo Movies, most are from Italy and the US. However, 70s / 80s European Mondo’s, Japanese Shockumentaries and Death Films are all intrisincally linked to each other. All degenerate brothers of the same family. My absolute favorites are the DEATH WOMEN serie, with it’s eroticization of the female corpse, and a definite AV feel to it, not surprising when you know that the people behind it come from the porn industry. ''Killing Of America'', ''Le Sang Des Bêtes, Des Morts'', ''Dimensione Violenza'', ''Magia Nuda'', ''Africa Ama'', ''Addio Ultimo Uomo'', ''Les Interdits DuMonde'', ''Hunting Asia'', ''NYC Inferno''... just off the top of my head
If they don’t know anything about the genre, then they should do there fucking homework. Meaning starting with MONDO CANE and then move their way up... FACES OF DEATH etc, to the Japanese extreme gorefest of DEATH FILES, DEATH FARM etc... Climati and Morr'’s Trilogy is mandatory and so are the Castiglioni's Brothers films. I cannot recommend enough two great work on the subject, KILLING FOR CULTURE by Kerekes & Slater and the excellent REFLETS DANS UN OEIL MORT de Sebastien Gayraud & Maxime Lachaud. Thailand had released their own brand of Shockumentaries in the vein of the Japanese ones, hard to find now and mostly available on VCDs (though some VHS do existed). I will write about it in the future.
What's the deal with prostitution there in Bangkok? It has its reputation all over the world...
Prostitution is everywhere and people have a pretty healthy relation with it compared to western countries. I could say it's part of the culture. The cliche of the dirty old fat white man with the young Thai girl always makes me laugh since the biggest consumer of teenage flesh are the Thais. So many Karaoke or hostess clubs have underage girls (16/17) and the customers are 100% Thais. The bars for Farangs (white people) have more than often ugly and old low class whores. The fresh and young ones most of the time work as expensive coyote dancers and are chasing the very rich guys or the cute british muscled football player looking type.
There are so much lies, misconceptions or just plain absurdity about prostitution in Thailand and it's mostly from people that have never witnessed any of it first hand. It’s a very complex subject and we need to know what kind of prostitution we are talking about too. Young students working in the industry for a few nights to obtain a higher standard of living, office girls who are not against making some extra money on the side, drug addicted street derelicts giving blow jobs for a few Bahts, young uneducated girls from the countryside coming to the big city and selling their bodies in hope to find a husband, Burmese or Vietnamese kidnaped and trafficked, teenagers with wealthy sugar daddys... From the sleaziest scummiest areas to high class five stories high entertainment complex with special catalog where you can order Playboy models or girls from TV shows. Here you have soapy massage, blow jobs bars, karaoke, massage parlors, beer bars, go go bars, brothels, S&M clubs, gay areas, Japanese only areas etc... And don’t get me started on Trannies !
A recent survey showed that Thailand is number one as the most adulterous country in the world. There's short time hotel (Thai equivalent of the Japanese Love Hotel) all over the city not just in the sex tourist areas. People in general have a healthy attitude towards prostitution and can address the subject without the usual horrified and moralizing speeches that go hand in hand with it when you discussed with most westerners. The funny thing is that prostitution is illegal in Thailand, and so is pornography. But in many markets, and out in the open too, you can finds thousands of porn movies, including bestiality and other more dodgy and reprehensible categories. Land of contradiction and paradox, yes it is ! Although a very shy and prude society with strong laws regarding sex, it is ever present and freely enjoyed on many levels. From teenage pregnancy to monks getting caught with their pants down in company of underage girls, it’s always on the news too.
How about drugs? You told me there was leaning going on, purple drank everywhere.
As for drugs, the laws are very, very strict and you have to be very careful. Of course, corruption is rampant so you can always buy your way out, but it's getting harder nowadays and if they want to make an example out of you, you could be fucked. Extra caution is advised when purchasing and indulging. Most often they're not, the one you will buy from will be the one giving you to the cops to make some extra money.
The main drug here was Yaba. It is now mostly replaced by Ice (Meth). More expensive and more stronger. And a perfect drug for sex. Yaba literally means ''madness drug''. It's a mix of caffeine and methamphetamine, It can be found all around Asia with different names (Yama, Shabu...).It was mainly used by truck drivers in the beginning. A lot of gogo dancers that didn't want to get fat also used it as an ''appetite suppressant''. Ice has now taken over and is prevalent especially in the sex for sale world. The Africans (Nigerians and Liberians - a lot of ancient child soldiers with nothing to loose) sell the cocaine. Heroin is pretty hard to find around here from my own experience. Easier in the north of the country I suppose. Cocaine is almost the same price here than in Europe, which is a little expensive for the common Thais. In the north you also get Opium of course, but I heard that lately it's not a easy as it used to be. Bangkok's Chinatown used to have amazing Opium's dens, but they closed decades ago. Ketamine and Ectasy are commonly used in the club scene here from what I have witnessed. I don't go to the islands where all the dumb white people go, but I guess the Full Moon Parties have all kinds of products available. Like mushrooms... And yeah, the young generation drinks Lean, the Thai equivalent of Sizzurp (crushed codeine, with Sprite and ''prescribed'' cough syrup with code in it. Famous drug in the US dirty south). They mix Procodyl cough syrup (Promethazine) with Tramadols. The effects are quite nice. Pairs perfectly with a mixtape of Dj Screw.