Nicolas Ker 1970-2021
Nicolas Ker was a composer, singer, film maker, performer, poet, and dark star. A polymath extraordinaire he deserves the accolade of uniqueness. His untimely death at the age of fifty robs French culture, pop, rock, or otherwise, of a soul who seemed imbued with an air of the past, a film-noir sensibility. As someone who carried a rock and roll sensibility, with a few demons in tow, his was a striking, yet unsettling confection. The writer of majestic brooding soundtracks and soundscapes, his songs referenced folk music, rock, and electronica. With the swagger and dash of Johnny Thunders and Nick Cave, like a French Howard Devoto in cahoots with Lee Hazlewood, he had presence and an edge of danger. Seemingly ever in a haze of unfashionable cigarette smoke, Ker personified a louche diety. His clipped snarl drone of a voice the perfect vehicle for his band Poni Hoax. A captivating front man who seemed better suited to to the dank gloom of Max's Kansas City and CBCB's than wide sunlit French avenues. Part-magican, part-malevolent jester, Ker carried himself with an air of defiant non apology. A genius and enigma in one being.
Born Nicholas Langlois, to a Cambodian mother of aristocratic birth in Phmon Penh on 19th December 1970, she fled the Khmer Rouge, his lineage was diverse, his father was being French. Ker arrived in Paris aged sixteen via Istanbul and Cairo and immediately was attracted to the decadent side of the city and its history. In 2001 he encountered four musicians, graduates from from the Conservatoire National Musique, appropriately they found him in a bar and had discovered their vocalist. A perfect marriage of refinement and rawness they christened the venture Poni Hoax, releasing four albums over a period of twelve years. Their single "Budapest" proved a hit across Europe and they became regulars on the festival circuit. Their self-titled debut attracted controversy because of its cover, a naked woman in the company of an owl, but it was with their second Images Of Sigrid that saw them elevated from underground secret to mainstream success. A mixture of Bowie, David Byrne, and Daft Punk, they packed a strangely hypnotic punch. A single from that album Antibodies proved another smash across the continent.
Anyone who has witnessed the documentary about the band Drunk In The House Of Lords catches an insight into the breakneck sensibility that was Nicholas Ker, a man with little care for taking care. By disposition he was reckless but from that emerged work of concision, grace and refinement. He could channel his demons. A decadent dandy, an impish rogue, and a symbol of swagger and poise. His solo release Les Faubourgs D'Lexil was less frantic than his work with the band. A hugely personal and reflective album it revealed the breadth and sensitivity of his talents.
What remains conveniently uncertain how he met his muse, the actress and singer Arielle Dombasle. Theirs was a mythic melding of extremes. Apparently she demanded that he write her an album. He did. La Riviere Atlantique announced their unlikely pairing, garnering attention through her movie fame, and his reputation for abundant excess. In 2019 its successor Empire arrived, a masterpiece of many styles that electrifies,The original odd couple, but a perfect collaboration, her transcendant ethereal poise anchored to his underworld, nocturnal perspective. Their videos are a treat to the eager eye. Decadent perposterous and artful. The pair even collaorated on the movie Angel Crystal Palace. Dombasle and Ker represent a creative frisson forged between halfway between heaven and hell. She, the perfect foil for him with her elegant distractedness and grace, he, her diligent craftsman, a cross between an artful doger and a punky warlock, who created sumptious backdrops for her exquisite voice. They continued a lineage of kooky pairings. Gainsbourg and Birkin, Cave and Minogue, Sinatra, and Hazlewood.
Ker exhuded a sensibility much older than his years. He belonged to another time, be that the Paris of absinthe and decadence or the world of dank clubs and loud music whilst haunting stately homes or abandoned churchyards in his video creations. He was Rimbaud-like, a dash of tragedy in the guise of defiance. A genie with no lamp to return to. Perhaps it is wrong to expect more, but the genius he has already annotated is difficult to view without a sense of sorrow. Deft and considered when it was required, yet beyond that lay the attributes of madness and despair. A hard act to better and an impossible one to replace, his absence leaves a sense of loss and mystery in the air.
Nicolas Ker died in Paris on 17th May 2021. His new single with Arielle Dombasle "Deconstruction Of The Bride" has just been released. Many plans had been made. There was much yet to be done.