"The Slovenia of Athens" Splash screen for nskstate.com, 2002
Photo by icon "The Slovenia of Athens" Splash screen for nskstate.com, 2002

In the early years of nskstate.com we had a splash screen, something like a website cover that you had to click before entering the site. This screen was an illustration, especially designed for nskstate.com. One of these illustrations was designed by Valnoir. I dont remember much about these years and how we got in touch, but I remember how impressed I was when he sent me that illustration. It had that excellent balance between concept and execution and you could easily see that this was the work of a professional designer who is here to stay.
Since then, Valnoir and his design studio Metastazis have build a great body of work working for many artists and musicians including Paradise Lost, Led Zeppelin and most recently, Laibach. Thankfully, he is also part of almost every NSK State Citizens
event and he had a lot more to give in the future. In this interview we will try to discover more about this and focus on his work as a Citizen.

Savva - 2016 - designed for The 2nd NSK State Folk Art Biennale
Photo by icon Savva - 2016 - designed for The 2nd NSK State Folk Art Biennale

What are you working on at the moment?

So far 2020 has been pretty active. I spent the last months, and basically the last two years working a lot on developing my skills in 3D/CGI, (Cinema 4D and Octane for those who are interested), with the objective to give life to new worlds, new universes... I've always been a bit paralyzed by the fact that I'm too lazy to draw. I've used those newly acquired skills to fully direct a music video project for Laibach (Smrt za Smrt), which has just aired a couple of days ago. This happened during the lockdown which has been a quite productive period for me. And I'm now working restlessly on a new music video project for the young french synth-wave prince Perturbator. This should be out in December/January if everything goes according to plan.

On a parallel field, I've been working (also mostly during the lockdown) on the second volume of my massive book project : «ANALOGUE BLACK TERROR – A Visual History of Black Metal Demotapes Radicalism» , to be released early December by the Californian publisher Nuclear War Now ! The first volume was released last autumn and met a very decent success, so we decided to give a shot to a second, totally new volume, which will this time include 550 documents.
And beside all this, I keep on putting bread on the table by giving birth to artworks for the international extreme Metal scene, for bands like Alcest, Vektor, Deluge, Amorphis and many others.

You seem pretty active, but I guess this is how you usually are, right?

I chose a field of activity that doesn't let me sleep a lot. Not out of stress and pressure of course, more because of enthusiasm !

I was reading your manifesto again and I remembered how much I enjoy reading it as a young designer. I think it was written something like 20 years ago, right?

I've just checked, it's not that old (that also probably means you were not that young ahah), I wrote it in 2006. I was 26 back then but the anger didn't go away, although after all those years, and with almost 250 bands in my portfolio, I guess that the message has now spread enough and people in the industry know by now that asking me to « put the font bigger » is not really an option anymore.

If you want a 100% outcome, turn up the volume to 200%. If you don't hammer the message, you have no chance said message will be understood.

So, how is it like working for the international extreme Metal scene when you’re “always right” and you don’t “talk things out”? What it your design process with these clients?

So far it still works. This manifesto is not the pure reflection of my state of mind, at least nowadays. It's more an amplification of the message I try to communicate. But you know, it's like theatre, you have to amplify everything in life if you want to reach your point. If you want 100% outcome, turn up the volume to 200%. If you don't hammer the message, you have no chance said message will be understood. As I previously stressed, I have a name now in the scene, and I know I'm not famous for being easy to work with. «Reign through terror» could be the motto!
But the main function of that manifesto is less to scare everybody away than to filter bands and clients with whom any collaboration attempt would end up in a conflictual dead end. I'm too old to waste my time with idiots who don't have enough sensitivity or insightfulness to realize that they don't know shit about design and that it's in their best interest to let me do what I do best.

Working for Laibach must have been a totally different story, right? It seems you have had a good collaboration so far, even though they have a strong opinion about design and they believe that trust is good, but control is better.

Exactly, gaining their trust has been not a question of months, but more of years or even decades. Since our first attempt of collaboration (shortly after the First NSK Citizens’ Congress) and the first time I got a « We trust you, do you what you feel is right » response, almost 10 years have passed. But who would have expected that working for and with Laibach was a piece of cake anyway... ? Now I do have the feeling, though, that we now understand each other's way of operating and entered a phase in which we can really tell each other what we truly feel, especially me : It took me a while to stop being intimidated by the machine, to stop being a fan-boy and talk with Laibach as if I was a member of the band. Which I am now, according to Laibach.

One afternoon, a truck literally hit me, and is since then dragging what is left of my body on the endless highway of joy.

When we met in Ireland a few years ago, you told me you remember the early versions of this website, long before it became the nskstate.com that brought most of us together. So, lets go back to the early years, when you discovered the work of Laibach, the NSK collective and eventually this site and the NSK State in general.
What was the first thing that caught your attention and that made you want to look for more and how did they influence your work as a designer?

Ohoh well, you really want to open this can of worms ?? Ok, but I'll try to keep things as brief as possible. My first encounter with Laibach was maybe in 1993, on Arte TV channel, a documentary called « Nationalisms : Rock Music Adrift », in which was featured an interview of Laibach in which Peter Mlakar , sitting on a swing was making a bad taste joke about the Shoah. For some reason, although I was way to young to grasp a fraction of what I was contemplating, this caught my attention so strongly that it never left me. Later on, I started to listen to « Jesus Christ Superstar » which was a cool metal album but I couldn't get into the bitter abstraction and the bizarre surrealism of their other records. A few years after, in 2001, I entered graphic design school. One afternoon, a truck literally hit me, and is since then dragging what is left of my body on the endless highway of joy. I went to the school library, and there was an issue of the design magazine Étapes Graphiques dedicated to Novi Kollektivizem. Never I had contemplated such mysterious beauty, something cold, threatening, monumental, noble but deviant. I had the feeling that I was instinctively understanding a language that I never heard before in my life. This immediately became a total obsession, I was showering everybody with their work (or at least the ones I could find online)to a point that was probably getting obnoxious. I didn't know the guys behind this studio but not only I wanted to do EXACTLY the same thing, but I wanted to be them. Youth enthusiasm is often annoying to witness, but it's fuelled by a genuine energy which gets harder and harder to find back later in existence. So you ask me how they did influence my work as a designer ? Simple : they made me a designer, pure and simple. Before them, I as studying that field because I didn't really know what else to do in my life, and after, I had a purpose. Becoming them. Frightening, right ???

What was the NSK State for you back then and how do you feel about it now?

NSK State, the website ? It was the only online portal existing providing information and NSK contacts. This has been a priceless structure really. First because, as I said, it provided informations that were otherwise very hard to find online (the NSK chaps have never been talented interneters), because it was offering a space of expression to the NSK citizens and it was bringing them together. A lot of people I met there are still very good friends and partners in crime. It was through the site that I managed to get in touch for the first time with a NSK mothership official member : Miran Mohar, I contacted him right away and on September 11th 2002, I took a plane and crashed in Ljubljana.

"The Slovenia of Athens" Desktop picture for nskstate.com, 2003
Photo by icon "The Slovenia of Athens" Desktop picture for nskstate.com, 2003

I was still young back then, and the attraction I had for NSK was because it looked cool, more than for its substance, which was still too complex for me to comprehend. I remember the first time I met Miran in Minimal Café, I couldn't get 85% of what he was telling me, not only because of his exotic accent, but mostly because I was just too young. And Miran is not the most abstract dude in the pack. It could have been worse, it could have been Borut. And instead of asking him to simplify a bit for the drooling semi idiot I was, I was insisting to make my evening even worse by asking things such as « What about the connection between NSK and religion, NSK and god?».
How I feel about NSK now? Although I'm a bit more mature, and I've reached my goal of « being them, » since I'm the designer of Laibach and I designed so much NSK connected material, I still consider the members of NK and Irwin as my spiritual fathers, and I cherish their advice and recommendations. They are also fantastic human beings with whom I love to empty bottles of wine until late at night, when the occasion allows. There's not one month I spend without opening one of the many books I own by them. And I wish them to live forever!!

I see NSK State more as a utopian democracy and a land of absolute freedom, more than a totalitarian state, in which citizens have the right to re-interpret the rules that structure the state the way they want.

I was actually asking about "The State”. Not the website, nor the historic Neue Slowenische Kunst. I am afraid this is a common misunderstanding that we should discuss. Is this State a really global project that can have a life of it’s own and grow independent from it’s creators?

It's art! It can be anything of course ! But this matter is actually quite complex indeed.
I'm not an art theoretician, and I always feel a bit clumsy on such matters, but my opinion could be : what would be the point of still calling this structure « NSK » state if the project distances itself too much from its origins ? On the other hand, unlike what a lot of people thought back in the past, I see NSK State more as an utopian democracy and a land of absolute freedom, more than a totalitarian state, in which citizens have the right to re-interpret the rules that structure the state the way they want. I myself am a bit lost and confused there, I'm split between my conservatism, my deep love for the old Neue Slowenische Kunst constellation, its hypnotizing, obsessive aesthetics, and the temptation to re-invent, re-create NSK, for this is my right and even maybe my duty as a citizen. But also, as a NSK diplomat, I'm equally tempted to protect the temple ! Such projects as the NSK State Reserve of NYC, a project in which I'm very proud and happy to participate, is I think one of the most brilliant spontaneous NSK folk Art efforts. It's at the same time a fresh, smart outgrowth that totally slipped out of control of the NSK members, but at the same time extremely consistent with the origins of NSK.

Making clear what the difference is between The State and the historic Neue Slowenische Kunst doesnt mean that we will have to distance ourselves from our origins. To me it is all about evolution and the creation of a new Kapital. Just like what you and the NSK State Reserve are doing at the moment.
Tell me a little more about this collaboration and also what other projects or events you have participated in as a citizen.

This is a tough question, but luckily for you, I keep my archives in good order.
First of all there were the images I created for NSKstate.com back in 2002 or something, then the posters for various NSK rendez vous across Europe, the posters of the First NSK Citizens’ Congress, a stamps board edited by Irwin, my work for the NSK State Reserve of NYC, my participation in the 2016 2nd NSK State Folk Art Biennale (which is one hell of a good memory - the people, the place itself...) the self inflicted torture of the "No Pain No Grain" project, the recent Covid-related New World Order poster, the 2011 ŠKUC Gallery NSK Folk Art poster. And THEN of course, there are all the Laibach related projects... The Sound of Music record artwork, Party Songs record artwork, Vollmaier Kind of Laibach record artwork, all the North Korea Liberation Day visual elements, the Liberation Days book, the music video of Smrt za Smrt, WIR SIND DAS VOLK poster, the Party Songs exhibition in Tel Aviv and.... that's about it I think!!

I just heard that Macron has announced a late-night curfew for residents in Paris and Marseille and I thought of how optimistic your Covid poster was… As it seems, a second wave is coming and the restriction measures are back. How do you deal with this situation and what impact do you see this having in the art world and the society in general?

Well, I'm going though this crisis in a rather easy manner I must say. I'm privileged enough to own my own workspace in Paris in the same building as the one in which I live, and my girlfriend’s tattoo studio is on the same premises, so it's very easy from a work perspective.
Basically I couldn't have been better prepared for isolation.
The only thing that made the lockdown a bit uncomfortable was more social isolation, and being unable to meet with friends. But also my girlfriend managed to arrive in Paris (from Russia) ONE day prior to the lockdown, and the happiness to of being able to go through this situation together compensated the troubles it created.
Basically visual artists and designers like us were probably among the most well prepared to face the health crisis, because, well... it didn't change anything, or almost nothing, in our usual daily routine. And since the usual activity obviously slowed down a bit (especially anything connected to live music, which is also a part of my business), I took this as an opportunity to do the Laibach Music video and develop skills in CGI/3D technologies, which is now an asset of incalculable value for my activities.

Any future plans as an NSK State citizen?

I don't have immediate plans as a NSK citizen. We are supposed to work on a book with the NSK State Reserve, but we take our time on this one. I'm dreaming of a new NSK Biennale, since the ones in the past have been such fantastic moments, but I don't want to shoulder the responsibility of making it happen, you're a much better organizer than I am!! And also, the Covid situation keeps us from making any gathering plans. While I'm typing this today, I should have been in Ljubljana to celebrate Laibach’s 40th anniversary, which has been cancelled (at least as far as the public event is concerned).
And I'm, as always, very open to any project connected with NSK. So if you have a sick idea, shoot, I'm your man!