lectronic E beatS conversations on essential issues with: Neil Tennant, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Ai Weiwei, Animal Collective, Nouvelle Vague
Dan Snaith “There’s more madness than methoD…” (…in making good dance music.)
July august september 2011
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“I like the idea of a magazine being a toolbox for ideas” Max Dax: One of the most funda-
mental questions in regards to the digital age is: What is the future of print? How can print survive in a world dominated by blogs and digital content? How can it generate a new trust in quality and reliability? In other words: How do we make magazines collectable again?
Hans Ulrich Obrist: You’ve done both
Alert and Spex—you must have an answer, or at least an idea . . .
MD: I have an answer, but it’s a short
one and something I’m constantly rethinking: Our lives and our work are based on connecting people and sharing ideas and information. When a reader can feel involved in the discussion, things start getting interesting. You’ve often said that every conversation, every meeting between people, is, when focused, a “reality-generating” situation. It’s our goal to document these moments.
HUO: I have a ritual: I buy at least one book every day. It’s all about books, books, and more books . . . and magazines too. I certainly haven’t spent less money on print since the Internet came along. I think it’s a question of the right mix. I read as many books as I do digital content. I also read international newspapers on my Kindle. In light of our limited natural resources, we all have to consider the fact that magazines are printed on paper. MD: Trees die for books, newspapers
Dear Readers, Since our last issue, there have been a lot of changes here at Electronic Beats. First and foremost is the new editorial staff, made up of A.J. Samuels, Johannes Beck, Corinna Koch and Michael Lutz. We have also altered both the layout and design. However, our main focus remains the same: to document important moments of communication and explore how people inspire each other through music and art. I would like to thank our predecessors and the editorial staff under Viktoria Pelles for their hard work and commitment. Sincerely, Max Dax Editor-in-Chief
and magazines, and that has important implications . . . HUO: Indeed. The twenty-first century has to be sustainable. A magazine that you keep, even if you move house, is sustainable. I like the idea of editors and publishers letting artists curate individual issues of magazines. Georg Baselitz did an entire issue of Die Welt. Alan Kaprow did a major project for Die Zeit. Over the past few years, the Süddeutsche Zeitung commissioned Jenny Holzer, Sigmar Polke and many others to do the same with their magazine supplement. La Libération in France did a special issue with Daniel Buren and Annette Messager. These are all very special issues which reinvent the format. MD: But these are special, collec-
table issues made for exactly that reason. I think a magazine can potentially have the same collectability, the same magnetism, if it can consistently bring together really interesting and important people to exchange their thoughts and ideas. We tried exactly this. I mean, we have you interviewing Ai Weiwei, Arto Lindsay interviewing Nouvelle Vague’s Marc Collin, Glenn O’Brien talking to Panda Bear, and legendary hackerethicist Steven Levy interviewing Atari Teenage Riot’s Alec Empire, not to mention conversations with Alexander Kluge and Dan Snaith. The point is that you have to do this consistently if you want to be taken seriously.
HUO: AnOther Magazine from the UK, 032c in Germany or Paradis from France are becoming more and more like books—not in terms of the form or the shape, but in terms of the value they radiate. You shelve them—you don’t throw them away. We do the same with our program magazines at the Serpentine Gallery. Last year we asked Scott King to do one of the issues. You don’t throw away something that Scott King has designed. He made it into a fetish object. MD: I like the idea of a magazine
being a toolbox for ideas. It’s important when an article inspires you to rethink something or to change your perspective.
HUO: Toolboxes to produce reality. MD: Our main goal with Electronic Beats is to provide a space for naturally unfolding streams of consciousness. I love Andy Warhol’s Interview for that reason, and Glenn O’Brien’s interviews especially. I was born curious. I always wanted to know why artists or musicians or people in general make certain decisions, why they change directions and what kind of experiences have motivated them to do so. You can learn so much just by talking to people. And this extends to images and photography as well. We try—whenever possible—to capture the moment when people are having a conversation. This is an important part of documenting it. ~
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Electronic Beats Magazine Conversations on Essential Issues Est. 2005 Issue N° 26 Summer 2011 Publisher: Burda Creative Group GmbH, P.O. Box 810249, 81902 München, Germany Managing Director: Dr.-Ing. Christian Fill Editorial Office: Electronic Beats Magazine, c/o .HBC, Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 9, 10178 Berlin, Germany www.electronicbeats.net/magazine email@example.com Editor-in-Chief: Max Dax Managing Editor: Benjamin Schnitzer Duty Editor: Michael Lutz Editor: A. J. Samuels Photography Editor: Corinna Ada Koch Copy Editor: Karsten Schoellner Art Direction: Johannes Beck Director Creative Solutions: Ralph Fischer Contributing Authors: Marc Collin, Alec Empire, Noah Lennox, Steven Levy, Arto Lindsay, Dieter Meier, Glenn O’Brien, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Andreas Reihse, Thomas Schoenberger, Shantel, Adrian Sherwood, Neil Tennant and Wolfram Contributing Photographers and Illustrators: Oz Almog, Frank Bauer, Rick Burger, Nic Endo, Simone Gilges, Rania Gorou, Anwar Hussein, Luci Lux, Bo Marion, Eduard Meltzer, Uta Neumann and Rebecca Salvadori Electronic Beats Magazine is a division of the Telekom Electronic Beats Music Sponsoring Program Subscriptions: www.electronicbeats.net/magazine-subscription Advertising: firstname.lastname@example.org Electronic Beats Program Manager: Claudia Jonas Electronic Beats Festival Booking: email@example.com Website: www.electronicbeats.net Public Relations: Stephanie Binder / Haeberlein & Maurer firstname.lastname@example.org Printing: DRUCKHAUS KAUFMANN, Raiffeisenstr. 29, 77933 Lahr, Germany www.druckhaus-kaufmann.de
Electronic Beats Magazine is printed on recycled paper Thanks to: Frank Bauer, Patrick Bussmann, Lothar Christoph, Dirk Edingloh, Rüdiger Hergerdt, Martin Hossbach, Kathleen Karrer, Severin Most, Jennifer Ng, Jose Ribeiro, Stephan Rothfuss and everybody at .HBC Berlin, Moritz Schmall, Nadine Stich, Mauro Soncin, Philip Tinari, Jean Trouillet, Lorraine Two, Walter Wacht and Iris Weber Cover: Dan Snaith, photographed by Luci Lux Translations from the German: A. J. Samuels © 2011 Electronic Beats Magazine Reproduction without permission is prohibited Freedom for Ai Weiwei
ONE Monologues 8 Pictures to the editor 16 Reviews: Music and other media recommended by Adrian Sherwood, Hans Ulrich Obrist, A.J. Samuels, Thomas Schoenberger, Andreas Reihse, Max Dax and Wolfram; featuring Francis Ford Coppola, Kode9 & The Spaceape, Cy Twombly, Pollyester, Édouard Glissant, Deadbeat, Little Dragon and Borngräber & Strüver 28 Mr. Style Icon Neil Tennant likes the looks of Bryan Ferry 30 COUNTING WITH Dieter Meier
EB EB 2/2011
pictures to the editor
“On a flight from London to Barcelona, we flew through this mind-blowing sunset. The whole sky was pink. Someone said that when you fly, your soul travels slower than your body. I’m not sure why, but after I took the picture I asked myself, ‘Am I now soulless?’” Carmen Garcia Vidal, London
“Taking a break after eight hours of driving from Tokyo. No radiation here for sure : ) Mmmh, yummy air.” Chikkayo Morjiati, Tokyo 8
Paris, October 2009 “This part of Charles de Gaulle 1 always reminds me of an ant farm.” Jean-Pierre Lacroix
Venice, December 2010 “My pearl engagement ring fell into the lagoon. At first I was sad, but the thought that it found its way back into the ocean cheered me up.” Babet K.
Mexico City, 2010 “Stumbled upon this in a metro station in Mexico City . . .” Rodrigo Diaz Frances EB 2/2011
pictures to the editor
“The best way to enjoy the end of winter and the return of a warmer sun.” Lisa King, Berlin
“These tiny memorials are placed in front of the former residences of Holocaust victims and document their dates of birth, deportation, and death. On a sunny spring morning, I stumbled upon a commemoration ceremony for the setting of new plaques in the Köpenicker Straße in Berlin. It’s a kind of restorative justice when a population acknowledges the crimes of their forefathers; it’s a healing process that I acknowledge and respect.” Dorit Cypis, Los Angeles
“Backstage at the shooting of a Hugo Boss perfume commercial in Babelsberg Studios, Potsdam. While waiting for my call, I spent some time talking to the ‘featured extras’.” Britta Thie
“The fruit waits reproachfully on the kitchen table after I arrive home from a long night out.” Justin Harris, London
“I took this picture in Berlin-Kreuzberg on May Day in front of the concert venue Festsaal Kreuzberg. The weather was incredible and everyone was dancing. And then night fell.” Benjamin Tauber
“Planningtorock’s sheet music. Backstage at the E-Werk in Cologne.” Electronic Beats Festival, 2011. Ilona Riska
“The other day I took a walk through the Valle dei Templi and thought of you.” Enrica, Sicily
pictures to the editor
“I said, ‘They’re selling French fries! Can we stop?’ But he just drove on.” Beatriza Jiminez, Montpellier, 2003
Dear Readers, Smartphones and cellphones with digital cameras have become indispensible in helping us document the moment, transforming our SIM cards into a kind of shareable diary. Electronic Beats Magazine would like to show things from a reader’s point of view. So please, send us your digital photos and comment on the scene in one or two sentences—or feel free to write more. Any and all content from the cultural cosmos is welcome. Please don’t forget to note where and when you took the photo. We would like to thank the readers who have already responded to our online request and whose images are featured in this issue. Sincerely, Corinna Ada Koch, Photo Editor email@example.com
“Straight from the horse’s mouth!” Bonaparte live at Electronic Beats Live Special Budapest, Attila Masa
The recently released third volume, Photographs III, 1951-2010, offers few surprises for those already acquainted with the frozen beauty of Twombly’s photography. But it does complement the previous two volumes. Like Andrei Tarkovsky’s mysteriously lyrical Polaroid snapshots of film locations, Twombly expertly captures the interplay of light and silence in every image. There is something extraordinarily calming about the still lifes of lemons on a wooden table, or shots of his studio in Bassano, Italy, with various Picassos casually leaned up against the walls.
“There came a man who dealt with whiteness. And with space. He was an American. And perhaps his genius lay most in innocence . . .” Poet Charles Olson on Cy Twombly, in Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archive, no. 8, 1977 Right: Little Dragon is a minimalist synth-pop quartet from Gothenburg, Sweden. Arto Lindsay is a US-born guitarist, singer and producer. He currently lives in Rio de Janeiro.
“Photographs III, 1951–2010” (SCHIRMER/ MOSEL) Most people learn, at some point in their lives, to love Cy Twombly’s scribblings and paintings. Though the images are abstract, they remain playful—often resembling a child’s attempts to grasp the world around them. I encountered Twombly’s complex body of photography for the first time when the German publishing house Schirmer/Mosel released the first of three volumes of his photographs in 2008. Spanning some six decades, the oldest photographs date back to 1951, and it’s here, within the context of a lesser-known series of images, that the roots of the artist’s poetic vision comes to the fore. Not only do the photographs mirror Twombly’s paintings, they also offer major insight into the studio modus operandi of one of the last remaining artists born in the nineteen-twenties. 16
The idée fixe in Twombly’s photographs remains a certain kind of idleness, a stopping of time. Or, as Hubertus von Amelunxen puts it in the preface to the third volume: “With photography, Cy Twombly is seeing in another time.” Nevertheless, the images resist the category of romanticism; their otherworldly beauty emanates from surface and texture. The photographs are blurred, and you often need the captions to realize what you’re looking at: a tulip, or antique glasses on display at a yard sale. “In heaven, nothing ever happens” David Byrne famously sang with the Talking Heads. This goes for Photographs III as well. Twombly himself not only chose the pictures, but also skillfully arranged the pace and flow. There are jumps in time—from the black and white images of temples in Agrigento in 1951 to his flower studies in the mid-eighties. Also included are details from his paintings, interspersed with images of brushes, buckets, canvases and elegiac landscapes from Kentucky to Rome. It’s a vision of a place where there are more currencies than just money and efficiency; and where we only notice time when we stop it. ~ Max Dax
Little Dragon “Ritual Union” (Peacefrog)
There are some world-class producers in Sweden these days— people like Peter, Bjorn & John, for example— who are being hired by big American acts like Kanye West to make their music sound, uh, Scandinavian. With Little Dragon it’s the other way around: a young Swedish band hooked on American R&B. It’s a mixed-up world we live in. Singer Yukimi Nagano clearly dominates the band’s sound, while the other guys do their best to get her to let loose. Her voice is remarkably present, which is a matter of technique and precision. Whenever she gives the other guys eight bars, they go totally bananas and their creativity almost immediately begins to unfold. But everything returns to normal as soon as she comes back in. There’s something demanding and insistent about Nagano’s singing—it kind of reminds me of Betty Davis, even though Davis is in a different league. I mean, I like Nagano’s singing, but I would encourage her to be even more aggressive in the future . . . even
crueler to her ex-lovers. There’s an interesting tension in the fact that Little Dragon does a really good job of imitating American black music, but are themselves neither American nor black. Somehow, they don’t feel
Cy Twombly: “Tulips”, Gaeta, 2008 © 2011 Cy Twombly, courtesy of Schirmer/ Mosel
comfortable letting loose, which, to my surprise, makes the record edgy. They give repression a good name. I really hope they start to exploit that tension even further. Compositionally, the band carries the torch of innovative Scandinavian
jazz musicians who’ve crossed over to electronic music— poeple like Bugge Wesseltoft, Supersilent, or Nils Petter Molvaer. Similarly, Little Dragon’s minimalistic approach is ultraclean and very Scandanavian. It’s a sound that’s become very fashionable and it’s a good way to achieve results, too. EB 2/2011
If you listen to most contemporary R&B records, that’s exactly what they sound like: spare and stripped down. However, Little Dragon have their own style of using plug-ins. They’re not afraid to foreground digital effects, and they even sing about it. Compared to what’s happe18
ning in the US, this is a really fresh approach. Currently, American production is more about noise and nostalgia—Frank Ocean’s mind-blowing Nostalgia, ULTRA comes to mind. Little Dragon work differently. The bass is much more subtle and there’s generally more room to breathe.
I think the reason why so many people bet on Little Dragon becoming the next big thing is that their songs are radio-friendly. But Little Dragon don’t seem like complicated people and stars generally are complicated. Just look at Kanye West; what a difficult
Cy Twombly: “Lemon”, Gaeta, 2008 © 2011 Cy Twombly, courtesy of Schirmer/ Mosel
person! Or even Madonna—she’s a shriveled, obsessive fifty-year-old that still wears suspension bras. Michael Jackson: the sickest human being in recent memory. These are complicated people. And they make you curious. They appeal to us, they reflect our own desires.
The healthier ones seem to fade away more quickly, like Justin Timberlake. He’s a nice guy, but where is he now? When digging deeper into the psychology of Little Dragon, we might find the urgency of Yukimi Nagano.
Why is she so angry? Who is she mad at? Why does the Little Dragon roar? These are the questions they should find answers to in the future. And they probably will, because this band is on the rise. ~
Cy Twombly: “Sunset”, Gaeta, 2008 © 2011 Cy Twombly, courtesy of Schirmer/ Mosel
“Listening with my eyes closed, there was more than one moment when I felt like I was driving past a car crash in slow motion, rubber-necking at the wreckage, and trying to deal with that bizarre, tingling feeling of shock and fascination.” Andreas Reihse
in 2006, Deadbeat releases have become increasingly dance-floororiented—something the Montreal native has candidly attributed to the more functional approach of peers like Pole or Basic Channel. And like Basic Channel, Monteith’s live performances are as unexciting as his recordings are impressive. Which isn’t to say you don’t want to hear his music in a club; you just don’t have to watch him while he’s manning the controls.
“Drawn and Quartered” (BLKRTZ) Awash in a percussive mist of cicada-like feedback, Drawn and Quartered begins from deep within a jungle of disassociation, no direction known. It’s a dark place, and only a faint bassline and occasional rim shot allude to the dubby crawl into which the first track explodes. From then on, it’s a slow and linear path through a classically detailed Deadbeat soundscape: reliably unpredictable synth bursts trail off in double-time while filters open and close at a snail’s pace over layers of moody drones. Here, sound appears from all directions, shooting back and forth across our aural field of vision. The music is controlled and deliberate, and it’s the kind of quality that we’ve come to expect from Scott Monteith, the man behind the Deadbeat moniker. Since 1998, Monteith has consistently put out exquisitely produced dub, deep house, and dub-techno, and continues to carry the torch of genre innovators (and originators) Moritz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus. Since moving to Berlin 20
But I only wanted to listen to Drawn and Quartered with my eyes closed anyways. The album marks Monteith’s return to a more classic and heavier dub sound: shadowy, repetitive and monotone without being boring. “Dub is drum and bass music. If you want to be academic about it, you can say it’s the deep structure of reggae. It’s the very skeleton of reggae music.” Linton Kwesi Johnson’s definition served as the opening sample for Deadbeat’s “Deep Structure” in 2008 and aptly describes dub’s minimal core. That being said, it’s on top of the foundation of skeletal riddims that Deadbeat actually tells his story on Drawn and Quartered. Tonally speaking, it’s a narrative in black and white, with endless shades of grey. Melody, when it appears at all, is confined to muted arpeggios. In contrast, the album’s real expressiveness is to be found in the myriad variations of percussive timbre and spatiality—parameters that Deadbeat controls with subtlety and precision. But despite this control, the album never sounds lifeless, and intuition remains the guiding principle behind the musical narrative. The drive of the drum and bass is straight ahead, but the sonic landscape is constantly changing. Vocal elements appear as heavily treated, cut-up and barely audible whispers—which only serve to enhance the atmosphere of stoned
Berlin-based duo Borngräber & Strüver have been collaborating since 1999. In 2010 they founded m=minimal, a label and platform for minimal electronics. Andreas Reihse is a founding member of the post-krautrock outfit Kreidler. The band’s latest album, Tank, features several tracks composed entirely on the iPhone. Left: Scott Monteith, aka Deadbeat, recently founded the label BLKRTZ. A.J. Samuels is an editor at Electronic Beats.
schizophrenia. Only on the final track, “Plateau Quarter (Hope in Numbers)”, when Monteith pulls a David Chase and stops the music without warning, did I feel jarred by sudden movement. Otherwise, everything is tweaked with care. ~ A.j. Samuels
Borngräber & Strüver “Urlaub” (M=minimal)
The first time I met Jens Strüver was in Cologne. He was supposed to be taking care of the trip-hop outfit Smith & Mighty, but had missed his plane from Berlin. I was then asked by the record company to pop over to the band’s hotel and take care of them until Jens arrived. I went by, only to find out that they had also missed their plane from Bristol. Eventually, Jens arrived and we smoked a massive spliff in the parking lot. It was really early in the morning and I ended up being completely paranoid the entire day. That’s when I quit smoking weed. The second time I met Jens, the circumstances were only slightly
“Glissant is today what Foucault or Deleuze were in the sixties, seventies and eighties. It’s a real scandal that so many of his works have still yet to be translated into other languages.” Hans Ulrich Obrist
less stoned. A friend of mine, the Georgian director Salome Machaidze, was looking for an obscure Weather Report record for a film she was making. I immediately thought of Jens, because I had heard that he was a total free jazz and vinyl junkie. We went by his flat and walked in on a scene straight out of The Big Lebowski; there was Jens, sitting in the middle of a room packed with literally thousands of records, smoking a joint and nodding his head to some rare groove. Salome had her doubts, but astoundingly, Jens located the record in a matter of minutes. As musicians, I think both Jens’ and Christian Borngräber’s crate-digger tendencies can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. I personally found Borngräber & Strüver’s first album Transkontinental to be a bit overwrought. There was so much happening—the whole thing was just too baroque. With Urlaub, they’ve adopted a more carefree and youthful approach. It’s a gentler simplicity that fits a slower electronic sound. This goes especially for the first track, the monumental fifteenminute-long “Reise”. The whole thing is very unembellished, despite all the references—the most obvious being Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” with the sound of cars whizzing past. For Kraftwerk, “Autobahn” had something utopic. Their delivery was always very deadpan, but there was also a healthy portion of irony in their stiffness. I think for most Germans, the word “Autobahn” also suggests freedom and mobility. “Reise” is like a dark mirror image of the Kraftwerk classic, with lots of melodic nods to the solo work of Tangerine Dream’s Klaus Schulze and Edgar Froese. In regards to the latter, I appreciate Jens’ ability to parse out the genius of artists who are often considered too esoteric. On the whole, Urlaub could easi-
Born in Martinique, Édouard Glissant is one of the most influential figures in post-colonial thought and cultural commentary. He passed away in February 2011 at the age of 82.
ly serve as the score for a David Cronenberg film. It sometimes sounds like a dancier version of Howard Shore’s Crash soundtrack. Listening with my eyes closed, there was more than one moment when I felt like I was driving past a car crash in slow motion, rubbernecking at the wreckage, and trying to deal with that bizarre, tingling feeling of shock and fascination. ~
Hans Ulrich Obrist is a curator of contemporary art. Since 2006, he has been Co-director of Exhibitions and Programmes and Director of International Projects at the Serpentine Gallery in London.
“La cohée du Lamentin” (Editions Gallimard)
I first heard about Édouard Glissant from Alighiero Boetti, who was one of the earliest proponents of differentiating the conceptual realm of globalization. We’re not living in the first historical era of globalization; it’s been here for a long time. Maybe you could say we’re experiencing Globalization III or Globalization IV. Either way, we’re probably living through one of its most extreme and violent forms. Boetti showed us the importance and potential of global dialogues, as well as the dangers of not dealing with the fundamentally distinct forms of globalization—most importantly the potential homogenization of culture. Glissant was well versed in drawing these important distinctions. Very early on, before anybody started talking about globalization, Glissant spoke of Creolization and the emergence of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. He’s truly a master of analyzing the French concept of mondialité, which doesn’t exist in English. The term refers to a more varied global dialogue—a world that contains many different worlds between which
dialogue must take place. Not to increase commonality, but rather to understand and emphasize important differences. Nobody should have to surrender to the monolithic tendencies of Globalization. For me, Glissant’s poems, novels, plays, theories and drawings have been a great daily source of exploration. We all need a retour, a way to return to ourselves. Tarkovsky has said that we’re living in an era with fewer retours. One of mine is reading sixteen minutes of Éduoard Glissant every morning. Many of the exhibitions I’ve curated were born of the knowledge I have from reading him—the concept of mondialité especially. The twentieth century has been marked by a quest for the absolute. After World War II, Paris lost its status as a hub for the avant-garde to New York. Of course, the avantgarde escaped and went somewhere else after that. Today, we can’t say anymore where the avant-garde is, because art is everywhere. Art has become a polyphony of centers. In a EB 2/2011
“Every word is an earth/Whose subsoil must be searched/ Where a movable space is kept/Burning, for what the tree says.” Édouard Glissant – Field of Islands
cultural sense, the world has stopped being about continents and become a realm of archipelagos. Glissant is today what Foucault or Deleuze were for their time, and it’s imperative that more of his works are translated into other languages. It’s beginning to happen, but it’s also been very slow going. I mean, it’s too late to give him the Nobel Prize for Literature because he died this year. One of my favorite books of his is La Cohée du Lamentin, which is about where Glissant grew up, the Caribbean island of Martinique. But more than that, it also describes a very specific place in Martinique. He actually wanted to build an “archipelago museum” there with his own collection of art, which he definitely could have done. He had plenty of artist friends, like Wilfredo Lam and Roberto Matta. It’s in La Cohée du Lamentin that he emphasizes the importance a local point of view—an understanding of the world that is strongly influenced by a given perspective, a vantage point. This is a work that’s as much about the local as it is about the global. He really believed in the idea that you can’t think the world. It was agnès b. who first introduced to Glissant personally in the nineties. We had started a magazine together called Point d’ironie along with the artist Christian Boltanski. Agnès had known Glissant since the sixties when she was a teenager. This was at the beginning of her artistic trajectory, and she remained friends with him ever since. She used to describe to me Glissant’s legendary appearances at the Café du Flore in the late fifties and sixties. Soon I started to read him systematically and we began working together on many different projects. I’m wor22
king now on a book of all my interviews with him. There’s a lot in there about the marathons we did together—he used to take part in all the poetry and literature marathons. For me the most memorable was at the Serpentine Gallery with the wonderful sound-poet Linton Kwesi Johnson. It eventually turned into a big jam session, one that seemed to grow and change according to its own dynamic.
Steve Goodman, alias Kode9, is a Londonbased producer, DJ, philosopher and owner of the Hyperdub record label. He recently published his book Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear, in which he explores the uses of sounds as weapons.
Glissant was especially interested in utopias, and when I co-curated Utopia Station together with Rirkrit Tiravanija and Molly Nesbit, he was a great inspiration. The German philosopher Ernst Bloch said that there is a fundamental gap in our understanding of the concept of utopias. Glissant said utopias were a kind of shaking—a trembling at the idea of a new world. Working with him on Utopia Station was particularly intense.
Adrian Sherwood is a musician, producer and owner of the renowned dub label On-U Sound.
He was also the inspiration for numerous travelling exhibitions, and I think the idea of touring was particularly important to him. I found his writings to be key in the conceptual development of a “migratory laboratory”. I always think of his work as being very organic; it all comes to life. He was constantly figuring out different ways to disseminate his ideas, and that was one of the most remarkable things about him. Glissant possessed a command and mastery of so many different types of media. His death is an incredible loss. HANS ULRICH OBRIST
Kode 9 & The Spaceape “Black Sun” (Hyperdub)
I don’t intellectualize things. If I hear a good record, I can recognize what makes it different from the pack. But otherwise I don’t really “think” about it. I don’t even do that for my own productions. That being said, Black Sun is quality from beginning to end. You need people pushing things forward, and this is a perfect example of that. Steve Goodman, aka Kode9, just has really good ears—he’s got his own “sonic”, as I like to say. And this is what allows him to create his own sound and continue being an innovator. An important part of innovation is knowing what you’re doing in the studio, and Kode9 obviously does. He’s the jack-of-all-trades of the moment, from doing A&R work to producing the new Burial album. Like myself, he’s also the boss of a record company. I only do my own productions at the moment, but he releases other people’s stuff as well. He’s good at pushing other music in new directions. Musically speaking, I like most of what he does. Some of it is a
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bit too techno for me, but that’s because I come from a roots background. But his skills as a producer are indisputable. And in all, he’s just a good lad. We most recently worked together on a couple of remixes. He’s also performed at a dub festival I organized a few years ago. I see him in a line with people like Digital Mystikz— musicians who stretch boundaries. I think it’s important that even if you don’t work within a genre, you can still appreciate it. Pushing things forward is a good way to fight against nostalgia. That’s important because otherwise it all becomes too precious. ~ Adrian Sherwood
“Earthly Powers” (Permanent Vacation) I met Polina “Polly” Lapkovskaja for the first time in 2006. I remember being introduced by mutual friends at the Cosmic party in Die Registratur, a club in Munich. Back then she was still working as a promoter for a record company. Having only vaguely associated her with music, I can honestly say that I’m pleasantly surprised about how well Earthly Powers turned out. After all, it’s her first album under the Pollyester name together with Manuel da Coll, aka Yossarian. It’s rare to hear electronic pop music that’s so straight-forward and cleverly designed, but still remains playful. I think the track “Voices” is an excellent example of the sort of airiness that characterizes the entire album. The singing melody is very catchy and her voice is direct and upfront. This
is also underscored by the sparse instrumentation. Polly actually didn’t write this song—it’s a Russ Ballard cover. But to be honest, his version was anything but cool. In fact, it was a really sappy, almost reactionary power-rock ballad. I have exclusively negative associations with Ballard’s rock disco aesthetic. Everything he does becomes some sort of testosterone-fueled gesture; from the pretentious singing to the overdone reverb on the snare. The fact that Pollyester decided to cover this track despites its obvious deficiencies only speaks for their ability to hear the good within a jungle of bad. Of course, they put this flabby song on a serious diet. Or should I say: they gave it a close shave. This smelly, hairy eighties relic was suddenly transformed into a flawless contemporary electro-disco banger. Also, in choosing this particular track, the duo demonstrates not only self-irony but also selfconfidence. And the best thing is: Polly’s limited vocal range works very much to her advantage. It makes the whole album very easygoing. Actually, I don’t think the album would work if she had a trained voice. People say that Pollyester embody a very current, prototypically Munich sound with their similarities to acts like Moroder and Gomma, not to mention their Hi-NRG flair. I
Polina Lapkovskaja and Manuel da Coll form the kraut-disco duo Pollyester.
wouldn’t argue with that. But what makes this album really stand out is how it incorporates punk, disco and krautrock into the Cosmic sound— not to mention the smattering of Nico throughout. The result with Earthly Powers is a mosaic of styles that offers a larger image of what the future could hold for electronic music; and it never gets lost in its references. Finally, I can’t forget to mention that it sounds incredible. Chapeau to Jan Krause for the excellent mixing and production. ~ Wolfram
Wolfram is a musician and producer of electronic music. His first full-length debut, Wolfram, was recently released on Permanent Vacation.
Francis Ford Coppola “Apocalypse Now - Full Disclosure" (Arthaus/Kinowelt)
Finally, both the original and director’s cut in a single package. This is really the first time you can properly compare the two. What I find striking is how relevant Apocalypse Now remains, both politically and aesthetically. This isn’t a prescriptive film; it offers no solutions for ending wars or violence. Unlike Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, it features multiple anti-heroes. Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) doesn’t die a war hero’s death but instead is literally slaughtered by Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) while we’re shown the infamous parallel montage of an ox sacrifice. When Redux was released in 2001, it provided viewers with neverbefore-seen footage—scenes a US audience obviously wasn’t ready for in 1979. The scene when Willard and his squad stay overnight at the French plantation comes to mind . . . It’s more or less clear that the
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Apocalypse Now Redux: During Captain Willard’s encounter with French plantation owners, traditional European colonialism and American neo-imperialism collide. Images courtesy of Universal/Arthaus Thomas Schoenberger is a writer and art historian currently living in Bern, Switzerland.
plantation is located in an area that has yet to be affected by the war. The controversy at the dinner table focuses on the French plantation owner’s assertion that the US have, in a sense, created the Vietcong in order to gain control over Vietnam and kick the French out. Replace Vietnam with Afghanistan and the Vietcong with the Taliban and you start seeing some interesting parallels. But more importantly, Coppola is making a point about what supposedly constitutes a nation-state, namely cultural cohesion. Like the Middle East, Indochina was culturally defined in many ways, but not according to the borders the colonial powers wanted to draw. The artificiality of modern nationbuilding involves creating both an artificial unity and an artificial
enemy. Defining what’s external to the nation is the key to obtaining internal solidarity. Coppola makes this point by using an “aesthetic of terror”—forcing the viewer to be captivated by the horrors of war. Coppola was the first to really expose our fascination with destruction in such an extreme fashion. It’s horrifying to realize that the terror of war can be spellbinding, if not beautiful. For me, it was like seeing Goya’s etchings for the first time; I was as fascinated as I was disgusted with my own fascination. The way Coppola plays with the sensationalism of violence and volatility is similar to Ernst Jünger’s novel Storm of Steel, which makes beauty and destruction two sides of the same coin. I’m often reminded of Jünger’s description of the Parisian balcony where fresh
strawberries swim in a champagne goblet while the city is bombed. Coppola goes one step further in the opening sequence when he sets the screen ablaze while Jim Morrison sings “The End”, or when Lieutenant Kilgore commands the champion surfer in his platoon to surf—immediately after they’ve razed an entire Vietnamese village. We like it, and we hate ourselves for liking it. The box-set’s inclusion of Hearts of Darkness is also a real treat. The documentary chronicles the film’s harrowing 238-day shoot amidst civil war and tropical typhoons. The sets were destroyed and Martin Sheen even suffered a heart attack. It puts method acting into a whole new perspective. ~ THOMAS SCHOENBERGER
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Dieter Meier 1
memorable line in a film or song:
“Oh yeah . . .” (from “Oh Yeah” by Yello)
decisions I regret:
1) Having invested in the U.S. housing market. 2) Drinking my eleventh gin and tonic at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club on October 12, 1981 at 2:15 a.m.
people that should collaborate:
The Dalai Lama, Jürgen Habermas, Noam Chomsky. I hope they would venture beyond conventional critiques of capitalism to help find solutions for a better use of human intelligence.
things I haven’t done yet:
1) Hike in the Himalayas. 2) Surf in Hawaii. 3) Play the piano (properly). 4) Do nothing for six months.
things I used to believe:
1) That I was a very unimportant person. (I still believe it.) 2) That I can’t finish anything. 3) That Americans landed on the moon. 4) That God created the world. 5) That it’s OK to live in four-star hotels
hours ago . . .
I woke up depressed thinking about the highly unstructured day I had in front of me.
days I barely remember:
I’m currently enjoying the springtime of my senility, so there are hardly any days I can remember, these days.
p.m. . . .
I usually look forward to an insanely dry martini.
lives . . .
I’ve had 24,090 lives, every day anew.
years since 9/11 . . .
… and the so-called “War on Terror” continues on in the wrong direction. Trying to box a mosquito isn’t just impractical—it doesn’t work. The world needs to dry out the swamp that breeds terrorism by helping and respecting people. The hundreds of billions of dollars spent on war and firepower should have been invested in nation-building. Photo: Luci Lux
TWO Interviews 32 Music: “More Madness than Method” by Dan Snaith and Max Dax 46 Art: “Come on, this is a game. You play your part and I play mine” by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Ai Weiwei 56 Fashion: “A certain luxury we call freedom” by Alexander Kluge and Max Dax
More Madness Than Method Dan Snaith on the poetics of a blank slate Dan Snaith has few musical allegiances. The Canadian-born DJ, musician and front man of London-based Caribou is a fearless, if contemplative, champion of the idea that hybrid forms best serve aesthetic functions. For Snaith, hybridity isn’t just a sign of the times; it’s a vision of the future. Max Dax spoke with the globetrotting futurist in his apartment in London Holloway. Snaith can also be heard amongst the chorus of Holloway locals in our report on the longest road in London, where the boutique bondage shops are comfortably situated next to mosques, the fishmongers consult with the neighborhood fortuneteller, and echoes of the ghost of Joe Meek still resound. (Page 86) Dan Snaith was photographed by Luci Lux in his home recording studio and in the Sobell Leisure Centre, London Holloway. Dan, I once flew over Canada going from from London to L.A. and spent a good chunk of the flight staring at the endless ice landscape. I had to put my sunglasses on to get rid of the glare. After four hours of pure white, I finally spotted the first sign of civilization: farming grids.
Yeah, I know that all too well. How normal are extreme winters for you?
seems deeper. London is actually on a higher point of latitude and the weather is milder but the Canadian winter is strangely bright, far more glare than here. As a kid, I was outdoors all the time, even in winter. It was like a big playground; sledding or ice-skating or whatever. But as a teenager, I spent most of my time indoors playing music or hanging out with friends. The climate wasn’t such a big deal back then, but now I realize it’s one of the reasons I wouldn’t want to move back. It’s also typical of North America that none of the cities are more a couple hundred years old . . .
I was always aware of that! My parents, being English, would constantly say, “There’s no history here!” Obviously, there was a long Native American history in Canada before colonization, but that was almost completely destroyed. And unfortunately, they didn’t have the same archival structure . . . You mean, they had oral history instead?
Yeah, a different form of historical narrative. For most Canadians, “old” is a hundred-year-old building. On the flip side, living in London, I sometimes miss the lack of history—that can certainly be liberating. In what way?
It’s changed since I’ve been going back there as a visitor. Honestly, I have a hard time with Canadian winters. It’s much colder than when I remember growing up; the wind blows harder and the snow
It’s much easier for Canadians to form their own ideas about their identity. There’s a strong multicultural foundation, which is EB 2/2011
“Having a blank slate and no explicit tradition imposed on me as a musician is incredibly important. It’s what allows me to be open to taking an Ethiopian flute sample from one record and combine it with a synthesized bass track from another . . . even if I do it somewhat naively and it has larger musical implications.”
something I think most Canadians are proud of. Our self-conception is rightly based on being a nation of people from all over the world. This is true even in the crappy little town where I grew up. But somehow I think we envy the Europeans for their millennia of history—and this is an important aspect of a certain type of Canadian identity crisis. From your description, Canadian history and barren landscapes provide an enormous freedom; a sort of artistic tabula rasa . . .
Having a blank slate and no explicit tradition imposed on me as a musician is incredibly important. Ultimately, it’s what allows me to be open to taking an Ethiopian flute sample from one record and combining it with a synthesized bass track from another . . . even if I do it somewhat naively and it has larger musical implications. What are the implications of that kind of hybridity?
I think it projects rootlessness and, for me personally, it’s an expression of being an outsider. When I was growing up, I spoke with a British accent at home and a Canadian one in school, and musically, I wasn’t into any of the stuff my peers were listening to at the time. I should have been getting off on Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr. records, but back then I hated that stuff. I was much more into Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I’ve often thought about what it would have been like to grow up in a place where you can really identify with the music being made at the time, like New York in the late seventies. But maybe it would have been just a big burden. I mean, if tomorrow I gave up Caribou and started making death metal, I don’t think anybody would say, “Dan Snaith is going against his roots!” I definitely don’t feel any allegiance to anything. That’s somewhat surprising to hear, because there appears to be such a clear thread that runs through the fabric of your music. For all its eclecticism, Caribou possesses a pretty recognizable sonic fingerprint, so to speak.
I think that’s true, but it’s also two sides of the same coin: On the one hand, it’s the diversity of elements and influences that defines Caribou, while on the other, all of the music that I make is stamped with my identity. But it’s common for my generation—or at least amongst my friends—to appropriate ideas as we see fit. It’s not as simple as identifying yourself with a genre or a cultural movement anymore. You have to move in between things and figure out what’s essentially you, what makes you happy.
Jenny Holzer famously said, “Lack of charisma can be fatal.” How would you define your musical voice?
When I made my first records years ago, I worried about whether, after everything’s stripped away from the music, there would be anything left that’s mine. It would be tragic if my music wasn’t more than just the sum if its influences . . . But I think there are ways of preventing that. I still have a policy of not including things that are too easily appropriated in order to really hone in on my sound. That kind of self-censorship takes discipline.
Yeah, it’s not easy to decide against using something that’s worked so well in the past, like with these big, airy drum samples I had thrown on a bunch of tracks from Andorra. Soundwise, I’m still not sure I can actually articulate what’s “mine” or what belongs to “my sound”, but as a musician I don’t have to, and I feel comfortable with that. Before I saw Caribou play live in the Berghain in Berlin, I expected a much more electronic, dance-oriented show. And then you came out singing with two drummers, a bass player, washed in guitar feedback, playing the bells, triggering synthesizers. That’s when I thought, “He’s a conductor!”
You were surprised? I think of the live show and the albums almost as two different entities. With Swim, I actually divided up the songs into Caribou stuff and my own DJ stuff . . . “Odessa” being a Caribou track, for example?
Yeah, because it’s a pop song. But tracks like “Bowls” or “Sun” were composed as dance music and intended to be functional in that sense. I had a certain obsession with functionality during that period; I was wondering whether I could create something that would elicit an immediate physical response from people in a club. I mean, it’s easy to create generic dance music and to figure out when and where stuff should build or drop. But the best dance tracks often sound so accidental and non-conformist. For example, take Theo Parish: his music doesn’t necessarily work when you’re listening to it at home, but when you’re in a club it just hits you and your body understands it. Are you talking about the volume? The club context? The feeling on the dancefloor?
I mean the physicality of the music, the way it just envelopes you. EB 2/2011
“When I made my first records years ago, I worried about whether, after everything’s stripped away from the music, there would be anything left that’s mine. It would be tragic if my music wasn’t more than just the sum if its influences . . . But I think there are ways of preventing that. I still have a policy of not including things that are too easily appropriated in order to really hone in on my sound.”
I suppose context also has something to with it. When I made “Bowls” at home, I didn’t think it was ever going to make people dance. Then Keiran Hebden played it as a surprise one night at Plastic People and everybody just threw their hands in the air and had a ball with it, so I didn’t change the track from the original first home recording to the album version. But I also never expected it to have that effect, to translate in that way. That’s a great example of how important the mysteriousness of not understanding how you made something can be. A marriage of the functionality of dance music and the freedom of improvisation and appropriation?
That’s exactly what it is. When I made Andorra, I had just started listening to dance music again after taking a break for four or five years. What really got me back into it was listening to stuff like James Holden and realizing how weird this music really is. Compositionally, it’s not like with a normal band where you first write a melody and then a bass part and then a drum part and then everything else. Instead, you establish some danceable, repetitive, formulaic foundation and then work on top of it, maybe with some weird, pitch-shifted melody or a backwards flute sample or whatever. That’s when you realize that there’s more madness than method to this music, and that’s what I really like about it. Is this an example of electronic musicians reaping the fruits of the digital age?
In terms of accessibility and sampling, for sure. But accessibility doesn’t just mean being able to do things really quickly and easily. It also means having to wade through endless possibilities of manipulation . . . a process that potentially makes things more complicated. That’s particularly true in dance music, but whether it works to your advantage or disadvantage is a matter of approach. For example, Ricardo Villalobos has been very vocal in his criticism of Ableton Live [electronic music software] because it’s made the whole process of creating dance tracks so easy. I think that’s a valid criticism, but it’s not the only way of seeing it. There are definitely ways of making new music with software like that . . . like in their misuse. The less obvious ways of using new software—the “wrong” ways—‘open the door to all sorts of new sounds. Combined with the sheer accessibility of songs and sounds today, the edges and the 38
extremities of music have become absorbed into the middle. Crate digging has become popularized . . .
And so easy! I’m constantly blown away by the speed of change and development in the digital era. It all happens right in front of your eyes. I don’t have any phantasies or nostalgia about living in another era or in an exclusively analogue world. I occasionally go back and forth. I remember hunting for obscure records before EBay and YouTube, and part of the attraction was the process itself . . . not to mention the obscurity of the objects. Also, you were dealing with real, physical things. What you’re describing sounds like objects of fetish.
Not entirely—that kind of fascination with materiality is much stronger for people ten years older than me. I inherited a bit of that because those were people that I looked up to, musicians like like Pete Rock or RZA who coveted records as physical objects and whose music was based on that kind of obsession. I learned how to find samples by reading about how they did it. Today, that idea must seem totally ludicrous to somebody making music who’s ten years younger than me. They probably ask themselves why anybody would spend their time looking for the physical object when the music is right in front of their face. I tend to straddle the line because I still buy tons of vinyl - mostly new music. Because you need it to DJ?
No, I actually prefer to play CDs. I’m not part of the school of thought that thinks everything sounds better on vinyl. That’s only the case when the turntables are well cared for in clubs, and they’re usually not. As an outsider, I don’t feel tied to a culture of vinyl at all costs. Of course, I like the fact that when I buy a record, the money goes to the artist and I also get to own this physical thing. But I buy plenty of digital stuff as well. Does this hold true for things other than music?
I own plenty of movies, but that’s an interest that’s developed over past five to ten years. I have friends who grew up seeing music as part of a greater world of the arts. That’s not what I grew believing.
Dan’s Top 46
I could have quite happily lived only with music for the rest of my life. But that changed when I discovered the films of Tarkovsky and Werner Herzog, amongst others.
1. Daphni – “Antilles (unreleased)”
I didn’t know you were a film buff.
2. Westwood Cash – “Psycho For Your Love”
I would say I’m more of a budding film fan. When I was travelling through China, I came across dozens of markets where they weren’t just selling fruit, vegetables, and scorpions but also entire libraries of amazing and somewhat obscure cinema, all sorted by director— basically everything that won Palm d’Or in Cannes and beyond. Even though this stuff isn’t necessarily popular there, you’ll find exquisitely packaged box sets with all the extra scenes and extra footage on every second street corner, believe it or not. A friend of mine told me that the head of the DVD bootleg ring is actually a huge film buff, so I guess that explains it. A forty volume Chinese Fassbinder box set will literally take up half your suitcase.
3. Theo Parrish – “Feel Free To Be…” 4. Daphni – “Yes I Know (unreleased)” 5. Rim & Kasa – “Love Me For Real” 6. Virgo Four – “It‘s A Crime (Caribou Mix)” 7. Storm Queen – “Look Right Through” 8. Francis Bebey – “Forest Whistle (Daphni Edit)” 9. Louis Wasson – “Sietsha” 10. Pheeroan Ak Laff – “3 in 1” 11. Jacques Greene – “Baby I Don‘t Know What You Want” 12. St. Germain – “Alabama Blues (Todd Edwards Dub)”
Isn’t it surprising how authentic some of the bootlegs look?
13. Steve Poindexter – “Moment Of Insanity”
I once saw a Chinese Tarkovsky box set that looked like the most sought-after collector’s edition you could possibly find . . . This is how I got to see a lot of these movies for the first time: piracy!
14. Nice & Soft – “Wish” 15. Wookie – “Battle” 16. Les Sins – “Lina” 17. Implog – “Holland Tunnel Drive” 18. Iration Steppas – “Hard Times Dub” 19. Konono N°1 – “Mama Liza” 20. Four Tet – “Pinnacles” 21. Dan Bell – “Electric Shock”
What Tarkovsky film has inspired you most?
My first was Andrei Rublev and I think it’s still my favorite. I thought it would’ve been Mirror.
27. Gerd – “At the Club (DJ Koze Remix)”
I like Mirror, but I’m not necessarily looking for the same things in film that I do in music. When I was making Andorra, I was obsessed with Werner Herzog, particularly Fitzcarraldo and The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner. The latter is truly the visual equivalent to all the German progressive rock bands that I love so much. It seems kind of obvious because of the Popul Vuh soundtrack, but even without that you can tell that it’s the analogue of what was going on musically in Germany at the time.
28. Wbeeza – “He‘s So Crazy”
You mean in terms of the freedom of Herzog’s imagery?
22. Houn Pierre – “Mansou Djouwi” 23. 4D – “Fauve Moderne” 24. Urban Culture – “Wonders of Wishing” 25. Jatoma – “Luvdisc” 26. Art Department – “We Call Love (Daphni Mix)”
29. ROB – “Boogie On” 30. Jodeci – “Freek‘n‘You (MK Dub)” 31. Bob Holroyd – “African Drug (Four Tet Remix)” 32. Transvolta – “Disco Computer” 33. Harmonious Thelonious – “Mokambo” 34. Todd Terry – “Searchin” 35. The Flirts – “Passion (Extended Mix)” 36. Jesse Green – “Flip”
I would say in terms of newness and innovation, not having artistic forbearers. That kind of innovation usually involves transgressing borders. For Herzog, this sometimes meant spending millions of Deutschmarks on realizing a vision that few others could share in, at least at the time. Do you find this kind of dedication to a singular vision inspiring?
42. Jackal Youth – “Let Me Be”
Yes. Almost all of my musical and cultural heroes are obsessed with maintaining their own voice in what they do artistically. I remember watching Herzog for the first time and literally running into the next room to make music. That was a new experience for me, one that’s made easier by having a home studio. I continue to feel inspired by the creativity of other media because in the end, a creative act is a creative act. Although I don’t know much about visual art or poetry. Poetry in particular is something I’ve never grasped.
43. MJ Cole – “Sincere (Y2K Dub)”
You don’t read poetry?
37. Moodymann – “Black Mahogani” 38. Holden – “Idiot” 39. Kenny Larkin – “Glob” 40. Daphni – “Get Things Straight (unreleased)” 41. Isolee – “Beau Mot Plage”
44. Garcons – “French Boy” 45. Stereolab – “Super Electric” 46. Nina Simone – “22nd Century”
Only casually. For me, poetry comes across as an analogue of classical music, although I don’t know if it’s a good comparison. Seems a bit like apples and oranges.
“The less obvious ways of using new software—the ‘wrong’ ways—open the door to all sorts of new sounds. Combined with the sheer accessibility of songs and sounds today, the edges and the extremities of music have become absorbed into the middle.”
That’s probably true. I haven’t read enough poetry to come to that conclusion. It’s just something I have yet to wrap my head around.
irrelevant. For me, it wasn’t about the results, but rather the research process itself and the problem solving involved.
Poetry can certainly be high art, but it can also be a sort of sport, like in Japanese Haiku culture, where poets compete to capture the most original linguistic snap-shot.
The bricolage aspect of your music would seem to place research at the center of the song writing process.
My experience with almost everything is that when I start learning about it, I get excited by it. You have a PhD in mathematics, but often emphasize irrational and unharnessable aspects of writing music. Do you also feel drawn towards mathematical or logical patterns? And do your analytical abilities point you in a certain musical direction, like, for example, with the functionality or layering of dance music?
The fascinating thing about music is that it expresses something fundamental about the mathematics of the world around us, our natural biology, our chemistry. But it also equally expresses our tendency to love things that are complicated and inconvenient. Both of these things appeal to me: achieving a perfect musical symmetry, but also disrupting that symmetry. And would that be a conscious approach to listening and playing music on your part?
I suppose so. Mathematics always appealed to me for those reasons as well. What’s unique to math is that when things are true, they’re really true. When things fit together, that’s the end of the story. There’s only one correct answer. But until you get to the point where abstract ideas work together, there’s this sense of dealing with a certain mathematical chaos and the necessity of finding creative solutions. There may be one correct answer, but there’s often more than one way to figure it out. In the end, the payoff in mathematics is huge, because when you’re right, you’re right.
It’s a different kind of research for making music, one that’s less analytical and more aesthetic. I would say travelling plays a pretty big role in that sense. Being in Ethiopia was hugely influential on me in that sense. In a recent issue of Monocle, Tyler Brulee said that Addis Ababa was one of the most exciting cities in the world. What was so special about Ethiopia for you?
I think Ethiopia is truly one of the most underappreciated countries, and Addis has so much to offer—culturally, visually, and musically. But the areas outside the city also blew me away. There’s this amazing dry, craggy landscape, sort of like the American southwest. These were the even more interesting places for me, because they give off this kind of cradle-of-civilization aura. Tigrid, which is a northern province, is one of the hottest places on earth. It’s also populated by tons of ancient clay and rock churches carved into the sides and on top of mountains and cliffs. Some are more than fifteen hundred years old. The Ethiopan church was kicked out of the fold by the rest of Christianity pretty early on, so it ended up developing independently. And these churches are still in use. There are handholds built into the side of mountains that go up almost a hundred meters, like a climbing wall. I climbed up one to check out a church and it was terrifying, which made it even more fascinating that the people in these villages do it several times a day—even the children and old women. The priest himself was almost ninety years old and he ran up and down the thing no problem. Were music and research the driving factors for you to go there initially?
Have you ever proven something significant as a mathematician?
I’ve proven something original, but I would still call it pretty trivial. When I was writing my dissertation, I took the results of one problem and generalized them in their application to have a broader mathematical significance. The funny thing is that my former advisor who lives around the corner told me that another student recently took my results and was able to draw much broader conclusions and applications . . . which basically rendered my research
Music, for sure, especially the Ethiopiques reissues. These releases really blew a lot of people’s minds because the music just sounds so different than everything else—kind of like how Ethiopia, culturally speaking, is so different than the countries it borders. I’d been listening to Ethiopian records for years, but what I had didn’t compare to the sheer volume of the Ethiopiques series which is, like, twenty CDs. There are so many incredible musicians on there—Mulatu Astatke, Mahmoud Ahmed, Getachew Mekurya—too many to name. EB 2/2011
You mentioned before that composing for you involves finding a symmetry between what’s intuitive and making more analytical decisions. Ethiopian music is immensely complex, both harmonically and rhythmically. There are usually multiple patterns interweaving or being layered on top of each other. At the same time, the music remains very danceable. Is this contrast something you especially relate to?
For my ear, the scales, modes and harmonic framework of Ethiopian music are remarkably unique and sound nothing like Western popular or classical music. And that’s a large part of what appeals to me, because the bedrock of my musical taste is the spiritual free jazz of the sixtees and seventies—Pharaoh Sanders, Albert Ayler, stuff like that. I’m not surprised. I love the fact that Ethiopian pop and jazz has a real dancehall tradition and that it was never divorced from people dancing and grooving to it . . . even if it was more geared towards the Ethiopian elite. There was always a strong connection between Ethiopia’s more avant-garde jazz and the country’s popular music. You can hear it in the richness of the songwriting. There’s such a broad palette being used. That seems like an accurate description of what you do as well, especially in regards to combining disparate influences.
Often the most fertile way of making something “new” is by combining disparate music, and this is also the way I’ve worked for years. I’ve been making music since I was thirteen and the first time I felt I had created something worth releasing was when I started combining electronic elements with acoustic elements; whether it was a sample of a harp and drum machine or an acoustic guitar and a synthesizer. This is the first time I started seeing my music as identifiably mine, and it was the synthesis of things that felt so exciting and pushed it in that direction. That being said, there’s tons of music I love where it’s completely clear what it is, like a Carl Craig remix, or King Tubby or whatever . . . although I suppose Carl Craig is a bad example because he’s done all sorts of different things. In the end, even the music that is unambiguously of a “single” genre was, at some point, also a mix of other genres. I imagine that’s probably a necessary condition in the creation of a new genre. I can recall thinking when I was young that certain genres were off limits. I can also remember transgressing these personal borders and the worlds that opened up for me as a result. This was my experience in discovering jazz. How rigid were your musical borders and how did you get past them?
I grew up playing classical piano, though I never really enjoyed listening to classical music. As a teenager I still took lessons, but I had moved on to pop music and learning to improvise around more convential stuff, like The Beatles or whatever. That was the first time I got interested in playing and performing. But pretty soon, my teacher told me that if I really wanted to improvise, I would be much better off taking jazz lessons. So I just totally immersed myself in jazz piano. During the summer, I would play five to six hours a day, and when school started up again, I would try to get in an hour or two before first period. I was obsessed with really learning song structure, harmony, theory and the scales behind it all. And of course, I was really into practicing, practicing, practicing. Because everything I’d read and everyone I talked to said that if you want to get really good at this, you have to spend all your time doing it. 42
Joe Zawinul has said it’s a lifestyle.
Yeah, and he’s not the only one. You play to the exclusion of everything else, which is something I ended up doing. But initially, I was into the safer, more traditional jazz – more classical bebop and stuff like that. And then I went to university and everything changed. I randomly picked up some Penguin Classic anthology of important jazz records and was exposed for the first time to a proper jazz canon. The book had these ratings of important records, and I’m sure if I picked it up again today, I would disagree with a lot of it, because the more conventional stuff got such high ratings. But I have to credit the book with exposing me to Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity, which they gave five stars. I’d never heard of Ayler, but I decided to go out and buy the record. That was a day I’ll never forget; everything changed for me, and I pretty much instantly stopped caring about be-bop records and only listened to free jazz. Jazz rhythm sections are responsible for providing an anchor to the more deconstructive tendencies of soloists. This is less true for free jazz, but still applies there as well. With piano, the anchoring and soloing can be done at the same time. Who was inspirational for you as a pianist?
If you had asked me back in the day, I could have given you a long list of pianists. But my perspective and mode of operating as a musician has changed so drastically, that naming clear influences for individual instruments is something I can’t really relate to anymore. My heroes today are almost all producers or musicians using other instruments. And my interest has to do with their contributions to writing music, not how they play their instrument. I used to be able to play the piano really well. I can’t do that anymore because I don’t practice. But what I do practice all the time is producing and writing songs. What producers do you admire?
Again, there are so many. I really like Charles Stephney, who produced the Rotary Connection albums, a kind of a symphonic soul music. For hip-hop I’m really into Timbaland; for dance music, Carl Craig and Theo Parish. I really like Bryan Wilson, of course. Joe Meek is great too. He actually lived and recorded on Holloway Road near my apartment. He was a real studio pioneer who built some of the first echo machines and effects. I think his biggest hit was “Telstar”. Great song. What about musicians who mine non-western music for their sound?
I suppose there’s a pretty long history of people who’ve done it, from The Beatles and Bryan Jones to David Byrne and whoever else. Personally, I’m always discovering stuff when I travel. My last trip to China was really inspiring, but unlike Ethiopa, it wasn’t supposed to be for the music. Actually, my wife had become fascinated with this fermented Chinese tea called Pu-erh, which is only made in the tropical southwestern province of Hunan. In the end, the trip was also enlightening for me musically, but that wasn’t the impetus for going. I really love the chance aspect of the process of discovery. I recently took a vacation to Italy for the express purpose of visiting a pasta factory. It’s a different holiday than one spent at the beach. I enjoy a good day at the beach, but after two days I’m bored already. ~ Want to read more? www.electronicbeats.net
“Come on, this is a game. You play your par t and I play mine” hans ulrich obrist Visits Ai weiwei
Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing. He grew up in Xinjiang Province and attended the Beijing Film Academy during the late 1970s. In 1979, he helped found China’s premier avant-garde art group “Stars”. He relocated to the United States in the early 1980s and spent a decade in New York City. Since returning to China in 1993, he has emerged as a highly influential cultural figure and a mentor to many of the artists in Beijing’s East Village. Ai’s own creative practice is diverse, spanning multiple disciplines. Aside from his sculptural output, he is director of the architectural studio FAKE Design, and he built the National Olympic Stadium in Beijing. His contrarian views and criticism of the Chinese government frequently appear in the local and international press. From 2005 to 2009, he has maintained a popular blog that combined writings on social and political themes with an unending stream of photos documenting his daily life. On April 3, 2011, Chinese authorities detained Ai Weiwei at Beijing International Airport. Hans Ulrich Obrist interviewed Ai Weiwei at his home studio in Beijing. The transcription first appeared in Hans Ulrich Obrist’s book “The China Interviews”, Office for Discourse Engineering, Hong Kong and Beijing, 2009, edited by Philip Tinari and Angie Baecker.
This is a digital camera. Yes. Do you use this camera for your blog?
Yes, the blog is such a wonderful thing. You can talk immediately to people you don’t know. You don’t know their background and they don’t know yours. It’s like walking down the street and finding a lady on a street corner. You speak to her directly, and then maybe you start fighting . . . or making love. When did you start the blog?
I was forced to start the blog by a big Internet company. They said, “Oh, you’re well-known, we’ll give you a blog.” I didn’t have a computer and hadn’t done this before, which I told them. They said “No, no—you can learn how to do it. We can send somebody to show you.” In the beginning, I put up older writings and works. Soon after, I started to type, to write, and I was totally seduced. Yesterday, I put up something like twelve blog posts after I came home. Last night?
Ai Weiwei, Munich, September 7, 2009 Photo: Frank Bauer/Contour by Getty Images
Yes, twelve posts. You can put a hundred photos in one blog entry. People often tell me, “You have so many photos from one day!” Photos can be anything . . . they can be about anything. I think EB 2/2011
“I’m sure once somebody looks at my blog, they start looking at the world differently with out even knowing it. This is why the Commu nists censored everything from the beginning on. They are the sole source of propaganda in China.”
How many people visit your blog?
a very, very extreme atmosphere. Even to this day, people still tell me to be careful and not to be too critical in my blog. But I think that everybody has to do things their own way. So far, it’s been okay. I often discuss political conditions and social problems in my blog. I think I’m the only one in China.
Can we look at your blog right now?
Yes, I can show you some of the entries. Life in blogs is real because it’s your own life, and life is about using up time, nothing more. How you use the time is what matters. When I use it, one hundred thousand people are also looking at my blog; they all spend a small amount of time much like I do. A lot of people have said to me, “You can’t stop blogging! You should be careful—if they arrest you, what are we going to do?” Their pleas get pretty sentimental: “We need you! Looking at your blog has become a part of our lives.” It’s very funny.
that’s real information, a free exchange. It’s a carefree, responsibility-free communicative solution that accurately reflects my condition.
In one day, there are usually around one hundred thousand visitors. More than any exhibition ever.
Yes, ever. I can have an “opening” every minute of every day if I want to, and this is very important to me. If I make art, I do it on a schedule. People visit the site and come back a half hour later. If I’m lucky, I’ll make a very good installation for someone I don’t know, somewhere I don’t know—maybe in Amsterdam. With the blog, the moment I touch the keyboard, a young girl, an old man or a farmer can read my post and say, “Look at all this different stuff, this guy is crazy.” So it’s instantaneous?
Yes. With this camera you take photo graphs everyday, wherever you are?
Yes, whatever the situation. I guess I’m a bit overwhelmed, because when we grew up, we had no freedom of expression. You could even report your father or mother to the authorities if they said something wrong. This was 46
Clearly, people care . . .
And they’re willing to wait. If I don’t update my blog, they’ll stay up all night just to be the first one to see the new content and then comment on it. In China, we call being the first to comment shafa, which literally translates as “sofa”. It’s as if the commenter were the first in a room to sit down on the couch. If you’re shafa, it means you’re a real fan and you really care about what I’m talking about. So no matter what time I get home at night, I always blog at least a few words. Every day?
Self-portrait in New York’s East Village, 1985, where Ai Weiwei spent ten years. Photo: Ai Weiwei
Yes. At the moment, I don’t know how long it’ll go on for. Maybe it’ll be stopped by the authorities. They visited me once to tell me that my blog entries were too sensitive and asked me to take some of my posts down. What happened?
“I think now is the moment. This is the beginning. We don’t know what it’s the moment of, and maybe something much crazier and unexpected will happen . . . but we see the sunshine coming in. It was cloudy for maybe a hundred years. Our whole condition was very sad, but we still felt a certain warmth. The life in our bodies can still tell that there is excitement to be had, even though death is waiting.”
realize that, we’re totally irresponsible. We are We negotiated and they were very a productive reality. polite. I said, “Come on, this is That’s particularly interesting in relation a game. I play my part, you play to blogs. Maybe the blog doesn’t so much yours. You can block it if you must represent reality but produce it. because it’s very easy for you to do so. But I can’t self-censor; speaking That’s true. It’s like a monster . . . it grows! my mind is the only reason I have I’m sure once somebody looks at my blog, the blog.” So they thought about they start looking at the world differently it and called me back and said, without even knowing it. This is why the “Because of the current political situation, we really respect what “Wild pig in Xinjiang”, 2006. This photograph would eventually be- Communists censored everything from the you’re doing.” I think China is at a come the iconic image of Ai Weiwei’s blog. In: Hans Ulrich Obrist: beginning on. They are the sole source of propaganda in China, and have been very very interesting moment in history. The China Interviews, Office for Discourse Engineering, 2009 successful at it for the last fifty years. But Power and the political center have because the country is opening up and suddenly disappeared in the unibecause the world economy continues to versal sense because of the Internet, grow with Chinese participation, they won’t survive. They can’t global politics, and the economy. Various Internet outlets have survive and they have to allow a certain amount of freedom. But become key in liberating people from old values and systems . . . this can’t be controlled once it is allowed. something that’s never been possible until today. I definitely think technology has created a new world, because our brains—from the very beginning—are based on digesting and absorbing information. That’s how we function. However, neurological conditions change and we don’t even know it. Theories always come later. These really are fantastic times. Right now.
On the main page of your blog, there is an image of an ox. Perhaps you took the picture in Xinjiang. It’s always the first image you see, kind of like the blog’s logo.
I actually just changed it. And by the way: It wasn’t an ox, it was a wild pig. Some people might see it as the blog’s icon or trademark .
I think now is the moment. This is the beginning. We don’t know what it’s the moment of, and maybe something much crazier and unexpected will happen . . . but we see the sunshine coming in. It was cloudy for maybe a hundred years. Our whole condition was very sad, but we still felt a certain warmth. The life in our bodies can still tell that there is excitement to be had, even though death is waiting. We shouldn’t just enjoy the moment, but rather create it ourselves. Do you produce the moment?
We all do, because we're actually a part of reality. And if we don't
Some people used to see it as a blood-colored pig heading west with no direction. It was up for one whole year, so I changed it to one of a cat, because in our architectural studio, my staff spends all day trying to make beautiful models, and then at night, there are eight cats that destroy everything. They’re the only thing better than our government at tearing up the city. The only difference is that our cats do it faster . . . literally while we’re making plans for the city. It’s really a great metaphor for us because we, as a people, love architecture and design. We try to change the world and build new models that always get torn up and demolished at night. They are beautiful things waiting to be destroyed for their pleasure. EB 2/2011
“When we grew up, we had no freedom of expression. You could even report your father or mother to the authorities. This was a very extreme atmosphere. Even to this day, people still tell me to be careful and not to be too critical in my blog. But I think that everybody has to do things their own way.”
Would you say that cats are architects? Urbanists? Yes, they are. Cat urbanists. Ai Qing Cultural Park, Jinhua, Jiejiang, 2002-2003
[Conversation moves to another room, where Ai Weiwei shows Hans Ulrich Obrist some of his new works.] That’s what I did last night. I was up until 3 a.m.
Photo courtesy of Ai Weiwei
into this house paint, and then you can call them “colored vases”. This is also the name of the series. Is each vase different?
So this is a new ceramic series?
Yes. Ceramics are kind of crazy. I hate it . . . but I do it anyways. I think if you hate something so much, you have to take part in it. You have to use the hate. As an exercise.
Correct. And these boxes—are they architectural maquettes?
They’re full of vases. [Opens a box and displays a vase.] These are three- to five-thousand-year-old objects of cultural art. Just dip them Left: “Fairytale”, 2007. 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs (1644–1911), dimensions variable. Project for Documenta 12, Kassel, Germany, 2007. Installation view at Ai Weiwei’s studio, 2007 Courtesy: The artist; Leister Foundation, Switzerland; Erlenmeyer Stiftung, Switzerland and Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne Previous page: Bejing, China, August 8, 2009. 33,996 people gather to break the world record for the largest number of people practicing Tai Chi outside the National Olympic Stadium. Photo: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images Following page (clockwise): “Neolithic Pottery Museum”, Jinhua, Zhejiang, China, 2007. In: Ai Weiwei: Architecture, DAAB Media, 2011; “Concrete decorated like brick on a huotong doorway in Beijing“, 2006. In: Hans Ulrich Obrist: The China Interviews, Office for Discourse Engineering, 2009 / “Yiwu River Bank Landscape Design”, Jinhua, Zhejiang, China, 2003. In: Ai Weiwei: Architecture, DAAB Media, 2011 / Plain-clothes policemen prepare with officials to enter the studio owned by Ai Weiwei in Beijing April 8, 2011 (Reuters/ David Gray)
Yes, they’re all different. Is it all one piece?
No, they’re different pieces. On this vase, you can still see the old painting poking through the surface. The wall over there is part of a new series that I’m doing—I’m creating a perfect wall object that has no meaning, no function. It doesn’t know what to do other than take up space. And what are these?
Those are part another work, a series of colored Neolithic rocks. They’re anywhere between five to ten thousand years old. I’ve heard a lot about the Museum of Modern Art’s visit to your home. Who came, and can you describe what exactly happened?
On May 20th, the MoMA’s International Council sent sixty or seventy people to China to do a review of contemporary art. That was the day my studio became a landmark on the cultural map. It was a big group with top collectors, top people. Does everybody who visits Beijing’s art community come to your studio now?
Yes, everybody comes. It’s like a tourist shop—a place you have to go to because it sells ginseng, like it’s really good for your health or longevity or something. Groups come here on their way to the Great Wall. The MoMA group came on the 64th anniversary of when the Communists’ monumental meeting on literature and art at the EB 2/2011
“Because the country is opening up and because the world economy continues to grow with Chinese participation, they won’t survive. They can’t survive and they have to allow a certain amount of freedom. But this can’t be controlled once it is allowed.”
[Shows the video on a laptop.]
end of the Long March. There Chairman Mao gave a speech now known as “Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Arts” which to this day remains a kind of official bible for Communists. It’s where Mao declares that art exists to serve the people. They came on the same day?
Here there’s some grass hiding the camera. Soon, the group starts to study the grass. They don’t realize what’s going on. I think the film gives the impression that it’s a long visit. “Coca Cola”, 1994, Han Dynasty Urn (206 BC–8 AD), paint Sigg Collection
Yes, these aren’t old people, but they are The very same day . . . it can’t be Following page: “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn”, 1995 all walking very slowly. It’s all really a coincidence. Everything’s rela- Courtesy: The artist and Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne according to their movement. ted, and if we can’t see how at Are you planning to post the video on the moment, it only means we’ll your blog? What do you think the reactions will be? understand it better in the future. I said that I should make this anniversary a topic of the discussion because my father had been To this? I don’t know. I can’t see the consequences. I just do things part of the original forum . . . he was a top literary figure at the without thinking about the before and after. time. But the forum had a destructive effect on art and literature in China, making it devoid of personal and human elements, ignoring You just do it. the human condition, and eventually turning into something very brutal. Many people were damaged by the ideas that came out of the Yes. I don’t imagine things. I have no imagination, no memory. I act Yan’an forum. So we decided to do the only thing we could at the on the moment. MoMA meeting: record the whole thing without the group noticing. You used secret cameras to record the MoMA contingent?
Yes. We filmed them when they went to Factory 798, then we followed their car from far away when they went to see the artists. Nobody knew. We waited for so long for them to come back. We even have the driver on tape saying, “Fuck! It’s taking them forever just to go to an artist’s studio.” Then they drove to my house. The cameras were hidden in the grass so they couldn’t see them.
Yes, the present. Maybe they’ll hate it; maybe they’ll think it is okay; maybe they’ll even like it. It’s perfect because nobody thought to record it.
It’s a protest against forgetting.
Maybe their children will buy it or something. It’s like a group portrait in a very particular moment in time.
Yes, very small cameras. The whole piece is about showing every possible perspective, recording everyone and making sure we can later identify who everyone is. It’s a very long clip, so I’ll just show you a sample. 54
All under some sort of suspicious political and cultural conditions. When is this piece from? [Points at image of Mao]
“I can have an opening every minute of every day if I want to, and this is very important to me. If I make art, I do it on a schedule. People visit the site and come back a half hour later.”
Yesterday. This guy died thirty years ago, Chairman Mao. It was just the thirty-year anniversary of his death. Do you have an archive of your work?
Yes. Here’s an article about the thirty-year anniversary of the death of Mao. I’m probably going to write about what a criminal he was. It’s such a historic situation. A nation that will not truly search for its own past or be critical of it is a shameless nation. We have to work on that. [Pulling up new picture.] Here’s an interesting one: this is my mother’s home in downtown Beijing. Today, most of Beijing has been renovated. My home used to have a real brick facade. One day we came home to find everything had been repainted. I decided to write a blog entry about it. In protest?
Yes, because this went too far. It’s a very interesting article. [Displays an article from the blog on his computer.] In just one night, the whole of Beijing was repainted. My article is about how we have lost our homeland and instead have a very different world, a different dream. I actually got a call from a magazine today that wanted to print it because they loved it so much. They asked, “Can we take out the political part?” Otherwise it would be impossible for them to print. I said, “Okay, do whatever you want. I don’t care.” [Shows picture.] This was another brick wall. See what they did? They just poured concrete right over it—amazing! This is private property and they don’t even announce the changes. In one day, the whole of Beijing has a new façade, a new skin. Everything is painted.
Cain and Todd Benson: “Confessions of Ai Weiwei”, mixed media collage, 2011
and took photos of how they did it. When I went home, I asked my mom, “Why did you allow them to do this?” She said, “They did it to everybody! What can we do? They said it’s good.” I said it’s like putting a gold tooth on a mouse. Why is it necessary ? All the fake walls—it’s crazy. The old town disappeared in one night. I mean, it's my home. In the end, we decided to take the door off. You removed it?
I removed one piece and I left one piece. It would be great to put it in the context of an exhibition.
People can see it and check it out during the exhibition . . . every day in Beijing. The title would be the name of my blog. Maybe we can work together on that.
You’d like to collaborate?
Yes, very fast indeed. It’s totally crazy . . . There is so much stupidity and nobody writes about it.
So you write about things that nobody else writes about?
Yes. I mean, what’s wrong with this world? Everybody celebrates crazy, ridiculous things. I wrote a blog post about the repainting
We’ll monitor Beijing for you for this show. Very exciting—thank you very much. Keep us informed. ~ EB 2/2011
EB 2/2011 23 EB 2/2011 58
fashion with Alexander kluge
A certain luxury we call freedom The world according to acclaimed German director, novelist and producer Alexander Kluge is full of veils, masks, and hidden agendas. And not always in a bad way. From facial expressions to DNA, life is illusory and coded. But masks aren’t just forms of self-preservation through misrepresentation; they also provide freedom through anonymity—or protection from radioactive exposure. In Munich, the auteur explains to Max Dax why masks are beyond good and evil and how novels are instruction manuals for deception. Mr. Kluge, why do people wear masks?
That’s like asking why people don’t run around naked. Why do we wear clothes? Why do we have skin? Why is there external protection even at the cellular level? The answer is that life itself isn’t naked, and it’s for the same reason that you can’t transport water in the desert just by cupping your hands: you need a proper container. All forms of life need a house, a shield, a casing. It’s a basic human need to have a cave or an acre of land that belongs to you and you alone. In the end, there are only two kinds of human beings: cavedwellers and prairie people. If the prairie person is denied mobility or the cave-dweller is denied protection, they’re barely able to survive. It’s a natural human tendency to light candles in the cave for comfort in winter, and let the sky to be your roof in summer. All poetry is about these two states of being. You once said that the reality that human communities construct is like a second skin that makes life bearable.
And I stand by it. Our first skin serves to hold us together physically; if our organs were exposed, we wouldn’t be able to survive. Skin is a casing that, first and foremost, protects us. But in order to survive
socially, our physical skin is not enough—and that’s why people construct a second skin called “reality”, something that’s constantly changing. My grandparents had an entirely differently constructed reality than my children. We build our realities according to our personal, social and political circumstances . . . and we do it in order to survive. Human beings are simply unable to deal with an unadorned reality. Is the second skin you call reality a kind of mask?
I would say the face itself is a mask. It has over two hundred different muscles that we can manipulate in order to form the most varied and illusory expressions. We’ve been able to use our facial muscles like this since our evolutionary forefathers and early man discovered language and the ability to deceive. That’s why every human being is a walking, talking mask. With the advent of language, deception and disguise became part of the game of survival. It reminds me of an interesting scene in Heinrich von Kleist’s Cathy of Heilbronn, where the princess visits a fountain at night, disrobes under the moonlight, and is revealed as a skeleton. She stands in stark contrast to the protagonist, Cathy, who is vital, rosy-cheeked, and made of flesh and blood. In theater terms, the princess’s skeletal frame implies that she’s incapable of love—an aspect of her true identity she wants to conceal at all costs. Her clothes and jewelry—conventional symbols of dignity and splendor—are nothing but masks for death. In Kleist’s attempt to distinguish between truth and deception, masked death becomes a woman’s false beauty. “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
That’s Oscar Wilde—and what a fitting aphorism. Ancient Greek EB 2/2011
“By being ‘in character’, people can assess the reality they’re engaged
with. But to know what these roles are, we need various forms of fictional narrative—specifically the novel, because, historically, that’s where these roles were made most explicit and played out. I don’t think there would be love without certain kinds of explorative fiction or literature, regardless of genre. Or should I say: there would be no love without role-playing and no role-playing without masks. ”
actors and actresses were called “Personae”, or “Masks that can be heard through” because they said things through the openings of their masks that they would otherwise never be allowed to say offstage. Even the oracle at Delphi spoke through a mask. Historically, people are better able to sort out their egotisms from behind masks. When free of the burden of their own conceits, they can speak certain truths. Man is undoubtedly a creature of illusion. How would you say the practice of confession fits into that scheme? Is the partition in the Catholic confessional also a type of mask?
Of course! Without a partition that provides a certain degree of anonymity, there’s no way to confess so freely. As soon as people look each other in the eyes, they start measuring their words carefully, and that’s entirely natural. Whoever says that people should be totally open and honest with each other is operating under a false understanding of what it means to be human. Nietzsche said that man is a manufacturer of illusions—an illusion-making machine, so to speak. That’s why our basic human desires aren’t geared towards the discovery of truth per se. Sincerity and openness are byproducts of other more basic human needs. But isn’t the mask-wearer potentially motivated by truth? Isn’t the mask a tool for producing knowledge?
That depends on your understanding of what constitutes knowledge. I think that lovers put on masks when they want to reassure each other of their love—something they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do in light of the reality of an unknowable future. I suppose this holds not only for lovers, but also in assuming any given role and the responsibilities that come along with it. By being “in character”, people can assess the reality they’re engaged with. But to know what these roles are, we need various forms of fictional narrative—specifically the novel, because, historically, that’s where these roles were made most explicit and played out. I don’t think there would be love without certain kinds of explorative fiction or literature, regardless of genre. Or should I say: there would be no love without roleplaying and no roleplaying without masks. 60
You believe that fictional narratives have such a strong effect on our behavior?
Not our behavior, but rather our communication. Fiction allows us to communicate about our behavior. It’s similar to when people used to speak from behind fans: you could speak your mind and not be caught in the act. If you blushed, nobody would be able to tell, because, as a mask, the fan is opaque. In contrast, the blush is a revealing mask. One is worn over the other. You’ve mentioned the novel as a source of information on various roles we play. Opera is considered one of the most coded and artificial forms of the performing arts. What can it tell us about communication and disguise?
Opera has a stronger, more emotional thrust than the novel; or, for that matter, most literature. Take for example The Pretend Garden Girl, which Mozart wrote when he was still very young. It tells the story of a Count who stabs his lover, Violante, in a fit of jealous rage. Violante survives and realizes she still loves the Count. To heal her broken heart, she disguises herself as a simple gardener’s girl in an attempt to win him back. She succeeds, but only by masking her true identity. The story demonstrates the importance of masks and disguises in communicating love in a circuitous fashion. Contrary to popular opinion, love doesn’t always function magnetically or in terms of a direct attraction. The masks in literature and opera tell you exactly that. In fictional narratives, the mask is a medium of communicating emotion. It’s not for nothing that the novel was popularized as an art form at the same time as garden labyrinths. In a proper labyrinth, nothing is really grown; lovers get lost only to find each other again. And this is why they epitomize love: because they have no express purpose! Love that only serves reproduction or upward social mobility is sad and lonely. Love that allows for detours und impracticalities also allows for a certain luxury we call freedom. Its artistic expression can be found in music and opera. And let’s not forget techno—an art form dominated by the power of bass and the movement of dancing masses. Techno is also a type of opera, in my opinion.
“Why do we wear clothes? Why do we have skin? Why is there external
protection even at the cellular level? The answer is that life itself isn’t naked, and it’s for the same reason that you can’t transport water in the desert simply by cupping your hands: you need a proper container. All forms of life need a house, a shield, a casing.”
Would you say that the club is the new opera stage—a modern masked ball?
Indeed. I remember being in the old Tresor in Berlin during the nineties and thinking to myself: what’s happening here in the old basement safe of the Wertheim department store is nothing other than twenty-first century opera . . . all night long. What would the opera be like without masks?
It wouldn’t exist. Don Giovanni is one long masquerade, Cosi fan tutte even more so. You see, the important thing is that the audience knows more than the actors on stage. If that’s not the case, opera becomes incredibly boring. The characters have to be ignorant of their own demise; that’s one of the main appeals in opera. It’s a labyrinthine art. In Aristotle’s writings on the etymology of tragedy, he traces the word back to ancient springtime festivals involving goat sacrifices. “Tragos” is actually the Greek word for “goat song”. During the celebrations, men wore masks and sang songs about social issues that would otherwise result in conflict. The participants all assumed prototypical social and political roles. These festivals were a way for people to vent: instead of mass brawls, conflicts were resolved on stage. This is the original form of theater and, therefore, of opera as well. A sort of war by proxy set on stage?
Yes, just like in the Old Testament: Isaac was supposed to sacrifice his own child, but in the end, an animal did the trick. What about the functional masks that people use for protection? The images from Japan’s recent nuclear catastrophe are ingrained in our collective consciousness—especially people wearing white surgical masks.
First and foremost, people wear those kinds of masks to protect
themselves from radiation. But I also think they wear them to mask their own fear. Fear often takes control of facial expressions; fear exposes. The nuclear disaster in Chernobyl figures prominently in a number of your books. How have you been affected by the images from Japan?
The disaster in general has affected me strongly. Nature once again has reminded us of the scope of her power. The last earthquake and tsunami of that magnitude in Japan occurred some fourteen hundred years ago. It sometimes seems that this is how nature confers and communicates with man. But because nature resists being “understood”, we sometimes speak of “nature’s mask”—which comes off when Vesuvius blows or a huge earthquake shows its destructive power. Of course, “nature’s mask” is just an illusory invention of man. There are plenty of nuclear power plants in areas we know are potential sites for natural disasters. Clearly, planet earth doesn’t wear a mask on its own. Rather, we mask the planet because we haven’t been able to solve nature’s puzzles. We’ve recently seen television images of “masked” uprisings in Egypt and Libya. There, protestors have been veiling themselves to protect their identity.
The circumstances in North Africa are indeed unsettling, because the masked demonstrators make it even more difficult to determine if agent provocateurs are in the mix. Here’s an instance where masks create as much confusion as they do protection. I mean, Libya is in the middle of a civil war and neither the sides nor the fronts can be easily determined. Not even during the Third Reich was there such an intense atmosphere of ignorance and insecurity. It’s extremely eerie. Libya’s former Foreign Minister defected to England and also became a kind of shapeshifter. I’m sure he brought with him dozens of masks he’s created through diplomatic experience. Would you be surprised if, say, club-goers in London’s Fabric or Berlin’s Berghain were suddenly wearing these functional masks EB 2/2011
“I would say the face itself is a mask. It has over two hundred different
muscles that we can manipulate in order to form the most varied and illusory expressions. We’ve been able to use our facial muscles like this since our evolutionary forefathers and early man discovered language and the ability to deceive. With the advent of language, deception and disguise became part of the game of survival.”
as a fashion statement? Crowds dancing in surgical masks or the veils and turbans North African revolutions?
Is it a lie when somebody knowingly discloses false information on Facebook?
Not only would that not surprise me, I think it would be a highly sensible reaction to a really disturbing series of events. You can make whatever scares you less threatening by wearing it—it’s a natural way to get over your fears. Every child puts on a ghost costume at some point and, in doing so, makes the ghost harmless.
Not necessarily. Sometimes things become true when you invent them for yourself. What’s truth? Think about the modes of flirting popular in Europe between the 14th and 18th centuries. There was so much disguise and affectation involved in the communication between partners in order to determine whether one person loved the other. Of course, there was a big difference between the two genders. But even back then, men always promised the world when seducing a woman, just like in Don Giovanni.
Historically, people have worn masks to cast out demons . . .
And they continue to do so! Just look at Carnival, Halloween or Walpurgis Night . . . But there are also more everyday examples, like COSPLAY, where people dress up like their favorite Manga characters to free themselves from the shackles of the daily grind. They’re developing new, creative rituals. I recently had the chance to film two Manga girls going to a COSPLAY convention. The one girl introduced her friend with the words, “That’s my dog!”—even though the girl wasn’t dressed like a dog, but more like an evil fairy. I appreciate that the Manga movement allows for these kinds of bizarre masquerades and surreal role-playing scenarios, because each individual possesses all sorts of different identities: we’re beings of a thousand characters. The fact that we can express them with masks—by putting on different faces—is a great thing.
How do we look past the seducer’s mask to see what he or she is really like?
Do we really want to? Do we need to know what kind of person he was in the past? How she grew up? Who his parents are? What she loves? How he lives? What she’s afraid of? Today, everything can be accessed on Facebook. Maybe after studying somebody’s profile, you can see behind the masks they wear in the physical world. Walter Benjamin once said that an actor can’t pretend to be truly terrified. If you really want to scare him, you have to fire a shot next to his ear—then you’ll really have him flinching for the close-up. ~ Want to read more? www.electronicbeats.net
Can you give me an example of a “fake” mask? Photography: Rick Burger
The “honest” banker in the television advertisement who tells you, “Come to our bank, your money is in good hands.” That’s the epitome of deception.
Styling: Corinna Koch Models: Beau Black, F. F. Fernandez, TEEL Masks: Mirko Erbe, www.smirkmasks.com Make-up: Anne Grabow
To what extent is Facebook a virtual masquerade or even a form deception?
Translated from the German by Alexander James Samuels Interview research and transcription assistance provided by the following students of the Akademie für Mode und
Playing more than one role in life isn’t something that’s exclusive to Facebook; it’s part of the essence of life itself and has been since man has been able to think. And why shouldn’t we live these roles out? In a metropolis, most people have multiple identities. 64
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THREE Conversations 68 “Nobody dared to utter the word Mafia”: Shantel and Max Dax 74 “A limited range of frequencies doesn’t turn me on” Nouvelle Vague’s Marc Collin and Arto Lindsay 78 “Who’s your Lord?” Panda Bear and Glenn O’Brien 82 “Real, all too real”: Steven Levy and Alec Empire 86 A day in the life: 24 hours on Holloway Rd., London N7 98 NEU: Gabi Delgado smokes electronic cigarettes
“Nobody dared to utter the word Mafia” Shantel SPILLS the beans Using a dash of sequencing and a pinch of compression, Stefan Hantel, alias Shantel, helped redefine traditional Eastern European dance music with his Bucovina Club project. The Frankfurt resident recently launched his next big coup with Kosher Nostra—a selection of original American Jewish gangster tunes. Max Dax, himself no stranger to the controversies of Mafia music, spoke with Shantel in Berlin about organized crime, the Catskills, and rediscovering Connie Francis. Oy! Max Dax: What attracted you to the lifestyle of Jewish mobsters? Shantel: I could ask you the same question. Didn’t you put together a compilation on the Mafia? MD: In 2000, I put together Il Canto di Malavita—La Musica della Mafia on the Calabrian ’Ndranghetà with Francesco Sbano and Peter Cadera. We were interested in showing how a criminal organization that has developed its own culture, language and rituals is more than just a corporation—it has the cultural autonomy of an independent society. Only a society has its own culture, its own music. SH: I’m generally interested in subcultures and the music that goes along with them. But like with Bucovina Club, it was my personal family background that somehow pushed me to dig deeper into the Kosher Nostra. My grandmother was a Romanian Jew, you know, and Jewish culture has always fascinated me. My great grandmother was from Poland and, like so many Jews back then, was forced to convert to Catholicism. I’m also intrigued by
the culture of immigration from which the Jewish gangster circles emerged—Jews from Russia, from Transnistria, from the provinces around the Black Sea . . . They fled the pogroms that were part of the daily agenda in Czarist Russia, and came to the US to pursue the proverbial American Dream. MD: What happened to their dreams? SH: American immigrant cultures quickly reduced the American Dream to its most essential features: a nice, big car and sharp clothes. Italian and Jewish gangsters were particularly adept at representing a certain style. It was Jewish gangsters who built up of the urAmerican institution of Las Vegas and made it what it is today: the modern blueprint of gambling and entertainment. It’s a Gomorrah and a goldmine, and a blessing for the entertainment industry. The city has become a sort of paradigm of play for the entire world. You can hear its echo in popular culture everywhere. MD: The ’Ndranghetà never invented something like Vegas. They
preferred clandestine operations. But then again: You can find CDs and cassettes with compilations of mafia songs literally on every street corner. For the ’Ndranghethà, the distribution of their own music seems to be something like a propaganda tool. SH: It’s different with the Kosher Nostra thing, less obvious. In a second-hand record store in Vegas I found a Connie Francis record entitled, Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites. I never would’ve bought the album if I hadn’t been exploring Jewish music in connection with Bucovina Club for the past ten years. As a pop cultural phenomenon, Bucovina Club is, at its core, a hybrid of traditional Eastern European music. It’s been revised, reshaped and reconnected with its roots, which is why it ends up sounding like rock and roll. This is due in no small part to its bastardization with Jewish music. In the US, Jewish music made a similar impact, while still remaining the soundtrack to a certain JewishAmerican self-confidence. I think for lots of American Jews, the marriage of Jewish music and pop culture was liberating.
MD: With Bucovina Club, you succeeded in liberating gypsy music from the “world music” genre-ghetto. In the process, you also gave it back some of its glamour and urbanity. Do you have similar intentions with the music of Kosher Nostra?
tant for me as a DJ to have songs the others don’t, and much more important to find inspiration as a musician. I see myself as a researcher—the objects of my investigation are the sounds and methods of making music.
SH: Not exactly . . . You could say I’m more obsessed with parsing out the disco from pre-existing genres —and I’m not alone. Jewish music is being reevaluated from all sorts of different angles and appropriated by popular culture. There’s been a radical break with the classic klezmer band stereotype. John Zorn especially has been able to make the connections between Jewish music and all sorts of other genres and contexts. He’s a real innovator. I bought the Connie Francis album with the intention of integrating aspects of her music into my own repertoire. I’m always looking for new songs, arrangements, and sounds to work with. It’s less impor-
MD: What did you find in Connie Francis? SH: Francis is an Italian-American performer who didn’t become famous for singing Jewish songs. Actually, her Jewish albums were total flops. As a teenager, she played in an accordion orchestra and performed Italian songs in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey. At some point she landed in the Catskills, the famous ski resort and vacation getaway in upstate New York where the Jewish middle class came to see and be seen. She quickly found a connection to the Jewish musicians and ended up learning a bit of Yiddish. Decades later she
landed a lucrative gig in Las Vegas that was rumored to be the result of an affair she had with Meyer Lansky. Lansky was also Francis’ sponsor and the one who encouraged her to record the Jewish album. I was intrigued when I heard the story and hatched a plan to buy the album rights and put it out again . . . unsurprisingly, it was out of print. I soon found out that MGM still owns the rights and are keen on keeping Francis’ foray into the world of crime hush-hush, even though it’s an open secret. MD: Do you think it’s especially problematic for somebody who sings Jewish songs or is intimately connected with Jewish culture to be associated with organized crime? SH: Absolutely. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got countless Italian-American crooners who were perfectly candid about their “connections”. In contrast, Jewish gangsters
did everything they could to legalize the power and wealth they had accumulated . . . that is, if they weren’t murdered beforehand. They didn’t think in terms of crime “families” and also didn’t get their children involved in the business. They took the money they made and used it to provide a normal, middle class lifestyle for their kids and grandkids. Jewish organized crime never had dynasties and the Jewish community never saw anything honorable or respectable about Jewish gangsters. MD: You’ve long had an interest in people who turn criminal. From what I understand, you also wrote on the subject while you were a student? SH: I wrote an essay on the Sicilian Mafia when I was doing my master’s. At the time, I had immersed myself in the cultural and anthropological angles. I wanted to found out why this particular part of southern
Stefan Hantel (2nd from right) was photographed by Uta Neumann in Berlin. Jewish mobsters Mickey Cohen, Sam “The Gorilla” Davis, Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein (this page, left to right) and Jack “Greasy Thumb” Guzik (previous page). All portraits were painted in 2004 by Oz Almog for the exhibition “Kosher Nostra – Jewish Gangsters 1890–1980”, oil on canvas, Jüdisches Museum, Vienna.
Europe had such established familial and criminal structures, why they became so dominant and how they ended up having such a massive influence on the world? That was before I became a musician. MD: In 2004, the Israeli artist Oz Almog used the term “Kosher Nostra” in connection with an exhibition of his oil paintings of Jewish gangsters in Vienna’s Jüdisches Museum. SH: In the US, the term Cosa Nostra —“Our Thing”—has become part of the popular vocabulary thanks to an ever-growing body of film, TV shows and literature about the Mafia. Originally, Sicilians used the term as a code; nobody dared to utter the word Mafia. Instead you’d say: “Is he a part of Our Thing? Is he a friend of Ours?” After I saw Almog’s work, I realized pretty quickly that I wanted to use both the name and the images for the album.
MD: The HBO television series The Sopranos has also explored ItalianJewish relations. SH: In both cultures, the mother is the highest form of authority. From the outside we only see the patriarchy, but in reality mama almost always has the final say. The Italians worked with the Jews for practical reasons—because it was good for business, not because they thought the Jews were great guys. But at least there was a consensus about mama. MD: You originally earned your reputation as a DJ and producer for electronic music. Some fans were surprised by your change in direction with Bucovina Club. SH: Then they probably weren’t listening very closely to begin with. MD: I agree. Your background and experience as a producer is clearly
audible with Bucovina Club. I often had the impression that I was listening to the original recordings when in reality the tracks have been drastically altered and optimized for the dance floor. To what extent is your expertise as a producer evident in Kosher Nostra? SH: Kosher Nostra is, first and foremost, a sentimental project full of original recordings. In contrast, Bucovina Club had the whiff of authenticity, but there actually wasn’t any proper musical blueprint for that stuff at all . . . believe it or not. Not even in the most remote regions of Southeastern Europe was I able to find the music I was looking for in its “natural” state. When I started researching the polka and gypsy dance music genres, I had this romantic notion of rural weddings in Chernivtsi with traditional orchestras and brass bands. In reality, I found people with synthesizers who were able to reduced an entire six-piece band to a single keyboard. That’s how they kept the music alive. MD: What we heard was a personalized ideal of Balkan dance music? SH: Exactly. But unlike Bucovina Club, the tracks on Kosher Nostra didn’t need any improving; every thing had already been captured so perfectly. The older shellac recordings were filled with imperfections and everything sounded pretty antiquated, but I enjoyed integrating them into the rest of the project. And it couldn’t have been done any differently: the history of this music starts at the beginning of the twentieth century and goes until the mid-seventies. MD: It was somewhat unexpected that the Bucovina Club parties would result in a whole series of popular albums. You also became a pop star in the Balkans and in Turkey, and have been on tour ever since. Is the fate of Kosher Nostra as open-ended? SH: Absolutely. I’m not an archaeologist or a museum director; I don’t have any scientific or academic pretensions that necessitate defining a beginning and end to my projects. My work is artistic and it very easily develops its own dynamic. Generally speaking, all options are open and anything can happen. My current situation actually reminds me of when I started with Bucovina Club and left electronic music behind.
MD: What’s made you so ambitious? SH: The subject matter! Both Bucovina Club and Kosher Nostra are about an attitude towards life that culturally saturated western Europeans sometimes seem alienated from. It took a long time for me to figure out how to fit these two worlds together. With Kosher Nostra I was constantly encountering different types of resistance and had to deal with endless copyright issues. There was always somebody who didn’t want to be named or mentioned in connection with the project. It’s funny, because almost without exception, everyone I spoke with initially was totally fine with the idea that a German guy wanted to put together an anthology on the music of Jewish criminals. But when the title of the project was announced, everyone who’d been so gung ho in the beginning was suddenly unavailable. Oz Almog apparently had a similar experience when he was doing research for his exhibition. One of Meyer Lansky’s daughters even threatened to sue him. She wrote him a letter saying, “My father was a business man, not a gangster. Leave him alone!” Personally, I like it when projects are realized in the face of adversity. MD: What exactly was Oz Almog’s role in the project? He’s listed as one of the creative originators but didn’t seem to have any official function. SH: Almog gave the term “Kosher Nostra” its radical image. For him, the project ended with the exhibition, but he was willing to lend us the name and, of course, his art. That’s why we’re both listed as the “godfathers” of the project, so to speak. And visually, it wouldn’t have made sense for us to use mug shots or pictures from the daily news. We didn’t need to show crime scenes or pictures taken ten minutes after a murder—you know, gangsters lying in pools of blood or a mangled body that was thrown out of a sixth-story window. There are entire libraries of macabre press images. It’s a whole world of imagery that I specifically did not want to use. MD: Did you want to use the paintings because they retain a certain fantastical element? Because the gangsters appear so contemplative? SH: With organized crime and classical gangster paradigms, you’re always dealing with a certain element of mythology and romanti-
Contrary to his appearance, Meyer Lansky (pictured right) was not a white collar criminal. Known as the “mob’s accountant”, the Polish American Jewish immigrant was instrumental in the creation of the infamous National Crime Syndicate together with Charles “Lucky” Luciano. For decades, Lansky was considered one of the most powerful people in the United States. Want to read more? www.electronicbeats.net
cism. People attempt to construct some sort of Robin Hood-like myth of rebellion in regards to the Mafia. I didn’t want to do that. These people are unscrupulous murderers—criminals without a conscience. There’s nothing honorable or rebellious about the deeply inhumane career path of a gangster, but there is something fascinating about it. MD: Part of the fascination seems to stem from the fact that Mafia crimes aren’t committed in a cultural vacuum, but rather have a long a tradition. As I said before, in southern Italy, elements of Mafia culture can be found in music and dance, clothing and food, language and style. It’s sobering to realize the extent of the cultural force field that’s been built up around organized crime; it seems like part of the reason why it can’t be eradicated. We’re forced to readjust our understanding of the Mafia when we begin to understand just how rich its cultural history is—beyond the murders and efficiently run crime syndicates. SH: Criminal subcultures are fascinating and they can tell you a lot about the cultures they’re embedded in. They’re certainly worthy subjects of research. To this day, there’s very little literature on the subject of Jewish gangsters, and next to none on their influence on Jewish music. Academics should take a neutral look at it—after all, Jewish music has had an enormous impact on today’s Anglo-Saxon pop culture. MD: That goes doubly for the entertainment industry and for film and music in particular. They’ve profited from the channels of distribution created originally by the Mafia. SH: That’s true. Between the twenties and forties, there were barely any successful performers, musicians, and composers who didn’t rely on the protection of the underworld at a certain point in their career. They needed the criminal structures, otherwise they couldn’t succeed. For decades, Las Vegas was nothing other than a gigantic money laundering operation for organized crime. If you had a run in Vegas that lasted more than a few months, you went from being a nobody to being a star . . . or from being a star to a superstar. Whoever achieved that kind of status had to be played on the radio or seen in Hollywood. The American entertainment industry as we know it was only possible because it stood under Mafia protection. ~
“A limited range of frequencies doesn’t turn me on” Arto Lindsay talks to Marc Collin
Nouvelle Vague is known for gently manipulating our collective memories. Charm, unreliable by nature, has made an exception in their case. Their savoir faire has made them popular in the very musical niches they draw their inspiration from. And this is not always easy: even though imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, creative types are often jealous guardians of what they judge to be their unique contributions to our sentimental support system. As Marc Collin rummages through both record bins and websites to find the elements for his band’s musical blend, he shows he’s not tied to the past. Arto Lindsay: You just got back from Brazil. How was it? Marc Collin: It was good to be there again. For the first time, I actually had fun in São Paulo! Usually, I only really enjoy spending time in Rio. I also ended up in Recife and Olinda, which are both really beautiful cities.
AL: That’s the region where I grew up. I remember Recife as a haven for artists, left-wing priests and potheads during the years immediately following the military coup in 1964. When I was in high-school, I went to Olinda almost every weekend. MC: I hung out with the cultural
attachés from the French consulate there. It’s great that they can actually afford to support us a bit financially. I suppose we’re lucky in that regard. AL: I think the Goethe Institute is the only federally funded organization to rival the Alliance Française in generosity and taste . . . which brings us to the purpose of your trip: When you put together a compilation, what are your criteria for choosing the music? MC: The common denominator is that it’s all music I find inspirational. If you listen to the compilations, you’ll understand the ideas behind my own albums and arrangements. Each track is a clue to my own songs . . . and to some of the darker sides of Nouvelle Vague as well. But it’s a pretty eclectic mix: “Movement of Fear” by Tones on Tail is like a soundtrack to a horror film; Isabelle Antenna’s singing was the first piece of bossa nova music I’d heard by someone who wasn’t Brazilian; I chose the David Sylvian track for how he uses his voice, and because I’m a big fan of his band Japan. And I can’t forget Julie London: just guitar and voice. She’s a perfect example of what Nouvelle Vague is about. AL: It’s interesting how you provide a historical background for you own music. A band sharing its influences is a rare thing. Other people, or magazines, often try to provide a context for iconic music, but not usually the musicians themselves. MC: I always try to share things I discover. Some of these tracks are pretty obscure, but that’s not why I’m into them. I see compilations as a way to get in contact with really disparate artists. And in the end, it’s a lot of fun. Also, I always get asked about my favorite tracks in interviews. AL: I suppose the question of influences is often posed, even if it isn’t always answered so candidly. Do you have a blog? MC: We use Facebook, but we don’t have a blog. AL: Are there any blogs you read regularly? MC: There’s only one I follow regularily. Actually, it’s more of a minimal synthwave user group. AL: What’s that exactly?
MC: I would describe it as pre-midi electronic music, like early Depeche Mode, Ultravox, Visage . . . That’s the music I listened to when I was young, and now so many people are into it again. Today you can hear synth wave from all over the world. It’s music that was created as soon as the instruments became affordable—cheap sequencers and drum machines and what not. That’s how I got started, too. I bought myself some Mattel electronic drums—toys, really—and a little Korg. I recorded everything on a four-track tape recorder. That’s how I made my first demos. The fact that you didn’t need a band to make music was something very important, as well. AL: It’s interesting for me to talk to someone who was inspired by synth pop. I remember that when the first synth bands came out, I was very self-consciously involved in all things avant-garde and was a complete snob as far as these bands were concerned. Today it’s no big deal to pair together really disparate things. On the compilation you have an avant-garde composer like Gavin Bryars next to a cult band like Art Bears and a jazz singer like Shirley Horn. It’s a really refreshing, unpredictable mix. MC: Musically, Shirley Horn is an example I’ve always tried to follow. You may have noticed that I like bossa nova when it’s really, really slow. AL: What about Cibelle? Have you ever worked with her? MC: I loved her second album. It was almost too rich. AL: What do you mean? MC: I mean that for most people, it’s difficult to digest so much information. There are so many details packed into those songs. When we played in Recife for the first time, she was our support act. I was surprised to find her so nervous . . . It turned out to be the first time she was playing in her home country. AL: You’re a natural curator. In that sense, your generation is also very different than mine. We listened to music from everywhere, but we wanted to blast through the roof and make something no one had ever heard before. You guys seem more skeptical of those kinds of pretensions, as if you don’t think
Bo Marion photographed Nouvelle Vague on their day off in their suite in the Berns Hotel, Stockholm.
it’s possible. You have a much more relaxed attitude to creating. MC: I used to be really into musique concrète and actually released two or three albums in that vein. But after a while, you realize people just don’t want to hear anything new. Especially in the early 2000s, people wanted to hear something comfortable, something that they associated with a good time, even if it was tinged with melancholy. And I create that musically by combining different influences. My originality is in the way I mix things—like an Ennio Moriccone spaghetti western track with a poppy Sergio Mendes bossa vocal. In the past, this was more the work of a producer or an A&R guy. These days artists make the executive decisions directly. They’re actively involved in determining the production style for their own music. AL: There’s a connection between trying to create something new and having nostalgia for something you never knew. I think the latter can be a pretty abstract exercise in its own right. MC: The music world has changed so much with the Internet. We used to listen to the radio, exchange tapes, and order everything by mail. Now we download things immediately, whatever we want, whenever we want, wherever we want. The immediacy has changed everything. When I was growing up, it was impossible to identify with both Joy Division and James Brown. Today it’s almost expected. I’m not sure if this is a good thing, but that’s the way it is. AL: I remember during an earlier conversation you told me that too much nostalgia is boring. I think it was in the context of discussion about listening to vinyl and analogue media exclusively . . . MC: When you hear something you used to adore on cassette, you realize pretty damn quickly that it’s not the tape sound that you loved. A limited range of frequencies and lots of hiss doesn’t turn me on. Music is music. I, for one, am a huge fan of MP3s and iPods. Always being tied to the past is nothing but a big burden. ~
“Who’s your Lord?” glenn o’brien talks to panda bear Animal Collective have helped usher in an era of popular music in which genre defying has become genre defining. The band’s masks have also paradoxically become the face of a generation with performance anxiety. Today, Noah Lennox, alias Panda Bear, is no longer afraid to show some face. In conversation with Glenn O’Brien, he explains why Animal Collective is not as pompous as their name implies. Glenn O’Brien: Are you in Lisbon
Panda Bear: No, I’m in Milan. We’re on tour at the moment. GO: I went to Portugal on my honey-
moon. I was in this town called Guimarães. You ever been there?
PB: Is that in the south? GO: No, it’s kind of up north. It’s an
old, Roman town.
PB: I haven’t been anywhere way
south or way north, but I’ve pretty much hit everything in between.
GO: So, did you ever play music
acoustically or did you cut your teeth in an exclusively electronic universe?
PB: We’ve all played acoustically.
Several of us started out playing piano or acoustic guitar, and I studied cello when I was a lot younger. Our first set-up as a band were these small drums and acoustic guitars. Gradually we’ve shifted towards elec-
tronics . . . and then back to playing acoustically. It goes in cycles. There are advantages to both. GO: I was trying to imagine what it
would be like to grow up in a world where people only used synthesizers ...
PB: It must have been really inte-
resting to be around when the first synthesizers were being used.
GO: It was kind of unbelievable.
Suddenly a keyboard could replace an entire orchestra.
PB: But the keyboard never really
came close to properly replicating the orchestra. It’s kind of funny that today there are all sorts of artificial orchestral sounds that are totally divorced from their original function as facsimiles.
GO: Are you pre-digital? Were you
ever firmly in the analog world?
PB: Yeah. Some of the guys in the
band are really into tape machines and what not. I’m not really sold
either way. I see the attraction of both. There are times when I feel really drawn to the digital world and want to make something that has a really clean, sharp, icy sound ... GO: I think there’s a pretty strong
need for digital music. Everything used to be natural and full of woodwinds. Now we have all this digital noise. Do you think digital music should be seen as a reaction to noise?
GO: Do you ever work the opposite
PB: I think it can be reflective of
PB: Sometimes. There’s a certain
GO: It’s like the need to harmoni-
ze our aural environment. Do you agree?
PB: I think the world’s gotten noi-
sier, especially in the city. I wonder if that makes people want to hear things that are more natural, more meditative or contemplative. Or maybe it’s the opposite, like they want to hear something that reflects their environment.
way? Like when you add and you add, and then start subtracting?
balance we try to achieve. There’s a point when you know that if you added one more thing or subtracted one thing, it wouldn’t be as good. of the same songs?
PB: Sort of. I’ve done different mixes
of stuff for my solo album.
GO: What about playing live? PB: Typically, we’ll play stuff live
and bass, I felt really alienated from it. Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to jazz . . .
PB: I think there’s a lot of electronic
GO: When you get it down on tape,
GO: Maybe you have to be on ecstasy. I always avoided that. I never wanted to take anything that would make me like people.
PB: It’s not common for us to play a song for years and years. After a while, the song’s just dead. Or if we do play an old song, we’ll play it in a wayto fit in with the rest of the set. When you go on tour with a song and play it a couple hundred times, there’s a certain part of your brain that stops thinking about the fact that you need to play something for four measures . . . Something else takes over—there’s like an outward perspective shift and you start hearing what the song really needs . . . or what parts of the song you should get rid of.
music that can only be appreciated in a club or a place where you can actually feel it. I think club music has to be heard at club volumes to be enjoyable.
PB: Right. GO: You know, when I first heard
Animal Collective, it felt like you were playing two songs at once. Does that idea mean anything to you?
PB: I feel like between the four of us,
we go into so many different directions. We all bring so much baggage to the table, it’s like we’re trying to bring our musical personalities into harmony. Sometimes it feels like we’re playing four songs at the same time.
GO: I’ve never observed the whole
two-songs-at-once thing before I heard you guys, except for maybe with Prince. I guess it’s because your music is so layered.
PB: Sometimes we get a little carried
away with the layering in the studio.
GO: If you want to hear a certain
GO: Do you record different versions
that’s unreleased. There will usually be bootlegs circulating, which we then rework in the studio. The studio versions are usually less esoteric and more layered and arranged.
GO: When I first heard, like, drum
and they were really upset about it. I consoled them by saying that the best concerts we’ve been to as fans—the ones that made a lasting impression on us—were the ones where we really didn’t know what to expect. And that’s what we hope to deliver. Maybe it’s kind of a lofty goal. I told them that we weren’t trying to be antagonistic or cool, or anything. We play new stuff because we think it could be a powerful experience for you. If that’s not what you’re looking for, then maybe you shouldn’t come and see us next time. Sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.
It’s like when you have a certain familiarity with the songs or the sounds, you constantly add things to it to make it more interesting for you to play. But I like the idea that there’s enough of a spark in the music that somebody would feel like picking out all the layers. It’s cool when people start hearing the junk.
do you ever get sick of it and just play it differently for the hell of it? Bob Dylan does that. He’ll never play the same song the same way twice.
GO: It’s brave to play new stuff.
Do you notice a difference in the audience’s reaction to new material versus old material?
PB: I actually had a huge conversa-
tion with a group of kids about this last night. They ended up driving four hours to see us play in Zagreb, and they were really disappointed that they didn’t hear certain songs. I think we only played three old songs,
“I actually don’t like the word ‘collective’. I prefer to be called just a ‘band’ or a ‘group’ . . . even if the loose membership isn’t really implied. But I guess it’s too late now.”
song, why not just go home and play the recording? You don’t get the opportunity to hear something that hasn’t been recorded before too often, right?
PB: Don’t get me wrong—I’ve seen
shows where the band sounded exactly like the record, and it was fantastic. But I’d rather go for the home run, even if it doesn’t work all the time.
GO: When you play songs that
haven’t been recorded, are you improvising?
PB: That depends. If you play
something often enough, it ends up mutating and you play certain parts differently. It’s a pretty natural evolution I would say. There usually aren’t drastic shifts. It’s not like the entire structure will change.
GO: And the changes are sponta-
neous? They’re not discussed beforehand?
PB: Yeah, but it happens slowly. GO: Have you ever listened to John
PB: I’m not sure. Did he do a song
“Paradox” or something?
GO: I don’t know . . . PB: Did he put out an album with a
sun on it? Or a drawing of a sun?
GO: I don’t think so. He’s a trumpet
player, but he plays the instrument in really weird way, kind of like it’s a kazoo. He started out doing jazz, but now does more electronics. When you go to record stores, you often find him grouped under “world music” for some reason. He does really beautiful stuff and his trumpet voicings sound kind of like talking. When I
first listened to Animal Collective, I thought, “This sounds like The Beach Boys jamming with John Hassel.” I’d be interested to know what you’d think of him. PB: Sounds sweet. GO: Do you ever do stuff with musicians who aren’t from the “collective”? PB: I’ve done a couple of collabo-
rations with musicians I’ve met online . . . But it’s always been from a distance. It makes me nervous to work with people I don’t know. In the band, we’ve all known each other forever. Josh and I have been friends since we were eight years old.
GO: That’s kind of amazing. PB: It’s daunting to think of the pro-
cess I would have to go through to work with other musicians.
GO: I think the idea of collaborating
over the Internet is really interesting. David Byrne made a record with Brian Eno that way. Have you ever let other people mix your stuff?
PB: Yeah, my last solo album was
about the creative side of things, so I don’t think anybody or anything can really alter that at all.
GO: Where did the “animal” part
GO: Is it easier to keep a collective
all really big fans of animals. At the time, we were thinking along the lines of animals as beings that act purely instinctually . . . kind of the opposite of a “collective” in that way. Musically, it was about not making decisions based on knowledge or reason. We wanted to work with music on an emotional level, not on an intellectual level. That’s where it comes from.
together than a band?
PB: It is in the sense that people can
come and go. I just hope it never becomes a drag for anybody to play in the band.
mixed totally out of my hands. Pete Kember, aka Sonic Boom, did it. But we were in constant contact—emailing at a steady clip of five or six messages per day. He probably sent me thirty different versions of each track. As long as the lines of communication are wide open, working with somebody else can be a powerful experience.
PB: I actually don’t like the word “collective”. I prefer to be called just a “band” or a “group” . . . even if the loose membership isn’t really implied.
GO: What made you decide to go
GO: I like the word because it’s sort
PB: When I’m working on music,
PB: I think it sounds a bit too head-
it gets really difficult for me to be objective. At a certain point, I don’t feel like I can make good decisions about the music anymore.
GO: Was the result better than what
PB: Yeah, absolutely. He definitely
took it to a place I didn’t think it could have gone to.
GO: I know you have kids. Has that
GO: I think it’s an interesting concept.
scratching and serious. It’s intellectual in a way I don’t really like.
GO: It kind of reminds me of Monty
Python and The Holy Grail where knights are riding along and somebody says, “Who’s your Lord?” and they say, “We don’t have a Lord—this is an anarcho-syndicalist commune!”
PB: Uh huh.
changed you in any way as a creative person?
GO: Did you ever see that?
PB: Not creatively, no. But it’s certain-
mean—that’s sort of what I’m talking about. There’s pompousness to the name that I don’t think is very reflective of our music. But I guess it’s too late at this point.
ly changed my work ethic. I think it’s changed pretty much everything in my life except for the creative process. I think I’ve been really protective
PB: I did, yeah. I know what you
PB: It sounds kind of lame, but we’re
GO: I wrote a line in an essay that
goes, “You spend the first half of your life learning how to be a man, and the second half learning how to be an animal.” Adults have to learn how to follow their impulses. When you work in a cubicle, it can be hard to get back to nature.
Above: Panda Bear plays the drums with his eyes closed. Photo: Eduard Meltzer Previous page: Panda Bear, photographed by Simone Gilges in Berlin. On May 19, Animal Collective played a soldout show at Cologne’s E-Werk as part of the annual Electronic Beats Festival. The line-up included performances by Nouvelle Vague, Planningtorock, Holy Ghost! and Modeselektor (DJ Set).
PB: I would say you spend the first
half of your life learning how to fit into the world and second half trying to escape from it.
GO: Yeah, that’s very similar. What
kind of music do you like to listen to?
PB: I don’t really listen to music
that much. For me, it’s like chocolate. I don’t listen a whole lot, but when I do, I try and savor it. But typically I look for things that surprise me—things for which I don’t really have much of a point of reference. I like music that sounds alien. When I’m really confounded by something, I find it to be the most rewarding. ~ EB 2/2011
Steven Levy on the phone with Alec Empire
Real, all too real On Is This Hyperreal?, Atari Teenage Riot’s fourth studio album, the band rails against the myriad manifestations of digital authority, musing loudly on the subject of digital censorship and using digital technology to do so. They sound really angry. And the album sounds really good. Bandleader Alec Empire recently spoke with renowned hacker-ethicist and senior writer for Wired magazine Steven Levy about the double-edged sword of technological progress, crowdsourcing, and the new digital divide. Steven Levy: Alec, your new album doesn’t sound like something to wash the dishes to. Alec Empire: I might, but the average listener probably wouldn’t. As a band, we tend to write music for the active listener. SL: It seems like that goes for the live show as well. The physicality of what you do onstage prevents people from standing around passively. AE: Other bands we’ve toured with have said that too. Nine Inch Nails and Rage Against the Machine were both blown away by the power we get out of our electronics. Some people
look down on electronic stuff and think it’s all functional, house or club music. But when it hits harder than a rock band, the synths and sequencers feels like secret weapons.
live and ask themselves, “Why did I just freak out? Was it something they said or was it the music?” I don’t think there’s any one formula for getting people to question things through music, just like there’s no one play list for a DJ . . . Steven, I know you’ve written about the genius of the random setting on an iPod, and I think this is something that applies to writing music as well. For example, I remember programming an old synthesizer, a TB303, and finding out that randomly plugging in sixteen notes yields the best results. Or I would spend hours composing, only to end up with the exact same thing I had produced randomly.
SL: Even though your music is visceral, the lyrics are pretty nuanced.
SL: When I was in college in Philadelphia in the seventies, I listened to this great radio DJ and thought, “Man, this guy makes cosmic connections between songs!” Today, I put my iPod on shuffle and sometimes have the same experience.
AE: That’s part of the idea. We want to provoke people into questioning things. There’s a lot of pop music out there that’s dead set on doing the opposite; on calming people down or making them not think. That’s not us. What we do thrives on a combination of the physical and the cerebral. People have told me that they go home after seeing us
AE: I think people tend to overlook how spur-of-the-moment digital technology can be, especially in terms of improvisation. In electronic music, you can make choices really fast and be totally spontaneous if the machines are synchronized and people onstage are controlling them. I don’t know if a band like U2 would be able to do that.
Atari Teenage Riot perform in Berlin on May 1st, 1999. Shortly after these images were taken, the band was arrested for inciting a riot. Video stills courtesy of Digits in Motion.
SL: I’ve recently seen applications that allow concert-goers to crowdsource their preferences to the artists on stage. I can imagine a digital connection between audience member and performer where a certain song would surge in a specific direction and dictate the next one— you know, with spectator input. AE: I think Twitter is sometimes used as a lo-fi version of that. When Atari Teenage Riot began, we wanted to break down the barrier between the audience and ourselves. Sometimes that meant that people would storm the stage, but almost always peacefully. Maybe the technology you describe would spell the end of passivity in being an audience member—or mark the gulf between different kinds of participation in entertainment, like television and Internet. SL: It’s interesting that we’re discussing the advantages of the digital world, because much of your new album delves into the darker aspects of technology. You seem very aware of the dualism between digital progress on the one hand and its Orwellian implications on the other. AE: That’s true. In the nineties, lots of people had a sort of utopian vision for the Internet, especially independent musicians. But in the past few years it’s become clear how strongly the virtual world reflects both the positive and the negative sides of the non-virtual world. In Germany, like in the rest of Europe, there’s a very lively public debate about how much the government should control the Internet, “make it safer”. As a band, we still see the potential for the online world to be a different kind of society, even if it has yet to happen. SL: Digital technology amplifies opportunities on the one hand and control on the other. I think Google is a perfect example: they’re idealists, but they also have lots of information . . . and with it, lots of power. AE: In Germany, we’re particularly aware of the dangers of that kind of abuse of power . . . even if the Internet didn’t exist during fascism or communism. Have you seen The Lives of Others? The film does a great job of showing what it feels like to be watched. It’s strange to hear people say that they wouldn’t care if they were being watched, because they have nothing to hide. They’d think differently if they were
under constant surveillance. I mean, I’ve read Karl Marx, but I’m not a Marxist. If authorities were to judge you just by your associations—say, with email—then lots of people would feel threatened. SL: Certainly. On the other hand, millions of people willingly share intimate details about their lives via Facebook. In a way, it’s almost as though people invite the surveillance. AE: Yeah, but isn’t it silly to judge people based on what you find out about them online? You hear these stories of people getting fired for drunken Facebook photos . . . Doesn’t it seem stupid for an employer to judge an employee or an applicant based on information that has nothing to do with their job skills? SL: It does and it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s hard for pictures like that not to make an impression. If you see somebody being indiscrete on Facebook, you might think twice about relying on them general. For a boss, it’s different than thinking about who you’d like to party with or go on a road trip with. AE: I think the question is whether we’ll develop a different way of analyzing the information. It’s easier for people to make snap judgments when they have access to so much information, which is sort of a paradox. Despite the fact that there are more sources for information, the average Internet user is less eager to utilize them in forming opinions. Of course, there are exceptions.
In 1984, Steven Levy established the “Seven Commandments of the Personal Computer Revolution”, widely seen as the first Internet and hacker ethos: 1. Access to computers—and anything that might teach you something about the way the world works— should be unlimited and total. 2. Always yield to the Hands-on Imperative. 3. All information should be free. 4. Mistrust authority —promote decentralization. 5. Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race,or position. 6. You can create art and beauty on a computer. 7. Computers can change your life for the better.
SL: It’s taken a while for us to adapt to the fact that so much information has gone public. Times change. A few years ago, a candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court was bounced because people found out that he’d smoked marijuana. Lo and behold, a few years later, we end up with a president who’s admitted to taking cocaine. I think we’re still in the process of rearranging our perception of certain kinds of personal information, of rewiring our brains. AE: That’s exactly what we wrote “Re-Arrange Your Synapses” about. I sometimes wonder how really religious or fanatical people are able to maintain their beliefs in the face of so much conflicting information. SL: Maybe their brains are too well guarded, they can’t exchange and absorb information as freely as people with open-source minds. AE: Do you think it’s possible to educate kids about online information in a more open fashion instead of censoring everything we think they can’t handle? SL: More often than not, it’s the kids who educate us. AE: That’s true. SL: They don’t have the preconceptions that adults have who were born pre-Internet. Our adult synapses were formed before the myriad possibilities of the digital age. When it comes to telling kids about right and wrong online, I think parents
extreme things to show that you’re authentic. AE: A lot of our fans refuse to use social networking sites because they think they’re fake, which makes it counterproductive when iTunes says that you’ll only get coverage that’s proportional to your clicks and likes. SL: I remember when I was growing up, Warner Music came out with an advertisement saying, “The Man can’t stop our music”—you know, like the “government” or “authority” or the “capitalist system” can’t prevent us from being who “we” are. People hated it! I mean, who was “The Man” if not a huge record company? Clearly, some kids like the music more if it’s not huge and accessible everywhere, and this puts the musicians in a strange position because they obviously want their music distributed. Myspace used to seem like the way to go, but now Rupert Murdoch owns it.
are fighting a war that has long been decided. AE: I wonder about the redistribution of power in the past decade, especially within the music industry. Independent musicians sometimes think they have a fighting chance, and then they realize that more established or corporate bands still have the only connections necessary for bigger success. So many bands give up after a year or so, or they use bots to trump up their reputation and social stats. It’s becoming so corrupt that you can’t trust any of the information anymore . . . assuming you know that these things are happening. SL: Are people fooled by that? Do fans get fooled by that? AE: That’s what we’re asking ourselves all of the time. For some reason, I think people are still impressed by lots of clicks, which only promotes a herd mentality about liking things. It’s like with ad-campaigns: it’s easy to get a lot of people to see certain things, but it’s difficult to get them to actually commit to liking them. Clicks don’t really reflect reality, even if companies think they’re incredibly important. SL: Corporations and ad agencies have long seized on authentic imagery and identity, which has maybe pushed authenticity into more extreme formats. You have to do more
Alec Empire founded the Berlin- and Londonbased digital hardcore trio Atari Teenage Riot together with Hanin Elias and Carl Crack in 1992. After Crack’s untimely death in 2001, the group split up. Alec Empire is also a prolific solo artist, producer and DJ. He has released more than a hundred albums, EPs and singles and has remixed countless tracks for numerous artists. In 2010, Empire announced the comeback of Atari Teenage Riot. Want to read more? www.electronicbeats.net
AE: Yeah, and it’s not surprising that the international platforms go along with local censorship. One of our albums was banned in Germany, and, of course, German Myspace was happy to accommodate that. SL: But if people are motivated enough, they’ll be able to find the music, right? In a sense, I think that’s what keeps music alive: people who are passionate about making sure things don’t just disappear. They keep the fire burning . . . AE: We certainly hope so. SL: In the end, bands will be judged by their music, even if it takes time for people to sort through all the other stuff. I think it’s ridiculous when people reject things because they’re too popular. AE: No doubt there’s something undemocratic about people disliking things just because everyone else likes them. But there are times when you have to do your own thing and not follow the masses. Otherwise there would be no evolution. SL: Yes, it’s dangerous to be locked in to certain prejudices. I first started listening and loving music in the sixties when my parents were listening to Frank Sinatra. At the time, I snubbed my nose at it, but later I realized what a great singer he was. Back then, it was unheard of that kids and parents liked the same music. Today it’s almost expected.
AE: I only hope that great music continues to be recorded. I often wonder whether big corporations impede musical development, because new stuff gets seized on at such an early stage of maturity. In New York in the seventies, the bands that played CBGB’s were ignored by big labels in the beginning, which allowed them to develop in their own way. Those days are gone. SL: Who knows, maybe the corporations indirectly serve to raise the bar, creatively speaking. People have to work harder and be more innovative. Bands have to find more secretive platforms, like warehouses or flash networks. When innovators are shut out of a system, they usually create one . . . AE : But only with the help of people who care. We did a show last summer in Taiwan, and even though we’ve had practically zero distribution there, the audience knew all of our songs. It was an incredible experience. SL: I don’t suppose they’d let you play in China. AE:: It hasn’t happened yet and I don’t know if we’d do it. SL: Bob Dylan just played there and people speculated that he had to get his setlist approved before he could go onstage. AE: That turned out to be a rumor. I was more upset when I heard that Beyoncé and 50 Cent played for Gaddafi. It’s almost like saying, “Dictatorship is okay” you know? You have to be careful when you’re asked to play any event, really. We’ve been invited to play demonstrations in Germany by selfproclaimed leftist groups who turn out to be total anti-Semites. Bands really have to be on their toes about what they do and how they do it. Which brings us back to the rootlessness of the digital age: it’s harder to evaluate information when it’s purely associative, and so much of what we discover online is just that. SL: That’s why the shuffle concept is applicable to the entire online world. News, music, and information in general are connected by associations that seem totally arbitrary. So many things have been liberated from their historical and social contexts. A good chunk of our existence has become a kind of shuffle.~
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A Day in the Life
24hours on Holloway Rd. London, N7 Interviews by A. J. Samuels, photography by Luci Lux
Holloway Road is London’s longest, beginning just north of the city center and cutting through some six different neighborhoods. From the tip of Upper Street, the four-lane thoroughfare connects Islington with Finsbury Park and North Holloway, marking a path of urban development punctuated by the newly built Emirates Stadium and the North Campus of London Metropolitan University. This is Arsenal territory and home to some of the friendliest and least intimidating football fans around. It’s also one of the most ethnically diverse and densely populated areas in London. But the diversity in Holloway isn’t just ethnic; here, a broader eclecticism is on parade.
Michael Hollingsworth —Construction Worker Back when they were digging canals in the area, the Irish, English and Welsh workers would all go out to drink after work on Friday. After a couple of pints there was always a big punch up—Bang! Bang! Bang!—which is why they ended up having a pub for each group. Every Friday night, the English would be 88
in the Rose and Crown, the Irish in the Green Goblin and the Welsh in the Harp. Then Monday morning it was all friendly smiles and waves— you know, “Hello boys! Have a nice weekend?” The bloke whose idea it was to split up the pubs was nicknamed “The Peacemaker”. The construction managers loved him too because he figured out the easiest way to have everybody back together on Monday. In the past few years all the old pubs have simply disappeared. One became a Costa Coffee, another Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the third I don’t know. The
Holloway Arms just closed down as well. It’s a bit like the old is being pushed out and the new ushered in at all costs . . . even loads of shops remain empty.
Robert mihaj —fish monger Theo’s Fisheries is the last remaining fish stand in Nag’s Head Market. My workday starts around
5 a.m. while most of the city is fast asleep. That’s when the fish arrives packaged in dozens of styrofoam boxes filled with crushed ice. Laying out and inspecting the product is part of my daily ritual. Every morning I get to watch the market wake up and come to life. I watch the vendors open up shop and lay out their goods. Nag’s Head is its own world and one of the best places to buy half a lamb, get your pants stitched or put extensions in your hair . . . all in one go. Fifteen years ago, you could buy fresh fish on every corner in this city; Scottish salmon, eel, mackerel, cod—you name it. It used to be as easy as buying bread and butter, or a pint. Holloway was always an area for the workingman. If you saved up a bit of money, you left and moved someplace nicer; a house with a garden, or what have you. That’s when people started coming from all over the world, lots from Africa and the West Indies. It’s clear that first- and second-generation
immigrants want to make their new home as much like their old one as possible, especially with food. Most of the Africans don’t know the fish from the North Sea or the North Atlantic—they prefer to eat what they know from the Indian Ocean or the South Atlantic. They don’t care if the fish is frozen; they just want a piece of home on their plate. There’s no shortage of fish shops in the neighborhood, it’s just all frozen fish shipped from Africa.
Pictured left is Mr. Robert Mihaj, manager of Theo’s Fisheries in Nag’s Head Market on Seven Sisters Road. From his booth, Mihaj looks across the aisle to the Halal butcher shop, where every day dozens of half-lambs are bought and sold.
Dan Snaith —musician
Caribbean islanders come to me. Everyday I get fresh parrotfish, red snapper, and shark . . . I let everybody know that if they don’t buy what they want in the morning, there won’t be anything left in the afternoon. The changes in Holloway are always reflected in the fish that’s on sale. Certain high-grade fish from the Mediterranean are becoming more and more popular: swordfish, monkfish, bluefin tuna. It’s an sign of gentrification, isn’t it?
Peche Mignon is a tiny place, so when it rains, it gets really packed. I like it because it’s in walking distance. If it’s nice outside, I almost always prefer to sit in the garden and eat one of these big, flat brie sandwiches and read the paper. They make them with a sweet French chutney that’s far less tangy than the British sort; it’s not like the Branston stuff you get in most London sandwich and breakfast shops. Apropos sweet: the café is chock full of pastries and the coffee is really, really good. I do most of my cooking at home, but usually take visitors there or meet up with friends when I need to get out of the house. I love a good fry-up, but this is a nice change from Holloway’s overabundance of greasy spoons.
Theo’s Fisheries, Nag’s Head Market
Le Peche Mignon, 6 Ronalds Road
terry DONALDSON —clairvoyant
there’s also Highgate where Karl Marx is buried… Malcom Mclaren too. There are literally dozens of vampire stories about that place. This street is the opposite of plastic; it’s how Camden was twenty-five years ago. What you see is what you get. But you have to know not just where to look, but how to look. Natural Fragrance Shop, 224 Holloway Rd.
Paul Zaphiriou —vicar I’ve been in the tarot and psychic fields for thirty years, and the shop’s been here for thirty-five. I guess you could say we’ve grown together. There’s a palpable symbiosis. I’m a member of Mensa and of various secret societies which will go unnamed . . . Let’s call them initiary bodies with an emphasis on the Kabala, the Tree of Life, Druids, Buddhism and Biblical teachings. Holloway Road in particular is teeming with historical and psychic energy. Where we stand now is the site of Queen Boadicea’s defeat against the Roman Empire. Down the road is a plague pit from the 1660s, up the road was Dick Wittington’s house. The Highwaymen of lore roamed these streets. The Spaniards Inn, which is mentioned three times in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is just around the corner. People ask me all the time to turn them on to vampire secrets . . . I’m usually happy to oblige, but not until I get to know you. Of course,
Names of older churches often have some sort of significance, but as far as I know, this one doesn’t. That being said, Mary Magdalene was an interesting figure: She was the first to see that Christ’s tomb was empty on Easter. She saw Jesus in the garden and wanted to touch him; she was told she’d have to wait. It’s been said that she was a prostitute, but there’s actually no proof of that in the Bible. I think she simply earned the reputation by being a “woman of the world”, so to speak. A strong connection to worldly things is an important and necessary condition of the church’s existence. AA meetings are held in our crypt; sometimes participants even become members of the church. And, of course, it’s not like I’ve been a vicar all my life. I did my MBA at the INSEAD and was involved in the gas and oil businesses before I decided to lead a more spiritual life. Of course, spirituality exists as a relationship between things, not
Previous page (clockwise from left): Getenesh Demissie Gebremichal, head chef of Kokeb Restaurant, 45 Roman Way; Arsenal defensive midfielder Alex Song, larger than life; A map in Haggle Vinyl Record Store, 114 Essex Road.
just as a state of being. I think art reminds us of that all the time. I particularly admire Lucio Fontana, who was a founding member of the Spatialist movement. He would often slash his canvases in order to free the viewer from the perspective of two dimensions. I recently meditated on a painting of his in which the outline of a cross was made with what look like machine gun bullet holes. The whole thing is on a fuchsia-pink background. I don’t know what he was thinking when he made it, but for me it was a rich source of contemplation. St. Mary Magdalene, London N7 8LT
dan snaith —musician I couldn’t imagine living in Holloway without a restaurant called Kokeb on Roman Way close to the Emirates Stadium. It’s run by a woman named Getenesh Demissie Gebremichal, who we’ve become pretty close with. Another friend of mine wanted to learn how to cook Ethiopian food when she came to London, so she went to Nag’s Head Market where they sell all the ingredients and told the stand owners her plan. They referred her to Getenesh who took an entire day and gave her a cooking lesson—that’s Ethiopian hospitality. We ended up at the restaurant pretty frequently and were sort of adopted by Getenesh. When my wife and I went to
Ethiopia last year, we brought along a marriage certificate for Genetesh’s friends who had gotten married in England and had to leave before they could pick up the paperwork. I didn’t mind. It’s actually always good to have a practical dimension to travelling. I’ve stopped taking pure vacations and only go places where I have some express purpose . . . although other than being couriers, everything was pretty improvisational. We’d meet random locals, get their phone numbers, and then just contact them on a whim when we didn’t know what else to do. Kokeb Restaurant, 45 Roman Way
Kate Hudson —Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament Traditionally, our focus was always nuclear disarmament, but over the past fifteen years, we’ve been educating people on the uncontrollability of nuclear energy. You see, it used to be that people thought that there were bad nukes, like weapons, and good nukes, like energy. Those days are over. We’re doing our best to support research in alternative energy sources and hopefully we’ll have options in the not too distant future. It’s an unfortunate reality that the center doesn’t have its own provisional energy source—we get ours from the national grid, which, as everybody knows, is twenty percent nuclear. Believe me, there have been
plenty of discussions with members about that. But we simply don’t have a viable alternative. We recently put together signs for a Downing Street protest against the Prime Minister’s plans to build more nuclear power stations. In Japanese they read: “Anti-Nuclear”—simple and straightforward. There’s something elegant about it, maybe it’s the iconography of the Japanese flag. It’s inviting, like the massive peace sign painted on the façade . . . Although we don’t get that many walk-ins. Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 162 Holloway Road
Shoko Ghanearzadegan —shop owner
million things that have been named after those films, from a Fall record to a Simpsons episode. I thought I’d join the not so exclusive club. That’s also why I put up the yellow album covers . . . although they happen to be some of my favorites: Andrew Weatherall’s remix of Jah Wobble’s Invaders of the Heart is a true classic, as is ESG. C is for Cookie by Larry Levan I have courtesy of my boyfriend who’s a real disco-don. Admittedly, Men in Hats was purely motivated by color. People from the neighborhood have been very welcoming. No aggro, no arrogance. From the very beginning, we were made to feel like part of the community. I mean, it makes sense: people want options; they want at least one or two of a good thing. And it doesn’t hurt that we cure our own fish, roast our own meats, and bake our own cakes.
(Above): Shopfronts on Seven Sisters Road and Holloway Road.
Curious Yellow Kafé, 98-102 Holloway Road
Robin Archer —Tailor
When I opened up a year ago, I was dead set on doing something with a Swedish influence, hence the name and the menu. I was born in Stockholm but moved to London around 10 years ago. As you can guess, I’m big fan of both I am Curious (Yellow) and the follow-up, Curious Blue. There are about ten
My focus is bondage and as chief tailor, I can expertly work with any and all types of fabric and material. We have plenty of standard pieces we make for the shop, but a good 30% of what we do is either custommade or a regular design tailored to fit the client. A good portion of those are for high fashion houses: Marc Jacobs, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton . . . All that came about through a collaboration between
myself and Thierry Mugler in 1996. Not too long ago we got a call from Beyoncé’s mum—I thought somebody was making a crank call. I remember picking up the phone and hearing this person with an incredibly high-pitched voice go, “Hellooooo! Can you hear me OK? This is Tina KnowIes and I’m on a plane between New York and San Francisco, so please excuse the noise!”
I was confused. Then she continued, “We need 40 pieces, custom, sent to us ASAP for a video. Can you do that in a week?” I told her it wouldn’t be a problem, but it would involve some overtime. To my surprise, we finished the job early. Everything she and her dancers wore from the “Greenlight” video was made right here, as was her outfit for the Showgirls opening. There it is: the Torture Garden goes pop . . . again. House of Harlot, 88 Holloway Road
Dan Snaith —Musician Haggle is a quintessential London used record store with London prices—definitely not a crate digger’s dream. This is not the tiny gem in the countryside with priceless stuff for cheap. For that you have to go somewhere else. The guy who owns it is really knowledgeable, sort of the older gentleman-hippy type, with John Lennon sunglasses and a John Waters moustache. Believe me, he knows what things are worth. But he’s happy to bargain with you, as the shop’s name implies. The store is full of sixties and seventies British prog, library records and jazz. I often end up finding the rare thing that neither the owner nor I am acquainted with. More often than not, it’s a library record with a weird cover or a weird instrumentation listed on the back… I’m a bit of a library record junkie. The Chapel and KPM library labels released
loads of interesting stuff and featured incredible studio musicians. Because the records were sold to television and radio for use in shows and advertisements, they weren’t working within the constraints of the industry. One of my favorites is Drums on Phasing, which is just somebody playing different beats at different speeds with a huge phaser effect packed on top. There’s something irreproducible about going into this musty store and dealing with an owner who only stocks what he really likes. Haggle Record Store, 114 Essex Road
This page (above): Vogue Hommes Japan and Fantastic Man are hard to find in Holloway. Dan Snaith recommended Artwords Book Store in Dalston, where shop owner Ben Hillwood-Harris proudly displays his carefully curated selection of books and magazines.
Ben Hillwood-Harris —Shop owner I’m currently reading Otto Neurath’s autobiography, From Hieroglyphics to Isotype, where he describes the personal importance and impact of visual language on his life—kind of a tell-all on the development of isotypes. He also devotes quite a bit of the book to the larger social implications of visual language: the democratization of information through its visual
trampoline lessons. At the time, I was interested in learning how to do back flips and what not. There was a period when I was going a couple times a week, but that ended when I went on the road. Looking back on it now, I’m amazed I didn’t break my arm. After I got back from touring, I got really into playing table tennis, particularly with Andy from Fuck Buttons. He’s really, really good and I was usually trying to catch up with him. But we don’t get to play so much anymore because our tour schedules aren’t synched. I’m not a competitive person in regards to other people, but I’m hyper-competitive when it comes to myself. Like if I’m constantly missing shots I know I can make, I’ll end up getting pissed off. But I also search out competition that’s way better than me, so it’s not uncommon for me to lose. I wish I had more time to play. Watching it on TV is by far not the same. Sobell Leisure Centre, Hornsey Road, N7 7NY
Ronald Beland —coronet Regular
representation on street-signs or in picture-books. His attitude wasn’t that the written word was less important, but rather that an image that explicates was just as important . . . especially at a time when illiteracy was still so widespread. It’s interesting to note that his writings on isotypes have only become more relevant in the digital age. I’ve also finally come around to reading The Current Insurrection by a group called the Invisible Committee. I would describe it as a radical leftist, stream-of-consciousness screed on the financial crisis and the impending implosion
of capitalism. You might call it a philosophical tract, but it’s not academic at all. Very elegantly written and in the vein of the Situationists. It also happens to be a top seller. Artwords Book Store, 69 Rivington Street
Dan Snaith —Musician When I was recording Andorra in in Holloway, Sobell’s was offering
The Coronet pub used to be an old cinema. The organ used to stand to the right of the screen and it was flanked by massive bronze-colored organ pipes. There was an elevator system that raised the organ player from the basement up into the theater. He would be playing the bass notes with his feet and chords with his left hand while turning around and waving at the audience with his right. It used to be that all of the cinemas in England had organ players, except for the fleapits—smaller theaters that showed old movies and only cost five pence to get in. For a place like this, we used to pay a shilling. Over the years, lots of the old cinemas have been turned into pubs, which isn’t a bad thing, really. It’s certainly better than shamelessly turning them into a luxury god-knows-what. And this one’s historical to boot: Joe Meek had his recording studios right next door. This is where “Telstar” was born. A few years later he blew his own head off with a shotgun. At least he knew when his time had come. The Coronet, 338-346 Holloway Road
Recently, I poked my head inside Big Red. It’s a metal bar, mostly guys, lots of tattoos—friendy enough, I suppose. There were no tourists in sight. Everybody seemed a local, like they had been there for a while. I talked to one girl who works in a secondhand shop in Brick Lane and comes to Holloway to wind down. She told me she couldn’t stand being around tourists all day. She’s probably in the wrong business.
dan snaith —musician It’s hard not to like a restaurant named after a Fiat, and Cinquecento is probably the best Italian place in the area. For a seasonal menu, the prices are also moderate. But there is one dish served all year round: the “Tagliata 500”. You could call it a mixed antipasti, but there’s nothing typical about it. It’s much more food than you’d expect, with five or six different cheeses, smoked swordfish, fresh green olives, fresh herbs and slices of marinated artichoke. They always give you fresh
I think there’s a rockabilly scene around here. I tried to get into one place and they turned me away pretty quick, so I headed over to Shoreditch, which was full of people. It’s all a straight shot on the train. I poked my head into a small techno club on Brick Lane—nothing fancy, six pounds at the door, very unaggressive crowd. It wasn’t the sort of devil-maycare atmosphere you might get in other places . . . People all seemed to have jobs and nice clothes. Nobody looked hell-bent on raging through the night.
pints at the famous annonymous Workers Café
aweis —minicab dispatcher
bread made in-store. I’m a vegetarian, but I do eat fish from time to time. I would recommend the ravioli filled with ricotta, served with a lemon and green asparagus sauce. If I’m really hungry then I’ll have a main course as well—usually sea food. It’s slow cooking. I don’t drink, so I can’t comment on the wine list, but my friends say it’s well selected. Restaurant 500, 782 Holloway Road
rebecca salvadori —photographer Walking Holloway Road at night is relaxing, because there’s practically nobody around—which is uncommon for a street that big. There’s also no cars. Upper Holloway is really, really empty, even on a Saturday. I can’t say I always feel safe doing it by myself, so I usually go with a friend. There are places to go and grab a pint, but nothing that seems too inviting.
Holloway’s jeunesse dorée heading for Shoreditch. Photos by Rebecca Salvadori (right) and Rania Gorou (above).
A minicab service is a 24-7 operation, and this one’s been around since 1964. Between the drivers and the organization, you can imagine how much history is attached to this place—kind of an unwritten history. I’m mainly in charge of taking the bookings and organizing the dispatches. Aside from the obvious busy periods, you can never tell when you’re going to get a flood of calls. It can get hectic quick, especially when there’s a light drizzle. But normally the weekends are the most packed. Like any business, we get our fair share of difficult customers. Some expect the cab to fly over like a magic carpet; others are just pure aggro. The drunks come out and start in with the abuse as soon as the pubs close . . . and there are plenty of pubs around Lower Holloway. We’re always getting things thrown at us— usually bottles and cans, but also the occasional stone for good measure. It’s such a regular occurrence that, after a certain point, it stops bothering you. I’ve never been injured personally, but people are always trying to smash the drivers. Lucky for us we have the cage. I’m always behind the cage. Kwik Minicab, Tel. (0)20 7609 3333
5:00 p.m. First round of
The philosopher Slavoj Žižek has said that hedonism today is about pleasure without risk, as exemplified by chocolate laxatives, non-alcoholic beer, decaffeinated coffee and, now, the smokeless cigarette. Does taking the danger out of smoking defeat its purpose?
It’s clearly a trend in modern society to create products that provide the consumer with the illusion of living safely, which is important because there are far more dangerous things to worry about in the world, like nuclear energy, war, air pollution . . . Governments in particular are interested in maintaining the illusion that everything is OK, while at the same time regulating everything from smoking and drinking to wearing seatbelts and installing airbags. I think people should be able to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t harm anybody else. For example, I’m one-hundred-percent for the legalization of all drugs. Having said that, I don’t think e-cigarettes rid the world of any dangers; I usually smoke them only when I can’t smoke normal cigarettes . . . or cigars or joints. And this is how most people use them. Personally, I enjoy smoking everything except for pipes. How does the e-cigarette taste?
Provocation in times of Prohibition Queer culture often dictates trends while hetero culture struggles to catch up. Are we seeing another example of this with electronic cigarettes popping up all over the queer community?
It’s true that gay culture often represents the avant-garde of male behavior and that technology pushes the envelope while industry lags behind. But I don’t think the electronic cigarette is a good example of either, because in Spain and southern Europe everybody smokes them. You see, e-cigarettes were originally invented both to help people quit smoking and allow them to get their nicotine kick in 98
places where smoking isn’t allowed. If you think about it, these are actually cross-purposes. Who knows, maybe e-cigarettes will become the next big trend . . . but here, the vapors are already a constant presence— just go to the airport in Madrid! From time to time, the cartridges are even sold out. Is smoking an electronic cigarette as sexual as smoking a normal one?
Absolutely. You might say it’s even more sexual, because you’re doing it in places where smoking is otherwise forbidden. There’s a heightened sense of exhibitionism.
Gabi Delgado likes to smoke. At home, in bars, in restaurants, and especially on trains and airplanes. The latter he does with the aide of the electronic cigarette, which utilizes ultrasonic technology to simulate the act of smoking. Users vaporize a glycerin-based solution into an inhalable, tobacco-flavored mist. So technically speaking, it’s not smoking—it’s vaporizing. But you can’t tell just by looking at it, thanks to the remarkably detail-oriented product design. And that means that people get pissed off. The antagonistic singer of industrial legends Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft talks to A.J. Samuels about looking like you’re breaking the rules even when you’re Photo: Gabi Delgado not.
Mine taste more like cigars than cigarettes, but you can also buy different flavors. How do people react when you smoke the e-cigarette in a plane?
In Spain, nobody cares. But I tried it once in a London restaurant and people kept coming over to tell me that I wasn’t allowed to smoke. I told them, “I’m not smoking. I’m vaporizing!” Sometimes people still insist that it’s against the rules; others just give up if you’re stubborn enough. But the confrontations are exceptions—most people are cowards about telling you to stop. For example, I was on a Lufthansa flight and everybody kept giving me dirty looks, but nobody said anything. Same thing on the London tube. Have you tried it in America?
No, but we’re going on a US tour soon and I can’t wait to give it a shot. It may be stating the obvious, but I like breaking rules. Confrontation doesn’t bother me at all. I really, really enjoy provoking other people. ~
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N° 26 · Summer 2011
w w w. electroni cbe ats . ne t
conversations on essential issues with: Neil Tennant, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Ai Weiwei, Animal Collective, Nouvelle Vague
electronic beats · caribou · Neil tennant · Animal Collective · Ai Weiwei · Hans Ulrich Obrist
yo u r dig i ta l d a i ly
lectronic E beatS
Dan Snaith “There’s more madness than methoD…” (…in making good dance music.)
July august september 2011