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­ELECTRONIC BEATS CONVERSATIONS ON ESSENTIAL ISSUES N° 31 · FALL 2012

CHRIS LOWE / PET SHOP BOYS:

“Doing things differently.”

CAN COOLY G H.P. BAXXTER THE KILLS


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EDITORIAL

“The twentieth century was the century of the collage” Max Dax: Hans Ulrich, even though

collage as a technique has been around for more than a century in the visual arts, it has particular relevance in the context of today’s online culture and the interweaving digital narratives. It also features prominently in this issue of Electronic Beats as the unpredictable reality generator of choice for artists as diverse as William S. Burroughs, Irmin Schmidt and Prague’s Rafani collective. How does collage figure into your work as a curator? Hans Ulrich Obrist: I’m especially

interested in combining preexisting systems, events and objects, and in that sense, I very much employ collage-like methods. Both conceptually and in practice, collage indeed finds applications that extend far beyond the domain of art. Indeed, somebody like the great BBC documentarian Adam Curtis is one of the best examples of a journalist combining and contrasting “unrelated” forms of information. MD: Do you think magazines,

newspapers and especially blogs have become increasingly oriented on shaping the larger picture that emerges from the diversity of opinions and perspectives they present? HUO: The twentieth century was

the century of the collage, and collage, as art, has also been strongly connected with the mass of information contained in the newspaper—not to mention in advertising

While the plural of anecdote might not be data, our current collection of monologues and stories certainly makes for good reading. In fact, our Fall issue not only functions like an anecdotal bricolage, but also centers on the cut-up thematically. From the technique’s explosion in the visual arts in the beginning of the twentieth century to its vital role in the context of sampling and electronic music, assembling parts from different sources to create a new whole is about more than just making art—it’s a way of seeing the world’s narrative tapestry. Best wishes, Max Dax Editor-in-Chief

as in the case of the brilliant Kurt Schwitters. Of course, it all started formally with Georges Braque’s charcoal drawings and Picasso in the beginning of the last century, but collage dates back even further to the middle ages. That’s something I discovered growing up near a medieval monastery in St. Gallen and making regular trips to its incredible museum library to view medieval manuscripts. For me, the question is the extent it continues to be such a dominant medium in the twenty-first century. We have to ask ourselves how to maintain its compositional and social relevance. How do you see it? MD: As an interview-based maga-

zine with a focus on anecdote and oral language, Electronic Beats tends to highlight the serendipitous ways in which different artists and sources of information combine to create a larger narrative. Actually, what we do is not unlike the concept of emergence in the philosophy of science, in which a given phenomenon arises out of the organization of more basic, seemingly heterogeneous entities. Of course, the same can be observed in music. For example, in this issue, Irmin Schmidt of the legendary band Can describes how their singular sound emerged from the fundamentally different, almost conflicting personalities of the members. For Schmidt, their differences were, somewhat paradoxically, the glue that held the music together— music which, by the way, was

often conceived as audio collage. HUO: Panofsky said that new

always emerges from fragments of old, but on the other hand you have artists such as Jeffrey Kipnis who, in his anti-collage manifesto, criticizes the idea of only communicating and creating in fragments of culled information—be they sociological, artistic or literary. Of course, Electronic Beats, with its collection of voices and interviews has a different function: to combine parallel narrative realities and highlight various forms of discursive collisions. This is something that especially works in the digital world with tagging, fostering a certain kind of interconnectedness or “worldliness”. But even more, I wonder how the concept of collage changes and is transformed in the digital age by technology. MD: It’s certainly been enriched

by the concept of copy and paste and enhanced revision capabilities, which, I think, is at the core of any contemporary conception of the cut-up. By the way, I also think that as a digitally enhanced writing concept, cut and paste and reediting established a marked contrast between the slowness of print and the speed of the Internet. But more interesting for me is their mutual influence—how the aggregation of information online has generally allowed us to think in more holistic terms, which, for Electronic Beats, is of extreme importance. ~ EB 3/2012

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PICTURES TO THE EDITOR Send your photos to pictures@electronicbeats.net

Did you ever notice that good old-fashioned neon signs seem to be disappearing from Western metropolises? They’ve been quietly replaced, one after the other, by their more modern LED counterparts. With the neon light fading, cities now have different kinds of shadows . . . and a markedly less poetic urban landscape. At the Electronic Beats sponsored New Order exhibition this past June, a blue neon sign welcomed visitors into the vast foyer of Berlin’s .HBC. Photo: Georg Roske 4  EB 3/2012


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“Was you ever bit by a dead bee?” asks Humphrey Bogart’s sidekick Eddie in Howard Hawks’ 1944 classic To Have and Have Not. These days, with honeybee colonies vanishing worldwide, the question takes on new meaning. It’s unclear whether the modern-day totem graffiti pictured here on the wall of an electricity generator booth in Berlin is supposed to conjure them back from the dead or scare them away. Photo: Volker Roloff EB 3/2012   7


At a height of 2,395 meters above sea level, the Grübelspitze’s mountain peak in Austria’s Zillertal is one of the most beautiful promontories in the Tux Alps—that is, unless it’s a cloudy day. There’s a reason why summits house the gods in Jung’s archetypes and why they figure so prominently in Freud’s interpretation of the Epic of Gilgamesh: because they’re the stuff of dreams. But who said dreams have to refer to romantic ideals? Goodbye visions of the sublime, hello “I’d-rather-stay-in-the-car”. Photo: Gustav Bettel

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This fried MIDI keyboard looks like it was unearthed from the rubble of a volcanic eruption. Might it still carry traces of whatever sonic shockwaves melted it the night before? Maybe one day we’ll have the archaeological plug-ins to find out what song did this. Photo: Tod Seelie EB 3/2012   11


Shanghai’s skyline is one of the world’s most radically postmodern silhouettes—a little boy’s futuristic model city come to life in China’s economic epicenter. The true challenge of this architecture isn’t looking up at it, but rather ignoring it. Photo: Ben de Biel

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IMPRINT ELECTRONIC BEATS MAGAZINE CONVERSATIONS ON ESSENTIAL ISSUES Est. 2005 Issue N° 31 Fall 2012

Publisher: Burda Creative Group GmbH, P.O. Box 810249, 81902 München, Germany Managing Directors: Gregor Vogelsang, Dr.-Ing. Christian Fill Head of Telco, Commerce & Utilities: Christine Fehenberger

Editorial Office: Electronic Beats Magazine, Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 13, 10178 Berlin, Germany www.electronicbeats.net magazine@electronicbeats.net Editor-in-Chief: Max Dax Managing Editor: Thomas Walter Duty Editor: Michael Lutz Editor: A.J. Samuels Art Director: Johannes Beck Graphic Designer: Inka Gerbert Photography Editor: Corinna Ada Koch Copy Editor: Karen Carolin Project Manager: Martin Hossbach

Cover: Pet Shop Boys, photographed in London by Pelle Crépin. (One half of this issue’s circulation features Chris Lowe on the cover—the other half Neil Tennant.)

Contributing Authors: H.P. Baxxter, Chris Bohn, Gernot Bronsert, Merissa Campbell, Jace Clayton, Matthew Dear, Alec Empire, Thomas Fehlmann, Annika Henderson, Jamie Hince, Daniel Jones, Arto Lindsay, Chris Lowe, Scott Monteith, Alison Mosshart, Glenn O’Brien, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Mark Reeder, Andreas Reihse, Irmin Schmidt, Sebastian Szary, Alexis Taylor, Neil Tennant, Lucia Udvardyova, André Vida

Contributing Photographers and Illustrators: Gustav Bettel, Pelle Crépin, Ben de Biel, Georg Gatsas, Thorsten Güttes, Luci Lux, Alasdair McLellan, Ben Roberts, Fox Rocks, Volker Roloff, Georg Roske, Tod Seelie, Hans Martin Sewcz

Electronic Beats Magazine is a division of Telekom’s international music program “Electronic Beats” International Music Sponsoring / Deutsche Telekom AG: Claudia Jonas and Ralf Lülsdorf Public Relations: Kruger Media GmbH—Public Relations & Brand Communication, Torstraße 171, 10115 Berlin, Germany Jens Wernscheid, jens.wernscheid@kruger-media.de Subscriptions: www.electronicbeats.net/subscriptions Advertising: advertising@electronicbeats.net Printing: Druckhaus Kaufmann, Raiffeisenstr. 29, 77933 Lahr, Germany, www.druckhaus-kaufmann.de Distribution: VERTRIEB MZV GmbH & Co KG, 85716 Unterschleißheim, Germany, www.mzv.de

Thanks to: Michael Aniser, Karl Bette, Louise Brailey, Nora Lawrenz, Julia Paul, Ralf Rattay, Brandon Rosenbluth, Dave Youssef © 2012 Electronic Beats Magazine / Reproduction without permission is prohibited A way to cut through the straitjacket of language.

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CONTENT PICTURES TO THE EDITOR .......................................................... 4

olo GU

ES

RECOMMENDATIONS................................................................... 18 Music and other media recommended by Chris Bohn, Deadbeat, Matthew Dear, Alec Empire, Thomas Fehlmann, Arto Lindsay, Glenn O’Brien; featuring new releases by Daphni, Bob Dylan, Mala, Moritz von Oswald Trio, Frank Ocean, Raymond Pettibon and more ABC The alphabet according to Mark Reeder ................................... 32 MS. STYLE ICON Anika on Marlene Dietrich ................................. 38 COUNTING WITH . . . Alexis Taylor .............................................. 40

“They were strangers to me before, innit” A.J. Samuels in London with COOLY G ............................................. 44 “Anything can be pop nowadays” Max Dax talks to PET SHOP BOYS .................................................. 50 “There are rarely good people in films who are cunts as well” A.J. Samuels interviews the THE KILLS ........................................... 58 “In a golden twilight, I walked through a mysterious city in ruins” Max Dax in conversation with IRMIN SCHMIDT .............................. 64

“Every audience loves pyro” MODESELEKTOR in conversation with H.P. BAXXTER .................. 74 A Day in the Life: 24 hours in Prague ............................................. 82 NEU: DJ /RUPTURE on Sufi Plug Ins .............................................. 98

Three of our featured contributors: Glenn O’Brien

André Vida

Anika

(* 1958) is a writer, journalist and former editor-in-chief of Interview Magazine. He also used to host the brilliant public access show TV Party. In this issue he recommends Cutups, Cut-ins, Cut-outs: The Art of William S. Burroughs. Photo: Max Dax

(* 1976) is a composer and saxophonist of world—no, universe—no, omniverse renown. He is also a regular contributor to Electronic Beats Magazine. In this issue he recommends Moritz von Oswald Trio’s album Fetch. Photo: Luci Lux

(* 1987) is a British-born singer and musician whose deep voice and love of protest music subverts the industry’s dominant paradigms. In this issue she discusses her style icon, actress and singer Marlene Dietrich. Photo: Georg Gatsas

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RECOMMENDATIONS Edited from conversation

“An almost post-racial landscape” Arto Lindsay on Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE

(Def Jam)

Arto Lindsay helped define a new generation of brutal, primitive noise music in the late seventies with legendary no wave pioneers DNA and continues today to push the proverbial envelope as both a producer and consummate guitar nonconformist. He has collaborated with artists as diverse as Laurie Anderson, David Byrne and Ryuichi Sakamoto. He currently lives in Rio de Janeiro.

A lot of the time, R&B singing attempts to transcend words in order to reach some other plane—to return to a barely remembered state which has a certain shape, maybe a shape created by or reached through vowels. R&B is an effort to recover a language whose form you know but can’t quite remember. What’s interesting about Frank Ocean is how he breaks with this convention and almost always emphasizes understatement and casual and clear language. On his first record, nostalgia ULTRA, he essentially redefined casual through his relaxed singing style and, while I love D’Angelo, Usher and R. Kelly, you would never say their singing was casual. Ocean places an emphasis on the narrative aspect of his music in a very personal way, making observations with an eye similar to the best rappers of his generation. Musically, Ocean is closer to people like singer-songwriters Shuggie Otis, Bill Withers and Charles Wright of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band who did “Express Yourself” in how he weaves loose-

ness into the fabric of his songs. All of these guys can be categorized as great Californian R&B; soul music that looks out across the Pacific and dreams of Hawaii, that oh-sowell-chosen paradise. That’s not to undermine channel ORANGE’s other “local” tradition, which would be Ocean’s hometown of New Orleans. I know from experience that New Orleans is one of the places where music is truly part of people’s lives and that New Orleanians make a demanding audience despite being totally unprejudiced. They have really sophisticated listening habits and absorb it all— gospel, jazz, funk, blues, rock and roll, hip-hop, pop, all of it. Ocean has obviously absorbed that culture and channel ORANGE sounds like music that people play. It’s organic rather than sampled. But it’s also of its generation. Tracks like “Thinkin Bout You” feel very minimalist, and are presumably influenced by commercial R&B and the great nineties producers. Perhaps one of the record’s most interesting dimensions is how it deals specifically with the

black bourgeois experience. The songs’ characters all have blonde girlfriends, and California is in some ways a bit looser about color, despite the LAPD. To my ear, channel ORANGE occupies an almost post-racial landscape, even though on “Super Rich Kids”, Ocean openly criticizes the black bourgeois. That track also has one of my favorite lyrics: “We end our day up on the roof / I say I’ll jump but I never do / But when I’m drunk I act the fool / Talkin’ bout ‘Do they sew wings on tailored suits’ / I’m on that ledge, she grabs my arm / She slaps my head / It’s good times, yeah”. Now that’s a verse—a real stream of consciousness flow that’s just so beautifully written. For a pop song, that’s rare. Ocean writes like a short story writer, and I usually hate it when rock critics say, “So-and-so writes songs like a short story,” because it usually means that the music is really boring. But here it undoubtedly works well. Maybe it’s just me, but Frank Ocean seems just as much a part of the tradition of noir fiction as he is an R&B artist. ~

“A way to cut through the straitjacket of language” Glenn O’Brien recommends Cut-ups, Cut-ins, Cut-outs: The Art of William S. Burroughs

(Kunsthalle Wien / Verlag für moderne Kunst)

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With the cut-up method, artist and writer William S. Burroughs hit upon, or should I say “rediscovered”, a compositional technique that was ahead of its time— a truly visionary anticipation of the way we now process information on a daily basis online. That is to say: cut-up was a different way of seeing. By slicing into messages of mass-dissemination

from newspapers, film or audiotape, mind-bending coincidences emerge that otherwise would have remained invisible. It’s a process that relies on healthy doses of serendipity and synchronicity, where a kind of magic occurs that releases its hidden powers in the shuffling of text or tape. It’s also fitting that it was originally visual artist Brion

Gysin who “stumbled” upon this technique by accident in the Beat Hotel in Paris’ Latin Quarter in the late fifties, when he took a box-cutter to a stack of newspapers in the late fifties. Slicing up various sentences, Gysin immediately saw how one line of type, when unhinged from the rest of the text, would interact with other random lines in completely unpre-


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Glenn O’Brien is an award-winning writer, primarily for fashion, art and music magazines. He served as editor and art director of Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine from 1970 to 1973 and has also written several books. His latest is How to Be a Man – A Guide To Style and Behavior For The Modern Gentleman (Rizzoli 2011)

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dictable ways. When he showed this phenomenon to Burroughs in Paris, Burroughs immediately began experimenting with it as a way to run interference against the world of oppressive communication he called “control.” You see, Burroughs believed that language and image were viral and that the mass-dissemination of information was part of an arch-conspiracy that restricted the full potential of the human mind. With cut-up, Burroughs found a means of escape; an antidote to the sickness of “control” messages that mutated their original content. If mass media already functioned as an enormous barrage of cut-up material, the cut-up method was a way for the artist to fight back using its same tactics. Cut-ups, Cut-ins, Cut-outs:

The Art of William S. Burroughs provides a good introduction to Burroughs’ and Gyson’s cut-up techniques, as well as its influence on a wide range of artists, from Paul McCartney to punk poet Kathy Acker. The book begins with an early conversation between Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso in 1961, where Burroughs famously proclaimed that “death is a gimmick” and that all political conflicts only serve to hide what’s really going on. From there, the book proceeds to highlight the extent to which cut-up was an actual mental survival strategy for Burroughs; a way to cut through the straitjacket of language. With an excellent selection of his work from the Barry Miles Archive and Los Angeles County Museum

of Art, among others, Cut-ups provides an accurate portrayal of the cultural context in which Burroughs’ work was received. This is one of the book’s most important accomplishments. The other would be its concise historical contextualization of cutup as an artistic method. Brion Gysin once said that writing was fifty years behind painting and therefore something radical was needed to bring literature up-todate. As the book explains, cut-up is more-or-less an extension of the collage—an art form that has been around since the nineteenth century and which reached its first peak with Dada. But as a technique, cut-up remained bound to the visual arts until Burroughs published his “Nova Trilogy”— The Ticket That Exploded, Nova


Express and The Soft Machine. These books were essentially made up of the same content, just reordered and shuffled around. And even Burroughs’ most well known work, Naked Lunch, was assembled for publication in cut-up fashion. Interestingly, after Ginsberg persuaded Maurice Girodius of Olympia Press to publish it, he ended up with only a week to assemble the raw material. As a

result, they employed a sort of “cut-up division of labor” with various people typing up different sections, which lent a more than a little bit of refreshing randomness to the whole editing process. You often see this today in science fiction or in spy movies, like in the Mission Impossible series, where someone has a large database of bits of recorded speech that is used to create an artificial

conversation by pulling someone else’s words out of context. But what these scenes really show us is that the single voice is really more of a composite of our social experiences; a multitude of voices speaking through us. While it may have seemed far-fetched back in the day, now, with our plethora of automated interactions, we have conversations with robots on a regular basis. ~

Left and previous page: Cut-up, self applied. From the William S. Burroughs Papers, 1951–1972 in the New York Public Library. Reprinted in Cut-ups, Cut-ins, Cut-outs: The Art of William S. Burroughs, p. 94 - 95.

“Now it’s the grown-up version!” Daniel Jones recommends Lauren Bousfield’s Avalon Vales Ask the average person on the street and they’ll probably say they have a favorite band. For me, this is almost impossible: the variables of taste shift far too frequently. But, somewhere deep amongst the crud and wobbly stuff inside me, I keep a little crystallized shard that says ALWAYS LOVE U. In that shard, four words: Nero’s Day At Disneyland, aka Lauren Bousfield. To listen to an album by Lauren—formerly Brock Bousfield—is to hear a symphony deconstructed, chopped into bits and put back together into cartoon devils that wheeze and lurch, yet somehow never lose their sense of beauty. Bousfield’s early work drifted wonderfully close to punk, with his debut LP Attention Shoppers essentially an ADD-addled extension of his other collaborative project Strip Mall Seizures. His would later go on to abandon his spastic vocal stylings to explore more symphonic and experimental compositions, though they never lost that mutant edge. His latest work, Avalon Vales, sounds perhaps closest to a sonic ideal. It’s certainly his most beautiful work to date. What makes Bousfield’s music so captivating is how he recon-

ceptualizes the way we might think to listen to songs. For example, when you imagine a choir, you’re likely to think of it as a vocal focal point in a chorus. In contrast, Bousfield employs it instrumentally, opting to make the shrill, whirling, synths and breakbeats the song’s true voice. Avalon Vales once again showcases his deft manipulation of chamber music samples and the chaotic catchiness of his original song structures, as well as—for the first time since his debut—his sensual yet innocent vocals. The result is the very definition of angelic: beautiful, mysterious, asexual, frightening and holy. About six years ago, I was in a synthpunk band. You don’t need to know the name—we weren’t big. We were named after a Virgin Prunes song, for God’s sake. Still, I had the pleasure of playing with a lot of cool bands, including Amitai Heller’s pre-Water Borders project New Thrill Parade, Sixteens, and SWFT WNGS—now Bestial Mouths. We even got to play the infamous leather club The Eagle, which has sadly closed. Our finest moment, however, was playing with Strip Mall Seizures in a big punk house in Oakland. The following is a written excerpt

from my tour diary, dated 2007: White Slave Trade show had gang violence; six shots fired not ten feet away from us, twelve more after we ran inside. No deaths! Listened to Snoop Dogg after, felt like a shrimpy sissy. Got to Oakland around 1:30 p.m., venue turned out to be this huge, awesome house full of anarcho crusties. Rode bikes with a photography kid to get amazing burgers. Dug a hole with a guy with breast implants, turned out to be a dude from Coughs, and played with big dogs in the dirt. Met Judy, Brock and Matt from Strip Mall Seizures, who are all amazingly nice people and ultracool. Coughs guy played noise in the hole as Carezza for five minutes; which made me happy and excited. We played a good show, with slime and eggs and bunny ears. The synths sounded mad chunky. George, who played with Marfa and Ne-af in Prague showed up randomly, didn’t know we were gonna be there. Long talk with Brock. He complimented my Poison Girls shirt and turned me on to Frog Pocket. Ate an oyster from a bonfire, bounced on a huge trampoline with dogs and made freestyle raps. Strip Mall Seizures played. Best show

(Vale Records)

Daniel Jones is a music promoter and creator of the subculture reconceptualization & aesthetics tumblr formerly known as Gucci Goth, now Black Black Gold. Since 2011, he’s also been a staff writer and editor for electronicbeats.net

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RECOMMENDATIONS

ever. So good. Sentence fragments; just phrases. Justin ran over my foot as we left to get food. When I hear Avalon Vales, I’m transported back to that house, vibrating with the pounding crash of synthesizers . . . only now it’s the grown-up version. Through chopped choirs and disconcerting piano ballads that pass like a fever-dream, Bousfield leads us through something wholly unique,

leaping in and out of genres while never crossing into incoherence. Even the album’s occasional moments of heavy brutality such as the demented synthcore of “Cracknight” or the grand finale “Our Trauma” feel regal—a higher class of violence than the screaming hatred of “Death Parade”. Like Crass, and very few bands after them, Nero’s Day isn’t punk with a uniform or a formula. It’s

grown-up punk music; the same rebellion and queerness and freakpower attitude that we all wanted to express back then, but done in a way that shows not just a maturing spiritual growth, but a maturing production value as well. Still, it remains just as DIY as ever. Bousfield’s vision of the world carries all the entropy of the one we inhabit every day. But it’s the ecstasy you’ll remember after. ~

“The sounds themselves possess some inner life” André Vida on Moritz von Oswald Trio’s Fetch

(Honest Jon‘s)

Hungarian-American saxophonist and composer André Vida is co-founder of the NYC collective Creative Trans-Informational Alliance and a frequent collaborator with musicians and artists as diverse as Oni Ayhun, Anthony Braxton and Tino Sehgal. His most recent release is the threevolume retrospective, Brud, put out last year by PAN Records. In the last issue of Electronic Beats he recommended Mati and the Music—a book on Mati Klarwein’s record covers.

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The varied dimensions and sound worlds co-existing in the Moritz von Oswald Trio’s latest album, Fetch, has led me to think of several totally irrational metaphors to describe something I still can’t quite put my finger on. At first I invented some alchemical ritual where the paint scraped off a masterwork is reconstituted into a speaking body, but alchemy is such an incredibly unsatisfying metaphor to apply to excellent music—and so cheesy. Then I imagined collecting all of the money in the world and putting it into a pile to see if the value of our worldly experiences devoid of currency could simply be valued for what they are, and that sound would be some kind of currency but . . . what? Equally random. What I am scraping for here are the sounds. I want some metaphor that tells you how delicate and elegant these synthesized sounds are, draped against unpredictable live percussion, simultaneously driven by machine sequences, the three members hanging amongst each other, supporting both entropic and predictable tendencies at the same time. The music possesses that alertness that jazz musicians like Tony Williams

or Wayne Shorter have used to elliptically shift everything in a breath or a blink. But the sounds themselves possess some inner life that I can’t figure out, as if they exist independently of us and are being reconstituted from some dormant state, each with its own sense of material memory. And

MORE RECOMMENDATIONS ON ELECTRONICBEATS.NET

I have been relistening over and over and over and still feel my ears extending from my tiptoes to try to figure out what it is that is so interesting and I still don’t know. I just know that it is. My first encounter with the

Moritz von Oswald Trio was about five years ago at the Unsound Festival in Krakow. We were playing the same night in a very communist feeling theater built in the seventies. The space itself somehow seemed to want to claim authorship of all content. I remember sitting on one of the top rows of the grand carpeted amphitheater and feeling there was something impenetrable about the performance. The mood was very strong, but not in an emotional sense—as if they were engaged in unspoken dialogue with the building and the timeexpanding and time-contracting happening all around us. It sounded like they were tricking the stage into submission. Years later, while working on Ari Benjamin Meyers’ Symphony X in collaboration with choreographer Tino Sehgal, I got the chance to play with Max Loderbauer. I remember dancing around the seventy-minute notated score while the audience danced around the fourteen-piece orchestra . . . and then Loderbauer’s refined and precise solo synthesizer interludes came in, recentering the entire gravity of the room. Later, we were working on some music


together and after recording some ideas, there was a hard disc crash and he just said, “Well it wasn’t quite right—let’s try it again.” I really respect that philosophy, and I imagine it’s one shared by Vladislav Delay and Moritz von Oswald, the trio’s other members. That idea of doing things until they’re just right is often obscured by the deceptively easy tools of digital editing in all forms of twenty-first century music. In the process of recording a studio album, documents

from the “golden age”—the sixties and seventies—haunt most musicians like historiated footnotes, engraved with such delicate precision that even the vinyl seems to point out how degenerate our age of laptops and digital resources is. On “Jam”, with the additional contributions of Jonas Schoen’s woodwinds, Sebastian Studnitzky’s trumpet and Marc Muellbauer’s bass, I hear the group pointing directly back at one of those Miles Davis footnotes with newfound aware-

ness of the dangers of revisionism; a refracted but almost more direct view of the highly edited visions of Teo Macero and Miles. I remember hearing an amazing musician say that he didn’t want to talk about what he does because then he would understand it himself and that’s the last thing he would want. Perhaps the most frustrating element in talking about this album is that it says everything on its own terms. It just makes me want to make music, not talk about it. ~

“Taking that stroll down memory lane” Matthew Dear recommends Daphni’s Jiaolong I had the privilege of doing a brief tour in the United Kingdom with Dan Snaith in 2004. We did a show in London at a venue called the Coronet in Elephant & Castle, with Four Tet and Fennesz also on the bill. Looking back now it was one of my first truly great experiences of playing and hearing music, and the feeling I got from watching these artists fill a huge, historical theater with their unique sounds was incredible. I’m not sure how else to describe it. A memory I find myself returning to most is seeing Dan onstage and being blown away by his drumming. He is, in essence, a great percussionist. Each of his productions, from Manitoba, Caribou or now Daphni, is flushed with his flair for rhythm. It’s nice taking that stroll down memory lane because it was an exciting time and formative time. We were all just starting out. When I first heard Jiaolong, my initial thought was, “How can I do that?” Dan attains a very clear equilibrium when merging organic and synthetic sounds. What struck me immediately

was his approach to sampling: there’s no tricky stuff, cut-ups or showboating. Instead, he chooses to allow the inherent qualities of a found sample dictate the track’s identity. “Ne Noya” is a prime example of Dan’s intuitive and sensitive method of production, where he allows the sample to play in its original state for a minute and a half before introducing a synth for the first time. The singer’s very direct and distinctive voice is on a very long loop, which pays homage to the originality and beauty of the source material. These days, so many people really want to own their samples by running them through filters in a bid to imprint some of their character on them. Dan, in contrast, is unabashedly honest in his technique. He simultaneously allows these edits to breathe while ensuring the seams between old and new feel smooth and their application unforced. The techniques that I’m describing, as well as Dan’s incredibly fastidious attention to individual elements, are hallmarks of live music as well. Interestingly,

I saw him play as Caribou at a festival in Lyon called Les Nuits Sonores in 2011, and the energy level was just extraordinary. The crowd was going wild, which in turn came back to the stage, which then fed back to the kids in the audience. It was an energy loop. Dan and his band were using the songs from the album Swim as a starting point for epic, spiralling jams and somehow, this glorious live experience managed to capture a remarkable sense of authenticity: it felt real. I often associate the act of creating a party atmosphere with a kind of sacrifice, where playing a really energetic set in order to make everyone go crazy forces you, as a DJ, to give a little bit of your soul away. Seeing Dan perform showed me that this did not have to be the case, and I feel that Jiaolong has the same intense energy coursing through it. Personally, I find that nothing short of inspiring. I’m excited to get out and play some of the tracks in a DJ set. Who knows, maybe I’ll do some edits of his edits . . . and feed off of that energy loop myself. ~

(Jiaolong)

Texas-born Matthew Dear is an electronic musician and co-founder of the labels Ghostly International, as well as its more dancefloor oriented offshoot, Spectral Sound. His latest album Beams was released this past August.

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RECOMMENDATIONS

“The spirit of Fukushima lingers throughout” Chris Bohn recommends Project UNDARK’s Radium Girls 2011

(BeReKeT Records)

Chris Bohn is a longtime editor of British avant-garde music magazine The Wire. For the last issue of Electronic Beats, he recommended Terre Thaemlitz’s Soulnessless. Right: A portrait of the artist as a split personality. From the William S. Burroughs Papers, 1951–1972 in the New York Public Library. Reprinted in Cut-ups, Cut-ins, Cutouts: The Art of William S. Burroughs, p. 100.

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Back in the late seventies, a Japanese schoolgirl called Phew— the prominent voice on Project UNDARK— came to England, saw the Sex Pistols and returned to Japan knowing that that was what she wanted to be. With the guitarist Bikke she formed the punk group Aunt Sally in Osaka, whose most distinctive feature was Phew’s tremendous vocals. Pitched low, then as now it runs counter to the cutesy, Lolita style female vocal endemic to Japanese popular culture. Postpunk and electronica artists from Melt-Banana and Shonen Knife to Tujiko Noriko have made great play with this cliché, and very smart Japanologists will explain how Japanese teens indulging in Lolita type cosplay games create female realms free of male patriarchy. Tell that to the “salarymen” reading S&M manga comics on crowded Tokyo Metro trains—I doubt they’re listening to Phew on their MP3 players. If her voice didn’t shrivel their commuter-run wet dreams, her krautrock connections would finish them. She made her first solo album (Phew, 1981) with Conny Plank, Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit. In 1992 she made an album, Our Likeness, with a later generation of German underground legends, including DAF/ Liaisons Dangereuses’ Chrislo Haas and the Einstürzende Neubauten’s Alexander Hacke. But Phew is only part of the team. Project UNDARK also includes Manga artist/writer Erika Kobayashi, with Cluster/ Harmonia’s Dieter Moebius supplying the musical backdrop. Well, it’s more of a docudrama-like score of luminous throbbing and Geiger counter ticking under Phew’s and Kobayashi’s poetic channeling of

the diary-like thoughts and feelings of victims of radium poisoning alluded to by the album title Radium Girls 2011. It refers specifically to a group of female factory workers in Orange, New Jersey who, in 1917, were employed to coat the dials of watches with a glow-in-thedark paint that contained massive amounts of radium—an element some one million times more radioactive than uranium. But, clearly, the spirit of the Fukushima earthquake/tsunami/meltdown lingers throughout. If you’re not listening properly, the music on Radium Girls is somewhat monotonous. Pay closer attention, however, and the emotional impact of Moebius’ electronics is accumulative and ultimately devastating. Given the album’s docudrama approach, it’s best heard while reading the CD booklet’s English language translations of the Japanese lyrics, which are interspersed with Erika Kobayashi’s luminous green line drawings. Erika also provides extra vocals, her higher voice contrasting with that of Phew, who talk-sings most of the album’s texts. Both combine perfectly with the unexpected twists and turns of Moebius’ illustrative electronics. Its purposefulness puts this album up there with his best work. The conceptual focus required for Project UNDARK has usefully anchored the sometimes slack, meandering tendencies of this most wayward of German electronic pioneers. Project UNDARK have released their album in Japan at a time when the atmosphere of fear and danger in the wake of 3/11 is still extremely prevalent. This is compounded by the paternalistic conspiracy of the Japanese government,

media and nuclear power industry, which is very reluctant to publicly reveal the full extent of the disaster. Out of necessity, then, some artists and musicians have become the most vocal critics of this politicalindustrial-media cabal of secrecy. Ryuichi Sakamoto has been an outspoken opponent of Japan’s nuclear energy policies from way before the Fukushima disaster. As someone who spent ten years of his youth in Fukushima, Japanese improviser and occasional Phew collaborator Otomo Yoshihide has been extremely active setting up events to ensure that people from the region don’t end up being treated like ghosts, the way the “explosion-affected” hibakusha survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were before them. Exactly because it focuses on the personal as political, Radium Girls hits, hurts and moves. Kobayashi’s contributions locate their story in a wider history of the uses of atomic power as a source of energy and destruction. But the factory girls themselves come alive in the Phewspoken songs named after them. What makes Phew’s variously deadpan, sardonic or blankly descriptive lyrics great is that they don’t focus on their pain and suffering, but rather on the women’s diary-like monologues of jealousy, hope and camaraderie: The watch I painted with radium could be glowing somewhere in Varennes-en-Argonne,
 even as we speak, I think. Maybe snug in a good soldier’s pocket.
He might be handsome, he might be gentle. The way Phew’s lyric, just quoted, imagines an unlived future for “Tracy” is particularly heartbreaking. It speaks just as well for all the missed lives resulting from the Fukushima disaster. ~


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RECOMMENDATIONS

“I find myself drifting away in the music” Deadbeat on Mala’s Mala in Cuba

(Brownswood Recordings)

Canadian Scott Monteith, aka Deadbeat, is a Berlin-based deephouse and dubtechno producer. In 2011 he founded his own label BLKRTZ. His latest album, Eight, was released this September.

I came up in the mid-nineties jungle scene, going to parties every week back when Toronto had the biggest rave scene outside of London. From that entry point I worked backwards, musically speaking, with my taste diversifying into The Orb and Basic Channel until I eventually arrived at reggae and dancehall. Caribbean music has been entrenched within the club culture in Montreal and Toronto for a long time because, demographically, these two cities are the most popular destinations for Caribbean emigrants after the UK. This combination of my hometown’s cultural history and my own personal musical narrative ensured that it was Mala, of all the dubstep originators, who resonated with me. Listen to his early Digital Mystikz records like “Anti War Dub” and you can hear how he wears the reggae soundsystem history and drama on his sonic sleeve. Maybe it was because of my roots background, but my excitement about this record was tempered by concern when I read about the concept of Mala travelling to Cuba with Gilles Peterson to collaborate with local musicians. I actually envisioned an Indiana Jones style map in my mind con-

necting musical bloodlines and you can clearly trace a path from everything that is happening within electronic dance music directly from the Caribbean; from when islanders first heard American R&B on the the radio, creating their own version, embedding the source code into their culture, exporting it with immigration to the UK, and having it mutate as it spreads across the continent and eventually return to the US. It’s like a low-speed one-watt modem intercontinental exchange. That said, while cross-pollination is a key part of any sound’s development, we can all think of examples where the signal is jammed; where poorly implemented cultural tourism forces roots music into a dance context and leaves us with horrible things like Gotan Project. Thankfully, on Mala in Cuba, you hear both sides of the equation. Mala doesn’t sample distinctive percussion or melodies only to dump them in a square electronic framework. It’s more symbiotic than that. I find myself drifting away in the music, drawn into an acoustic element, only for the horns to burst into a massive delay cloud. Or I would be zoning in on this half-step beat, when suddenly a

flourish of real instruments would emerge from this robotic soup. In some songs you can isolate individual voices that are being fed into the overall conversation between production and instruments: it’s physically impossible, for example, for somebody playing acoustically to generate frequencies at a high volume at 10 Hz – 20 Hz where all of the sub bass happens, so that’s Mala’s doing. He produces the extremely rigid “motorik” rhythms that shape the percussion; listen closely to the inky malevolence of “Cuban Electronic” and you can discern how straight the musicians are playing—or being cut up. On the kinetic “Tribal” however, it works the other way around, with the musicians finding rhythms and tempos Mala probably never would have arrived at on his own. Listening to the record late one night, it occurred to me that this is the first album since Roni Size and Reprazent’s New Forms that I’ve heard differing influences become so brilliantly amalgamated. To me, this album is the first time that this generation of dubstep producers have really touched on and worked with original soundsystem culture. In short, it feels like the circle is complete. ~

“A mythical protagonist from a blurry western” Max Dax on Bob Dylan’s Tempest

(Columbia)

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Recommending a new album by Bob Dylan might not seem like an obvious choice to appear in a magazine called Electronic Beats. But considering the number of electronic musicians who’ve outed themselves as Dylan fans, there seems to be something of a connection. I

suppose part of the reason for this is the accuracy of Dylan’s poetry and the mysterious patterns of his ever-changing live performances— two things strongly connected to making art that is, as Dan Snaith once mentioned in these pages, “more madness than method”.

Tempest is much more than an interesting, ten-song Dylan record. It’s a seventy-minute collection of repetitive, hypnotic and tale-telling poems, in which Dylan entirely eschews instrumental solos and conventional choruses. It’s an album that obeys none of the rules


RECOMMENDATIONS

Max Dax is editorin-chief of Electronic Beats Magazine.

of classical songwriting and has no pretensions of fulfilling pop music expectations. Indeed, Dylan’s method of combining the monotony of talking blues with complex lyric writing does something quite different: it entrances over its entirety. Dylan, who turned seventy-one years old this winter, sings about the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, the murder of John Lennon, the fictitious Scarlet Town of “Barbara Allen” lore, and the whistle announcing approaching trains in Duquesne, Missouri—that is, before the town was destroyed by a tornado in 2011. Suffice to say, on Tempest, a linear conception of time doesn’t exist. And neither do strict conceptions of authorship. Accordingly, it’s not by accident that Dylan not only appropriates poetic fragments of lyrics written by other artists, but also adopts and refines preexisting musical strategies and melodies. He employs something akin to copy and paste in triggering our memories connected with the lyrical and melodic originals, opening doors that will lead the listener to new

worlds and long-forgotten moments in history. It’s a compositional bricolage held together by Dylan’s sometimes tender, sometimes authoritarian voice. And the results are often surprising. For instance, in his ode to John Lennon, “Roll On John”, Dylan describes the late Beatle as a mythical protagonist from a blurry Western: “He turned around and he slowly walked away/ He shot him in the back / And then he went”. Dylan then weaves Lennon’s famous lines “I read the news today, oh boy” from The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” into the tale, rhyming them with his own “There’s no more joy”—in almost the exact same cadence Dylan used for his own epic tale of a dying gunfighter, “Brownsville Girl” from 1986’s Knocked Out Loaded. Lennon the visionary peacenik becomes a legendary gunslinger who could only be overcome by a coward who didn’t play by the rules. In his autobiography Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan famously mentions that he has never been interested in the up-to-

the-minute news of the daily media channels. For information about the world, he headed instead to the New York Public Library where he could browse the archives of local newspapers from decades or even a century ago. In that mode of research, the sinking of the Titanic becomes an event as current as, say, the sinking of the Costa Concordia. But Dylan handles the problems that arise through interweaving different layers of time and different conceptions of historical narrative impressively. On the album’s title track for example, the Titanic recalls the poetic anachronisms of “Desolation Row”. A huge cast of protagonists— including Leonardo DiCaprio—face imminent death, and they all react differently. One peaceful soul even remains asleep, only “dreaming” that the ship is sinking. It’s not hard to make out messages of vanitas symbolism in Dylan’s apocalyptic settings, but the fact is that he has been singing about mortality and the finitude of life ever since releasing Time Out of Mind some fifteen years ago. Or, in his perception of time: some yesterdays past. ~

“Improvisation beyond free jazz” Andreas Reihse recommends YOKOKIMTHURSTON

(Chimera Music)

Andreas Reihse is a Berlin-based musician, producer, blogger and founding member of the post-krautrock band Kreidler.

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It’s hard to find words to describe the amount of respect I have for Yoko Ono. She’s not only one of my all-time heroes, but one of the greatest and most influential people in the world today. She’s seventy-nine years old, but you would never guess her age if you happen to be standing in front of her. She really looks much younger. I’m not only impressed by her endurance and that she’s been doing her thing for over half a century now—even longer than Bob Dylan. No, first and foremost I am in awe of her mental strength, particularly in regards to how many people have

expressed their hate for her over the years. For a glimpse of that, just check out any video related to her on YouTube. The stupid never hesitate to spread their hatred. Aside from all of the xenophobia, art phobia and sexism, haters the world over are still claiming she’s responsible for the breakup of The Beatles. I mean, I doubt it’s true, but even if this were the case, how great would that be! She liberated these four inhibited Liverpudlians and guess what happened? Ringo had a number one hit! George became a floating spiritual character! Paul started to write beautiful

love songs! And of course, John became the greatest of them all. I am not so very convinced of Ono’s art output over the last decade or so, but I assume her focus had shifted, because musically she always delivered. Her last album Between My Head and the Sky was a genius precision landing after her previous flights of fancy— with a little help from Japanese producer/musician Cornelius. Now she’s recorded an album with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth as if it was the most natural thing in the world for a grown-up to do. Well, some people


might claim it’s an obvious choice: a score full of empty rooms, echoes of space, very delicate guitar work, touching screams and vocals, noisy, free-wheeling soundscapes, spoken word poetry—all with a very New York art school feel. But the album also sounds very European, too, with its moments and ideas of improvisation beyond

free jazz. In other words, with YOKOKIMTHURSTON, you get exactly what you’d expect. Of course you might argue that there’s something old-fashioned about that in light of the earliest Sonic Youth tapes from the eighties and Ono’s Fluxus performances from the mid1960’s, not to mention her primal scream recordings from the early

seventies. But the funny thing is that at least Ono’s classic work is still everybody’s bogeyman—from the common to the bourgeois listener. Ironic then that her most basic message on YOKOKIMTHURSTON remains: War is over! (If you want it). And unfortunately for most, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. ~

“A political agenda for a postcolonial Britain” Alec Empire recommends Adrian Sherwood’s Survival & Resistance It was in 1993 that I first witnessed Adrian Sherwood using the mixing desk as an instrument. He was in the room next to us at London’s Roundhouse Studios where we were working on tracks for Atari Teenage Riot. I remember so clearly how he was artfully layering sounds and using old delays and phasers to create this wideopen space—dubbed-out sonic landscapes is one of his specialities, of course. If you listen to seventies dub like Lee Perry’s “The Good, the Bad and the Upsetters” it all sounds very compressed, compared with Sherwood productions, where you can clearly hear each element. It’s sound as vision. Listening to him work that day, it became obvious that Sherwood came from a generation for whom experimentation was crucial. You see, in the pre-sampling eighties, everyone seemed to be thinking about how to create not only weirder, unexpected sounds, but also one’s that aren’t so easy to replicate—individualized sound design. For example, there’s a credit on the new album that lists legendary jazzman, Skip McDonald, as a “tuning consultant”. The explanation is that while working on Survival & Resistance, Sherwood and his collaborators went to Brazil and recorded traditional instruments, with Skip tuning them so low that they sound

like synths. Tuning was always one of the first parameters that musicians could really play with: take a guitar, tune it down and the frequencies become more rhythmic and drum-like. That’s Sherwood’s organic approach to synthesis. After I got about halfway through Survival & Resistance, I began to wonder why it is I love Adrian Sherwood, but find dubstep and new generations of dub-influenced subgenres so characterless. I guess one of the reasons is that so many dubstep producers use the same software, which naturally limits their imagination and sonic capacity. I don’t just mean the sounds themselves, but also their conceptual wherewithal that supports the pure music. In contrast, the expansive, scorched landscape of Survival & Resistance courses with a real sense of dread, particularly on “U.R. Sound”, where ominous chords are buttressed by currents of electrical interference. This is balanced out by a kind of spirituality that is specific to Sherwood dub—exemplified by the meditative vocals of Rastafarian preacher Ghetto Priest on “Trapped Here”. That’s not to say that there aren’t dubstep elements on the album, like “Two Semitones and a Raver” with its wobbly bass line and quick drops, but as usual Sherwood’s music is much broader than genre-

specific categorization, which of course is the result of all the people he’s working with: Lee Perry, Skip McDonald, Doug Wimbish . . . You just can’t recreate that in the studio with one artist and some software. Like Atari Teenage Riot, Sherwood is a political artist and through his On-U Sound label he has championed and produced music with a black Jamaican heritage; a political agenda for a postcolonial Britain. There’s no doubt it influenced ATR’s Bass Terror Soundsystem, although people might argue that what we did was harder and noisier. On-U is all about creating a sense of unity, but one loaded with social criticism; bringing people together without compromising the political message. If we as listeners are happy to merely stand back, the music says nothing and we will find ourselves left behind. Sherwood has a direct and critical political message, and this is something the dubstep scene urgently needs. Releasing Survival & Resistance amidst the global financial crisis and in the wake of a first wave of Occupy, Sherwood reminds us what soundsystems were, and what they should still be about. I hope young people listen, because music as a medium of political critique is perhaps more relevant now more than ever. ~

(On-U Sound)

Alec Empire is a founding member of the Berlin-based digital hardcore band Atari Teenage Riot. He currently runs two labels, Digital Hardcore Recordings (established in 1994) and the more recent Eat Your Heart Out. Aside from being a prolific solo artist, he is also an avid remixer and DJ. Empire was featured in the Spring 2011 issue of Electronic Beats Magazine in conversation with Wired staff writer and hackerethicist Steven Levy.

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RECOMMENDATIONS

How Thomas Fehlmann spent 100 euros

1 Swiss-born Thomas Fehlmann is an electronic musician and founding member of German NDW legends Palais Schaumburg. He is a frequent collaborator with numerous British and Detroit-based techno acts, as well a floating member of The Orb. For the Summer 2012 issue of Electronic Beats he reviewed Actress’ R.I.P.

Dilla Dog: Dillatroit (Vinyl, Mahogani Music)

I love J Dilla, may he rest in peace. He and Madlib belong to the small set of hip-hop musicians that I absolutely adore. As soon as I bought Dillatroit, the latest collection of previously unreleased outtakes from his virtually endless vaults, I wanted to rush home immediately to listen. For me, even without text, there’s a powerful message in his instrumental pieces. I was also glad to see that the tracks on this album were recorded in Detroit before he left for Los Angeles—a time when I think he made his most soulful and convincing tracks. Bought at Leila M., Rosa-LuxemburgStraße 30, Berlin, Euro 24,90

2

Raymond Pettibon: Whuytuyp (Luzern Exhibition Catalogue, JRP Ringier)

When I moved to the Berlin in 1984, the Bücherbogen art bookshop in Charlottenburg was the one place in the city where you

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could find rare books on art and theory, and I’ve been going there ever since. Browsing through the shop, I found Raymond Pettibon’s recently published catalogue from his exhibition in Luzern. I have all his other catalogues because we’re friends, and he even did the cover for my album Lowflow. I remember visiting him in his studio in Los Angeles where he let me pick one of his hundreds of half-finished drawings to use it for the sleeve. Then he finished it with me standing there right next to him. That was quite a memorable moment. Luckily, I began collecting Pettibon’s works before they got so expensive, and I was really happy when he invited me to play in the context of his big exhibition opening at the Kunsthalle Wien in 2006. He plays in a band as well, and even if he makes totally different music than I do, it clicked between us when we both realized that we share a love of electric Miles [Davis] as well as Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra and Albert Ayler. In Hermosa Beach, we once stood together in front of what used to be The Lighthouse jazz club, daydreaming about all the amazing gigs we missed out on. Bought at Bücherbogen, Savignyplatz, Berlin, Euro 25,00

Sog: For The Love Of God (Vinyl+CD, Profan)

Voigt’s new material has an increasingly conceptual approach that’s truly exciting. I’ve heard that these days he listens to far less contemporary music, which probably allows him to focus more on his own interests without interruption. Hearing lots of mediocre


3 1 2

5

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music on a daily basis just because you want to be up-to-date can actually divert your attention from what’s really important. If you can forgo listening to records just for the sake of crate digging, it can be inspiring. Definitely worth a try, I would say. Bought at Leila M., Rosa-LuxemburgStraße 30, Berlin, Euro 20,90

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Julian Schnabel: Deus Ex Machina (Exhibition Catalogue, CFA)

Since I studied art, Schnabel has always been an impressive figure for me—also because of his reputation for being too bold, too

brash and too renaissance-y. I have to admit that I have never been able to resist the impact of entering a room and seeing one of his original paintings. His work is both brutally overwhelming and at the same time extremely poetic. He can open up spaces that are only accessible within his paintings. I bought this catalogue knowing full well that looking at reproductions can never equal the powerful physical presence of the originals. Not that I have a choice; I’ve never had the money to buy a real Schnabel. While I would call Raymond [Pettibon] a friend, I’ve been more of a secret fan of Schnabel since I was seventeen years old. I actually sat next to him on an airplane once, but I was too lost for words to say anything. Bought at Bücherbogen, Savignyplatz, Berlin, Euro 24,80

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Soulphiction: 4U (Twelve-inch, Philpot)

Philpot is a label I like to keep track of mainly because I have a deep appreciation of the philosophy of Stuttgart-based label owner Michel Baumann. Baumann also makes his own music under two different monikers, Soulphiction and Jackmate, and when it comes to house music, I think Soulphiction offers a rare depth. The new twelve-inch has a grainy feel to it, and Baumann is not afraid to use samples from old records in order to add spaciousness and warmth to the mix. He actually remixed a track for my last remix EP on Kompakt. Somehow, it’s strange that we’ve never met. ~ Bought at Leila M., Rosa-LuxemburgStraße 30, Berlin, Euro 9,50

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ABC

The alphabet according to Mark Reeder as in AMIGA: The state-run worker and farmer record label of Communist East Germany. Previously responsible for feeding that poor, under-privileged population with party-line fodder for forty years. Musical excitement was generated by a selection of working class smash hits, such as bird songs of the GDR, or numerous records by the NVA (National People’s Army). These shared the shelves with generally insipid imitations of western pop music. That said, some of their home grown attempts at rock and pop, like Muck, Silly, Puhdys, City, and Karat did have their own particular style and became cult in their own way. In the latter half of 1989, I was invited by AMIGA to produce an album for their first English singing indie band, Die Vision, in the Brunnenstraße Tonstudio. The band’s name revealed their obvious musical direction and I believe I was chosen not simply because of my connection to Factory Records but also for the fact that the Stasi wanted to test me and my production skills. Initially, the band wanted me to make them sound like Joy Division, but I just wanted them

British expat Mark Reeder has been sewing the historical seeds of synthpop and trance across national and political boundaries for over thirty years. An early associate of Factory Records, Reeder helped form FAC darkwavers Shark Vegas on the political fault line that was Wall-era Berlin. After producing various postpunk acts on both sides of the Iron Curtain, Reeder founded the groundbreaking trance label Masterminded For Success (MFS), releasing some of the most important electronic music of the early nineties. An avid remixer, Reeder has most recently reworked synthpop icons Depeche Mode and Anne Clark (among others) for his surround sound album Five Point One. Left: Mark Reeder, photographed in Berlin by Luci Lux.

to sound like no other GDR band. Either way, it was a very rare opportunity for me to be allowed into this fascinating Frankenstein’s monster of a recording studio. More or less every piece of equipment in the place was self-made or had been cobbled together from bits and pieces. There were other difficulties to test your nerves too, such as regular power surges or drop-outs. These caused the multitrack tape recorder to instantly jump-switch all channels on to record mode, erasing any previously recorded tracks. As it was a communist country, I also had to work in shifts. One day I would have to start at 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., the next at 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. I discovered some of the other producers of marching music all wanted the early shifts, and so I easily managed to talk them into giving me their late shifts so I could work through the night. A few weeks after I had completed a couple of demo mixes, I was told the album had over thirty thousand pre-orders. The head AMIGA A&R even drove me around Pankow in East Berlin one night in his Trabi, optimistically showing me around grand old houses that I could possibly buy

with the money I was going to be earning from the projected record sales. It was all quite bizarre, because in the West I lived in a shoddy little flat in Kreuzberg. During the making of this album, the German Democratic Republic really started falling apart. We finally finished recording the last track for Torture on November 2, 1989. The next week the Berlin Wall fell and with it, I unknowingly became the first and only Englishman ever to have had the privilege of making an album in East Berlin and, at the same time, the last album of the GDR.

as in BATS: Sonic wonders. Incredible creatures and captivating and thrilling to watch. I always get excited when I see a bat, swerving and moving at super high speed. As a kid, I loved the camp sixties Batman TV series and I still do. I’m also into the thirties Dracula films with Bela Lugosi and Hammer Film’s sixties version with Christopher Lee. EB 3/2012   33


Read more ABCs at electronicbeats.net

as in CURTIS, IAN: I remember Ian as a witty, temperamental and sarcastic young man and a relentless chain smoker. Personally, I think he was the best lyricist of his era in the best band of the era, and I feel very proud to have known him. We shared not only a common interest in music, but also in history, mystery and World War II. His death was devastating. At the time, I felt cheated of the great music I was now never going to hear. It was only when Anton Corbijn started his Joy Division project that I was forced to reconsider things and show my own few photos of Ian that I had kept hidden for so many years.

as in DIE UNBEKANNTEN: Thrown together in June 1981 for a German Unity concert in legendary Berlin club SO36. I had previously performed with Adrian Wright from The Human League and future Bad Seeds and Die Haut drummer Thomas Wydler at the mammoth last night of the Exxcess Club, and I was asked if I would be willing to play again. I called my friend Alistair Gray to see if he could sing, and he instantly crooned “Strangers in the Night” in the telephone and I said, “Great! We have a gig next week, come round 34  EB 3/2012

and I will show you how to play bass.” We hurried out a couple of tunes and even wrote one of the songs in the bar across the road while waiting for the sound check. When the show started, I nervously hit the wrong button on our MFB drum machine and the whole thing just fell apart. The debut gig was a complete disaster. We weren’t anything like avantgarde, just incompetent. For our second EP, Dangerous Moonlight, Adrian gave us a prototype Roland 606 to test for him, and test it we did. We immediately ran into the studio and used it to record “Don’t Tell Me Stories” long before the drum machine was even allowed to be available in the shops. Although we wanted to mix dance and soul with synths, our sound was always very depressive and people would tell us how they cried listening to our music. Was it really that bad? We called it depridisco. People today call it darkwave. Apparently, Die Unbekannten have since become known as darkwave pioneers and godfathers of goth. In 1984 we decided to change our sound, style and our band name to Shark Vegas, after Bernard Sumner asked us to go on tour with New Order.

as in ENGLAND: E for England. Probably one of the best nineties catchphrases. There will always be one. Yes, it is a lovely country with many beautiful places and so much creativity, but in the seventies I couldn’t wait to leave it. England is sadly becoming more and more like the place George Orwell wrote about in 1984. CCTV is everywhere and they will soon be flying about on little remote controlled drones. Then everyone will be monitored.

as in FIVE POINT ONE: Multichannel surround sound. I love it. I have always been fascinated by the idea of three dimensional wrap-around sound. It is the natural way we hear. Many audio purists think it’s rubbish or just a momentary fashion trend, but people said that originally about stereo, too. I decided to make my Five Point One remix album in 5.1 not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

as in GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC: It was like Disneyland for me—a parallel world on the other side of the Berlin Wall that smelled of two-stroke engines, coal and cabbage. Forbidden and unknown. Very similar in many aspects to the West but also entirely different. A strange mirror world. It reminded me of my early childhood in many ways and things I was familiar with from my parents’ generation, like aluminum spoons or enamel plates. No one could tell me anything about it though and being a curious kind of fellow, I wanted to know more about it . . . much, much more. I wanted to delve deep into their underground music scene. I was hooked with my first visit there a


few days after arriving in Berlin in 1978. It was a bit like being beamed down into a scene from Star Trek that was like The Great Escape. But it was also a fucking serious place and you felt one wrong move could have you on a cattle car on the way to a Siberian salt mine. My first encounter with a punky looking kid formed the basis for a Stasi file on me. In good faith I asked him about the East Berlin underground scene. I meant the musical underground of course, but to the East Germans it meant political underground. He said there wasn’t one. We exchanged addresses and I heard nothing for months. Then I got a card inviting me over for a meeting at the Palast der Republik, the East German parliament. I was being vetted by a small group of people who were devotees of the sort of subcultural music that was considered dangerous in the GDR. Who was I? What did I want? Who did I work for? These were the questions the KGB were asking the Stasi and the same questions were probably being asked by these kids too. After years of monitoring my activities and especially after I had helped to organize the first secret Toten Hosen gig in East Berlin in 1982—disguised as a blues mass church service—the Stasi classified me as a subversive element out to corrupt their youth. I knew music was a weapon the authorities couldn’t really deal with, as it was constantly changing and we could always be one step ahead. Beyond East Berlin, the GDR was shabby, quaint, naive and innocent. It was an exhilarating thrill to travel about in forbidden places and do things you shouldn’t. I also liked the fact that it was untouched by gory advertising.

bland and much too muso for my taste. It was like they were trying too hard to outdo themselves.

as in HARD WAX: Elite and exclusive Berlin record store. Ideal hunting ground for techno and house DJs. As I am not a DJ, I never belonged to that particular club. They probably still hate me for making trance records anyway.

as in INTERSHOP: The most alluring and fraudulent supermarket chain in East Germany. Designed to glean hard western currency from the population of both East and West, it also enticed Westerners to break the law. In Berlin, Westerners could go to the Intershop, which was a prefab shed-like construction directly on the platform of Friedrichstraße underground station. This part of the station was the transfer point between the S- & U-Bahn systems into the West of the city and therefore inaccessible to East Germans. Here you could buy very cheap, duty free alcohol and name brand cigarettes. But there was a catch: Because the GDR was not an officially recognized country, the usual duty free rules didn’t apply. So people were compelled to smuggle stuff back into West Berlin. You would see scores of people frantically sticking cigarettes in their socks and down their underpants in a feeble attempt not to pay tax duty if collared by the West Berlin customs, who would be lying in wait for anyone coming from East Berlin.

as in JAPAN: Great eighties art rock band—like an eighties version of Roxy Music. I always thought Gentlemen Take Polaroids was a very cool album. They had fashion mag style, big hair and shoulder pads. Towards their end they started to become a bit too

Who was I? What did I want? Who did I work for?

as in KRAFTWERK: Being a fan of electronic music from an early age, I tried to get my hands on anything made with a synthesizer. In the seventies much of it was a noodling kind of synth music like Jean-Michel Jarre, Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream, and even the original version of Kraftwerk was very experimental. Then they had a hit with “Autobahn”. That changed everything and paved the way for electronic disco and the rest. I still think Die MenschMaschine and Computerwelt albums are probably the most futuristic sounding records, even today. Timeless masterpieces. as in LEISURE TIME: As a kid, I used to make model aircraft. It was very therapeutic and I would get high on the fumes from the glue and paint.

as in MANCHESTER: I have a love/hate relationship with Manchester. I love the surrounding countryside and imperial buildings from an age when Britain was a EB 3/2012   35


thriving industrial Empire. This grimy city is my birthplace though and the place that undoubtedly shaped my musical tastes and probably everything else. I grew up on the outskirts, in a council house. Proper working class. My dad had been in the Merchant Navy but left in the sixties to work for Manchester Liners and my mum had previously built the wing tips of Lancaster bombers that went off to bomb Germany during the war. Prospects in the early seventies didn’t look good. Factories were closing and it seemed everyone was being made redundant. I was thankfully spared a lifetime of grueling hard labor as new skills were required. I studied advertising design when it was literally cut and paste and you would constantly be on the lookout for E’s on a sheet of Letraset. I tried working in a few agencies, but it just wasn’t me, so I went to work in our local little Virgin Record store in Lever Street. Here, I honed my knowledge of music and I met most of the local musicians, as well as all the Factory people—Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton, Peter Saville, Kevin Cummins and many others. After the first wave of punk rock had washed over, I decided to leave Manchester in the late 1970’s to go and live in Berlin. Back then the city offered no future and I didn’t want to spend it in a dole queue. I still think that most artists from Manchester just want to make it so they can leave the place.

as in NIHILISM: I find many young people, especially in the UK, have quite a nihilistic attitude towards figures of authority. Being right wing or binge drinking and collecting ASBOs [Antisocial Behaviour Orders] are their weapons. It’s a bit sad that this is all they can think of really. 36  EB 3/2012

as in OSTBLOCK: Music played a very important role throughout the Eastern Bloc. The people I met would religiously listen to John Peel’s BBC World Service broadcasts and their knowledge of Western indie music through his show was astounding. It certainly drove them to plot the demise of their dictators. One exception to all the Eastern Bloc countries was Nicolai Ceausescu’s Romania. Now that was really a living hell. No food, no fun, no electricity. In contrast, I visited Czechoslovakia within the first few weeks of arriving in Berlin. I was so impressed by its untainted beauty. I stayed with a very old lady, who let me rent a room in her ancient art-deco house for twenty deutschmark a night. I was unpacking my bag and she came in to bring me a towel. On my bed was a banana from my travel provisions. She stopped and just stared at it. I said to her that she could have it and she almost burst into tears. She said she hadn’t tasted a banana for many years, as whenever they were available, she was too old and slow to stand and queue for one. She slowly peeled it and took a delicate and savoring bite. It was so sad, I just wished I had brought a bunch. Through my travels, I got to know some very interesting people in Prague who were involved in highly dangerous anti-state activities, such as Jáchym Topol who produced the self-made and radical periodical Revolver Revue, or Saša Vondra, the spokesman for the dissident Charter 77 movement. Saša was constantly in and out of prison. He is now the minister of defence.

as in POST-CAPITALISM: Coming our way very soon.

as in QUO VADIS, TRANCE? Not really going anywhere, except the USA. Finally they have embraced it and will surely put the final nail in its coffin too. In reality, trance as a musical genre has become repetitive, tepid and tedious. It is certainly a million miles away from what I had envisioned it to be.

as in RUNNING GAG: One of the things we British love is a continuously evolving joke. My recent, purposely botched introduction for the encore of New Order as Joy Divsion (and not Joy Division) was a running gag dating back to a poster for the first New Order Berlin concert in 1981, where the printer who set the type misspelled the band’s previous name.

as in SUMNER, BERNARD: Bernard is an old friend. He is very funny and is constantly playing jokes or trying his best to cause embarrassment. Our interests go far beyond music. In his last Electronic Beats interview, he mentioned his Transcendent 2000 synth that he built by hand from a kit. He gave me that synth back in the eighties and I still have it, unfortunately it doesn’t work anymore.


as in TRESOR: When Dimitri Hegemann told me about finding a new club location in a Tresor, a safe, deep underground in the basement of a former department store, I instantly imagined it to be like something from a James Bond film. A huge shiny, chrome and steel vault, with a three-meter thick door, gleaming and immaculate. Instead, what I saw upon my first visit was a rusty and grubby room with bars and a wall of decrepit safety deposit boxes. The place had a very musty smell and soon rumours were going around that if you went there you would inhale some kind of life threatening fungus. It didn’t stop anyone from going. The sound and location was just perfect for techno. When Dimitri decided to release the club’s first compilation, I helped by licensing eleven tracks to him from my MFS artists.

as in VAN DYK, PAUL: As my label was started in East Berlin in the ruins of AMIGA, my original idea for MFS was to release top techno tunes made mainly by young East Germans. Unfortunately, a year after the fall of the Wall, most of them still didn’t have the money or the equipment to make their own music. Then one day, Cosmic Baby told me about a young East German DJ he’d seen called Paul van Dyk. Apparently, they had the same musical vision. I suggested they work together. Paul also had a dream. He was ambitious and wanted to become a professional DJ. I helped him to realize that dream. I certainly believed in him one hundred percent when no one else did. I guided him and invested everything I had in his career. With that I don’t just mean money, but more valuable things like my credibility, creativity, time and energy. All I expected was loyalty in return. Sadly, I got nothing. as in WASTED GERMAN YOUTH: There are plenty of those about and not only in Germany. Just go to any club on any weekend and you will see hoards of them, not just the t-shirts. The consumption of drugs and alcohol has always led to some people getting totally wasted. I’ve been there myself on many occasions in the past. This doesn’t mean the zombification of Germany is imminent, or that the kids are throwing their lives away. Getting wasted is just a release, a way of escape.

as in UNIFORMS: Uniforms are practical and I have a passion for them. Since I was a small child I have always worn a uniform of one kind or another. I like the fact that they are usually well designed, are made of good quality material and they are hardwearing. And I especially like the idea that I can take something that has been created for an entirely different purpose and use it for my own.

as in XTC: Great feeling, great band and a great drug when it was new. Now people have no idea what is being offered to them under the guise.

as in YOUNG BLOOD: Thankfully, something art and music will always have. There will always be a young, frustrated person out there, eager and willing to voice their opinion and share their vision and creativity with us. as in ZONG: With that, we’re back to the beginning. What happened to AMIGA after the wall came down? They immediately changed their name to . . . ZONG. 1990 was a time of upheaval. Everything that was associated with the former communist regime was being purged. It was so frustrating. I knew the guys left to run the remnants of AMIGA were so eager to show that things had changed, but they really had no idea about marketing or creating a name. Horrified, I pleaded with them to keep AMIGA but they were so determined to throw off the shackles of the past. I tried to explain that if they were to have something new, they at least needed a name that was vibrant—one that would attract attention or cause controversy. I suggested they call their new moniker ZONY, as East Germans were also known as “Zonies” coming from the Soviet Zone. But it was no use. They didn’t find my parody at all amusing. I even went so far as to design a logo for ZONY that ever so slightly resembled the Sony logo in the vague hope they would see the pun. The ZONG logo, a hideous, bold white italic “Z” on a cold pink background, was doomed to stay. Needless to say, I had to bite the bullet as the Die Vision album also became one of the first ZONG releases. I eventually decided to take revenge and show them what I meant, so I created my own record label Masterminded For Success, knowing that it would be abbreviated to reveal the initials of the dreaded East German secret service [Ministerium für Staatssicherheit]. That certainly attracted attention and caused controversy. ~ EB 3/2012   37


ANIKA ON MARLENE DIETRICH

Ms. Style Icon

I’m half German and half English, and I believe there are certain German qualities that you can’t deny. Being brought up by a German mother but growing up in England has left me stuck in the middle. In England, I’m sometimes perceived as especially blunt, which often gets taken the wrong way. On the other hand, English oversensitivity means that I end up taking things the wrong way when I’m in Germany, experiencing bluntness from a German person. Marlene Dietrich was obviously German , with certain traits she rejected because she associated them with the Nazis, and, of course, didn’t follow that ideology. However, there’s a specific German attitude from that era which was very different to America or England; that unrelenting pluckiness “We’re going to keep on and do this properly” attitude; a strong female attitude. It was this attitude that has always appealed to me. Dietrich always seemed like she just didn’t care, that she just did 38  EB 3/2012

Ever since she was a kid, former political journalist turned singer Annika Henderson, aka Anika, has been intrigued by the power and androgyny of Marlene Dietrich. Listening to the Dietrich’s deep-voiced crooning together with her grandfather proved to be a formative experience for the Berlin-based musician, whose own deadpan delivery with indiedubbers Beak> (together with Geoff Barrow) has reinfused the female vocal with masculinity. Here, Anika explains how her style icon represented the apogee of female strength by having worn men’s clothes and fighting Nazis. Right: Marlene Dietrich as the enigmatic Gypsy in Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil. Photo: Universal Studios/Getty Images/Newsmakers.

what she did in spite of the numerous challenges she faced in dealing with Nazis and leaving a place she grew up—a place she loved but which had changed so radically that she was forced to reject it. And not only reject: she literally fought against the Germans. That took courage and principle, and even though she’s an actress, you feel like you can see something of that when watching live performances of her singing, or even in early films like The Blue Angel or Shanghai Express. It’s as if she would always appear in a cloud of smoke—ta dah! As a performer, I admire that kind of stage presence, because that’s what it is, really. But I don’t mean it in a superficial sense, like, she’s a “performer”, I’m a “performer” . . . I’m referring to androgyny, and how the manifestation of both the male and the female has gave her true power, while still allowing her to remaining desirable. Of course, being a woman in the entertainment industry isn’t easy, but back then it was another thing all together, I

imagine. Her success is a sign to me that she was relentless in her need to be in complete control of what she was doing—her identity, her image and the people she surrounded herself with. If you listen to her voice and compare her to a lot of movie stars around at that time, like, say, Doris Day, you can tell she was a very different kind of star. Day was the all-around girl-next-door type. Dietrich was the girl from, well, your dreams and nowhere else. You get that in pioneering, early showbiz types, and in artists of that era on both sides of the lens, like the war photographer Lee Miller who also took some great shots of Dietrich. I’ve often visited the film museum in Berlin where they have all of Dietrich’s different outfits and it’s funny how small they seem. She was obviously quite short, which you’d expect from someone back then but not necessarily of her. Of course, they’re still very striking, from the incredibly masculine suits to the flowing ball gowns. Only an icon could pull off both. ~


EB 3/2012   39


COUNTING WITH

Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor Even without the pocket protector, the Hot Chip multi-instrumentalist with a penchant for loud shirts looks like a guy who’s good with numbers. Photo: Fox Rocks

memorable line in a film or song: “Son, you got a panty on your head.” - Raising Arizona

In Buddha. In Zimmerman. In Beatles.

hours ago . . . I was dreaming.

records everyone should own:

decisions I regret: Not telling Ray Davies how much I like his late sixties work and not telling Ray Davies I had bought him his own tambourine at the Big Star Barbican concert. The moment passed pretty quickly, mind you.

Prince and The Revolution - Parade Alex Chilton - Like Flies on Sherbert Palace - Arise Therefore Marvin Gaye - Sexual Healing 12” Harry Nilsson - Nilsson Schmilsson Little Richard - Lucille 7” Sun Ra - The Singles

people that should collaborate: Justus Köhncke, Green Gartside and Al Green. Al Green would do the singing and Justus would produce the music, but Green Gartside might write the music first on guitar before having Justus transpose it.

things I haven’t done yet: - Recorded my cover of Neil Young’s “Citizen Kane Junior Blues” (ever). - Brushed my teeth (today). - Got dressed (today). - Fixed the loft ladder.

things I used to believe: In Magic. In the I Ching. 40  EB 3/2012

After

p.m. . . .

I will get my records together for tonight’s gig.

My

lives . . .

Cat, cat, cat, cat, cat, cat, cat, cat, cat.

I wouldn’t touch it with a -foot pole . . . Boris Johnson. ~


42  EB 3/2012


EB 3/2012   43


A.J. SAMUELS IN LONDON WITH COOLY G

“They were strangers to me before, innit”

Consensus doesn’t equal truth, but if critics’ unanimous proclamations are to be believed, Cooly G’s debut longplayer Playin’ Me (Hyperdub) is the soulful light at the end of dubstep’s long, dark tunnel. And it happens to be true: Brixton-born singer/producer Merissa Campbell has made one of the best albums of 2012. Peppered with “aha” moments of neo-soulstep and drum ‘n’ basics reprocessing à la Timeless-era Goldie, Playin’ Me goes beyond Campbell’s previous 12-inches to take its place as the proud equal of any and all Hyperdub releases, past or present. No small feat, especially considering her other full time job: being a single mom to her two young kids. As she explains, success hasn’t come despite motherhood, but rather because of it—even if the pain of a love lost is the emotional glue that holds this album together. Left: The future looks bright. Cooly G basking in a rare moment of sun outside her apartment in South London. Photos: Ben Roberts.

EB 3/2012   45


Merissa, you grew up in Brixton which is known as an important place for black British culture and protest, as well as for British reggae, hip-hop and grime. How did your neighborhood influence you musically?

I see Brixton more as a place that’s historical specifically for reggae and soul. When you go into the markets you can hear the stuff blasted in each stall. Of course, Brixton is also where Blacker Dread is located, which is probably the most important record store in the area, and one of the most important in London. I think it’s been around for, like, twenty years and the owner is the one who gets all of the new reggae and dub stuff first. That was an influence on me, innit. And just walking through my neighborhood on the way to the market to get plantains or whatever, there was always something playing. And always bass. Brixton’s a good vibe. No, it was a good vibe, but things have changed. I ain’t been there for ages as I moved out the area. Do your parents still live there?

No, nowhere near there. You see, back in the day, Brixton used to be all about Jamaican beef patties and flags everywhere and super bright colors. Now it’s become a strange combination of more posh and gentrified on the one hand and more dangerous on the other, with pickpockets and all that. It never used to be like that. I just moved house two weeks ago and generally speaking, my whole life has been in hyper-mode for the past year. My nan died last week and my album just came out, which I learned on Twitter. I didn’t have the date in my head! And I haven’t been able to take it in properly, cause I’m busy being a mom. But I’m not complaining. Were you close to your grandmother?

Yeah, she was a brilliant superwoman. She had way more kids than me and was a single parent as well, from Jamaica. She looked after them proper, and all us lot, the grandkids during six weeks school vacation. She was funny and she was just . . . powerful. And as a general matter, people in them ages are much more knowledgeable than people now.

more experimental Sade, futuristic snare and hi-hat syncopations. Does holding back come natural to you, musically?

The patient side of my music comes from being a mom. I am a mom. I don’t want my kids to feel any of the vibes I’m going through when I’m struggling emotionally. If I ever flipped and switched, then my kids would turn out weird. And that informs everything I do, even when after I put the kids to sleep and creep into my little studio and start making tunes. Of course, I do let out the emotion, but meditatively. Like the second track, “What This World Needs Now” drops heavy, but perhaps it’s because of what it’s about, which is the earthquake in Haiti. That really, really upset me, even with the good news of them actually finding babies alive after weeks and weeks. I was in shock watching the telly. My mate came around at the time and we were singing and jamming and he was just caught on this one lyric, “What the world needs now is love,” while I ended up screaming and crying “Is this all there is?” There just wasn’t enough help in Haiti and the thought that something could be done but there wasn’t the manpower made me incredibly sad. I had the impression the entire LP was focused on disillusion in love and memories of a relationship that once had a bright future and then went very, very wrong.

Well, indirectly, “What This World Needs Now” is about that, because when things in my life were seriously messed up relationship-wise, I was generally more emotional. And even watching the news became incredibly emotional. I think if I hadn’t been so emotional about someone, I wouldn’t have made the song. I probably wouldn’t even have watched the news. I’d have probably been at football training or something. But instead I spent my time being extremely sad. Paradoxically, it’s also the sadness that drives so much of what you’ve done creatively, which is perhaps difficult to resolve, in a way. It may sound strange to hear, but you can almost thank the asshole that left you high and dry.

Well, my mom was into acid house and going to raves—the ones where they never had a flyer and you had to meet up with people on the motorway who would bring you there. She collected tons of records—Gang Starr, Ruby Turner, Sade . . . Everything that was out there, really. And this was a time when most people’s listening habits weren’t so diverse. Back then people didn’t get it, but she was just well into her sound. My dad was much more into reggae and dub and rare groove, which I also loved. There was overlap, but my mom had another . . . edge. She’s funkier, more dramatic with the acid and all that. My dad had a little studio in the house and my mom would sing. They would make little tracks, which were pretty sick. I remember as soon as I could walk and talk, I was pressing buttons and turning knobs on my dad’s analog mixer. I always had beats and basslines in my head. Always.

[laughing] It’s weird, isn’t it? When I read reviews it was incredible to see what kind of deep insights other people have into my thoughts and my feelings. People write and say things and, well, it’s extremely emotional for me. I didn’t have time to even listen to the album until it was laid out in order, because I was running around, playing shows, taking care of Nas [her six-year old son] . . . And of course I was pregnant when I was making the album. I had so much stuff to take care of, I didn’t have any distance from it. But also, I’m deep, deep into motherhood. And I was deep into the pregnancy. Oh my days, I loved it. When I was finishing the album it was all about thinking of this human being developing inside me—now she’s got toenails, now she’s got eyebrows, next week she’s as big as a melon . . . People ask me how I do it with two kids alone—that’s because their kids are just screaming, screaming, screaming, even though they have help from the actual father. Mine are pretty relaxed, because I’m relaxed. I knew that if I was stressed out during pregnancy, that’s how my birth is going to be, that’s how my baby would turn out. Obviously I was very happy.

On Playin’ Me you mostly resist the cathartic release of heavy drums and dancefloor bangers, opting instead for tension. Patience and timing seem to be the “Cooly G” filter that all your detectable influences go through—unpredictable ins and outs of synths and dub sparseness, sultry R&B vocals that sound like a

So the patience of the production and songwriting goes hand in hand with the patience of thinking about a human being developing inside you. But at the same time there’s so much sadness and anger on Playin’ Me directed at an absent father. How do you resolve these two conflicting trajectories?

Your dad’s Jamaican and your mom’s Guyanese. What music was playing in your house growing up?

46  EB 3/2012


EB 3/2012   47


I just kept it all balanced, even after everything went pear-shaped. I asked myself whether I was going to be the girl who was upset and crying all the time because I was on my own. And I just said no. I was prepared for being on my own. I’m not upset about it—I’m well happy, actually. I just think the kids need their dad around somehow. I know you used to play semi-professional football. Do you at all see similarities in thinking about the rhythm and harmony of the game and making music, or are these two totally unrelated kinds of rhythm?

Well, I was a striker and the feeling I would get when I’d score in a match is definitely comparable to the feeling I get when I’ve made a sick beat. Because when I get the ball, it’s on. But there’s also a rhythm to dribbling, of course. It’s about measuring steps and speed and driving towards the goal. And that’s kind of like the progress of making a real banger, musically. The progress is strategic, but it’s also intuitive. And with both goals and sick tracks, it’s something I usually end up talking about all night. It’s a similar buzz. I also did kung fu and martial arts since I was seven—basically since I’d been playing football. That was proper heavy too. Kung fu made me disciplined and aware of my surroundings and how to handle myself. It made me walk up straight. My dad’s actually the one who got me into it because he’d been doing kung fu for years. He’s heavy—a proper man he is. One of the most interesting things about your label, Hyperdub, is how disparate the artists are. Do you feel like Hyperdub has influenced you as an artist?

for lots of electronic musicians who focus on creating stuff for the dancefloor. With Playin’ Me, it’s not just the emotion that makes it all so cohesive, but also the incredible sound. When did you become a geek for programming?

I left school when I was sixteen after going to college for, like, one day. I tried, but I was like, hell no, I’m not trying to do this school thing again. I wanted to do my music and that’s all. So I went to this place Weekends Art College, where my mom used to send us. It was sort of a performing arts training center, mostly drama and live music based. At the time I was taking a music class and I told one of my instructors that we should have access to a real recording studio, and he was down. So we went together to this place in Kings Cross, which blew me away with all the gear. Immediately I started bugging the owner to let me into the control room, which eventually he did. Out of nowhere I started patching together a bunch of the modules and he came running in and was like, “How’d you do that?”. I was like, “Well I need this to be in this channel and this to be . . .” And he was like, “No, how’d you know how to do that?” He was impressed because most people need training to figure out how to work this stuff and I just kind of did it intuitively, even though I had a bit of a background in production. Basically, he hooked me up with a job on the spot, and from then on I was teaching, like, forty-year-old men how to patch and work Logic and do engineering stuff. And of course, we were allowed afterwards to use the studio, so I just stayed and did my bare R&B and hip-hop tunes, because that’s what I was making. I’d make mixtapes and go sell them on the street. I hope that stuff never gets put on YouTube. Can you give me a line or two?

I wouldn’t say influenced, but I really enjoy playing with the other acts and doing shows with such contrasting artists. Everyone is so different, so it caters to really different kinds of people. We’re all homies, as if we’d known each other for ages—and it’s been that way since the very beginning. Hyperdub is my second family. But in the beginning, I didn’t have a clue. When I got the email from them asking if I wanted to put my tunes out, I was like sure, why not? I didn’t know who the hell they were! They were strangers to me before, innit. I usually find it hard to trust people I don’t know, but with them it’s been a piece of cake. And I remember the first time Steve [Goodman, aka Kode9, Hyperdub label founder] came to see me. We just jammed and had fun. Is composing a process that goes hand in hand with thinking about sound design? Or do you first have a bare bones song structure that you tweak and embellish when you sit down in front of your synths and computer and start the actual programming?

It depends. It usually happens all at once when I’m actually with my gear in front of me, with a few exceptions. Most of the tracks on Playin’ Me are straight up freestyled products of my emotions that were put together at the moment I was feeling them. They came directly from the emotional source, time, and place. But they were almost entirely improvised. I would just sit down and BAM—sing, BAM—harmonies, BAM—plug-ins, all out at one time. Tune done. In under an hour. I’m quick. Occasionally I would have to go back and EQ my hi-hats a little bit, but that’s about all. Steve likes to remind me about that. Honestly, I could bust out a tune right now before you leave . . . and then go and wash the dishes and change some diapers. It’s interesting to hear, because the long player is a tricky format

48  EB 3/2012

Oh God, no. I’ll play something for you, but what you hear is off the record. I was such a tomboy. You know, I never wanted to do girly things. I was always just teaching myself how to do everything— fixing computers, building computers, cracking software. Not that I do that anymore—I get my shit for free now. But back in the day, I did everything with baked bean tins, pots and pans—just sampling my stuff and then using the technology to tweak, compress and fatten it all up. It was original sound design by necessity, even a couple years ago. I didn’t have any money; it all went to buying kid stuff, diapers and what not. Speaking of kids, your son is named after Nas, the rapper. Do you have a favorite Nas album?

I actually don’t listen to too much Nas to be honest with you. I’ve been listening to a lot more Mobb Deep lately. Believe it or not, Havoc is actually following me on Twitter. How nice is that? I even asked him on chat, “Havoc!? Why are you following me?” We ended going back and forth about production stuff, innit. Have you heard Prodigy’s new album, H.N.I.C. 3 ? To be honest, it was kind of a disappointment after hearing the brilliant H.N.I.C. 3 Mixtape —half of which Havoc produced. What about a CoolyHavoc collab?

Well, he needs to read this interview, that little . . . guy. And when I go to America, I’ll just be like, “Hey, I’m here, innit. Let’s hook up, bruv.” I even recently found an old tune of mine where I was spitting rhymes over one of his old Mobb Deep beats. I should send it to him . . . after he agrees to throw new ones my way. ~


Image Movement NEW RELEASE: Emidio Greco »Niente da vedere niente da nascondere«, About Alighiero Boetti, Image Movement DVD IM 01, € 20.–

Image Movement is a concept store for Artist films, films on Art and Artist records, based in Berlin. You will also find us at art fairs and film festivals, e.g. Frieze Art Fair or International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, and on the Worldwideweb. In 2012 Image Movement launched its own DVD label with the release of Emidio Greco’s documentation about Alighiero Boetti: »Niente da vedere niente da nascondere«. MOVIES We offer more than 600 DVDs: Artist films, experimental and avant-garde films, e.g. by Kenneth Anger, Luis Buñuel, Jean Cocteau, Maya Deren, Fischli & Weiss, Kurt Kren, Chris Marker, Jonas Mekas, Dziga Vertov, or Andy Warhol. Silent movies by Georges Méliès, D. W. Griffith, Fritz Lang, Sergei Eisenstein, Buster Keaton et al. Documentary films e.g. about architecture, design, dance, or art movements. Labels like BFI, Artificial Eye, Index, or Lowave are fully available... MUSIC We feature labels like Lucy McKenzie’s Decemberism, Tim Berresheim’s New Amerika, Albert Oehlen’s Leiterwagen, Mike Kelley’s Compound Annex or David Lieske’s Dial. We provide LPs, CDs and K7, e.g. by Kai Althoff, Lothar Hempel, Jutta Koether, or Emily Wardill; limited editions by en/of or Fieber, and historical recordings about Dada, Bauhaus or Fluxus... MOVES We present an ongoing series of film screenings, concerts, performances, or talks. We had such guests in the past, as David Maljkovic, Diedrich Diederichsen, Oliver Laric, Kota Ezawa, Momus, Theo Altenberg, Michaela Meise, Rosa Barba, Jeremy Shaw, et al...

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MAX DAX TALKS TO PET SHOP BOYS

“Anything can be pop nowadays” In a music world obsessed with artistic authenticity, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys are unapologetic pop supremacists and vocal critics of the contrived poses of rock and roll realness. And why shouldn’t they be? Having sold more than 100,000,000 albums, the pair speaks with the authority of the most successful British duo in history—a feat accomplished through exposing the value of surface sophistication and giving a voice to the snarky and un-rebellious. Oh yeah, and by writing unquestionably brilliant songs that make queer fans proud to be out and straight fans secretly proud to be in. On Elysium, Lowe and Tennant have once again dreamed our reality. Birds of a feather: Pet Shop Boys are Neil Tennant (left) and Chris Lowe. Photos by Pelle Crépin (left) and Alasdair McLellan (following pages).

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Your elegantly designed website informs us that today, exactly fifteen years ago, you shook hands with Tony Blair in No. 10 Downing Street.

McCartney is seventy and he still does concerts.

Neil Tennant: Did we?

NT: Everybody seems to have become used to the idea that a pop star can be seventy or older. It’s only twenty years ago that the NME wrote: “Pet Shop Boys—two men who are pushing forty.” Like if this was supposed to be something bad. Nowadays people don’t say that so much anymore. You either are or are not making a record that people want to listen to.

Chris Lowe: What’s the day today? Is it fifteen years already? NT: Let me think: Blair won the election on May 1st, 1997. Actually, he had invited me. And I asked Chris if he wanted to go too, because I had got plus one, because I’d been a donor to the Labour Party. I’d actually given them money from Neil Kinnock onwards. One day, I stopped donating. And you know what the best thing was? They didn’t notice! There’s two reasons why I think the 1997 Blair encounter is remarkable. The first one is obvious. Does it do any good if pop stars shake hands with presidents or prime ministers? Isn’t this a wickedly tricky situation?

NT: I’d say it’s nothing special. There’s a long tradition in Britain that allows exactly that. It’s no big deal. Since the time when Harold Wilson was Labour Prime Minister in the sixties, the government has celebrated British creative industries. Just take the famous picture of designer Katharine Hamnett arriving at Downing Street for a celebration for the fashion industry—wearing the “58% DON’T WANT PERSHING” t-shirt. And you cannot forget that in 1997 we’d had a Tory government for eighteen years. And the new Labour government—they even liked to be called New Labour—seemed like a really fresh thing. For instance there were two openly gay men in the cabinet. That was a sea change in British politics. There were no gay Tories?

NT: They had gay members, but they wouldn’t out themselves. But what was the second reason for your question? When you realize that you’ve been invited to Downing Street fifteen years ago—don’t you think sometimes that time is running fast?

NT: It does, indeed. The new Pet Shop Boys album Elysium has this sense of awareness that you are getting older. Once in an interview for Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine you asked Elton John if aging in the realm of pop was an issue to him.

NT: That was also fifteen years ago, in 1997. But I don’t remember what Elton replied. He said: “I’m still as fascinated with the music business.”

NT: I’d say an equally good answer would have been: “You get used to it.” As a matter of fact, sooner or later everyone will realize how quickly time passes, how quickly a year passes, how quickly the seasons change . . . We are moving towards extinction. But in terms of being in the music business or in the world of musicians, there are two generations above the Pet Shop Boys. So I’d say we’ve got used to that world. The Rolling Stones are still touring. Paul

Bob Dylan is even seventy-one.

Would you agree that Dylan was the first real pop star to age in public? And, by doing so, became a role model of sorts?

NT: The point is that he has written songs from that perspective for some time now. That’s the difference. We do the same. Elysium is an album that has been made by two men in their fifties. And yet it’s still pop music. So, in a way, this is sort of a strange dialectic that pop in theory is a young people’s musical form and it can be about growing old. Would you therefore say that the meaning of the term “pop” has changed? Or does it only depend on the perspective you write your songs from?

NT: Is Dylan pop music? In the Warholian sense? I’d probably say yes. But of course he ultimately pursued the tradition of a folk singer.

NT: I don’t think Dylan is pop, really. I think it’s much more difficult being Mick Jagger than it is to be Bob Dylan. As Bob Dylan you are allowed, even encouraged, to look old. Although there is a side to Bob Dylan which I think is always overlooked, because Dylan at all times, in any given period, has had a strong image. He grew a moustache and wears hats—he’s even occasionally worn make-up. I mean, first he dressed up as a folk singer. Then he came to England in the sixties, went shopping in Carnaby Street and became all hip and snappy. He hung out with The Beatles too . . . You must not underestimate the power of an image. He’s probably got a style advisor somewhere. In that sense, yes, he is pop. But musically, I think he doesn’t fall into the regular pattern of a pop star because he is not selling sex. Mick Jagger on the other hand, like Madonna, is always selling sex. And Mick Jagger, to his credit, is doing it now in his late sixties. Have you seen him lately?

NT: I saw a picture from Jade Jagger’s wedding on the Hello! magazine cover. You look at him and think: Wow, Mick Jagger! He’s made craggy work. He has had no facelift, no Botox. He’s very lined. But he still looks glamorous. He’s still thin, and he has this slightly feminine way of standing. I don’t know, he had a lot of charisma in that picture. Pet Shop Boys are considered pop in the true meaning of the word. How would you define pop nowadays? Funny enough, the word became a common term in the sixties, already some fifty years ago . . .

NT: When did pop first appear as a term? If I remember correctly,

Pet Shop Boys often draw comparisons to Gilbert and George, but they’re actually far less conservative.

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pop emerged in the fifties independently in the UK and in America. In Britain I think Richard Hamilton coined the term. Richard Hamilton was Bryan Ferry’s professor in art school, wasn’t he?

NT: He was, yes. And you know, one time we used to worry whether we were a pop group or not. But of course we realized we were a pop group and we totally still are. We used to hate the fake authenticity that rock claimed to have. By the way, that fake authenticity dated really quickly. Do you remember U2 and how they got styled for the cover of The Joshua Tree? On the contrary, eighties pop music looks authentically dated . . . therefore it is indeed authentic. I think it’s quite funny that pop, by not claiming to be authentic, is so much more authentic. It has a freshness, an easiness, a naturalness about it and a bit of glamour. Pop has something that people in the street are genuinely into. Only that you, in a recent interview with Spex magazine, said that “pop is surface”.

NT: A revealing surface, yes. But the point I want to stress is slightly different. The war between the fake authenticity of rock and the real authenticity of pop was sort of won by pop. But it could be un-won by a rock fightback in the future. For the moment, pop is the winner. Anything can be pop nowadays. We live in a pop world now—which means that everything is a question of style. Whenever a pop star shows humility, emotions or humanitarian engagement—this seems to be a style decision. I can’t decide whether they are sincere or not. I can’t tell if Lady Gaga is sincere when she calls her fans “my little monsters”. CL: We call ours “our little pets”. NT: Is it patronizing or is it friendly? I really can’t work it out. But we have to give her credit for many things. She does it her way. Despite obviously being a pop record, Elysium sounds very different to anything you’ve done before. It sounds like you’ve listened to a lot of sentimental Hollywood musical scores from past decades—and pitched them down. You hear a lot of old-fashioned string arrangements, orchestra and vocal ensembles.

NT: You know we’ve always primarily seen ourselves as songwriters. That’s the foundation of it all. This time, we considered making an album that was in one mood all the way through. I’m talking of a musical mood. We wanted the songs to be slower, more reflective, beautiful and with more sub-bass. And this is why we decided to go to Los Angeles and to work with Andrew Dawson. We knew that we’d get the backing vocals there because the city has a long tradition of professional vocal ensembles and it was clear to us from the beginning that we wanted that on many of the new songs. Elysium is different to the albums we’ve made before. For instance, some of the new songs don’t have a middle eight, with the notable exception of “Winner”, which has one of the strongest middle eights we have ever written. The majority of the new songs have a simpler structure though. What about the late Pet Shop Boys’ use of harmonies?

NT: If you listen to the first Pet Shop Boys album Please—and I think I’m right in saying this—you will find not a single vocal harmony. And on our second album Actually, the only vocal har54  EB 3/2012

monies were made by producer Stephen Hague putting my voice through a machine. And then, when Trevor Horn comes along with “Left To My Own Devices”, he gets me to sing vocal harmonies on the chorus. As time has come along, I do more and more vocal harmonies. CL: This time we worked with Sonos as our backing singers. They are a harmony group from Los Angeles. NT: They’re a quintet from Los Angeles who performs concerts a cappella with effects pedals to change the sound of their voices. They, for instance, sing on our new song “Ego Music”. But we worked with the Waters Family too, who sing on eight tracks of the new album. They have this incredibly smooth sound—which is a very Los Angeles thing to get. We don’t have the same thing in Britain. We wanted this smoothness and elegance. That’s why we went to Los Angeles. You know, in America they have super-professionalism. In Britain we have great ideas. But it’s always about style. In America they have the professionalism of Barbra Streisand and Aretha Franklin. In Britain we have David Bowie, Mick Jagger and The Beatles. That’s why we approached Andrew Dawson who had worked on the last few Kanye West albums. The electronic sound of 808s & Heartbreak appealed to us a lot. It’s sparse, spare and sort of melancholic with all this aching and all this incredible bass. When we were writing “Invisible” that particular Kanye West sound seemed like a reference point. And that’s why we approached Andrew Dawson. And the first thing Andrew Dawson did was delete things, take things out. We were pushing him to put them back in, but he was very resistant. He was very polite and persistent so he succeeded. As a result, the record became simpler and more elegant. And it has a lot of bass while it’s refined to its essentials. To my ears, Elysium is a very warm-sounding record. As opposed to its predecessor Yes which was a very compressed-sounding record, very MP3-ish. CL: I noticed that Andrew never left the studio. NT: He probably just had such a strong idea of how the record should sound like. What about you?

NT: Well, when we arrive at a studio, we give the producer so much to work with that we can easily leave the studio for a while. Our songs are always demoed to a very high level. It’s actually quite difficult to live up to the rough mixes that we bring with us. The job of the producer is to refine it and to make it better. CL: I imagine someone like Kanye writes the songs in the studio instead of demoing them. NT: I think maybe he does. I don’t actually know. But Andrew pointed out something that almost nobody seems to have noticed before. Kanye West often “vibes out” vocals, as we say. To “vibe out” means that from time to time you sing or rap little meaningless gobbledygook syllables that sound good but are meaningless. And Kanye sometimes leaves them in because they sound good—even if they’re pure nonsense. It’s amazing that no one really ever points this out. By the way: that is pop, because it is as much about effect as it is about meaning. I’m sure Andy Warhol would approve of that. When you did Yes you’ve worked together with a team of producers called Xenomania. You mentioned other producers such as


Trevor Horn, Stephen Hague and Andrew Dawson. Why do you always seem to seek out a new producer instead of teaming up with someone for a longer period of time?

CL: There is definitely a hunger to seek out ways of doing things differently. It’s a fascinating learning process to see how other people do things. That’s also one of the reasons why we do cover versions. We want to see how songs work, and you learn it best by playing a song yourself. NT: I would sometimes tell Andrew Dawson: “If you were Trevor Horn you’d be doing this now.” Or “Trevor would put a choir on it.”

them. Sterling Sound mastered the instrumentals and sent them to us for approval. Listening to the instrumentals, I fell in love with them. And as a matter of fact, it was an easy way to have an entire bonus album that you can offer. It’s probably our first chill-out album. For several days I only played the instrumentals. I like them as much as the proper album. So we suggested to EMI to release it as a bonus CD for an extended edition of the album. And last but not least it is our first karaoke album. CL: People will be able to sing along to it on YouTube.

Didn’t this annoy him?

NT: I can’t wait for the people who start to rap on it and put it online. Actually I caught myself thinking of other words that I could sing to these songs while listening to it.

NT: No. Once he even asked me what Trevor would have done in a certain situation.

CL: It would be interesting to write new songs on existing ones. We could call the albums Actually 2.0 or Yes 2.0 . . .

And what did you tell him?

Has anyone of your status done such a thing before?

NT: Record someone jumping into a swimming pool and use it as the snare.

CL: I don’t know.

CL: Nobody works like that anymore. It’s of course a problem of cut-down budgets. In the old days, rock groups used to hire a studio as a lockout for more than a year. They were allowed to experiment. They could take a track down a road and see if it worked. If it was a dead end they could come back and try again. It’s no comparison to sitting at home on your computer and trying out all the plug-ins you’ve downloaded. Experimenting in a studio has become something of a luxury nowadays. NT: But to be really commercial can mean to produce something fresh. Commercial music nowadays can be quite experimental. Actually, producing Elysium was quite an expensive process, too. It involved getting an orchestra, renting Capitol Studios in Los Angeles and very expensive backing singers. But of course, every experiment that you ever try out at the end has to still sound like the Pet Shop Boys. You want to keep the character. In the Fall 2011 issue of Electronic Beats Magazine Brian Eno said, “You see it over and over again that good artists end up coming back to the same ideas they’ve always worked with.”

NT: I don’t think so. It’s funny because during the recording process you often change the lyrics of a song or you use the middle eight of one song in another one instead. “Winner” was a song that went through such a process. The release date of “Winner” was perfectly synchronized with the kick-off of the London Olympics—where you also presented the song for the first time live. Did you write it for the Olympics?

NT: No, we didn’t. The idea for “Winner” came when we were on tour with Take That. Every night we’d leave the stadium while 70,000 or 80,000 people were going berserk to Take That singing, “Today this could be the greatest day of our lives”. And Chris said, “We have to write a mid-tempo anthem.” CL: We’ve never done it before. NT: We were talking about anthems in our hotel in Manchester. We were discussing “We Are the Champions” by Queen—and I’ve always hated the line “No time for losers”. Didn’t Freddie Mercury sing the very line at Live Aid, too?

NT: Brian Eno works with different rock bands and different projects. We work with different producers as we have different projects. And of all these things you learn from and then move forward to the next thing. And it’s also the case that when you’ve done something you don’t want to do something like it next. You want to do it different, but not entirely. I’ve always been suspicious of people who jump genres. Look at Blur. First they were the English Blur. And then suddenly they were an American slacker band. How can you be both of those? Nothing against Damon Albarn—he is a talented musician and he is good at that genre-hopping. I agree with Brian Eno. You develop by doing the same thing over and over again, but always a bit differently. I’d say over the course of the years we have learned more about what we do. Continuity allowed us to have become more sophisticated with Elysium. You are releasing an instrumental version of Elysium as well. Why that?

NT: We just liked the way the songs sounded without me singing on

NT: He did, yes. CL: That wasn’t right. NT: And to make this conversation come full circle, Tony Blair played this song at his election party. I couldn’t believe that the members of New Labour could sing along to this line . . . It seemed so ridiculous. CL: Let’s face it: A triumph never lasts very long. NT: We are already halfway through the chorus and the triumph is already a memory. That’s the tricky thing with triumphs: As soon as you realize you have been triumphant, that moment is already over. You go on stage, you make your Oscar speech, and then realize it’s already over. Unless you happen to be Meryl Streep. And of course, you have to deal with all the fallout from then on. But that’s another story. ~ EB 3/2012   57


A.J. SAMUELS INTERVIEWS THE KILLS

“There are rarely good people in films who are cunts as well” With last year’s Blood Pressures, The Kills’ Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart ventured beyond the well-trodden primitive blues-punk path towards broader songwriting vistas of halcyon balladry and sampling experimentation. Recently, they’ve continued their trip into uncharted territory with the photo book Dream & Drive—a glimpse into one of the hippest and unrepentantly retrospective bands on the planet. Jamie, you studied to become a playwright. Are there dramaturgical similarities between writing songs and writing plays, or do they require entirely different compositional approaches?

Jamie Hince: I think lyric writing for rock and roll, which is usually 4/4, is pretty restricted, really. Luckily, the music behind it gives it meaning, but trying to actually express yourself lyrically is quite hard. Or at least more limited than, say, in writing a play. But I’ve always been a big Steven Berkoff obsessive and I’ve always loved Greek tragedy, which, of course, places immense rules and restrictions on what you can write and how you can write it. So I suppose meter is a similar kind of restriction to rock and roll. I just don’t think rock and roll is the greatest way of expressing yourself with words. The Kills are often associated with vintage everything—from recording equipment, old amps and guitars, to primitive sounding drum machines and writing lyrics with typewriters. Your artistic influences also focus on artists past, or artists present referencing artists past. Is there something about the art, aesthetics and technology of the present that turns you guys off?

JH: The aesthetics of beauty can be found more easily in old things. Maybe it’s because of the rarity, because there aren’t so many of them anymore. For me there’s often a craft and care in the construction and design of old things. People had an idea of beauty that was simply different than now. These days things aren’t built to last—they’re built for mass consumption. It’s all been cheapened in order to sell to as many people as possible. And it goes hand in hand with “professionalizing” the hobby artist. Who would have thought it, but companies have managed to convince everybody that you too can be a photographer or a filmmaker or a producer or a musician, because professional equipment is affordable for the guy who drives the Veg Van and takes pictures in his spare time. Alison Mosshart: You also have to remember how old we are. I mean, I started using typewriters because I didn’t have a computer, and it wasn’t until I was way older that we had computers in school. We grew up using “old” stuff, so there’s a preference there—maybe even a loyalty in some way. I hang out with people who are ten years younger then me and they don’t know how to re-ink a typewriter ribbon, or clean a camera properly, and they

Left: Masterfully mussed and not to be sussed. Singer Alison Mosshart in London. All photographs by Ben Roberts.

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don’t give a fuck. And that’s interesting too . . . JH: Also, poverty has changed these days. Ten years ago, cell phones and computers were luxury items, so we recorded on a broken reel-to-reel. AM: And it wasn’t too long ago that you would never ask Jack Kerouac about his typewriter or a musician about recording on tape, because that’s what everyone used. That’s what we used on our first records too. Now it’s suddenly thought of as retro, but actually this is simply tried and tested technology. Well, people did ask Kerouac about writing entire novels on single type rolls . . .

JH: Look, old amps weren’t built for everybody to use or afford, and to me, it’s a really simple explanation for why they’re better. Also, typewriters don’t just replicate words on a page. They have a feel and a depth to it I happen to like.

quick without money and good equipment. By the time Midnight Boom came around, I had fallen in love with making rhythms and programming. But your beat programming still often mimics live drums more than perfectly straight electronic syncopation. The occasional unsteadiness and imperfection adds to your groove in a mysterious way.

JH: I’ve got quite spazzy rhythm, actually. I used to say it with a laugh, but my drum sensibility is more lurching than straight. It’s totally in tune with the way my body works. Alison, you live in London but you’re from Florida, which is always a pretty important swing state, especially in the upcoming election. Do you vote?

Does this aesthetic sensibility extend to how you consume music?

AM: Absolutely. I always send in my absentee ballot. I might be in Tennessee in November, so maybe I’ll vote from there. That’s a swing state, right? Lots of Republicans. But then I think I would have to be a resident there, no?

AM: I listen to music every different kind of way.

JH: Do you vote?

JH: We’re not purists. I don’t think there should be one or the other exclusively. I love the rapidity of dragging and dropping and playing new music in iTunes.

I always send in an absentee ballot, even though being from Massachusetts it doesn’t mean a hell of a lot for federal elections. Speaking of occasionally meaningless activities, Jamie you said in an interview that, “People are so stumped by things that have no meaning; it’s a pretty powerful weapon.” I think you were referring to the Dada manifesto, but do the Kills also utilize the power of meaninglessness? And what’s so powerful about meaninglessness anyways?

AM: To back up a sec: the amps the Velvet Underground used were made in the same era. It’s only recently that we want to use the amps they played. There was a time when people always wanted the newest stuff. But that’s changed.

The influences and sounds on your last album Blood Pressures seem more disparate than previous albums – occasionally veering away from minimal blues stomp towards more pop experimentation. The changing melodic trajectories of “Baby Says” and Alison’s starlet-past-her-prime vocals over skipping records on “The Last Goodbye” immediately come to mind. Is this the beginning of more sonic branching out?

JH: Well, I don’t think hard about making vacuous statements, but what I said was a response to questions about a song we did called “Fuck the People”. Everybody wanted to know what it meant. Was it nihilist? Was it fascist? For me, I always liked the fact that it maybe never meant anything. And if I wasn’t honest I could try and infuse it after the fact with all sorts of meaning, but it was really only the depth of a feeling, a reaction to majority stupidity. The same thing happened when we put Florence Rey on the cover of the Black Rooster EP. She and her boyfriend lived in Paris and were just tired of being dumbed down, so they stole a car, ended up in a chase and then shot loads of people. It was all “Viva anarchy!” and what not. People wanted to know what it meant and why they’d done it. For me, one of the most important aspects of using her on our cover was that she was beautiful. I don’t mean it in a superficial way, but she was more palatable to people because she looked like a film star, with her orange bob cut and chiseled face. It was like art imitating life imitating art. I like the chaos in that.

AM: When we write, our only objective is to write something that’s not like the record before. We started Blood Pressures pretty soon after we finished Midnight Boom and were still fucking around with MPC and stuff. But I felt we certainly focused more on songwriting, even though we put together Blood Pressures really fast.

But focusing too much on aesthetics can also be problematic when it comes to ethics—Holocaust literature and film immediately come to mind, especially the stereotype of the “beautiful Jewess”. It’s not too cool to communicate that doing bad things to Jews is only wrong because their women are hot.

JH: I think Midnight Boom was the record where we first decided to move away from the punk-blues stomp rhythms. Not to demystify something that people find romantic about our music, but a lot of that simple stomp sound was a product of trying to make records

JH: Yeah, people do that to make it absolutely clear. But there are rarely good people in films who are cunts as well. It’s always so clear-cut. Say you have sympathy for a main character, but at the same time he’s the guy who punches his girlfriend’s teeth out.

I know Lou Reed went to great lengths to get his mid-nineties Magic and Loss-era guitar sound, choosing all the gazillion preamps and new technology. There are insane pictures of his specially designed guitar rig online. Ironically, all the gear sounds way shittier than when he was using old beat-up Velvets equipment.

JH: [laughing] I’m not a total tech-head, but I know what sounds good.

Left: Guitarist Jamie Hince.

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Because that’s the kind of thing that does happen, of course. Do you hear new rock and roll, or is it a genre that resists updating? Do you think of yourself as genre innovators or more as artists working within rock’s established confines?

JH: My mind changes, but I generally don’t think new things can happen, really. That’s why rock and roll is fucking dead, or at least dying—because it can’t be renewed. People say there’s nothing good happening in rock and roll and that’s probably because there’s nothing left happening in rock and roll. And why uphold this idea that there is? People talk about their shirts being rock and roll, or, like, “You’d love my friend, she’s so rock and roll!” I certainly don’t want to uphold that. Speaking of shirts, you guys have strong connection to fashion. Is that something you actively pursue or is just an inevitable part of being who you are and who you’re close to?

AM: Well, I’m sort of interested in clothes. Wait, no—I’m really interested in the clothes that I like. But fashion is something that’s pursued us since we first started the band. There was a time when the music press didn’t pursue us and the fashion press did . . . JH: But not like Vogue or whatever. Rather more the cultural magazines, which were far more cutting edge than the music press. Dazed and Confused, ID, Sleezenation, Self Service—they were always mixing up articles about music, fashion, Rimbaud and Nietzsche . . . And they really liked us at a time when music press wouldn’t give us the time of day. There’s a big cliché about the fashion world, and people are afraid of the term “fashion”. It connotes superficiality. Of course, most people would give value to poetry and say how important it is, but if you went to a poetry reading these days, it would be the most embarrassing, pretentious thing in the world. Fashion for me was vitally important in terms of getting into music because I always picked out albums based on the covers and what the people looked like—whether it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I recently walked past the Mozambique Embassy in Berlin and saw their flag for the first time: it was an AK-47 crossed with a hoe on top of a book, and in the background was a star. What would be on the Kills flag?

AM: Designing one would be a project and a half . . . JH: I’d like to do one right now, but I’d want to put as much thought into it as Mozambique did. I think I’d have Florence Rey and an MPC . . . AM: On top of a giant cup of coffee.

Jamie, you do sort of have a protest background—you were one of the first people to squat Berlin’s legendary Tacheles. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

JH: Well, I had been in a band active in the anarcho-punk scene, and we toured all around the Eastern Bloc countries at the end of the Cold War. We ended up in Berlin in 1989 and played Tacheles around three days after it was first squatted. We built a stage and worked on the plumbing and all that. In the past, Alison and I used to make a point of going back to Tacheles everytime we were in Berlin, but now it’s kind of pointless. Just tourists, really. I know you grew up skating, Alison. That’s been a really important part of so many people’s musical upbringings. The t-shirt ads in the back of Thrasher were my first introduction to so many bands. The same goes for early skate videos. What kind of influence did skate culture have on you musically?

AM: Don’t forget the stickers! Both Thrasher and Transworld were hugely important for me growing up. There were essentially no music venues where I lived, but there were a lot of skaters. Or at least enough for me to learn from. And they were mostly older, so they already had their boomboxes at the sessions. Of course, the visuals and graphics were also incredibly important to me—especially Powell Peralta decks. I was completely obsessed with skate art. You’re about to release a coffee table book of Kills photos, Dream & Drive . . .

JH: [laughing] Don’t you dare call it a coffee table book! I was actually wondering if you’d find the term offensive.

AM: No, we don’t really care, but I still think it’s not a coffee table book. I mean, it fits on a shelf. Our dear friend Kenneth Cappello collected photos of us all from around the world over the past eight years, and there are just so many pictures that capture that brilliant cocktail of dreaming versus reality. It’s a trip, and it’s one that’s really, really intimate. From our very firsts shows, it’s all sweat and glare and drink and dressing rooms. Did you hear about the new study showing that driving while tired is as dangerous as driving while drunk?

AM: No, but I believe it. JH: Hell, we should have just called it Drink & Drive. But we get along drunk or sober. Do you work more productively as a band in conflict or when you’re getting along?

Were you in London during the riots?

AM: No, we were in America. But the whole thing was just so shitty. People just went into stores and stole Nikes and shitty things like that. JH: People took the power themselves and ripped off sport shops. It’s like, have you been dumbed down so much that that’s all you fucking think you want anymore? This wasn’t the power of the people. It was just the power trip of a few people.

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JH: With Keep on Your Mean Side I was proud and confident and loved the record. No Wow I was paranoid and disillusioned and loved the record. Midnight Boom I was heartbroken and destroyed and I loved that record. For Blood Pressures I was happy as hell and I loved that record . . . AM: That’s Jamie over the years in pictures. JH: No, in flags. ~


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MAX DAX INTERVIEWS IRMIN SCHMIDT

“In a golden twilight, I walked through a mysterious city in ruins” 1968 was the year in the Federal Republic Germany that would define a generation. The leftist “68ers” as they came to be known, stood at the apex of a post-war cultural revolution in which confronting the country’s Nazi past and protesting Western military aggression went handin-hand with the melding of pop culture and the avant-garde. 1968 was also the year that young composer Irmin Schmidt, a former student of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Györgi Ligeti, would form legendary krautrock collective Can—a band whose members’ contrasting musical backgrounds coalesced to stretch the boundaries of improvisation in rock. Indeed, making “new” music had always been Schmidt’s obsession, but only after visiting New York City and witnessing the fateful hybrid of rock and roll and Fluxus that was the Velvet Underground did he begin to see the possibilities. More than forty years and some two dozen albums later, Schmidt remains the gatekeeper to Can’s wealth of archive material, which he recently poured through to put together the epic three-volume The Lost Tapes, released this past May. Max Dax visited Schmidt in his studio in the south of France to learn more about Can’s alchemic mix of improvisation and composition. Left: Irmin Schmidt, krautrock O.G., photographed in front of Berlin’s Tresor Club by Luci Lux.

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Irmin Schmidt, you recently released the critically acclaimed compilation CAN—The Lost Tapes. Almost all of the tracks were recorded in the legendary Can Studio in Weilerswist. I’ve always been interested in geography and connections between art and where it was made. What was the importance of the Can Studio and how did that particular space influence the music?

from each other but listening to music very close together. That’s a very specific process, I would say.

Actually, there were two studios. The first one was located in Schloss Nörvenich. That one we only used for a little less than two years—from 1968 until 1969. We made three records there: Monster Movie, Soundtracks and Tago Mago. Schloss Nörvenich had a wonderful late medieval stairway that, as a space, had fabulous reverb. This particular reverb chamber left a big mark on these first three Can records. Unfortunately, we had to leave the castle for the, uh, excessive use of this incredible space. One of our housemates in the castle, the sculptor Ulrich Rückriem, had his bedroom at the end of the staircase and we used to record only during the night. So, after a while, he complained that he couldn’t sleep anymore and we had to look for a new recording studio.

On a normal working day—or should I say working night—we’d arrive at the studio around 3 or 4 p.m. and leave the place again twelve hours later. Sometimes in winter, it led to the almost poetic situation that we felt we were “allowed” to go to bed after a long working night, and while driving home through the snow we’d see all the working people freezing at the bus stop . . . We had a regular eighty-four hour week in the studio.

Which is when you found the old discarded cinema.

Actually, it was one of those typical cinemas that you could find all over in small German villages at the time. It had “normal” measurements—twenty by ten meters—but the special thing was that the ceiling was eight meters high. It was nothing less than immense. You could really say that by remodeling it here and there we made this place our space. What did remodeling involve?

First, we nailed mattresses onto the walls for acoustic reasons and for thermal insulation. Then, in a second step, Jaki Liebezeit’s girlfriend started to decorate these mattress walls with beautiful tapestry. It just looked so great! The Can Studio was a space where you could spread out in every respect. It was so huge that it was almost impossible to get on each other’s nerves; we could easily keep a comfortable distance from one another. You appropriated the room and acoustic space by altering it according to your specific needs?

Absolutely! We made it ours. We created an atmosphere in that particular room that applied to us and us only. And surely this room had a huge impact on the music that was being recorded there.

Today, most studios offer a variety of ways to take your mind off the recording process. You can watch films or cook or read a book. How intensely did you work in the studio?

When you’d record for, say, twelve hours at a time, how important was the editing process that followed?

There was no rule to it. The way tracks evolved into their final form was always different. Sometimes a song would record itself effortlessly. Other times the process of collectively writing a song happened in two stages: first came hours of spontaneous “improvisation”—a tricky term, if you ask me. That then turned into a new situation in which we would really listen closely to what everybody else was actually playing. Then, if we’d hear a good moment or idea in it, we’d focus on it consciously and very, very closely. And from that moment on, the improvisation ends and the hard work begins. At this stage of composing, we’d try to find the “key” to a given track. This process often took days or even weeks. We’d start over and over again from zero, and every time it would sound completely different. But as a collective we’d come closer to the idea of a song with every version we’d try out. The French poet Paul Valéry said that the first line of a poem might just fall from the sky into your mind, but the rest is hard work. It’s often the same with music. The first idea defines how the music has to turn out in the process, but there is a process. Jaki always said that a groove is defined by its first four bars. From then on you have to obey this . . . law. I’m talking about a certain kind of discipline. You basically know that you’re getting closer and closer with every attempt. The initial idea or the starting point often is nothing more than an atmosphere. A groove isn’t necessarily just a rhythmical pattern; a groove can be something much more complex. Your day began in the late afternoon, which means you were mostly working in night shifts. How important was natural or artificial light for your music?

Did every musician have his own territory?

Yes. Everybody had his corner. In the far left corner was Jaki with his minimalist drum set. Opposite to him in the far right corner you’d have found me. I needed a lot of space for my grand piano and all the synthesizers that I had. In the center of the room Michael Karoli had his realm. As a guitarist who only owned two or three guitars, he didn’t need that much space. Damo [Suzuki, Can’s vocalist] always roamed. Holger Czukay finally was mostly working on the upper end of the room where the mixing console was located. In the first five years he basically was responsible for the sound. He would be in charge of the recording and bass at the same time, so he actually played bass mostly behind the mixing console, far away from the rest of the group. And when we didn’t play but were listening to recordings that we just had made, we used to sit on a sofa together in yet another section of the old cinema. I remember it as a kind of saloon sofa. Basically, we’d be playing music far away 66  EB 3/2012

Today, the sunlight has a completely different importance for me when it comes to making music. Back then I embraced the darkness and the artificial light that comes with it. Don’t forget, the old cinema only had one small window and a door that opened towards the garden. Can was a real night band, with one exception. The album Future Days was recorded mostly during the daytime. The door that led to the garden was open almost all the time. Compared to the others, this album has a completely different atmosphere— you can also quietly hear the birds tweeting and children yelling in a nearby swimming pool through the open door. Whatever sound came through the open door, we’d incorporate it into our music. Why didn’t you record that one at night?

What the hell do I know? I suppose it was summer and we were in a good mood. We definitively woke up earlier than usual, I guess.


Was incorporating environmental noise a nod to Pierre Schaeffer and musique concrète?

I’d say it was more John Cage’s influence that we accepted the sounds of our surroundings as music. You see, we didn’t start to compose with the birds tweeting, we just accepted them hanging around with us. That’s the difference. Don’t forget that we pressed the first five hundred copies of our album Monster Movie with a sticker that said, “This record does not contain interfering noise” simply because we didn’t consider background noise as interference. Nowadays you mostly work during the daytime. Together with Justus Köhncke and René Tinner, you do a lot of film scores. Have you become an early riser?

Not at all. I still sleep as long as I can. And when I wake up, the first thing I do is read a book for at least an hour. Only after this little ritual do I feel able to communicate with other people. I usually work in the studio from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Since the early nineties, when I started to work on my opera Gormenghast, I began again to write scores in pencil for symphony orchestras—the way music was notated over the course of centuries. Do you hear music in your head when you read a score?

Of course. But I need space to spread out the sheet music on the tables and on the floor. It’s a lot of paperwork, you know? It’s a totally different way to work as compared to composing on the computer, which I also enjoy. Actually, when I compose scores for films, I always do it on Pro Tools.

definition a contradiction. We all agreed that we wanted to contribute to Can, but in a totally different way compared to what we’d done before. Previously, I had been a conductor and a classically trained pianist, and I was ready to end that career by starting Can. Jaki didn’t want to play free jazz anymore, he wanted to lose himself in grooves instead. Contrariness was one of the band’s driving forces. I was the one who put the band together, and I saw a high potential in a group that consisted of musicians that came from extremely different backgrounds. For me it was important to have a young rookie playing rock guitar and that he was confronted with musicians who had studied under György Ligeti and Stockhausen. It wasn’t only that you came from different backgrounds and that you were willing to leave behind other interests or even careers. On a human level, you were dealing with vastly different personalities.

But this was our agenda. We basically had two choices: Either we’d create something wonderful or we’d fail big time. I’ve always loved and still do love taking risks. Looking back, I’d say I was right. I gave up a career as a conductor for Can, then I gave up Can for new adventures. I was lucky, though: I had married a woman who wasn’t afraid of taking risks either. Let’s talk about one of Can’s landmark albums, Tago Mago. How did the the personalities, the contradictions merge in the studio?

Good choice of an album. We recorded Tago Mago in the second year of Can’s existence. The album is a prime example Cinematic impovisation: entrance to the former Can Studio in Weilerswist, of how it all came togethphotographed by Thorsten Güttes. er. Every single track on the album had a completely different genesis. And taken in its Was the whole band capable entirety, Tago Mago shows almost every aspect of what this whole of hearing music before playing it when you formed in ’68? adventure was about. Probably the most important thing when it You don’t need to be an academic to hear music when there is comes to playing and recording music is to build and to think in no sound. Holger Czukay and I had studied music in Karlheinz structures. Our structural approach was the collage, which is one Stockhausen’s class, but none of the others in the band had that of the central stylistic principles of the twentieth century, espebackground. Jaki always understood composing as an act of play- cially in literature, film and visual arts. Perhaps less so in music, but nevertheless . . . We were film lovers. If you watch movies freing music, and so did Michael and Damo. quently, you sooner or later get used to the concept of editing and With Can, Jaki Liebezeit played the drums hypnotically and harsh cuts. The same goes for the modern contemporary classical machine-like, even though he had a background in free jazz. Did music that’s my background. Take the central track of Tago Mago, “Halleluhwah”—this one is almost twenty minutes long. It took you ever see this as a musical contradiction? ages until we had the groove finalized. When we had agreed on it, Everybody in Can felt this was a contradiction. But the band was by we started to record tunes that were based on this groove—some of EB 3/2012   67


Previous double page: The view from Irmin Schmidt’s home studio in Roussillon, France, photographed by Luci Lux.

them good, some of them bad. The final version that you can hear on Tago Mago is a collage of several late takes. Holger, Michael and I had built this architecture together, whereas Jaki just wanted to play. You mean he didn’t get the idea of the collage?

No, not at all! He just wanted to play, play play. But every time we presented him the cut-ups we’d made, he’d listen extra carefully. How often he rejected an edit that we had painfully cut together because he heard a rhythmic blip here or a dragging groove there . . . But considering that “Halleluhwah” is one of our most well-known songs, I suppose he was right to say no to the results of so many sleepless nights.

always was dialogue, yes, but nobody could tell us what to do. We were totally aware of the importance of owning our means of production, and we were in full control of all the processes that led to musical results. Of course, this is very political. But we refused to comment on daily politics. Coming from that background, what risk does a film director take in that respect when he or she commissions you to write a score?

Thanks to our studies under Stockhausen, Holger and I had quite a similar understanding of music as architecture. It was a common practice in so-called “new music” to create bricolages by cutting up the tape. Stockhausen encouraged us to do so, and we often reassembled at the Studio für elektronische Musik in Cologne.

That’s a funny question. He’d maybe get something quite different than what he expects or thinks he’d get. And even though I’d call myself erratic and incalculable, you’ll certainly notice a common thread in the scores I’ve delivered through the years. Besides that I’ve always been a very cooperative fellow when it comes to films. The score has to serve the film and not vice versa. I see myself as a hiree in that regard. Of course, I want to contribute to whatever film I’ve agreed to work on, and I actually quite like discussing a score together with the director in depth. We watch the film together and we always talk about the purposes and the reasons for having music in particular. It sometimes even happens that I try to persuade a director to not have music in a certain shot, knowing full well that I’d get less royalties if he listened to me.

Who did the cut-ups?

Can you name a score that you’d consider especially fitting?

Holger Czukay was the most gifted of us all when it came to editing the tapes. The audio collages he did for Can were simply far ahead of their time. Like with some of the pieces by Miles Davis, you wouldn’t hear that they were edits.

I’d say all the films of Jean-Pierre Melville. I think he is just a genius when it comes to using music to push the narrative of a film. In Le Samouraï, he goes to the limits of what a film score can achieve. The tweeting of Alain Delon’s little bird for instance is an integral part of that score, and I pay him the biggest respect for allowing this. Henry Mancini is another very good example. I don’t remember the title of the film anymore, but in one of his scores he makes intense use of a piano—but the key of G is out of tune. And I love the scores Bernard Herrmann wrote for Hitchcock, and how he sometimes was able to build up an atmosphere of almost hysterical suspension, especially with The Birds, where he used only electronically made bird sounds. I tip my hat when I notice details like this in a score. Suffice to say, always paying maximum attention to details is fundamental.

Let’s talk a bit about the importance of what you call architecture in music.

You mentioned “Halleluhwah”, which has one of the most incisive and impressive breaks in the history of pop music. Was this the result of such an editing process?

Yes. And you can find an equally radical cut in the song “Mother Sky”. Or take “Oh Yeah”—you hear Damo Suzuki’s voice played backwards at the beginning . . . like Sergei Eisenstein sometimes edited his films radically, as if he was using a sword. But all the thinking and all the theory is worth nothing at all if you don’t have someone like Holger Czukay, someone who knows the deep secrets of editing. As for Can, I would go so far as to call the collage formative. You could even consider the band itself a collage of people that don’t quite fit together. Can was a collective at a time when collectives could be seen as a political statement. How political was Can?

We weren’t considered political. And we didn’t take sides, so I guess you could call the band non-political. But in a wider Beuys-like sense, coming together the way we did and forming and working as the collective that we were was a political action. For example, as a collective, we rejected the role of the author, as well as every form of hierarchy. We even split the royalties when one of us hadn’t even played on a song. Jaki once famously said: “Not to play is a musical decision, too!” Even the decision to own the studio you work in I would consider a conscious political act because it made us independent in the truest sense of the word. You have to remember that nobody had ever worked like that before us. And back then the idea of claiming independence was on nobody’s agenda. At the end of the day we said no to the industrial exploitation of our art. No record company could ever tell us the slightest thing. There 70  EB 3/2012

You were born 1937 in Berlin. You grew up in a destroyed city and came of age in the post-war Federal Republic of Germany. How were these periods in history formative for you as a musician?

These were extremely formative years. I didn’t experience the war and the bomb attacks that much, though. My family—my mother and three siblings—were evacuated in 1943, and we spent the dangerous final two years of the war in the countryside. But certainly my parents have had a major influence on me becoming a musician and deciding to study music as a young man. Both my parents were music lovers and played the piano quite well. My mother suffered very much from the fact that her parents didn’t allow her to become an opera singer. I have often accompanied my mother on the piano when she was singing arias by Puccini or Verdi. It still gives me the shivers when I recall her singing. She had such an unbelievably beautiful voice as she was enormously gifted musically. From her, by the way, I learned discipline the hard way. When I make the same mistake three times practicing the piano, she’d always manage to sneak in and stand next to me that very moment and ask: “Didn’t you notice?”


It always happened when you’d make a mistake more than once?

Did it change how you played with your tin army?

One mistake is always allowed. It’s not allowed to make a mistake the second time. And if it happened a third time, she’d remind me of that. It was her deep, deep wish that I’d become a professional musician. For a moment in life it looked like I’d become a singer myself. At the age of eleven I must have had an incredibly beautiful voice and people say that I was able to reach very high registers. I used to sing long arias by Händel that I had memorized. But I was a boy. And, inevitably, the day comes when your voice breaks. That was in 1950. I had to stop my career as a singer.

Well, I drowned them all in a little creek near the house. I can still hear the trees in the wind and the water flowing when I recall this little childhood scene. I have a photographic memory when it comes to sounds that are related to spaces or people. Perhaps the most memorable was of a long journey with a night train from Berlin to Innsbruck when I was about six years old. I resisted sleep and instead listened the entire night to the sounds that I could hear lying in my bed. I hallucinated listening to these invisible distant sounds and incorporating the monotonous groove of the train beating the tracks. I loved the voices that you’d hear through the speakers when the train would stop in a village or city, only to be replaced by the monotony of the tracks that would lure you in when you picked up speed again. I listened to the train sounds as if they were music. My love for “concrète” sounds and the idea that every sound audible on tape belongs to the music must have originated from this train ride.

What about memories from the war? I can imagine that Can, as a truly post-war German band, must have had shared memories that were foundational for the group.

After the war, my family didn’t return to Berlin. We lived the first post-war years in Dortmund, which was reduced to rubble. Of course, these ruins have had a huge impact upon me. My whole life I had a reoccurring dream: In a golden twilight, I walked How consciously can a young through a mysterious city in boy listen to sounds and surruins, but I wasn’t allowed to rounding noise as music? enter the destroyed buildings. So I walk and walk and walk Very consciously! I know through the constantly changthat in my head I halluciing silhouette of this burnt nated choirs and string secdown city . . . Everybody who tions playing harmonies to the has experienced an air raid repetitive train groove. A later will carry the memories until song of mine which appeared he dies. I especially rememon my first solo record and ber one attack, I must have which I wrote together with been five years old. We had the Swiss artist Bruno Spoerri to remain in the bomb shelter has the title “Rapido de Noir”. for some time, after which In this particular track I took we were eventually allowed to one of Bruno’s field recordstep back into the garden. My ings from a train ride, edited grandparents and my uncle Jaki Liebezeit’s Weilerswist throne, in stereo. Photo: Thorsten Güttes. it, and gave it a structure. were with me and some other Then I played the Prophet 5 members of the family. Two of synthesizer over it, which I them were militant Nazis. It was during the night. Flak spotlights heavily treated with guitar distortion and wah-wah. Even though were combing the black sky. At a certain point, they seemed to this childhood memory is actually quite a sweet one, the song itself have located one of the attacking airplanes. My uncle applauded, turned out rather dark. and I kicked him hard in his shin. Then I cried and screamed like I was insane, because I just had realized that they were about to kill One of the beautiful things about train noise is its sound spectrum. a human being, even though it was an enemy bomber pilot. I had A moving train features almost all the frequencies audible to the tin soldiers and tanks, too. As a boy I played war. And I remember human ear. I don’t know any other machine that has such a rich that specific war related terms such as Kesselschlacht—cauldron sound. battle—sounded totally common to me. I doubt that five-year-old children nowadays know such words. Anyway, one day another There is another aspect that fascinates me when it comes to trains, uncle of mine visited us in the countryside, and he gave me a toy which is that every moment sounds different. It’s like watching a ambulance as a present. I remember him saying: “This is for all river flow: you’ll never see the same river as you never hear the your wounded and dead soldiers.” These two events are the most same train sound twice. The other day, I lingered under a railway vivid of all my war related memories. bridge. Hell, it was a moment of beauty whenever a train passed. ~ EB 3/2012   71


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H.P. BAXXTER MEETS MODESELEKTOR

“Every audience loves pyro”

Gernot Bronsert: We could have

met a couple of years ago. We were playing in Vienna at the Flex, and we spotted you from the stage. You and your entourage were at the bar. H.P. Baxxter: I remember. We

were in town because we were invited to take part in a talk show. Somebody suggested we attend your show afterwards. Sebastian Szary: We noticed

that you left during the last song we played. I remember thinking: This is how you do it when you’re a celebrity. You leave before everybody else. HP: We were thinking about

saying hello backstage, but it doesn’t really make sense when you’re unannounced. So we just enjoyed the concert as regular members of the crowd, and then we called it a day. But it’s interesting that you noticed us. GB: It was actually impossible

not to notice you: you and your entourage basically took all the seats at the bar. And you, H.P., are especially impossible to overlook. It’s the haircut, I guess. SS: You’ve got a silhouette.

Everybody knows your look— for almost two decades you haven’t changed anything.

Over the past five years, Scooter and their unmistakable lead singer H.P. Baxxter have experienced something of a renaissance amongst purveyors of continental high culture. Why? Who the fuck knows. Some say it’s their special blend of lowbrow Dada boomboom; others claim it’s Nobel-level PR. Modeselektor’s Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary don’t have the answer, but they do share Baxxter’s love of the Roland Space Echo, as they recently discovered in conversation with the peroxide frontman in Hamburg. Left: H.P. Baxxter bleaches his hair every two weeks and shaves twice a day. All photos by Hans Martin Sewcz.

HP: Old habits die hard. Whenever

I like something I stick to it. I dye my hair once every two weeks, and I shave twice a day.

GB: Have you ever been offered an

endorsement deal for a shampoo?

HP: No, but I was offered a couple

of other things since I will be quite present in German TV due to my commitment for the new season of the casting show X Factor. I’m part of the jury that decides who will become a candidate for the finale. SS: Who’s the winner? Come on,

I promise I won’t tell anybody. HP: As I said, we’ve only pro-

duced the shows that lead to the finale. Nobody knows what will happen during the live shows that follow . . .

HP: It’s been three years now

since we had our last top ten hit. I feel it’s an obligation to write new hits because I don’t want Scooter to become a nostalgic act with an old audience only always asking for the classic hits. A hit single certainly attracts a younger crowd and that’s very important if you ask me. That’s reason enough to try. GB: How can you know

that the next single will become a top ten hit? HP: Well, I hope it will. We

wrote it the way we did thinking it could become one. It’s a very energetic track for sure. SS: Coming back to the Flex club

releasing their sixteenth album?

in Vienna: After we spotted you from the stage, we briefly discussed whether we should play “Hyper Hyper”, but we decided not to in the end. We didn’t dare.

HP: Yes we will release our next

GB: We just weren’t sure about it.

GB: Let me guess: Scooter are

album in October. But is it already our sixteenth album? GB: Don’t you know how

many records you’ve made? HP: I know the number of our

top ten singles: twenty-four. SS: What’s the thrill of

doing a sixteenth album?

HP: I totally understand. It can

be embarrassing when you enter a club and suddenly the DJ completely destroys the mood of his set by playing two Scooter tracks—just because he spotted you and wants to welcome you. Anyhow, I remember that after your show had ended, I told my assistant that he should get me EB 3/2012   75


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all of Modeselektor’s recordings. Honestly, it doesn’t happen that often that I really like a live set. It sounded totally different than your studio work, by the way.

den—like in Russia, for example.

GB: That’s because we’re playing

it’s far less impressive. And you can’t blame the audience for not reacting as intensely—I feel the same! I’m so used to things being fired off in certain key moments of our shows that I end up really, really missing them. The feeling of loss is like phantom pain.

everything live. We have separate tracks for every instrument. We don’t use entire playbacks. That’s also the reason why every show we do is different from the one before. I suppose that you have to check out audience recordings on YouTube if you want to see that part of Modeselektor. SS: How big is your entourage?

GB: What do you use instead?

Confetti?

HP: Serious amounts of fog. But

SS: You’ve never had a bad

experience with pyrotechnics? HP: Once a very expensive coat of

the band, then there are some technicians and, of course, our office. Last but not least we have two girl dancers from England and two professional jumpers from Holland on stage.

mine went up in flames because my assistant had put it near a flamethrower. But we’ve learned from that experience. It never happened again and not a single person has ever been injured during one of our shows.

GB: Jumpers?

GB: We should enhance our stage

HP: There’s the three of us in

HP: Yes, the jumpers have

been around since we released our album Jumping All Over the World in 2007. Jumpstyle is still a very popular dance style. Ah, I almost forgot: we travel with a pyrotechnician. SS: You travel with your

own fire department too? HP: No, every venue han-

dles that separately.

GB: Last weekend we had a scary

incident in Austria in a former tank storage facility of the Austrian army. During our set, Szary climbed on a flamethrower thinking it was a laser spotlight and used it as a pedestal. When he jumped back on stage, it spit out a massive, larger-than-life flame right where he’d been standing. SS: I could’ve gotten grilled. HP: But it’s still fun, isn’t it? It’s

the same kind of fun we had when we bought firecrackers as kids. Every audience loves pyro. We immediately sense a difference in the crowd in countries in which pyrotechnics are forbid-

shows with pyrotechnics. I am dead serious about that, Szary. SS: If I should miss a meeting

in the next weeks, it’s probably because I’m busy training to become a pyrotechnician. The apprenticeship might even be subsidized by the government. HP: You mean you want to

become professional like Till Lindemann from Rammstein? As far as I know, they even design and build their pyrotechnical devices themselves. GB: I remember that we once

wanted to pimp up our DJ console with some strobe lights, but our equipment rental guys at Blackbox said Rammstein had already reserved all available gear for the next four months. Every single light. And I’m talking about, like, two hundred of these things! SS: I don’t want to know

Rammstein’s electricity bill. HP: I heard that Rammstein came

out of Schwerin’s theater scene in the eighties—before the fall of the Iron Curtain. They worked as light and stage technicians, which would

Left: Modeselektor’s Gernot Bronsert. Like wordsmith H.P. Baxxter, Modeselektor also have a special place in their hearts for challenging lyrics, as shown on “Shipwreck” from last year’s Monkeytown. The song was co-written and sung by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, himself no stranger to crypticness:

You laugh, slap on your face. And she laughs, slap on the cake. And laugh, slap on your face. And they laugh slap on your face. And they laugh, slap on, slip on the tracks.

explain why their approach to concerts is so theatrical. Speaking for myself, I always liked the bands that had an enormous stage presence more. When I was still listening to hard rock around twelve or thirteen, I liked Ritchie Blackmore because he always destroyed his guitar during his sets. Already then I knew it wasn’t spontaneous, that it was rehearsed. But it didn’t diminish the excitement I felt watching the destruction. Looking back, the fireworks we used at our first live shows were child’s play compared to the amount of kaboom we set off nowadays. At a certain point in our career we spent more money on pyrotechnics than we made on ticket sales. But back in the day we also used to earn incredible amounts of money with CD sales, and we used the concerts to increase it. This obviously has reversed one hundred and eighty degrees since then. GB: When exactly were these

golden days?

HP: In the mid-nineties we

would go gold or platinum with every single that we’d release, whereas the whole album would only sell OK. Then a couple of years later, our albums also started selling really well. And this went on for a decade. So when did Modeselektor form? GB: Szary and I started in 1996

in his father’s garage. Among our gear was a Roland Space Echo analog delay. One of the knobs was labeled “Mode Selector”. We combined the two words and changed the “c” to a “k” to make it all look more German. HP: That’s funny—I also own

this device, but I never used that button.

SS: We used this effect intensely. GB: It was the only effect we had,

to be honest. But looking back, it really helped shape our sound. HP: I bought my Space Echo

in the early eighties when I became the singer for a band called Celebrate the Nun. I liked EB 3/2012   77


the effect on the voices of Nik Fiend, Marc Almond and Dave Gahan, and they all used the Space Echo, so I bought one too. GB: I’ve never heard any music

by Celebrate the Nun.

HP: The special thing about

this band was that we very seriously tried to become famous, but we never succeeded. We did it for eight years and literally nothing happened. GB: I read that your sister was in

the band, too? That’s interesting. HP: It was interesting, but a bit

odd—especially when this director proposed that we should act like lovers in one of our videos. But what can I say? Every experience you make in life is a good experience somehow. GB: How did you discover

rave culture?

HP: Rave was omnipresent in

Hanover, where I lived back then. We had the British BFBS broadcast with DJ Steve Mason, and many of the UK soldiers that lived in the Hanover area attended these raves. I think that’s the reason why these raves were so different to those in other cities. GB: I still own a lot of the

tapes that I recorded from the radio. Steve Mason was an extremely important DJ. SS: As was Tim Westwood

with his BBC show on hip-hop. He had this incredible voice. I always asked myself what a man with such a voice looks like. GB: The difference between then

and now is that nowadays we don’t have these practically religious wars between genres anymore. Frankfurt against Berlin against Cologne against Hamburg—this was a conflict back then. Every city seemed to have their own fraction of rave society. But they were true enemies. It was like in the old DAF song: “Alle Gegen Alle” . . . HP: And everybody hated Scooter.

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Right: Modeselektor’s Sebastian Szary narrowly escaped death recently after dancing on top of what he thought was a spotlight during a performance in Austria. It turned out to be a massive flamethrower.

But I’ll tell you one thing: the hate wears off. You learn to live with it. And the best thing is that in 2012 everybody seems to love Scooter. SS: Honestly, when I heard “Hyper

an energetic live feeling that appeals to a lot of people. At the Tresor you had these monotonous clong-dong rhythms that really didn’t appeal to me that much.

Hyper” for the first time in 1995 I thought: Now it’s over. We loved Detroit techno and Scooter was the antithesis while at the same time so much more successful than everybody else. For me, “Hyper Hyper” marks the point when suddenly you could hear commercial techno blasting from pimped out Golf GTIs racing through our village. I thought it was the end of techno.

SS: In the Tresor it didn’t mat-

HP: I get your point.

GB: Our graphic designer Martin

GB: We didn’t have Nirvana. With

the fall of the Wall, we immediately became regular visitors of the legendary Tresor club in Berlin’s Leipzigerstraße. Underground Resistance, Sonic Destroyer, Cosmic Baby, Kid Paul or Tanith in the mid-nineties—it was just a singular moment in techno. HP: I went to the Tresor too, but

the vibe never really got me. I always preferred the huge raves and the moment when thousands of people literally feel the same energy at the same time. Rave culture had the opposite message compared to the introverted and cool new wave music that preceded rave. With rave suddenly mass hysteria was allowed again. I was blown away by the first Love Parades. In a sense, with Scooter, we always tried to create this euphoric level of energy. Today I can say I understand why some people thought we were just a band that had been casted by a nameless producer. We probably looked like that. But we weren’t. GB: I think Scooter were just

too successful from scratch.

HP: The reason is probably because

from day one we were able to press the big rave experience into the format of a four-minute track— the agitation, the crowd noise, the reverb you only get when you perform in a big arena. Thanks to this, many of our tracks have

ter where the DJ was spinning his records. In the midst of all the fog and with all the strobe lights you couldn’t see anything anyways. Going out there was quite an intimate thing to do even if you were there together with a group of people. HP: By the way, why did you guys

choose an ape as your logo?

told us to use the ape. He thought it was a strong image.

HP: And he’s right. A strong image

is very important if you want to survive in show business.

GB: Scooter has the megaphone

logo. Strong, but also a bit impersonal, don’t you think?

HP: There’s some truth to this,

for sure. But I don’t think it would be a good idea to change a logo after eighteen years. I envy the Einstürzende Neubauten a bit for their perfect logo. GB: I just realize that Scooter

is like a strong brand, like Nivea or Coca-Cola.

HP: When I think of strong brands

I think of Veuve Clicquot. It’s that orange label. The orange tells me: I like it. It’s happened to me that I would buy a bottle of Veuve and the cashier would try to convince me that they have better quality champagne for less. But, you know, I would never buy the nameless champagne. I want the orange one. It’s the same with Motörhead. There were dozens of bands that were as loud as Motörhead, but none of them had a logo of equal strength. GB: They have the best sell-

ing t-shirts in the world, for sure. I spot someone wearing a Motörhead t-shirt at least once a day—regardless of where I am. ~


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SUBSCRIPTION


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A DAY IN THE LIFE

24

hours in Prague INTERVIEWS: LUCIA UDVARDYOVA AND MAX DAX PHOTOGRAPHY: LUCI LUX Photo: The dining car of the EuroCity, formerly the Trans Europa Express, connecting Hamburg and Budapest via Prague.

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The juxtaposition of Prague’s Gothic fortresses with the concrete behemoths of socialist realism tell the story of a culture that has served multiple masters over the centuries—a history of dispossession that, in a sense, continues into today as an unrelenting surge of tourism. But despite the fact that city space and government funds often cater to the needs of visitors, Prague’s sub-cultural practitioners have found innovative ways of keeping the homegrown artistic pulse alive. There’s a long history here of both resistance and producing works of genius in the face of cold adversity. This creative current still runs through the city’s art and music scenes today.

5 : 4 5 AM A MOVEABLE FEAST— BREAKFAST ON THE TRAIN WITH JOSEF KALTENECKER, DINING CAR HEAD COOK, BUDAPEST – HAMBURG. My name is Josef Kaltenecker, and for the last forty-five years now I’ve worked for the Hungarian railway’s catering company MÁV Utasellátó. I was a chef in various train stations in Hungary, but for the last twenty-seven years I’ve been working in dining car kitchens. At the moment, I’m the dining car chef on the route from Hamburg to Budapest, one of the main connections of West and East. Every time the train stops in 84  EB 3/2012

Praha hlavní nádraží—Prague’s main station—I know that exactly half of the distance is behind us. My shift lasts fourteen and a half hours, during which I prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everything on the menu I cook with my own hands in the small and extremely hot steel kitchen. In the morning, one hour before departure, I prepare all the dishes that have to be ready during the lunchtime rush. I mix the dough for the egg noodles— Spätzle—and whenever an order comes in, all I have to do is rub the dough a bit and then place it into the boiling water with a noodle grater that’s served this kitchen for decades now. Plate for plate, I prepare everything individually. The same goes for the pancakes, the menu’s various omelets, the rice, the goulash, the


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Previous page: Josef Kaltenecker preBerlin, Dortmund, Munich, Vienna, Prague, Salonika, pares all dishes fresh, a dying tradition on today’s European train routes. Istanbul, Budapest . . . you name it. It’s a great gift to be allowed to Left: Time stands still in the Hotel travel to Greece and Turkey just Europa, located on the Václavské because you serve or cook in a dining car. Of course, it’s a huge námestí, one of Prague’s main difference if you’re traveling to a drags. The space impresses with its brass chandeliers and wooden incountry for holidays or if you get lay. Historical literati including a day off in Istanbul after a long Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Kafka and exhausting train ride. For me, a day off in a foreign city always and Max Brod all hung out in its feels like the greatest reward. balconied Art Nouveau café. I know many people for whom pork chops, the soups, the coleslaw traveling with the train is like and the dumplings. Everything a philosophy. Especially within is done fresh and on the spot. If Europe where the distances are you’re well organized it’s not a big short, train travel can be a kind of deal to offer this palette of food calming experience. For instance, in a train kitchen—even if it’s taking a train from Vienna or more difficult to cook when the Munich or Berlin to Prague seems train is traveling at one hundred to be the only sensible thing to do. forty kilometers per hour with I wouldn’t even think to consider more than occasional bouts of taking a plane. It’s all about pace turbulence. I’ve actually had to and how you experience distances. learn different ways of contortIf you leave the train and enter ing my body to wedge between Prague’s main station, you are the cupboards and the workspace. in the heart of the city. If you Especially when chopping parsley arrive with a plane however, you’ll or vegetables or when handling find yourself at an airport some pots with boiling water you have fifty kilometers outside the city. to be sure that your body is fixed I don’t understand why they and immobile in the kitchen. You don’t cook the food anymore in don’t learn such things in cooking old-fashioned dining car kitchschool, but I consider it a tradiens nowadays. In large parts of tion worth documenting. I’m not Europe, you will only get presurprised how many guests always cooked, standardized convenience tell me that they appreciate our food, warmed up in a microwave efforts to serve freshly cooked without any love. Honestly, I food. Of course, one of the reasons could cry when I think of this. why they can tell me how much It’s such a different, inhuman they appreciate their food is the concept, and, regrettably, I fear fact that they can look into the that this old tradition of serving kitchen. That’s a huge difference freshly cooked food on the tracks to, say, cooking in the restaurant will one day even disappear along in Budapest’s Nyugati Pályaudvar the eastern European routes. In station, or “Budapest West” for Hungary, if you’re lucky, you can short. There I would be stuck in even find old dining cars where the kitchen all night and wouldn’t the chefs still cook with gas stoves. see the face of a single guest. Sometimes it even happens that As a dining car chef I’ve also there’s a power failure—a total learned that traveling by train blackout. Usually when this hapcan be a hypnotic experience. The pens, you can smoke a cigarette repetitious rhythms of the train in the kitchen and wait until the can lull you into daydreams. I also electricity is back. But with the old love the ever-changing sounds of trains it’s different: you might be the tracks. But the dining car is forced to light a candle to see, but what I love the most. I would even you can still cook on the gas stove. call it an old European tradition. Another important difference With my colleagues, I have profesto cooking in a restaurant is that sionally traveled fourteen counyou have to not only beware of tries and dozens of cities—Paris, how the train is moving, but also how you’re stocked for supplies. Venice, Basel, Zurich, Hamburg, EB 3/2012   87


Above: Vít Masare, the friendly face of Prague’s bike and pedestrian lobby, Auto*Mat. Right: Old-school expat Robert Carrithers has called Prague home since 1990.

You can’t simply send out someone to get you a pack of salt if there’s none left. You have to anticipate everything, because the train’s going to keep moving. That’s why I’m permanently jotting down notes. The last thing I always do before the train approaches its final destination in Budapest Keleti, Berlin Hauptbahnhof or Hamburg Altona is pick up the phone and place the order for the next day. And then, when I’ve shut down everything, I walk out into the night to the hotel where I stay with the crew. Except in Budapest of course, where I will drive home in my car and sleep in my own bed. I imagine that this lifestyle wouldn’t suit everybody. But it certainly suits me.

1 2 :1 5 PM ROBERT CARRITHERS PHOTOGRAPHER, FILMMAKER The first time I arrived in Prague was in 1990. Why did I come? That’s something I’ve asked myself plenty of times. Needless to say it was completely different back in those days. I remember the main train station was painted pink and had these incredibly unsanitary toilets that you could smell a mile away. When I walked to the city center for the first time I could clearly hear people’s voices and footsteps because there was almost no traffic. This is something that is not possible now with all of the congested traffic in the city center. It was an open atmosphere with a feeling that anything could happen and everything was possible. There was an expressive enthusiasm and optimism with all of the musicians playing on the street, dancing, and performing. At the time, there were practically no tourists and not a single fast-food chain. The only thing you could grab quick was chlebícek, which is an open faced sandwich filled with mayonnaise and assorted types of meat. The beer and sandwiches were 5 crowns and the metro was only 2 crowns. It drew people from all over the world, especially an incredible amount of Americans— 88  EB 3/2012

some forty thousand living here between 1990 and 1993. I would say there were three types: those who were here to follow some sort of business opportunity; those here to create art; and those here for the cheap beer and Czech women. The latter you could identify immediately because they were always drunk day and night. I came out of curiosity and I stayed in Prague because of my son. But I also feel comfortable here. My heyday was New York in the early eighties at the creative clubs Club 57 and Danceteria, which was an intense, once-in-a-lifetime situation. Of course, New York doesn’t have that spirit anymore now. To make a very long story short, before I moved to Prague I’d been having a good time in Berlin, but I wanted to see what was happening in a completely post-communist society. I had read The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Kafka and knew about the Prague Spring in ’68, so history and literature were a big draw for me. Back then, it was said that Prague was like Paris in the twenties, with all of the open mic nights and poetry readings that were happening. An especially important one was Beef Stew, where you could get up and read anything you wanted—poetry, an excerpt from a novel, a performance piece, a shopping list . . . Occasionally it was incredibly bad, but there were also some real diamonds. The event was hosted in a place located near I.P. Pavlova called Radost FX, which actually still exists, even though it’s only a place for dancing now. I remember being there for a writer’s conference and seeing a discussion between Václav Havel and Arthur Miller. At the time, Havel was president, and needless to say, the whole experience was surreal. I mean, what head of state would go to a club like that? I was practically standing next to him and there was no problem with security. It was a very relaxed affair. The whole city was incredibly raw. Bunker clubs underneath the blown-up Stalin statue, debauchery . . . You never paid to go anywhere. Nobody was in control. Art was everywhere.

That all has changed very quickly. Today, the optimism is gone, and the average Czech person is usually only interested in making as much money as possible, working twelve-hour days enslaved to their companies. It’s sad. However, there’s still a very strong creative and gallery scene. Even in summer, I could go to an opening three or four times a week if I want to, which is uncommon for galleries. You might even say that now there’s more of a genuine underground scene that’s formed in response to the predominant workaholic mentality. Also, compared to the nineties, which was so much about the expat scene, lots of up and coming artists today in Prague are Czech. I think there’s a strong connection between Prague and Berlin, and it’s more than just a fast train. There was always a big exchange of bands—The Methylated Spirits, Fatal Shore, Once In a Lifetime, Hugo Race . . . I was always trying to connect the two cities, even if they’re two different realities and Berlin has by far the bigger and more intense cultural scene. I would venture to guess that Prague unfortunately has far more corruption. I describe the political situation here as a Kleptocracy. It’s a government of thieves. They’re stealing and it’s totally out in the open. People are somehow powerless against it though. No young people want to go into politics these days. It’s a vicious circle. I hope things change soon, because the corruption here is really out of control.

2: 12 P M LUCIA UDVARDYOVA, BLOGGER, ELECTRONIC BEATS CORRESPONDENT, PRAGUE I moved to Prague in September 2001 on a stiflingly hot day in the middle of an Indian summer, armed with a suitcase and a reckless carte blanche attitude. The room I had planned on renting fell through after my wouldbe landlady greeted me a tad


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too suspiciously, and I ended up couchsurfing with people I barely knew for a couple of months. I remember seeing the hyperreal images of 9/11 on a small TV set in Háje, a concrete block estate on the outskirts of the city encircled by typical communist housing desolation. Previously, I had been living in London and honestly, I never planned to live in the Czech capital. But after returning from the UK, I just couldn’t imagine staying in Slovakia, my “motherland”, anymore. A friend of mine was moving to Prague to do a short-lived course in chemistry and I, pretty desperate at the time, tagged along. The early years were like a catharsis, spent doing odd jobs which included selling chewing gum to tourists at the Old Town Square, working early mornings at a supermarket, and interning at a newspaper called The Prague Pill while studying semiotics at university. Unlike Slovakia’s capital Bratislava with its former subterranean atomic bunker U.Club, Prague was never a techno city, even though I would go to techno parties back then. Most of the techno events in Prague took place at clubs like Roxy or Paradogs— the latter situated on one of the floors of the five-story Karlovy Lázne “superclub” near Charles Bridge, which these days is more of a tourist trap. Still, on any given Saturday you’d have the likes of Regis doing live electronics. Then there were the events connected to the buoyant Czech free party scene and its various soundsystems, such as Cirkus Alien. Their annual gathering was the CzechTek, which famously ended in a brutal altercation between the riot police and the festivalgoers in summer 2005. In 2006 the city’s electronic scene was kickstarted by the fledgling Sperm Festival, a music and new media event that championed cross-genre lineups, from dubstep—when it was still good—to post-IDM and other forms of electronics. In recent years, the crosspollination of the art and music scenes has flourished in the city, largely thanks to the three art academies: the prestigious film school FAMU, the Prague Academy

of Fine Arts, and the UMPRUM Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design—all of which have seen the arrival of a new generation that is as much into art as music. In my opinion, an important catalyst has also been the fiercely independent art and music collective A.M.180, spearheaded by Štepán Bolf and the siblings Jakub and Anežka Hošek, formerly known under their DJ moniker Indie Twins. These are underground music evangelists very much in touch with the latest goings-on in other more thriving world metropolises. A.M.180 has nurtured a small but avid audience of music afficionados at cosy venues like 007 Strahov, situated in the block of a large dormitory on top of the Petrín Hill, or in Final—a stone’s throw from the main station. Their activities culminate every year in the Creepy Teepee festival held in the historical town Kutná Hora. Of course, Prague also has a whole crop of new bloggers, fashionistas and Vice Magazine types eager to show off the latest garb and celebrate the middle of the road underground. MeetFactory, a spacious warehouse situated in an industrial part of the Smíchov district, has become the place to see and be seen, especially under the more recent musical direction of Michal Brenner. Its autumn calendar is already brimming with names like Dan Deacon, Beach House or Holy Other. Off spaces have mushroomed in the last couple of years, especially in Žižkov, a former working class district with the city’s highest concentration of bars per square meter. This is a pretty good bet when you are looking for good food and gigs. The now legendary drinking den Blind Eye, popular with expats, has closed, but Bukowski’s remains, as does the creative hub City Surfer—a gallery space that also hosts parties. Letná, a leafy district across the city center, is popular with boho parents and artists. Local creative types hang out until the wee hours at the Bio Oko, an art house cinema. Within a stone’s throw from Oko is the recently opened Nová Syntéza café and venue that aims to attract the young generation.

Above: This still from the Rafani art collective’s Film collage 31 Endings/31 Beginnings, shows the contruction of Prague’s controversial Blanka Tunnel. In Czech, the verb “to tunnel” also happens to be slang for the verb “to corrupt”, and if you believe the average Praguer, tens of millions of crowns have unnecessarily dissappeared into the project’s blackhole of a budget. Left: Žižkov Television Tower is indeed the eyesore of Prague’s otherwise pleasant historical city panorama. The bizarre sculptures of crawling babies created by Czech artist David Cerný have undoubtedly contributed to its recently being named the second ugliest building in the world by VirtualTourist.com—itself the seventeenth ugliest website in the world.

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Right: Jakub and Anežka Hošek of DIY music/art collctive A.M. 180 in front of their homebase, Utopia.

Down the street is the towering Bubenská 1—a white functionalist office block with spaces rented out to artists and Umelec magazine publisher Divus, who also runs the Prager Kabarett gallery near there. Aside from exhibitions there are also gigs—I’ve seen William Bennett’s Cut Hands project there, for example. If you end up in Letná, go to Berlínskej Model, a tiny, but happening art space. Žižkov and Letná are where most of my friends live. Unlike me, that is. I live in Palmovka, an old Jewish ghetto and industrial zone that’s fallen pray to urban development and drug dealers. I am into psychogeography, so walking is my favorite thing to do in Prague. I enjoy immersing myself in the atmosphere of a specific environment, observing the people and everyday life particular to certain urban geographical areas. Prague is a strange place indeed. The art and music scenes are pretty small and insular and are rife with a persistent periphery syndrome. This is also coupled with the burden of history and an omnipresent disappointment with post-communist development. Of course, Czechs in general tend to see things a bit bleaker than they are so this should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, people here seem to lack the hunger, drive and general cutthroat mentality of larger cities, which can also work to the city’s advantage. Here it’s easy to forget yourself in a time warp where history erases the present and the future remains uncertain. The friend with whom I arrived in Prague left long ago. I’m still here, but more often than not, I tend to flee the city’s sedative grasp only to return a few weeks later wondering what is it that keeps bringing me back.

3:34 P M THE INDOMITABLE RAFANI ARTIST COLLECTIVE Rafani is a five-piece art collective from Prague, who, when holding monologues and giving interviews, 92  EB 3/2012

always refers to itself in the third person. They wear uniforms when on duty and can easily be identified as members of Rafani by the blank, white button on their black shirts. Rafani is heavily influenced by the Situationist International movement of the sixties, originally founded by Guy Debord in 1957. In an unofficial action, some members of the Rafani collective used the Prague National Gallery as a public toilet to comment on the degree of corruption within the official Czech art scene. As an artist in Prague you can be engaged, passionate and even clever. But unlike in Germany or the UK, you’ll never get a chance to participate or benefit from the institutional system. In response to this unfortunate reality, Rafani shot and edited the film 31 koncu/31 zacátku [31 Endings/31 Beginnings] in 2011, featuring interviews with thirty-one subjects—many from various fields of culture, including the visual arts, literature and music. Some of them live and work in the city center, but the vast majority of them live on the fringes. This statement alone is worth a film’s length: nobody lives in the city center. Everybody lives in the outskirts. Replace Prague with any city that is in a state of social flux, and the film can be seen as a comment on an international state of affairs. Nevertheless, 31 Endings/31 Beginnings is a conceptual piece of video art, not a documentary. Rafani cut up all the answers from the subjects interviewed and reassembled them as a narrative bricolage. The mosaic of answers that were left in the film constitutes a rhizomatic map of any city center and its multitude of satellites—the periphery. Rafani perceives the city center as a core whose borders delineate the mainstream. The core is a representation of normalcy and normality. Periphery is more of a mental than a geographical definition. There are lots of peripheries, but only one center. The members of Rafani are not children of the revolution. They all originate from families that were not in opposition to the Communist system—normal families. To investigate this particular


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aspect of normality to a greater extent, Rafani became members of the official Czech Communist Party for exactly one year. As with all other actions, Rafani’s Communist experience was an abstract way to challenge the members with new artistic problems. But none of Rafani’s actions are considered ironic. Check out the actions of the Situationist International movement and you can sense the seriousness of it all.

5:50 PM JAKUB HOŠEK ARTIST, PROMOTER, LABEL OWNER /A.M.180, AMDISCS, CREEPY TEEPEE It all started here at Utopia in Belehradská 45. When we were still teenagers and just starting to get involved in the activities which now define our lives, we shared this space with friends that we met at the Ladronka squat in Prague . . . although, in those days, I had to climb in through the window. While the squattingscene eventually brought Utopia into the orbit of the greater anarchist movement as an information cell, it also laid the foundation for many of our future projects. Soon after we started our gallery, we set up a show in this space with Nina Nastasia from Touch and Go Records, which was the very first concert that we organized independently. Because we felt at the time that there was very little happening in the city that was of interest to us, we decided in 2003 to set up the A.M.180 Collective as a means of strengthening alternative culture in Prague. Since all of us are connected to the art scene—two of us being painters—and we all share a love for music, our initial idea was to bring art into contact with people who are into music, and vice versa. Even though it’s still unclear whether this idea has fully materialized in a larger sense, the inter-connection between different kinds of art is definitely the main theme of our festival, Creepy

Teepee. And while there seems to be more and more people experimenting with new artistic material in Prague nowadays, the audience for this kind of creative material strangely does not appear to be growing. We are still only talking about a few dozen people on the scene here. When we started all this around 2000, there was great hunger for alternative culture. We used to invite people to our gigs by passing out burnt CDs. Now we are situated somewhere at the intersection of various scenes. With both music and art, we are generally very open, and are into everything from punk and hardcore to electronic music; from video art to painting. Most of these subcultures tend to be pretty insular, so, in contrast, we try to emphasize transgression and boundarycrossing where the different genres intersect or maybe even dissolve . . . which is sometimes a pretty thankless position to have. Most people want to belong somewhere, but that’s not what we offer. These days people are always talking about hipsters, but they often mistake hipsters for trendsetters. Hipsters have a herd mentality, and are driven by a desire to profit. We are driven by the discovery of something unique for us and other like-minded people, something difficult to name that makes a scene interesting and worthwhile. This attitude toward culture is different abroad, especially in places where art has a revered position in society. In Prague, however, people have the feeling that they need to show off when they go to concerts, which makes engaging in cultural activity here seem more superficial. For example, when a fifty yearold comes to the MeetFactory, people will laugh at him, even though he probably came for the same reasons they did. In addition to the gallery space, the festival, and the concerts, we also run a label called AMDISCS. While the label is definitely a useful channel for forging contacts with international artists, we also founded it in order to release and promote more Czech acts. At first, our goal with the festivals was to help bring Czech artists into

Left: Flowers and wreaths adorn the bullet scarred window of Ss. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral, now a memorial to the team of assassins who killed one of the main architects of the Holocaust, Nazi Reinhard Heydrich. The assassins were led by parachutists Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabcík, who took refuge in the church before dying in its ambush on May 27, 1942.

contact with foreign music, but we later realized that most of them weren’t that interested. However, some of the people who attended our gigs were inspired to start making their own music, which led to the release of several Czech projects like dné or Table, along with the local project Climatizado, our first release. It was a bit offputting, though, that so many of the artists were so reluctant to pay attention to the international context when promoting their work—such as blog-culture, for example. I’m not saying that we won’t release a Czech act in future, but right now, we are more interested in stuff that can make it on an international scale. We care about our small, practically non-existent scene here, and we are fond of Prague, the city we were born in and remain connected to. Everything we do—be it our own art, concerts, exhibitions or the label—is taken with equal seriousness. The interconnectedness of these projects is of the utmost importance; one can’t function without the other. And we personally wouldn’t be able to function without this in our lives as well.

9: 15 P M VÍT MASARE, URBAN ACTIVIST AND EXTREMELY NICE GUY, AUTO*MAT Auto*Mat was founded in 2003 in response to the city government’s growing support of individual car traffic in Prague. As one of the team leaders, I’m responsible for external communication, lobbying, foreign relations, and, last but not least, the Critical Mass rides. Over the past ten years, the city’s efforts regarding transport have been focused on building the largest urban highway tunnel in Europe . . . right through the neighborhood of Blanka in the center of Prague. Construction of the massive, overpriced 6.4-kilometer behemoth has elicited allegations of corruption and completely stalled the urban development in the city for the past seven years. Indeed, EB 3/2012   95


Above: A mixed appetizer plate at the Krcma u Parašutistu, Resslova 7. Named in honor of the parachutists who killed Nazi Reinhard Heydrich, the small restaurant offers excellent Bohemian cuisine. In fact, large parts of the menu are made up of the assassins’ favorite dishes.

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it’s a twist of irony that in Czech, the word “to tunnel” means “to corrupt”. But perhaps even more ironic is that highway construction and car traffic will be the city’s main investments over the next few decades, despite the fact that we have one of the most developed public transportation systems in the world. The government’s focus on historical traffic patterns from Western European capitals is anachronistic—especially considering that most of these cities have begun to focus on the damage of car traffic, not its advantages. Artists are at the core of Auto*Mat, with the initiative founded by filmmaker Martin Marecek in 2003. The whole idea sprang out of a documentary about public space and transport issues in the city. But of course Marecek wasn’t interested in merely documenting what was going on: he also wanted to change things. Auto*Mat the film was shot between 2003 and 2009, with artists, musicians, graffiti writers, painters and actors performing and creating in public spaces in order to call attention to the destructiveness of Prague’s transport policy. Aside from having won the Czech Documentary of the Decade Award, the film and our organization have effected real change over the past two years,

with public opinion having risen from the bottom rung of political representation and a handful of new civic associations and initiatives sprouting up in its wake. As a result, we think the future in Prague is looking brighter.

11:24 PM MARK THER ARTIST, CHALUPECKÝ PRIZE WINNER Although I was born in Prague, my family’s from Broumov— pronounced “Braunau” in German—which is located in the Sudetenland. Ever since I was a small kid, I have always gone there to visit, but I never had a clue about what had actually happened there during the Second World War. My great-great aunt Berta would always claim, “I am a German,” but I could never understand how she could be German if she was from Czechoslovakia. She would always write postcards in German, as she couldn’t write in Czech. Even though I’ve spent so much time there, my interest in the lost histories and the extinct dialect of this no-longer-existent culture of the Sudetenland has

only developed quite recently. The culture of this region, which had been developing alongside ours for 700 years, is now gone entirely. I also address this lost world of the Sudetenland in my work, but, instead of focusing on the painful history of the expulsions, I prefer to explore aspects of the culture that had flourished there before the war. I am the only Praguer in my family, the rest of whom live in Germany. I think it’s still sort of a childhood trauma for me that my family didn’t stay in Germany in 1985 when we had the rare chance to visit . . . although I can’t exactly explain why. It’s questionable whether it would have been better there for me anyway. In any event, my home is here, in Prague. Of course, I would rather be in Berlin, just like every other artist, but now the German capital seems saturated with artists and their products. I also think it might even be good to live somewhere that isn’t exactly cool—somewhere that’s a bit off. But this doesn’t change the fact that I have always hated Prague as a city, as well as how it’s structured and how people here go about their lives. Perhaps it was a better place in the past when it had a bustling café culture and a more overtly romantic atmosphere, something that I’ve only seen in photographs. More people recognize my name after I won the Chalupecký Prize last year, which is a Czech art award given to young artists by an international jury. But to be honest, things otherwise haven’t changed that much for me. The day before yesterday I was at a bar, and my friend introduced me to someone who then said: “Yeah, I know the name.” The guy, a FAMU [Film and TV Academy of Performing Arts in Prague] student, started to comment on my work, but I just didn’t know how to respond other than saying “Uh, ok.” It’s nice, though; I didn’t actually expect to get the award. There were other people nominated whose work is probably “cooler” than mine. I think it was also the first time in history that this particular prize was awarded to a video-artist. Of course, that’s something I can be proud of. ~


M A D S

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Illustration: Johannes Beck

NEU

Atheism is not a choice

existed in this space between art and tool. All of the terms of synthesis—oscillator, low pass filter, volume, pitch—are translated into the Berber language of Tamazight and written in the Berber script of neo-Tifinagh. Also, for the rollover texts, we put in fragments of Sufi poetry chosen in conjunction with how the knobs or buttons work. When you open up the plug-ins you see very few Roman characters. The idea is to encourage people to think more with their ears. And with all the bits of poetry flying around, hopefully that will seep into the process, too. Certainly at the more conceptual end of the plug-in suite is Devotion, which only works with silence. Five times a day, during the call to prayer, it’ll lower the volume of your computer depending on the level of “devotion” you choose from the presets: agnostic, apostate, observant, fervent or devout. Atheism is not a choice. AS: That indeed sounds

more like conceptual art. JC: Actually, I had been stay-

A.J. Samuels: What are some of

the Western musical assumptions in European and Americanmade plug-ins that you wanted to provide alternatives to? Jace Clayton: There are two main

ones. One is the default meter, which is 4/4. Every single piece of Western software you open up is set in 4/4, the standard pop rhythm. Often you can adjust the rhythms to 6/7 or 6/8 or whatever, but overall, the software doesn’t work well with polyrhythms, which are extremely common in so many different types of non-Western music. The same goes for the default tuning system, which is a major scale—like a C Major scale, as if your MIDI keyboard had 88 keys. With my group Nettle, we have all these songs we play that are in Arabic tuning, so the first thing we did was create four different software synthesizers, each one capable of selecting between 98  EB 3/2012

This past May, Jace Clayton, aka DJ /rupture, released his Sufi Plug Ins suite—a set of software tools for Ableton Live that promote non-Western notions of poetry and musical improvisation. Using Arabic scales and polyrhythms, the plug-ins not only expose Western cultural bias in music technology, but also larger assumptions about Western cultural dominance—“social software”, as Clayton calls it in conversation with A.J. Samuels. Currently only available for Ableton Live, the Sufi Plug In suite will soon be out as VSTs. Sufi mysticism as musical practice— and free download.

four different Arabic “maqams” or scales. They only play these scales, so you wouldn’t be able to use them to play, say, a D Minor scale. AS: “Middle Eastern” editions of

the Korg PA500 and VST plug-ins with non-Western drum modules and microtuned oud and baglama interfaces do exist. Did you check out Arab and Middle Eastern electronic music interfaces before you decided to design your own? JC: Actually, no, not at all. Part

of the design process included research, but the other major part was brainstorming with Nettle about specific needs. Ever since working with Moroccan violinist Abdelhak Rahal in Barcelona seven or eight years ago, I’d always wanted the software to be able to do certain things—to work better with Moroccan musical ideas. But as the Sufi Plug Ins idea took shape, it increasingly

ing with a friend of mine in Morocco—an amazing composer and banjo player named Hassan Wargui—whose father, Abdellah Wargui is a muezzin and is against all forms of music for religious reasons. He actually won’t listen to his son’s music. It’s ironic because Abdellah actually has a really beautiful voice. I wanted to design something to respond to that situation. Also, I was interested in flipping the idea of aiming for the widest possible audience that’s designed into in a lot of software. AS: Is the everyday Islamic

focus of Sufi Plug Ins and its reminder of Western musical chauvinism a critique of Western political chauvinism? JC: Definitely. I mean, how could

it not? If so many Western cultural assumptions and limitations are built into music software, what about the broader software—the social software, or whatever you want to call it? Hopefully this will get people thinking about that. ~


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Electronic Beats Magazine Issue 3/2012  

While the plural of anecdote might not be data, our current collection of monologues and stories certainly makes for good reading. In fact,...

Electronic Beats Magazine Issue 3/2012  

While the plural of anecdote might not be data, our current collection of monologues and stories certainly makes for good reading. In fact,...

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