ELECTRONIC BEATS CONVERSATIONS ON ESSENTIAL ISSUES N° 33 · SPRING 2013
Depeche Mode THROUGH THE DARKNESS YOU’LL FIND THE LIGHT
100% SILK TERRE THAEMLITZ DJ KOZE THE KNIFE
electronic Beats presents
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“Everyone should have a daily ritual” Max Dax: I recently met Andrey
A. Tarkovsky, the son of the great Russian director, in his apartment in Florence to interview him for this issue of Electronic Beats Magazine.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Funny, I
recently read Tarkovsky’s collected writings in which he emphasized that everyone should have a daily ritual to follow in life. MD: We talked about rituals too. HUO: Inspired by Tarkovsky, I started a new ritual in my life: I ask everyone I meet to handwrite a sentence for me. And while they write the sentence, I take a photo and then post it on Instagram. It’s a daily ritual, a protest against the disappearance of handwriting in the digital age. Umberto Eco has extensively described this phenomenon. MD: How do you view the difference
between blogs and magazines? With Electronic Beats we try to reinvigorate and, in a sense, reinvent aspects of print culture with every issue. At the same time, we are devoted to blog culture and do our best to feature them on electronicbeats.net, though I perceive major differences in form and content.
HUO: Well, apart from my Instagram blog I see my contributions to a variety of magazines as my way to blog. Our ongoing conversation for this editorial should
With the exception of certain sociopolitical strands of hip hop and anomalies like Atari Teenage Riot, electronic music, particularly dance music, is not something most people associate with protest song. But the times they are a-changin’, and so are musical focuses. While we at Electronic Beats Magazine are committed to continuing our exploration of artists such as Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk and Cluster, whose music has served as the basis of so much of today’s house, techno and synthpop, we also take pride in scrutinizing lesser known corners of the sonic jungle, like the low-end innovations of car audio bass and contributions to queer discourse by the likes of Terre Thaemlitz, The Knife and Planningtorock. As always, the future was yesterday. But you can read about it here. Kindest regards, Max Dax Editor-in-Chief
be mentioned in that regard—but also my weekly contributions to the Zurich-based Das Magazin and other columns. If you understand the blog as a kind of replacement of the classic diary, then you could also consider my columns in various publications to be a kind of public diary. MD: Keeping a diary is also a
ritual. And as we speak, you’re currently showing a big Jonas Mekas exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery who, of course, was a key figure in the development of diaristic filmmaking.
HUO: He is the best example of a
man who has thought and dreamt in diaristic terms over his entire life. He is a great source of inspiration in that regard. I know from interviews that I did with Mekas that he considered the daily act of filming with his Bolex camera an important ritual. Just like Tarkovsky.
MD: What were your thoughts on
organizing such a large Mekas retrospective?
HUO: Firstly, we are always driven by things that we want to share with others. For example, we want to share that feeling of being inspired by Jonas Mekas’ diaristic film works, especially in light of him recently celebrating his 90th birthday. In a very real sense, organizing public exhibitions doesn’t always mean that you’re anticipating the needs of a market but
instead follows personal interest or instinct. To be honest, I see everything I do as part of experiments in a larger laboratory—one that’s open to the general public. MD: For this issue we did quite a bit of traveling to meet people we find inspiring and challenging. We went to Miami, Manhattan, Hamburg and London to interview the likes of Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Dave Gahan, Karl Bartos and Terre Thaemlitz. What I personally like about all of these interactions is that they can be seen as a kind of mobile laboratory. You simply never know how they will turn out beforehand, and so you hope that they offer new angles to old questions—even though more often than not, they offer new answers to unasked questions. How do you view the idea of questions, ideas and art as non-static entities that change over time? HUO: Well, one of my next exhibitions entitled Do it will revisit the original Do it exhibition from 1993 I did with Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier. It consists of more than three hundred instructions by artists that could then be interpreted by other artists—like a musical score written by one composer is performed by other musicians. MD: Although here the “instruc-
tions” would seem to be even more open to interpretation, no? Now that is an experiment with an open end. ~ EB 1/2013 3
PICTURES TO THE EDITOR The best Depeche Mode fan photos.
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Let us show you the world in their eyes. Here the press from Depeche Mode’s perspective (approximately), taken at their recent press conference in Paris announcing the European leg of their upcoming tour. Photo: Helene Hanisch, October 23, 2012 EB 1/2013 5
Dave Gahan generously giving the audience a chance to belt out the encore to their Touring the Angel show at the Waldbühne amphitheater in Berlin. Photo: Falk Scheuring, July 12, 2006
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Just the facts: This is Uwe from the German town of Grimma in sunny Saxony. Uwe’s standing in front of the Acropolis in Athens holding a German flag with his name on it (Uwe). No, Uwe’s not cashing in on German-led EU subsidies to the faltering Greek economy. Uwe is a die-hard Depeche Mode fan. Read his clothes. And Uwe’s doing what he loves most: traveling the world to watch them play. Go Uwe, go! Photo: Uwe’s girlfriend Corinna, August 1, 2006
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It’s only fitting that Depeche Mode appear blacker-than-thou in Leipzig, host to the world’s largest annual black celebration, the Wave-Gotik-Treffen. Photo: Daniela Vorndran, June 8, 2009 EB 1/2013 11
IMPRINT IMPRINT ELECTRONIC BEATS MAGAZINE CONVERSATIONS ON ESSENTIAL ISSUES Est. 2005 Issue N° 33 Spring 2013
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 email@example.com 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 Copy Editor: Karen Carolin
Cover: Depeche Mode, photographed by Anton Corbijn.
Contributing Authors: Karl Bartos, Zsuzsanna Bende, Titusz Bicskei, Kevin Blechdom, Louise Brailey, Amanda Brown, Neil Case, Gábor Csabai, DJ Koze, Olof Dreijer, Karin Dreijer Andersson, Rashad Islam Endicott, Thomas Fehlmann, Dave Gahan, Heatsick, Holly Herndon, Daniel Jones, Om’Mas Keith, Rita Koslov, Stephen Levy, Arto Lindsay, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Planningtorock, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Sonic Boom, Gábor Szilágyi, Andrey A. Tarkovsky, Terre Thaemlitz, Asmus Tietchens, András G. Varga, André Vida, Ábel Zsendovits
Contributing Photographers and Illustrators: Ashley Anthony, Corinna, Helene Hanisch, So-Min Kang, Rosalia Kullick, Margret Links, Luci Lux, Falk Scheuring, Hans Martin Sewcz, Miguel Villalobos, Daniela Vorndran
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 Julia Rommel, firstname.lastname@example.org Subscriptions: www.electronicbeats.net/subscriptions Advertising: email@example.com Printing: Druckhaus Kaufmann, Raiffeisenstr. 29, 77933 Lahr, Germany Distribution: VERTRIEB MZV GmbH & Co KG, 85716 Unterschleißheim, Germany
Thanks to: Lisa Blanning, Dennis Burmeister, Johanna Chromik, Moritz Gayard, Anne Haffmans, Tanja Horstmann, Anke Kroczynski, Matthias Kümpflein, Alex Pollock, Ulrike Westphal, all Depeche Mode fan clubs worldwide © 2013 Electronic Beats Magazine / Reproduction without permission is prohibited ISSN 2196-0194 Subsonic frequencies are everywhere.
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CONTENT CONTENT EDITORIAL .................................................................................... 3 PICTURES TO THE EDITOR .......................................................... 4 RECOMMENDATIONS................................................................... 16 Music and other media recommended by Thomas Fehlmann, Heatsick, Pete Kember aka Sonic Boom, Arto Lindsay et al.; featuring new releases by Autechre, Voigt & Voigt, Iannis Xenakis, Brandt Brauer Frick, Tobias Zielony, Matthew Herbert, My Bloody Valentine and more ¥C$ How Holly Herndon spends $100.............................................. 28 ABC The alphabet according to DJ Koze .......................................... 30 MS. STYLE ICON Amanda Brown on Tina Chow ........................... 34 COUNTING WITH . . . Kevin Blechdom .......................................... 36
“Through that darkness you’ll find the light” A.J. Samuels interviews DAVE GAHAN ............................................. 40 “You might have thought it was divine” A.J. Samuels in Miami with BASS MEKANIK ................................... 46 “In music, it’s very hard to communicate irony” A.J. Samuels talks to KARL BARTOS ............................................... 54 “This is not a coincidence” Max Dax talks to ANDREY A. TARKOVSKY .................................... 60
Electronic Protest Music: New Sounds Battling the Fear of Queer With THE KNIFE, TERRE THAEMLITZ and PLANNINGTOROCK................................................................ 72 “I’m probably not curious enough” HANS-JOACHIM ROEDELIUS and ASMUS TIETCHENS................ 80 A Day in the Life: 24 hours in Budapest........................................... 86 NEU: Primacy of Paper .................................................................... 98
Three of our featured contributors: Louise Brailey
(* 1983) Louise Brailey is the deputy editor at electronicbeats.net and a freelance contributor to NME, Nylon and DJ Mag. For this issue she spoke to Planningtorock about protest music and her recent release, Misogyny Drop Dead. Photo: Johannes Beck
is the co-founder of famed L.A.-based labels 100% Silk and Not Not Fun, as well as the mastermind behind semisolo project L.A. Vampires. In this issue she discusses her style icon, the late model and muse Tina Chow. Photo: Ashley Anthony
(* 1965) is a founding member of British neo-psych demigods Spacemen 3 and a producer of such diverse acts as Moon Duo, Panda Bear and MGMT. In this issue he discusses My Bloody Valentine’s long awaited LP m b v. Photo: Miguel Villalobos
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“A group constantly moving, whether we can see it or not” Heatsick recommends Autechre’s Exai
Heatsick aka Steven Warwick is a British musician and visual artist based in Berlin. His work encompasses technology, hybridization, performance, sculpture and film. In the last issue of Electronic Beats he recommended Lee Gamble’s Diversions 1994-1996.
Opposite Page: Tobias Zielony, Mädchen, 2003. All photographs courtesy of Tobias Zielony and KOW Berlin.
I remember once seeing Autechre in 2001 at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Southern England. In one room was avant improv jazz guitarist Derek Bailey very slowly scraping on guitar strings, while next door was said group playing music(k) in the dark for two hours. I remember thinking that this is not something I’ll get to see every day, especially not in this context. The visual deprivation added to the intensity of the music; electronics, at once claustrophobic and emancipatory, gave way to an acute awareness of my spatial perception and consciousness. Autechre have previously wrestled the spatial on 1994’s Anti EP, experimenting with non-repetitive sounds as a defiant response to the then recently introduced Criminal Justice Bill, which was specifically worded so as to forbid the public broadcast of “repetitive” dance music—particularly in the (outdoor) rave context. Over the past few weeks, I have been walking around listening to their new record Exai on my headphones, which I have found to be the optimal listening approach. Walking in a familiar space has become completely disorientating, as the album functions as an aural rewiring of our
understanding of the familiar. The space that the band inhabits is one of complete immersion: Electronics crackle as if in a drowned world. Treated signals burn like embers, glowing in the dark. A cognitive re-mapping in sound that conjures up warped landscapes—a psychogeographical take on Sun Ra’s broadcasts from Saturn. While their departure from techno-inspired material towards more modular Max/MSP territory has long been hotly debated amongst their fan base, Autechre continues to build, expand and chart new ground. Exai is the duo’s eleventh LP and constitutes a sprawling mass of seventeen tracks in the vein of their last few releases. Which is to say that the driving force here is intuition and free rein; live experimentation a la Can, jazz excursions akin to Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis and tape manipulations not unlike Parmegiani’s “Jazzex”, albeit more jam-based, spliced together and edited down. To my ear, “deco Loc” moves in similar territory to Madteo’s fantastically warped Noi No, with a drugged, discombobulated vocal intersecting, say, Bambounou’s heavy beat modus. At times, Autechre’s repetition feeds back on itself, like “spl9”
and its claustrophobic loops disintegrating and cold synth washes cloaking skeletal acid rhythms. “T ess xi”, the latest numerology reference in the Autechre oeuvre (xi = 11 = another magickal Coil allusion?), has the same playful naivety of the pre-Autechre project, Lego Feet, while “Recks on” is probably Exai’s most hard-edged track, juxtaposing rough beats with cut-up synth stabs and squelching bass, all slowly fed through a sausage grinder. The album’s cacophonous builds, skillfully displayed on “YJY UX”, peak with circular force, often sucking up their sonic surroundings. It kind of reminds me of the final scene in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, where the earth is being eaten up by its inevitable collision with the sun. That said, “bladelores” is a slightly unexpected closer to such a flowing first disc. Unraveling over the course of twelve minutes, the song sends smoke signals with lush synth washes ascending and crashing down, but in a slow burn. It’s no easy thing to write about Autechre, as people will surely have made up their minds by now after eleven albums. But it’s always a joy to witness a group constantly moving, whether we can see it or not. ~
“Waiting for a moment that never will come” Max Dax recommends Tobias Zielony’s Story/No Story
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In John Carpenter’s 1976 film Assault on Precinct 13, an ultraviolent street gang lays siege to a remote police station in a vast Los Angeles wasteland of neon and streetlights. In somewhat dialectical fashion, this low budget classic focuses on the tension between
angry teenagers and society, and between darkness and glow. The same can be said of German photographer Tobias Zielony’s haunting, cinematic photo series, The Cast, shot at night in The City of Angels (and lights). Bookended by two images of palm trees and
the Pacific Ocean, you can’t tell for sure if the teenagers Zielony recurrently portrays are posing for him as if they were being cast, or if posing is simply an important part of figuring out teenage identity. There they stand, they can do no other. Zielony’s young
Above: Tobias Zielony, Groupe 7, 2003.
Max Dax is editorin-chief of Electronic Beats Magazine and electronicbeats.net 18 EB 1/2013
subjects seem drawn to sources of light like moths and, in the artificial glow of gas station signage or out on the streets, seem reminiscent of characters from Carpenter’s film. But unlike the nameless gang members, these kids seem to be waiting for a moment that never will come. Before his Los Angeles series, Zielony, had set out to portray young people all over the world, from Bristol, England and the eastern German city of Halle to Marseille on the French Mediterranean. What’s fascinating is that the results, compiled in the photo book Story/No Story, begin to blur together, with the protagonists becoming a global community of nocturnal youth, searching for meaning on the geographical and social fringes of their respective urban environments. Indeed, Zielony is highly
aware of the cinematic quality of his images, though he insists that they evoke numerous possible narratives. As he explains to German director Christian Petzold in a conversation featured in the catalogue: “There’s a latent narrative. It’s in the situations, in the youths’ imaginations. You can’t say that nothing is happening.” But you can say nothing would be captured without the artificial light. He has credited everything from classic film noir to Walter Hill’s The Warriors to Richard C. Sarafian’s almost forgotten 1971 thriller Vanishing Point as artistic points of reference in that regard. These alternately shadowy and glaring atmospheres are particularly present in the series shot in Halle-Neustadt, one of the most impressive and prominent sections of Story/No Story. Unquestionably, the sense of “plot” in these images
is heightened by the gigantic housing projects and oversized Stalinist avenues, which resemble the abandoned set of a dystopian science fiction movie. Or, more accurately, manifestations of an abandoned political reality. Nevertheless, the center of Zielony’s focus is always the teenager: lighting a cigarette, hanging out in a car, balancing on a skateboard, surrounded by friends, or staring into the night and waiting for something to happen. Story/No Story is a brilliant and comprehensive collection of a decade’s worth of portraits, and was originally the accompanying catalogue for an exhibition at the Kunstverein Hamburg held in 2010. In light of the Berlinische Galerie’s upcoming Zielony retrospective in June, I thought I’d take the chance to recommend a book that is important— and, thankfully, still available. ~
“That’s what could breathe new life into the undead” Daniel Jones recommends The New EBM . . . or does he? Last week I went to a goth club for the first time in years. It was a proper one too, the decor almost exactly like a crypt, the crowd sufficiently decrepit. I won’t lie and say that I didn’t get a bit excited hearing New Model Army and Bauhaus, but I don’t think it’s really fair to call what went on in the technical booth DJing. I’d like to posit that the awkward and silence-filled transitions that goth DJs favor is an allegory for their own subcultural dead end. Don’t get me wrong; I got no shame for my old goth game. But the whole time I was there, I heard only a single “new” track by Light Asylum, one of the few modern bands who have managed to bridge the gap between goth and the indiemainstream. In a time when so many influences are bursting forth from so many different places and fresh takes on these dark sounds are being injected into the main, an old crypt is exactly where the stunted ideology of clinging to the past belongs. As a genre, goth today is rebirthing itself in a way that echoes its history and explores new ground. What’s interesting is that this has taken place without the help of goths, who oftentimes are content merely to wander in circles. Starting in the mid-2000s with the emergence of post-punk groups such as S.C.U.M. and Kasms, new goth soon diverged into more electronic, darkwaveesque witchy sounds, the categorization of which has been articled to death, so let’s move on. Finally it’s evolved into its current state: a sort of new-school-via-old-school EBM revival. This is not the blasé cybergoth EBM that you’ll hear
in “real” goth clubs; these musicians are influenced more by the industrial punk vibe of DAF and Cabaret Voltaire, heavy stomping beats that, despite roots in the austere sound design of bands like Kraftwerk, have historically been as tied to the mosh pit as the dancefloor. Chicago duo Gatekeeper as well as the Texasbased //TENSE// were arguably the catalyst for this renewed interest, soon followed by a new wave of young, inspired weirdoes. These groups lie somewhere between the fetish-friendly industrialectro of ‘90s-era Die Form, the oddball ad-libs of Nervous Gender, and the raw aggression of a young Skinny Puppy. But don’t call them producers. Brutal one-man acts like Sewn Leather and By Any Means Necessary, the raw Youth Code and Tearist, and sleek afterdark soundtrackers like White Car and Gatekeeper could all be considered a part of this “new-old wave”, though many of the new crop have jettisoned the bloated ideal of overproduced cryptfillers for DIY club ear-killers. For example, Youth Code’s debut cassette was recorded live in their bedroom, lending it a bleak crunchiness that fits in perfectly with their grimy aesthetic, and By Any Means Necessary makes a point of recording entirely via hardware even though the qualities this supposedly imbues his sound with are somewhat negligible. And many of the OG witch acts have begun to follow suit, too: White Ring’s newer productions leave behind much of their hiphop inspirations for more driving but danceable terror-beats; Fostercare has almost revamped his sound entirely, and ∆AIMON
continue to produce ever-lusher productions that, well, groove. “I was shocked when I started hearing this stuff again,” producer and owner of Giallo Disco Records Antoni Maiovvi told me. “For me it’s all part of a larger community who make weirdo dance records.” Certainly, new goth has allowed itself the freedom to become weird again through dance music; the kind that isn’t monolithic, fourto-the-floor, proto-industrial and solipsistic. Or rather: new EBM has the potential to get goths to think outside the coffin. But does the act of identifying the music as EBM and claiming the existence of a larger continuity in turn lead to a complete crash of the idea of “new” before it’s even really begun? Certainly, influence can be present in a musician’s work without the need for genre classification, and we’ve all seen how boxing-in genres swiftly leads to the death of creativity. Early acts later identified by music press as goth, for example, were wildly diverse: put Skeletal Family, UK Decay, Einstürzende Neubauten, and Alien Sex Fiend on a bill together and the main similarity would likely be nothing more than a propensity for black clothing and theatrical vocals. Perhaps it’s this diversity rather than familiarity that leads to constant rehashing: once a genre becomes a genre, it’s almost always limited in what it can produce. Surely, there are many reasons to enjoy this newer crop of dark sounds, but nostalgia isn’t one of them. Is it not better to appreciate something on the merits of how it advances an idea? After all, that’s what could breathe new life into the undead. ~
Top to bottom: //TENSE//’s Introducing EP; By Any Means Necessary & Kangarot’s Thousandth Door; Youth Code’s Demonstrational Cassette.
Daniel Jones is a music promoter and creator of the subculture reconceptualization 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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“Your true fans are going to follow you right into this new movement, so fuck everybody else” Om’Mas Keith on Miami by Brandt Brauer Frick I first heard about Brandt Brauer Frick from my buddies over at Red Bull Music Academy. I’m assuming that BBF had heard some of my material and were aware of some of my earlier works with Sa-Ra Creative Partners, and that’s why they reached out to get in touch with me. They sent me a track— “Plastic Like Your Mother”—and some links. I then did my research and fell in love with their aesthetic, so it was kind of like a double whammy. What I especially liked right off the bat was their sense of musicality; specifically their orchestration and their choice of instruments. I really liked how they depicted themselves, as well. In their perception, “Plastic Like Your Mother” was skeletal, rough, and unfinished. But when I heard it, I viewed it as a complete sonic rhythm bed. I took the skeletal form and more or less kept it just as it was. I honed in on some key elements and used them to play off what I would go on to contribute. I wrote some lyrics, added vocals; I did some brief editing,
added percussion and claps—but still kept their form completely true. I did all my contributions to that song without meeting them or with any further consultation. It kind of blew their minds, because they didn’t even see a form in the structure at all. I’m only on one song on Miami, but they said in an interview that I’m the only person on the record whose contribution was wholly and solely created in his own world. Which makes sense, because my career is deeply rooted in very individual, creative statements. It started with the group Sa-Ra; our whole demonstration was rooted in our desire to be ourselves at any costs. I’d actually agreed to come out on tour with BBF prior to winning a Grammy this past February for co-producing Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE, but now going off to tour with them is really the perfect complement, almost a reward for getting the award. On the road I’m going to be singing vocals—that Jamie Lidell song
“Broken Pieces”, in particular. It’s one they’d been performing live and had never had the opportunity to perform it with a vocalist. As for Miami, I would say the whole record is pretty heavy. I heard it early on, with Daniel Brandt at his flat and I was blown away by the intricacies and the rhythmic permutations, all the subdivisions. It’s heavy. It’s deep. It’s both sonically pleasing and edgy. Let me just say this: the fellas know that people are into typecasting and putting people in a box. They know that people think of them as this group who make electronic-influenced music with classical instruments. It’s not fair to them for people to ever think that they’re one thing and one-sided. And anyone who thinks like that is not cool with me. I told them, “Your true fans are going to follow you right into this new movement, so fuck everybody else. Let’s rock as a group, and whoever doesn’t jump on, if they’re not with us, they’re going to get rolled over.” ~
Om’Mas Keith is a singer, multiinstrumentalist and founding member of leftfield hip-hop collective Sa-Ra Creative Partners. This past February he won a Grammy in the category of Best Urban Contemporary Album for co-producing of Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE.
Left: Tobias Zielony, Member, 2007.
“Part the enigmatic trajectory of the GRM archives, which are just waiting to reveal unexpected and wandering angles” André Vida on Iannis Xenakis’ GRM Works 1957-1962 I’m not a Xenakis expert, but I have been fascinated by his music and writings throughout my life. I remember the green and white label of a cassette that I used to record his choral and orchestral works from a retrospective broadcast on WKCR-FM and many times I listened to it
for inspiration. His compositions were beyond anything I had experienced before. They seemed to exist outside of any previously known narrative structures, sometimes hanging like dense clouds of sound; other times driven by a rhythmic propulsion that I could never identify. His works
for acoustic instruments defied any typical structures I’d heard before and I was hooked. It is ear opening to encounter works in a totally different medium—tape— composed when he was part of the famous Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète with Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry.
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André Vida is cofounder 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. In the Fall 2012 issue of Electronic Beats he recomended Moritz von Oswald Trio’s Fetch.
I am having a bit of a hard time with this release as I find some of the selections to be like random footnotes, while others, like the epic and imfamous twenty-two minute long “Bohor”, sounds, well, overbearing. This is the revised 1968 version, which has never been publically released before. I am ignorant of the others, but Xenakis’ “mentor” at the GRM, Pierre Schaeffer, recounts the 1962 premiere, where eight speakers led a high volume onslaught of manipulated, piercing Middle Eastern jewelry mixed with sub-bassy Laotian mouth organ: “This was no longer tiny embers, each with its own allure, this was an enormous burst of explosions, an offensive accumulation of lancet jabs to the ear at maximum volume level.” However, when I listen back, I feel frustrated by the recording’s stereo realization and wonder what it was like to sit there overwhelmed by the clouds of sound and people’s reaction to it. According to composer and musicologist James Harley, “Bohor” signified a kind of aesthetic break with Schaeffer and the GRM. I have a sense that this piece comes closest to literalizing Xenakis’ interest in the sound densities of war, something he knew intimately
as a member of the armed Greek resistance during World War II. On the other hand, “Diamorphoses”, completed in 1958, is Xenakis’ first exploration of tape manipulation at the GRM and it is full of glissandi—the sound of smearing a pitch upwards or downward. His famous and scandalous piece for orchestra from three years earlier, “Metastasis”, was actually his first exploration of glissandi, and it’s interesting to hear how he works with the same musical parameter on tape. At the time you had conventional composers who refused to acknowledge that glissandi was even a musical parameter. I guess the GRM lab, with its explorations of tape speed, was there to disagree. During the fifties in European classical music, it was apparently still possible to create a scandal by creating anything that didn’t relate to Bach, which is astounding. I am scandalized by even the thought of it. And so you can imagine how comical the soundtrack for “Orient-Occident” seems in the midst of these pieces. It is the score for a UNESCO film about various forms of ancient art throughout the world. Where I
usually think of Xenakis as a purist ideologue, this reveals him as an editor, synching sounds to a narrative. In contrast, “Concrete PH” which was finished the same year as “Diamorphoses” was designed for spectators wandering into the Phillips Pavilion at the 1958 World Fair’s in Brussels. Xenakis also designed the structure of the pavilion as part of Le Corbusier’s team and as a result didn’t have much time to take advantage of the four-hundredloudspeaker diffusion system. The piece makes use of recombined samples of burning coal, but, again, in its recorded stereo form, it’s hard to experience as anything more than recorded score for a larger live piece. If I were to encounter this album as my introduction to Xenakis, I don’t think it would lead me anywhere close to that green and white cassette. That seems to be part of the enigmatic trajectory of the GRM archives, which are just waiting to reveal unexpected and wandering angles. If anything, I’m now curious to hear the work of the other GRM composers who were so outraged by Xenakis’ unconventional and war-inspired take on musique concrète. ~
“Sometimes the drums sound like they’re being played a couple of houses away, the bass is in the next town” Pete Kember recommends My Bloody Valentine’s m b v
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I guess I’ve known Kevin Shields since around late 1986 or early 1987. We have some mutual friends and have always really got on as we’re both old school gear heads and swap info on the latest equipment discoveries—you know, band stuff. We have collaborated and toured together many times in the past, so we have bumped
into each other pretty regularly over the past twenty-five years. I would say musically, our first meeting was pretty uneventful, because ’86 wasn’t my favorite period of My Bloody Valentine, a time often referred to as the “shambling” or “Anorak” phase, strangely enough. Some think it’s the greatest stuff they’ve ever
done, but I wasn’t so keen on it. The band’s real awakening for me—their real change to what we know as the classic band they have become on Isn’t Anything and Loveless—happened almost overnight. If I remember correctly, in 1987 Spacemen 3 did a couple of shows with them at Dingwalls in London and then like a month
electronic music on vacation. presented by
May, 24th - 26th 2013 / Croatia presents
HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR SOUNDSYSTEM MODESELEKTOR KOLLEKTIV TURMSTRASSE WANKELMUT OLIVER KOLETZKI ÂME NICONÉ & SASCHA BRAEMER VALENTINO KANZYANI JIMPSTER MARK HENNING DIGITALINE HVOB ANIMAL TRAINER CESARE VS. DISORDER AVATISM JULIETTA ROUND TABLE KNIGHTS WOLFRAM IAN F MARKUS LINDNER PYTZEK DYNAMODYSE MICHAL ZIETARA ALEX BAYER BENJA & RETO ARDOUR MANUEL MORENO 7 CITIZENS THE NEW TOWER GENERATION FLORIAN SCHEIBEIN ALEX WIRTH WILLFLING FRIEDRICH LOCKE THOMAS GRÜN ALECANTE NADJA CHER MONSIEUR ALTERNATIVKLANG ZEITAUFNAHME AND MANY MORE
light house festival
Special Progressice Floor by Cosmic Space Disco SYMPHONIX PROTONICA RICKARD BERGLÖF AKA VIBRASPHERE WOLLE ALEZZARO PHILHARMONICA VAISHIYAS CABAN TAPANOV ITZON and more Label Showcases by CITYFOX STIL VOR TALENT HARRY KLEIN LEAP RECORDS WUPWUP Visual concept by LICHTERLOH.TV
Porec / Croatia
Pete Kember aka Sonic Boom is a founding member of British neo-psych legends Spacemen 3 and the driving creative force behind the more experimental-psych projects Spectrum and Experimental Audio Research (EAR). He has recently produced albums for acts as diverse as MGMT, Panda Bear and Moon Duo. In the Fall 2011 issue of Electronic Beats he was featured in conversation with Simeon Coxe of Silver Apples.
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or two later we did another show together and the change was really dramatic. Kevin has said in interviews that Spacemen 3 had changed the way they were doing stuff, and I witnessed that change. It was as though they had just flipped into this new mode, characterized by the sound of “You Made Me Realise”. As soon as I heard it, I knew it was an instant classic. I actually wondered if Kevin had appropriated it from elsewhere, which I don’t think he did. It just appeared fully formed so quickly and was so impressive. From 1988 onwards the band never looked back. At the time, Spacemen 3 and My Bloody Valentine were actually both supposed to be signing to Creation, a label where ten percent of the bands got great attention and the other ninety percent just floundered or got lost in the mix to varying degrees. Not so with MBV. Their first couple of EPs and B-sides are classic, and I absolutely hear Spacemen 3’s influence, like on the famous ascending line in “You Made Me Realise”. That’s definitely something we would regularly do live. I’m not sure if we’ve ever recorded it though—maybe on Sound of Confusion . . . But we’re not talking rip-off here. Good healthy inter-fluence. Certainly there wasn’t much music that sounded like that in those days; not much blurring of the lines and crossfertilization between every single sub-genre like there is today. Which brings us to m b v, a record I have some mixed feelings about: I really, really like some of it, and I am looking forward to digesting it and living with it. It’s a gift I’m pleased to own. Actually, it’s one I need to own. But I imagine the things that get me excited are most likely the tracks that other people probably aren’t so crazy
about. For sure, m b v is taking me to places. Special places. Places I recognize as beauty spots immediately, but I need time to really explore fairly and fully. Actually, I like listening to the album backwards: songs like “wonder 2” or “nothing is” appear to be the biggest jump forward from Loveless, which is what I had been anticipating before I had my first listen. This also goes for the organ and synth—or is it no synths Metal Machine style?—on “is this and yes”, with the band
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exploring a different kind of warble; a continent they discovered and have not yet seen their flag removed from or improved on. On the whole, I would say that with the rest of the tracks there’s nothing less than classic My Bloody Valentine. Sometimes the drums sound like they’re being played a couple of houses away, the bass is in the next town, and you’re sitting in the room with Kevin playing guitar and singing together with Bilinda Butcher, the mix dislocated, but consciously
so in a style similar to Loveless. They definitely do an interesting job of morphing their vocals together, at one point sounding angelically unisex, but the album certainly isn’t as blurred and indistinct as you might have expected. Perhaps on some tracks I feel like I’m hearing something they should have put out right after Loveless. Back then it would have been a stroke of genius. Kevin used to say to me that he didn’t want to do a record unless it was going to be as good as Loveless. I always told him that he couldn’t possibly know if it would be or not—obviously he didn’t know beforehand that Loveless would be that good. He also told me this funny story once about how he went about finding his current studio. One day when we were working on recording stuff for Experimental Audio Research, he asked me “Do you know how many real estate agents there are in London, Pete?”—“3000?” I blurted out, guessing bemusedly where this might be heading. “No, 12,470.” I was like, “How the fuck do you know that?”—“I faxed them all,” he said, “The whole band did. I got this map of all the properties I was to look at and it formed a strange line on the map. A ley line! At the end of the line was this studio!” He then proceeded to tell me that the studio was special because he could only record at certain times and get the best results because all the traffic and electricity from the people who live and pass through the neighborhood affected the studio. In a good way. He could only record when he felt that energy. And he was totally serious. Perfect. Kevin Shields, his co-pilots and their ideas are all pretty special, and despite the odd song that doesn’t feel as “new” as I’d like, m b v is special too. ~
“Shards of obfuscated, unplaceable found sound” Thomas Fehlmann on Voigt & Voigt’s Die zauberhafte Welt der Anderen
Thomas Fehlmann is a founding member of German NDW legends Palais Schaumburg and a floating member of The Orb. In the last issue of Electronic Beats he was featured in conversation with Madlib.
I’ve known the Voigt brothers for a long time and although I’ve never collaborated with them, I’ve paid close attention to their output over the years. If you look into their back catalog, particularly Reinhard Voigt’s, he’s been making some pretty extreme ambient records for a one-time progressive rock label called Harvest under the moniker Kron, amongst others. Die zauberhafte Welt der Anderen [The Magical World of Others] feels related to those records, as if Reinhard’s break from ambient music has since led to a renewed enthusiasm for reapproaching these alien textures. Of course, this isn’t explicitly ambient music and Wolfgang also had a very profound say in this, soundwise. Voigt & Voigt aren’t treading old
ground. Rather, their beat-driven sonics gain traction, even power, by functioning atmospherically—paradoxically enough. These sound worlds are singularly strange constructions: the looping in “Die Glocke (Endstation Wiener Platz)” is embellished with shards of obfuscated, unplaceable found sound, while the psychedelic drone of “Akira” is spun out on the unlisted eleventh track “Akira Mantra” for a whopping twenty-six minutes. Other tracks, such as “Tja Mama, Sandra Maischberger”, have an almost Roxy Music feel to them. They have spent time finding inspiring, unexpected solutions to making their grooves disarming, There’s a similar attention to detail in the album’s title, too; Die zau-
berhafte Welt der Anderen seems to reference to two well-known films, Amélie, known in German as Die fabelhafte Welt der Amélie and Das Leben der Anderen [The Lives of Others]. Though I read the title more as a social observation than cinematic reverence. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of the Kompakt label. Beyond the variety of the music it releases, the imprint occupies an almost patron-like position, harboring an artistic conviction in what’s good over what might sell as its foundation. And most importantly there’s a distinct sense of humor at play throughout pretty much their entire catalog. Die zauberhafte Welt der Anderen certainly continues to maintain that special reputation. ~
“The pleasure house is about to burn down” Arto Lindsay recommends Matthew Herbert’s Herbert Complete box set
Arto Lindsay is a regular contributor to Electronic Beats. In the last issue he recommended To Rococo Rot’s three-album reissue, Rocket Road.
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I first met Matthew Herbert through a mutual friend—an off and on party girl— who told me, “I never introduce people but I think you two would get on really well.” She was right. It turned out that Matthew was already a fan of my work, and I quickly became a fan of his. So now you know that much. As we started to hang out and I began to listen to his music, I was super impressed. At the first show I saw him play, he used live samples in such an intense way that the performance itself possessed a political charge, wresting representation from reality on the spot. He took a McDonald’s hamburger and crushed it into the microphone, sampling the sound it
made. He did the same thing with a Universal Records CD, recording it being smashed, and then using this jagged, crackle to make his music. He successfully manipulated mundane, reference-heavy items into sonic artifacts, milking them for political symbolism and turning his live performance into a both tutorial and a rally. From the very beginning he and I had a dialectical approach to our interactions. I thought that he should try to make the beats onstage, but he said he couldn’t pull it off and slotted the samples into patterns he had prepared before. This didn’t really effect the show, though as Matthew is an incredibly dynamic performer, possessed of an intensity that
makes its own points. Once I saw him DJ at four in the morning at Panorama Bar, and the crowd was, of course, incredibly fucked up. There was a girl beside me who kept yelling at me, “Enjoy yourself! Enjoy yourself!” Instead of simply feeding off this atmosphere, which he easily could have done, he was heightening it, making it more crazy using volume and very weird selections DJ-wise. It seems obvious to say, but Matthew is a master of sound and has a remarkable ear. A lot of his sensitivity can be found in the work featured in this box set. In fact, what I find most interesting about revisiting these early Herbert releases is how musical they are; how much piano and
keyboard playing there is. If you listen to Bodily Functions, Around the House or Scale, they sound not so much like dance music—as if that were a lesser form—but simply like music. I find it fascinating how Matthew incorporates the records he listened to growing up into his sound, especially fifties and sixties jazz, big band music and standards. It reminds me of a band called Matt Bianco—a guilty pleasure of mine who I’m sure nobody has ever compared him to before. It also reminds me of my all-time favorite act, Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. Matthew was also one of the first people I heard combine electronic and acoustic sounds in dance music in a way that was at all interesting. If you listen to these records, you can hear live drums used as a sort of relief. Buried alongside the 808s and the sampled snares, the live drum
sounds have the effect of bells or whistles, letting the night sky into the disco. His beats go from straight to off-time and random with nothing in between which is just one example of how he, unlike many of us, never seemed to be heavily into Timbaland. They’re usually very simple house beats, and things usually change on an eight-count so you can predict where the music will develop. However, even though it isn’t complex in that sense, his music is politically more and more so. He uses his music to make a statement. Of course, this has become explicit through his series of concept records like Plat du Jour and One Pig, and—as I witnessed firsthand—in his live performances. If you listen closely, you notice how this political current runs throughout all of his work, even the stuff that’s ostensibly “just” dance music. Terre Thaemlitz once said, “House
isn’t so much a sound as a situation,” and what he meant was that within house music’s current incarnation as leisure music, its politicized roots have been forgotten. Herbert doesn’t use voice samples, so there is no message in words. But there is another message, a more subtle politics, delivered in the way he mixes his documentary recordings with electronic music. But independent of that kind of political reading, you can even get more pretentious and say a lot of his sounds are so fragile sounding that they seem like they’re going to disappear. He has a tragic sensibility to match his political acumen. “In the Kitchen” from Around the House— my favorite Herbert album—is a twelve-minute meditation on the poetics of everyday sound. Sometimes his tracks are so vulnerable that they’re on the verge of collapsing. And that’s when the pleasure house is about to burn down. ~
Above: Tobias Zielony, Ride, 2008.
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Donation: $57.95 to Tor Project @ torproject.org
The Tor Foundation is a Bay Areabased organization that specializes in anonymizing the Internet so that political activists, organizers, international whistle blowers and regular consumers like you and me can engage in online activity without having to worry about constant surveillance. Important stuff.
Holly Herndon grew up in the rural foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and claims to have been afraid of computers as a kid. Luckily for us, she shed that fear, and since 2011 has been releasing forward sounding concoctions of avanttechno, noise and academic electronics. Last year’s Movement (Rvng Intl.) was one of the most ubiquitous titles on critics’ best-of-2012 lists. Justifiably so. We gave her $100 and this is what she bought.
How Holly Herndon spends $100 DVD: Open Score by Robert Rauschenberg in E.A.T. - 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering
Back in the sixties a group called E.A.T., spearheaded by the artist Robert Rauschenberg and engineer Billy Clover, had this incredible idea to pair leading artists with leading engineers at Bell Labs and create new works with new technology. The performances were supposed to take place in New 28 EB 1/2013
York and in Sweden as they were also supposed to be sponsored by the Swedish government. Well, for some reason it happened in New York but never in Sweden, so now the Swedes have decided to fund an updated version of the same thing, which I was invited to participate in. They also funded this DVD series and I’ve decided to purchase the episode featuring Rauschenberg. Now I just need to save up for the other eight episodes.
Purchased from micro– cinemadvd.co.uk for $25
Book: To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism by Evgeny Morozov
This book deals with something I feel constantly confronted by here in the Bay Area: Whenever there’s a larger social problem here, be it political, financial or ecological, people always seem
Purchased from amazon.com for $17.05
to look towards technology to fix it. There’s a lot of idealism about how all of our problems can be solved, but it usually comes without really thinking about the effect technological solutions will have on other areas not immediately related to the problem. People tend not to think about the deep intricacies of issues. As Morozov calls it, it’s part of a surface level “solutionism”, which is an important thing to consider. The thing is, people here tend to be very intelligent, very well-educated, very confident and want to solve everything. But not doing your research first and having an opinion about something is, in my book, plain arrogance. ~
ElEctronic BEats FEstival
lana DEl rEy KARIN PARK roosEvElt 19.04. bRATISLAvA (SK) agoria JAMES PANTS spEcial guEst 26.04. POZNAN (PL) moDEsElEktor livE A-TRAK HunDrEDs 16.05. COLOGNE (dE) JamEs BlakE dAN dEACON trust REPTILE YOuTH popnonamE 29.05. GRAZ (AT) cHilly gonzalEs solo piano ii MARK RONSON & RITON ranglEkloDs WOLFRAM 13.04. PRAGuE (CZ )
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The alphabet according to DJ Koze
as in AMYGDALA: Home of the sabre-toothed tiger. The angst aggregator. A built-in error in our mind machine. Totally redundant, but mighty nonetheless.
as in BEER: Bitches brew. Real men drink young coconut juice.
Born and raised in the northern German town of Flensburg, Stefan Kozalla aka DJ Koze has evolved over the past two decades from enfant- to savant- to the avant-terrible of German dance music. A runner up in the national DMC competition in 1991, he first made waves with Hamburg-based Dada-hip hop collective Fischmob before turning his focus towards minimal house and techno, releasing numerous 12-inches and LPs on Kompakt, Get Physical and, most recently, his own Pampa imprint. Koze’s trademark vocal tweaking has made him a much sought after remixer, cutting and pitch-shifting everyone from Hildegard Knef to Caribou.
Left: DJ Koze, photographed in Hamburg by Hans Martin Sewcz.
C E as in CARIBOU: A kindred spirit. His music struck a chord in me that kept on vibrating, and when I looked up, my desktop showed three mix versions of his tunes . . . made by me.
as in ESTROGEN: I shall prefer Estragon.
D F as in DEEP HOUSE: The It.
as in FAILURE: There is no such thing. You just do what you can’t. EB 1/2013 31
DJ Koze knows more satirical, Nazithemed Mel Brooks lyrics than you.
as in GERMAN HIP HOP: “Siegsieg-siegiddy-heil.” That’s Mel Brooks, summing up “German” rap in the title song of his remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be. Of course, it isn’t like that at all, but what do you care? Right, thought so.
as in INNER SPACE: I am very interested in psychogeography. Friends have mentioned that my music implies travel through the inner landscapes of my mind. I tell them that they don’t understand my music at all. My amygdala is working just fine—why do you ask?
as in LAWRENCE: He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.
as in MANTRA: The main ancestor of the sampled loop, obviously. The divine joy of repetition. Was the sampler invented in India? I don’t doubt it.
as in JEW’S HARP: I lack any valid expertise in playing this instrument. Bare in mind that I was the renowned maestro of another discipline of oral pleasantries, though. See my track “Maulguss”.
as in NOISE: . . . or as in Noise, Adolf. A twenty-first century schizoid man. The bipolar prophet of a future that never arrives. Not my words. Uttered by the other.
as in 20 years of KOMPAKT: There’s no place like home. Then you reach puberty.
as in OM: You might argue that some of my music is the sound of the OM moment.
H K O H as in brain researcH: It teaches me about blind spots, the creation of reality, the illusion of ego, and all that jazz.
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S W T X
as in POLITICS in music: Everything is implicitly political, but explicit politics in music will never ever be my business. Like, ever.
as in QUO VADIS, remix? If I knew I would tell you. I really would. There must be an opportunity to tailor a totally different, new dress.
as in REALNESS: I prefer kindness. Realness is generally unreliable. Each one of us decides our own reality. In hip hop many make the mistake of confusing realness with honesty or authenticity. They also mistake this generally for a good thing. Just imagine Mel Brooks’ Hitler rap without the irony: “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty / Come and join the Nazi party.” Know what I mean?
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as in ST. PAULI, Hamburg: We live in St. Georg, baby.
as in WACK RHYMES: As if the Stieber Twins never happened. Deren Reime sind Schweine. [“Their rhymes are swines.”]
as in TELEPATHY: They call me the antenna of St. Georg.
as in XXX: It means Kiss Kiss Kiss. Don’t you people know anything?
U Y as in UDON: After quitting music I will open an udon restaurant. The specialty will be kos(h)i udon with ume plum.
as in YOUNG COCONUT WATER: The electrolyte enhancer to start the day after. Or any day.
V Z as in VIOLENCE: Again, I prefer kindness. But go tell that to the sabre-toothed kitty cat in my amygdala.
as in ZAPPA: Big influence in my early days but too stressful for me today. Did I get old? ~
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AMANDA BROWN ON TINA CHOW
Ms. Style Icon Michael Chow is a very famous restaurateur in Los Angeles, which is my hometown, so I always knew of him and his wife, Tina, as being this important family. And I always thought of Tina Chow as just his supermodel wife. However, the more I looked into her life and her style and the artists she knew and was a patron of, the more it became apparent that her role supersedes that of wife and even model. There are so many things that I like in which Tina Chow existed in the orbit of: I’m a giant fan of Helmut Newton, Issey Miyake, and fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez, and after I did some research it became apparent that Tina was a muse to them all. I guess you could say my attention was naturally drawn to her as the center of a scene. She was always at the heart of amazing art that was being made in the eighties and early nineties, and the famous portraits that Andy Warhol did of her are beautiful. I love models, and I feel I have this . . . relationship with model culture. I’m very sensitive when people don’t say kind things about models because it always seems so unfair to belittle their profession. Tina Chow is undoubtedly one that jumped out of the fashion spread; she stepped off the runway and became something else. She became an icon—not just simply a hanger for clothes. On her body, clothes become less about the external and more about an expression of her own personality within them. 34 EB 1/2013
Over the past seven years, Not Not Fun and 100% Silk label chief Amanda Brown has released more good music than you can shake a stick at. And because the virtues of associated acts like Sun Araw, Peaking Lights, Maria Minerva and Ital have been rightfully written and blogged about to death, we thought it would be a good idea to get off topic. Here, Brown offers her thoughts on style icon Tina Chow, who, aside from being the sartorial darling and muse of New York’s overlapping downtown and art scenes in the eighties, was also tragically the most prominent heterosexual woman to die of AIDS in the early nineties.
Opposite page: Tina Chow, comfortably seated between Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran and Andy Warhol at Warhol’s 58th Birthday party in Mr. Chow’s Restaurant, New York City, 1985. Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage
Anyone can take clothes from an amazing designer and look good in them, but she accessorized with jewellery and striking hair and make-up, which is to say that she possessed the ability to transform outfits into style. I think people like Warhol and JeanMichel Basquiat wanted to be around her for exactly that reason. That is, she was essentially an artist. I mean, I’ll buy an Issey Miyake blazer and I don’t look like she looks in it, though as I’ve gotten older and my fashion palette has begun to morph— I wear more black than I did when I was younger, more sculpted Japanese designs—I begin to see more and more correlations with Tina. I look at photographs of her and I’m just blown away by the elegance, the use of minimalism, the love of simplicity, the streamlining . . . attributable to her German and Japanese heritage? Pure speculation. But what is clear is that these aesthetic clues spoke to the world: “This is my body and I want to put my body inside of art.” Tina Chow represents a rejection of what was trendy, or what looks good on her specific shape, or what my friends and peers and fans will think. In this way, her sartorial vision actually has little to do with fashion in a conventional sense and everything to do with a kind of timelessness. I find that to be completely empowering as a woman; the belief that you are inherently sexy and your clothing is the art that enshrines you, as opposed to the established idea that you need to wear sexy
clothing to be sexy. Chow could just slick back her hair, put on mascara, throw on a drapey coat and suddenly be the most exuberant, alive and vibrant person, without sparing a moment thinking about what’s fashionable. That’s how I like to imagine it. Ultimately, her life influenced fashion as opposed to being influenced by it. The expensive things she wore weren’t purchased out of vanity or selfobsession but because she wanted to support the fashion designer as an artist, as if she was buying a painting. She was a collector and like all collectors cared about what would be art forever. When she sold her collection in 1991 to Christie’s it was insane; you might as well be talking about Robert Mapplethorpe’s collection of photographs when he died. And like so many iconic people, her life is marred by tragedy. She was one of the first well-known heterosexual women to die of AIDS, which, for me, serves as a reminder of how fleeting life is. Art can be forever but we, of course, cannot. And what makes the tragedy all the more resonant is that she died of a disease that was so “of the time” and representative of what was happening in America and around the world then. For that reason, she will forever be linked to the late ’80s, as well as early ’90s AIDS activism and the New York art scene that was so drastically affected. It’s terrible, yet somehow it makes Tina Chow seem like a weird angel. ~
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Kevin Blechdom is a matchmaker for unlikely aesthetic bedfellows, pairing academic computer composition with disarming pop melody and a healthy dose of banjo. Take notes, there will be a quiz.
memorable line in a film or song: “I need a pickle like this in bed with me every night.” Andrea Feldman, who plays Jessica in Paul Morrissey’s Heat, says something like this while she’s jerking off this young guy through a hospital gown at the swimming pool while she’s talking to his brother. It’s not only what she says but how she says it that is so memorable.
if I was bad. 3. That getting drunk was fun. 4. That I would never shave my armpits again. 5. That I like music.
hours ago I was ...
. . . drawing pictures of tape delays on a dry-erase board and explaining to college art students about how moving playback heads to different places on the tape equates to creating delay taps of different lengths of time.
two seven decisions I regret:
– Doing things to make other people happy at the expense of my own happiness. – Doing things to make me happy at the expense of other people’s happiness.
people that should collaborate:
albums, books and films everyone should own:
1. Conlon Nancarrow – Studies for Player Piano box set 2. Dušan Makavejev – Sweet Movie 3. Gregory Bateson – Mind and Nature 4. Douglas Hofstadter – Gödel, Escher, Bach 5. Terrence W. Deacon – The Symbolic Species 6. Frank Henenlotter and R.A. the Rugged Man – Bad Biology (movie) 7. Paul Morrissey – Heat
Ma Rainey, Pythagoras, André Vida.
four nine After
I fell asleep watching really bad TV.
things I haven’t done yet: 1. Bestiality 2. Gone to jail 3. Gotten a tattoo 4. Crack
things I used to believe:
1. That other people could read my mind. 2. That my imaginary friend was gonna tie me naked to a wooden plank and carry me across the street
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lives . . .
. . . will hopefully include one where I get rich.
I wouldn’t touch it with a
ten Religion. ~
-foot pole . . .
PictoPlasma Berlin 2013 W
Festival of contemporary character Design and art 10 â&#x20AC;&#x201D;14 april Babylon and more than 20 art spaces
conference animation Festival exhibitions Performances
artwork by osian efnisien
A.J. SAMUELS INTERVIEWS DAVE GAHAN
“Through that darkness you’ll find the light”
With Delta Machine, Depeche Mode have once again decided to use experimental electronics as a vehicle to transport themselves deep into redemptive blues-pop territory. Or is pop structure the vehicle and the territory experimental? With a band whose influence has touched so many disparate genres over its thirty-year history, it’s hard to say. What’s clear, however, is Depeche Mode’s thirteenth studio album is a veritable orgy of modular synthesis, unconventionally employed to shade the classic songwriting of Martin Gore and Dave Gahan even blacker than usual. Indeed, in the shadows is where the band, and especially frontman Dave Gahan, dwell most comfortably these days. Though Gahan has been clean since 1997, Delta Machine finds the unmistakable baritone articulating his thoughts on pain, addiction, and salvation as if they were a reoccurring dream. “In the darkness is where I find all my ideas of redemption, knowing and understanding,” Gahan recently told A.J. Samuels in New York City. Musically and visually, this translates into nothing less than a pledge of allegiance to the band’s ur-goth identity, as the recent video for “Heaven” proudly parades. Left: Dave Gahan, photographed in Paris by Luci Lux.
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Dave, I know you’re currently in the process of prepping for Depeche Mode’s upcoming tour. What does that involve?
Well, it starts out with putting together a list of songs that we want to play, particularly from other albums like Black Celebration, Music for the Masses, and Ultra—all of which ultimately should fit with Delta Machine. Which is to say it all has this strong combination of blues and electronics. Also, we’re thinking about reviving songs that we never really played that much, like “Barrel of a Gun”. Naturally you have to throw things in the fans want to hear. With us it’s a constant debate: “Should we do ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’?”—“I don’t know, should we?” You’ve got to look at it as a song that means a lot to a lot of hardcore fans, but when you do something from thirty years ago, it can be like putting on a pair of pants from thirty years ago: they don’t quite fit anymore, you know? You might really, really like them, but they might not, uh, work. I know you’re opening up this tour again in Israel. Have you caught shit for playing there and has it affected you at all?
We probably have, but why should it? Music is universal. It’s the one thing that actually brings people together and crosses political boundaries. And politics doesn’t really come into music for us. We’ve always gone to places where we’ve been told not to or whatever. For us it’s an opportunity to play somewhere with a lot of people who’ve been listening to our music for a long time. And when we played there for the first time in front of forty or fifty thousand people, we could feel that they’ve been waiting for this to happen. It was the day after my birthday and I hadn’t even given it a thought until the entire stadium sang “Happy Birthday”, which Martin started. I have an MP3 of it. Depeche Mode has straddled the line between pop and something more experimental from the very beginning, particularly in the use of sampling and sound design. It’s allowed you to have one foot firmly planted in the world of mass appeal while maintaining a more progressive musical vision. How do you understand the band’s relationship to the musical avant-garde, or at least less pop?
I would say our influences have dictated that relationship since before the band started. We were always drawn in both directions. Growing up, at about the age of fifteen and sixteen, I started getting serious about music. A few years before that in England at the particular time, glam rock and glam pop were also straddling that very line, with Bowie, Roxy Music, T. Rex and Slade. That’s what was being played on the radio. Well, not so much Bowie, but the others. Either way: there is a long history of that flirtation with things that were avant-garde by bands we loved. On the other hand, with twelve or thirteen we were always buying forty-fives and what not, because we didn’t have the money to afford entire albums. And that influenced the way we heard music too; the way it captured our imagination in regards to pop structure. As we got older and punk came out, we were still hearing short, sharp pop songs, but with an edge. I think the real change in terms of deepening our listening habits came with music from Germany, when we formed Depeche Mode at around age seventeen. Things like Kraftwerk and Neu! were available for those who really, really searched. It wasn’t everywhere, you know. So when somebody had a copy of Man-Machine, they shared it. Or they traded amongst friends for something else. Music was a world unto itself. And especially with music that was really out of this world, I always found myself singing along. Like with the 42 EB 1/2013
world—or worlds—of David Bowie: that’s where I wanted to go. Growing up in this little town east of London, which was really shitty, I always dreamed about being out in space, like Bowie. I wanted to find out where that was. So more than anything else, music was your form of escape?
Yes. Music has allowed me to escape from a lot of things. I didn’t really fit in. I was just one of those kids . . . I mean, I tried to fit in with lots of different groups of friends but I was just different; an odd kid. In a way, you could say I was a bit nerdy even though I was hanging out with street kids who were getting in trouble and all that. But that wasn’t really my bag. It wasn’t the person I was. I was more into things I wouldn’t talk to some of my friends about. Like with David Bowie, who was just so androgynous and flamboyant and transported me somewhere else every time I saw him on TV. I can’t overemphasize the importance of that because we didn’t have a lot of money. My mother raised four kids on her own pretty much, worked two jobs and raised us in a really little house. I remember I had a small radio that I would go to bed with. My two little brothers and me shared a small bedroom. I was on a mattress on the floor in a sleeping bag, while they were in the bunk bed. I had this little earpiece thing which I would use to listen late at night to John Peel or whatever weird music that wasn’t on daytime radio or TV, which was another important part of my musical upbringing. Depeche Mode did a Peel session early on, didn’t you?
Hmmm . . . I think so. Actually, I don’t know if we did Peel. We certainly did other BBC sessions, and if we did do Peel it’s probably surfaced by now. With technology today, there’s nothing too secret anymore. I find that’s actually one of the challenges of making music today: creating something that has a real mystique to it. It is for me, anyway. And as a listener, I love still discovering things. But recommendations are still the best. What was the last good recommendation you got?
The last one that really affected me was Sigur Rós’ first record, which I heard somewhere in between Exciter and Paper Monsters. I knew then that I wanted Paper Monsters to be a real rock record with cinematic quality, with atmosphere and depth. Mark Lanegan was also a big discovery for me, which is how I came to Soulsavers, with whom I made their last record. We also ended up touring with them after I discussed it with Martin. You have to be open to ideas, which is why I’ve stepped out of Depeche Mode a lot over the last ten years. I’ve discovered that it makes it much more exciting for me to come back to the band with different ideas and a different outlook on recording and songwriting. Songwriting is at the core of Depeche Mode, but some of the most important musicians who’ve claimed you as an influence make music that has little to do with classic pop song structure. In an article from The Face that documented the band’s trip to Detroit in 1989 with Derrick May, Martin claimed that Depeche Mode “couldn’t make dance music if we tried.” What’s your take on the band’s influence on electronic music as a whole and functional music in particular?
Well, in the beginning, with Vince [Clarke], dance music is exactly what we wanted to do. I had a little group of friends, a gang, with whom I went to London to all these clubs that extended from the punk scene. And Vince was very smart with getting me on board
very misunderstood at the time. You know, it was difficult for any magazine or newspaper to put us into a category and we did a lot of damage ourselves in the early days. We had no manager back then, and if somebody asked us to be on TV, we just did it, and it was inevitably some crappy, poppy, Saturday morning show that was really uncool to do. But we were, like, just trying to get our music out. We certainly weren’t trying to cultivate any kind of following and we got criticized for that. We’ve never really gotten over that in England. It’s one of our least successful markets. Out of all the places in the world . . . it’s weird. But nowadays you guys get name-checked as influences by everybody and their cousin. New Yorker critic Sasha Frere-Jones has claimed that you were the last significant British influence on American music. Does the rest of the world’s fawning reassessment of Depeche Mode neutralize the British music press’s past rejections for you?
Well, it makes sense to me that the British press turned their noses up in the beginning because for the first four years we were simply overdoing it with promotion. In England, whatever you do first is never forgotten. But keep in mind we still have a really strong following there and we do really well. We just sold out two O2 arenas, each with a twenty-thousand-person capacity. At any given time, we’re the band that’s had the most Top Forty singles. But in terms of sales, a band like Oasis will sell a million and we won’t sell that much. Martin L. Gore, Dave Gahan and Andrew Fletcher having a Depeche moment.
OK, but in terms of influence, Oasis is kind of negligible compared to Depeche Mode. And they never got big in America—although it sounds like you don’t take much solace in that.
because I was with the so-called “in crowd” in London and in Essex at the time where I grew up. We would always take the train to these exclusive little clubs in London where they’d be playing Kraftwerk and Berlin-era Bowie—Low, Station to Station—and it ended up being a little scene. It was one to two hundred people tops, and a lot of them were my friends, so Vince saw that we had an in to these places. Naturally, when Depeche Mode started out, my friends would always come. There was a ready-made following of around fifty people who would always be there. And we wanted to make music that we heard in clubs where we danced, you know? We wanted to make music that our friends could dance to that wasn’t disco. How do you recall your trip to Detroit? And what role did the constant remixes play in popularizing Depeche Mode in clubs?
Well, it was kind of bizarre for us, to be honest. Derrick May was kind of a hipster at the time in the early dance-electronic-techno scene or whatever. Apparently a mix of “Get the Balance Right!” had been a hit in some of these underground clubs in Detroit and elsewhere. You know, that wasn’t a surprise for us because our early following in the U.S. around ’80 or ’81 was very underground. There was no radio play, it was all underground in a club setting. It was all mystery. Nobody knew or cared what we looked like. There were just our records—12-inch remixes and extended versions, which we did from the very beginning. We had an extended “Schizo Mix” of “Just Can’t Get Enough”, for instance. And back then, four-to-the-floor was either Giorgio Moroder and disco, or it was something stranger and deeper—Detroit, Suicide . . . stuff that was punky and raw, but not perfect. And that’s where we fit in. So we were flattered because at the time The Face was a really trendy magazine in England and we weren’t trendy there at all. We were
Well, Oasis are very English. I think we made it in other places because of this underground thing we had going for us, which, outside of the U.K., built very slowly. Our fans are extremely loyal and it just builds and builds and builds. Germany especially has also been really important for us. Last year, we played for the most people we’ve ever played for over there and all together that tour we played for over three million people. That’s really uncommon, especially for bands that have been together for over thirty years. U2 does it, The Rolling Stones do it . . . but we’re different. We’re a band that’s kind of odd. We don’t fit into that category. We are the alternative. We’re the other side. We mix rock and pop and electronics and dance music and imagery. It’s an artistic form that we’ve created and can use in different ways. We can have remixes done of our music that are drastically different from the original. The Stones can’t really do that. I mean, they can but it’s probably too far left for their fan base. And they probably wouldn’t want to do it either. You mention your following in Germany, which is known for being obsessive. It was featured prominently and in all its eccentric glory in the documentary about your worldwide fan base The Posters Came from the Walls. Daniel Miller bankrolled the film, but according to Jeremy Deller, who we spoke with last issue, you guys weren’t crazy about how it portrayed you. Why?
First of all, no disrespect to Jeremy Deller. He made an extremely good documentary film about this band that’s pretty accurate in terms of how important we are to some of our fans: in their growth, in their lives, in their beings. When people come up to me on the street, it’s not usually like, “Whoa! It’s the guy!” Rather, most people look me straight in the eye and say: “Thank you so much for the music. It’s truly helped me.” That’s an amazing thing. But EB 1/2013 43
what I felt about the film was, and I can’t speak for Martin and Fletch, the whole thing was just too sycophantic, almost to a point of being comedic. And not in a good way. It didn’t show the diversity of our fans and focused in one area. However, that’s also why it was a really good documentary, a really good film. I just felt like us putting it out and putting our name behind it said, “Look how important we are.” It was just self-promotion. Which is OK, it’s what we do. It’s what we’re doing now . . . Well, not only.
That’s true. Anyhow, I’d have to see it again. But I’ve already watched it twice. The whole drum corps and the Russian girl with the drawings of us, and of course the German family . . . it wasn’t objective enough for me. Even if it was well done. And the timing was weird, much too focused on what was and not what is today. Back to today, you guys left Mute to release Delta Machine, though Mute has always been, amongst other things, an anchor of coolness for you guys in terms of association. Why the label change?
It’s kind of complicated. Daniel’s certainly been very involved in the making of this record—with the process of recording and lots of the choices made throughout the whole journey. What happened was around the time of Exciter, Daniel, with our blessing, signed Mute to EMI. And he gave over a lot of control to them. He retained complete artistic control, but right before we were set to record Delta Machine, there were rumors about EMI folding. We didn’t want to be stuck in limbo and have this thing stuck in the courts, because you hear about this stuff happening. Now Daniel still owns Mute Artists, but not Mute Records, which he tried to buy back after he sold it, without success. He got outbid and was very upset, which I only found out recently. He wanted to take it all back, but we basically told him, “Dan, we’ve got to move on.” And we don’t want to be the lynchpin that holds it all together. We had to ask ourselves, “Where is Mute? What is Mute? Who’s distributing it?” So we decided to shop around and Sony came up with the best offer to make sure Daniel is still around for us, and to make sure we were able to gain control of what we’re doing. Most importantly, in 2015, we’ll be able to get control of our entire catalogue. We’ll own it. It won’t be in limbo. After Delta Machine, we’ll be in real control. For us, Daniel’s one of the most important parts of what we do. He’s a constant and we want to keep it that way. In his recent biography, Simon Spence described the band as purveyors of a particularly British electronic blues, based in the hardship and working class background of Basildon . . .
That’s true. But it seems to me that somewhere around Violator, the band’s blues have changed to something much more spiritual and classically American—which is especially apparent on Delta Machine. Much of the record deals with traditional blues tropes of battling the devil and exorcising demons. To what extent do drugs and addiction continue to be your main demon?
Well, certainly the music has become very Americana. We were these kids from this little town who were influenced by the hell that we lived in and wanted to get out. Music was a way to get out and see the world and we were all very ambitious to do that. We loved to travel, to record in Berlin or Spain or Denmark or wherever. The kids where I grew up didn’t leave town, and at a very young 44 EB1/2013
Martin L. Gore, Dave Gahan and Andrew Fletcher having another Depeche moment.
age I was looking for something else. That’s probably why drugs played such a big role in my life. They took me to a place that was not in this body. I’m much more comfortable with that now, and that comes with age and experience of life. I was talking to my wife about it last night, because a friend of ours has gone through something extremely traumatic about a year ago, really bad stuff. I was just telling her that I really have nothing to complain about and all the things I thought were so horrible about life seem, from my perspective now, not so bad. Along with music, you also started getting high at a young age. When was the first time you took heroin and what was the experience like?
It was actually a kind of mistake, and I was a lot younger—around eighteen or nineteen years old. I remember it was at a gig in London and I thought the heroin was amphetamines, so I took a bunch and then I got violently ill. I missed the whole gig and came to in the corner of the club. It wasn’t something I was so interested in so it didn’t surface again until the late eighties—’88 or ’89. And even then it was sporadic. But in my experience it all starts with being way too high on cocaine and then somebody’s like, “You should smoke a little of this, it’ll bring you back down.” For some reason when that happened, I took to it like a duck to water. The key fit the lock. I was like, “Wow, this really works for me.” Over the next few years after moving to Los Angeles, I used that drug a lot. I loved it. It was the first thing I really felt in love with. Addicts are a weird bunch; we’re always looking for something to get out of ourselves. I’m aware of the fact that I generally overindulge, but today it’s in other things. Even the way I perform onstage, I have to go 110% and Martin always says I’m too hard on myself and tells me to chill out. My body’s getting older and I can’t do the things I
did when I was twenty-five. I don’t recover so quickly. It’s been fifteen years since I drank anything or did any drugs, but at the time when I was in my late twenties, it took over everything because it worked for me. I’m not going to sit here and put it down. I was able to function with it and do what I wanted to do . . . Until it didn’t work anymore and I was sick all the time. Once you’ve gone to a place like that, it’s in your soul, it’s in your spirit. It’s there. I had that experience. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, in terms of where it goes, but I really felt at that age that I could deal with it. I could take it or leave it. People would always warn me not to take it more than a few days, and I guess I should have listened. Especially when I moved to L.A. at the time it was a very trendy drug. The music scene and the Hollywood scene—or should I say the “darker” Hollywood scene that I hung out with—was getting high. So it just fit. And the drug gave me a break from myself. It was the first drug I used that allowed me to escape from my thoughts and get my head to stop spinning. Do you still consider yourself a recovering addict?
That’s a good question. I like going to meetings. I don’t have to go to so many any more, but I have lots of friends who are recovering addicts who I can talk to. The title Delta Machine references the album’s mix of blues and technology. Have you noticed a change in DM’s sound with the introduction of new technology and digital production tools? The in-the-studio video for “Angel” certainly shows you guys more in the midst of analog gear revelry, even though I couldn’t totally detect that.
I would say the album’s sound is very much influenced by modular synthesis, and there is actually very little use of plug-ins. Our producer Ben Hillier interviewed all sorts of musicians to work on this record, and they all said “Oh yeah, we know electronics.” But what they meant was that they knew how to program software and things on the computer. They didn’t know really how to use the massive modular hardware systems—ARP gear and all that. The thing is that Martin actually collects this stuff and has entire rooms full of modular set-ups, so we did quite a bit of experimenting. For example, Martin might come up with a guitar riff, but we’ll send it through an ARP 2600 and get something very different out of it in the end. We wanted to keep this album truly moving and breathing, get it off the grid. We were constantly asking ourselves how we could make an electronic record and not be tied down by quantization. With modular stuff you get a sound the way you want it and then you’ll be like “Ok, that’s good, that’s good, don’t touch it, it’s just right!” And then with the next run of it the filter sounds different or the release is shorter or something . . . there are things that are always changing and so many parameters being tweaked. The unpredictability is exciting. Using modular synthesis to make pop songs instead of experimental electronics is a very Depeche Mode thing to do.
You have to be extremely patient to work these things and Martin really knows how to do it. There were days where I would get bored out of my mind, trust me. We had this studio in downtown Santa Barbara. Martin would be in there fiddling around and after hours of patching I would be like, “Am I going to sing today?” All you would hear was [imitates far out mod synth sounds], and I’d be like “Jesus Christ!” Christoffer Berg and Martin were just this perfect couple, walking around all day, plugging in and out
of these giant machines with cables around their necks. I’ve got loads of pictures of it. Depeche Mode always had a reputation for being sonic futurists, while the songwriting was always very classical. Delta Machine seems to really home in on this dichotomy.
Martin is a futurist. I’m not. And that’s why it works. I’m the one who’s always trying to bring in this really human element, if you like. Martin’s songs, like mine, are written in a more “regular” format, if you will. The demos are usually a lot warmer. When I first heard the ones for Delta Machine at his house I said, “I don’t think we should be doing a lot to this stuff.” What struck me is that even though it was really electronic and he used a lot of plug-ins to make the demos, it moved. It didn’t feel changed or transferred. It just sounded progressive, like with “Angel” or “Welcome to My World”. It was all very visual. I could see myself onstage performing these songs. That’s where I go when I write. Martin does it differently. At the end of the album, after we worked on “Long Time Lie” together, Martin asked me “Would you be interested in me sending you things to write to?” And I was like, “If it’s as abstract as just sending me interesting sounds or chords and atmosphere, then yeah, I’ll come up with the rest.” I can sit down and work out songs and chords, but I prefer bouncing ideas off someone else. I think it was Martin’s way of complementing me that I’m a good enough songwriter now. That after ten years he feels like we’re on the same kind of page. I recently rewatched D.A. Pennebaker’s 101 and then got to thinking about his famous Dylan documentary, Don’t Look Back. For me, one of the most fascinating scenes is when Donovan and Dylan meet in Dylan’s hotel room, and Donovan plays him some really mediocre song, and then Dylan shows him up with, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. It’s almost painful to watch. Were there ever awkward or uncomfortable moments collaborating or meeting other artists outside of Depeche Mode? What about the competitive spirit in the band?
As a songwriter I constantly hear things where I wonder, “Why didn’t I write that?” There have been moments meeting people where it’s like “I know you. I know what you’re getting at. I know the person who writes that song. Maybe I don’t know you, but I know the person you’re talking about is in your soul. I think there’s definitely been a healthy competition with Martin since I started writing—not because I was a better songwriter, but because I was jumping in on his turf. That’s really changed. I can now feel a mutual admiration. I’ve really come to respect Martin’s amazing work and discipline. Songs like “Heaven” are what got me excited about making this album. The video for “Heaven” seemed to me like an overt avowal of Depeche Mode’s goth identity.
That’s where I dwell! In the shadows and in the darkness is where I find all my ideas of redemption, knowing and understanding. Through that darkness you’ll find the light. And I can’t go any other way. Music does that, you know? All that stuff I was afraid of and trying to escape in the late eighties—that constant noise—I can escape by writing songs. And it used to be only through drugs. You can’t think your way into doing the right thing. You have to act your way into it. Sitting on my couch getting high, was not going to change my spirit. But crawling off my couch and writing music did. ~ EB 1/2013 45
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A.J. SAMUELS IN MIAMI WITH BASS MEKANIK
“You might have thought it was divine” Car audio bass is the subgenre that everybody has heard but nobody has heard of. That’s right, there’s a name for the boom pulsing from tricked-out Chevys and Opels on slow, endless drive-bys, rattling shutters with maximum sound pressure levels the world over. And Neil Case, aka Bass Mekanik, is the man responsible for that low end. Born in London and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Case was schooled as a recording engineer in the legendary studio of Byron Lee, where he learned the art of creating dub soundscapes and recording forty-member Rastafarian collectives with the lights out, like Ras Michael and The Sons of Negus, their chillums glowing in the dark like fireflies. Due to growing political violence, Case emigrated to Miami in the late seventies where a few years later he would discover speedy, bumping, 808-enhanced Miami bass, which was fast becoming the music of choice in the city’s strip clubs and car stereos. Hearing room for technical improvement, he spent the early-nineties tailoring the Miami sound to car audio and, with a series of releases on the legendary Pandisc label, a new sub(bass)-genre was born—one which has since altered commercial hip hop and American bass music production for good. Left: Neil Case, photographed at home in Hollywood, Florida by So-Min Kang.
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Right: Case willingly admits that there is a vaudevillian aspect to car audio bass, preferring to see it as a form of “entertaining calibration” for car stereos as opposed to music.
Neil, what are the origins of car audio bass as a genre?
First and foremost, it’s important to know that subsonic bass— infrasound—is everywhere. All things have a resonant frequency. For example, the resonant frequency of planet earth is like 7.83 hertz. When Tigers roar before they strike their prey, it includes an infrasound component that shocks and stuns the prey, making it easier to kill. Elephants hear infrasound better than humans and can perceive audio events over very long distances. Sperm whales use pulses of infrasound to stun the large squid that form the basis of their diet. The vibrations of thirty-three cycles will give a woman an orgasm—you could make a bass vibrator! Then there’s the supposed “brown tone”, which at around eight cycles will cause bowel movements involuntarily. In medieval times, musicians and especially organ builders used infrasound by employing massive organ pipes to instill a sense of awe in the congregation. Your insides would feel different when you heard it. You might have thought it was divine. Subsonic frequency is a very powerful force. Indeed. And what about its relationship to car stereos?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, car audio bass is directly born from a technical phenomenon, which is an interesting perspective because although there are car bass audio “producers”, people don’t usually talk about the genesis of the music, per se. I see the beginning as a confluence of events: First, coming out of the seventies into the eighties, you had a huge revolution in car audio technology. It used to be that great car audio was a six-by-nine coaxial Jensen speaker that would blast Led Zeppelin or the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack from an eighttrack. However, as soon as crossovers, equalizers and larger, high power stereo components were introduced into the game, the handling capabilities improved dramatically. At the same time—and purely by coincidence—the Roland 808 drum machine came along, which was featured in lots of early rap and electro. And nothing sounded like it, nothing would give you that big boom in a car or anywhere else for that matter. Once you heard that big fat bottom end, everything else just sounded puny. So when Miami bass appeared in the early eighties, the whole bass experience was intensified by the faster, dance-oriented tempos. Immediately you had a party on wheels. But of all the music that was being made with the 808 at the time, why did Miami bass specifically become so popular for car audio?
Because of the speed! But, that morphed and eventually spread to Atlanta and became crunk, southern rap and trap, which also slowed down—or should I say the hi-hats sped up while the rest moved half time. Or it got chopped and screwed, pitched low for more bass. Either way, all of that southern hip hop I see as an outgrowth of Miami bass. Also in the early nineties, techno and Eurodance started to appear. I was never into rap that much, and I had been a recording engineer since I was a teenager, so the fidelity of the techno productions fascinated me. That’s why I decided to try and layer it over the bass music to see what I could come up with. I didn’t know that guys like Dynamix II were doing the same thing independently. What we did formed the genre “techno bass”, which is a kind of electro, I suppose. What do you mean by layering the techno on the bass tracks?
It essentially meant taking the bottom end of a faster tempo song—the kick and bass line—and then combining it with the 48 EB 1/2013
top and melody of Eurodance along the lines of Culture Beat or 2 Unlimited. Except that this wasn’t on a four-to-the-floor house beat. At the same time, I was working as a recording engineer and one of my clients was the legendary Miami bass label Pandisc, which is how I met James McCauley, who most people know as Maggotron. Anyway, I put out my first bass record and it sold like hotcakes because back then the classic Miami bass labels like Pandisc, Luke Records and Joey Boy were being played in clubs. That’s when somebody told me we should go check out a car audio event-competition in Daytona—because of Miami bass’ popularity in this burgeoning scene. We drove up and immediately when we arrived I heard dozens of cars pumping my music. And in the convention center, people were literally lining up to buy my CD, which should have been an ego booster. However, what I noticed is that they weren’t playing any of my songs in their entirety, but rather only small bits and pieces that made their car systems boom and sing in different ways. At first I was very disappointed because I had put a lot of work into my songs. But pretty soon I understood it was all about measurement; competitions are about who has the loudest system, measured in SPL which stands for “sound pressure level”. And when they measure, it’s usually clips of thirty seconds, maximum. Sometimes even shorter. So you felt your music had been degraded in becoming just a link in the chain of SPL measurement?
At first, yes. But armed with that nugget of info, I decided to create a bass alias where I would make an album where each song focused on a different frequency and different style of bass. Instead of arranging the song for it to fit, say, a radio format, I tailored it all to car stereos. Instead of drum breaks, I had bass breaks. And I was the first. This was circa 1994. That’s also when I got the idea to create a test section on the CD where they could skip ahead and play bits of twenty cycles or thirty cycles or forty cycles [bass frequency on the sound spectrum], or a level setting tone, or a leftright sweep, or maybe some pink noise [all frequencies at once] to scope their systems out. The result was that I quickly sold insane amounts of CDs. All the stores that specialized in car stereos were selling and using my stuff in their installations. So you essentially made your music into a form of calibration.
Yes, but entertaining calibration—how’s that for a production style? Has car audio bass as a genre had any reach beyond the ghetto of competitions and conventions and the obsession with measurement?
It’s an interesting question because I think after the rise of car audio bass in the mid-nineties, you started hearing much more bottom-heavy production in hip hop. How it sounded in a car became very important, and I see it all as a result of car audio bass and Miami bass. But that’s also why the bass market has shrunk over the years: other kinds of music caught up with our bottom end! We’re not the only game in town any more, and if you could find the same amount of bass on a Jay-Z album and you’re more of a rap fan, then the choice is obvious, which is fine. But gone are the days that people who didn’t even like Miami bass would buy the CDs just to show off the depth of their systems. And like the rest of the industry we’ve also been seriously impacted by the Internet. People don’t buy albums anymore—that’s just reality.
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Left: Bryan Chuechunklin of custom audio website modifiedshow.com shooting the scantily clad Anna Marie Fox in front of a purple hummer at the DUB show tour in Miami. Car audio bass culture proudly resists all sorts of current trends, including greentech, low bitrate MP3s and post-heteronormative ideals.
But for car audio bass, fidelity is still king, right? That seems to go against the grain of MP3s and current listening trends.
Yes, absolutely. Cheap rips and MP3s don’t play much of a role in what we do. Both as a consumer and an engineer, I think the development towards MP3 sales is ass backwards. Sooner than later, people will demand full bandwidth versions of the music they’ve purchased over the past ten years. It’s interesting how much car audio bass doesn’t translate to online platforms. Watching hair trick videos on YouTube for example, all you hear is insane digital farting, and even clips from the Pandisc site can only hint at the musical experience of car audio. But I also think the focus on fidelity has certain aesthetic implications, like in terms of hearing each musical element with total clarity. This necessarily translates into a kind of minimalism.
I think in some ways, car audio bass is about listening to sounds, not music. Some people call car audio bass soulless, but I think its appeal, or even its “soul”, is in the pragmatic focus on using very few elements.
That’s one way to look at it. For me, it’s always been interesting from a technical aspect, but I think there are different ways to express creativity. Any form that has inherent limitations forces you to refine the style, but I’m not trying to change the world with what I do. People like things that showcase different aspects of their system, like with different forms of bass. You need different kinds of bass hardness: big fat kick drums, big sustained bass, or sine waves—all of which I tune. I’m not the first to make tuned bass music, because if you were using early Roland samplers and played the boom out of the box, it would be in the key of the song. But with Miami bass, you often don’t hear that. You hear some guy who uses the same boom for everything, regardless of key or tempo. Most people didn’t care, but I am one of the first to take to the extremes, tailoring the kick to tail off right before the next kick comes in, sound sculpting and all that. Car audio bass has a certain cult-like quality to its following. Fans like to talk about bass and systems in almost religious terms.
It’s funny to me that in contemporary techno and dance they often take the name in vain. They don’t usually have the same subsonic frequency that we do, but that’s the music business, I suppose. In house you sometimes hear people call out “Let the bass explode!” but no bass suddenly appears. I guess it’s fun to say it—like “rock”, another chunky four-letter word that people like to say in all sorts of situations. James McCauley told me that Miami bass as a genre came into its own not just when people started making sped up electro-funk with an 808, but rather when they made the bass the actual subject matter of the song and naming everything with “bass”.
I would agree with that partially, but there were a few songs before that mentioned bass. I suppose the reference thing is a good starting point though. Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, I remember my EB 1/2013 51
Right: Bass boxing champion Anthony Leverett holding the belt at the Spring Break Nationals car audio competition in Daytona Beach, Florida. Photo: Bryan Chuechunklin.
mother’s boyfriend had an amazing stereo system, and I loved listening to things on it that just sounded good, like pure sound effects records, or movie themes. Of course, car audio bass is no different, and that’s where the cheese factor comes in. There was an album of all bassed-out TV themes—X-Files and all that. It was called Boom Tube. And there were other themed productions. Most of my bass records together with my partner Billy E have bass references in the title: I Rock Bass, King of Bass, 808, Boom Style, Lowd Slowd, Powerbox – The Bassest Hits, Quad Maximus, Nightmare on Bass Street . . . you get the picture. There’s always been a semi-vaudeville aspect to car audio bass, with the girls in bikinis and horror graphics or whatever. Tell me about growing up in Jamaica and cutting your teeth on reggae and dub productions as a studio engineer. How has that influenced you bass-wise?
Unlike treble, bass travels for miles and I remember being seven or eight years old and always hearing a throb throughout the city, night and day. In Kingston you’d hear dogs barking, you’d hear cars and you’d hear reggae bass lines. The Jamaican music evolution, in a crude nutshell, went from folk and mento in the forties and fifties to ska in the sixties, which then morphed quickly into rocksteady and reggae. That of course would become various reggae offshoots, including dub and dancehall. Aside from mento, bass was central to all, and music was everywhere. I think there was a time in the sixties and seventies that there were more recording studios per capita in Kingston than anywhere else in the world. That was also coupled with a really vibrant party and dance culture. Back then, it was the most normal thing in the world for teenagers to dance—that’s just what you did. Because I was already into sound and stereos, I decided to team up with a friend of mine to set up our own sound system with big fifteen-inch speakers in big boxes. When we started the sound system, I would DJ and I had eventually amassed a massive collection of forty-fives and was always curious about how the music was made. You ran your own soundsystem?
an A-side and let us manipulate the instrumental B-side. This was the true beginning of dub. I remember a lot of people in the studio starting to boost the mids and sweep the frequencies to produce a flange or phasing effect and then add some delay and just play with it. Eventually you’d create a soundscape, and that was a chance for the engineer to get creative. I often thought, “I hope they finish the vocal pretty soon because I can’t wait to get to the dub.” That was our time to shine. It all sounds pretty ideal. So why did you leave Jamaica for Miami?
In the sixties and early seventies everything was OK, but when Michael Manley and the democratic socialists started flirting with Castro and Cuba, things got really dangerous. Political gangs sprouted up everywhere and the Americans were funneling arms to the conservatives. People were getting shot, and it got to the point where you were sometimes scared to stop at a traffic light at night. At some point, my father, who was an architect and involved in construction and development, was getting death threats and international investors were pulling their funding right and left. Then it all happened really fast. I came home from work one day and he said we had to leave. So off we went to Miami where I eventually honed my skills on a different kind of bass, while still working on reggae productions. When you’re making bass music for competitions, I imagine you need to test on more than just studio monitors, right?
Sort of. My fellow collaborator DJ Billy E has a bass van where we try it all out. He’s a bass head from the ground up, so he’ll always let me know how it works. But I know my monitors, so I know more or less how it’ll convert to a car system. Infrasound or ELF—extra low frequency—is something you get a feel for. I would say there’s a certain scientific element to what I do. Interestingly, there was a car one year that won for loudest system by playing Bass Mekanik, which went on to inspire The University of Florida in Gainesville to do experiments to see if they could kill cockroaches with bass! Sounds like a candidate for the Ig Noble Prize. Did it work?
Yes, but more importantly, my dad helped me get an apprenticeship as an engineer with the legendary Byron Lee at Dynamic Sounds, which was both a studio and a really important label. You would probably recognize it from The Harder They Come, which was partially filmed there. Anyways, back then, there were really two guys in Kingston who ran things in the music scene: Byron Lee and Ken Khouri over at Federal Records. With Byron, I learned the ropes from the best and got used to a big bottom end from the beginning, so the 808 just made perfect sense to me when I heard it years later in Miami. I definitely started out with an advantage having worked with guys like Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, and Toots and the Maytals. My first engineering and mixing credit was with Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus’ “None of Jah Jah Children No Cry”. I used every mic in the studio in that session because they were a forty-person Rastafarian crew, all smoking the ganja in their chillums with the lights out, playing in the glow. And what about dub?
The thing is that the reggae records at the time were amazing, but they didn’t really live on their own without the vocal, and because bands didn’t have a lot of money, they used the vocal version on 52 EB 1/2013
I think it did, but it wasn’t so economical to do it with sound pressure levels. You’d need a bizarrely contrived set of circumstances . . . even though car audio bass competitions sometimes seem like exactly that. Honestly, I’ve seen all sorts of cars and systems catch fire, smoke coming from the audio compartments, multiple thousands of dollars worth of audio equipment destroyed. But if you’re going to get to the moon, you got to have a rocket big enough to get there! Right. But there must be different ways of measuring SPL. How does it work in competition?
There’s always been debate about testing formats. Recently, there was a move to reconceptualize the measurement for “bass drivebys”; taking a hundred yard route within an auditorium and have the cars roll by with music playing out the window. To me, that’s a much more fun way of measuring SPL than the almost boringly scientific method of placing a mic inside the car, making sure the whole thing is sealed, hitting play on the stereo from a remote control and hearing a muffled burp on the outside that supposedly measured 180 dB. But hey, when mankind gets involved in competition, winning or losing can get pretty weird. ~
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A.J. SAMUELS TALKS TO KARL BARTOS
“In music, it’s very hard to communicate irony” Ever since former Kraftwerker Wolgang Flür published his emotional, tell-all autobiography on two decades of sordid adventures with the band, the world has known that robots have feelings. And libidos, too. Now, amidst Kraftwerk’s current reemergence as ambassadors of pop music minimalism to the world of high art, ex-robot Karl Bartos has something he wants to get off his hard drive: a twelve-track sonic confessional sourced from a secret audio diary he kept between 1975 - 1993. Together with the original unpublished recordings (briefly accessible at one-off album “exhibits” in Hamburg and London) Off the Record offers a metaperspective on Bartos’ contributions to Kraftwerk’s musical identity. Karl Bartos: I hear you’re not German. Where are you from? Massachusetts.
Boston, huh? Great place, the East Coast in general. I was in the U.S. quite a bit in the seventies, eighties and nineties, but not so much recently. It’s an amazing country, but this shit with the Democrats and Republicans is really dividing it in two halves. I never understood conservative American politics at all, especially not with that idiot Bush. He ruined your country for years—years! Anyhow, I first went over as a young student in ’75, touring with Kraftwerk across country. We started out in New York and played the entire East Coast and then made our way over to L.A. over the course of around eleven weeks.
Young picked me up! There we were on Ocean Boulevard with him and Nils Lofgren. It blew my mind. I only knew California from films, so the city had this very strange geography. You see, today America is very close. But back then it was really far away. Going there changed my life. How?
This was for Radio-Activity?
When the band was in the south, we drove off the highway in Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis and heard “Country Roads”. Believe me, it was dead on. It’s all real. That song in particular is all about the country and southern culture—very un-European. Before that experience, I never liked country and western music. I thought it was bullshit. But then I felt how real it was, how authentic. The good country songs will be with us forever.
No, Autobahn. I remember when we arrived in Los Angeles, Neil
Do you think “Autobahn” sounds more authentic if you hear it driving
Left: Karl Bartos in Hamburg, phototgraphed by Luci Lux.
EB 1/2013 55
throughout generations before recording and formal notation. Simple melodies have been around for thousands of years. The average person knows hundreds of them. It’s just how we tick. This ability is one of the most important parts of music. I also don’t think it matters how you hear the melodies, be it recorded or by a musician on the street. It’s scientifically proven. You just put three or four definite notes together and we can remember them. Melodies are infinite.
on the highway in the Ruhr region?
Yes, of course. But Autobahn was a hit record more because it combined some very essential ideas: a catchy tune with brilliant lyrics, and the idea that music doesn’t just come from traditional instruments—woodwinds, strings, piano—but also from the sounds of nature and machinery. You can compose with wind, water or the sound of machines and in doing so, you’re able to articulate time in very distinct ways. Autobahn is the sound of nature, technology and ambience; objects, people, human and synthetic voice, things passing by an open window and so much more. Of course, Kraftwerk weren’t the first to do this—it is derived from early twentiethcentury futurism, later the musique concrète experiments by Pierre Schaeffer in Paris and Karlheinz Stockhausen at WDR’s Studio für elektronische Musik Köln. But also in pop music. Listen to “Summer in the City” from 1966 by The Lovin’ Spoonful. It starts with a little piece of musique concrète. Or “Born to be Wild”, on the other end of the motor revving spectrum. Compared to “Autobahn”, that is.
Well, they used a VW Beetle, not a Harley. Your new album Off the Record was created from sketches recorded in your musical diary between 1977 and 1993. Would Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider and Wolfgang Flür recognize any of it? Had you played these sketches for anybody?
Musically and thematically, Off the Record seems to have its roots in Kraftwerk, although there’s almost a meta-quality in how it’s presented. For example, “Atomium” isn’t about atomic energy per se, but rather its artistic representation in the form of the famous atomshaped building in Brussels. “Nachtfahrt” also sounds as much like a study on how to write a song about driving and transportation as it is a song about driving. Would you at all call the album a kind of interpretation of both Kraftwerk and Kraftwerkian tropes?
While founding members Ralf Hütter (center left) and Florian Schneider (center right) are often credited as the true masterminds behind Kraftwerk, Bartos (front left) boasts songwriting credits on every single track off both The Man-Machine (1978) and Computer World (1981)—two of the band’s most critically acclaimed albums. Before joining Kraftwerk in 1975, Bartos had studied to become a classical percussionist and earned his keep playing in symphony orchestras and at opera houses in and around Germany’s Ruhr region.
Maybe, I don’t know. It was a secret diary— my own place, so to speak. I never actually intended on creating a diary per se—this was just daily work. At the time, I had been playing a lot at the opera, which is how I made my living. I would go into the music library in Dusseldorf, which is a small city . . . and at the time, a good one. I would take home scores of Puccini, Wagner, Debussy and Stravinsky, put them on my piano and study what they were doing compositionally. I would dig into Manon Lescaut and try to improvise over it, because that’s what you do when you’re a composer: you lift from other people, and your subconscious is in constant mash-up mode: First you desire something, then you copy it, then you make mashups of your copies and end up with something close to the original. But it’s not the original. And from that point creativity starts, that’s when you get your own artistic handwriting. But, you know, it always starts with copying. So some of the songs on the album come from ideas that were preKraftwerk?
Yes. During my studies I was taking classes on counterpoint and I always loved analyzing Mozart and Bach. I was learning how to compose a symphony, starting with theme A and then theme B and so on. When I entered the band, we took advantage of our knowledge of music’s architecture. I think the human brain is built to remember melodies and specific pitches. This is how we transported melodies 56 EB 1/2013
[laughing loudly] Yeah, it’s true, it’s true. I’m a big fan of holistic concepts. After being a professor for five years at the University of Arts in Berlin, I was constantly explaining to my students what to do and how to do it. So I thought it would be great for them to create a film with a soundtrack and write about the actual process of creating at the same time. Each media and each art form has a different center and informs the other. This is what it means to work in an interdisciplinary fashion. It’s great for students to write about what they’re intending to do, kind of a diary. And not just on a theoretical level. It can be incredibly insightful to know how a work evolves.
What else did you take away from teaching?
Well, I actually taught before when I was at university taking my examinations for various instruments and music theory—piano, drums, etc. But when you’re teaching an instrument, everything’s clear. It’s all been done before for a very long time. You just follow the path. But the University of Arts in Berlin asked me to define my own curriculum, which is quite different. I definitely didn’t want to lecture on pop or Kraftwerk, but rather the conversion of image and sound, and analyzing the rhythms of both. In previous interviews, you’ve described your interest in converting the non-narrative qualities of music to film. You’ve also described music as “all form and no content” in its emotive thrust. You don’t think there’s such a thing as musical narrative?
I do, but it’s very different than what we conventionally understand as “narrative”. Because everybody listens to sound in a different way and gets a different meaning out of it. And that’s good. It’s why I was so keen on working with film and music at the same time. It gives you more opportunities to shape the message and to reach the recipient. The convergence of image and sound, that’s what I’m up to. And the history of that audio-visual “wedding” is really exciting. In the
beginning of the twentieth century, the painter Wassily Kandinsky was a huge music lover and very jealous of the ability of musicians to hit people directly in their hearts with emotion. He wondered how he could bring this quality of music into painting, which is when he had the idea of not painting a picture of the original world, but rather its abstraction — which is to say not the surface appearance, but rather the feelings associated with it. Then as soon as film appeared, people all of the sudden could apply the abstraction to an actual timeline. And that’s what early abstract film was. If you don’t have a story to the abstraction, then you have something like visual music. In the nineties, VJs started to appear, but that to me was just visual candy . . . even if it’s the same family. But the real pioneers here are people like Oskar Fischinger or Hans Richter. Moving circles and rectangles. Simple. Emotive. The twenties and early thirties was an incredible time for art, music and film—especially in Germany.
sible. But in reality you only have one life, and you have to make the best of it. You sound depressed.
No, but I am ambivalent. Being part of Kraftwerk isn’t the worst thing in the world, but I can’t get rid of it. People always see me through this lens. There are worse lenses to be seen through, I would say.
Yes, but it’s about the fact that I don’t have a choice. I can’t change it. Every now and then I imagine how it would be to make a song or a record without people referring to “The Robots” or “The Model” or whatever when they hear it. But the cover of your new album is exactly that — a robot, a showroom dummy.
That’s true. But I did this for the first time because I felt like I wanted to articulate this ambivalence.
You were born in the southern Bavarian town of Berchtesgaden, where Hitler had his Berghof. What was it like growing up in the shadow of that infamous residence?
I actually grew up in Dusseldorf, but I often went back to visit my family in Berchtesgaden. And as amazing as it sounds, we didn’t think about the relevance of the place at all. You see, right after the Second World War, nobody in Germany was considered a Nazi. My generation grew up with this feeling of innocence — and naturally, the Americans and the British wouldn’t be able to handle us if they blamed everybody. I was in my twenties and thirties when we as Germans started digging into our history. It’s not like we learned about this stuff in school! It was a very strange situation. It took a few generations for things to change, and even then . . . Coming back to music, during the Roaring Twenties we had really good composers and lots of people who understood rhythm. But quite a lot of them were Jewish and under the Nazi regime killed or forced into exile. The only thing that was left here was classical music . . . until American and British rock and roll came around. But for us as Germans, we somehow wanted to return to our own heritage, otherwise it wouldn’t be authentic. And that’s what happened in Germany in the late sixties and seventies.
The dummy’s face seems almost sad. Or at least he’s not happy.
He’s really only got one expression: astonished. I actually created a video for “Without a Trace of Emotion” where I have a conversation with the showroom dummy and I tell him, “You kill me! You kill me!” It’s very funny in the video. But in music, it’s very hard to communicate irony. You can’t just do it with lyrics, and because English isn’t my native tongue, I have to be careful. I just try and make sure they’re not totally wrong. I think it’s difficult to communicate irony period, not just in music. There was the idea in the nineteenth century to create a form of punctuation for irony—the point d’ironie. But people seemed to think it missed the point. Stiffer in suits and ties or as digital simulations? Trans-Europe Express (1977) and Electric Café (1986) represent two very different phases of Kraftwerk’s development. The former is widely known as having helped kick start electro-funk (with a little help from Afrika Bambaataa and Arthur Baker), while the latter received mixed reviews for its supposed stock synthesizer sounds. However, since its rerelease in 2009 (under the original title Techno Pop) critics have praised its use of repeating melodic themes in different rhythmic guises.
Your new album emphasizes your ambivalent relationship to the past. On “Without a Trace of Emotion” you sing, “I want to remix my life to another beat.” Was that in reference to anything specific?
How should I explain? There’s this concept in film where a script starts out linearly and then divides into three, and you see the three different fates of the main character and how it all plays out. It’s a trick to open up the possibility of things that isn’t pos-
Emails are especially dangerous for people who aren’t aware of that. I’ll get insulted by friends’ emails sometimes when they had no intention of doing so. It’s just too fast. You have no time to reflect on what you think! Most people expect responses in one day, and if you wait another day, you get another email.
Something that fascinated me about your liner notes to Off the Record is how you describe “letting autopilot take over” in the context of composing: switching on your drum machine and sequencer and just having them play while you watch TV, make phone calls and let yourself be distracted. That seems to go against the cliché of the artist’s hermetic focus and concentration in making art. Do you find it easier to compose with self-imposed distractions?
Why are musicians transfixed by drugs? Because they have to be in the state of mind of a child. Drugs can give you that, but I don’t take EB 1/2013 57
drugs. So during this period I had to take advantage of my subconscious. When I compose a counterpoint or think about a chord progression or transposing something to another tonal center, I have to use my knowledge. But if I want to be free, I have to take advantage of my subconscious. I get information from the sequencer and drum machine. It’s just a trick. So the loops and repetition are your input.
No, the telephone call or television show or newspaper is my input and what makes me unaware. It’s not so good to do art or music if you have to think about problems. You have to do your tax declarations or you’re running out of money . . . I don’t want to think about that. Kraftwerk of course has been getting a lot of press over the past year for the presentation of the retrospective at MoMA, currently in the Kunstsammlung NRW in Dusseldorf and soon at the Tate Modern. It was reported last year that you were “upset” about not being invited to play by Ralf Hütter, which sort of surprised me. Or were you misquoted?
back to Germany after being there for a few years he was, how should I say, a very accomplished American. I remember he brought back the first Flying Burrito Brothers record and stuff like that. If you listen to “Autobahn” or “Pocket Calculator”, the poetry is all his. What about your role in Kraftwerk?
After playing the electronic drums live in the seventies, I switched over to synthesizer in the eighties and was responsible for handling the bass and the chords—essentially the harmonic structure. But I see my, or should I say our role in the broader context of electronic music production after Pierre Schaeffer and, when musicians were no longer necessarily the interpreters of a composer’s mind. As we became authors or composers, we simply had our ideas, a magnetophone and nobody or nothing else in between! We became composers for the magnetophone. When you left Kraftwerk, you were frustrated with what you saw as the band’s extreme focus on new technology. In what sense did that focus get in the way of being creative and do these often oppose each other?
That was a total misquote. All I said was if Well, an extreme focus on technology is a you call something a “retrospective”, classigeneral problem nowadays, especially with cally speaking, you have to properly reevaluThe new old Karl, from the special deluxe ediwhat I call “software musicians”. You get ate the material, which you can’t do with tion of his new album Off the Record. Bartos is software and just follow the rules. In the a musical performance that includes one openly ambivalent about his showroom dummy analog days you mixed and matched your single member of a four person band. And identity: “Every now and then I imagine how it instruments. Now, some music software just the MoMA should know what a retrospective would be to make a song or a record without tells you what to do and how to compose. It is, after all. That’s all I said . . . and that it people referring to ‘The Robots’ or ‘The Model’.” allows for only one perspective. Don’t get me would have been great if the MoMA invited wrong, I don’t blame the computer. the rest of us, you know? What Kraftwerk is doing in Dusseldorf and the Tate? I don’t care about it. The Guardian invited me to see the shows at the Tate, but So it’s become harder to use instruments in ways that weren’t intended, harder to break the rules? I don’t have the time for that. So I take it you’re not in contact with Ralf Hütter.
No, not really. Just, you know, with his attorneys and publishing company. In the press release, you contrast your film work with “technological nostalgia in 3-D.” Is that how you see Kraftwerk’s current show?
Yes. It’s too easy to follow the path. Not that long ago we believed on this planet that every place and every object has a different sound. These days you can just go into any one of the endless sonic libraries and find anything you want. It’s like you don’t just go and record that [hits glass with a fork], because you can get it sampled. So you forget about it. And what does recording that enable that sampling wouldn’t?
Well, 3-D is really . . . slow. There’s not much to say about it. You sit there and watch objects come at you and that’s it. What I do is more focused on rhythmic film cutting, telling little stories in a more classical sense. Tonight is actually Die Mensch-Maschine in the Dusseldorf, which is the first album where you have songwriting credits for every track. The same goes for the critically acclaimed Computer World. Do you have a favorite Kraftwerk album?
Everybody thinks The Man-Machine and Computer World are the strongest records, but I actually think it’s Autobahn, which I’m not on. The fantastic Conny Plank was involved in the making. And the album became the blueprint of the whole genre. It’s also got very poetic and metaphorical lyrics from Emil Schult. Most people know he was an art student with Beuys at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, but he was also in America during high school and when he came 58 EB 1/2013
If you just download a sample, it’s not really in your system! You just use it. You’re a user. But if you make an effort to, for example, capture the echo from the Königssee or record the Mellotron in somebody’s garage, everything on your way there will affect the sound and your way of thinking. It will affect the whole composition your working on. I’ve tried recreating the echo at the Königssee in Berchtesgaden with a Roland Space Echo, because I know and have studied the original. This is one of the most famous sound spaces in Germany, and let me tell you, it’s part of my sonic biography. After a certain age you go back to your childhood. I don’t want to be like Freud, but what you have taken in as a child musically will remain, consciously or not. You can’t change it. And that will be there until you die. The authentic Karl Bartos sound is at the Königssee, not Strawberry Fields and not Penny Lane. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Beatles. But it’s not me. ~
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MAX DAX TALKS TO ANDREY A. TARKOVSKY
“This is not a coincidence” The recent publication of Life and Work: Films, Writings, Stills & Polaroids sees famed Russian auteur Andrey Tarkovsky recast in an increasingly holistic artistic context. The director’s images maintain a singular poetic and spiritual resonance on the printed page—one that his son, Andrey A. Tarkovsky, traces back to his grandfather, the poet Arseny Tarkovsky. Max Dax visited the caretaker of the family archives in Florence, Italy to find out how personal memory and artistic legacy, immortalized on film, have become one. Mr. Tarkovsky, you come from a family of poets. Your grandfather Arseny Tarkovsky was one of Russia’s most important poets. Your father Andrey Tarkovsky is probably the most poetic director of all times. Do you see yourself in that tradition?
Myself, I am not such a strong or powerful artist. I just love the poems of my grandfather; I think he is one of the greatest poets of Russia. I find his poems and the films of my father very related. When I see the films of my father, I realize how much he tried to incorporate the poems of Arseny into his body of work. In fact, my father wasn’t that isolated—contrary to his image of being a director secluded from the world. His art was always strongly connected not only to Russian cinema, but also to Russian philosophy, poetry and to twentieth century literature, the so-called “Silver Age”. And don’t forget the artists of past centuries. So, I am not surprised to see links to all of the aforementioned in my father’s films. The Russian literary-philosophical tradition is young compared to its British or continental counterparts.
That’s true. And many philosophers who tried to share their thoughts with the people were then arrested and sent to gulags after the revolution—if they didn’t manage to emigrate. My father was of a later generation, but he had very strong spiritual connections to Dostoyevsky. You see, in Russia, philosophy was always—how can I put it?—impregnated by religion and spirituality. You didn’t have
explicitly secular philosophy like in the West. That’s how you can read my father’s work: he never questioned the “given” fact that every art had to be founded in spirituality. My father believed in tradition. He always told me: “You have to learn everything and then you have to forget.” But you have to always keep yourself connected to your culture. That’s why he was trying to give his films their depth and why he was using, for example, music by Bach or images by Brueghel—it was all about providing a historical background to define a solid foundation. A foundation he believed that cinema just was about to lose. In Russia or in general?
In general. And I doubt that my father could have continued to work in that direction today as cinema has gotten worse. I had the pleasure of talking to Scott Walker in Paris recently and he said that he was heavily influenced by a couple of films by your father, including Stalker and Solaris. He remembers trying to get tickets for the premiers of both in London, which back in the day was a very big event. He said he couldn’t imagine what film premiere he’d possibly want to attend nowadays.
You are referring to the golden age of cinema, the sixties and seventies. Cinema today is not such an independent form of art like it used to be. My father was struggling to extend that period into the eighties. I have seen Nostalghia recently on the big screen in
Left: Andrey A. Tarkovsky, photographed in Florence, Italy by Luci Lux. Images on p. 63 - 65 taken from Life and Work: Films, Writings, Stills & Polaroids by Andrey Tarkovsky. Courtesy: Schirmer/Mosel, Munich. Images on p. 66 - 69 courtesy of Arsenal/M. Stefanowski.
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São Paulo. That film is all about the clash of Eastern and Western culture and about how they could communicate. The film blew me away, once again. And I say this not only because I live, like my father did in his last years, as a Russian in Italy. From age eleven you were unable to see your father for more than half a decade because he never returned to the Soviet Union after filming Nostalghia in Italy. When you finally were allowed out of the country to see him in 1986 he was already in critical condition, suffering from terminal cancer. You were fifteen.
Yes, I left the Soviet Union in 1986 to live in Florence, but I don’t feel that I belong to Italy, just as I don’t belong to Russia. I went back to Russia in 1996 and it was a different country. I didn’t recognize it anymore. But compared to me being away from home, my father’s situation was so much more desperate as he was not allowed to travel. He couldn’t see his family. Also, Russians are very bad immigrants. They will never get used to their new surroundings, as these will never become their spiritual home. Have you noticed that Russians always try to recreate a little Russia around them, wherever they go? That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing.
It’s not! Preserving traditions is certainly a good thing to do. But the more you surround yourself with elements of your home country, the less you will notice about the new world you’re living in. I quickly became fluent in Italian because I came here at a very young age. I have an Italian fiancée. You probably could call me an “assimilated Russian”. But my cultural basis still is Russia. Or to be more precise: it was Russia. The country I hold as a precious memory in my heart doesn’t exist anymore. It’s the same with Berlin: If you were to visit for the first time after being away for twenty years, you would see that West Berlin and East Berlin have disappeared and a new city called Greater Berlin has taken their place. Regime change does strange things to both geography and psychogeography.
Like in Russia. And I am fully aware of the fact that my spiritual homeland is the same country that made it impossible for my father to live and survive, both financially and spiritually. He basically wasn’t allowed to work in the Soviet Union. But I see the new Russia with even more critical eyes. Before the fall of the Iron Curtain there was the omnipresent big enemy. Everybody could relate to that. But when the Curtain fell, money immediately became the new religion. Greed brought out the worst in every human being living in Russia. I am talking about a very sad development. And this goes as well for the art world. You don’t find spiritual art anymore. My father would have probably faced even more problems within the new system. But your father actually did finish five great films in the Soviet system.
But don’t forget that these five films cost him twenty-five years to finish! And after Andrei Rublev, none of his films were ever really shown in Soviet cinemas or even in festivals. And if they were screened, it was in secondary cinemas in the outskirts of Moscow, but not in the center where they would have been noticed. He faced terrible problems with Andrei Rublev, which he finished as early as 1966. But the Soviet authorities wouldn’t allow him to screen it until 1971. It is a miracle that the negatives just got shelved away and weren’t washed out. What do you mean? 62 EB 1/2013
Washing out negatives was the usual government practice to get rid of unwanted films. I don’t want to know how many great films disappeared this way. Apart from that, my father had to fight for at least three years for each and every project, which was just dead time. This was a real pity as he was working day and night. He had to shelve a lot of projects just because he wasn’t allowed to work at his own pace. Few people know that he wasn’t a “reflective” or “slow” director. He could have actually made one film every year. He was lucky that his debut film earned him international acclaim. His first film, Ivan’s Childhood, was immediately awarded the Golden Lion in Venice. He became an icon for the freedom of expression in Russia. That’s why they basically couldn’t forbid him to work. But they took revenge by making life as hard as possible for him. And that’s why he left his beloved home country. While you’re telling this sad story you’re constantly smiling. I don’t understand . . .
I always smile. It’s life and life only. My father learned to live with that oppression. For him it probably was easier than it would have been for others to be Andrey Tarkovsky. It’s important to realize that during the seventies, the Soviet system wasn’t that strong in an ideological sense. They had just created this insane bureaucracy that slowed everything down. It was an absurd situation. Many of the bureaucrats that were involved in the process actually liked my father’s films. But it was a Sisyphean battle. And everything became worse after Brezhnev’s death in 1982. From then on the cultural life froze and everything became very, very strict. That was the end of artistic freedom in the Soviet Union. They not only forbid him to shoot in Russia; sadly, they even successfully prevented Nostalghia from winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes in May 1983, with the representative of the Soviet delegation actively campaigning against it. The scenes in Nostalghia that reference the main character’s Russian childhood memories were not shot on location?
No, my father had to actually rebuild our Russian country house near a village called Otricoli in Umbria. He wanted an exact replica— which, by the way, took the workers two months to build. He had a Polaroid of the original house, and it looks exactly the same. Why was it so important to exactly duplicate the house according to the Polaroid? No audience member would ever complain if it wouldn’t have been perfect.
It’s because my father’s films drew from real memories. Nostalghia especially is about losing your home; that is, your home country, which is your spiritual home as well as your physical home. With that film he basically allowed his childhood home to resurface. He’d actually fly my grandmother to the set so she could see the house again. When she saw it, she started to cry, because it was exact. Memories can be blurry.
That’s why he took Polaroids all the time. Did you expect to be separated for that long?
No, not at all. When he left us, it was only to shoot Nostalghia in Italy. Nobody could have expected what would happen with the Soviet Union. And still it was a big surprise for everyone—including himself—that he decided to remain in Italy. For me as a child it was a very sad experience. But I try to see it positively. At least I was allowed to spend his last year together with him. We actually
Above: Andrey Tarkovsky, photographed by Gueorgui Pinkhassov in 1979. P. 64 - 65: Detail from a Polaroid taken by Andrey Tarkovsky on the set of Nostalghia, featuring an exact replica of the director’s Russian country house. According to his son the film is about “ . . . losing your home; that is, your home country, which is your spiritual home as well as your physical home.” P. 66 - 67: Based on a novel by celebrated Polish sci-fi author Stanisław Lem, Solaris (1972) is a meditation on the inability of science to facilitate human communication with extraterrestrial beings. For Andrey A. Tarkovsky however, it’s primarily one of the most beautiful and tragic love stories ever filmed. P. 68 - 69: Andrey A. Tarkovsky: “I remember playing in these dunes as a child. For Stalker, my father created an entire world where he could have gone with just a set.”
never spoke about his sickness as he was hoping until the very end that he would get well again. He basically continued to work on a regular basis until his last breath. Your father dedicated his last film The Sacrifice to you. In the film, the main protagonist Alexander teaches his son to follow the ritual of watering a dead tree until it will one day grow roots.
My father believed in rituals. When I was a child he would insist the two of us browse through the pages of a book—say, of Brueghel paintings—on a daily basis. It was important to him that I would just see everything he liked with my own eyes. But apart from that, he wrote and read every day himself. He wrote the last chapter of his book Sculpting in Time during the last weeks he lived. He developed the idea of the true artist being some kind of a prophet only during the last days of his life. He talked and talked and talked when the end was near: to his friends, to his co-writers and, not the least of which, to me. In The Sacrifice, Alexander is talking in endless monologues to his son, too. This is not a coincidence. It was my father talking to me. Didn’t you ever ask him questions?
I always asked him what kind of movies he was watching. I envied him for having seen Star Wars, for instance. I asked him how the film was and he would tell me the whole story, including every little detail. He basically allowed me to see the film in my imagination.
film we both fully agreed upon was Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. But more than everything else we talked about dreams. And apart from that we talked about animals and trees. He insisted that I’d remember the name of every tree. I see even more autobiographical details in my father’s last film The Sacrifice than in Nostalghia. Do you see The Sacrifice as his last will?
In the original script, there was no apocalypse—just the personal apocalypse of Alexander getting cancer and eventually sacrificing everything he owns to keep his health. But when my father realized that the script of The Sacrifice was foreshadowing his life, he rewrote the script. And then he got cancer while shooting the movie nonetheless. Didn’t your father want you to become a director?
When he died, he put into his testament that I would inherit all the rights to all of his films. So, first and foremost, I am the director of the Andrey Tarkovsky Foundation in Florence and not a film director. I’ve accepted this fate. And of course I am willing to admit that I originally had other plans. It’s true, he did want me to become a director. He had everything planned. Filming and editing seems natural to me. I grew up with it. But it wasn’t meant to be. I did shoot some documentary films though.
So Andrey Tarkovsky loved Star Wars?
You still have time. Claude Lanzmann started directing when he was forty-eight years old.
Of course! He then showed me Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, which is, as we all know, the blueprint of Star Wars. In any case, the
That’s exactly right. It’s a question of when you are ready to start and nothing else. ~ EB 1/2013 63
In western pop, it’s been a minute since the classic protest song has worn anything but the musty perfume of canonization, wafting a relevance more historical than contemporary. But don’t blame it on apathetic youth or lack of international example. While music became one of the most important platforms of protest during the Arab Spring of 2010 and Occupy movements went global in 2011, 2013 has seen a revival of music with a message in the unlikeliest of forms and in conceptually less charted waters. The predominantly instrumental domain of electronic music has become a medium for topical songs on queer culture and the destruction of patriarchal norms in the context of broader social change. Recent releases by The Knife (Shaking the Habitual), Planningtorock (Misogyny Drop Dead) and Terre Thaemlitz (Soulnessless) connect the morphability of sound synthesis with thoughts on the fluidity of gender identity, albeit in very different ways and to varying degrees of reflection. Here, in three parallel interviews, a conversation emerges on the virtues of inauthenticity, gender equality and finding the political in the personal. Interviews by Louise Brailey and Rashad Islam Endicott. Left: Terre Thaemlitz, photographed in Berlin by Luci Lux.
ELECTRONIC PROTEST MUSIC:
New Sounds Battling the Fear of Queer The Knife Rashad Islam Endicott: You’ve said you were both influenced by political texts when putting together your new album, Shaking the Habitual. Can you elaborate on that? Karin Dreijer Andersson: When we were making this album, we wanted to find an equal base to make it since we hadn’t been working for so long. And we also thought it would be fun to combine our political interests with making music. Olof had been doing gender studies at the University in Stockholm at the time, and his courses had a great literature list. There were texts by Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Frantz Fanon, Judith Butler and Michel Foucault, as well as Swedish writers writing from a post-colonial view about Sweden’s colonial history. RIE: The title of your new album is taken from a quote by Michel Foucault where he argues that the role of the intellectual is to “re-examine evidence and assumptions, to shake up habitual ways of working and thinking”. Applying that to the role of the artist, how do you see the connection between the album’s more explicitly political lyrics and the way these are expressed musically?
Olof Dreijer: For us there is a con-
nection, but for others the connection might be more far-fetched. I think we’re playing around with authenticity and the way we’re doing that is by trying to make sounds that are difficult to pinpoint where they come from— acoustic, electronic, an animal, a voice. We record acoustic sounds and try to make them electronic, and we record electronic sounds and see if they can pass as acoustic. This can be one way where I think we can provide a world of sound where we don’t think one sound is more “authentic” than the other. And I think that is one way where it connects to what we’re doing conceptually. I also think it’s the result of the process of long jam sessions this time, as opposed to constructing the songs with the computer.
RIE: So in a way, how you’re playing with concepts of identity and authenticity in sound mirror your thinking about identity and authenticity in gender. Does a progressive political message have to be communicated in progressive musical formats? OD: I think it all depends on what you’re trying to say. If we try to make something with a certain political content, we try to think about the best way of communicating that with instrumentation and sound. In some cases that should be an easily consumable pop hit, in other instances
it should be more emotional. KDA: At the same time, we’ve been making music together for a very long time now and we need to do things together that are challenging. To do a Deep Cuts album again wouldn’t have been any fun for us. I mean both of us think that it’s fun to learn new instruments and techniques and give yourself challenges. RIE: Your video for “Full of Fire” includes various androgynous characters, handicapped FTMs, public sex and women peeing in between parked cars. The song ends with you shouting the lyrics “Let’s talk about gender!” What do you want to say about it? KDA: Well what you see in the video aren’t things you see everyday, and we wanted to show ideas and thoughts that need to be discussed. We wanted to question why it’s like that. OD: I think there are so many things going on in the video, but I think it mainly shows people that are searching for things that feel right for themselves to live their lives. They are finding ways to live life. It sounds vague, but it’s important in a society in which heteronormative ways are so heavily promoted. And showing these different parallel and subjective experiences is important. RIE: As background info for this interview, I received a comic strip about aid-workers humorously discussing the capitalist compulsions of the extremely wealthy. The characters discuss, amongst other things, how to heal the rich by redistributing their wealth and planting trees. What does this have to do with your album? OD: To give a little background of
the comic, we were thinking about how to go about the album cover and we thought about this comic writer Liv Strömquist who does great feminist, socialist comics. We met and discussed the issues that we address on the record and found common interests and EB 1/2013 73
Above: The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson (left) and her brother Olof Dreijer swinging in heels.
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we both wanted to do something about feminist analysis of finance, and I think her initial idea was to move the focus from presenting poverty as the problem to showing wealth to be the problem. And this is the comic strip you received separate from the album. The irony in the comic strip for me is always the paral-
lel response of the European aide workers in Africa. This is the way that it’s close to us—thinking, for example, that planting a set of trees would solve any serious problems. I think that, sadly, the cartoon is a bit humorous. RIE: Is this an album
of protest music?
OD: I think it can be seen as that. That’s our past, we grew up with these Swedish protest songs. I think we were wondering how to adapt the idea of protest music to today. KDA: I think it’s an interesting question—how music can be protest music now a days.
Terre Thaemlitz Rashad Islam Endicott: 2012’s
Soulnessless is a hydra of different kinds of political critique. Can you explain how you connect the (superficially) disparate issues of gender-identity, the devaluing of musical labor, anti-religiousness and immigration policy? Would you say that conceptually, one of these issues is more important than the other in terms of the focus of Soulnessless? Terre Thaemlitz: For people where those issues collide, how do you disconnect them? That demand for thematic singularity is very tied into Western notions of individuality and the singularity of the self, and it didn’t emerge from monotheistic cultures by chance. This is what I attempt to dissect, first and foremost, within myself. And giving visibility to everyday multiplicities, hypocrisies and contradictions is a part of my strategy. It becomes a strategy in itself. I would say the umbrella theme of Soulnessless is a critical rejection of spirituality and religion, but my hope was to do it in a way that did not simply boil down to Liberal atheism. My model of atheism is very much attuned to the fact that I do not believe the oppressions of religion and spirituality, including secular spiritualism, will ever disappear or be overcome. Globally, most non-believers are forced into closets and left without language to process their disbelief. Specifying one’s religion on a job or housing application is not that uncommon, globally speaking. Even in the US, in a poll asking people who they would not want their daughter to marry, atheists outranked both African-Americans and Muslims. Even beyond atheism, I think the main form of “disbelief” revolves around inter-faith disputes and how someone who does not believe in your god becomes a non-believer, even though they may actively
practice some other religion. Like when my Catholic parents relocated our family to a radically Baptist town in Missouri, I recall my mother having real difficulty finding work because she was Catholic. So a kind of conventional and non-disparate approach to the theme of disbelief doesn’t really make sense to me, in the same way a discussion on “gay men” is very different from a discussion on “men who have sex with men.” The latter includes many men who may not identify as gay at all—which may seem superficially disparate at first, except the global reality for sex between men is more likely to involve at least one person who does not self-identify as homosexual. I find that what at first appears disparate is, in the end, sometimes what is most crucial to facilitating a different discussion on seemingly old or familiar themes. RIE: Do you consider your
music—both the electroacoustic stuff as Terre Thaemlitz and house stuff as DJ Sprinkles—to be protest music? How does it compare to, say, Pete Seeger or protest music of the civil rights movement in the sixties?
TT: “Protest music” conjures a very specific image. I probably think of what I produce more as analytical discourse. I would say the biggest difference between my approach and a political folk music approach is my criticality towards musical mediums themselves. Folk is very much infused with a kind of “anti-industrial authenticity”. Perhaps in the same way musique concrète is inseparable from the political complications of futurism and constructivism, so is the American protest song inseparable from the political complications of the various reform movements back in the early nineteen-hundreds. It’s very tied to a specific brand of patriotism. It also involves a very different and idealist concept of how music and community function. I don’t share that generic optimism about music “bringing people together.” I mean, a big part of my “protest” involves tak-
ing constant issue with the cultural mechanisms of music itself. RIE: So why is it important
for you to address issues of gender-identity in your music?
TT: Audio is simply a form of language, so I feel like anything intended for an audience should address some issue. My primary relationship to music is economic—both as a consumer and producer. My affinity for audio production as a strategy, especially sample-based and electroacoustic audio production, is because I feel the act of sampling audio has a metaphorical connection to transgenderism as a form of cultural sampling gender models. I am only really interested in audio and music that is not rooted in authenticity, authorship, “coming from the heart” or “soul,” etc. I think of audio sampling as a way of establishing reference points, like footnotes in a book. Unfortunately, the cultural climate around sampling legalities makes it impossible for producers to be open about the connections we wish to make. Even if someone has the budget for clearing samples, there are also thematic restrictions upon usage. We really live in an era where we are taught the only socially acceptable and legal relationship one can have to sound is that of ownership. But at what point do we, as consumers subjugated to an endless barrage of pop crap, come to “own” our own cultural experiences and relationships to those songs society will not allow us to escape from? This is not so different from the ways in which we are unable to escape prescriptions of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, etc. And music is so often a part of how we construct identities, especially in our youth. So I think it’s already a familiar medium for dealing with something like gender identity. It’s just about escalating the directness and depth of discourse. Basically, turning it up!
Above: The cover art for Shaking the Habitual was designed together with Swedish artist Liv Strömquist, whose cartoons and drawings often address pop cultural phenomena from a feminist perspective. The album title is taken from a quote by philosopher Michel Foucault, who describes the goal of the intellectual as “to shake up habitual ways of working and thinking.”
Above: A still from The Knife’s tension-filled video for “Pass This On” (2003), directed by Johan Renck and featuring female impersonator Rickard Engfors lip-synching to a playback of the song in what appears to be a sports clubhouse of sorts. In the past, The Knife have flirted with issues of gender normativity, though Shaking the Habitual addresses them more explicitly and in increasingly experimental song formats.
RIE: How and why did
you become an atheist? Is it an identity, too? EB 1/2013 75
TT: I don’t feel I “became an athe-
ist” as much as deprogrammed my relationships to faith and spirituality. So for me it’s more about an “unbecoming”. I am not interested in atheism as an identity. To define oneself as atheist is more about a strategy of disassociation from dominant religious and spiritual ideologies and practices. I appreciate the expression “Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.” Personally, my relationship to atheism is one of hopelessness. I am definitely not of the “we shall overcome religious ignorance” variety. Even if religion fades, such as in contemporary Europe, the specter of secular humanist spirituality remains. Humanism—a belief in a shared human experience—is the reified god of contemporary Western cultures.
RIE: How good of a vehicle is
music in conveying political ideas?
TT: It’s awful. RIE: But it’s been a pretty
good way for you to express your contempt for authenticity in music and art.
TT: Well, this ties back to the sampling issue I talked about earlier, for sure. Authorship, individualism, creative ownership—these are things that stop us from discussing, or even conceptualizing, more complex relationships to the social and cultural functions of audio and other media. The notion of authenticity also has a very particular relationship to patriarchy, and the processes of being “named” within patriarchy. RIE: Are there other musicians
whose work is political that you appreciate? What about musicians whose political stances you have a problem with?
TT: When people ask me that, I always mention Ultra-red, of course—even though they are not specifically doing much audio production in recent years. Otherwise, I have to pull out rather old references like early Laibach or Test Dept., before both
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Above: Terre Thaemlitz’s 2009 polit-house masterpiece Midtown 120 Blues (as DJ Sprinkles). The opening track offers this poignant description of the cleansing of house music’s queer roots: “The contexts from which the deep house sound emerged are forgotten: sexual and gender crises, transgendered sex work, black-market hormones, drug and alcohol addiction, loneliness, racism, HIV, ACT-UP, Tompkins Square Park, police brutality, queer-bashing, underpayment, unemployment, and censorship—all at 120 beats per minute.”
of those bands went industrialtechno. And Nina Simone, of course. Realistically, if you’re really interested in culturally critical content, music is a pretty bleak landscape. That includes not having many people whose political stances are open enough to have a problem with. The biggest problem I see among audio producers is our general passivity with the ways in which audio industries function, and how our works are distributed. RIE: Like the “cleansing” of
house music’s queer roots? How does that happen?
TT: Pretty much in the same way disco was cleansed, right? I mean, any non-mainstream genre that gets marketed to a broader audience becomes decontextualized and transformed, usually to the disservice and alienation of those earlier contexts. As a genre becomes more established, everything becomes repackaged to appeal to the sensibilities of who it is being marketed to, as opposed to who is producing it. And over time, if the marketing is successful, those become the same thing. RIE: Do you remember the
first time you were attacked for your sexual identity? How did you defend yourself?
TT: I think most people would hear
Above: A still from 2012’s Soulnessless, Thaemlitz’s epic poem in the language of multimedia. In five cantos, texts in a half dozen languages, and an accompanying ninety-minute video, the work takes on music labor’s debased value, Japanese immigration policy, transgender norms and the adverse effects of world religions.
that question and think about physical attacks and bashing, and whether or not I physically fought back. But if you ask about my first memory of such a thing, it’s actually more sublime than that. My memories of being harassed and ostracized predate any sense of sexual identity. There are so many subtle forms of violence we deal with every day, starting the moment we are born. I was given this Spanish woman’s spelling of my name “Terre”, which is my legal birth name, not a stage name or French for “earth” or anything artsy. My parents are not feminists or particularly gender sensitive, so growing up I never had any reasonable explanation for why I wasn’t given the usual US male spelling “Terry”. I think it was really just
their crazy Catholic way of referencing that they named me after St. Therese of the Roses, and not after St. Terrence, without giving me the standard US female spelling “Terri.” They probably felt that was neutral and safe enough. And the fact that “Terre” rhymes with “fairy” didn’t help either. For the first twelve years of my life I was “Terre the fairy.” Then the name calling got more sophisticated as my classmates’ vocabularies expanded. As for defending myself, I was strictly into passive resistance and non-violence. I never physically fought back with punches. This also had something to do with naming, since my middle name is “Martin”, after Martin Luther King, Jr. So I was raised to honor that idea of non-violent resistance. At the same time, my parents’ response to my problems with bullying was, “Just ignore them and they’ll go away” which is a tactically similar, yet ideologically inverse, way of passively engaging with oppression. [Laughing] But I fought back in other ways. In my teens, that had a lot to do with appearance, freakishness, gender-fuck . . . It also had to do with studying the best I could in school as a way of getting myself a ticket out of my hometown through out-of-state college scholarships. So much of education is utter bullshit, but if a young person can muster the strength to think of it as a way to create options in life—as limited and stupid as most of those options will be—it’s better than nothing. But that’s hard to fathom as a young person with such limited life experience. A lot of my friends were not able to study because the insane social dynamics of school life in the US preoccupied their lives. Some friends even joined the military in that typical “lost American teenager seeking direction” kind of way. I always found that devastating. How could anybody apply for a job where one of the requirements is that you might have to kill another person? It was heart-crushing to see people who were dear to me and who I know shared pacifist beliefs feel they had no other options or directions in life. Pacifism and anti-militarism are almost as taboo as atheism, when it comes down to it. Especially after 9/11.
my community here in Berlin, which I really depend on, to be honest. Yes, it is very topical but I think that’s also because it’s something that’s really affecting our lives, it’s always affected everybody’s lives. Also I think the birth of a new generation of young journalists, female journalists, people finding their voices within journalism, feels like—and I might be wrong— a change in the last few years, which is really exciting. I get a lot of feedback, which is really helpful for me and really rewarding, from a lot of new female journalists. I think it is in the air. LB: Do you think misogyny
exists within queer spaces, too?
PTR: I would say misogyny exists
Planning torock Louise Brailey: How do
you define misogyny?
Planningtorock: It’s the act of
hatred of women and girls, that’s basically what it is. But of course it has all these layers and all its manifestations.
LB: Why is it on your mind now? PTR: It’s more that it’s some-
thing in my life. I brought out a track last summer which was the beginning of my being more direct in how I feel, and also experimenting with being more political, or bringing my politics into my music . . . which I’d never really done so literally before. But this time I just thought “Fuck it, I want it because it’s in my life so much, and I can’t keep those things separate anymore. Why should I?” I brought out a track last
summer called “Patriarchy Over and Out” and that experience, as well as getting into dance music and discovering the beauty of dance music, was really a great vehicle for me to communicate really intense messages—although I don’t think these messages are actually that intense at all. Actually, they make absolute sense. But for a lot of people they’re just like “Wow, that’s really direct”. It was the beginning of an experiment where I was really thinking a lot about how to deal with these topics without people feeling under attack. So I just started to think about really just dealing with the subject itself; that patriarchy and misogyny are just these inventions that the world should try and get rid of. We could do without them, to say the least. Not all the recordings that I’m doing are the same nature and set-up because I still want to have fun with music and be flexible with it. But so far I’m really enjoying it, it’s kind of a liberating experience to bring these topics into your work and also educate yourself and instigate discussions with my friends and
Above: Janine Roston aka Planningtorock. The artist is not one to mince words when it comes to political messages: “Right now I’m really enjoying communicating how I’m feeling quite clearly on a political level. It does feel a bit risky; it’s either take it or leave it. But on the other hand I thought, who would disagree that misogyny shouldn’t fucking drop dead? Who would disagree with that?” Photo: Alexa Vachon
everywhere. You’d actually be surprised how many people don’t even know what the word means, and have asked me. That’s the other thing about language: even if they’ve needed to engage with that as a reality, they won’t know the word for it. It exists everywhere in all shapes and forms.
LB: I know you’ve worked
together with The Knife in the past, who’ve also taken a similarly political turn in addressing issues of gender prejudice. Have you been mutually influencing one another?
PTR: It’s difficult to say because
we are old friends, we’ve known each other for eight or nine years now. I must admit we’ve had our conversations . . . But the thing that’s informed my thinking the most was just making and touring with the last album. I’m very proud of W and I still enjoy performing that album, but I came to a bit of a crisis point where I was like, “What is the purpose of my music?” There is so much music out there . . . not that it determines what I do, but it does affect me. I was wondering what else I personally can get from this. And also touring with an all female band played a role: even in the coolest places you can have quite horrible experiences being all female, sound techniEB 1/2013 77
cian included. After a while it was like “Gender politics are happening to me twenty-fourseven!” I needed to deal with it in a constructive, creative way. For me to stand on the stage with Hermione Frank and Joy Lee Joseph as women and then me actually sing about issues that are actually happening to us right before we go onstage, really helps me deal with that topic. LB: What sort of things
were you encountering?
PTR: You can occasionally come
across male technicians who just sabotage you. They don’t want you there, and they have big problems with the fact that you’re a professional. Or you play at festivals and then another band will come onstage and completely erode your soundcheck. I still find it shocking that even now it still actually happens. There are so many amazing female producers and DJs, but it is rampant. And also a lot of the times I’ll play at festivals and be the only female act, which I find unacceptable. It feels quite rad to be able to say “Patriarchy, fuck off!” Having played for so many years, I’ve been full circle in the sense that I totally understand now that in order to create or achieve equality there has to be separatist movements where we as female producers and performers and creative people have to cut out an alternative because it won’t automatically be given to you. That’s also the reason why I started Human Level: to support female producers. There’s so many amazing female producers doing great dance music who need to get their music out. It’s also important to do events that are predominantly female rather than trying to convert festivals that are so male dominated and also run by men. LB: One thing that’s always
annoyed me about how people have approached and written about your music is how often it gets called “gender bending”.
PTR: I know. It’s such a limited language that people use about
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it, that I’m trying to sound like a man. For me my voice is an instrument. I just like to be playful with it. It’s more of a musical decision. Of course, I’m playing with gender, yes, these old fashioned terms . . . Above: Misogyny Drop Dead was released on March 8, 2013—also known as International Women’s Day. The EP follows hot on the heels of 2012’s equally unambiguously titled 12-inch “Patriarchy Over and Out”.
Above: A still from the video for “Misogyny Drop Dead”. Roston predicts big things for 2013:
Hear the drum de-genderize all intellect funky idea, touch more than that Misogyny drop dead and dump the script step by step lets walk towards step step step, the next step Power in your head say the words replace what they said 2013 our time is ahead we do know what we want and we know that you you’ve got the power to prove
LB: How does the music relate to
your lyrics? You mentioned the pitched down vocals. There’s a deliberate evasiveness in terms of identity within the music itself.
PTR: I use how one deals with
transgender issues but in vocals. Now that feels massively cheesy, but it’s kind of how I am when I’m making music and recording, because of how I identify myself as a queer person. That comes through my vocals and my music production. I have to say I feel so fortunate to make music because it’s such a great language to explore and to express yourself and also communicate. You can communicate so much with it. My recent tracks are quite direct, but there are other tracks that I’m working on that are a bit different to that. Certainly, being playful with vocals is something that feels like it’s really happened in the last two or three years, like the famous remix of Destiny’s Child “Say My Name” where the vocals have been completely pitched down. People have really caught onto it. It’s exciting, I think, that people have stopped being precious about vocals and seeing them only as a direct, truthful representation of whatever. It is a form of musical expression and it can be pulled around in many ways.
LB: I always feel your music
seeks to go beyond male and female. There’s a manifesto that comes with The Dirty Diaries, the film Marit Östberg [director of The Knife’s “Full of Fire” video] was involved with: “We don’t believe in a fight between sexes, we believe in the fight against sexes.” I find that very pertinent to your music. PTR: I’m really glad about that.
Doing this track about misogyny, I mean, I don’t believe in men and women, but when you’re dealing with a topic like misogyny
you have to deal with it within your own world, within your own community, dealing with this topic, living this topic. When it’s about your life you can be very articulate, you are very aware of it. But the bigger picture, totally not. It depends on who you’re talking to and what particular elements of gender topics you’re dealing with. I would say I don’t believe there is a male or female, but in a sense, when I deal with this topic I’m going to have to talk in these terms. LB: Are you afraid the concep-
tual and discursive nature of your music might make people think the message doesn’t apply to them and ignore your music?
PTR: To be honest, when I’m mak-
ing music, I can’t think of what people will think of it. If I’m excited about it and I’m feeling good about it, then I’m doing it. As a listener I completely understand that sometimes artists go through periods of making a kind of music that’s not your cup of tea and that’s totally fine. But luckily there are people really into it and I can share that with them. I played at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London for the Meltdown Festival that was organized by Antony Hegarty where I performed “Patriarchy Over and Out” for the first time there and that was just incredible: people standing on their seats, dancing in the aisles, sharing that moment and that message. It was just like, fuck, yeah, we’re all on the same page. We’re dancing and enjoying this and the message is pretty clear. Again, that’s the nice thing about music, there might be a bunch of tracks that are extremely direct and not beating around the bush, and then there are other tracks like, “What the hell is she talking about?” and I’m happy to have both. Right now I’m really enjoying communicating how I’m feeling quite clearly on a political level. It does feel a bit risky; it’s either take it or leave it. But on the other hand I thought, who would disagree that misogyny shouldn’t fucking drop dead? Who would disagree with that? ~
ELECTRONIC BEATS PRESENTS
DEPECHE MODE FAN EXHIBIT ION Become a part of the exhibition!
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HANS-JOACHIM ROEDELIUS & ASMUS TIETCHENS
“I’m probably not curious enough” Asmus Tietchens: Welcome, Joachim, to my world. This is Okko Bekker’s studio. Here I’ve worked, secluded from the world, for more than two decades now. And I should mention that Kluster with Conrad Schnitzler was encouraging for people like me. That goes for the recordings and live shows. Hans-Joachim Roedelius: You must have released at least a hundred records since then. AT: I’ve stopped counting. I release music regularly, but I don’t see the point in it anymore. I mean, I love to produce music day and night. But to release it? I am fully aware of the fact that I do music for a really small minority of listeners. If one day nobody is interested anymore in my music, I won’t care less. At least I will still listen to it. HJR: The funny thing is that the experimental music Cluster has done in the past is now seen as being somehow mainstream. I’d say more people than ever are listening to our music and consider it a kind of pop. AT: Indeed, I wouldn’t call my music experimental anymore. When I make music, I know beforehand how it will sound in the end. That’s not really experimental. On the other hand, when I listen to certain minimal techno or dubstep releases, I’m sometimes completely stunned by the radical approach these young musicians show. It’s my students who continue to confront me with musicians work by
In 1967, HansJoachim Roedelius helped co-found the Zodiac Free Arts Lab in West Berlin—an open performance space for sonic experimentation and against “bourgeois” musical conventions. Despite its brief existence, the Lab served as a catalyst for one of the most influential and decidedly European musical movements of the twentieth century, namely krautrock and kosmische Musik. Since then, Roedelius has evolved into one of the genre’s most prolific figures, his exploratory electronics with Cluster and Harmonia becoming a source of inspiration for aesthetic cherry pickers David Bowie and Brian Eno—not to mention those keeping the flame of the Zodiac spirit alight, like German electronic avant-gardist Asmus Tietchens. Roedelius and Tietchens recently met up in Hamburg to discuss the relative merits of Germany’s musical exports. Left: Hans-Joachim Roedelius, photographed in Hamburg by Margret Links.
Ricardo Villalobos, Alva Noto, Wolfgang Voigt or Richie Hawtin. In this kind of music everything is about details. If you start to listen carefully, you can become addicted to their skills and how they breathe life into minimalist concepts. I am talking about complex tracks that are very carefully composed. But I admit that I’d never found out about them myself. It’s always my students who confront me with advanced contemporary music. HJR: Do you dance to music? AT: No, I don’t. I can’t and I don’t want to. I prefer to listen to music. Carefully. Focused. A friend of mine recently sold his Roland TR-808 on eBay for 2,800 euros. It was an original from 1981. I was quite impressed by the winning bid and I understood that these people who work in the minimalist electronic field really know what they are doing—and that they are willing to pay the price. HJR: When I turn on the machinery, I never know in advance what will happen musically. On the other hand, I work hermetically, within my own world. I don’t listen to contemporary music. Sometimes I do at festivals, when I am part of the booking. But otherwise . . . AT: But you continue to work
with young people, don’t you?
HJR: I’m just coming from a ses-
sion with Stefan Schneider of To Rococo Rot. With him I never know where the music will lead us.
Whenever we work together there is creative tension in the room. AT: In Hamburg recently a new club opened. It is called Golem, and you’ll find it near the fish market. I had an appointment there with someone and we were having a cup of coffee. During the whole time of our stay, we listened to music by Harmonia. I asked my friend if he’d like to guess when the music was originally recorded. He answered, “Two, maybe three years ago?” HJR: That’s interesting. Michael Rother and I started Harmonia in 1971. And the album we did together with Brian Eno was recorded in 1976. AT: I honestly like what I see as a new openness when it comes to listening habits. Twenty years ago, in Hamburg you had to explicitly go to the Atonal Bar to hear avant-garde stuff. Suffice to say, the Atonal Bar only opened on certain days and it only attracted a certain kind of people. I couldn’t recall exactly when it started, but I have the impression that the world has become so much more open. HJR: I think in that regard the eighties were important. That was a challenging decade when it came to experimental music. And the next big breakthrough, of course, was the Internet with its file sharing possibilities, which has enabled millions of people to listen to new and avant-garde music. AT: Well, since every single recording of mine is downloadable for free via the Internet now, I couldn’t live from my music alone. In that regard, the Internet wasn’t a blessing for me. My gigs and my lectureship in sound design at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg bring in all the money. HJR: How many students do you have? AT: This year it’s twenty-four. They are all between age twentytwo and twenty-eight. I always like the afternoons I spend with them at the academy. We basi-
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“Stockhausen was absolutely important for the cultural development of post-war Germany. He is famous for claiming that after twelve years of fascism, after Hiroshima and the death camps, music shouldn’t be allowed to be emotional anymore. He wanted a new, objective music that could not be misused by whatever dictatorship. In a way, he said the same thing Adorno did when he claimed that poetry wasn’t possible anymore after Auschwitz.” Asmus Tietchens
AT: That’s interesting. I think one of the reasons why Cluster started making noise and having an audience was also due to Joseph Beuys and John Cage. They both preached the so-called “expanded concept of art”. Cage expanded the concept of music ad infinitum. Funny enough, I only learned that I owed everything to Cage after I already practiced his
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HJR: How did you find out? AT: German night radio. That’s when I started to listen to these obscure shows. Because I was starting to attend German secondary school, I thought I had to listen to strange music that I couldn’t understand. I imagined it was an integral part of growing up and that I had to endure this to become an adult. But pretty soon I started to embrace and love the music I heard. I would hide under the blanket, pressing the radio to my ear because my parents weren’t supposed to find out. In total darkness I heard Stockhausen or tape music by Pierre Schaeffer or Eliane Radigue, things played backwards or at double speed. I heard it on the radio, so it had to be music. Of course, this then allowed me to play my own tapes backwards at any speed I liked and to experiment with my tape machine. HJR: You owned a valuable tape machine as a teenager? How come? How old were you? AT: I started listening to radio at night when I was maybe twelve. Then I begged my parents to buy me a tape machine. And I finally got one for my fifteenth birthday. But I didn’t realize that I actually owed Beuys, Cage, Sala and Schaeffer respect.
cally talk. It’s not me telling them stuff; it’s us talking together. I basically moderate the conversations of my students when they talk about their own music. Joseph Beuys worked that way, too. HJR: I never had any teachers. But ancestors of mine were church musicians. It’s likely that I have it in my blood. But my path went from noise to sonority. At the present moment, I prefer to play the piano than to experiment with noisy electronics.
teachings for a couple of years, not knowing that he had paved the road for people like me.
Above: Tietchens’ most recent release is a 2012 collaboration with former Cluster and Harmonia member Dieter Moebius, aptly titled Moebius and Tietchens. The pair last recorded together in 1976 for Moebius’ project Lilienthal featuring (amongst others) the legendary Conny Plank on vocals, guitar and synthesizer.
HJR: I was always focused on
myself. I had so much to do that I simply didn’t have any time to study. I always did everything the way I thought it should be done. I never doubted my decisions. I would stay up all night, working on new tracks, when the rest of the band members were already sleeping. It was that way with Cluster and it was the same with Harmonia. AT: What’s your relationship to Karlheinz Stockhausen? HJR: I once attended a lecture of his in Cologne. This must have been around 1969. He entered the
auditorium and then locked the door. The students were forced to stay until he’d finished his lecture. I was shocked. I actually hated him for that attitude. But I regret that I didn’t dig deeper into his music for that very reason. I’d listen to his music, but it wouldn’t touch me. I might be walking on thin ice, but I felt that his music was too thought through. And I know that Conny Plank and Holger Czukay had a much better opinion of him. AT: I never met Stockhausen personally, but of course I know that he mainly wrote serial music and only a tiny bit of his oeuvre consisted of electronic compositions. I started to listen to Stockhausen when I was twelve years old. His “Gesang der Jünglinge” [“Song of the Youths”] was probably my favorite composition back then because it combined singing voices and electronic soundscapes—back in 1955! I was especially blown away by the fact that he had composed his music with audio tape. Stockhausen was absolutely important for the cultural development of post-war Germany. He is famous for claiming that after twelve years of fascism, after Hiroshima and the death camps, music shouldn’t be allowed to be emotional anymore. He wanted a new, objective music that could not be misused by whatever dictatorship. In a way, he said the same thing Adorno did when he claimed that poetry wasn’t possible anymore after Auschwitz. HJR: Well, I still don’t like him. But I can of course see that his thoughts on serial music opened doors for an entire new generation of electronic musicians. I mean, all the legions of contemporary electronic musicians reference Stockhausen and Schaeffer whether they know it or not. AT: What I didn’t know at that time though was the fact that Stockhausen was an arch Catholic until around the time he wrote “Sirius”. But you have to really listen to the lyrics to grasp the fact that the boys in his “Gesang der Jünglinge” are praising the Lord. I once read Texte zur Musik [“Texts on Music”], a very inter-
esting book that he had written in 1952 about his aesthetics, his aims and his concepts in the light of his “worldview”. I became a loyal follower of his music, but it ended abruptly with the release of “Sirius”. I couldn’t understand him anymore. To make a long story short: this music was played on the radio, and I think it was a great thing . . . when it still existed. HJR: I never understood how they
could tolerate the radio going so down hill. Nowadays everything has become so commercial. A listening “career” like yours that was based on radio wouldn’t be possible anymore. In Austrian national radio they probably play exactly one song a year from me. I can see this from the royalty statements. AT: I don’t listen to radio anymore. At home, I enjoy the silence. And in the studio it’s the same. There are no windows facing the street.
I work in total isolation from the outside world. I love tranquility. I love to walk in the woods surrounding Hamburg. I enjoy the fresh air and, to a slightly lesser extent, the experience of nature. I wouldn’t call it inspiring or whatsoever. I also don’t take drugs for instance or use iPhones to enhance or photograph such moments. HJR: You never took any drugs? AT: No, never. I smoke cigarettes and I drink coffee. I’m probably not curious enough.
from the mid nineties. Students of mine have offered me respectable amounts of money to buy it from me and impress the others with a vintage phone. But I like it because it is still functioning. I once got it from my brother when our mother was on her deathbed. He wanted me to be reachable. Our mother died, but I kept the phone. I only turn it on occasionally. There exist only six people in the world who have my number. HJR: I am constantly reachable and I couldn’t imagine it otherwise.
HJR: A Swiss magazine recently asked me which objects I am always carrying with me. I answered: my wedding ring and my iPhone. I lost my wedding ring in the Tyrrenian Sea in the meantime, during my holidays in Corsica.
AT: I hate it when you are in conversation with someone and then the cellphone rings. Instead of turning the incoming call down most people would answer the phone.
AT: I own an old Nokia phone
AT: Every now and then. I live in a
HJR: Do you still buy records?
Above: Asmus Tietchens belongs to a second wave of German musicians informed by pioneering krautrockers of the late sixties. Some ten years younger than Roedelius, his sound has evolved from harmonic synthesizer music in the late seventies to abstract sonic collage and industrial noise in the mid-eighties. Aside from his numerous collaborations with kosmische Musik heavyweights, he has also worked with artists such as Merzbow and Nurse With Wound. Amazingly, he claims to have never taken any drugs.
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very small flat, so I have to carefully pick my purchases. I recently bought Francisco López’ Untitled album. I also bought a record by Norbert Möslang, who uses selfmade instruments—toy sounds, closed circuits, stuff like that. And I bought a CD by Carsten Nicolai to complete my Aleph collection. You actually should pay a visit to Freiheit & Roosen on Große Freiheit and Paul-RoosenStraße here in Hamburg. This is a great record store that is specialized in German experimental music, amongst other things.
complaining about the volume, but he never answered. Honestly, I don’t understand why concerts nowadays have to be so loud. AT: Apropos loud, I once hung out for an afternoon with Carsten Nicolai and Ryoji Ikeda. HJR: Carsten Nicolai can be insanely loud, indeed. It’s this digital noise that, when played at very high volume, can make you deaf.
HJR: They sell all the original vinyl? AT: Exactly. The owner is a maniac, but in the positive meaning of the word. He sells all the original records from the sixties and seventies. But he also knows what they are worth . . . HJR: Maybe I’ll go there next time.
Did I ever tell you that someone stole my only vinyl copy of the first Cluster album? I have to check the store; maybe they’ll have it. AT: Bowie loved Cluster—maybe he should check the store out too. HJR: I will never forget Bowie’s appearance on the German TV show Wetten, dass..? He famously asked the audience: “Do any of you know Harmonia?” Of course then there was this uncomfortable moment of total silence, as nobody knew Harmonia. AT: Did you ever see your influence in his work? HJR: All I know is that Brian Eno played our music occasionally to him and to other people he hung out or worked with, such as Bryan Ferry or U2. But since I almost never listened to U2, I couldn’t tell if they’d been inspired by us. AT: Almost? HJR: I once saw them in a sta-
dium by invitation. But I left the place after a couple of songs as it was simply too loud for me. I then wrote a letter to The Edge,
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Above: Roedelius, Conrad Schnitzler and Dieter Moebius put out their first album as Kluster in 1970, the recently reissued Klopfzeichen (Bureau B). Shortly thereafter, Schnitzler would leave to pursue a solo career while Moebius and Roedelius changed the band name to the more anglicized Cluster. As a duo, the two would make some of the most beautiful minimal electronic albums of the seventies, including the classic Zuckerzeit and Cluster 2. Since 2010, Roedelius has continued the project as Qluster with sound artist Onnen Bock, putting out a whopping four LPs, including 2013’s Lauschen.
AT: I accompanied them to their soundcheck. I asked Carsten if they could play for me the first part of the concert as I couldn’t attend their show in the evening. And I asked him if he could give me a sign, like, ten seconds before it will get really loud—so that I could leave the venue in time. Which he did. I left and could only imagine how they basically shattered the building with their high frequency sound and their peaked impulses. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong: He does beautiful, poetic music. But it’s just too loud for me. AT: The iconic German noise music
pioneer Uli Rehberg recently said: “We have to torture the people with silence.” He’s probably right.
HJR: That’s interesting. I played a very quiet concert in David Lynch’s Silencio club in Paris with Charlie Chaplin’s son Christopher recently. AT: Do you know Richard Chartier? He works in the area of reductionist microsound electronic music— specifically on extreme texture in very quiet, very sparse musical set-ups. I like him a lot. Funny enough, even the typography on his cover art has become micro, almost unreadable! It’s only four point or even less. You could probably say that Richard Chartier and the other reductionists are making music for the very young: those who can still see and hear. HJR: How are your live performances nowadays? AT: Not loud, for sure. And I don’t do anything on stage. I monitor the correct playback of the sound
files. Actually, I always offer to just send the sound files, to instruct someone how to set them up and to stay at home. But they never draw this option. They always want me present as a living statue. HJR: That’s how Conrad Schnitzler used to give concerts. AT: Yeah. As the stuffed dummy I guess I’m supposed to add authority or authenticity to the fact that my listening concerts are nothing more than me pressing the play button. It’s as if the bookers are afraid . . . HJR: It could also be that they are just happy to have you there. It could be a sign of respect too. Conrad Schnitzler used to send Wolfgang Seidel, his main confidant, to perform on his behalf with a suitcase filled with cassettes. AT: Well, I don’t like to travel. I prefer to work in my studio. Though I was in Iceland recently. The emptiness really impressed me. HJR: Were you in Reykjavik? AT: No, actually I found myself hundreds of kilometers northeast in Seyðisfjörður, a modern city with maybe six hundred inhabitants, surrounded by tall snowy mountains and emptiness. It was nice, but honestly, I don’t see the need to travel at all. If you live in a big city like Hamburg, good things will happen there anyways. I will never forget the day when they announced a live performance of Stockhausen’s “Gesang der Jünglinge” at the Musikhalle with Stockhausen as a conductor. I immediately bought a ticket. A couple of days before the concert, Stockhausen had held his infamous speech about the terror attacks on September 11. He basically claimed the attacks to be the biggest work of art in the history of mankind. You remember the shitstorm he kicked off with that press conference? Undoubtedly, it was a very emotional time. As a result he then cancelled the concert, as the audience probably would have lynched him. And when they rescheduled the concert, I wasn’t there—I was traveling! ~
k 1993 – 2013
A DAY IN THE LIFE
hours in Budapest
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INTERVIEWS: MAX DAX PHOTOGRAPHY: ROSALIA KULLICK Photo: The riverside entrance to Budapest’s famed A38 club.
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Nowhere is the contrast between the progressive drive of Hungary’s creative class and the current government’s reactionary politics more visible than in the sprawling capital Budapest. The city is known as the Paris of the East for its art nouveau architecture and flâneurfriendly boulevards, though extreme budget cuts and rampant racism under Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist Fidesz party are rapidly degrading its potential as a creative hub in what many see as an only nominally united Europan Union. Max Dax met six protagonists from the city’s varied art, music and cultural scenes who remain cautiously optimistic about their individual futures amidst the collective crisis.
1 0 : 3 0AM THREE CUPS OF MOCHA WITH DJ TITUSZ IN HIS HOME RECORDING STUDIO. When I started organizing my first acid house parties in 1992 there was a very real and positive sense of hope in Budapest. The Iron Curtain had just fallen, the era of Socialism was over, and everybody, especially young people, felt liberated in the new capitalist world. Now, twenty years later, you may sense a very different feeling here: the euphoria that once characterized the city has been drained away, and personally I prefer not to go out as much as I used to, opting instead to spend my time at home 88 EB 1/2013
together with my family. I don’t even watch TV. Compounding this feeling is the fact that Budapest has become an expensive place to live, especially as I still remember the golden age when the city was cheap compared to Western standards. While it’s easy to allow yourself to become depressed, I do see a future: a lot of new, interesting music clubs and spaces are opening up throughout the city, a fact I’d like to interpret as a good sign. From day one, I’ve always divided my energy into various projects, and this helps me remain positive during this period. I am a DJ, but I also founded and participated in bands such as the hip-hop group Bëlga and the electropop band Carbonfools. In contrast I started a new group called the Chip Chip Chokas a couple of years ago
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Previous page: Musician and DJ Titusz Bicskei is a resident at the city’s renowned A38 club. However, he prefers to stay at home and cocoon himself in his DIY studio in the capital’s central eighth district. Left: A panoramic view from Pest’s Szent István Basilica. The new black Citibank building and old Hungarian Parliament prominently mark the powers that rule. and our equipment is entirely made up of DIY instruments such as old, pimped-up 8-bit Commodore C64s, Atari consoles and all manner of strange devices scavenged from flea markets and eBay. This interest in homemade electronics is a way for me to channel my creativity and also corresponds to my interest in stop motion movies and music videos that I’ve produced over the years in an attempt to refocus my restless mind. The Internet is a good medium to keep yourself connected to the world even if you prefer to stay at home. The Chip Chip Chokas would not exist without it, especially considering the online websites and forums where I learned about circuit bending, taught myself how to solder and harvested similar strains of niche knowledge required to tweak electronics. If you listen to the Chip Chip Chokas’ first album Chip Rock Hungary from 2009, you can hear a lot of weird, alien sounds which is the direct result of my designing entirely new instruments and noisy effects modules from scratch. I saw Chip Rock Hungary as an opportunity for collaboration and invited many fellow Hungarian musicians to participate. In that sense, the record is akin to a family album, mapping out and documenting the country’s widespread nexus of underground artists. However, this surplus of talent would probably never have existed without one important factor: Tilos Rádió. Twenty years ago everything started with that pirate station. It’s where I cut my teeth as a DJ. Set up in 1991, it was directly involved in the first acid and tribal parties that took place in and around Budapest. Working there was an adventure, because you can’t for-
get that back then we had no such thing as the Internet or cellphones. Our shifts at the station involved guarding the doors, equipped with walkie-talkies, to warn the crew if the government, with their undercover monitors, were preparing a raid on us. At Tilos I was always encouraged to play eclectic sets of music and to this day I don’t like to limit myself to specific styles; I love acid, hip-hop, disco and minimal techno as much as I like psychedelic, country, baile funk and reggae. Later I moved on to the nationwide Magyar Rádió 2, the station that commissioned me to produce a weekly DJ mix, but things there were very different from Tilos. Back then everything was new, and not only did we do the first DJ parties but we were also the first to take music to special site-specific locations; from canyons in the countryside to Turkish baths in the heart of the city. For us it was a natural extension of what we had previously seen at punk rock and darkwave concerts in illegal clubs under communism; it was all part of the same DIY, anything-goes ethos. It remains to be seen whether we can ever get back the spirit of that pioneering era. That’s why I’ve isolated myself from the world: to find it in isolation. If I have a DJ set at, say, the A38 club, I will take the tram, spin my records and then come home again. You’re much more likely to find me in my studio working on new material than out and about.
12:0 0 A M MEETING GÁBOR CSABAI AKA ‘PAPO’ AT RÁDIÓ TILOS HEADQUARTERS. The term tilos means “forbidden” in Hungarian, so Tilos Rádió literally means “forbidden radio”. Perhaps you’ve read the famous children’s book Winnie-the-Pooh and you remember Piglet’s house inside the beech tree? The tree has a wooden sign nailed to it that reads: “Trespassers w…”—some of the letters are missing but I could imagine that the original sign read, “Trespassers will be EB 1/2013 91
Above: Gábor Csabai, the godfather of Hungary’s independent radio community, continues to be a key figure in Budapest’s musical underground. Opposite page: Zsuzsanna Bende is the booker at A38. By pulling in larger acts and making serious investments in the soundsystem and club architecture, A38 has survived the wave of extinction that has ravished the city’s club landscape.
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shot”. The famous Budapest underground pub Tilos az Á had named itself after that sign and was the station’s first location. When we started our program on August 21, 1991, we named it after that pub. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Hungarian government promised to give out radio frequencies to free radio stations. In reality the situation was slightly more chaotic because during the transitional period founding a radio station like Tilos was still considered illegal. However, the owner of the pub was fearless; the guy had a lot of experience running an offshore pirate station in the Netherlands, which would send its signal from just beyond the fifteenmile boundary into the country. What’s more, in the pub a young DJ named Zsolt Palotai had already earned a reputation for spinning the strangest and most obscure music to date. He soon became DJ Palotai and Tilos’ first musical director and editor. With his stunning mixes he informed a whole generation of young Hungarians, feeding into the creative mood that flourished in Budapest. Besides that, I would consider the Tilos az Á the first “ruin” bar in Budapest, which is pretty forward thinking, as well. In its infancy, Tilos Rádió had to broadcast from a variety of different locations in order to outrun the authorities. I remember moderating a radio show from the rooftop of a building, the top of a ten-story tenement and even outside from the top of a hill. In hindsight I’m sure the authorities could have ended this catand-mouse game pretty quickly if they wanted to—after all, they were well equipped with detection equipment and experience. Still, you got the impression that the situation was somewhat ambivalent. Maybe they just had to report that they were trying to get us? I know from various sources that at least some of the people who were chasing us were actually enjoying our program! However, we were always careful and would always monitor their communication, as well. That’s how we remained secret. Compared to the romantic and adventurous start-up days, we’re now facing serious threats by the
government to destroy the genuine community radio stations such as Tilos. Establishing a quota that obliges us to play fifty percent Hungarian music in our program is nothing but a bad joke. I mean, how are we supposed to fulfill the quota from only a handful of Hungarian albums when we are doing, say, one of our regular reggae programs? Even worse is the newly implemented obligation to provide a daily news service which forces us to build up an entirely new editorial department, something which places great strain on a listener-supported station. The final insult is that religious radio stations—as well as certain commercial ones—are suddenly being assigned “community radio” status just like us, which is of great concern. It’s an affront to what we do because the European Union clearly defines community radio as noncommercial and volunteer based. It renders the intention of Hungary’s new media act painfully clear: by means of bureaucratic bullying they are trying to turn politically neutral and independent institutions like Tilos Rádió into conformist entities. Yet we refuse to be intimidated and have developed our own responses so we can meet them head on. For instance, we now claim Hungarian “authorship” for skillful DJ mixes to meet the quota, in the same way you could say that Kruder & Dorfmeister’s DJ Kicks album, which curates tracks from international artists, was a genuinely “Viennese” DJ statement. Of course the struggle continues but one thing is certain: we will never give up.
2: 00 PM LUNCH WITH ZSUZSANNA BENDE, BOOKER OF THE A38 CLUB. The A38 was founded in April 2003, almost exactly ten years ago. Back then we had a boat and a love for music, but we didn’t exactly know what our direction was. All we knew was that we wanted to present great international acts, even if we didn’t know how to get them. We had good intentions, but
because there was essentially zero basis or expertise, we couldn’t pay fees that would match international standards, nor could we refer to past merits. It was, in short, very, very difficult. To install a challenging program and to build up confidence for a venue in an ex-Eastern Bloc city such as Budapest requires patience and a huge amount of responsibility, and only by properly booking and organizing concerts can you gain credit. Over the years, my strategy of booking primarily international acts paid off very well and today we are known for exactly that. We are proud to say the A38 has become Hungary’s first stop when it comes to current cult international performers, ranging from Jane Birkin to David Lynch to The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble. Of course, we book outstanding Hungarian artists too—DJ Titusz, for instance, has a residency at the A38. We’ve invested a lot of money into the A38 over the years and we now have a great sound system and capacities to film our concerts professionally. We even have an art exhibition space and a restaurant on the boat. Still, even if we aspire to be a live music space primarily, we also know that the real money comes from organizing parties. To book a DJ is always cheaper than paying a band and their entourage for a gig, so we came up with the idea of double billings on Fridays and Saturdays: first a concert, then the party. This concept has helped us enormously to navigate the brutal financial crisis that our country has seen over the last three years, and now we’re out the other side and very much looking forward into the future. Of course, it helped a lot that we were voted “The World’s Greatest Bar” by the readers of Lonely Planet and this past January we were voted “Best Venue 2012” by the readers of Electronic Beats online, picking up even more votes than the Berghain in Berlin. We’re already noticing the positive effects of these poll results, and as we build a more international audience, we face fewer problems booking for the forthcoming months. But despite these recent developments, the A38 strategy will always remain the same: we have to trust our
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personal taste as we feel it is our role to survey the market. The A38 never was and never will be a space focused only on one particular kind of music, and that is its strength.
4:00 PM COFFEE WITH ANDRÁS G. VARGA, ELECTRONIC BEATS CORRESPONDENT I have a strong commitment to culture and a keen interest in music and fashion. In 2008 I graduated from Corvinus University in Budapest with a masters degree in start-up management. This means that whenever a small shop or label wants to set up in Budapest’s utterly un-transparent and restrictive cultural environment, I can be of potential help. I’m proud to say that I was the babysitter for many ambitious start-ups and helped entrepreneurs to establish their brands, equipping them with the skills to survive in Hungary’s post-socialist, turbo-capitalist ecosystem. Today it’s pretty difficult to start an enterprise in Budapest: it requires a lot of capital and the local market is small, isolated and inflexible. However, I remain an optimist and believe that willingness and creativity will go a long way. One thing I always tell my clients is that they not only have to serve the increasing number of tourists in Budapest, but that they also have to think internationally. They have to leave their own language behind and learn English in order to form international networks from the very beginning. In that sense, the A38 people have done just the right thing by opening their business up to an international audience. The same goes for a new generation of DIY record labels like 8ounce and Farbwechsel, fashion brands like NUBU and Nanushka, and many other artists and designers fluent in international business strategy. Not a single one of them would have survived if they’d focused on the Budapest scene alone. One of the problems is that people here still expect support
from state subsidies for their creative ventures. I think that instead we have to have initiative and I see it as an integral part of my work to bring people together and to convince them that they can help each other by pooling expertise and creating symbiotic networks, as it’s only through these means that you can grow. When I lived in London, I witnessed a kind of pro-active, community approach to running small businesses, and by contrast I’m always a little shocked when I encounter a certain kind of Hungarian ignorance traceable to a lack of trust and self-confidence. I truly believe Hungarians have many overlooked talents and that they have the potential to achieve great things. Likewise, I am certain that this city will revive itself in a couple of years in the same way that Berlin has regenerated itself over the last two decades. There are many parallels between the two cities, and you can already sense that Budapest could and will ultimately style itself as a hub connecting the west and the east. Yes, we’re going through a dark time at the moment, but I feel that the creative prospects of this great capital will come back stronger than ever. That’s why I’m always eager to help foreign magazines when they’re preparing city guides or editorial spreads about Budapest. I can become almost evangelical when they ask me to introduce them to all the members of the city’s burgeoning contemporary art, music and fashion scenes. There are many, many reasons to remain optimistic.
Above: András G. Varga is Electronic Beats’ intrepid Budapest correspondent and a freelance cultural promoter. He recently advised Tyler Brûlé’s Monocle magazine for their editorial on Hungary’s capital.
Left: Eat and greet. The Nagycsarnok— Hungarian for great market hall—is Budapest’s largest indoor market. It’s located near the Danube River in the ninth district and offers a variety of food stalls on two levels.
8:30 PM DINNER WITH GÁBOR SZILÁGYI, CURATOR Budapest’s cultural scene is facing a kind of exodus at the moment. Many creative people are leaving town to start again elsewhere, be it Berlin, Vienna or London. For most of us, the future in Hungary is extremely uncertain, but those who complain about the terrible past two years tend to forget that it wasn’t much better before. If you EB 1/2013 95
Above: Gábor Szilágyi is a curator who has felt the financial strain of the current government’s funding policies, which have included pulling money from projects not considered representative enough of the Hungarian state and culture.
Above: Ábel Zsendovits is one of the four founders of the city’s oldest “ruin” bar, the Szimpla (opposite page), in Budapest’s downtown 7th district. The bar’s combination of carefully maintained decaying architectural ecclecticism and alcohol provide Bohemian respite from the country’s current wave of reactionary politics.
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want to understand Hungary—and therefore Budapest—you have to realize that every government we’ve had since the fall of the Iron Curtain has been more corrupt than the next. They lacked democratic legitimation to say the least, and Hungary’s problems come from these upsetting continuities in its political culture; every government over the last two decades has played a role in the disastrous financial crisis the country is going through at the moment. Earlier today I was listening to a radio interview about the history of the Hungarian secret service before and after the fall of the Iron Curtain, how it’s still the same set of people who wield that specific power. In Hungary, ex-secret service members infiltrated the parties, the economy, and the cultural field too. Some of our artist heroes, it turned out, were police informants who wrote reports about other artists in the seventies and eighties. Those kind of problems poison society and it’s not finished yet; they leapt from communism to socialism to capitalism, but otherwise nothing has changed in 2013. Whenever money is being spent on changing the city or whenever laws are changed to restructure the country’s cultural scene from top to bottom, these same people are involved. As a curator I had to bury a lot of dreams and projects when the right wing Fidesz party came into power in 2010. They received a sensational sixty-eight percent of the votes, which essentially means they can rule the country without opposition. Anybody involved in the arts is greatly affected because it means that the government ultimately decides what’s art and what’s not and cuts budgets accordingly. It’s unbelievable how much stress they put on the definition of Hungarian art. The last major project of mine that I had to shelve for this very reason was CoDA, the Budapest Architectural and Design Triennale, which had been in the planning stage. After a very good start and funding from the old government and the European Union, we suddenly faced rejection from the new authorities. The associated Scales exhibition would have dealt with the huge changes
European cities went through after the big political shifts in 1956, 1968, 1989 and the EU extension in 2005—a broad and pertinent subject that can be examined from many different angles. Suddenly, all of this didn’t matter anymore. The big problem when it comes to cultural politics in this country is that everything has to represent Hungary. It’s a shame, but there’s always a new project to invest your energy in. At the moment I’m preparing a science exhibition about volcanoes, again sponsored by the European Union. Did you know that the northern part of Lake Balaton in the west of Hungary was formed by volcanic activities? I like volcanoes; I embrace the idea that every situation can suddenly change—with a loud explosion.
11: 34 PM A DRINK WITH ÁBEL ZSENDOVITS CO-FOUNDER OF SZIMPLA RUIN BAR The cities of Berlin and Budapest have a mutual connection that dates back to the twenties. The whole idea of turning an abandoned building into an improvised “ruin” bar was inspired by spaces like the famous Tacheles squat in Germany’s capital. Ten years ago there simply weren’t any bars in downtown Budapest where young people could go, other than the usual and pleasant beer gardens where everybody would hang out. Only after we opened the Szimpla, things started to change. Today the whole seventh district is covered with ruin bars, each trying, more or less, to recreate our success. The other day I actually counted them and it was more than thirty bars. But still, we were the first. When we moved to the premises in 2003 the building was already partly demolished. I even took photos of the crane with the wrecking ball. We then started to rebuild the rear part of the building by setting up a plastic tent in the debris, renovating all the remainders of the original structure until we eventually completed the roof. We furnished all the different parts of the complex with
liveliness and with functionality. In my opinion, the story of Szimpla accurately mirrors the last ten years of nightlife in Budapest. To put it simply: I feel we had instigated a new clubbing culture. Before Szimpla, you’d just drink in an average pub, but after we set up the bar, drinking became socially connected to a location, a place with real music that soon became recognized as a meeting point for the city’s hipsters. Also, this eventually became a destination for the young tourists. Of course, the immense expansion of ruin bars in the seventh district also led to some problems with the neighbors. I guess you could call it a kind of gentrification as many of the old neighbors felt forced out because they couldn’t stand the masses of drunken people night after night any longer. A new, younger generation that’s attracted to the same lively club scene that scared the old tenants away has filled the vacant flats since then. Even though Szimpla has been an astounding success, the last few months have been a struggle for us. The municipality wanted to impose a curfew on all ruin bars to clear the noisy crowds from the streets at night. They wanted us to close our bars at midnight—an act that would have effectively meant the end of all the ruin bars, as our evenings don’t really start until then. Say what you want against the current government and the municipality, we only realized recently that if all the bars join forces we can put pressure on the authorities. Together, the city’s ruin bars have the economic power to set our own terms and conditions, forcing them to understand that they can’t invent laws that compromise our freedom to open our bars whenever we want. We have to pay a new tax now, but at least we’re allowed to stay open. The other day I was asked how this could have happened, and the answer is easy: tourism seems to be the only industry in the country that is still making money. Budapest has 2.7 million tourists a year. They spend approximately 2.79 nights in the city. It’s simply a textbook case of economics, I would say. ~
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objects. As much as we love our screens, there is a certain rhetorical strength to the density and the haptic aspect of paper. The designers felt that their chances of getting their ideas adopted were stronger if they presented them like that. And aside from aesthetics, the fact that you can lean over something, or rather you have to lean over something, means that you can’t really be distracted—there’s simply too much intentionality involved in the task at hand. There can be no zoning in and out of concentration, no half-listening and no simultaneous emailing—which happens all the time in meetings these days, by the way.
Primacy of Paper Rita Koslov: Steven, you
recently had an experience that changed your mind about the power of print. Can you tell me what happened? Steven Levy: At last year’s South
by Southwest there was a big presentation by Google where they discussed the redesigning of their interface, essentially the unification of their products, including their search and everything else. As it turned out, the whole revamping had been attempted a few years earlier, and people had put a lot of work into this new aesthetic and functional vision. At this first meeting with Larry Page and a bunch of the other executives, the designers of the new interface presented a slew of ideas on screens and projections of various sorts that failed to win Larry or anybody else over. So it got shelved. The next time around the designers did something very different: instead of using computer screens, they presented giant printouts of their 98
As we source more and more of our information from screens instead of the printed page, has the way we process that information changed? Steven Levy believes so, but how might seem anti-intuitive. Despite endlessly combinable forms of complimentary web-based information—from video and audio to flash and nexuses of hyperlinks— printed graphics and text have maintained a special rhetorical power of persuasion, one inversely proportional to the frequency of its use. Here, Levy explains how the immutability of paper and our ability to approach it from different angles in physical space can change our mind in ways technology can’t. Illustration: J. Beck
RK: What about the inalterability of the printed page—the fact that a few clicks can’t modify or manipulate the graphic or the text? Does commitment to an idea or an image make it more convincing? SL: Yes and no. It’s a risky
vision on extremely high-quality paper; instead of everybody sitting at a long conference table and looking at a screen projecting information from a laptop, they spread out giant thick pieces of very high-grade paper. This made the bosses have to actually lean over the spreads, approach them from different angles, walk around them like explorers searching for land to conquer. And most importantly, it focused their attention and allowed them to point things out in the physical world. It made the presentation fundamentally stable. This was what I found deeply fascinating. Imagine, Google, a company that doesn’t do anything on paper, a company whose philosophy is that everything can be electronic, suddenly finds paper so convincing. RK: What is it about print
that makes it so convincing in presenting ideas? SL: There is a power and impact
on communication using physical
venture to present something that doesn’t show the actual function on a screen. RK: So what you gain from the
authority of the idea in print you might trade in for not demonstrating usability? Are these ideas being weighed against each other? SL: Well, I think one of the most
important goals of the digital age was to close that gap; to make our electronic experience as rich as the physical experience. RK: Was this the first time you felt convinced of the primacy of paper, rhetorically speaking? SL: No, not at all. I’ve seen it happen all over the place. I also think we’re immunized against anything “shocking” happening in a website or in a digital format. When something screams to get our attention, our instinct is to pull back from it. But in print, the same thing is often what grabs our imagination. ~
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