Monday, 10 August 2009
Very famous band defend their genius for Dummy
Since they came out, it’s become really standard to slag off THE HORRORS. I mean, I’ve heard people who like Fan Death come down on them for being style-over-substance, for God's sake. Anyway, it wasn’t until the release of Sea Within A Sea , the motorik-referencing, cinematic lead single from their second album, ‘Primary Colours’, that a lot of people started to get what THE HORRORS are all about. Suddenly, the band were more than tight black waistcoats and the vaguely moody garage of ‘Strange House’ – they were about something more.
I’m still not totally sure what that something more is, but there is something so ruthlessly ambitious about the sounds on ‘Primary Colours’, and something so shamelessly Rockstar! about their live show that they’re – well – irresistible. When I saw them last, at the Electric Ballroom, I saw five men fueled by a deep, deep love of the game, the thrill of the chase and sheer, mindbending possibilities of sound. If anything, it was weird how Faris “Rotter” Badwan (the very tall singer who looks great in photos) wandered the stage, lost in the sound, as if the headlining-grabbing glamour of ‘Strange House’ had become subsumed by the waves of noise and the effort of the sonics.
I totally think that they’re actually one of the most interesting bands around, so, a few days ago, I chatted to the guitarist Rhys “Spider” Webb over the phone. Turns out he’s bright, forthright, surprising humble and really pretty nice. It’s pretty standard for any band that happen to be really handsome and well-dressed to come out swinging at “pretty-boy” accusations, but talking with him, there was something affecting about the way that he talked about his love of sound, and his confusion at the fact that his band were sometimes seen as posers. When he says “we loose ourselves in sound” and “nothing else matters” I really think he means it.
Very good music journalist Kev Kharas once wrote that THE HORRORS were a threat to hipster complacency , and that’s totally what they are. This band are a kick in the balls to effete standoffishness, smarmy disingenuous and churlish, po-faced mediocrity. I mean, Jesus – there are some songs on ‘Primary Colours’ that are just so… extraordinary. They are true thugs, born and bred. Give up, give in, and don’t ever turn your backs on THE HORRORS.
So, are we good to talk for a bit?
Sure, I’m just in London Fields, just finished doing a radio show, so yeah.
Cool. So, first off, how bored do you feel when people ask you about the change in sound on the new album?
Yeah, really bored in fact! It seems to be the main point that people bring up. The interviewer just now kept on hammering on about How has the music changed? Why? as if it’s the most confusing thing in the world. To us, it’s pretty obvious – the first album was made a few years ago. There’s no long-winded explanation, and I don’t understand the confusion. Over two years, our sound developed.
I suppose it might seem – on the surface – that you’re taking an entirely new palate of influences, from 60s garage to 70s kraut. But I suppose that underlying both is a focus on the actual sound. I mean, they’re both very studio-lead albums.
Yeah, I suppose. We are hung up on just creating the most dynamic sounds in studio. And seeing how we can communicate different ideas. It’s as simple as seeing how we can loose ourselves, and loose ourselves in the electronics, and this different world of sound. You know, we’re in there for six months…
What changed in your personal lives during the recording of the album? Did it affect the music?
So much happened! It made recording the album a really exciting prospect. There was a real element of pushing forward. When we were writing we were trying to explore what was possible as musicians, pushing and limits and interested in exploring sound sonically. It’s not as straightforward as playing – it’s more melting, disintegrating.
Are you quite into the isolation of the studio?
Basically, we just worked nonstop in this studio, staying up all day and all night. Time didn’t matter – it didn’t even exist in that space. Sound exists, but time didn’t.
Do you think you’re quite an insular band?
Well, y’know, we know what we like, and we know what we don’t, and I don’t see any reason to cross that line. We’re not a product of what’s happening around us, if that’s what you mean. There’s no history to us, no bloodline, and there’s definitely a world out there that we have nothing to do with. It’s not that we’re insular, just that there’s stuff that doesn’t really enter our world.
The lyrics are a lot more personal this time round. Do you think the music is, too?
Definitely. I can’t really speak about Faris’ lyrics, but definitely, the music is a lot more personal for all of us. We’re definitely playing emotionally now. When we started, it was just about playing a fast, loud din. What it communicated was ferocity and intensity – we were just a punk band really, losing ourselves in our instruments. But now we’re exploring a personal, interior world. I mean, loads changed during the recording of the album. When we started, we were just punks playing as loud and as fast as we could, not really thinking about what we wanted. As we’ve grown up, a few more years older and wiser, we want to explore stuff, which is just a natural part of existence, I think. It’s just the way things are. I mean, I don’t know… there’s so much to communicate and so many ways into the music, it’s sometimes difficult to explain why you do what you do.
Yeah, I imagine. Do you like playing live?
Yeah, we love it. We love playing live, and we love the experience of taking the music out onto the road – you know, it’s that communication thing again. It’s amazing to be one person playing music to another. Nothing beats it. It’s hypnotic, and it should give you an idea of how powerful the sounds can be. Nothing else matters when you’re up there.
What about life on the road – is that a pain?
I mean, yeah, travelling is exhausting, there’s no denying it. And not to go on, but our schedule can be so, so full that you never really stop. But once you get out on stage, it really… vanishes. All the shit is just forgotten. Yeah, it’s gruelling, day in day out. But it’s just incredible, totally. I think there’s a power in the music, which we’re passionate about listening to and exploring and communicating. It’s interesting to make the listener feel a certain way.
You know, a lot of the criticism levelled at you in the early days seemed to centre on the way you looked and stuff. That must have surprised you, given how much of a fuck you give about the music.
Yeah… I suppose we do have something special as a band, we’re not like every other band, we don’t look like every other band. The thing that bothered me more – ‘bothered’ is the wrong word, ‘surprised’ is closer – was the way that people would imply that we did things disingenuously. I never think that someone doesn’t mean what they say, but there was a real suspicion that we didn’t believe what we were saying – which is simply something I never thought of. You know, you go into it thinking If I do this, people will like it or they won’t…. It’s another thing entirely to think that you’re doing what you’re doing for the wrong reasons. That’s not something you expect.
Were you naïve when you started out?
Yeah, maybe. When we started, we weren’t thinking about the music, we never had any training or “This Is How You Write A Song” stuff. We were thinking about just getting out and playing the music. And I do think we had something that other bands didn’t have. And there’s so much about the clothes, but it’s just what we wore walking down the street … But yeah, there are those shoots… I can understand how it might seem – from the outside – a little over the top! But the important thing is that it didn’t feeling strange or forced. It was just – we’re five guys who dress and think in a certain way, we’d grown up playing weird records to each other and set up the Junk Club, and now we’re doing music, and making something that wasn’t there before. Luckily, Universal looked beyond all the cosmetic shit and saw that, and trusted us. We never compromised, which I’m proud to say. Then again, we never had to.
How do you respond to the criticism that you’re just a pastiche band? Is there any band that isn’t?
Yeah, Jesus, I hate that. I think that throughout the history of music, the biggest myth is that of the original artist. I mean, right from the earliest blues musicians, people were learning and understanding music from different sources. Take Joy Division – who we’re sometimes compared to – and listen to Neu! and see where they got a lot of their ideas. It’s all there – and it doesn’t make Joy Division any less of an amazing band. Same with fucking My Bloody Valentine. I mean, the music is amazing, but it’s so naive to think that it’s original. Or, equally, to think that we’re copying them. Yeah, I love My Bloody Valentine, ‘Loveless’, it’s amazing, but it’s ridiculous to think that we’re doing anything like that – such a thing is impossible.
Yeah, I mean, we’re so fixated by this idea of the “lone artist” and we take music out of the scenes from whence it came. It’s quite a “rock” idea, isn’t it?
Yeah, like the whole idea of Detroit techno. You know I’m listening to a lot of Carl Craig’s stuff at the moment, and yeah, it’s amazing, but that’s the product of a scene, a product of people’s combined ideas and influences.
You’ve mentioned a couple of times that the Horrors have “something special.” Might sound like a weird question, but what do you think that is?
I genuinely don’t think that there’s any band like us out there. We have great music, and most bands out there have fucking nothing to say. There’s a lot more to say. I mean, 99 per cent of bands out there are fucking boring. I find it so disillusioning to be grouped in with bland shit. Like, why are we swamped by so much shit? I’m not being offensive, but most guitar music is abysmal. What makes the Horrors special is that… I really do think there’s a spark – it’s in the heads of the five people in the band. It’s the same thing that makes anything great – it’s not something that is easy to sum up. But there is something there. I mean, I don’t want to be all like My band is soooo good… and be arrogant… But, yeah, my band is really good.
The Horrors’ myspace
The Horrors are playing Field Day on the 1st August. An edited version of this article will appear in the programme.
For more on indie elder statesmen coping with 2nd LP syndrome, read this Bloc Party interview from the archive.
Piece on exxxcellent band called Django Django for (yep!) Dummy.
In about ten minutes (if you haven’t already seen Django Django around yet) you’re going to have a new favourite band. They’re this a wonderful band from Dalston, who are like something between Orange Juice and Hot Chip, and they’re totally going to be bigger (and more influential, and more relevant) than both of them. The Scottish (mainly) group make really tight indie pop that references dub, acid house, glam rock, motorik and rap, but ends up sounding like nothing but the most perfect British dance music. Which is to say, mindblowing, weird and totally awesome. “We wanna get back to the rock’n‘roll dance music – people want to dance to music that has that live sound. Whether it’s Chicago house or rockabilly, it’s all got a line running through it,” drummer Dave Maclean says.
Chatting over beers in the Pride of Spitalfield, Dave, who’s in his late twenties and is really nice, tells the band’s story: himself, Vincent Neff, Tommy Grace and Jimmy Dixon met at art school in Edinburgh about eight or nine years ago, where they were variously studying painting, sculpture and architecture. Mates from the off, they set up and ran a gallery called the Embassy, and it’s one of these links from the Scottish art scene that gave them their first single, Storm/Love’s Dart, a limited ed 7 on artist Luke Fowler’s label, Shadazz, which is out really soon. Anyway, Dave, who has a background in acid house and reggae, moved down with a few others a couple of years ago, ostensibly to take up a masters in painting at the Chelsea College of Art, but also just to see a new place. In fact, he found himself spending time making weird music at Vinnie’s flat. “I hadn’t played drums in ages, and as soon as I got back with Vinnie, it was just good to get back on the stool. When I think of drummers I like, like her from the White Stripes or the girl from ESG, I prefer that instinctual drumming rather than the technical type. It’s totally that, it’s hitting things, it’s primeval.” Their live show has a reputation for tightness. “It’s how I see it – get in, get the job done, play short little pop songs. The idea was that everything would be stripped back, pure, like these old rock and roll guys like Bo Diddly, with everything there for a reason… It’s a switch from the recorded stuff which is really textured, whereas the live band is pure, like The Monks, y’know – with nothing that doesn’t need to be there. Music just snapping together.”
From the off, Dave’s background in dance music slipped through, though it’s more subtle the “whack on an 808 in Cubase and push the distortion button” approach of most synth-rock bands. Buried deeper, underneath the glam song structures and melody, there’s a real focus on texture and sparseness. “We’re interesting in textures, and the sound of sound – we like producers like Joe Meek and Arthur Russell who loved pop but wanted to make it stranger and more true to themselves,” he says. Unsurprisingly, the band have done lots of remixes, including one for My Tiger My Timing, and also DJ quite a bit, running popular night Bad To The Bone in Bethnal Green. “My favourite song of the last five years is Paul Woolford’s Erotic Discourse, it’s this bonkers acid house tune, that just has two parts – a kickdrum and a bonkers bassline. I love that simplicity – and it’s that simplicity that the best dance songs have, whether it’s Bo Diddly or DJ Rush.”
There’s a really cool experimental, home-made side to Django Django, from their bedroom productions to their cymbal-free drum kit. “I’d imagine you’d be a bit lost, but with a syth and half a drum kit, you’re pushed to do something extra. But it would be nice to have stuff like cymbals. People ae always like Wow it’s really cool you don’t have cymbals and I’m like Yeah, I just couldn’t afford them… So, with an unlimited budget, I’d probably buy cymbals. Sky’s the limit,” he laughs. Later, he says something interesting about the growth of DIY bands in the last year or two: “it’s just a case of If you don’t do it yourself, it’s not going to happen. We want to do it ourselves, and do it our way, and that’s the history of the DIY scene from the punk days to now. Though, the money would be nice, we could buy a cymbal. One massive, massive one.”
Buy the single here
Hear an excellent mix the guys did for Illegal Tender here, and buy the record when it comes out on physical from the 30th July, or as download from the 21st June. Check their myspace for live dates, they always have loads coming up
Django Django’s myspace
A piece for Dummy on Aeroplane. Their first feature, as it happens.
1. Stephen Fasano and Vito Deluca make up AEROPLANE , an excellent disco band you probably already really like. They met in Brussels in 2001 in a club, and bonded at the record store where Vito was working. Stephen, already then a fairly big Italo fiend, was buying records. Though they didn’t like each other straight away, they shortly decided to start DJing.
2. Their first single, Caramellas/Aeroplane came out in August 2007 on incredible label Eskimo. Since then they have released two others, Pacific Air Race, above, and Whispers, with amazing singer KATHY DIAMOND, who also appeared on a remix of LOW MOTION DISCO ’s Love Love Love.
3. They have done many excellent remixes for people including Sebastien Tellier and Friendly Fires. Often these remixes are closer to re-recordings of the song (Au Revoir Simone featured on the Friendly Fires mix). This policy has lead to some of their mixes being rejected, most famously with Grace Jones’s William’s Blood, which later became one of the biggest remixes of the year.
4. Perhaps because Vito is a classically trained pianist, their music has an incredible emotional, melodramatic aspect. Listen to the classic track Pacific Air Race, above, for proof. However, this mix of disembodied melancholy and euphoria is very close to classic disco (not italo or “cosmic”) as well. And, like all music on Eskimo, it is elegant disco music for folk with nice haircuts, well-fitted trousers and Mitteleuopean train journeys. Their music is influenced equally by Belgian dance like ALLEZ ALLEZ, R&S records, New Beat, and their shared Italian heritage. There’s an operatic edge to them, probably taken from their love of Italian singers like LUCIO BATTISTI or ADRIANO CELENTANO.
5. They are working on the album now, but they occasionally emerge from their Toulouse, London and Paris studios to make people go absolutely berserk at parties. They are playing Field Day on the 1st of August (and the official Bugged Out! afterparty at Cable ). You should totally come down!
6. This is the conversation we had over email with Vito.
2008 seemed to go very well for you. How is 2009 looking?
Lets say that 2008 was our take off, 2009 is going well for us, busy with our debut album, more secret things coming up, playing all over the world etc…so all very exciting!
Would/do you ever party with a live band?
Sure, why not : ).When you see for example Sly & The Family Stone playing, how can you stand still?
You’re famous for a very emotional, epic sound. How would you characterise your sound?
That’s just about how we compose, we just don’t know how to write differently. Everything we do starts with kind of melancholic chords that usually become the chorus of the song. And when we are happy with these chords, we start making all the rest around it. If these chords are good, they can go on and on and on…
Do you feel emotional when you play?
Sure! Life is about emotions! But not only good ones unfortunately.
You seem more influenced by classic disco than many others on the scene. Would you agree?
Honestly, not necessary, we’re influenced by all kind of music, both let’s say that we like the organic feel, the groove & vocal power of classic disco, and the kind of melodramatic “a bit too much” feeling. Sometimes disco is in the middle of good & bad taste – that’s also what we like.
What’s happening with the new album?
We are hard working on it…
What can we expect from it?
You can expect Aeroplane! But with let’s say more freedom, because there is no dancefloor to fill. We go deeper into our influences.
Can you tell me more about your writing process – where do you start coming up with a song?
It always starts with writing on a piano. You know when you have a good melody, it doesn’t matter anymore what the arrangement will be, how it will sound or whatever, that melody will always stay as good… So once we have it, let’s say that the biggest part of the work is done, even if after that we can spend a month into production.
Can you tell me something about your training and musical background?
Stephen is a DJ since 15 years, he played everywhere in Belgium, Vito learned music for 10 years, he learned piano and guitar and had couple of bands before getting into electronic music.
I heard you were a classically trained pianist, could you tell me more about this? How does that impact or inform Aeroplane?
I learned piano in a music school. That helps me a lot when we come to create harmonies, writing arrangement, or things like that. And also to communicate with other musicians. Music is a language. Well the thing is that I’m never happy with a two chords song, like lots of dance music is made these days, and that I actually love! I’m not saying is bad, I’m just saying it’s not enough for me when I write. I always need something surprising or tricky, musically speaking, going on at some point, just for my own pleasure you know…
You’ve mentioned in the past that your Italian heritage has impacted your musical outlook. Could you expand on this? Are there any attributes of Italian pop that come out in Aeroplane?
Well I grow up listening to Italian music. My grandfathers both moved from Italy to Belgium in the 50s. And so, for example, my mother use to listen to all these Italian singers and then when the 80s came, these singers started to be produced by italo-disco producers so all the electronic Italian pop from the 80’s is quite amazing. But I should also mention others artist like Lucio Battisti or Adriano Celentano. Lucio Battisti is one of the biggest influences for me in terms of songwriting.
Speaking of heritage, how do you think you fit into Belgian music heritage?
Think we stand out a bit on our own at the moment on what we do, but when you look a bit closer, our tempo is quite the same as the Belgium New Beat!
You’re incredibly famous for your remixes, but often, they’re rejected – as was the case with MGMT and Grace Jones. How does it feel when a mix is turned down?
Well the feeling is like “You don’t know what you’re loosing…”! It can sound a bit pretentious but when you do music, of course you love the music you are doing, no? And you always think it’s the best thing in the world, because in a way you do music for yourself… For example for the MGMT remix, we worked so hard on the arrangement, I really love it, and we were really disappointed when they said no… but they rejected all remixes except the Justice one, which is really close to the original, so in a way they rejected our remix because, just like us, they really love the song they wrote (:-)) and they don’t want anybody to touch it! And we actually changed everything on it so, I understand them!
Do you feel vindicated when people love a song as much as they loved your version of William’s Blood?
Our William’s Blood remix is a weird thing… But to make a long story short, all the love we had from the whole internet and from the blogs on this one was enough for us, we were already happy with that, even if the remix was rejected but in the end… Ms Grace Jones had another listen and decided to release it… So – perfect.
How do you think your remixes differ from your own productions?
It’s simple, when you do a remix, the limit is the original song. When you write a song, you start from zero, and zero in music is silence. So you better know where you are going.
You’ve used Au Revoir Simone and Kathy Diamond on remixes. If you could have anyone, who would you like to sing on your records?
You’ll see with the album, we have all the vocalists we want… Except Marc Ollis from Talk Talk… Please Marc, call us!
Eskimo is one of our favourite labels at Dummy. What is it like working with them?
Stephen knew Dirk for a while, and we did Caramellas, he played it to Dirk and liked it! The Aeroplane project started from scratch with him. Dirk just left Eskimo to focus on Aeroplane now. Working with Eskimo is quite easy. You send a song, Dirk likes it, and the 3 months after it’s released!
What did you start talking about?
I met Stephen in a club and a shouted on him because he didn’t come to my shop yet…
Did you like each other straight away?
No, we still don’t like each other.
As DJs and record shop owners, you both come from incredibly music-saturated backgrounds. How has this impacted your sound?
DJ and record shop owners it’s the same… When you have a shop you have to sell loads of shit you don’t like, and I was trying to keep my ears as far as possible from those records…
Your songs are quite intelligent, knowing even. Does having a huge record collection help this?
Well I said it earlier, music is a language. So as you create a new word mixing two words that already exist, it’s the same for music. Mixing together two things you’ve heard in two different songs will create something new, so in this way, listening to a lot of music helps. The more music you listen, it’s like the more words you know, and so you can explain yourself better.
What is your favourite fizzy drink?
I’m a Coca Cola addict, for Stephen it’s beer. And I think we can both agree on Champagne.
Who is the best dancer?
Are you serious?
Aeroplane are playing Field Day on the 1st of August and the official Bugged Out! afterparty at Cable. The album is slated for early 2010
Piece for Dazed and Confused on an excellent Dutch editor who makes books about vernacular pictures of Dalmatians and shooting galleries, thinks that there is something interesting in mistakes.
Erik Kessels is Creative Director at an amazingly interesting communications agency called KesselsKramer. Did you ever see that "I AMsterdam" campaign? That was them. As well as their advertising and design work, they make films, publish books and stage exhibitions. These books are always wonderful and often really funny and can be bought from their website, www.kesselskramerpublishing.com.
One of these – in almost every picture, a series celebrating found photos – caught our eye. Each book in the series is a collection of photographs sourced from flea markets, the internet and from found photo albums, "vernacular" pictures taken by "amateur" photographers. A family's library of pictures of its mischievous Dalmatian formed edition #5, a woman's record of 60 years of passport pictures formed #6, and #1 was a collection of remarkably consistent shots of a wife by her husband on holiday in Barcelona. They are getting quite famous and have been exhibited in Arles, Barcelona, New York and at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
Of course, like all vernacular photography, the joy of the shots is in the unsaid, anonymous nature of the photos and the stories you makeup to go along with them. But the genius of Erik and his team is the way that they draw the pictures together and the links between the pictures themselves: creating books that document, record and cross art, social history and personal biography. So, anyway, the books are in equal measure clever, tongue in cheek and tenderly humane and we emailed some questions over earlier. This is what he wrote back.
What is it that attracts you to vernacular photography?
Working in advertising means dealing with a lot of images that don’t appear to contain much of the real world. When I first discovered vernacular photography, I was struck by the freshness and naivety of its images, the amateurism of their composition, and the way in which the photographers make sometimes quite beautiful.
In a way, our work in both communications and books is a reaction against the hyperrealism of most commercial work. As a company, KesselsKramer aims to find something authentic in the things it makes. Even in the most commercial of posters, we always attempt to find a feeling of authenticity.
What makes an “in almost every” photo?
Mostly, it’s when the photo comprises part of a series that together form a certain story. These photographs were never intended to make a series, the people making them were entirely innocent of that goal. Nowadays, you see photo series appearing everywhere, particularly on blogs, but the difference is that blog series are created in order to be viewed as a whole. The books we publish contain images never intended to be arranged as a narrative and bound. This means they have a certain naïve, unforced quality.
How did you begin this quest?
I was once in a flea-market in Barcelona, surrounded by vases, secondhand mugs, all the usual paraphernalia you find in those places, but nothing you could call really personal. Then I saw 400 or so images on the ground, abandoned, a whole life story in pictures. It began to rain then so I saved them all.
How/where do you find the pictures?
All kinds of places: flea-market, the internet… I also have images sent to me by people who have heard of previous books.
What links the series?
There’s a high level of amateurism, of course, but it’s also about how each book demonstrates a unique pattern forming a unique story. There’s also an element of chance at the heart of each book’s creation. What I mean is: I never know when the next book will come along because it depends on when the next interesting item will surface.
Am I right in thinking that some series are by one photographer, some by several?
The book dealing with the Spanish woman and that dealing with the taxi driver are by the one photographer. The book about twins was shot by several photographers; professionals who specialized in taking pictures on promenades in the last century. In three of our issues there is no photographer at all, or at least, not a human one. The books about the deer, the photo-booth, and the woman shooting are all the result of some machine based mechanism. In the case of the deer, the photos were triggered automatically by motion sensor. The photo-booth series is of course the product of a machine activated shot, and the shooting gallery images were automatic too, prompted by a bullet exiting the rifle’s chamber.
Which is your favourite?
The first one, about the anonymous Spanish woman. I waited a few years before publishing it. A lot of people were saying that I had to do something with the images, and after the book came out I was contacted by a gallery in Barcelona who wanted to show them. People made a poster of the anonymous woman and asked her to come to the gallery, a stunt that was picked up and covered in many newspapers and other places. A couple of weeks later, an older woman visited the gallery and said she knew the woman. It turned out that they worked together in a telephone company, and for the first time we had a name: Josefina Iglesias. She’d died years ago, but still that completed the circle, suddenly she wasn’t so abstract but an actual concrete person.
With most of the books, I try to find a link, a way to trace the story back to its protagonists, to find the people we spend so much time looking at. That’s why the back of every book contains a message that if these photos belong to you, they will be returned.
Threads this month is on archiving. Do you regard yourself as an archivist?
To be honest, I’m not that interested in being an archivist. I’m more into telling stories about other people. Sometimes you need an archive for that so you can make links and make new stories, but an archive in itself is dead.
One of the themes of the series is the tension between amateurism and professionalism. Do you regard yourself as an amateur?
I wish I could regard myself as an amateur but I’m a professional. You can learn a lot from amateurs and the way they look at things. The have a clean slate, and they don’t have the same neurosis about mistakes found in professional work. Professionalism just says MAKE NO MISTAKES in big capitals, but maybe there is something interesting in mistakes because they’re the reason people often look at a piece- the error makes it jump out from a crowd of over-slick productions. With these publications, it’s more about showing regular people’s passion for images, and that means including and even celebrating the technical errors they make.
What does this series tell us about photography as a practice and as an art form?
In a way, it tells us that everyone is a photographer and that anybody can make a story.
Now, image-making is democratic, everyone can make photography, and with so many millions of people practicing the form, some very good talents will inevitably pop up.
Whether this is art or not doesn’t really matter to me personally, but for what it's worth the series of the woman shooting sparked an enormous debate recently centred on just this point. It was bought by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam a little while back, making it the first amateur series ever admitted to their collection. There’s a big discussion on the net right now about how the woman isn’t an artist so why should such a prestigious museum have taken her work.
Tell me about the future of the publishing house itself. How did you set it up, and what are your plans for the future, and how does KK Outlet fit in?
The books we publish are always produced by people in the office, never by outsiders, and it was with this intention that we set up our publishing arm. More overtly commercial work, like our Hans Brinker Budget Hotel book or our collected work, 2 kilo of KesselsKramer, would never be published by us because they aren’t personal fascinations. The plan is that as the publishing arm grows, maybe it will change, maybe involving others outside KK. KK Outlet is born out of the same thinking: to have as much diversity as possible within our output. We were producing enough work to fill a showroom, so we thought why not make a space to fulfil just such a purpose. The Outlet is the result, a combined gallery, shop and workspace.
Friday, 24 April 2009
Fever Ray / Karin was extraordinary in every possible way.
Sipping weak coffee backstage at the Southbank Centre on a muggy Saturday, thinking about interviewing Karin Dreijer Andersson. A chat about her music seems a bit prosaic. As an artist, she does not have much time for the niceties of the modern music industry, much less explaining herself to dolts with Dictaphones. For one, The Knife , the Swedish electro band that she plays in with her brother, has a reputation for being an outsider act: they performed behind curtains of mist, were rarely photographed without 17th century Venetian masks and hardly ever granted interviews. Musically, the group trod a similarly de/personal route on their three albums, the last of which – Silent Shout – stormed the Swedish Grammies even though it was a dislocation of euphoric trance’s rhythmic template, shifting European house’s home from urban havens to the tundra of the far north.
So, when news got out that Karin was working on a solo project called Fever Ray, it was hard to imagine – what does a constituent part of such a singular band sound like? As it happened, from when lead single If I Had A Heart started popping up on blogs toward the end of 2008, Fever Ray has turned out even more critically acclaimed and artistically fulfilled than the Knife. The album, released on Rabid in March, locked into the terror in the air, delivering an astonishingly bleak and personal take on industrial/EBM, minimal wave, 21st century neo-primitivism and 1980s electro pop.
Thankfully, her stage show, choreographed by Swedish video director and artist Andreas Nilsson, is as extraordinary as the album or of anything The Knife have done. Chatting before her Royal Festival Hall sound-check, for the gig she was playing as part of the Ether Festival of digital art, she seemed light, charming and surprisingly open.
Tell me about the ideas for the tour and the stage show.
Sure. I’ve been working with Andreas Nilsson, who directed the video for If I Had A Heart. He also did the Knife’s stage set design, so I have been working with him for this one. I think we started working this October, discussing what to do. I think we wanted to build something out of the primitive and more primal feeling of the music and as a contrast to that also something very, very hi-tech. We are like five or six people on stage, with primitive cultures face paint and more folk orientated outfits, and also we work a lot with lasers.
I really like the album’s tribal, almost religious feeling.
I just wanted to make something very slow, and something that took time to get into. I didn’t think much before I started about what I was going to do. The tribal feeling or that primitive feeling, you get that feeling when you work with so few elements. I work with very, very simple instruments and beats, and it’s quite monotone – I think it’s very repetitive in its arrangements.
So folk music is a result, not a starting point?
Yeah, I don’t know what makes you want to do a certain thing. I watch more films to get inspiration than I listen to music. I try to create atmosphere more than, sing a song.
Does that cross over into the live show?
I think the live show is a way for the music to continue developing and changing. I think it’s very important for the music and visuals to have the same idea to start from.
It’s almost like you’re offering a three-dimensional experience.
That would be good if that happened. Yes, I think that just to open it up maybe, to continue where the album finished – that’s where the live show starts.
Do you find yourself wanting to limit the instruments you use?
Yes. I think I work quite minimally with as few tracks as possible.
It’s quite an old style of minimal music you play.
I suppose I still like to listen to Plastikman, who is very minimal. In the production, I listened a lot to this Phil Collins track In The Air Tonight which, I think, is quite minimal. There’s very few instruments in it, but every sound is so taken care of, I think it’s very deep when it’s very big, but when just a few things get their full potential, that’s very interesting.
Do you find it strange intellectualising music?
I don’t. I don’t think that is good to do with my own music.
I work so much with raw feeling and emotions, they are like instant things. I’m not good at talking about my music. And I’m not interested in doing it. I can talk about other’s music [laughs]. I don’t think it’s good to tell too much and I think it’s important for music to keep the possibility to work with ideas and emotions, and if you explain too much, you destroy that, their own interpretation, their own possibility to have their own ideas. It is better to just give small hints.
We talked about that this morning: What is this live show about? I think we’ve done nine shows together so far, and I think we’ve got something going on onstage. If you come to this show with an open mind you can be part of what’s going on, but if you don’t – if you expect a certain thing and expect us to do it for you, then you’ll get excluded in a way. I don’t think we’re very communicative. It’s important to come with no expectations.
It’s interesting you say communicative – another one of my questions is about the place of storytelling. Which seems unusually direct for you?
You mean the lyrics?
I try to be direct without saying too much. It’s a good contrast to have very physical words and very straightforward words, in contrast to the music, which may be very monotone and not saying very much. It’s also about creating dynamics in between the music and the words.
Is it about the sound of the word?
It can be, that is very important, the sound of the word. Also the meaning of it, but even more so the sound. The performance is also important. How to sing a lyric – with what kind of voice you want to use can change a lot – how you want to say it, what makes it more obscure or more direct with a low-pitched voice or a high pitched voice. Whether you scream it out or whisper it – that makes a real difference. I think I work with that a lot.
Personally, I found what she said about hiding herself behind the ideas and the emotions really interesting. The obliqueness of the Knife and Fever Ray’s performances are not reclusive. It’s construction, not concealment. In the past she has, with that Nordic sense of cost and dignity, subtly criticised the cheapening of music by its licensing to advertisers, and I think that ties in. She sees her take on some of the most ephemeral forms of pop music (Eurotrance, 1980s synthpop) as high sonic art – though she’ll never shout about it. Fittingly, the next project on Karin’s list is an opera, Tomorrow In A Year, about Charles Darwin’s Origin Of The Species. But Fever Ray, in contrast to The Knife, is more than cold artistry. Much has been made of the deeply personal direction of the album. Its themes – the darkness and wonder of childhood, friendship and nature – are direct and clear, from the videos following a groups of children down a Styx-like river to the lyrics on gardening, friendship and dishwasher tablets. It’s the sound of an artist, a Major Talent even, opening up, looking out.
Something that I really like about the lyrics is the constant repetition of nature, particularly the sea.
I grew up on the west coast of Sweden. 12 years ago I moved to the east coast, where there is no salt water, which makes it not a real sea. I have a very romantic idea about the sea. I also really like to read. I don’t really know why, but it means a lot. This wide-open space, the beach by the sea, it’s very interesting.
You seem a little detached.
I just live in the city, where you just look at things.
Tell me about the opera you’re doing.
We started about a year ago. This Danish company, Hotel Performa, asked us to write music for an opera about Charles Darwin. I think what led us to this thing is that they’ve done so many interesting things, they work so much with a mix of performance, theatre, music, film and modern dance. And we have been working with The Knife for seven years or so, and we really wanted to do something else. It premieres in September, so we’ll be finished soon.
Was it nice to get your teeth into something so big?
It is opera in the old-fashioned sense, but we were free to do what we wanted. It is very much a Knife opera.
Was it your idea or theirs to make Charles Darwin the subject?
It was theirs.
It seems a very Knife-y subject.
His thoughts and ideas have been used for very many bad things, but when you start to read his own writing, like The Origin Of The Species, and his notebooks and letters, you hear his own thoughts, you really understand that he was a great humanist. This Origin Of the Species, it’s so fantastic – it’s just all about diversity of everything. It is so free, and it has no hierarchy. That is what we focus on, the original idea. That’s what a performer wants to work with as well, to show how much it is like everything in life and not about the religious aspect. That is also, of course, interesting, but it gets very political if you focus on too closely on that side of his writings. He was a very modern man.
Is there a sense of evolution to the way you work? Have his writings influenced your work?
There is a steady ongoing evolution to everything. And to be doing it for a year it gives you a totally new time perspective. After reading Charles Darwin, you get a completely new relationship to time.
How do you mean?
It’s something so huge! I mean, in one sense, with geological time, it’s since the world started until now, and you have a human’s life in time, that’s also something, and something about now, very contemporary things. That’s how we work in music, with three perspectives, three layers around time. It has been great – I have read his writings, his letters and so on. It’s been a great year.
You mentioned on the album that you’re “very good with plants”. Are you a keen gardener?
I have an idea about myself having green fingers. But, no, I don’t have so much time for it [laughs].
Would you like to?
Maybe when I get old. But that is also something interesting about time and plants. To go out into nature and work with things that have this year’s cycle, plants that come out in Spring, and die or go to sleep, this thing that continues and keeps on going on and on. That’s a good way to be. I think people who are like gardeners are happy.
I heard that a lot of the album was written when you were really, really tired. Are you getting more sleep now?
Yes. Sleep is not always possible, but I try to sleep more.
Is it having an impact on your music?
Yes! I think it is a good impact. I don’t think there will be any more albums like this one.
The Knife’s opera, Tomorrow, In A Year, opens in September. Fever Ray has various European and festival dates over the summer.
“He was stood over me with a needle and mentioned in passing ‘I don’t sleep very much’. I kind of stopped wanting a tattoo then.” Robbie Furze from the Big Pink, a tender, scuzzy band who stand somewhere between the Big Black, Love and GZA, is telling a story about the time he played with his old Digital Hardcore band, Panic DHH, in a vast Berlin squat. He played across the squat empire of Europe for the last few years, and ran a label called Hate Channel with his best friend Milo Cordell, who is also in the Big Pink. “We wanted it to be the most aggressive, pure sonic assault you could take! But noise gets self-indulgent. I mean, where can noise go? Melody is much more interesting and song structure is really, really cool.” This is why they set Big Pink up – a shared desire to make very fucking loud music that was really, really beautiful.
After getting together halfway through last year, they released 200 copies of Too Young To Love last year on their friends’ label House Anxiety, complete with a typically tender and brutal hardcore Dennis Cooper image that their live bandmate Daniel O’Sullivan, who also plays in Sunn O))), sorted out. (Milo: “we got in touch, and he was really cool and let us have it. Otherwise we would have stolen it.”). Since then, they’ve been, in Milo’s words, “playing loads of shows, touring with TV on the Radio, writing more songs , chasing girls, staying up late, basically expanding our minds.”
When we were talking about how played out noise is, Milo jumps in, and points out how many bands on his label, Merok (like Klaxons and, of course, Crystal Castles), started out doing pure noise. “You know, the line isn’t that clear. We still love noise – it’s not like Right, that’s the END, you know? Sure we have songs and tunes, but we’re not no longer an extreme band.”
The Big Pink do this point-counterpoint a lot in the course of conversation – ideas change, confrontation is embraced, and contrariness is chased. You know, I think that this stance of aggressive passion, ripping-up-and-restarting is what makes the Pink stand head-and-shoulders above the other Throbbing Gristle-referencing bands that seem to be everywhere at the moment. One sec they’re painful, brutal, cloaked in feedback, the next they’re breaking your heart. “One day we say never, never, never, never will we ever have strings, but we could be dying for them the next,” says Milo. “You know, consistency is boring. Maybe that’s contradictory, but hey, fuck, better that than hypocritical, right?”
August post-punk label 4AD signed them a couple of weeks ago. At the beginning of the interview, I asked them why they wanted the Big Pink on their books, and they were like, ‘Yeah, we’re good looking, and great people. And the Pink are awesome,” and then they fell about laughing.
Salem, one of the most exciting bands from the end 2008, in a Next piece for Dummy
This duo from Chicago make beautiful, terrifying slowed down crunk that turns every day into night and every night into the Northern Lights. When Merok Records put out the Water EP from the Chicago-Michigan-New York trio (John Holland, Heather Marlatt, and Jack Donoghue), it sold out straight away, as did their Yes I Smoke Crack EP on Acephale.
On the one hand, their music is a blend of chopped’n’ screwed compositional music, hard-edged industrial and that violence-stained disco that Chromatics have perfected, and their visual output is fittingly beautiful/horrifying. On the other, they have hardly any pictures (John apparently has never been photographed, though their Butt magazine interview seems to have one blurry one) their interviews are kind of scant, and they don’t seem that bothered about social networking sites.
Biog-wise, Heather and John met at an arts boarding school (“He asked me if I wanted to be his friend and we have been since,” Heather emailed), and Heather met Jack in Chicago eighteen months ago, and started working with Acephale in early 2008. They’re finally going to start playing to the public soon.
Here’s some stuff about what they like: “We like blue raspberry flavor, Marvel vs Capcom 2, dirt bikes, baths, our snake Sasha,” they write over email. On the rap influence: “Its not really big where we’re from. When John was in Junior High and all the other kids were into grunge, he would go home and watch MTV Raps. So he is very knowledgeable. We like screwed and chopped music, but there’s better rap we’re affected by than screwed/chopped, Atl Trap , Footwork . [We’d like collaborate with] Gucci Mane, DJ Nate and Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em”. I mentioned something about the cold, and they said “We like winter when it snows everyday. Winter is so much prettier then spring. We sort of segregate ourselves from the everyday I guess, we don’t have TV or anything. We are more influenced by nature as seen on youtube.” On sleep, Jack said “I’ve never slept that much. I feel like I’m giving in to my body when I sleep, and I don’t remember my dreams anyway, so it seems like a waste of time.”