THE GERMAN FOREST IN THE DISCO
Mercedes Bunz - April 6, 1999
Translated from German by multipara
Interview with Wolfgang Voigt a.k.a. Mike Ink: Let it rock with Heino,
the Brothers Grimm and Wagner
It rarely happens that techno producers are granted space in the feuilletons. Typically, a young writer will pester some rock-socialized head of the culture section and come away disappointed with a ten-liner for the daily tip in the local section. The status of a culture in its own right, that inhabits its place next and equal to the more traditional forms such as cinema, literature, theater, exhibition, still remains to be acquired. However, if there was a favorite producer for the German feuilleton in the last couple years, then it was Wolfgang Voigt, presented as Mike Ink. There are reasons for that. One of them is that Voigt - as he once said himself - has taken up and transformed "cultural ballast" in various projects again and again. That this has aroused uneasy (and ungrounded) feelings with some columnists about the nightmare of a Germanomanic civilized nation is just a side aspect that has made it necessary for Voigt again and again to clarify his position in public. Looking at the multitude of different record releases that Wolfgang Voigt has come out with so far you could think that Techno invented the pseudonym game just for him. "Mike Ink" is only one of them. In the early nineties he started to examine Acid Techno, and from then on the straight bass drum is at the center of his work. With "Strass" [sham costume jewelry] he links up with the classic sawtooth techno "Brett" [fast stomper] of German manufacture. With his Freiland releases he continues the minimalism of his older "Studio 1" label, and under the GAS moniker he transfers the straight bass drum motive into more ambient sound structures. And even that is just a selection. Wolfgang Voigt is someone who is not easy to capture, who doesn't want to be limited to one identity. "You have to bend listening habits until they break" - says Wolfgang Voigt. So, there, with his musical microscope, he works himself through the German cultural history of sound, looking for material for a genuinely German pop music. About the problems coming up when you want to bring the German forest to the disco, DE:BUG editor Mercedes Bunz talked with Wolfgang Voigt.
Mercedes Bunz: In your work you've been stressing a certain German aspect for quite a while. Why so many German words?
Wolfgang Voigt: What am I supposed to use - French? Well I don't know French. OK no kidding... You're alluding to the somewhat slogan-like references on the info sheet for the new GAS release, which among other things once again require making my position clear to the public. For this I need to go further back though. Even long before Acid and a few other far-reaching incidents turned my cultural self-image upside down, my artistic zeal was mainly determined by one motive, namely to create something like a "genuinely German pop music" away from current cliches. Of course I, like most of my generation, grew up with Anglo-American music of any sorts, Glam Rock, Disco, Jazz, Punk, New Wave etc. In the middle of the eighties, I was a huge Scritti Politti and Prefab Sprout fan, but back then I already asked myself: How can you transfer a pop music like that, which works on such a high level and which is structurally so incredibly condensed, into a German sound aesthetics, can you translate that? During my own first musical attempts I finally realised that the copying of international models couldn't be the objective of my own work, all the more so since in parts their level was so high. From then on the main idea was: how can I, with my German roots, create something that works just like Pet Shop Boys. Something genuine was called for. I started to put German cultural history - or what is commonly associated with it - Heino, Schlager [German popular song], Wagner, Volksmusik [folkloric music], Hansel and Gretel, O Tannenbaum, Lass jucken Kumpel [German trash porn comedy]..., whatever - under the microscope, to reduce the original material back to its basic aesthetic structures and to put it into a new context from there. Moreover: When I was a child, I had to go to the Alps and the forests etc. three times a year with Mom and Dad, whether I wanted or not. That formed me, I appreciate and love that a lot. Things like that always stay with you, your childhood, the seventies: father, mother, German Schlager, you know these things. Some time after puberty you deny that and listen to Hard Rock. In my case it resurfaced as a motive.
MB: So you're not about calling again history as original, but rather about structures that can be worked with.
Wolfgang Voigt: Certainly, and about liberating the material from its original meaning as regards culture, politics, taste, and transfering it into another. In its turn, that could be something like pop music. Or just about the hypothesis, that at least structurally something like Studio 1 can be made out of brass band music. Tuba for bass etc. Or about the fact that, in the case of GAS, the sound worlds of Wagner or Alban Berg are excellently suited to tell again the good old fairy tale of the German forest in the most beautiful colours of pop, in a completely different way. It's the attempt at creating an intensification that is closer to us by using very deep sound structures, and which we may call Techno from very far, but which isn't Techno any more. The aim with that is always pop. The aim is always: to give love and to be loved for your work.
MB: Did that trouble you, that this was not understood in some cases and papers wanted to cram you into the right-wing corner?
Wolfgang Voigt: ...not so much troubled, it rather seemed ridiculous to me to write such crap, that my work could be understood so wrong; looking at my spotless leftist personal history, total nonsense of course. Particularly because of the complicated historical past - that some others deal with in much more impudent fashion by the way - my work has always been shaped by a strong self-reflection. Since the increased right-wing political attacks in the early nineties, cue Hoyerswerda, I've been doing my research about a "genuinely German pop music" in a very prudent way. The subject was occupied and fucked up to the limit, you know that from history. For good reason the theme "German" was blindly silenced down. People couldn't say anything anymore and actually took refuge in club culture. But to me it always seemed required just not to imitate the international charts in a painfully bad way or to steal from black music, but rather to articulate yourself from what's available here. Which is somehow also a matter of style, or of morals if you want. Besides it's nothing new that in that context a certain whining, pseudo-left, feuilletonist corner turns the tear taps on over every little piece of crap.
MB: After one and a half years the new GAS is out, it sounds a bit more melancholic than the last one.
Wolfgang Voigt: I don't think it's melancholic, but the working method does imply a certain kind of heaviness, a kind of viscosity. Music without beginning and without end, cushioned contours that fall softly into the space, that seem to overrule temporal schemes. GASeous music, caught by a bass drum just marching by, that streams, streams out through the underwood across the forest soil.
MB: Across Konigsforst.
Wolfgang Voigt: For example Konigsforst. "Konigforst" of course refers to the Konigsforst, a forest on the right bank of the Rhine. That's a mixed forest outside Cologne, oak, fir, beech etc., you know! A reference point of my hippie adolescence rich with content, to sharpen consciousness for the deeper aspects of electronic life: the German forest on acid. Returning to GAS. GAS is an offshoot of BLEI [lead]. BLEI has always been the name of the mission mentioned before. While BLEI is mostly concerned with brass band music, polka, marches etc. in general and with horn sound in particular, GAS is about strings - and violins. So with GAS a sound passage is taken from the original source and by an extensive loop technique the loop is captured at an arbitrary point and moved across a rhythmic texture according to a random temporal structure. The result is a sound intensification that gets recorded when the object could be liberated from any superfluous meaning in terms of narrative structure.
MB: While most of these words and sounds can easily be linked back, it sounds tremendous and pompous in the first place.
Wolfgang Voigt: It doesn't really have to do with pathos, but rather with listening habits, and bending them until they break. As a working basis I often deliberately start from wrong assumptions, in order to be able to open new spaces. Looped for long enough, things often change their semantics. Any high culture approach is far from my mind in that respect, it's always youth culture I'm interested in. Like I said, the aim is always pop and to bring the German forest to the disco.
MB: You started to sample very early on, at a time when the majority still swore by analogue machines.
Wolfgang Voigt: That's because I don't know too much about technics and instruments and I'm not much interested in them. For me, technics has always been interesting to me only as a means of transport for the idea or a certain emotion. That's why sampling is definitely the transformer for my musical thinking. In the end it's not the question of equipment that is crucial, but what result do I achieve, what comes out at the end.
MB: Lately, you also released older tracks again, on Popacid and partly on Kreisel. Why?
Wolfgang Voigt: Kreisel deliberately works a little against dead seriousness, a kind of musical joyride across the nineties. We publish mostly old classics, missing and absurd stuff from various electronic areas - Acid, Techno, Ambient. The records come out weekly as a countdown to 2000 in 7" single format. Kreisel deals with the trap of good taste and the freedom of contradiction.
MB: So no Acid-revival?
Wolfgang Voigt: No, sentimentalities and revivals are far from my mind. That's never been my motive. You see that's also reflected in the format: I'd see a respectable 12" as too serious for that. That was also the problem with Popacid, that people took it too seriously as a new style. Of course the putative new is always also relative in the age of permanent quotation. Things
MB: You've been associated with Sawtooth Techno a lot recently.
Wolfgang Voigt: Obviously Sawtooth is old music, without question. Well hung banging Techno or a variant of that may go down great after the third Gin and Tonic. That's simple music. I'm partial to Bretter [plural of Brett, see above] as ever. That may then just be Square Wave Sawtooth for two or three weeks. Although, you shouldn't overestimate that, it was a bit overhyped. But you place yourself in controversies, those are being discussed, sweated out, danced out, and then it's okay. It's supposed to be like that anyway. That's what keeps you young and gives back energy.
MB: How can you do so many records actually? You're an early bird, right?
Wolfgang Voigt: I sometimes ask that myself. Well I'm not only interested in the music that confirms a specific spectrum, but also that which contradicts me. My work operates on contradictions a lot in the first place, on the necessity to avoid common definitions. Early bird is right too, I love the morning. When my friends from the record shop manage to make the horrendously early hour of 12 p.m., when the shop opens, then I'm usually through with a certain creative stint. I also don't work on a track for six weeks though. For me it turned out that the essential kick, what really constitutes a track, is said in a very short time in general. The way there takes long, the work on the piece of music not necessarily. As soon as a particular process is completed, most of the time the urge to open another musical chapter comes right after immediately.
MB: So what it music making about.
Wolfgang Voigt: Filtering out meaning to the benefit of absolute explosive force. Emptying spaces and organizing the original material in a new way, attacking over the wings, giving it all. One question I'm often asked: Why do you give so few interviews. Every record is speech, every record always has a message, every record is always a statement. Music as speech is more in accordance with me than printed speech.
MB: Printed speech gets rather big real fast.
Wolfgang Voigt: Exactly. My commentary is constantly there apart from printed speech, I release a great lot because of rather too many rather than too little ideas in an accelerated production process. So I'm actually someone who permanently speaks. More than one or the other can reasonably be expected to take maybe. If I constantly gave interviews on top of that, there would really be an overpresence. After the trouble of 1996, also because of the misunderstandings that went along with it, there was every reason to shut the trap now for two years. Definitely. But I'm clearly not someone who doesn't have a ready tongue, that's not the point.
MB: Did you actually get rid of Mike Ink, do you think he got too famous?
Wolfgang Voigt: Well I'm quite fond of Mike Ink. He's a nice guy you know, and he's done some swell records. I've kind of put him on ice a little. What people didn't realize was: there's an artist, and his name is Wolfgang Voigt. He works under very many pseudonyms, among others Mike Ink. But Mike Ink is not his real name, just a project. If I had named the project Abba, people at least wouldn't have addressed me as Abba. Maybe that would have been the better solution. Mike Ink simply was just someone who in the beginning of the nineties was caught by the wave of a new, wild music, which made it possible for the first time to articulate yourself worldwide via a purely instrumental language. Interviews weren't provided for in that concept, you'll have to talk to Wolfgang Voigt instead.
MB: At some point that discussion about Germany dissolved when Cologne as a music city came into the game.
Wolfgang Voigt: In the past years there's been a great lot of more or less justified hype about Cologne. It annoys particularly those who it concerns, and it doesn't stand on very realistic ground when compared to other cities. Actually the situation in Cologne is that there are very many producers, labels, shops etc. packed in a very small area, about the size of a soccer field. Now that's different from Berlin or Munich. We like to say Cologne is one long bar, and that's why everyone gets on so well with each other. However I would never call Cologne the most beautiful town in the world. The loss of historical architecture and the in parts terribly hideous post-war architecture hurt a lot. I can quite identify with the Rhenian lightheartedness though, while the dialect doesn't do much for me. I still wouldn't want to go away from here, cause the spirit's right. Andy Warhol answered the question "What is bad style?" with "It's bad style to leave New York". I'd say something similar with respect to Cologne.
MB: The keyword was always: Sound of Cologne.
Wolfgang Voigt: At some point the reports had reached an independent dynamics, and it would have been impossible, no matter how much one would have tried, to spend all day on denials. So you try to make the best out of it, when a certain hype really wants to love you to death. You wouldn't believe us the opposite anyway, so we make a strong point out of it.
MB: And so the record shop turned into a distributor.
Wolfgang Voigt: Yes. There's this specific variant of minimalist music which, partly, not entirely without justification, is attributed to Cologne. And in order to be able to communicate it better, we decided at some point to give this a more compact setting within a small distribution, also taking into account the context of a changing market. Which doesn't mean that we constantly hype ourselves in our own distribution, but of course we try to put main emphasis on aspects of Cologne. Apart from that we now have better opportunities for something like encouragement of new talent. I've got no use for a competition-of-cities between Cologne and some other centers, whoever occasionally purports it, I didn't dream that up. In this respect: definitely the best party last year: Munich, Oktoberfest. I was at the table in the front row and enjoyed myself like I hadn't for a long time, and all this in the late afternoon, before the first quart of beer. That was my party. Straight bass drum with tuba.
MB: That occurred to me as well. Techno made its entry into folkloric music via the straight bass drum.
Wolfgang Voigt: Now that's always been implicit in my music, I've always supported that. You just have to take a different look at it, many people are just too restricted with their imagination there. Hey look, it rocks right outside your own door. Anything goes, always.
MB: Well but it's only natural that this is the music of your parents in the first place, and that you can only look at it again when you're far enough from it. How old are you anyway?
Wolfgang Voigt: Old enough to not know what I'm doing.
This interview originally appeared in de:bug, the German music magazine. The original German text can be found at:
copyright belongs to mercedes bunz and de:bug, reprinted by permission
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Feuilletons: The newspaper section where book, theater, music, concert, film reviews or announcements would be. It's usually an independent section - others would be news, local news, politics, economics, science, job announcements, etc. (multipara) Back
Hoyerswerda, a small town in Saxony, is the main symbol for the increased amount of right-wing attacks against foreigners (supported by "normal folk") in the early nineties. In late September 1991, up to 600 people baited and chased foreigners. A home of people seeking political asylum was attacked with steel balls and molotov cocktails by nazi skinheads and young hooligans, under applause of local folk standing around. The pogrom went on for days, attracting right-wing activists from other areas as well as antifascist groups and anti-demonstrators, and marks an early low point of an inflamed political debate about the (liberal) German laws concerning the right of asylum and antidemocratic legacies in the reunified German populace. (multipara) Back
Brabanter Str. 42
Wolfgang Voigt discography: