Felix Kubin Interview
Felix Kubin Interview
“Pop is just one of many formats and it’s an art form that is - like good club music - often thought of being minor to “higher art forms” such as classical music. Just ask a composer of classical music to write a pop song. They will very probably fail because it needs different skills to be able to do that. The interesting aspect about NDW (Neue Deutsche Welle) - I am talking here about the underground movement, not the commercial acts invented by the industry later on - was its inventiveness and unpredictability. People were testing the boundaries of what pop could be, and they also introduced a new sardonic humor to the Germans.”
Photo: Gregory Holm
– Where are you from originally?
I fell from the sky into the harbour of Hamburg.
– What music was most inspiring to you growing up and did your family have influence on this?
The most inspiring for me were the many radios running at the same time in my parents’ house. Whichever room I entered, there was a radio screaming, and the programs were pretty good back then and mixed beautifully in between the rooms. I still want two compose music that sounds like 3 radios running in different spaces at the same time. Another strong influence was the early German NDW underground music. That sometimes sounded like several radios running in parallel, too! Discovering bands like Palais Schaumburg, Toedliche Doris, Der Plan and Frieder Butzmann totally changed my life. It felt as if I had waited for this kind of music for a very long time. I call this period “the fever” cause I was so excited by the music that I didn’t feel the ground under my feet anymore. My family didn’t have a direct influence on the music I was listening to but my father was very supportive when he found out that I had ambitions to compose music.
– Do you remember when and where you got your first synth/musical instrument? Do you have a favorite one?
I started with electric organ when I was 8. I never studied Glockenspiel by the way as it says on the English Wikipedia site, and I never described myself as a Dadaist, I just mentioned that I can relate to this period in Germany and their techniques of creation and humour a lot. When I turned 11, I wanted a sort of effect machine and got the KORG MS 20 synthesizer without really knowing its incredible potential. I sat in front of it day-in day-out tweaking all the knobs in order to find out how they changed the sound. My parents had very strong nerves.
– How do you see your music in relation to pop music? and how about in relation to NDW?
Pop is just one of many formats and it’s an art form that is - like good club music - often thought of being minor to “higher art forms” such as classical music. Just ask a composer of classical music to write a pop song. They will very probably fail because it needs different skills to be able to do that. The interesting aspect about NDW - I am talking here about the underground movement, not the commercial acts invented by the industry later on - was its inventiveness and unpredictability. People were testing the boundaries of what pop could be, and they also introduced a new sardonic humor to the Germans.
My relation to pop music is that of an apple tree to his fruits. Whenever ideas feel ripe, they drop down. Often I carry them around for 10 or more years. I have never been driven by commercial motifs in art, I just want to realize interesting concepts and ideas - no matter if they happen in pop or in contemporary music, radio art, installations, dreams…it’s all of the same value to me. I am in the great position to be able to make a living from my art but it was a struggle to get there. My family has no artistic background, and they all weren’t self-employed, so I had to learn everything myself and get the self-confidence from higher beings.
– Tell us about your project Die Egozentrischen 2. How did this collaboration come about?
I was very young, the story is pretty simple. I met a guy called Stefan Mohr at a school party of our younger brothers. We talked about music and exchanged records. Then we started making music with a 4-track machine, two synths, organ and a drum computer. The studio was my parents’ living room. Stefan and I had a concurrence going on for years to be the first to find the next amazing record. I basically spent all my money on records. But of course, I could only afford about one a month. That’s a pretty different situation than nowadays, where you can find everything immediately on blogs…
– What about the rare filmed performance at the “Möbel Perdú” gallery in Hamburg in 1984. How did you get that gig?
Most of the concerts were arranged by Alfred Hilsberg, the label boss of Zick Zack. He liked our music, and he liked to annoy people, especially his own “in-crowd”, with people like us. As you can see in that video footage at Möbel Perdu, not everybody was delighted by us - many people found it inappropriate to see two teens with synths on stage. I remember Claudia Schneider-Esleben who ran this gallery begging us to accept a lower fee than the agreed 300,-DM. I answered: “Well, actually 300 is better for us, we really need the money.” And we got the 300, hahaha. I drove a hard bargain, I needed the money for gear and records.
– Has live performance always been vital to what you do?
Yes. But nowadays I am a much better live performer than in the past. As a teenager I was pretty shy at concerts, especially as it was considered uncool to play a synthesizer on stage instead of the usual rock gear. Until I was 16 I never went to other concerts. My only concert experiences were my own gigs! I felt much more safe on stage.
– How does radio fit into all of it?
Many Germans of my age grew up with radio plays (we call them Hörspiel). I listened to them all day long, as soon as I came home from school. And I knew that one day I would write and produce them myself. Nowadays I am producing radio plays as much as I compose music but people abroad don’t really notice it cause it’s basically in German language. The production of a Hoerspiel can be compared to the production of a low budget film. It takes at least 3 months to produce a feature length play (that’s about 55 min), and the quality standard is extremely high in Germany. It’s a fantastic hybrid art form varying from concrete and narrative to totally abstract. I can combine all kinds of skills there such as writing, sound (foley) art, dramaturgy, acting and music. I think there is no comparison to German radio play anywhere else in the world, although I got the feeling that in the US there is a growing interest in this medium as an art form. I am a big fan of Gregory Whitehead (I think he is Canadian), but he seems pretty much alone with what he is doing overseas.
– Tell us about your Gagarin label. When did you start it and what inspired you?
What inspired me was the decline of vinyl. I love the big format, the space for cover art and the sound of vinyl, so I founded my own label. Also, I needed to be independent from any tastes and decisions of other labels. Independence in art and production is crucial for me, I need to own the production tools in a classic Marx way.
– When did people start approaching you about the early material and how did the Tetchy Teenage Tapes release first come together?
It all happened by accident. I would have never had considered to put the old tapes out on my own. In early 2000 I recorded a mix tape for my friends of the French band DAT Politics and sneaked two tracks of my early tape music into it. They were very surprised and decided to put out a collection of my tracks on their CD label SKIPP. A-Musik in Cologne joined in for the vinyl version. But to confuse the customers we decided that the selection of tracks should differ on CD and vinyl. The feedback on these releases was tremendous. A lot of people thought the whole thing was a fake, though.
– Do you feel an affinity with other artists working similarly to you?
I don’t know many artists who cross the borders of experimental/contemporary music, pop and radio art the way I do. I like all of these art forms equally and it’s very interesting to combine them and play with the rules. I also regard dilettante elements in art very important, just as I respect highly refined playing skills. I guess, my approach to music is rather conceptual, and I like to mislead and confuse people. But at the end of the day I am just an idiotic enthusiast.
I do feel close to artists who work in different fields and let them leak into the other. That’s why I like Xenakis a lot (architecture and electro acoustic music) or Holger Hiller (poetry, concept art, music). Holger is probably the only artist born in Hamburg I can strongly relate to. The way he used sampling was very new and pioneering. Well, half of Faust also come from Hamburg, and they did some great stuff, too.
– What are your aims these days.. for your music? for yourself?
Too many to mention. I have two big files full of written ideas and concepts at home - I even hardly ever take a look into them. At the moment I am finishing my next pop album and hope to put it out on Stones Throw next year. I am also working on a concept album about audio cassette tape music that is going to be released in a box with a CD and MC on my label Gagarin Records in collaboration with Deutscher Musikrat.
One of my dreams is to write a music piece for two or three foley artists, electronics and stuntmen. I’d also like to make a hypnosis record with Lydia Lunch and I am sure one day it will happen! Then I just started a new 7” label called APOLKALYPSO where I released music against insomnia played by Jimi Tenor, Lary Seven and harpist Mia Theodoratus. In this series I will also put out a 7” of James Pants and me, beware, it’s a dance floor burner! Next year I am composing music based on the ideas of Carl Orff’s Schulwerk for a performance by Hamburg based group Ligna dealing with the theories of the Hungarian choreographer Rudolph von Laban, a really interesting character who invented an anti-gravity orientation system in the 1920s. In November this year the South German radio station BR will put out a CD with my recent radio play “Orphée Mécanique”, a modern take on the Orpheus myth. Well, I could go on but my feet are falling asleep, Veronica, as I am writing this in a plane. Have a good day, Ahoi!