Which aspects of all these things will be reflected in the new material which is about to be released in Midsummer remains to be seen. Perhaps the just released album SDGXXV, the reinterpretation of the debut album, gives at least some indication of which artists of yesterday and today are in Stephan Groth’s favor.
In mid-March, Apoptygma Berzerk came to the German Ruhr area where, as the headliner of the sold-out E-tropolis Festival, they made more than 4000 guests happy with a first-class show. We seized the opportunity to accompany Stephan Groth – but first, back in time, to the early phase of Apoptygma Berzerk with the musical big bang Soli Deo Gloria.
25 years of Soli Deo Gloria – have you ever believed that Apoptygma Berzerk would be this successful for such a long time?
Back then it was just a hobby, just about having fun and doing crazy music. My father is a musician, so I grew up in a family where he was touring, putting out albums, which was very inspiring for me. I always loved music, but I was never really a "musician" myself, I was never classically trained or something. Unlike my brother Jonas who is very skilled and knows how to write music. For me it was more like an adventure, a way of having fun. I wanted it to become a career because I wanted to avoid a normal job, because I thought having a regular job was so much work and no time to relax and have fun.
Eventually, over the years, I ended up working much more than all the people who have a straight normal job, because this here is a lifestyle and a 24-hour-job. Even when I sleep I dream lyrics, I dream melodies. I am always at work in a way. But I am my own boss, I can wake up very late in the morning, something that I love. But, back to the question, even though I wanted it to become like this, I don’t think that I really expected it to go down the way it did. I am very privileged and very happy that I, so many years after, can live from my hobby and make my money by being creative and having fun.
When did you realise that Apoptygma Berzerk has the potential to become something really big?
It was before internet. We lived in Norway, as we still do, but we never had any club hits in Norway, it was down here [in Germany]. We got a fax now and then saying that there is an interview and it’s going great, but there was no really much communication. We hadn’t had any friends here in Germany, we didn’t know what was going on. So it was quite a shock when we came down here and did the first shows and all people knew the songs. That was strange, I remember that.
Early on that I realised myself that there was potential here was when we got a record deal right away – we only sent out three demos and got the deal. I remember sending out those demos and I wasn’t expecting to get anything. We just sent them out for fun and were not really serious about it, like “ok, let’s see what happens”. And then, when it happened, everything changed and we realised: now it’s time to get serious! And I’ve been very serious about it ever since.
By the end of 1994, you were on tour with Sabotage Q.C.Q.C – and stole the show even though Apoptygma Berzerk was the newcomer. Were you aware of this?
I totally remember that tour. I think back then, being from Norway, it was very exotic in Germany, because there were no other; hardly some Metal bands playing here, but apart from that, you had a-ha and that’s it. And even back then, the Black Metal bands were not touring that much. There was of course Mayhem who were playing their shows especially in the former East Germany, but when we were here, it was really exotic. The same happened a few years later in the US, when it was exotic to have some crazy Norwegians there. We don’t have that anymore because the world has become much smaller – I think that the internet is good in many ways but it has also ruined a lot.
“I had an advantage because my music style was very German.”
What else do you remember from that time especially?
Back then it was very different. I was born and raised in Denmark, so I grew up having German television. We had the ZDF, for example. So I watched children’s programs and also, later on, music programs like Formel Eins and Peter’s Pop-Show. All these German music programs featured a lot of English stuff and Italo Disco. So when I was still living in Denmark, I heard a lot of German music and music that was at that time popular in Germany. I discovered Depeche Mode there, Kraftwerk, Alphaville and a lot of the Neue Deutsche Welle stuff. The bands that I was in competion with, from outside Germany, they did not have this background. They were not that much into, they didn’t have that German Pop Music in their blood, so to say.
So I had an advantage because my music style was very German in a way. But because I lived in Denmark and Norway it was still different. Like there’s a different touch, but it is still very German. So that was an advantage I had very early on, which I realised and continued working on. That’s also why Germany has been my biggest market for a long time. And when we were here and doing shows, the German people were very nice to us and we felt like we’re having a second home here. I still feel like this but now it’s less exclusive because there are so many other Norwegian bands. So there’s a very long history and Germany has been very important for my career.
What do you remember most when looking back to the recordings process of Soli Deo Gloria?
It was more like experimenting. We only had one synthesizer, one Atari ST computer and one sampler, so I was very limited in what I could do. I mean, today I have a huge studio and I-don’t-know-how-many synthesizers and tons of software. Back then we were forced to get the most out of it. So when we recorded Soli Deo Gloria we recorded at another studio because I hadn’t had a studio. I just had stuff in my bedroom. I went to a studio where they had more synthesizers and a lot of effects – I really had no clue of what we were doing. That whole experience was like putting a child in a toy store, like “oh yeah, that’s what Depeche Mode used to do, let’s do that! – but twice as loud!”
“That’s what Depeche Mode used to do, let’s do that! – but twice as loud!”
You just re-released Soli Deo Gloria and put out the SDGXXV album, for which, amongst others, A-line icons of Electro and Industrial such as Clock DVA, Portion Control or Blackhouse worked on your tracks …
Basically, it is a 25-anniversary party. The way we looked at it was like we want to invite people that we were inspired by at the time, but we also wanted to bring in some other exciting acts that are doing stuff in the same manner, like Ancient Methods. I wish that the scene now would be more like what Ancient Methods is doing. Because that to me is very true to how it all started. So yes, we invited some old heroes and also some new heroes, people that we think are doing it exactly like it should be done. And also we were thinking: okay, if we were recording this album now, what would it sound like? We had that in mind all the time – to keep it true to the original and have it sounding a way that we would have loved it 25 years ago if we had all the equipment and all the possibilities and if we knew people.
There’s this circle of new bands who are continuing this line of EBM and/or Oldschool Electro in their very own style, like Blush Response, Imperial Black Unit or Ancient Methods; many of them making music skilfully by hand, also live, even operating modular synths masterfully – it is really impressive to watch them do it. In a recent interview, you mentioned that you are into modular synths as well…
I started about four years ago. Back then it was quite different because the digital stuff was the new cool thing. So everybody wanted to do digital stuff. In the beginning, it worked out, but lately, all the digital stuff doing everything, all the bands doing all the digital stuff on their computer – it is cool if it works but you lack something. You lack something of that what we used to have back in the days. All the Aufnahme + Wiedergabe bands, they’re doing it very true to what it used to be but with a new twist. That is exciting, because things have to develop. It has to go on all the time, but you also want to stay close to the roots.
Looking at SDGXXV you really get the impression that it is a perfect affair, a unit, reaching out from your roots to super modern up-to-date techno, harmonising perfectly well. Are you satisfied with the result?
Yes, of course. I’ve been working on it the whole year . SDGXXV is not a traditional remix album, we wanted to avoid that! It is more like a reworked adventure. I have provided ideas and been a part of developing many of the tracks. The featured artist have also been involved in the project on many levels as it developed. We have been working closely together, for example, me and Michael of Ancient Methods – I don’t know how many emails we have sent this last year. The same with Håvard/Mortiis and Thomas from The Invincible Spirit. I was a part of the whole process and I think that is why the songs work so well together. I didn’t think it would take so much time as it did. What I wanted it to sound like – if you entered a time machine and just went ahead in the future but with the same mindset as I had 25 years ago.
We got so many crazy artists here and this combination of these artists is very unique because we’ve never seen these artists on the same release before. We have Blackhouse on there, we have the original vocalist from Mayhem [Sven Erik Kristiansen a.k.a. Maniac] – it is insane! So that has been working out great. We have portioned the CD into three chapters, though you can listen to it in one go. It has been a highly complicating project.
You just mentioned Mayhem – do you still have any connections to the Metal scene, since you’re from Norway?
Oh yes, very much.
…and did you watch Lords Of Chaos?
I read the book. I was friends with Øystein who was killed. On my birthday actually. That was a really, really weird part of Norwegian music history. But, back then, before internet, back when everything was fun, you didn’t send MP3s. You sent cassette tapes. It was this old scene, where everybody was making demos, copied their own covers and so on. The Metal scene was huge in Norway, as it still is. And we lived in a city called Sarpsborg where a lot of bands came through and played, and a lot of bands were also from there, that we met, hung out with. We were accepted even though we did not make Metal because we were doing something that was just fucked up.
In Norway there was not much electronic music going on. So when we started making this kind of music it was totally extreme. And that is and was what the Black Metal scene was always into. It was being true to the thing you were doing and also being extreme. And even though the Black Metal scene in Norway was and still is very competitive – I mean, people kill each other – we were accepted in many circles because, I don’t know, we were not a threat. We were just these weird guys.
“We were doing something that was just fucked up.”
You’re going on European tour this fall – are you never getting tired of touring and playing all your hits again and again?
Playing live is a part of the whole thing. Back in the day you used to put out an album and then you went on tour to promote the album. But that totally changed. Because now you’re actually putting out an album to promote a tour because that’s where the money is. But coming to Germany and playing live for people who appreciate my art is good fun, I love to travel, and, again, I am very privileged. But it is not as glamourous as people might think. You don’t get much sleep.
Like yesterday, before we left. I didn’t sleep. Jonas picked me up at 12 o’clock and we went to the airport and I still haven’t slept. I was working the whole night to get everything ready and prepared. It is very hard work. It’s not at all "sex, drugs and rock’n’roll". The ones that succeed in this business are the hardest workers. Like a friend of mine, Ronan Harris of VNV Nation. It’s insane. He is always working, always touring, and at the same time being able to write new albums. I don’t know how he makes it. I am not good at multitasking.
Last but not least, what about a new album?
There is new stuff coming before we come back to Germany.
Apoptygma Berzerk live 2019:
15.08. D-Hannover, Capitol
16.08. D-Dresden, Strasse E / Reithalle
17.08. D-Cologne, Essigfabrik
18.08. BE-Waregem, W-Festival
23.08. NO-Oslo, Parkteatret