Now what has this got to do with Rhys Fulber, shining light of the international Electro and Industrial scene? Quite a lot: the Canadian opted for Ostalgia as the title for his second solo album, he is hanging out more and more frequently in Berlin and tracing his German roots. Not least has he been opening up new musical worlds to himself in this context.
1 – 2 – 3 – TECHNO!
We all know you mostly for Front Line Assembly and Conjure One, but you’ve always been doing other things and been experimenting a lot – whilst Techno now is absolutely new in your creative cosmos.
I started working on some harder sounds again, after doing more ambient, atmospheric, melodic kind of music. And I hadn’t made a full record with FLA in years. I just wanted to try to make some more aggressive music and so I started recording some stuff on my own and sent some of it to a friend of mine in Berlin.
Yes. And he played it to Adam X of Sonic Groove. He really liked it and asked “do you want to do a record for me?”. That’s kind of how it started.
Were you aware of what was trendy in Berlin’s Techno scene and of the musical alignments of labels such as Aufnahme + Wiedergabe, Fleisch or Instruments Of Discipline, as you started working on Techno stuff?
I always follow lots of different music, so I knew about a lot of this stuff already. And I noticed how it was starting to go to an industrial sound, how things were circling back a little bit – and that was interesting. But the initial stuff I worked on was not exactly even like that. I’ve been doing similar things for a while – I wanted a change. When you are making records filed under a general ‘Techno’ category, there are a few things you have to learn, so it can fit in with what DJs play. So I figured out a little bit of that stuff but I don’t wanna learn too much.
Because I still wanna have music that has its own sound and is distinctive quality. I like to try and make something that is always an artistic expression of what I like. And I try to put content into what I do, with maybe some samples or subject matters, just stuff that I find interesting. I always wanna make something that has a little bit of depth to it. And I think now I am starting to bring even more of that, take a little bit more risk, go into some soundtrack-type-elements, because I have done work like that before and so I’m trying to figure out how I can bring all these things into this one new thing.
I didn’t wanna come up with another project name because it confuses people. People are already confused by Conjure One. But Conjure One needed a separate name because it wasn’t just me, I had other musicians, I had a singer. So it was a project. But this stuff it is just me.
And you’re obviously pretty much at home in the Techno scene by now.
It is cool. It has more of the original spirit. I think FLA was moving into a different area in the 90s and that we became almost a little bit more commercial. The original industrial spirit was lost from 1992 onward, it wasn’t the same. I like this return to abstract and low quality – I feel with a lot of this Techno stuff that the original true spirit is more in that. And you need young people to bring in that new energy. It has more of the spirit of things I listened to when I was a teenager, as Portion Control, SPK and that stuff. It is not the same but I feel more of that in there.
“A lot of the Techno guys come from EBM. I am always surprised.”
Not a coincidence…
Not really. One thing I have noticed working in the Techno scene: a lot of the Techno guys that have been around a little bit, they all come from EBM – Front Line, Skinny Puppy, Front 242, Nitzer Ebb. I had no idea that this music had an impact on a lot of the people doing this now. But it’s cool. I am always surprised. Every time someone says that.
Of course, it’s always really flattering when hearing that they all like your music. I think it is also because there weren’t that many records back then. If you wanted hard electronic music, there weren’t a million bands or a million people doing it, like now. So we benefited from that limited choice maybe [laughs].
OSTALGIA AND GERMANIA
Even though your new album is thematically tied to the former German Democratic Republic, you didn’t record it in Berlin’s East…
I did it in Los Angeles, in my studio. I still live there, I just come to Berlin frequently. My cousin lives in Berlin and lets me share his flat, so I can come whenever.
The album is entitled Ostalgia which is kind of a romanticized expression used by former GDR citizens when being nostalgic about the former German Democratic Republic. Why so?
A lot of it comes from the art. Some years now I’ve been really into Socialist Realism Art, I have tons of books. And it’s more the art, not as much the culture as it is. Of course, I spend a lot of time in East Berlin when I am over there, so I absorb some of it there. I am looking at all of this of monuments, in the former East Republics, too. That’s where I get my titles; when I see the name of some monuments I just write down the titles. It is a general interest in that whole area and style of art but I started bringing it more into the East German thing because I have friends there and so on. There is just something about it, this mysterious quality. And when I heard the word Ostalgia I thought that this was a really cool word.
“There is just something about the East German thing, this mysterious quality.”
And you wrote it down, too?
I always write down words. When I see something or hear something, I always have these lists so that later on I can fit it all together. It’s like I am always working on something. That’s what I like about the way I am doing music now, bringing all of this personal kind of stuff together, which I didn’t do as much in some of the other projects. This is more personal.
Talking about personal issues: you have German ancestors…
Yeah, my dad is German. I grew up with Germans. We grew up in a German family but no one taught us the language because they said that we’re in Canada now and you have to speak English. My cousin had to learn German when he moved to Berlin. But we grew up with my grandparents and other relatives, so it’s not foreign really. I lived in Germany when I was little. I know words but I don’t know how to put them together. I can’t have a conversation but it’s familiar.
FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY, FALCO & A NO-GO
After Hard Wired you weren’t a fixed member of FLA anymore – for some years now you even go on tour with them again. How does that feel?
It is a different procedure, working with Bill. We can work together, I can always work with Bill. But it is totally different. I enjoyed making the last record with Bill, we did some cool stuff. But it is not really like an old record. As I said: you can’t do it again. Music is now. We’ve got different equipment, everything’s different. We did a few things that were a little more old but they are still different. One thing I think that people don’t talk about enough with FLA is that Bill’s vocals now are great, he is better than ever.
Nevertheless, Wake Up The Come was one of very few FLA albums that received some pretty critical reviews, for example because of the Falco cover. Does that affect you?
We liked it, we thought it was fun. Bill had talked about it for ages and now we were like “let’s do it!”. I don’t care what people think because you can’t care about what people think. If you care what people think you are not making art, you’re not progressing yourself, you’re holding yourself back. And that’s another reason what I like about my solo stuff: I just do what I wanna do, what I feel what I think is interesting. And I’ve been doing this long enough that if someone is criticising you on the internet, it is their opinion. It is subjective. In fact I find it funny when people get really critical. I always remember those ones more than the positive ones. Honestly, if someone is criticising you, you’re still doing something right because you’re stirring some emotion in them. It’s worse if they say nothing.
So you took these reactions into account in a way?
Bill and I, we were aware of that when doing the Falco cover. But it was fun. It was a fun record and there is nothing wrong with making a fun record once in a while. That’s something people realize about us: that we’re not like to most always serious people, we like to joke around and stuff. You would know it necessarily. We try to have a sense of humour about stuff.
“We can’t make another Tactical Neural Implant. The spirit is not the same.”
Do you listen to some of the numerous new acts coming from Vancouver?
To some of it. I don’t like when stuff is too much like the past. You must progress it. And there are some records that really sound like they’re lifted from the past. Those I don’t like. I was there when I was young. I like it when stuff has got another element to it that makes it modern. I like how they have the old elements but I always feel you need to update everything. You don’t want a time capsule. Music is very much a time-in-a-place-thing.
I know that there are probably Frontline fans that say “Why can’t you make another Tactical Neural Implant?” Because you can’t! It’s a time in a place. I mean, you sort of can but the spirit is not the same. You’re going back to copy something. It doesn’t really make sense. Artistic vitality – it has to be progressing. You can’t go back and re-do stuff, it’s not gonna be the same, not gonna be as creative because you’re following a recipe, you’re not inventing.