maandag 16 mei 2022

Pussy Riot: Unfortunately, everyone only understood what Putin is like when he started a war in Ukraine.

Pussy Riot is making the headlines again. Maria Alyochina - one of the members of Pussy Riot who was sentenced to two years in a labor camp in 2012 after a subversive performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow - has fled Russia secretly with her friend. This also means that she can participate in the current tour, which will come to Leuven on May 20 as part of the punk festival Breaking Barriers.

Maria 'Masha' Alyochina currently resides at a secret address in the east of the EU, about which next to nothing is known. The interview is interrupted twice because the police come by, but they are not there for her. One thing is for sure: she does not lead an everyday life at all. 

You managed to leave Russia after all. Was it difficult? 

I do not have permission to leave Russia and I do not have an international travel pass, but it is important that I have found a legal way. During the last week of April I tried three times to cross the border into Belarus and the third time was finally successful. The second time it went fine but the answer was no. The first time was terrible. The KGB in Belarus was really terrible. I am happy to be in the EU, because now I can rehearse. We are not only preparing the concerts, but also a statement I want to make towards the audience. 

Are you looking forward to touring again? What do you hope to get out of this? Do you think you will get a lot of support thanks to those concerts? 

I spent two years in prison for the song ‘Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away’ [sometimes translated as ‘Mother Mary, ban Putin’] and now, in 2022, I want this song to be sung as loud as possible. It's not just about us now, it's about the whole world. Clearly a fascist maniac and dictator has his finger on the nuclear button. I live in Russia and I protested there for ten years. My first performance, for which I was sentenced to two years in prison, was at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. After that we took many more actions and I spent weeks and months under all kinds of arrests and in all kinds of prisons. I'm a bit of a pro when it comes to prisons. I want people to know how things are in Russia. We already knew in 2014 that a war was coming and we wanted to make people in Europe aware of this too. Unfortunately, everyone only understood what Putin is like when he started a war in Ukraine. Ukraine is now paying full price for this belated insight. With this tour we also want to support the Ukrainian refugees and Ukraine as much as possible. 

There are many Ukrainian refugees in Belgium and the population is being asked to help them. There are a lot of initiatives, but what the whole EU is asking is how we can do something against Putin. Many people feel powerless. What do you think we should do? 

No one needs to feel powerless. You have power. Putin and his entire SFB/KGB/Cheka system are spreading hatred and displaying their weapons and their tanks everywhere. They just want people to talk about that. It shouldn't be like that. The basis of European civilization and the EU is the right to live for every person. There is nothing more important than human life. The total opposite of this European civilization is the way Putin and his post-USSR regime treat people. They don't care about people's lives. 

Maybe they care about their own lives... 

Yes, and that is also why life in Russia now is not just terrible, but three times worse than terrible. The reason is that the regime believes that all people should commit themselves to maintaining the regime. I've had to live in these conditions for 33 years and I know what it's like. Things got worse after the invasion of Ukraine, of course. Journalists and politicians are oppressed. Human rights are suppressed. Only in the deepest clandestinity can someone find something else. 

Are there still independent media in Russia? In any case, those media do not reach us. 

It's not about real media, but about channels on Telegram, which we can reach with the help of a virtual private network (VPN). Facebook and Instagram are not suitable for protesting the war. One even risks being sentenced to fifteen years in prison if one dares to call it a war. 

A few days ago the Western media reported that Putin himself now calls it a war. Before that, it was a ‘special military operation’. Can people still go to jail in Russia for calling it a war, even now that Putin is doing it himself? 

Putin can do whatever he wants. By law it is a special operation and not a war. In any case, Putin will not be sent to prison for using certain words. 

It seems that many Russians follow Putin because they only get to see his view of things. Is this true or are many Russians just scared? Do many Russians support the regime and believe all the lies? 

It is a completely different world, in which one gets to see propaganda 24 hours a day. Everyone knows George Orwell's 1984. Well, in Russia, a person has been sent to prison for holding a poster against fascism. According to the court, it is a crime to own a poster against fascism. 

That's strange, because Putin claims that the Ukrainians are all fascists and Nazis. Officially, he's just started this war to wipe them out. 

According to a decision of the Russian court, a poster with the caption ‘We are against war’ discredits the Russian army. It's not strange. It's a pure dystopia. You are still a long way from that, but it can happen anywhere. Depriving people of freedom of information in your countries will result in present-day Russia for you too. We are all human. We are not reptiles. It's all about people. With the war raging now, there is of course even more propaganda and censorship, just like in the Third Reich. 

Are both regimes similar? 

Definitely. In the West, people probably hear that 80 percent of the Russian population supports Putin, but that is nonsense, because no one dares to give his honest opinion openly. You could end up in jail for that. The Russians are only human too and we are not at the point where everyone is saying they are willing to go to jail for ten years. The people who do are real heroes. We will certainly talk about them during our concerts. It is also our role to mention these people, because in the West one hears almost exclusively about Alexei Navalny. 

The VRT – the Flemish public television – recently showed a documentary about women in the opposition who are doing their best, but most of them have fled Russia in the meantime. I had the impression that you would never flee from Russia because it is your home. 

I am currently in the EU on tour. I should really be in jail. In 2021 I was in prison six times and then we don't count the house arrest. I've found an opportunity to go on tour now and stay out of jail. 

Do you think it will be safe? Are you not afraid that they will come looking for you? We've heard a lot in recent years about Russian refugees who were subsequently poisoned by Russian secret agents. Aren't you concerned about this? 

This is not the time to be afraid. Just look at Ukraine, where people behave heroically. If they are not afraid, how can I be? The aim of this tour is, of course, to draw attention to the political prisoners. We want to show the people in the West that there are other people in Russia, with a different outlook on life and a different background. They are now in prison. 

I have read your book ‘Riot Days’. The two of you were political prisoners, but at some point they separated you because they didn't know how to deal with two political prisoners in the same prison. I suppose there is now more than one political prisoner per prison. 

Oh, but we have a lot of prisons, you know. Russia, as in the past, is a big prison. 

How many prisons are there really? 

I can't count them anymore, but actually they aren't prisons. They are work camps. It is legal slavery. The inmates have to sew and stitch uniforms for the police twelve hours a day. They are paid 3 euros per month for this. It's real slavery. This system has been around for twenty years. We've talked about this before and I think it makes sense to talk about it again. I also want to speak with politicians in the West. I'm an insider who knows what's going on. They do not have a clear picture of what is happening in Russia. 

One of the reasons we don't have a clear picture is that European journalists don't find a way to find out what's actually happening? Is there a way for them to gather accurate information? 

There is no legal way, but there are a number of channels on Telegram. We know what Lukashenko has done with Belarus. Well, Russia is moving in that direction very quickly. Belarus really is hell, but nobody cares about that. It's like North Korea, but in the middle of Europe. 

We care about that situation, but we don't really know what to do about it. Putin still has nuclear weapons and he also controls the gas supply. Gas prices are skyrocketing. The EU would like to ban Russian gas, but has nothing to replace that Russian supply with. Putin could shut down the gas pipelines at any time and European leaders are also concerned about nuclear war. What do you think about this? 

If everyone stays scared, the price will always get higher and higher. If the current sanctions had already been taken in January this year, there would be less blood spilled now. It was late then too, but now it's all worse and it could get a lot worse. As for potential sanctions, Navalny's team has drawn up a list of 6,000 names. Navalny has an incredible team fighting corruption like real lions. The EU should use this list. 

The bank accounts of many wealthy Russians have already been blocked. They can no longer travel. 

Now there are about twenty oligarchs, but there are 6,000 names on the list. That list is really worth it. 

Are there any Russians who support Putin and, if so, why are they doing so? 

You have seen Donald Trump and his supporters. More or less the same is happening in Russia, but with new imperialist ambitions. The propaganda is doing its job. Officially we are fighting the fascists. They use an old template for this and refer to the victory in the Second World War. We are told 24 hours a day that we are fighting for the cause and against the Nazis. We must not forget that Stalin is Putin's role model. He does not compare himself to Lenin, Brezhnev or Khrushchev. He follows the Stalinist model. 


On Friday 20 May 2022, Pussy Riot will perform 'Pussy Riot presents: Riot Days' in music center Het Depot in Leuven, a musical and theatrical journey through their arrests, show trials and prison sentences, supplemented with poignant comments on the current situation in a prison of more than 17 million square kilometers. 

Interview by Malcolm Nix

Hägar The Womb: Now we know the audience will help us out when we forget the lyrics.

On Saturday 20 May we will meet again in the Leuven Depot for Breaking Barriers, the annual punk festival. Hägar The Womb will perform there, together with Pussy Riot and Hetze. Hägar The Womb has been around since 1981. In 1987 they gave up, but in 2011 they decided to re-establish the group with only original members. You can read how things went for them in this interview by Breaking Barriers organizer Malcolm Nix.
Hägar the Womb have been around for a while. Who's left of the original line-up and where do the replacements come from? Did you find them through a local temp agency or did they come with their own pedigree in the punk scene? 

Hägar the Womb formed in 1981 and split in 1987. When we reformed in 2011 (after getting together to agree the release of a retrospective LP on American label Mississippi Records), we were one of the very few 80s bands who reformed with ALL of their original line-up. We’ve recently lost our guitarist Steph but have welcomed Lorna from London band Rabies Babies in her place. Lorna was down at the front dancing to us in the 80s so she is a great addition. We also have Mike in to drum when original drummer Chris Liberator goes off to dj around the world (his paying job). Ruth, Paul, Mitch and Karen make up the rest of the band now, as they did then. All the boys were in various bands before the Hags – Cold War, Snork Maidens and Flack amongst others. The girls however, had to be encouraged onto the stage. Not one of them had considered performing before but were greatly supported by people who were too drunk to know better.

I won't ask you to explain the band name, but I noticed this is your second time around. The band split in 1987 and then reformed in 2011. Was there a specific reason to split up or did you all just have enough of it for a while? 

Thank you for not asking for an explanation of the band name as there isn’t one – which hasn’t stopped that question being asked at every interview (smiley face). We had to make up a name in a hurry because we had been offered a gig and we didn’t have any of the trappings of a band – instruments, songs – and name! I can’t say why that one stuck from the more and more rubbish names that were being suggested, it had no meaning but we have been informed of several over the years as people try and make sense of it – ranging from biblical references to cartoon characters. 

We had several little splits before 1987, losing one or two band members each time for various reasons and several new members coming and going until in 1987 Janet and Ruth were the only original band members left. It seemed a good idea to stop completely then. 

We're of course very happy you have reformed, but a lot has changed since 1981, the year of the band's official inception. What do you consider the biggest difference for better and for worse? 

Thank you for being happy, we are too! What feels different now is playing is so much FUN now; this wasn’t a word much used in the serious UK anarcho-punk circles of the 80s where we were criticised for not wearing black like most bands at the time, and for having light-hearted songs like ‘Dressed to Kill’ as well as those about heavy issues affecting us all. Now we feel much freer being ourselves. I think also that as we are more ‘mature’ now (the band has a collective age of approximately 330). We just don’t care how we come across or if we fuck up - which is often. In fact, we have turned fucking-up into an art-form, the audience have come to expect it! 

You have even released some new material, including the very nice 10” 'Hagitate'. Do you think you're able to reach a new audience or are these records mainly bought by old friends? Do you think there are still young people who want to listen to this kind of music? 

We’d be pleased if the material we have released is bought by the generation who grew up with us in the 80s but we are even happier that we have reached across generations and young people seem to enjoy us just as much. For girls in the band, it’s gratifying to see so many more girls involved in punk now than there were back then. When we were young girls, there weren’t many women we could hold up as role-models in our anarchopunk scene or the first wave scene that preceded it. We found inspiration in Vi Subversa from the Poison Girls who was older and had a very powerful stage presence; we always said to each other that we wanted to be like her when we grew up. Now we have young girls coming up and telling us the same thing – it’s great to hear that we can shown what is possible, despite the wrinkles. 

It's obviously an unavoidable issue. How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect you and your band? We all remember the various lockdowns, which weren't a bad idea in itself, but are there other, more lasting consequences for the music scene? 

COVID crept in at a time in the UK where we were already uncertain of what the implications of Brexit would have on us travelling – we’re still not certain. Along with every other band, we had to have an immediate stop in March 2020 when the first restrictions came in. We were so lucky to have just played an amazing 30 year birthday celebration for Kopi squat in Berlin just before that – many bands never played all year and the year that followed. Restrictions have come and gone and the Hags have managed to play a couple of times between them but it’s always felt like gigs could stop again at any time. Now at the start of 2022, we’re hopeful that despite a slow cautious start because of Omicron, we and all the bands we’ve missed seeing can be reunited again. 

What I find remarkable is that there are a lot of young people protesting against the destruction of the planet and the lack of policy regarding climate change, but the music they listen to doesn't reflect this. Why do you think there are so few politically motivated young artists these days? 

At the risk of sounding like the old people that we are, we have watched the apathy of younger people for decades, thinking: “it wasn’t like that in my day!” It seemed that they didn’t have a protesting bone in their bodies – no one voicing opposition, no one out on the streets or forming movements. From what we’ve seen here in the UK, all that is changing at last! Helped a lot by the recent ‘me too’ and climate change movements – to name just a couple. We only have to look at the line-up of the gigs we play, there are a number of young, switched-on bands who have a LOT to say and do it DIY style just like we did and still do... they may not all sound or look “punk” but they have the attitude and the spirit. It’s so good to see, it gives hope that whatever future we get isn’t achieved through apathy. 

Your records were quite successful in the UK Indie charts, but you're still pretty much unknown in large parts of the world. Do you think this is slowly changing? Does the internet provide you with opportunities to familiarize people you've never met with your work? 

When we reformed, we thought the internet would open us up to the world but the Hägar the Womb facebook and instagram interactions showed us that – despite being dormant for decades – we had already been opened up. Since reforming and playing abroad, we’ve been constantly surprised that the crowds – young and older - know the words to our songs better than we do! Now we know they will help us out when we forget them. We are happy that now we are more accessible through our online presence, people can talk to us and hear our new or live stuff, not just play the old records. The internet does help us reach out further afield which is great as we are generally rubbish at self-promotion. It was never an aim for us as a DIY band - we had little appetite for (and let’s face it, little chance of) Hag world domination. 

On May 20, you're playing at 'Breaking Barriers presents' in Leuven, Belgium. This is your first concert ever in a country that is actually located not far from the shores of Albion. What do you expect from this concert? What do you think will go horribly wrong? 

We expect the finest beers and waffles in the world! And of course, that you will all know the words to our songs better than we do. The only country we ever got to in the 80s apart from the UK was Holland. Even now, we’ve never been to Belgium which makes Breaking Barriers festival all the more special for us. It will be a real treat to see and meet see bands from other countries – Breaking Barriers has a truly international flavour as its name and its ethos suggest. Many things could and do go horribly wrong on and off-stage. I (Ruth) try and ‘manage’ the rest of the Hags but it’s like keeping a lid on a box of frogs – pointless! So we could have problems like keeping upright on stage after too many very fine beers or be downed by excess-waffles, or have travel problems – who knows, we’ll just say Fuck It with capital letters and carry on. 

Having seen you play a few times in the past, I'm under the impression Hagar the Womb are at their best when not completely sober. How drunk will you be during your first Belgian concert? Can we expect another drinking contest with variously flavoured vodka samples or will you just improvise some verbal abuse aimed at your frequently victimised bass player? 

Haha you have done your research well. Well, as already indicated - we may not be “completely sober” when we reach the stage. Mitch is the source of our on-stage flavoured vodka shots. He works for the Finnish church in London and manages to get a nice array of imported fine spirits. The last flavoured vodka he got us was chocolate and mint, very strong stuff although it seemed like something you could give a small child. He poured it into 6 cocktail glasses he’d bought with him – he can sometimes be very civilised! As you have seen, poor Mitch does get some ‘attention’ from Karen on stage – verbally and physically. Sometimes she injures him but she never means to. 

Finally, do you think the bureaucracy which is a direct result of the whole Brexit-scam will stop alternative British bands playing in Europe? Isn't there a risk a lot of them will simply think it's not worth it anymore? 

Our stupid government seems intent on making it difficult for British bands to play in Europe and for visiting bands to come and play in the UK too after Brexit. Its actions during the pandemic have shown that it doesn’t value culture in most forms, especially live music which has had very little support. Where we are now as a result, is trying to build back what we once had. Despite the pandemic and Brexit uncertainties, we hope that we get to play at home and aboard more regularly this year. See you in May!

Interview by Malcolm Nix

Hägar The Womb: bandcamp / facebook

zondag 15 mei 2022

Hetze: We all work with homeless people on a daily basis and we try to be actively involved in their struggle.

Punk is not dead. The Breaking Barriers festival in Leuven - founded in 2016 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of punk - continues to keep its finger on the pulse. They will have a new edition on May 20. We don't need to introduce the main act Pussy Riot the the anarchopunk veterans of Hägar The Womb. Hetze – Dutch for agitation – on the other hand, is still very young. They have been around since 2017, but they already have a great reputation. Malcolm Nix spoke to the ladies (and gentleman). 

Hetze is still a quite young band. Did you have any past in other bands before you founded this band? 

Not that much. Viktor had the most experience, because he's been playing in various bands for fifteen years. He's also the drummer of Bones, an excellent death metal band worth checking out. Carla had a bit of stage experience and Dorien sometimes played bass in Travolta. For most of us, Hetze was the first real experience with a band. 

What drives young people to start a punk band? Didn't your peers tell you it's trendier to make hiphop, dance or sensitive ballads? 

No. Actually, we're not that young any more, but thanks for the compliment. We don't know a lot of people who listen to dance or sensitive ballads. We like it hard, harder, hardest, although throughout the years we started to appreciate more genres. A bit of hiphop in the car or dance during an afterparty are definitively options. What genre you play doesn't matter, as long as you do it with conviction. Put your heart in it, because otherwise it will remain hollow. The cool thing is we get to see bands who don't fit our genre, but who we appreciate because they perform well. Being blown away by a band, no matter what the genre is, is the most beautiful thing there is. Hetze is a way of showing our discontent with various societal issues. Screaming at the top of your lungs and producing noise are the best ventilation valve in a world that looks increasingly indifferent. There's no age limit on punk. We know people bordering on 60 who still manifest the punk spirit with conviction on stage. 

The punk scene has been around for a few decades now. To which extent do you consider yourselves the heirs of a tradition? Which older bands have influenced you the most? 

It's brilliant that a lot of young bands make very good music. We do our best to keep up with new music and not just listen to the classics. The radioshow Wangedrag is a good tip for those who want to be up-to-date. Just like other bands, we try to do our own thing, but in the contemporary music scene it's all about certain nuances or influences that differ from the rest. In our case, it's a mix of traditional hardcore, powerviolence and, because of Viktor's background, an death metal edge in the drums. If we have to drop some names, bands like Health Hazard, Disrupt, Despise You, Spazz, Seein' Red and Dropdead have been a big inspiration. 

I wouldn't dare to claim you're motivated by financial gains, but a bit of recognition is always nice. Does the racket you produce get some positive response from young and/or older music lovers? 

Money and recognition are definitely not the same. Getting recognition is a nice thing. In this regard, Hetze is a bit spoilt. In a short period of time, we've become a stalwart of the punk scene in and around Belgium. Our shows and our records are doing better than we had dared to hope in advance, leaving us feeling absolutely blessed. The fact we're invited to perform during the Obscene Extreme festival, for instance, is just crazy. The best response we can get is a wild moshpit and everybody in the crowd going bonkers. 

The previous question obviously referred to the era before the pandemic overturned all our lives. How did you survive this period without live concerts? Do you have any tips for musicians to hang on to their motivation, so they won't lose the joy playing music brings them in times like these? 

In the beginning, this forced time-out was a bit of fun, but by now it has become almost impossible to maintain. We really miss the contact with people and the energy of live shows. We released a split EP with Trappist. We didn't wait for the pandemic to end to release new music. Because there weren't any live shows, people wanted to support the bands and bought their music. This motivated us to keep going. We're currently writing songs for a new full album. During the first lockdown, when we weren't allowed to rehearse together, we had some fun making Hetze mouthmasks and selling them for a worthy cause. We are blessed with an extremely creative singer, who also knows how to sow and to tinker. Each member of the band also recorded some footage, which we turned into a promo video. That way we weren't just being idle and it also gave us an opportunity to promote our new split EP, which was released right before the lockdown. This might be a tip. Where does your band want to stand for? It doesn't necessarily always have to be music. 

In spite of all the positive experiences, something's bound to go wrong sometimes. What's the worst or the most depressing you've experienced on the road so far? Which lessons can we learn from it? 

For now, we've been mostly blessed. Something that could have been depressing, was the fact that a member of the opening band had died shortly before our concert in Trier. The audience then listened to their album and the whole night was dedicated to this person. All that support and the community feeling, that's the beauty of punk. By the way: RIP Tommy. 

In May 2022, you'll be playing live at Het Depot in Leuven, Belgium, with Pussy Riot, an ensemble whose criminal records are longer than their discography. The reason is, of course, that they live under a dictator who oppresses all forms of dissent. To which extent are you actively involved in protest? 

It's horrible what Pussy Riot has been put through. You can find us at protest rallies regularly, but we don't go to every possible demonstration. If something really affects us, we'll be there. We all work with homeless people on a daily basis and we try to be actively involved in their struggle. As social workers, we try to defend their interests on the local level. That way, we try to generate some changes for the most vulnerable members of society. We've noticed the struggles at the bottom are getting harder and harder. An increasingly rightwing policy produces more and more exclusion and poverty. With Hetze, we try to participate regularly in fundraising activities. That way, we try to draw attention to various projects and try to draw attention to specific issues. In our opinion, protest also means standing up and opening your mouth if you're a witness of discrimination or injustice, ensuring the victim feels supported instead of isolated. These days, most demonstrations are organized by shady rightwing extremists, trying to use a general feeling of discontent to recruit new members. 

What do you consider the biggest threat to society, if we can still use that word? 

Intolerance and social media. All too many people just believe everything they read on social media platforms. The rightwing knows how to use this very well. They operate very cunningly, and a lot of their views have become mainstream throughout the years. They create fear and polarize, which is quite frightening. Apathy kills! Our shortest song summarizes it all in just 7 seconds. On the other hand, we still want to believe most people are decent. We see a lot of groups who try to connect people, civil movements defending solidarity, small-scale actions by ordinary people who organize themselves, etc. We also see lots of young people who organize themselves and organize actions related to climate, LGBTQ-rights, women's rights, etc. Maybe we should have a little faith in the coming generation. 

It's never easy for a Belgian band to build up an international reputation. Our country is mostly known because of its beer. Ironically, your split EP with a Californian band with the unlikely name Trappist demonstrates this perfectly. Is there any interest for your music in other countries or do most of your concerts still boil down to a trip through the ten provinces of Belgium? 

 We played with Trappist in Het Bos in Antwerp. It's amazing that Trappist, featuring members of Spazz and Despise You wanted to release a split EP with us. The previous Split LP, with the German band Dismal Fucker, was the result of a legendary night at JH Sojo in Leuven, where we first met them. This led to a strong friendship and the decision regarding a split release came shortly afterwards. Next year, we'll be playing several concerts in Germany, The Netherlands, the UK and the Czech Republic. A tour of Germany and the UK are being planned now. 

That's the beauty of the DIY-scene. It's a small, but international scene and people across all borders try to help each other by organizing gigs, offering places to sleep and share contact details. Each one of us, has at one time offered a band to sleep at his or her house, organized a concert or cooked dinner for other bands. Do you have any tips or suggestions for starting bands who are keen to produce punk or other extreme sounds without any commercial potential? Which errors should they definitely avoid? Go to a lot of concerts, have fun and support other bands. That way, you'll get to know a lot of new people, which will get a lot of things started.

Interview by Malcolm Nix

dinsdag 22 maart 2022

Lacrimosa: There were times when I could hardly believe that I would ever be able to finish the album.

Lacrimosa has delivered another beautiful album with ‘Leidenschaft’, in their well-known mix of gothic with symphonic orchestrated metal. We had the chance to discuss the record with mastermind Tilo Wolff, and the man appears to be quite philosophical as well as very religious. He denies that the record revolves entirely around the corona pandemic - as we initially thought - although he does address the subject. But let's just listen to what he has to say.

Dear Tilo. Congratulations with a new masterpiece. ‘Leidenschaft’ is, again, a great Lacrimosa album. When reading the lyrics, I couldn't help but notice that the title is linked with the corona pandemic. Is the subtitle ‘Eine Geschichte der entflammbaren Seele’ (a story of an incendiary soul) also connected to the pandemic? And does this make 'Leidenschaft' a concept album? 

TILO WOLFF: First of all, thank you for your nice words about the new album! I am happy when people like it, because I love this album very much! And yes, somehow this is as much a concept album as all other Lacrimosa albums, because every album has its inner core around which all songs are circling. The name of each album sets the theme, and each song takes on this theme in its own way, explores and reflects on it. This is also the case here again, even though we didn’t divided the album in several acts. But this album is all about ‘Leidenschaft’, which can’t be translated one to one with the English word ‘passion’, because in the german word the meaning of suffering is part of the interpretation of the word. And this brings us to the subtitle, because to feel Leidenschaft is like burning from the inside! So this subtitle is not so much connected to the pandemic but more to the deeper meaning of the album title ‘Leidenschaft’. It is impossible to escape the topic of corona these days. 

In ‘Kulturasche’ (Cultural Ashes), you lament on the way culture has been treated. Just at the time where we needed it the most, times of loneliness and fear, the culture sector was closed down. Did you suffer personally from the cultural lockdown? 

TILO WOLFF: Yes, you describe it right. It is a crying shame! And in that sense, I am suffering in this situation. I didn’t suffer mentally in the lockdown, but I see how people lose their jobs and theaters, clubs and restaurants had to close, and I noticed how much the people would need culture and art in these bitter times! So yes, this song is all about the way how governments are blind for the entire picture in the fight against the virus – it is good and important to fight against it, but this fight should not turn against the people, but it did. 

The song ‘Augenschein’ (Eyeglance) also deals with the pandemic, in particular with the heated debates about the restrictions, the vaccines, et cetera. You also sing ‘Not everything new is good for us / Not everything is progress’. What do you mean by this? 

TILO WOLFF: This song is only partly about the pandemic. The phrase you picked out is about the believe of every upcoming generation, that they would know everything better. If we look back into history, we clearly can see that this is not the case. Many people only see their own state of mind and their own personal needs and are blind for the big whole. For example, take the climate crises. People living on the countryside, taking care about sustainable cultivation and the environment, are attacked as environmental polluters when they drive to the city with their SUVs, which they need out on the countryside because of the lack of public transportation and of proper roads out there. Just the same, which topic we pick out, too many people think they know best without having in mind, that they don’t see the entire picture. 

The song ‘Die Liebenden’ (The Lovers) seems to bring salvation, and goes back to a classic theme in the lyrics of Lacrimosa: love. The pandemic has restricted our freedoms, but freedom can always be found in true love. Is this the message of the song? Can you elaborate on that? 

TILO WOLFF: This album is much less about the pandemic as you might think. I wrote this song before Covid started, but yes, I think that freedom is to be found in love. This brings us back to the previous topic, because I have the feeling that the people unlearn to be caring for each other. Everyone is busy with themselves in striving to optimally expand one's own freedom, forgetting that personal freedom only extends as far as the state of mind of the other person. Jesus said it perfectly: “Treat others always as you would like them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12). This says it all, but well, every generation thinks they know it better… 

In the video for ‘Raubtier’ (Predator), you introduced two new characters: Jean-Gustave de Geulasse and Lacristobal, both played by yourself. Can you tell us more about these characters and why they entered the world of Lacrimosa? 

TILO WOLFF: Haha, yes, my new friends and enemies. Well, Jean-Gustave of course is my arch enemy, the one who should have no reason to be respected in our society, he stands for all those selfish, self-centered people who make the life of others miserable. Well, and Lacristobal is my alter ego, full of passion and desire, living like a ghost inside of me. 

You also choose to play almost all the instruments yourself on ‘Leidenschaft’. Only Anne Nurmi and drummer Michael Mohr are present on most songs, with some appearances of JP Genkel and of course the Lacrimosa Session Orchestra. Why do you choose to play almost everything yourself rather that asking more guest musicians to play on your album? 

TILO WOLFF: That was on one hand due to the pandemic. Most of the time, it was nearly impossible to plan recording sessions because traveling was not so easy. On the other hand, it was the most natural and direct way to capture all the emotions and all the little details I had in mind. It’s the pure Lacrimosa way! 

You chose to release ‘Leidenschaft’ on the day of Christmas. We know that you are a devote Christian. Is this the reason that you chose Christmas, or did other things also played a role in your decision?
TILO WOLFF: Actually, the reason for this decision was, that this album is something very special for me. To record this album was an unbelievable journey, it was nerve-racking, exhausting, intoxicating, uplifting and sometimes devastating and there were times when I could hardly believe that I would ever be able to finish the album. After it was completed I was so thankful and happy that it felt like becoming the most wonderful present. Well, and this was the idea to bring it out on Christmas, a present for all Lacrimosa lovers! 

Speaking of Christianity. You have said before that you are also active in your own Christian community. I always wondered how the other people in the community reacted towards this extravagant gothic artist that you are... 

TILO WOLFF: Well, they know me and they take me as I am. This is the Christian way, as one can read in the scriptures: “For not as man judges – for man judges according to the eyes, but the LORD judges according to the heart.” (1Sam 9:2) True believers are living in the knowledge, that every person is a creation of God, and that God loves everyone. So, who are we to judge others? 

If I remember well, when you released the compilation ‘Zeitreise’ in 2019, you promised a new Lacrimosa album in 2020, obviously in the light of the 30th anniversary of Lacrimosa. You even included a song on ‘Zeitreise’ that was supposed to be on the new album. Can you tell us why the album was delayed and why ‘Im Schatten der Sonne’ is not featured on ‘Leidenschaft’? Did you write more songs that are not featured on ‘Leidenschaft’? 

TILO WOLFF: The delay was due to the pandemic situation. I so much wanted to have the new studio album out to celebrate the 30th anniversary, but Covid came into the way. And yes, I wrote some more songs and about “Im Schatten der Sonne” it turned out that it was the perfect link between “Testimonium” and ‘Leidenschaft’ – just last night I heard the song again and got convinced again that this was the right decision, even though I love this song, it was a pleasure listening to it again – though it does not fit into the concept of ‘Leidenschaft’ as much as all the other songs that found their way on to this album. 

In 2020, you released the ‘30th anniversary box’, a box with three CDs and lots of other things like a kalender, a flag, a memory game... This box was sold exclusively through the Hall Of Sermon webshop. I love the CDs contained in the box, especially the ‘Live 2015’ CD. What was the idea behind the box and why make it an exclusivity for only your hand-core fans? 

TILO WOLFF: After I realized that ‘Leidenschaft’ won’t be ready for the anniversary, I wanted to fulfill my promise, in coming up with something new, at least in this sense, and to give the audience something special, to make the people happy in this special year! This was the idea behind this box and therefore it only come through our shop because it was meant to be for our closest audience, those who are living with Lacrimosa. 

I want to finish with a question about an earlier album. ‘Echos’ is a disc beloved by many of your fans, internationally. The record was perhaps a very difficult one again. This is the only post-1993 album that was not followed up by a tour, and only a limited number of songs can be played live, due to the importance of the symphonic orchestra on ‘Echos’. What were you aiming at with this album and what other important things should we know about this classic? 

TILO WOLFF: One thing is to be known, is that the people didn’t like the album at all when it was released. One big metal magazine even told me that they would no longer write about Lacrimosa, because Lacrimosa has turned its back to metal with this album. Yes, this album was not treated nice either by the Lacrimosa audience and also not by those who never liked Lacrimosa. I was a little confused back then, because I myself was very happy with this album, I thought it was a masterpiece, but with this in mind I was quite alone back then. Well, I was surprised to realize, that many years later some people popped up telling me that this would be their favorite album. I thought ‘where are you now coming from and where have you been all these years’. Yes, sometimes things are pretty weird.

Lacrimosa: website / facebook

Pictures: Xavier Marquis

vrijdag 4 maart 2022

Irdorath: I still don’t understand how participation in peaceful rallies can be repressed with prison sentences.

With the current war raging in Ukraine, we would almost forget what is happening in Belarus, the northern neighbor of Ukraine. Five musicians connected to the Belarussian fantasy folk band Irdorath are currently in jail. Their crime? They protested peacefully against the election results of August 2020, which were broadly claimed to be rigged. 

The protests were answered by the regime of autocrat Alexandr Lukashenko – who is in power since 1994 – with merciless repression. We had the chance to talk to Aliaksei Palauchenia, the drummer of Irdorath who also spent 15 days in jail after the violent arrest of the band members and their supporters at the birthday party of singer Nadezjda Kalach. 

Aliaksei Palauchenia: In connection with the events in Ukraine, I am obliged to say on my own behalf and on behalf of Irdorath that right now there is a monstrous war going on in the country where our friends and relatives live. We beg to stop this crime against the people of Ukraine! 

Thank you Aliaksei. Let’s focus on what’s happening in Belarus now. How was Irdorath formed and how did you join the band? 

Thank you for your interest in Belarus and Irdorath. Irdorath was born in 2011, when Vladimir and Nadezhda Kalach – the founding members of Irdorath – moved from Grodno to Minsk, where there were more opportunities to implement the project and find musicians for cooperation. Until that time, they had been playing together for several years: Vladimir on bagpipes, and Nadezhda on davul. They played on medieval festivals, street fairs, holidays - it was a good experience. But it was time to move on, there was an understanding that they were ready for more. 

The first to join the duo was Anton Shnip, a talented musician and sound producer, and it was these three people who created the project and set its direction in music. In 2012 Irdorath presented the debut album ‘Ad Astra’ and then the line-up of musicians became wider and changed periodically. Concert activity in Europe began. 

I had heard about Irdorath many times, but I did not see them at concerts until 2018. In December 2018 we participated together in the Christmas festival in Minsk. I came with my band Osimira and saw how they performed. It was a well-staged costume show with an explosive program! It was immediately obvious that Irdorath had a lot of experience on the European scene. Later I saw an ad on social media that they were looking for a drummer from Minsk. I live in another city 200 km away, but still decided to come to the casting. 

Not everything worked out right away, but in January 2019 I started coming every week for rehearsals, and after a few months we played a big concert together in Munich! During that year we travelled to many countries for concerts. 

Irdorath describes itself as a fantasy-folk band. The songs are often based on traditional folk themes, but the songs also tackle fantasy themes and serious societal criticism. Can you tell us more about the subjects of Irdorath’s music? 

The image of the musical heroes of Irdorath, as it were, take us back to fairy tales and legends. We use the images of mystical creatures to describe different human qualities, not from the side of magic, but more often from the side of real emotions and feelings, from joy and admiration to hatred and deceit. Everything you hear in music is a reflection of the modern world and what is happening in it. Some of the material we have is from Western European folklore, but most songs are Belarusian and author's songs. Irdorath has songs in different languages and everyone will find something of their own. And, of course, there is enough instrumental music. 

During the mass protests against the election results of August 2020 and the police repression that followed, musicians of Irdorath decided to participate and play music during the marches. Why did they decided to do so? 

Good question. At that time, it was not a question for us. It seems to me that just everyone who felt that it was time for a change came out. There were so many people, and it was natural. These were emphatically peaceful processions. I think you have seen these shots - they can be easily found on the Internet. The musicians went out and did what they do best - play for people, cheer them up. For me, they are not guilty, as are several thousand people who are now deprived of their liberty. 

Were they aware that participating in the protests was dangerous? Did they know that they faced the danger of long prison sentences? 

I still don’t understand, and the whole world with us doesn’t understand how participation in peaceful rallies could be dangerous. No one thought about prison terms. This could not be in the rule of law. Unfortunately, we still see new facts of detentions and arrests in the news every day. We are waiting for the release of our friends and colleagues. 

At the end of 2020, several members of Irdorath lost their jobs at the Viktoryia Children and Youth Centre due to participating in yard concerts in Minsk. Can you tell us more about this? 

I can't answer you. But I really hope that people keep a record of all employees dismissed for conscience reasons since that moment. It's thousands and thousands of people. These layoffs are ongoing. 

You were present during that fateful night of 2 August 2021 when several members of Irdorath were arrested. Can you tell us what happened? 
It is very strange to detain musicians representing Belarus in Europe like this. I will refrain from commenting. I can only say that we planned to celebrate Nadia's birthday and half of the guests met there for the first time. Draw your own conclusions. 

As a result, you and others were convicted to 15 days in prison for disobeying the special forces that did the arrests. Meanwhile, 5 people received long prison sentences: 2 years in custody for singers Vladimir and Nadezjda Kalach, and 1 year and 6 months for their fellow musicians Piatro Marchanka, Yuliya Marchanka and Anton Shnip. Do we have any news of how they experience the prison? 

I can't speak for the guys, but from my experience I can say that the first thing is shock. Shock is everything. Emotional breakdown and depression. Imagine that they were imprisoned without a court verdict for four months. Four months of waiting ... And what is it like for Vladimir and Peter to know that their wives Nadezhda and Yulia were in the same building and there was no opportunity to see each other. And how does Anton feels? His bride is waiting for him. There was hope for a different outcome, but this did not happen. Recently, Nadezhda and Yulia were transferred to a colony in Gomel. 

Where do you live right now? Can you still walk freely in Belarus or is it dangerous for you too? 

I left Belarus with one suitcase of things. Now I am starting my life from scratch in another country. All over again. It's not easy, but it's quite possible. I believe that we will definitely get together again and play at the best festivals in the world! 

I thank you for the interview. Now and during the entire period in prison, my guys and their families really need support and help. you can write a letter without a political context or transfer money. All information can be found by hashtag #freeirdorath 

The five members of Irdorath are recognized as political prisoners. You can write the at the following addresses: 

Vladimir Kalach, Piatro Marchanka and Anton Shnip 
Gagarina st. 2 

Nadezjda Kalach and Yuliya Marchanka 
Knizhnaya st. 1A 

You can find all the information on Irdorath and the actions of solidarity with the prisoners under hashtag #freeirdorath. 

dinsdag 15 februari 2022

Goethes Erben: Politics and society have generally used the arts and the cultural sector as whipping boys in the pandemic.

Oswald Henke is angry. Angry and disappointed. In the pandemic, the cultural sector was used as a scapegoat. Everything about culture had to be closed, while sporting events and travelling were allowed to continue. His income was severely reduced for two years as a result. Nevertheless, Goethes Erben released two beautiful records during the pandemic: 'Flüchtige Küsse' in 2020 and 'Elemente' in 2021. The live CD and DVD 'Das gestohlene Konzert' will soon be added. Enough reasons to listen to Uncle Oswald once more. 

In July 2021 you released 'Elemente'. It is not just a CD, but a collection of singles about the four elements of nature: air, earth, water and fire. There is also a CD with some bonus tracks. What inspired you to work with this concept? 

Oswald Henke : In times of pandemic, we had to adapt our way of working. We haven't been able to rehearse much in 2020. We discussed a lot through Skype meetings or on the phone, because you couldn't get together even as a band. So I thought to myself: let's put together in one box everything that Goethes Erben has produced as creative work and content. Past, present and also future. For this reason the 7" box 'Elemente' has also been released as vinyl + CD + soap + other extras. My creative work doesn't includes one single thing, but many small elements that then result in a complete work. 'Seelenbalsam' (the soap collection that Oswald Henke helped create, xk) for example only exists because during the pandemic I lost almost every opportunity to make money and then I implemented the idea of ​​vegan cosmetics based on pieces by Goethes Erben, Erblast or Artwork. We then created it and offered it as a product. 

The soap 'Rebel' – one of the designed soaps from the 'Seelenbalsam' collection – is the representative of this in the box. The music consists of the chamber ensemble and the regular band, and the box contains old and new pieces… You will find all kinds of memories on the pins. All these things recall what makes Goethes Erben so special. All elements together result in my work. Even though Goethes Erben is always an ensemble performance, I am the artistic director and I try to collaborate with other creatives and thus set up artistic projects. I am not afraid to try new things out and have also tried to overcome the limitations imposed by the pandemic as part of the box concept. 

But it is also true that 'Elemente' is available as a simple CD, but that is only one aspect of the idea behind this release. 

On the release, Goethes Erben plays in two different ensembles: as a rock band on 'Spiel mit mir' and as a chamber ensemble on most of the other songs. The two ensembles also lead to several live concerts, completely independent of each other. How do you combine the two versions of your project? 

I am the crossroads and at some concerts of the chamber ensemble, Markus Koestner of the regular band is also there as a percussionist. They are simply two different live ensembles rehearsing at different times and working independently on new pieces. So it is not really a combination. Rather: we can stage Goethes Erben in different ways. Whether as a band, as a chamber music ensemble or as a music theater production. 

'Elemente' also includes 'Ölberg' versions of several older pieces performed by the chamber music ensemble. I love them. They appear to be leftovers from the recordings of your previous record, 'Flüchtige Küsse'. Why did you include them on 'Elemente'? 

That's right, they were recorded in Ölberg church as part of the recordings for 'Flüchtige Küsse'. For 'Elemente' these pieces represent the past, which at best is an important part of the present and should also be an option for the future. We keep changing the live versions to keep them in the present. Arrangements can be made smaller or larger, or they can be left as they are. That's the exciting thing. The only important thing is that you don't destroy the "magic" of a piece. 

In the song 'Zeit zu gehen', but also in the CD booklet, you criticize the measures surrounding the corona pandemic. You even say that 'society has failed'. What made you so angry about the measures? Why has society failed? 

Politics and society have generally used the arts and the cultural sector as whipping boys in the pandemic. In principle, we as a band and I as a musician have not been able to give concerts at any time since the outbreak of the pandemic in Europe. We always had restrictions and conditions, while people attended football matches in stadiums or travelled all over the world to enjoy their holidays and then wondered why the number of infections increased again after the holidays. Culture was the first thing that kept getting turned off and one of the last things allowed to be reactivated. 

Football in particular angered me, because football matches without an audience have only proven one thing: it's all about money, not about sport. It is about the broadcasting rights that must be served. Imagine a tour of The Cure of Placebo without an audience... Wouldn't that be crazy? Culture has no lobby in Germany, but what would people have done in these days without movies and music? I think people don't realize that until you just don't give them access to music or movies for a month. 

The pandemic also had a major impact on the artistic world. You complain that both record sales and concert ticket sales have suffered greatly from the pandemic. What do you think are the causes and solutions? 

I have no idea. After two years of not being able to plan anything, I decided to avoid a third year in this regard and only plan and offer concerts by Goethes Erben in and around Bayreuth. Only the festival in October (Autumn Moon in Hamelin) is at a distance. All other concerts take place in our neighbourhood. I also think it will take months if not years after the pandemic to get people back to concerts. Some will probably not come at all because after two years of uncertainty and fear they are used to staying at home. 

'Elemente' comes after 'Flüchtige Küsse', which was released in 2020. We had seen concerts with the chamber music ensemble before, but this is a whole CD in this style. And it is brilliant! I heard it should have been a live CD, but because of Corona it was recorded without an audience. Why did you decide to record a CD with this ensemble and why should it have been a live recording? 

Goethes Erben has always been a strong live band and the chamber music arrangements in particular work most intensively when they are recorded live at the same time as an ensemble. That's why I wanted to record 'Flüchtige Küsse' like this. The titles 'Ich möchte fliegen', 'Zeit zu gehen', 'Darf ich bitten' and 'Fern ab vom Licht' were not recorded live. This has advantages in terms of mixing, but when you hear these pieces live on the upcoming DVD and CD 'Das gestohlene Konzert' you will understand why I prefer live, also in terms of recording the chamber ensemble. It's just livelier and more intense. 

Sebastian Boettcher's compositions for the chamber music ensemble are very melodic. Your singing style, often referred to as Sprechgesang, has evolved in that direction, hasn't it? 

Let's put it this way: with the chamber ensemble I sometimes hit the right notes. (laughs) Since the rehearsals here are much more intensive and complex, I also dare to expand my linguistic possibilities in a tonal way. 

In your lyrics on 'Flüchtige Küsse' we can read things like: 'We all seek great happiness and forget to be just satisfied' and 'Sometimes it's just about getting through life'. How do you see things in this regard? 

Exactly as it says in the text. Life is not always beautiful and sometimes fate is unfair and mean. But life is also the option on EVERYTHING, because if you don't live, you can't have beautiful things, fall in love, dance, have adventures or have happy moments. But a part of life is also experiencing grief and loss. It is important that we make something of our lives and somehow try to make the world a little better. 

It gets more political at the end of 'Flüchtige Küsse': 'Because we don't believe anything anymore; no longer believing the facts' and 'arguing against ignorance is meaningless as playing chess with pigeons and religion'. Does the current affairs around corona and corona skeptics also seep through in these texts? 

'Ich bin der Zorn', indeed. It is mainly thanks to idiots and toxic men like Trump, Erdogan, Bolsonaro, Putin and Orban that the world has become smaller and more intolerant in recent years. Conspiracy theories are on the rise and I'm actually waiting for the first pyres and book burnings. The democracies must now assert themselves and also clearly say goodbye to ruthless capitalism, in which only a small elite accumulate more and more money while the rest of humanity dries up. Whether financially, economically, socially or factually. 

You also say that a new record is coming soon – the tenth studio album. Can you tell us something about it? 

We presented X live with 5 titles on the X Tour 2021. We will present the new album live on September 17 in Bayreuth. However, the X album itself will not be released until the spring of 2023, as we need this time to record the album in a way that we are happy with during this pandemic period. The pandemic has slowed things down and put a lot of things on hold as well. An unwanted delay has disadvantages. But you can also make this circumstance a possibility and that's what we're trying to do with the concept of X. 

Goethes Erben: facebook / website / youtube 

Pictures: Luc 'who cares' Luyten