vrijdag 15 januari 2016

Interview with TET

"Why pretend EBM ended in 1986, while it actually reached its climax later?"

There aren't many dark electronic releases that came out in 2015 and got a top rating (8,5 stars or more) from me. I'm sure I've missed out on a bunch of great albums, but that's just a problem I face every year. Fortunately, there's one album that really did impress me, to the extent I ended up giving it 9 stars. It's the triple album 'Code Ultimate Control' by the old-school electro/EBM band TET. In fact, I like it so much I asked CS/TET if he was interested in doing an interview, which is something I seldom propose. He was very enthusiastic and agreed, resulting in the following dialogue.

Hi CS/TET, can you please introduce your band? Who are the members, where are they from and when was TET founded? Just any background information you'd like to share.

CS/TET: TET (Travailleur En Trance) was founded by me back in May 1993 in the very north of Germany, after getting my first serious synth and sequencer. It was originally an open electronic project, but very quickly, the EBM aspect started to dominate. I had been into EBM since the late 80s and already been active in several other electronic projects. The first phase of TET only lasted until about '95-'96, at which point I felt EBM was no longer there. There was simply too much boring US guitar crossover, while several important bands of the 80s had entirely ceased giving creative input to the scene. The most interesting electronic danceable sounds then emerged from different areas, from new artists like Aphex Twin, Autechre or Cristian Vogel. So that's where I went, later releasing several vinyl with another project, of which at least one even made it into the hands of John Peel.

But of course, you never really forget your roots. In the mid 2000s, I felt the urgent need to reactivate TET, and we released the debut album 'Ultima Ratio Intervention' in 2005 on our own label, followed by 'Cobra Coded Escalation' 3 years later. These releases were received quite well. Therefore, the second TET phase didn't end quickly like the first one did after 2-3 years - we have now been active continuously for 11 years and still don't feel like quitting! The TET band members are CS/TET and RI/TET (an ice-cold man controlling TET's live machinery since the first gig in 1994).

How did you come up with the band name Travailleur En Trance? You're a German band and most of your songs are in English, so why this French name?

CS/TET: The French name was chosen because it sounded good, and back in those days we also had some French lyrics. It also meant that TET was a mixture of early EBM (travailleur = worker) and more modern elements (in 1993, trance music wasn't evil yet, but something new and fresh).

I'm not so fond of that anymore, because in the end, the amount of "worker" tracks by TET was never enough to really justify the "travailleur". Other influences like high-tech cyber war, surveillance, lunatic self-justice, action movie samples, the occasional monster etc. have always been primary for TET, even back in the tape days.

To my surprise, more and more people now suddenly seem to remember TET as Travailleur En Trance, but I personally prefer TET since it sounds more universal.

Your first releases from the 90s are solely available on tape. I assume that was a deliberate choice? If so, why did you change to the CD format when you released 'Ultima Ratio Intervention' in 2005?

CS/TET: I think the vast majority of the bands releasing tapes in the early 90s wasn't doing that deliberately - they were all aiming for a CD deal, and so was TET. However, the tape scene consisted of very dedicated people, with some taking their tape labels really seriously. It was the only viable way for unknown bands to get a little attention by spreading their music, so it was cool. I had been releasing tapes with other projects long before TET was created.

In 2005, it was not an option anymore to release a tape. Finding a manufacturing company doing limited runs would have been very difficult and hence the costs too high. And since most people probably dumped their tape decks at the end of the 90s, who would have been able to play it? That being said, maybe "TET and tapes" is not completely history. Some claim for example that a hidden track from the tape era was released on 'Code Ultimate Control'...

It took you 4 years to complete 'Code Ultimate Control'. Was there any particular reason for the delay? My guess is you're a perfectionist who pays meticulous attention to detail. I think you're not easily satisfied and keep doing everything over and over again until you get it 100% right?

CS/TET: 'Code Ultimate Control' was originally planned as a regular album, 'Controlling The Night Skies', which has now become CD 1 of 'Code Ultimate Control'. Then the need arose to re-work the most important tracks from the previous albums for live use, so everything would fit together better. From there, things got a little out of hand... First it was a double CD, then a triple, because the new material also turned out to be too long for one CD and I didn't want to shorten it too drastically. So some new tracks were exported onto CDs 2 and 3. In the end it became the monster you can buy now ;) It's correct to assume that I often work on tracks for very long periods, changing things over and over again, yes. But with 'Code Ultimate Control' it went to such extremes that I now really feel like doing something more compact next.

'Controlling The Night Skies' sounds very different from the other 2 albums. It's way more atmospheric and cinematographic. Would you call this the new TET sound or was it just an one-off thing?

CS/TET: When I started working on the new tracks, I listened to a lot of Front Line Assembly's music from '86-'89, along with some Clock DVA, and I noticed that a mixture of hard driving beats and sequences with soundtrack-like atmospheres and reverb hadn't been done in ages. I generally always like the clashing of seemingly contradictory elements. For me, a powerful beat and a powerful atmosphere can create an even stronger impact than one of those things alone. So I thought it would be a refreshing change. And even after 4 years, I'm still not fed up with this type of sound. But as I mentioned in the previous answer, future tracks will probably be a little less megalomaniac productions. Some soundtrack elements will probably remain though.

'Controlling The Night Skies' also has different lyrical themes. Many tracks are about drones and high-tech surveillance, whereas the other 2 albums focus mainly on war and combat. Can you tell us something more about the inspiration behind the lyrics?

CS/TET: Actually, you can find futuristic warfare, combat and high-tech surveillance themes on all 3 albums. The change lies more in the way it's dealt with. On the older albums, the approach was more funny, based on C movie samples. On 'Controlling The Night Skies', everything had to be a bit more serious, or it wouldn't have mixed well with the more orchestral sounds that always evoke a certain gravity.

I certainly don't want to make it look like we invented it - like many things we do, it's inspired by the classic bands and releases and shares the same sources of inspiration. "Sampling the news - watching killvision", as Front 242 put it in 1987.

Those "sinister outlook" topics were predominant during the climax of EBM in the late 80s/early 90s, and since everything that was predicted in those came true, the themes are still valid in my opinion.

What are your personal favourite tracks from each disc of 'Code Ultimate Control'? You're allowed to pick only 2 titles per album!

CS/TET: We really tried hard to do that, but the best we can give you is our top 8 across all discs. For me, that's 'The Flying Fortress', 'Fighter Zone 2033', 'Kampfmaschinen', 'Panzerdancer', 'Theme Of Aggression', 'Red Spot [Direct Hit 3000]' 'Synthesizing The Antibody (A New Bodydawn)', 'I Scan You [Patched 3.000]'.

RI/TET: 'The Flying Fortress', 'Mind Quantizer', 'Provocation', 'Kampfmaschinen', 'Snipers [Newly Targeted 3000]', 'SFX Retaliator (What A Man)', 'Synthesizing The Antibody (A New Bodydawn)', 'Deploy The Machines'.

CS/TET: Too many tracks just seem exactly equal in effectiveness to us. If you absolutely want less, please throw a dice ;)

There's a long list of "sound generators" in the sleeve notes of 'Code Ultimate Control'. I'm a layman when it comes to electronic gear, but can you tell us what all this stuff is? The only thing I'm sure of is that you have a lot of synths.

CS/TET: It's a mixture of hardware (synthesizers with and without keyboards) and software (synth apps, plug-ins). I didn't want to separate those 2, since they're all sound generators and have their own strengths. It's fantastic, by the way, how much choice you have today. The dreams from the late 80s - to be able to use lots and lots of machinery in the future - really came true. On the other hand, it takes a lot of time to create your own sounds on each of those sound generators. 'Code Ultimate Control' consists of hundreds of self-programmed sounds, so that fact alone accounts for the rather extended time it took to finish it. Some machines and programs are quite complex, but it pays off - it's the only way you can go beyond the standard sounds everybody uses.

One of the reasons why I like 'Code Ultimate Control' so much is because of all the different vocal effects and variations in your singing style. Is that also something you pay close attention to? Most old-school electro/EBM bands I know tend to stick to the same kind of vocals/effects.

CS/TET: One obvious reason is of course that 'Code Ultimate Control' contains improved versions of the previous 2 albums, and those even contain tracks from the tape scene days. They contain mostly hard distortion vocals, which is what TET started off with in 1993. However, some people were always demanding less distortion and more "singing" from TET. And since this fits very well with the more atmospheric style of the new album 'Controlling The Night Skies', it was the perfect occasion to experiment with more diverse vocal effects. Any type of experimentation is what puts the fun into music for me.

The drawback is that it's very difficult to reproduce it live. It would be possible with additional effort (tech/manpower) - but most people are paying less attention to it than you thankfully do, so we usually just simplify it on stage.

You're heavily opposed against the so-called "loudness war", which has been plaguing contemporary music recordings. 'Code Ultimate Control' is a "dynamic range recording". What exactly does that mean?

CS/TET: For about 20 years now, record companies have been forcing mastering engineers to make new releases louder and louder, mainly in order to have the most impact on the radio. It's called a war because the next release always has to be even louder than the one before, in order to beat others in the competition. At first, louder music sounds more powerful to the human ear. But unless you do pure industrial noise music, it's in fact destroying the sound, killing the fine elements and especially the dynamics, the range between the silent and loud parts and elements. Just get an album from the 80s and one released today. On the first one you might have to turn up the volume, but you will notice that the music sounds much "deeper", making it a pleasure to listen to it for a longer time. On the other hand, the "wow, that's powerful!" effect of the new album wears off within a few minutes. Everything is equally loud, there are no changes, so the music sounds dull over time.

In the worst case, it even borders on (unwanted) distortion, so if this war goes on forever, everything will be industrial... Fortunately, there are now signs that the end of the war is within sight in the mainstream. But I'm not sure awareness will also make its way into the underground scene soon, so I just keep fighting!

TET has performed in Belgium twice: at a small EBM festival in Geel in 2005 and as special guest at the 25th anniversary show of Front 242 in the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels a year later. How do you look back at these gigs? Any memories or anecdotes you'd like to share?

CS/TET: Of course and without any doubt, being invited by the inventors of the term "EBM" to join their anniversary as only other EBM band, can only be the best show you've ever had. The venue was great, everything was perfectly organised - something you don't always encounter when you're a band ranking a few categories lower than Front 242. And finally, the audience was plenty and open-minded towards a new band. So it couldn't get any better.

As for anecdotes: I'm not sure if this is unique worldwide, but I'm sure there are not many venues where you take an elevator directly to the stage. To find that elevator, you had to follow certain coloured lines on the floor through a labyrinth of corridors. Pick the wrong colour and you might end up on the wrong stage! Very thrilling.

I also have good memories of the small festival in Geel, which was organised by very friendly people, who sadly don't seem to do any events anymore. The stage was unlike anything we had ever seen before - it was not completely square, but with triangles facing the audience. We had never seen anything like that before. And Insekt did a fantastic show on it.

We really like Belgium for those strange surprises. By the way, my theory is that this inherent Belgian strangeness also lead to such a small country developing such an unique music scene...

What's your stance on contemporary "old-school" EBM? You don't seem very fond of the Anhalt EBM movement.

CS/TET: Well, I just think it contains only a small fraction of EBM history and ignores all the rest. I'm still trying to figure out why lots of musicians all take the same 2-3 albums as blueprint for their EBM, while there used to be so much variety in the late 80s. Why pretend EBM ended in 1986, while it actually reached its climax later? I personally entered EBM at the time of 'Front By Front' and 'Gashed Senses & Crossfire'. At that time, all the classic acts (including Nitzer Ebb) had upgraded EBM from 1-sequence tracks like 'That Total Age'. And by the way, Front 242 -  hailed as "the EBM godfathers" - never even released one single track in that style.

What is glorified now as minimalism, was in fact simply due to technical (sequencer) limitations in the very early days. After that, every electronic musician was eager to reach new levels of production with new synths and better sequencers. Nobody was looking back and going retro in the 80s. Things were dynamic and forward-looking. What's more: every band was striving to do their own variation of EBM; nobody just copied another band. And the labels and audience were not only accepting, but also praising their experiments - quite the opposite of today, I think.

Of course, there's no denying EBM is a retro style as a whole today. But if you still feel close to that golden era, why not look at the complete, fascinating range that EBM used to have? From combat style to rock 'n roll influences, from ice-cold atmospheres to cowboy hats, from cyborg biomechanics to horror themes - you name it.

In other words, what do these classics have in common: 'Headhunter', 'Assimilate', 'Gun', 'Moving Hands', 'Rigor Mortis', 'Poison', 'Tension', 'Memory Flow' and even 'Control I'm Here'? - Answer: by today's definition, none of these tracks is old-school EBM.

Let me stress this is not about "better" or "worse" music for me; just about variety in style and how to keep things interesting. And having once sold thousands of abstract techno vinyl with another project, I definitely have nothing against minimalism on principle. If you know how to do it, great, but less is not automatically more for me. In my eyes, minimalism should be defended against becoming a pretext for wanting to get music finished quickly and easily.

Well, that's just my 2 or 3 cents on the whole issue. Thanks to anyone reading this far ;)

Final question: is there a chance we will ever see TET without sunglasses? ;)

CS/TET: No, sorry. It's simply too dangerous for us, especially after answering the previous question. We need to continue operating in absolute darkness, off the main grid, like we've been doing for 23 years... ;)

Final word: thanks for your interest in TET and the in-depth questions! It was a pleasure.

Interview: Marjolein Laenen 

maandag 11 januari 2016

In memoriam David Bowie

Bowie is no more. A legend is dead. And only two days after the release of his new album 'Blackstar'. We knew for some time that Bowie was not in good health, that he suffered from heart problems, that he no longer wanted to tour... But with the new CD, we thought that it was not all that bad. How mistaken we were! Cancer was stronger. For 18 months, the man fought against the terrible disease. He nevertheless managed to make a record during that time. A small miracle.

He was often called the chameleon of pop music, but Bowie said a chameleon does its best to blend in, and he did exactly the opposite. The man changed permanently, both musically and in his looks. He sang and played saxophone in many groups before embarking on his solo career. He took the stage name of David Bowie, because he no longer wanted to perform under his own name David Jones, which also could create confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees.

With his first album, Bowie did not have much success. Yet, artistically, it was very promising, with strongly orchestrated and absurd songs. Bowie chose to re-record the song 'Space Oddity' with the launch of Apollo 11 to the moon. Producer Tony Visconti was disgusted by the cheap and commercial idea, and refused to work on the song. The song became a hit nonetheless, and Visconti admitted afterwards that he should not have refused.

Visconti was also the man behind the controls for ‘The Man Who Sold The World’, a monumental record about which Peter Murphy (Bauhaus) once said that it was the first gothic album of all time. Visconti did more than recording. While Bowie was playing around with his new girlfriend, he and guitar legend Mick Ronson wrote all the arrangements. They gave the disc this huge dark and paranoid feeling. Annoyed by the unprofessional attitude of Bowie, Visconti no longer wanted to work with him (an argument which they only solved years later, during the recording of ‘Diamond Dogs’).

Visconti was surprised that Bowie came up with a colourful and varied record as 'Hunky Dory' soon afterwards. The quality of the compositions was astounding, and with songs like ‘Life On Mars’, ‘Changes' and ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’, Bowie was able to reach a larger audience. But it was with ‘Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ that Bowie really broke through. The extreme and extravagant image of Bowie, that fitted perfectly with the glam rock trend, and his exciting and melodic songs, made him a true superstar.

'Aladdin Sane' was meant to capitalize on the success, but was a wavering album, which, however, contains magnificent songs like ‘Drive-In Saturday’ and ‘Time’. With 'Diamond Dogs', however, he managed to create a strong concept album, about a world that had to be rebuilt after a nuclear accident. The album also contains a number of songs that were to appear on a musical adaptation of ‘1984’, but for which Bowie couldn’t get the rights from the widow of George Orwell.

Bowie wanted to reinvent himself. On ‘Young Americans’, he took the image of a white soul singer. The record was successful, but is somehow forgotten by what would come afterwards. Because 'Station To Station' was a bleak masterpiece, which was clearly influenced by the extreme coke addiction of the singer. The man weighed less than 40 kilos at the time. A Thin White Duke, indeed. But also 'Station To Station' is only a run up. Bowie would move to Berlin...

Bowie takes an unusual initiative. He calls some friends and musicians - among them Tony Visconti and Brian Eno - and asks them if they want to isolate themselves with him for a while in a castle in France. The idea: to make music as experimental as possible. The deal is clear: only if the results would be good enough, would they be released. If not, everybody goes back to his usual stuff. Fortunately, the results were good. Extremely good. ‘Low’ would become the most innovative album of Bowie ever.

The disc consists of two parts. In the first part you can hear relatively conventional rock songs, but full of strange effects that make them sound extraordinary. But the second side is filled with experimental sound fields, which hold just about midway between ambient and neoclassical. ‘Heroes’ continues on this concept and is a phenomenal success, including the global hit the title track made.

Two years later, the Berlin Bowie period closed with ‘Lodger’, which goes back towards conventional rock. The eighties started with 'Scary Monsters, Super Creeps', a delicious pop album with hits like 'Ashes To Ashes' and 'Fashion'. Bowie then moves entirely toward pop with 'Let's Dance', the title track of which again climbs in the charts all over the world. Fans are usually less enthusiastic about Bowie’s work in the rest of the eighties, and Bowie afterwards admitted that it was not his best work.

But in the nineties, Bowie showed that he was still willing and able to innovate. On ‘1. Outside’, he experimented with drum 'n' bass, on 'Earthling', with industrial. With Tin Machine he made solid rock in a group where not everything revolved around him, and with 'Hours' he harked back to the atmosphere of 'Hunky Dory'. The new millennium started with the beautiful 'Heathen', which is quickly succeeded by 'Reality'. Bowie would do a worldwide tour afterwards, which would prove to be his last.

Bowie suffered from heart problems, and is no longer able to perform. It was therefore surprising that he released a new album in 2013 - 'The Next Day' - which essentially build on a sound he had been using for a longer time. With 'Blackstar', that would be different. That really was going to be an innovative disc. We now know that the album was intended as a testament. Listen again to the text of 'Lazarus', and you will know for sure.

Bowie fought against cancer for 18 months. He lost that fight, but will remain alive through his music and the music of all those influenced by him. They are many. The Cure, Joy Division, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Gary Numan, Bauhaus and many others have acknowledged his influence. He is sometimes called the godfather of goth, both because his flamboyant clothing and makeup, as for his cold and depressing music. He has unmistakably influenced the music history, and will remain an inspirational figure for a long time.

Xavier Kruth