Am Tierpark is a project with the combined superpowers of Claus Larsen (vocals, lyrics) and John R Mirland (music, production). They dropped their latest album, Forevermore, May the 10th, on the Læbel record label. This is the duo’s synthpop project, amongst their other acts such as Larsen & Mirland plus a.o., Claus Larsen’s Leæther Strip, Klutæ, and John R Mirland’s Mirland, M73….that is only naming a few.
Oh yes the synthpop is strong in this album, as it starts with the “Shower Me With Freedom” and Larsen’s dulcet tones and those brilliant synths. It is followed by the lyrically mournful and poignant “I Let You Go“. There is a wonderful trance element to “Love Collide“, as the delightful synths dance around Larsen’s vocals, which changes pace with the more somber “Just Watch Me“, that has these beautiful whirls of electronics that make your senses fly.
Ooh yeah, the sassy and sexy boy toys in “Room 24“, has those heavy overtones of Bronski Beat with an Italo disco feel, which is continued in “Not Welcome“, though this is a tale of love, rejected by a ignorant portion of the population. Title track, “Forevermore” has a heavenly start with those synths, in a slow burn of hurt and those sighing synths meld into the smooth sounding “Mighty World“, while “Sacrifice Your Purity” has an amazing amount of movement, and threw me into 1983, with the dance rhythm.
This blips of a ghost submarine dive into “You’re not My Enemy” with its cool chic, and some keyboard lines that could have come from the sublime John Foxx. Larsen is cooing into your ear over a freight train of delicate electronics in “Bloom Together“, unlike the track “Leave In Peace” with it’s purposeful slower beats. There is a light feel to “Hold Our Heads High“, conveyed in the lyrics and bright music. “Cleanse Our Hearts” is pure joy in music form, while the last track, “Moving In“, is almost hypnotic in tone.
Okay, confession time. I have had this album for a while and unforeseen circumstances have slowed me down, but this is an album that I wanted to desperately tell people about. The late 70s and early 80s is where my musical influences lay, so listening to Forevermore, definitely stirs memories of Depeche Mode, Erasure, John Foxx and artists of that ilk, who were on the cutting edge of electronic music at that point in time. Though, that is not to say the Am Tierpark is some sort of copy, as they are most certainly not, taking the love of this style of music and adding their modern spin and incorporating the Euro/Italo style such as “Sacrifice Your Purity“, which is pure disco orientated joy. Larsen’s vocals are yet another facet to the distinct sound that is AmTierpark, making their music so enjoyable. You don’t have to be a child of the 80s to enjoy this album though but don’t take my word for it…please go check them out for yourselves.
The UK’s gothic rockers, Sirens Of Light, released on May the 24th, the single with video, “Revolver“. The band has shortened the title somewhat from the original, being “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver“, which was originally written by Clinton J Conley and recorded by Conley’s band, Mission OfBurma, in 1981. A classic, from a band that was typifying a new post-punk sound coming from the US, like their fellow Americans, The Call.
The rich swell of guitar issues forth and the vocal’s gravely texture, grazes your ears. There is a wondrous force of conviction, sonorous and perfect in its execution. Guitar driven goodness with a dark gothic core.
“Revolver”, for me in this particular moment, is a very angry and political song. After the global pandemic and the constant bombardment of media nonsense, we get the feeling everyone feels like reaching for their revolver. That’s why it resonated with me at this moment and was chosen”. – Andy (Sirens Of Light)
You cannot compare this latest version to the original. While the Mission Of Burma version is slower and very much bleaker, Sirens Of Light have put a rocket under “Revolver“, and blown it up into a gothic rock anthem, with all the sparkles.
2002, Alexander Azzi, released his first EP, Here I Stand under the moniker, Perfect Dark. It was a massive hit with the hardcore/gabber scene and twenty years later, he has dropped a new single, “I’m Still Standing“, with it’s huge booming, rapid fire beats, that are meant to get a sweaty, raucous dance crowd, bouncing on the balls of their feet like maniacs. Do you know what gabber means? I didn’t until this interview, so I suggest you dig in and get educated by the man who is pumping up the beats, Perfect Dark.
Welcome to Onyx, Alexander Azzi, also known as Perfect Dark.
Thank you very much for inviting me onto your page for a bit of digital chin-wagging.
Gabber first started in the 90s, in the Netherlands, especially in Rotterdam. When did you first experience this style?
It all started around 1999 for me. This was during a time when I was already getting my name out as a multi genre DJ, but at the same time I was trying to figure out what type of specific genre was the best fit for me and what I wanted to be known for. The only stipulation I had was that it had to be hard and aggressive because that’s the type of music I generally enjoy in my everyday life, such as Hardcore Metal, Punk, and Oi!.
During this time period the best place to go to get vinyl records in my area, specifically for rave type DJs, was a place called Satellite Records in Boston Massachusetts which was about an hour from me where I live in New Hampshire. There was not a genre that didn’t exist in that store. The place was legendary. Everything from the most chill Downtempo, to the hardest fastest 300BPM+ Terrorcore. What made this place even more awesome was there was about 10 Technics 1200 turntables available to be able to listen to the tracks first to make sure it was what you wanted before you bought it. Sadly, it’s no longer in business along with most other DJ record stores in the world. Thanks a lot Spotify.
The day I went down there I was browsing through various styles of music and that’s when I came upon a bin of records simply titled “Hardcore” (which is another name used when referring to Gabber). I already knew this was what I was looking for just based on the genre name and some of the album cover art that was staring me in the face; skulls, fire and brimstone, demons, and wizards shooting fireballs out of their hands. These are visuals aren’t ones you normally see on record covers for records sold at a DJ record stores. After listening to the first record, I knew that Hardcore/Gabber what is the sound that fit me the best. Hard skull-crushing kick drums, sinister synth melodies cutting through as if they were conceived from two serrated knives slashing their razor-sharp edges onto one another, and vocals that could easily have summoned a demon from hell or fit nicely onto a Hardcore Metal song. All of this dropped into a tempo that is equal parts dance and mosh pit worthy.
I found artists like Neophyte, Rob GEE, Evil Activities, Bass-D & King Matthew, Art of Fighters, and Rotterdam Terror Corps. The list can go on and on. I bought a whole stack of various Hardcore/Gabber records and that’s how it all started.
Back in 2002 you released the EP, “Here I Stand” as Perfect Dark, which introduced you to the hardcore/gabber scene. What had brought you to that point in the scene?
About a year into working hard to make a name for myself as a Hardcore/Gabber DJ, a friend of mine, John Manning, known as DJ Midas was having a conversation with me and I clearly remember him telling me that if you want to go further out beyond just being a DJ then you have to start making your own music. I listened to every word he said and that’s when I started to learn how to produce Hardcore/Gabber music almost immediately.
When I say immediately I don’t mean I just woke up one day and I knew what to do with a software based audio workstation and understand MIDI controllers etc. but I knew immediately that I needed to learn more than just mixing records and that’s when I started gathering the tools required to figure out how to make this stuff myself.
I did my research, applied what I was learning and eventually after about a year or so I was in the process of producing complete Hardcore/Gabber tracks.
As I was diving deeper into producing music another friend of mine got me in contact with Rob GEE. If you recall, I mentioned his name in one of the records I purchased the day I discovered this genre of music. I found out that he lived in New Jersey which technically is local if you consider living in the Northeast of the USA the local area amongst states up here. Him and I started to talk, and we became friends. He even gave me a shout out on his mixed CD “Vitamin GEE” that was being released during that time. That small gesture meant a lot to me considering I was still an unknown little dirtbag from New Hampshire and here was one of pioneers of American Hardcore/Gabber adding my DJ name to his thank you/shoutout section on his CD cover insert.
In 2001 me and Rob made plans to finally meet in person at a big event he was DJing at where the Dutch Hardcore/Gabber production team Neophyte was headlining. This place was at the legendary Limelight in New York City.
He already heard some of my productions prior to that night but it was important for us to finally meet up because he was interested in helping me with my first music release and I wanted to show him that I was serious in this commitment and appreciated his intentions.
A couple months later I signed a Sony/ATV publishing contract, and my first 6 song EP was in motion to be released with the title track “Here I Stand“ through Rob’s record label at the time known as ADAM Recordings (ADAM stands for Aggressive Dance And Music) which has now become GEE thAng Music in the present day. I believe it was April of 2002 when it hit the record store shelves worldwide.
The EP did very well. What was it like for you, Alexander, to see all those people dancing to your music?
I felt like I was part of ‘the club’. It was a great feeling to know my record was sharing the same space as all those other records I discovered years back at Satellite Records in Boston. What made things even more satisfying was I was able to go and physically purchase that record myself out of that very same bin.
Because of that feeling, to this day no matter if it’s a vinyl release, one of my songs featured on someone else’s compilation mixed CD, a CD that I had a part in producing, or even a digital download, I still purchase a copy myself and put it away in a personal security safe that also holds the masters and project data to every song I ever made. Even digital downloads get put on a small flash drive and then put back in the safe.
The best feeling, however, is to watch or know that people are enjoying my music enough that they are willing to get up on the dance floor and sacrifice a few minutes out of their life to enjoy something I created.
You didn’t stick to the hardcore/gabber sound, instead, creating metal inspired dub step under the moniker, Drop Goblin. What drew you into this genre?
Well to get to Drop Goblin one needs to understand what happened before that. After some years in Hardcore/Gabber I decided to walk away from it because I wasn’t feeling as creative as I was in the beginning of my career, and I didn’t want to produce music at a lower self-standard. So, I quit. I took some time off in the mid-2000’s and then one day I heard Dubstep. I don’t remember what song it was, and I don’t remember if it was aggressive Brostep or more traditional Dubstep, I just knew that the bass was heavy, it had a cool wobble to it, and I really enjoyed listening to it.
That re-ignited musical interest and creativity to start producing again but I wasn’t going to bring the “Perfect Dark” name back and confuse people with such a different sound. I did know that if I was going to make this type of music then it was going to be on the aggressive side of things just like the way I did with my Hardcore/Gabber songs but I also realized there wasn’t much Hardcore Metal ‘riffy’ Dubstep stuff out there, so I had to figure out how to incorporate the metal style sound with Dubstep and make it work myself through trial and error.
One attribute that was an advantage for me was that most dubstep is 140 bpm which in a Hardcore/Gabber sense is slow, but the good thing about that tempo is that a lot of Hardcore Metal breakdowns are slow and heavy and work very well at that BPM, so I started making typical Dubstep patterns but also mixing in heavy low-end baritone guitar riffs into them and double bass kick patterns in most of my Dubstep productions. Not all, but most.
While I don’t promote the Drop Goblin name anymore, if anybody would like a good example in how I incorporated the metal riffs into those tracks I would suggest going on YouTube and doing a search for “Drop Goblin – One Jaded Asshole“ in order to get a feel for what I was doing at that time.
I guess the money question is, which style of music do you enjoy more?
Hardcore/Gabber. Hands down. That is where I feel at home. The Dubstep phase was simply me jumping on the genre bandwagon since I had nothing better to do at that time. Even the name Drop Goblin was a last second decision that doesn’t even make sense to me. It’s just two words put together and I only had a weekend to figure out a name to give to Reid Speed of Play Me Records who was releasing my breakout track “Dubstep Believe It” at the time and it was down to the wire and figured “Drop” like a Dubstep bass drop, and “Goblin” because why not?
I could have just started producing Hardcore/Gabber again. It’s not like anything was stopping me, but I wasn’t mentally ready to come out of retirement as Perfect Dark, nor did I even consider it. As far as I was concerned Perfect Dark was my history with no plans to return. But hey, Dubstep took me by the hand and said, “Hey Alexander, I see your not doing much lately, how about we take a trip down sell-out lane and make some music together on the Dubstep hype train… everyone else is doing it”. The truth is though, I never felt fully comfortable or felt like it was “me” in that genre. It wasn’t all bad though, I made it into the Beatport top 100 Dubstep charts with a few that made it into the top 10 at the time, but I am glad I am done with it. Nothing beats the intensity of the driving pace of Hardcore/Gabber and I am happy to be part of that family again.
In 2021, you decided to resurrect Perfect Dark and to mark the 20 years difference in releases, your return single in “Still Standing”.How much does the title alone mean to you?
It means everything to me. More than most people realize at this moment. To the majority it will be just a new song released after many years of me being in retirement. I reckon to my fans of the past (and any new ones in the present) it is exciting and hopefully “Sill Standing” gives the impact I feel in my heart that it does. The deeper the rabbit hole goes, however, the more the story gets interesting. Let me lay it all out for you guys and gals:
In 2002, my debut vinyl EP “Here I Stand” came out on ADAM Recordings owned by Rob GEE. The photo for the album cover was taken at a specific location in New Jersey and the graphic artwork was done by a graphic designer named Sergio.
Fast forward to the release of “Still Standing” and it comes with a huge fun fact:
The release is the sequel to the title track of 2002’s “Here I Stand”. The photo taken of me for the release cover was taken at the same spot in New Jersey as the 2002’s photo shoot of “Here I Stand”. The graphic designer who for all I know could have been long disappeared, dead, or fully retired from graphic design by now was still around, and he was able to resurrect the original “Here I Stand” project file from 20 years ago off of a old school Zip/Jaz Drive, and he was able to layer the same original graphic design effects on “Still Standing” with just some color changes to give it its one unique identity. And to top it all off, Rob GEE and his label (now known as GEE thAng Music instead of ADAM Recordings) released it.
Let that sink in for a moment. Two Decades of non-communicative space in between, and somehow all the same artistic, human, and business logistics from “Here I Stand” were incorporated into the release “Still Standing” without even one technical hiccup. This could only happen once in my lifetime.
There is a remastered version of “Here I Stand”, coming out. What was the thinking behind this and is it an incredible feeling to know a whole new generation are going to hear your music?
Right now there is a process going on to not only remaster the entire 2002 “Here I Stand” 6 song EP, but it will be re“mixed down”. Not to be confused with ‘remixed’ where new productions are made from other people based off the original songs. What I mean is all the separate elements of the original project files are being re-analyzed and brought back to life using newly updated know-how and processing tools to bring the best out of what was originally produced. And then they will be remastered. It’s not every day that you can strip down project files that were produced over 20 years ago and revisit the production process to give them new life.
I figured that putting in all this work would be a thank you to anyone out there that is still around and remembers me and that release. And of course, there will be many new ears that will hear this music for the first time.
Not only will the EP be completely re-engineered but will also be available for free. I will not be selling this release. The main outlet to get this release when it’s out (no date set yet) will be the #1 source for all Hardcore/Gabber music: Hardtunes.com.
But wait, that’s not all. There will also be a bonus track included in this release which will be a completely new and reimagined version of the original “Here I Stand” single with a more modern updated sound. When the original producer makes a new version of an existing song they made, this is typically known as a VIP (Variation in Production) but “reimagined” sounds cooler.
DJ Rob GEE was involved with “Here I Stand” and you have signed with GEE thAng Music, which was originally ADAM Recordings, whom you first released that EP. What is it like to be back?
The way him and I converse now after all these years with nearly no communication is a special thing. We talk nowadays as if there wasn’t a minute that has passed us by. In 2002, he gave me my opportunity to show the Gabbers of the world who I am. And while I realize that this genre is a bit smaller than Mainstream EDM, the term “Gabber” which is Dutch for “Friend”, is bigger than any other sound out there, and that also relates to humans as well. Rob and I are and forever will be Gabbers. Having such a large gap of time and reconnecting the way we have has proven that. He believed in me back then and took me under his wing. He didn’t have to. In fact, he originally created ADAM Recordings as a vessel to release his own music and had no plans to sign anyone else on until we met up. I feel blessed that I was his first artist other than him on his label and here we are now in 2022, a bit older, a bit wiser, still crazy idiots, and still refuse to grow up but he opened the doors for me once more to help me come back out of retirement.
This single is just the warning salvo, as the rumblings are that you are gearing up for a bigger release. What are we in for?
Another fun fact: For the past year and a half I have been making quite a few tracks. In fact “Still Standing“ was not my first production I started and finished when I decided to make my return. I produced that song sometime after I already had about two or three other songs already finished. They just haven’t been released yet
The reason why these other songs have yet to be released is because I was not going to put out any other original song before “Still Standing“. Like anything in the music business nothing happens overnight so there was a bit of a waiting period to get this track out. I could’ve had other songs released first but having good self-discipline and being patient paid off considering the story of the “Here I Stand” and “Still Standing” connection.
Of course, if you look up any recent releases you will notice there are two remixes that I did prior to “Still Standing”. Since those were remixes of other people’s music, I don’t really count those as my official kick-off return but more of just testing the waters of how the way things get released and how things are approached in this new day and age.
At the time of this interview other original tracks that are in line for a release are titled: “Knuckledust“ (with remixes by Masters Of Noise/Dedicator and TerrorClown) and “Edge of Madness“ (with a remix by VOLAK). I also have a remix of “Riot in NY” I did for Rob GEE which is going to be the next release with my name attached to it coming up.
You are correct about a VERY big release coming down the pike. This is something very special to me. Another big production I’m looking forward to having the Gabbers of the world hear is my official remix of the mega-hit Hardcore/Gabber song “Schizophrenic“ by the legendary production team Rotterdam Terror Corps. This was one of their biggest hits in 2002. It was an honor for me to be the official remixer of this song of which has never been remixed before (not even unofficially). This remix will be coming out on their highly anticipated new album I believe later this year.
Alexander, you have dabbled in different styles with several projects in that 20 year period. Do you think in a way, these other styles have enhanced your ability to write as Perfect Dark and do you think it has changed your composing style?
Yes, absolutely it has helped. Music production isn’t necessarily like riding a bike though; once you learn doesn’t mean you will always be able to ride smoothly. Sometimes the terrain you are riding on changes. Technology has changed over time. It can be intimidating to make changes in the way you produce, the tools that the productions are made on, and the overall change and evolution of the music industry. If you want to have any chance at all in making a success of yourself, then you must push forward and accept all those changes and make them work to your advantage.
I started producing when computer-based programming was just breaking through. The effects and instrument plugins were still trying to prove themselves to the sceptics, and hardware synth keyboards were still the tried-and-true method of pattern and melody making via MIDI into the computer.
And then came the Drop Goblin era. While I wasn’t making Hardcore/Gabber, I was presented a whole new world of production methods and new software’s that allowed me to do things I wanted to do back then but didn’t have the know-how or the capability do via hardware at the time. While I admit Dubstep was just a phase and I never was truly comfortable in that genre, had I not pushed through it at the time, learned new techniques and explored new plugins that helped inspire me to make the sounds in my head become sounds in real life, I may not have had the self-disciplinary path laid out for me to come back as Perfect Dark and start producing the music I am doing now.
As far as composing style, sometimes you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. I have methods that work for me, and I have stayed with these methods since the beginning. I don’t necessarily think I am saying anything too extravagant or noteworthy but, the name always comes first. I have an iPhone full of future track names. The names inspire me in how the song will sound which also includes the lyrical content if there is any. I always start with a small kick and percussion sequence in the beginning to give me a groove and I continue building as I go from there with a big blank space ahead of me. I never lay out a generic full kick sequence from beginning to end first and fill in the gaps and build on top of it. I start to get lost if I do it that way for some reason. Another thing is that I allow my mind to be creative during the time of the morning where I am still partially awake and asleep at the same time. Most of my melodies are derived from those moments. Naturally if I go back to sleep, I risk forgetting what was being conjured in my mind so I normally grab my iPhone and “hum” the idea into my voice notes so I can circle back to it later when I am looking for a melody to work off from. 9 times out of 10 though if I am feeling the momentum of a track, I will come up with something on the spot and completely forget about my rolodex of pitchy out of tune “hum” recordings sitting in my voice notes. There are many. Maybe someday I will release them as a fun bit of audio for people to enjoy at my expense.
What acts/projects heavily influenced you into getting into music?
For Hardcore/Gabber, I would say that Neophyte was my biggest influence. They are the legends in Rotterdam Holland that helped bring this genre to the ears of the world. The crew isn’t so much a crew anymore and in the present day it’s just a single entity known as DJ Neophyte, but the music, regardless of if it’s the classics or the new stuff, the sound is very inspiring. The production style is more of a bouncy triplet signature style pattern and has this ‘follow the bouncing ball’ type of rhythm to it. If I could recommend song to capture the interest of someone not familiar with this style, search on YouTube for the track “Skullfuck” (also producer credited as “Masters of Ceremony”). It’s and oldie but still my top number one favorite of all Hardcore/Gabber music.
I can’t ignore the Hardcore Metal influences though. Without the following bands I would never have had a love for aggressive music: Sheer Terror, Blood for Blood, Madball, Hatebreed to name a few. In fact, the gang vocal and metal style breakdown in “Still Standing” is completely inspired by the styles of Sheer Terror and Blood for Blood who are two of my most favorite Hardcore Metal bands of all time.
And while I wouldn’t say the following list directly inspired me as a producer, I still want to give some honorable mentions because they were a big part of my overall love for aggressive music and helped me get where I am today: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, GWAR, King Diamond, Anti-Heros, Dropkick Murphys, Rancid, and a lot of other various Street Punk and Oi! bands.
Are there musicians or DJs that you love to listen to these days?
You know, I don’t really listen to many DJ’s or Producers of electronic music much on my own time. I think if you eat bologna every day in the morning, afternoon, and night it will eventually drive you nuts. I feel that when I listen to any kind of Electronic Dance Music it’s when I am within that environment, and I can appreciate it more that way. Think of it like this: I used to eat Chinese food almost daily because I love it. However, after a while it loses its treat’ness. It’s no longer a special taste to look forward to on certain days after not having any because I was eating it all the damn time. So now I eat it once a week. Sometimes even once within two weeks. I have learned to appreciate it again and no longer take that food craving for granted anymore. Same with music. Just because I produce electronic music doesn’t mean I have to listen to it constantly. Which means when I am at an event that’s playing EDM, I can appreciate the sound more since it’s not being drilled into me daily. Some people think EDM producers only listen to what they are involved in. Not me.
What I have been listening to lately is Ghost, The O’Reilly’s and the Paddyhats, Volbeat, a lot of various Skacore, one of my favorite bands Nightwish is always in my playlist, and John Denver. Yes, John Denver. John is one of my favorite solo recording artists.
If you could go back to the 90s for a day to visit a musical icon, anywhere in the world, who would you go see and where would they be?
John Denver died in October of 1997, so if this is a question of anyone living, I would say John Denver before he died. It doesn’t even have to be a one-on-one interaction. Just sitting in a crowd of people witnessing greatness would be an honor enough for me. I just never got the chance, and it sucks. Ted Vigil was cool to see as a VERY convincing John Denver impersonator and he put on a hell of a show, but that still doesn’t count.
Now if we flip the script and speak of any music icon that is no longer with us anymore, I will again say John Denver. For more reasons than just wanting to be able to see him live, but in addition I would want to know how or if he would have continued his music career. And if so, would he have stayed true to the old way of sound recording? Or would he have embraced the newer technology that is available today to really bring out his sound to an industry standard level. I might sound crazy, but I sometimes sit and stew over these thoughts wondering how he would sound today if he was still alive.
What else is in store for Perfect Dark?
I am just going to keep on keepin’ on with the resurrection of the Perfect Dark name and see where it takes me. I have a lot of work to do though. The old schoolers remember me, but I have a whole new generation of new schoolers to introduce myself to. I feel the “Still Standing” track is a good start, and it has a cool backstory, but that track is just me slightly opening the door to peek into what’s happening on the other side. Once it’s wide open I would like to think that the momentum will really start to take effect and I will be playing more events and being able to interact more personably with my current and future fans. Time will tell!
Lisa Gerrard & Marcello De Francisci are on the verge of releasing their new album EXAUDIA, on the label Atlantic Curve Records, but before that happens, there is the offering of a new single, “Until We Meet Again“, out of the 17th of June. Gerrard is the vocalist, best known as one half of Dead Can Dance, whilst De Francisci is renowned as a soundtrack composer, with both artists previously working together on soundtracks and their first album, Departum.
Lightness. There is the overwhelming feeling of a supreme weightlessness, in a sea that is Gerrard’s vocals. Sweet and delightful, as they lead to the rush of music, which invades your senses, longingly and wistfully dreaming of days filled with sun and love. A mixture of the exotic and the innocence of a bygone era.
It is sublime when a singer can create art with their vocals, and Lisa Gerrard is no exception. Years of honing her craft, has lead to ability to evoke even the most dormant of memories and stir emotions. Marcello De Francisci has build a musical score around what Gerrard has given him, complimenting and caressing her singing style. No matter the distance, lover’s always find their way back, “Until We Meet Again“.
Vancouver’s Front Line Assembly, are an industrial institution in their own right. From the album, Mechanical Soul, which came out at the beginning of the year to much fanfare, comes the Black Asteroid remix of “Purge“, out on MetropolisRecords.
There is the build up with these sludgy beats, which are bombastic, dragged along by the insistent electronics. Leeb’s vocals growl and echo eerily, adding to the claustrophobic ambience.
The original version is more subdued, with less emphasis on the big rhythm and more on the vocals, while the mix is something I could definitely see heating at a night club floor, with those nightmarish overtones. FLA are absolutely one of those bands that keep producing great music.
You might know of the project Krebs, but the Philadelphia based, Michael Haggerty, has shed this moniker, instead, using his own name to adorn the latest singles. “Into The Glow“, out on Machine Man Records, is the second single to be dropped from the soon to be released, Fire Behind The Paper Tree album.
There is something so utterly charming about the beginning of “Into The Glow“, with it’s low tones and smooth vocals. Though, this all changes with the introduction of a driving guitar. A myriad a of beautiful shards hits you all at once with the truly open and bleeding lyrics. The second backing track, “I Kinda Like It” is the kooky cousin, in an Addams Family weirdness, that all goths are known for and this tune plonks away in a darkly dazed happy joy way.
The single is really quite stunning and Haggerty could be the male, one man version of The Birthday Massacre, so I really could not recommend it more highly. I think it would take me a while to get tired of listening to “Into The Glow“, and that is the sign of a good track, especially when it coolly caresses your heart, instead of being a cyclone that rips it out. Plus, it is name your price on Bandcamp, so off you go….and you too can check out the very quirky photo there (I so wanted to use that instead!).
Berlin’s Vlimmer, has released the post-punk single, “Kronzeuge” (key witness) with backing track, a German lyric version of the Depeche Mode song, “It’s No Good“. Alexander Leonard Donat is Vlimmer and the man behind the BlackJack IlluministRecords label, releasing the single on June the 3rd.
There is a hint of early German post-punk, such as Die Artze, and “Kronzeuge” is melancholy with those deep bass lines and wistful electronics. Donat’s vocals play over the top and the harmonies between himself and the electronics is really breathtaking. The cover “It’s No Good“, is off kilter and has a slightly deranged air to it. Darker and more brooding than the original, though there is that fabulous synth line that has always been the underpin of this track, which you could never not have but given a new twist.
I am loving these clean vocals from Donat. It puts a whole new spin on the Vlimmer sound, I think bringing a new level of tenebrosity to the music. The cover version, though in German, I can still hear the English in my head which is an interesting thing and “Kronzeuge” is a wonderfully mournful and lugubrious track in an emotional wasteland, ready to suck you into Vlimmer’s fantastic world.
With the release of the debut album, The Egg That Never Opened, on the 17th of June, with the record label Art As Catharsis, you may or may not have heard of High CastleTeleorkestra, but I can promise you, that once you have, you are very unlikely to forget. A core of six members, dotted around the world, whom have been associated with some big name musical acts, plus the ability to draw on other talented musicians to further enhance their sound. What is this sound you might ask? Constructive insanity comes to mind but it is more than that. These guys are the musicians that other musicians tend to get really excited about with their alternative, progressive, instrumental mixtures of tasty perfection. Crazy good at what they do and while there is an assault of all these different genres, they craft it into tracks that are seamless, occasionally haunting and more often than not, a lot of fun. There is a pervasive feeling of joy from this band that goes into bringing each piece to life and it translate into the music. Tim Smolens and Chris Bogen are the originators of the band, so who else better to talk to about this juggernaut that they have brought to life and how important castles really are in the alternative rock scene.
We at Onyx go to extreme lengths to interview creative people but storming the battlements is a first for us, so we bid thee welcome to our nightmare of siege weapons, cool pointy things and comfy pillows. Well met on the interviewing battlefield, Tim Smolens and Chris Bogen of High Castle Teleorkestra.
Professed as both recovering professional musicians…. I find this statement misleading, as I am sure that neither of you have ever been able to give up the music drug. How did you get sucked into this life of moody tunes and can you tell us about your former shady lives, as Tim you were in Estradasphere and I.S.S. to name a couple of bands and Chris in the snotty named Doc Booger.
Chris: The HCT bio tells lies! I have never been a full-time pro musician though Tim has a few inhabitants in his brain and he could technically be considered as two recovering professional musicians. I’ve mostly done a lot of extremely low profile, community and friend oriented music projects that are usually left unfinished. I’ve been persistently doing home recording stuff since the mid 1990s with a few scattered live band situations. Doc Booger was my first “commercial” release and this is my third. Every band needs a luckiest member sort of hobbit character and I guess that’s my gimmick.
Tim: Lies indeed! Given the fact that we are such small beans in this giant burrito game, it is necessary for us to embellish a bit just to help us feel like we have something to contribute to this world of interesting music, especially at our ripe old ages. Truth be told, I am not sure I ever fully made a living from music but I can tell you that I have made 1000s of dollars from music in the last 30 years!
We gather you became domesticated, settled down, had jobs and even spawned?
Tim: Living the life of a broke musician throughout my 20s, I was certain that I never wanted kids. “Somehow” my wife became pregnant and I just embraced it. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me, saving me from the sad lifestyle that so many contemporary musicians must endure. There probably hasn’t been a worse era to be a professional musician given that most people don’t buy music anymore. I would venture to guess that a majority of the public doesn’t care much for music at all other than in the most superficial of ways. So I have been married for 15 years now, have 2 kids, and make my living as an ER nurse. Even though it is hard to work music into that busy schedule, and I certainly test my wife’s patience with how much time put into it, I am under no pressure whatsoever to make a living from music although it would be a nice goal to strive for.
Chris: I was a semi-pro/amateur domesticated human for years which is probably why it took me so long to finally release some music commercially. I became professionally domesticated over a decade ago. Now there are three other people in the house that look just like me. My wife and kids are very supportive of the music project and aren’t at all sick of hearing me play the same parts over and over and over again to perfection. And yes, full-time jobs outside of music since 2004 in the Computer Science field. I have a Ph.D. in Comp. Sci. and it has afforded me a lot of great opportunities to do interesting work and live a balanced life. I am currently a full-time family dude, a full-time cyber security architect, a part time instructor, and a part time music dude. See. Balance!
Obviously, at some point you thought stuff this normalcy and had the idea to create some monstrous amalgamation of musical talent, calling it High Castle Teleorkestra. WHHHHHYYYYY?
Chris: I think we both hit a point in time when we were itching to create something big and prove something to the world. We knew it was time when some dramatic montage music played in the background of one of our thousands of Facebook chats.
Tim: The fact that Chris and I have stable jobs and families afforded us the luxury of having a man-cave project that our spouses would be in favor of, at least initially until they realized the depths of our obsession. During the pandemic it dawned on me how many super talented musicians I knew around the world and I didn’t see anything stopping me from forming a novel “band” with some of them.
Did covid influence this decision and maybe wanting a castle as well?
Tim: Covid was a good excuse and false pretense for making the band. A group of international talent forced to collaborate remotely due to restrictive lockdowns makes for a great narrative but the truth is we would likely be working this way regardless of the current situation on the global chessboard.
Chris: I’m going to be that annoying music snob guy that says that I’ve always wanted a castle even before everyone else wanted a castle. COVID had nothing to do with it though because we were already working together remotely having never met one another face to face.
Also, why a High Castle? Why not just a normal level Castle with a regular moat?
Chris: A high castle offers the best defense in depth strategy and you have a pretty damned good view. It’s like having a belt with suspenders. And who said we didn’t have a moat?!
Tim: It is good to have a lofty goal even if you only realize it partially. Plus with a higher castle you can see your enemy encroaching and give you ample time to prepare to fight or run for your life like a coward.
For those unfamiliar with the composition of the band, could you give us the lineup of the members and the associated acts?
Chris: Stian Carstensen is from Farmers Market and he is our resident virtuoso. Stian always raises the stakes on our songs and makes us want to quit trying to play musical instruments. Timba Harris is from Estradasphere, Duo Probosci, Ultraphuana, and a former Secret Chiefs 3 collaborator. Timba has a unique way of arranging and performing the perfect sort of provocative and rich string parts to our already dense tunes. Dave Murray (Estradasphere, Traun) is our resident metalhead and polyrhythmic guru, and he’s managed to get some amazing drum tones in his humble home studio setup. Bär McKinnon (Umlaut and Mr. Bungle) is one of the most unique songwriters around and is a songwriting gemstone of our band, and he also covers much of the woodwind work and vocals on his tunes. I play guitar and some other stuff sometimes (noise collages, synths) and do my imposter syndrome undistinguished member routine with expert precision. Tim (Estradasphere, ISS, former Secret Chiefs 3 collaborator) plays bass, piano, sings, is the chief producer, and he’s a pretty damned good cook (sorry, had to talk about food after so many words about music).
Tim: Yeah, what he said.
How the heck did you manage to gather this bunch into agreeing to being a part of this?
Tim: It is funny because when I first had this idea of forming a remote band and Chris and I set to work on a few songs, we had these guys on the roster in mind. We really took our time in asking them to officially join the “band” (courtship) because we wanted to have them play on some tunes first and be impressed and intrigued; sort of a proof of concept of the “business model.” We finally popped the question and they all said yes and we set out making more kids. This wedding night still goes on and on.
Chris: Tim and I prepared a demo of Klawpeels and Tim shopped it around to his well-established friends. I did my part by sitting back and pretending it was completely normal to be in a “band” with this roster of musicians.
A lot of these guys have been in some pretty bizarre projects, even you Tim playing live with Mr Bungle (all hail Chris Patton, Lord of the Bungle). Did you guys’ ever think…’what the fuck have I got myself into’ or was it like a comfortable set of shorts where the arse is not completely worn out yet?
Chris: I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing with these guys in HCT so I am just gonna stick with that Hobbit thing I said earlier.
Tim: To clarify, I have not played with Bungle. I did program a majority of their complex multi-keyboard setup for their California tour and they did open for my band Estradasphere as a secret warm up show for that tour. I have played live as the bassist for Bungle side project The Secret Chiefs 3. I have definitely soiled my shorts before but at this point they are pristine untl the upper thigh chub rub stench sets in.
As the name suggests, Teleorkestra, the music, is a mash of electronic and modern instruments mixed with traditional instruments plus also incorporating a vast array of styles…. sometimes all in the same track, which is bloody impressive. How did this all come about?
Chris: Our influences and interests are all over the map and combining them under one banner doesn’t seem so unusual to us. I think we just focused on each song and did our best to serve each one sonically. Somehow the track sequencing (which was sort of decided by chance) works as a satisfying progression of moods and sounds.
Tim: By the prefix “tele” is meant “at a distance” which is how our band conducts its activities.
Be honest, is it easier having your band mates as far away as possible and do you sometimes ignore their text messages and emails?
Chris: It probably makes it easier being apart because we would end up spending hours and hours together in person slaving over these mixes and parts. Tim and I did have a few days together in person like that midway through the project when I visited him in Colorado. I’m looking forward to some more days like that because there’s nothing quite like nerding out over some music you’re excited about with a good buddy. I never thought to ignore his messages though..
Tim: By keeping these egos at a distance we avoid the drama that close-quarters band activities inevitably brings forth. Although that was not the rationale for the genesis of our group it is a pleasant side-effect. In seriousness, bands usually do end up fostering interpersonal drama and our way of working remotely is a good way to filter a lot of that out.
Your debut album is “The Egg That Never Opened,” a title that implies the loss of something important or I could be completely wrong, and it is all about the Castle dragon. What inspired you to name the album after the epic first track (which is this quasi metal, confused French/German oompha band with a sea shanty singing barbershop quartet, on a Hawaiian holiday in space inspired piece)?
Chris: Dragons are cool though I did make one very angry once near Lonely Mountain. That’s another story though.
Tim: The album is indeed based on the Philp K. Dick Book “Radio free Albemuth.” The book is 30 chapters and we decided to take it linearly so it will be a trilogy and the 10 songs on this record represent the 1st 10 chapters. The phrase “The Egg That Never Opened,” is taken directly from chapter 1 and seems to imply a main character, Nick, whose life is in a rut, stagnating, with no obvious hope on the horizon for working his way out of it. But he has lots of positive qualities and interests that could have indeed led to a more colorful life; potential that was never realized.
Chris: Damn you, I was trying to be cagey and mysterious and you gave away the keys to the castle.
Is it true the album is an exploration of a Philip K Dick novel and have you recovered from this?
Tim: Yes, it is an adaptation of Philip K Dick’s discarded novel “Radio free albemuth,” which he ended up rewriting to become “Valis.” We have not yet recovered because we are still in the throes of it with the next two parts of the trilogy.
Chris: Yes and No.
Each track has a myriad of influences, that come together and just seem to work. With the members of the band being so far flung, how do you manage to write these grandiose pieces?
Chris: There’s typically a very strong vision for each song and a good template set forth before individual band members start tracking parts. There is some cross collaboration on the songs and arrangements early on though typically one member begins with a very firm idea and we work hard on firming up the foundational aspects of a demo – tempo map, mockups of essential parts, etc.
Tim: Most of the projects I have ever done have involved mixing and matching genres that usually are not found in the same song or even the same album. It is something I have gotten better at over the years and I feel is finally really clicking in a fluent way. You wouldn’t think that some of these mixtures would work well but on this record they feel natural and not contrived. European metal waltz. Romanian folk metal. Doo-Wop surf, and so on.
Technology now allows musicians to remotely record and share. Which member has the job of sewing it all together?
Chris: Tim does. And then me and the rest of the peanut gallery bust the seams and Tim has to do more sewing. I tend to eat a lot and not get enough exercise, so bursting seams comes naturally to me.
Tim: In general it is me that hosts the master files and I do the majority of editing and production but I am in daily contact with Chris on all the specific details. I am someone who loves teamwork and collaboration so having him to bounce ideas off is huge for me. I may be doing a majority of the grunt production work but his influence on this record cannot be overstated. Him and I rarely disagree and if we do it is in a friendly manner. The other guys will chime in if they have a suggestion. Bar is pretty specific related to the songs he wrote, so dialing that in on his 2 songs was a bit of a challenge to suit his fancy, but I think it all worked out really well.
“Mutual Hazard” was released as a single and it is a whirling dervish, magnetic and alluring, will probably drunkenly stab you later with a goose sort of thing. Who was the mastermind behind this track and what inspired you, as it is brilliant?
Chris: Dave Murray is the mastermind behind the metal aspects of the song which also contain the unorthodox polyrhythms. He arranged the guitar parts and I performed them with very slight modifications. Timba wrote and recorded the stunning string parts. As said, Tim was the mastermind of fitting all these disparate pieces together and making them work – with a little help from me and others in the peanut gallery. Most of the rest of it is in letting the performers and the melody shine.
Tim: I will add that the song is a traditional Romanian folk song and Stian is master of that style so he was very helpful and played some mean accordion parts as well as rhythm guitar (a nuanced rhythmic style that fall squarely outside of Chris’s wheelhouse). Stian brought in 2 guest players a Bulgarian violinist and a cimbalom player which really added to the authenticity of the folk aspect.
Interestingly, you are on the Art As Catharsis label, who are Australian, which leads us to ask why an Aussie label and how has that worked out for you?
Chris: We saw Crocodile Dundee and Young Einstein when we were kids and it inspired us to go buy boomerangs, big knives, and score an Australian label contract. When our music reaches the masses in Australia we are hoping to star in our own American-in-Australia wacky rom coms. I’m from Louisiana so I’ll be in Alligator Yankee. Who knows what Tim will do. But for real, we really dig Lachlan Dale (label manager) and his mission at Art as Catharsis. I’m proud to be a part of the AAC family.
Tim: Australia has been a great supporter of interesting music over the years. Mr. Bungle was very successful there and Estradasphere has many fans down under. It seemed like a natural fit to us. Art As Catharsis is a great label that has been a launching pad for many creative acts.
What bands and acts influenced your music insanity?
Chris: Chet Atkins, Arthur Lyman, Dick Dale, Martin Denny, Les Baxter, Esquivel, Perrey and Kingsley, The Three Suns, Luiz Bonfa’,Taraf de Haïdouks, The Shadows, Les Paul & Mary Ford, Santo and Johnny, Mr. Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3, The Ventures, Brian Eno, My Bloody Valentine, Harold Budd, Beach Boys, Slayer, Metallica, Death, Meshuggah, Steely Dan, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Mancini,and on and on.
Tim: to add to Chris’s nice list I would nominate Ennio Morricone and a variety of Italian film luminaries (Piero Picciono, Piero Umiliani, Bruno Nicolai, Nino Rota, and many more.), Joe Meek, The off kilter “world music” explorations of the label Sublime Frequencies, the harmonic mastery of Jacob Collier, Sam Cooke, a huge variety of Doo-Wop artists and so much more.
If you could have a guest musician or two, join you and it could be anyone, re-animated or living, whom would you dearly like?
Chris: If I had that kind of power then surely I could get more than one or two! Though there was one time where I had that wish while making the album: I would have really liked to have brought in Jean Jacques Perrey to do some crazy tape splicing stuff on the title track of our album. I would also have loved to have had Arthur Lyman play vibes on Placentia.
Tim: I would love to have Jacob Collier,whom Stian has collaborated with, guest on a track. I would bring back Joe Meek to produce surf songs for us, and a guest appearance from legendary studio drummer Bernard Purdie would be swell. (Chris: aw hell yeah!).
What is in the future for the eclectic High Castle Teleorkestra?
Chris: A short stack of filthy stinking $10 (USD) bills to divide amongst the band members so that we can take our families and significant others out to pick out their favorite pack of chewing gum or single serving hard candy piece!
Tim: We can hopefully finish off these next 2 albums to complete the trilogy before our bodies become infirm, we are wearing depends, ambulating with a walker, and falling frequently in our low-income nursing homes before we finally break that hip and the trials rehab prove to be the final blow. We will keep plugging away as quickly as our busy family lives will allow.
We thank you kindly for your parley, Tim and Chris, and we also know this album is going to knock some boots off!
Chris: Thank you, it was a gas!
Tim: Yes indeed, we loved this unorthodox interview.
Have you experienced High Castle Teleorkestra yet? If not then let me draw your attention to a good time. Signed to Art As Catharsis records, with members flung across the globe, who have been involved in many bands like Farmers Market, Mr Bungle and Estradasphere, and they are about to fling apon the world their new album, The Egg That NeverOpened, on June the 17th. So, to whet one’s appetite for the onslaught, here is their first video single, “Mutual Hazard“.
There are classical overtones that rapidly breakdown into a cacophony of metal fused with amazing traditional folk music and drumming that only enhances this brilliant piece. And if that is not enough, there is also the wonderful satire video, as it incorporates the televisual component of the band, while the music spirals in it’s dervish whirlings. High Castle Teleorkestra, utterly bonkers and loving it.
British industrial artist, Matt Hart has released his latest single, “The Last Rave“, off the album, BELOW THETERRA PT. 1., on the 3rd of June. To go along with the single, a music video was created from two live shows, recorded at the ElektroVox Music Festival and RESISTANZ Festival, showcasing the dynamic Hart wowing the audience.
It is a magnificent, pounding industrial track, about the human resistance to the alien machines that turn the planet cold and pursue the survivors deep into the ground. “The Last Rave” is a shout of defiance, that while humanity survives, there is hope and Hart growls his powerful message to those kicking beats. I invite you to “The Last Rave” and you might very well get sucked into Matt Hart’s cyber industrial world.