Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Felix Kubin Interview

Felix Kubin has been releasing music since the late 80s with his band Klangkrieg and began putting out his first official solo albums a decade later with Filmmusik in 1998. His output ranges from the experimental noise rock of Klangkrieg to his own brand of unique, science-fiction inspired synthpop. He also writes radio plays, runs Gagarin Records and has collaborated with artists as diverse as Stereo Total and Ensemble Int├ęgrales.

Kubin had in fact been making music and playing live since childhood but It wasn't until he played his early recordings to enthused members of DAT Politics that he decided to make them available to a twenty-first century audience in a collection that came to be known as The Tetchy Teenage Tapes Of Felix Kubin. These tracks display an astounding level of compositional maturity and experimentation, with Kubin's pubescent vocals being the only indication that  it is not the music of a fully formed adult.

Recently, Minimal Wave announced the forthcoming release of a new compilation of Kubin's early recordings as an LP titled "Teenage Tapes" featuring six previously unheard tracks (available in Autumn 2012). Last year, I was lucky enough to interview Felix Kubin about his early works:

"The Tetchy Teenage Tapes Of Felix Kubin" album came about almost by accident didnt it? Could you explain the origins of how this compilation of your early recordings came to be released?

I have produced a lot of 4-track music when I was still a scholar. Something like 50-60 tracks between 83 and 86. They were never released anywhere, just compiled on self-made 60 or 90 minute chromdioxide tapes. One day I sent a music mix on MD to my friends Claude and Gaetan of DAT Politics in France and I secretly included one of my early tape tracks. They immediately asked me what it was cause there were children voices on weird synth stuff. When I told them they suggested to put a compilation out on CD. Another seloection of tracks was released by A-Musik. "Version POP" and "Version Nerv".

Did the sucess of the Neu Deutch Welle give young musicians in Germany the feeling that anything was achievable musically and was it a scene that you wanted to be part of at the time?

I definitely wanted to be part of it. But I was way too young! At least my band "Die Egozentrischen 2" (together with my school friend Stefan Mohr) managed to play some Zick Zack festivals and open for some underground bands over here. Zick Zack was a hugely influential label at that time, run by the chaotic genius Alfred Hilsberg. For RADIO WEB MACBA I) recently made a double feature called "Deutsche Kassettent├Ąter - the rise of the German homerecording tape scene". In part two there is a long interview with Alfred and another guy called Frank Apunkt Schneider. It's the first interview with Hilsberg in English language. You can listen to it here:

You were already performing some of these songs live in your early teens, what did your audience think of the music you were making?

Hamburg is a Northern city. People are very cool and unaffected. They pretended not to be surprised very much and give little support. We were quite self-confident, though. I think, many people didn't like us smart alecs performing high-speed minimal electronic music on stage. Also, the pauses in between the songs were nearly as long as the songs themselves, because I needed time to change the sounds on the Korg synth. All adjustments I wrote down on pieces of paper (no storage of sounds). So, it MUST have been quite annoying to watch us, albeit bizarre.

Do you agree that what you were doing was quite unique especially considering your age at the time and why do you think it is that more young people do not experiment musically until they are much older?

Yes, I think it was absolutely unique and still is up to this date. What's even more unique is the fact that my initiative instigated a whole scene of children bands in my neighbourhood. And they were all making experimental pop! Some of them completely untalented but that didn't matter due to the chemicals of that time. We all wanted to to start the riot of the chimistrists. I recently made a little tour with lecture about these children bands and their music.

Also, the way I wrote lyrics was unusual for my age. I could hardly reproduce this today. Example:

The Capabilities Of The Body

With the left hand I make happen
With the right I earn
With my arms I beat you
With my leg I hang
With my head I think
With the right I embrace you
With the left I kill you

I am / I can / I know everything

It seems that my stuff from that period is still relevant: two excellent US labels (Minimal Wave and Stones Throw) are planning to put out another compilation of my Tetchy Teenage music this year. With a bunch of hitherto unreleased tracks.

Your use of analog synthesizers and drum machines recorded on tape gives the collection a distinctive, grainy lo-fi sound, do you think its a shame that so much electronic music these days has such a polished and refined production sound?

I think in very different categories when it comes about terms like low-fi or hi-fi or why-fi.
It totally depends on the idea/concept that you have. Every idea demands a special format or medium. Or special tools and a way of production. At least, that's the way I work. When we produced the record "Echohaus" with the chamber orchestra, the main work was to find the best proition of each musician in the room, making a good choice of microphones etc. All takes were recorded in one go, there were no layers.

The sound of my old Fostex 4-track is so good that a lot of people doubted the authenticity of my teenage recordings. Tape just produces beautifully smooth trebles and very punchy bass and mids, and the tape saturation has a nice compression effect. In the eve of the digital revolution, quality was defined standards like "crystal clean high end frequencies" and strong subbasses. I don't need to tell you much about the war of loudness that pushes all the dynamics out of music nowadays. But some original music like Oval and Ryuchi Ikeda would have been unthinkable without digital technique. I actually don't need "crystal clean" trebles, I like it, when sounds are a bit muffled. At least then they keep a little secret.