Europe Endless: Kreidler Talk
“When I was six years old I learned how to use the cassette recorder at home. I had a toy guitar, but I didn't know any chords then. I would drop a microphone into the sound hole and overload the signal and get excited by shaping the sound. It was experimental in the purest sense. My brother and I would record entire ‘albums’ that way. My parents finally got a car with a cassette player in it – then we could listen while driving around. That definitely solidified my self-concept as a recording artist”.
Alex Paulick tells me about his first forays into noise manipulation, a decade or so before joining up with his bandmates in Kreidler – Andreas Reihse, Thomas Klein and Detlef Weinrich. This primary school sonic science experiment and further exploration in music and instrumentation ran in tandem with the youthful Andreas’ art aspirations. Is there a theme here?
“At 14 years old I published a strange little zine named ‘Ohne Netz’, a collection of my drawings, poems and stories, influenced by Dadaism. Puberal, of course. Issue 5 was a cardboard roll with drawings, and my plan for #6 was a tape”. Andreas told a friend, who suggested they record the music together. “I hadn't even thought of ‘live’ recordings. I had a cassette recorder, but no mike, so what I did was a collage of short-wave and medium-wave radio signals, switching channels back and forth on my hi-fi system. The name of the cassette was ‘King Dada – Seid nett zur Natür’”. Three other cassettes with his friend as ‘Mutual’ followed, and his little zine transformed into ‘Roy Savoi’, his “other obsession” with comic books.
Thomas had a more spontaneous experience, on his final day in school. “I performed sort of a punk rock gig with a bunch of dilettantes on the school staircase. It kind of kicked me and felt a bit like a riot. From there it started to become viral”.
Kreidler formed in Düsseldorf in 1994. Andreas, Thomas and original member Stefan Schneider had been playing together as Deux Baleines Blanches, and collaborating with other musicians and artists across Germany and The Netherlands. The collective organised concerts and events in defiance of the the rise of right wing populism across the countries. On this political pathway they encountered DJ Sport aka Detlef, and in the same summer released their debut album, ‘Riva’. Their unconventional sound had ancestry in the geographical imprints of Kraftwerk and NEU!, forging live rhythms with experimental electronics and synths and necessary forays into spoken word. Over the next few years, their sound encompassed shades of post-rock and flirtations with electro-pop yet remaining an unspecific amalgam, likely due to their significant side projects. Stefan left towards the end of the Nineties to concentrate his work with To Rococo Rot, with his place on bass taken up by Alex.
“I first started playing with the band in 1999, soon after the second album came out. Kreidler had already established a unique and unconventional sound, I’d seen them live a few times and was fascinated by the records. It was with Kreidler that I developed a kind of modular, geometrical approach to playing. And I learnt that how a note stops is just as important as how a note starts. In that sense, external influences weren't so relevant. It was more about the internal influence of the band constellation”.
After initially working with spoken word, the band moved into primarily instrumental work, although they have had several guest collaborations and vocalists including Chicks On Speed (including a cover of the Nick Cave-Kylie Minogue duet ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’), Argentinean Leo Garcia and the Scottish enigma Momus. Was their any reasoning behind that? The music was “stronger” without vocals Thomas tells me, although he recalls sharing a gig with Nicolette (“she would have been perfect at this time”), and Andreas agrees.
“She supported us with a DJ set on one of our first London gigs. We actually met a couple of times. The most glamorous breakfast I ever had was with her and Lady Miss Kier – in Düsseldorf, haha. In hindsight, yes. But back in times there wasn't even the thought of asking her. Or anyone. With Momus I am befriended, I see him quite regularly, he lives in Osaka but has a storage space under my studio. The ideal vocal contributor from all time, David Bowie, sigh…"
There has always been an abundance of side projects with the members of the band throughout their history. The absent Detlef is probably best known currently as his alias Tolouse Low Trax and his role as resident and programmer at Salon des Amateurs in Düsseldorf. Thomas and Alex also work with their respective partners as well as solo projects. There are also art installations, graphic design and music biography translations (Alex has just finished a book of conversations with Can’s Irmin Schmidt). Is there ever any danger that the passion for them may jeopardise the core of the band?
“It's more symbiotic”, says Alex. “I don't think Kreidler could continue without having other outlets. I think the external projects enable us to come back to Kreidler with a new set of co-ordinates. We only get together when there's something to do – either for recording or concerts – and it immediately feels familiar. The clash between our different intentions is strangely reliable”.
Thomas tells me that the band had to withstand a lot of collisions and tensions over the past 25 years. “Kreidler is not that archetype rock cliché band of buddies. It´s more a regular meeting of diverse intentions or ideas working on something and in the end deciding if the result fits through the Kreidler keyhole”.
One of those ideas that was pushed through said keyhole was the iPhone concert project in 2010, part of an exhibition in the NRW Forum, Düsseldorf, curated by Werner Lippert, the German art historian. Lippert had heard of Brian Eno’s app for the device and asked Kreidler to perform with it.
“We answered we’d love to, but we have no iPhones”, says Andreas. “So our artists fee was an iPhone each and two glasses of homemade quince jam. We didn't use the Eno app, it's fun but not directed to artists”. Did they relish the limitations? “For me that was never ever something I gave a second thought about. It doesn't matter what kind of gear I use in what kind of medium, whether I am writing, or drawing, or playing any kind of musical instrument, it's the same universe, the same idea behind it. And, regarding limitations, we always set them. Exploring yes, but no noodling”.
“The interesting thing about the iPhone sets is that our way of making music together stays very similar”, Alex adds. “The improvised pieces have a dramaturgy that feels much like our usual live lineup. It's quite a revealing exercise”.
Kreidler’s latest album ‘European Song’ has just been released on Bureau B. It’s a mesmerisingly edgy and tense set. Dark and paranoid, the fluid rhythms pierced with schizy sequences and backed up with brooding, malevolent bass work. According to the press info sent ahead of that, the band were working on an album that was "lighter, more minimalist and more playful" at the time of the US election result, and changed direction for this spur of the moment response. Alex tells me more.
“We were in the final stages of a very different record in the first week of November. We were actually making a clear attempt to avoid our usual line-up and roles, to step away from the weighty, churning band sound of the last few records. But it suddenly felt like the wrong moment to release an exploratory record. We agreed that we needed to do something decisive and direct. So we did”.
The album title refers to the “history of a continent that has previously surpassed all others in self-destruction”. Coinciding with the release of this album, one of Europe’s member states has formalised processes to leave the union. What were their thoughts on the UK decision, and other EU countries falling under the pressure from media fanning flames of right-wing populism? Alex is a UK citizen, but with living outside the UK for longer than 15 years (“which qualifies me as ‘disenfranchised’”) wasn’t allowed to vote in the referendum.
“I took that very personally. Nationalism has proved itself wrong every time. I'm under no illusions that the EU is a perfect solution, but it has led to an unprecedented period of peace in a region that was almost constantly at war somewhere. For me, the essential appeal of EU citizenship is that it is post-national. I definitely stand behind the notion of citizenship, but it involves participation rather than nationality. I decided to hold onto an EU passport for the sake of my family – and Kreidler. When Article 50 was triggered, I jumped on my bike and applied for German citizenship – simply to retain my EU citizenship”.
“Europe is a trace through all our records”, Andreas adds. “The idea of Europe Endless with arts and science in the center, a world free of big corporations, free of stock markets, free of church, a border-free, war-free, sexism/homophobia-free, nationalism/xenophobia-free world. European Song. A role model. And yes, world. I am talking about world”.
I share with the band a Guardian documentary I had recently watched called 'Internet Warriors'. It’s a disturbing short film on the trolling culture which has spun out of control globally through media political bias, fake news and social media. Should anything be done to control this vitriol, or could that be considered censorship? It’s nothing new, says Alex.
“We used to call it ‘lies’ or ‘propaganda’ or ‘disinformation’. The problem is that it spreads much faster these days, and can be targeted directly at those who are most likely to believe it. I think people have always lived in social bubbles that lead to confirmation bias – just think of organised religion. But the social media echo chamber makes things more complicated. As usual, certain corporations are complicit in the spread of lies for profit”.
“What could be done is to put money into education”, states Andreas. “Educate people. Fake news is for the stupid. Always has been. Go back in time as far as you want. The stupid voting for their own butcher”.
“It makes me wonder if hate is an unavoidable human tendency”, questions Alex. “The world seems clearer if you think you know your enemy. But it's a complacent distraction from the real problems. I expect history will look back on these years as a period of transition – but a transition to what? It seems that some people are realising how much is at stake and becoming more engaged in civil society. That's encouraging”.
Photo credit: Melina Pafundi & Chrisa Ralli.