Video Diaries: Franz Kirmann Talks
It feels like an apt time to be speaking to Franz again. Not only because it’s interesting to critique a new album from an artist when their previous album is still so fresh in the memory, but also because of the current world events that influenced the sound of it. Franz is certainly an interesting test case for how a credible artist could survive in an industry that is very much in flux.
Franz has led a creative-double life for many years. He lands big contracts to score film and TV (he recently worked on the award-winning McMafia for the BBC), but he also produces and performs in the more cultish land that R$N readers inhabit. “First Broadcast” is his fifth artist’s album (his second on Bytes), and his label Days Of Being Wild is now into its 10th year.
It’s interesting to note that even before Covid-armageddon Franz announced that Days Of Being Wild would release music on Bandcamp for free or for however much anyone wished to donate. Once we finish discussing his new (and excellent) album, we move onto weightier industry matters. Could democratised business models and professional sidelines become the only means of survival for some of our favourite artists and labels?
Tell me about the album. I like the live feel to it, especially the bit where you suddenly crank up the pitch on Expo…
That was spontaneous. I remember listening to it a week later in the car with the kids and I thought wow, this is crazy – it’s getting higher and higher! It kind of took me by surprise when I listened to it back.
The album was an accidental thing – I didn’t plan it at all. Just before lockdown the original idea was to create a setup with my modular systems with a view to performing. I’ve never been happy with the way I was doing the shows on my own before – it was just laptops – it felt quite pre-planned. So I thought it would be great if I created something I could completely improvise with. I arranged a module with a drum machine and a few things. It was pretty pared down to start with. Not polyphonic so I can’t do chords. It was kind of like a reaction to the last album… I wanted something quite primal and brutal.
I was listening to a lot of Throbbing Gristle and I thought I wanted to do something quite industrial that felt ‘physical’. I was doing rehearsals with my live setup thinking about gigs and I started recording it. There was a lot of horrible stuff but there were also some good chunks. So I sent the chunks to Wil and he got really excited again like last time. He sent it straight to Joe, Joe got excited and they both said ‘let’s put it together’. To me it was just jams more than anything else, but they turned it into an album. It was interesting for me to make something repetitive with this setup. Also it reflected the way I felt. Every day during lockdown felt static and similar.
I liked the fact that I still had “Madrapour” in my head when I listened to it, which came out only six months ago… this feels like the next volume. Kind of like the next book rather than the next chapter. Half of it feels similar, half of it is different. I can hear a synergy in thought and spirit but it’s a different execution.
It’s quite interesting to see how people listen to it. For me there is something similar in the spirit but musically it’s very different. What I’m learning from this is that a lot of the time in the past I think ‘this is too extreme – I need to add some nice pads and make it more friendly’. But this time because I wasn’t sequencing – I was recording straight into the computer – I couldn’t change anything or add anything. With “Madrapour” I recorded a live jam but then I built on it afterwards.
What’s strange right now with lockdown is that you’re on your own in the studio. I was listening to Flood speaking to Erol Alkan and Flood was talking about U2 and Depeche Mode and people like that… you’d have four or five people in a room… mixing engineers, producers and they’re all making the album together. I think the era of the album is disappearing – not just because people aren’t buying them but because records are made in a completely different way now. Even Taylor Swift – a megastar like her – I saw this video of her recording something and she was just in a room with a guy on a laptop! It was a room with no light, like my cave, and yet it sounded like really big EDM.
I guess art is often a product of commercial parameters. Why is a pop song 3 minutes long? Originally that was the capacity of phonograph. There’s always this friction between necessity and pure creativity. And actually at the moment, artists have more creative control than ever, but they’re paid less for it of course.
Yeah, it’s like in cinema. The amount of times you watch a film and then watch the Director’s cut and you’re really excited to watch another half an hour, and then it’s actually really boring!
The album thing… I grew up in Africa. The music we were consuming was albums. There were no charts or Top Of The Pops. I grew up listening to the whole record and definitely that shaped me. Naturally I want 9 or 10 songs. Nowadays it’s interesting with Spotify playlists… so the kids are consuming music in long form but it’s with different artists.
As often seems to be the case, the wider status quo perpetuates but the actors and the mediums of delivery may change along the way. If it’s not Spotify playlists then I imagine something will take the place of the album for young people, but perhaps I won’t notice it and you won’t.
Yes absolutely. I don’t want to be the old fart and say that things were better in my day – it’s just different. For me, because of my conditioning, I find it difficult to just put out something that is three tracks because I feel like it isn’t finished.
Do you think with the chaos going on in the world at the moment this could be an amazing creative time?
I think it’s too early to say. It will definitely be interesting. This period is bound to influence everybody. It’s funny because I haven’t made ‘beat music’ for a long time. Before when I did Spinner and tracks like that I was thinking about delivering it for a dancefloor. So now there is not the dancefloor for people to connect with it’s a different influence. But then again, in lockdown, I’ve just made something that’s a dance record! In hindsight I have been influenced by the claustrophobic surroundings I guess because the sound is panicky.
These are very interesting times for art. But also a lot of artists are struggling, and when you need to put food on the table it’s much harder to create. I guess I don’t know what’s going to happen… that’s the real answer! It’s a very tricky time.
A bit of personal tension and anger with society and governments can also be a creative driver though.
Yes, I think there are two separate things here. I remember when doing Days of Being Wild we would receive a lot of stuff that was Joy Division-influenced and post-punk influenced. I only got it properly when I lived in England for a while. When you go and see A Certain Ratio and see what industrial Manchester is really like, you then understand why all of this music you got sent from middle-class Parisian kids trying to sound like Joy Division sounds really boring. You have to be in Manchester in the late 70s to sound like Joy Division! So yes, anger towards the system and what we’ve been doing to the environment and how we’ve been consuming… that is good fuel for things to happen.
In the last few years I noticed music getting quite comfortable; like post-classical music, chill out playlists and all that bullshit that’s going on. When music starts to be like this… it’s like American Psycho… like ‘this shit’s all got to change’. But my original answer was more about having to find the time and headspace to be creative. If you’re worried about your food it could be a problem.
Most people have time because they’re not going to work, but if they have fear that they have no job to go to afterwards then that could be disempowering. As you say, there are competing forces for people’s creativity at the moment.
I guess interesting music nearly always comes from the working classes. Most of the great movements have come from people who are struggling with something. Maybe I’m being a bit black & white here?
There are obviously plenty of examples of middle and upper-class artists, but I think you’re broadly right about movements, at least in the past in the UK anyway. I think the intensity that comes from these communities means they are more likely to feast on a particular type of music or a ‘thing’ and convert it into a larger movement. I associate this more with my part of the world up north and with the less expensive parts of London. There’s a battling spirit that can help drive things forwards. But maybe this is an old model? If we put lockdown aside, we live in a more disparate world now anyway. Maybe musical movements will not be driven by the same things they used to be?
I’m listening to a lot of blues now. It feels like music for people. It’s very primal sounding, very sensual, very raw and angry… it’s very human basically. Why am I saying that? I guess I’m hoping to see people going back to a form of expression that’s inclusive.
It could go that way. Like what you’re doing with R$N and Bytes. You originally wanted to work with them last year because you liked them. A lot of artists wouldn’t have made that decision last year, but now they might actually be willing to accept that working with people they like is as good as they’re going to get because they won’t be able to earn much more money elsewhere anyway.
Yeah, I guess I’m just in it for making music that makes me jump up and down or relate to. I don’t recognise the currency of being on a particular label or doing well on Instagram. I see people who are on that path and they’re all super-stressed and worried about it. I think every artist is worried about their relevance but as I’m getting older I find peace with where I am. It’s funny, I’ve got Wil and Joe in my corner and they’re more excited than me about the music sometimes! And it’s great.
Could there be a more communal spirit in the scene as a whole? Do you think artists and managers will be ready to co-operate more with the rest of the industry?
It’s too early to say. I’m talking to a DJ in my neighbourhood who is a lot more commercial. He does a lot of big corporate events. He’s a nice guy but he’s also a businessman. He had a record store in Brixton last year and he wants to do that again. He would like a bigger place that does coffee and cake, studios for radio, and we talked about me working in a studio there possibly. It got me thinking about doing something local, doing workshops with kids. Plug in a synthesiser, show them how it works. So maybe things will be more localised?
But I just don’t know for sure. It’s hard to see the industry making as much money and people are surely going to drop off during the change, but a lot of people will re-adapt. People are always going to want to share a moment in the same room though. Some things will change and the economy might scale down a bit I guess. Some people will adapt and some won’t!