> GERECHTIGKEITS LIGA Interview by Simon V.
SV: Gerechtigkeits Liga was one of the very first industrial bands in Germany. What were (and possibly still are) your motivations at the time? Was Western Germany in 1981 swept by a creative wind just like most of Europe?
GL: GL evolved from having played in several punk bands and then continued with a different style of sound & music, which I would call electro-acoustic music due to the equipment we were working with when we launched Gerechtigkeits Liga. It was basically first and foremost a noise band and less of an “industrial” or post-industrial group, at least for the first year or one and a half years of GL’s existence. I had very little contact with other musicians in the noise and industrial field at the beginning of the 80s—even though by 1983 I had started working with a second colleague of mine, and we had gotten to know Uli Rehberg who lived in Hamburg and owned a record shop as well as running a label called Walter Ulbricht Schallfolien. Uli organized a concert in 1983 with Whitehouse and GL in Hamburg. In fact before I got to know him in Hamburg, we were offered to play live with Nocturnal Emissions, that was also in ’83. During this time I had also founded our own label ‘Zyklus’ records, in order to release our own audio, as well as video material. We received a lot of correspondence and mail art from West & some Eastern European countries, as well as the USA.
The inspiration behind having founded the group for me was the fact that I had been growing up during the Cold War period, which made me feel quite paranoid at the time, I wasn’t very pleased about the lack of cultural independence, the cultural trashy overflow from the US that had been taking place for a rather long time by then of course. And also the fact that I had a strong feeling that the Germans at the time were almost consciously trying to reject remembering Germany’s history in the 30s, the Third Reich and what happened in the concentration camps, the deportation of Jews and gay people and so-called political enemies, etc. I also felt the urgent need to break with conventional methods of writing and performing music and to explore new ways to work with sound and film, as well as video. We became a group towards the end of ’81, when i started working with a third friend. We started the first recording period as an electro-acoustic set, more or less due to the more conventional equipment we had still left over from our punk bands, including guitar, bass, violine (as I had been partly a bad singer and rather bad guitarist in two or three punk bands, and my colleague a bassist) and everything else was based on recordings that we did record in junkyards and in a WW2 bunker, until 1982, when we started working with our first drum machine and an analogue synthesizers. We did collect bits and pieces of metal and plastic, anything you could imagine, little children’s toys. We worked a lot with tape loops and manipulated sounds on tapes. Out of all these sounds we created our first album, which sounded more like a noisy soundtrack. It was partly dark ambient but mostly aggressive noise, pure noise only. This first album was released on tape in 1982.
SV: The name you chose means “Justice League” in German. Has it a specific background or does it reflect a sarcastic and cynical approach to the abused word “justice” in modern Western society? It is not very likely to have anything to do with the American comics series, is it?
GL: The truth is that as I was only 17, a friend of mine had the German translation of the American comic lying around, and we were looking for a name for the project. It looked really amusing and at the same time it seemed to be a truly fitting idea to use such an ambiguous name. But I had no idea how popular this comic was—it was so bizarre as it played no role, just a so called pure coincidence that we were sitting there going through hell knows how many names. But it seemed to be so fitting at the same time. The artwork for the first cassette was a literal piss take: in the booklet we used the actual logo from the Gerechtigkeits Liga comic, other elements from the comic and from adverts, with concentration camp photos and we used this layout as a cover page for a booklet, as well as a ‘promo’ poster for a new tape release with the title: ‘Scenes we’d like to see’. We plastered them around the old city center of Bremen in Germany and part of a local shopping zone at the time. They couldn’t have been up for longer than a few days maximum, at the time concert posters would go up on a nightly basis and a lot of graffiti as well in certain areas. But it was completely misunderstood, which makes me feel sad, but also amuses me in retrospect. It was meant to be thought provoking, but it’s always up to the interpretation of the viewer. In this case we were mistaken for neo-nazis and a manhunt was started by a bunch of angry and punch happy anarchist punks, which was an irony in itself as we drank in the same bars, shared some of the same ideas but always remained anonymous with all GL activities in the earlier days.
SV: Was the concept of “industrial music” important for you at the time? Is it still now? Thinking of early German industrial, one usually thinks of Einstürzende Neubauten, Die Krupps, early D.A.F., Cranioclast. Do you feel Gerechtigkeits Liga has anything to do with them?
GL: I felt that most of the things of significance were mainly happening in West Berlin. Compared to Berlin, I felt I was living in the provinces even though I lived in a city of maybe 600,000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, to West Berliners that would have been a provincial place. Especially Einstürzende Neubauten, who were from West Berlin and seemed to be overshadowing the majority of the Industrial and experimental music scene at the time. Throbbing Gristle in the UK were already by then a major cult project. And SPK, who by then were also living in London although they were from Australia. I was proven wrong though—there was actually a lot happening in Northern Germany, Asmus Tietchen had already been active for a long time. We got to know him in 1983 through Uli Rehberg. The concept of industrial music was important to a certain degree, of course. Nevertheless I never associated groups like Einstürzende Neubauten with the term at all, which may seem odd. I always found it strange that they were associated with industrial music, especially in the earlier days. Neither did I at the time associate D.A.F. or Cranioclast with industrial music, even though I did like Einstürzende Neubauten a lot in the 80s. Die Krupps I wasn’t too greatly impressed by, I thought they were trying to mix pop tunes with sort of industrial elements, such as steel samples and percussion.
In the early days, throughout the first one and half years of GL’s existence, we probably ironically had quite a bit in common with Einsturzende Neubaten, as we went out onto junkyards and started recording metal and acoustic instruments in a Second World War bunker which we were using as a rehearsal space. The way we processed and used the sound was in many ways fairly similar to the way Einsturzende Neubaten were working at the time. We were approached by Cranioclast and they sent us one of their tape releases, that was how I first listened to them. As far as I can remember it was more like minimalist electronic music. I never met the main person behind it as far as I remember, but we exchanged correspondence. Between 1981 and the beginning of 1984 we released all records, tapes and videos on our own label, which was called Zyklus Records.
SV: You eventually moved to London. Why did you choose to go there? Was the interest for experimental and noisy music higher in the UK than in Western Germany?
GL: I definitely thought that interest in the experimental and noise scene was far bigger over there, and that the scene was obviously much larger, as I had been there on numerous visits before and had also gotten to know the members of SPK and many other musicians who were active in the so-called industrial or what Graeme Revell later called the post-industrial scene.
SV: Many tapes were published by your own label Zyklus Records, as well as your debut vinyl “The Games Must Go On.” Is any of that tape material meant for a future reissue? Did you have contact with many other tape labels/networks across Europe at the time?
GL: A lot of the stuff that was released on our own label Zyklus Records—which by the way I relaunched recently with my new colleague Ragnar in March 2011 in order to release a new GL album called Dystopia—has been re-released. An old friend of mine by the name of John Murphy helped us with some of the percussion and drum recordings on the new album, for which I’m very greatful. The debut vinyl “The Games Must Go On” and the LP Hypnotisches Existenzialismus, which was originally released in 1985 by Side Effects in London and re-released in 1986 by Thermidor in San Francisco, was re-released in 2005 as a digipack by Isegrimm Records in Germany. Another seven tracks which were recorded in 1984 at the Limbo Lounge in New York City were also released as bonus tracks on the same digipack. Three years later I released a retrospective on the German label Vinyl-on-Demand called Per Ignem ad Lucem, and included two 12-inch vinyl LPs plus a 7-inch vinyl single as well as a video DVD. The tracks that were released on this compilation covered an array of unreleased live material from the 80s as well as studio outtakes and a few rare studio recordings from the 80s. The DVD includes early video clips from the 80s as well as some bonus live material which was shot at Columbia University in New York City in 1984 or 1985. We had a lot of contact with labels, mainly in Western Europe but we were also in touch with many tape and record labels in the States, in Canada and the rest of the world. We didn’t trade many tapes due to the limited editions we released.
SV: Your debut LP “Hypnotisches Existenzialismus” shows a deep attraction for tribal percussions and ritual atmospheres. Could you tell us about your interest into trance-inducing and hypnotic rhythms?
GL: When we recorded the album between ‘83 and ‘84 we had been experimenting with trance-inducing rhythms and tribal chants. On a theoretical level I had become interested in and started studying the techniques of hypnotism as well as animal magnetism. I had also started reading literature by Mircea Eliade about shamanism, he had written a fascinating book about shamanism, shamans and their rituals, the rough English translation of the title would be Shamanism and Archaic Ecstatic Techniques.
SV: Could you comment on the title “Hypnotisches Existenzialismus” itself?
GL: It was a chance title because of my old colleague Thomas. I was very interested in the things I just talked about and in existentialism, but he was even more interested in existentialism and obsessed with the writer and philosopher E.M. Cioran. We couldn’t make up our minds about the title, and considered our interests and the ideals that had flowed into the record. We were living together and spending a lot of time together, and while he was out one day I thought, “we have to come up with a title because we have a deadline coming up”—so I just mixed both subject matters and turned it into “hypnotic existentialism.” In a way it was anything but a conceptual record, even though it should have been one and ironically enough may sound like one, which I don’t consider to be a coincidence.
SV: In my review I suggested that the music of the LP calls to my mind the idea of a futuristic dystopia, in which cold technology blends with primitive and savage instincts. What do you think of this interpretation?
GL: I totally agree with you that the record represents a futuristic dystopia… Your question is stating almost the exact point we were trying to make at the time. It’s ironic, as our new album released in March 2011 actually has the title of Dystopia.
SV: Do you have any interest for the dystopia genre in literature, such as Orwell’s “1984” or Huxley’s “Brave New World”? The quote of Emil Cioran on the innersleeve of the CD reissue seems to suggest that utopias are not for Gerechtigkeits Liga.
GL: Yes, I certainly used to have a great interest in the just-mentioned literature, especially in my younger years I was a great fan of Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 and also Huxley’s Brave New World. Amongst other authors, I was a huge fan of some of the novels of J.G. Ballard, who seemed to reflect a future vision with such an accurate view that I’m still extremely impressed. Obviously I should also mention William Burroughs, who played a great part in my cultural development. While we were on tour in the States in the mid-80s I had a chance to meet the man himself in the Midwestern town of Lawrence, Kansas. It seemed like a pure coincidence and irony at the time, as we were visiting an American guy whose name was also Bill, and who was running a punk record and video label on which he had previously released the American version of SPK’s Despair video, and who later released the Final Academy video on his label, Fresh Sounds. He was a good friend of Burroughs at the time and introduced us to him during our short stay in Lawrence. The reason we made a stopover there was to sign a video deal for a video that hadn’t yet been made, and was meant to be filmed on our return to New York at Columbia University at a cable TV station.
SV: The song “Media Distortion” has, to my ears, the same rhythm as Laibach’s “Dekret”. Both songs were released the same year, I think. Is it a coincidence or is there a story behind this?
GL: I’m sure as soon as I hear that song again I will remember it, but I can’t at the moment. There’s certainly no relationship between the two songs and no significant story behind “Media Distortion”, except for the fact, that it deals with mass media, muzak, escapism and depression.
SV: Judging from the list of your tape releases, looks like you did perform live quite often back in the days. What was a Gerechtigkeits Liga live concert like?
GL: All our shows used to be multimedia events, as back in the 80s I had problems writing words and vocals for the tracks we recorded and performed live. Therefore I expressed my ideas via films and slide projections, which we used as background material. I’ve always had a strong interest in experimental film, especially at that time, and I thought it was a good and unconventional idea to express one’s ideas through background projections. Then it was more unusual, people were not doing it a lot. The rest of the performance at the beginning was based on pure live music during the first couple of years. As we started doing low-budget tours and played many tours and single gigs abroad, it soon became apparent that we had to start reducing the amount of equipment in order to travel lighter. Therefore unfortunately we were forced to use a certain amount of sounds from backing tapes and just mainly used percussion and an array of conventional instruments such as brass instruments, violins, a broken guitar, pedal effects and tape fade-ins, as well as synth keyboard. Even though I didn’t have conventional vocals at the time, I usually improvised a lot and just made words up on the go, which I just shouted into the microphone.
SV: Worth mentioning is your participation to the historical Side Effekts anthology Vhutemas Archetypi in 1985, alongside SPK, Laibach, Hunting Lodge and Lustmord. Has that record any special meaning to you? Is the topic of the “Wodan Archetype” of any interest to you?
GL: Of course the record did have and still has a very private special meaning to me. On the other side, I must admit that at the time of recording the two tracks for the compilation were certainly not related to the “Wodan Archtype,” even though I was interested in the occult and Northern or Germanic mythology to a certain degree. I think the interest has increased slightly over the years. What still fascinates me in retrospect when listening to the compilation is that every band or project who participated and worked on their tracks independently and without having had any communications with the other participating musicians, but if you closely listen to it someone may get the feeling all tracks were recorded within the presence of all contributors. It certainly seems to give a strong impression that all of us had a common denominator, as each track seems to fit together, almost like pieces of a puzzle.
SV: Let’s get to the present now. Towards the end of the 1980s your traces were lost, only to reappear in 2005 with the CD reissue of Hypnotischer Existenzialismus. What led to this release after so many years? How did you come in contacts with Isegrimm Records?
GL: Shortly after the beginning of the Millennium I noticed that the so-called industrial or post-industrial music scene with all its sub-genres wasn’t dead, as I had presumed for so long during most of the ‘90s. In 2001 I was approached by a Berlin festival organiser called Stefan Schwanke, who kindly asked me if I would be interested in recording a track for one of his upcoming vinyl compilations by the title of Statement 1961. The theme of the compilation was meant to be the building of the East Berlin Wall, which had been started by the GDR in 1961. The compilation was meant to be dedicated to all East German residents who tried to escape from the East and were executed in the process of doing it. I did like the idea a great deal and was surprised that someone still showed an interest in Gerechtigkeits Liga after such a long period of absence. The compilation was finally released on the 26th of June 2004 within the framework of a festival. Stefan had previously asked me if I would be interested to perform at the launch festival of the compilation and I had agreed to do so. After a rather disappointing performance due to the fact that I encountered problems with some of my equipment on stage, I was later that evening approached by a gentleman called Lerry who mentioned a great interest in the history of Gerechtigkeits Liga and who asked me if I would be interested in a re-release of some of the older vinyl releases from the 80s. We exchanged email addresses and telephone numbers, and eventually the planned material was released as a digipack in 2005. By 2004 I had already decided to pursue the project again, and had made the acquaintance of a new friend and now collaborator, Ragnar. At that time he was visiting London on a very regular basis, and we continued working as GL where I had left off at the beginning of the 90s.
SV: Let’s talk about the latest Gerechtigkeits Liga releases. How has your perspective of music changed? What do you have in mind, musically speaking, these days?
GL: Since 2004, we’ve recorded and released plenty of material on different vinyl and CD compilations, as well as two 7-inch vinyl records (one a split release with the German noise project Gehirn Implosion) and the new album Dystopia, not to mention the Vinyl-on-Demand retrospective that I mentioned earlier in the interview. Obviously my perspective of music has changed over the past decades. In many ways my ideas have somehow stayed the same but I have become much more open-minded towards almost all genres of music that are out there, which was an impossibility for me when I was in my late teens. I can now listen to almost all genres of music and view them far more objectively. I’m also able to spend longer periods of time without listening to music at all, especially when I work on my own sound projects. I’ve been able to work with a much larger array of instruments, be it conventional instruments like Tibetan dungchen (horns), or high-tech instruments and recording gear. We did do some similar things in the 80s as well though. At one time in the late 80s we used more electronic instruments than we use now, but analog of course rather than digital. At present I am really wondering how to continue. I have a more ambient noisy project that has been mostly recorded and has been sitting in the corner, which needs to be worked on: a Shining Vril vs. Gerechtigkeits Liga album. If a release will finally be available is as yet unknown. We’re currently planning to put out a follow up release to the new album “Dystopia”, which will come out in form of a limited cassette with additional live studio recordings. This release will be called “Dystopia” – ‘Ritus’. A number of other releases is planned for the year 2012: One of them will be a special Gerechtigkeits Liga live release on Klanggalerie in Vienna and a special dark ambient project, possibly to be released on GL’s Zyklus Records.
SV: Are you planning to do any live performances too, and, if yes, how do you see an industrial live performance these days?
GL: Yes, we’ve done a number of live concerts in the past few years, the majority of which took place at small or larger festivals, such as the 8th Wroclaw Industrial Festival in 2009 in Poland, as well as the Wave Gothik Treffen in 2008 in Leipzig, Germany. Generally the live performances we’ve done over the last few years are quiet different compared to what I used to do with one of my ex-colleagues in the 80s. We used to put more emphasis on backing tapes but now we are much more of a band set-up. Whenever we play at larger venues we have a third man on board who has been playing metal percussion as well as drums. Even though we are still using video projections for all of our concerts I am concentrating more on vocals and brass instruments, as well as limited samples nowadays, and my main colleague is responsible for synthesised as well as organic sounds and drum percussion.
SV: Thank you very much for your time and the answers. One last word at your disposal.
GL: Many thanks for your never ending patience and for having waited such a long time for my answers dear Simon!
– Interviewed By Simon V.
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