Punk as Fuck
The neo-Aktionist noise/performance art group Ohne (catalogue text for Helsinki's Media Art Festival Avanto, 2004)
"I was quite astonished to hear that Ohne will perform at Avanto" says Daniel Löwenbrück, one of the four guys in this variegated band. After their tour in 2002 this sort of boygroup seemed to be entwined by myth rather than by actually producing music or performing on stage. For him Ohne was terminated after releasing a CD and being on tour together.
Like many collaborations before this was just one more. And how can one advance in life if one sticks with things? Daniel spent two months on a 12,000 km long tour through predominantly Eastern European countries. Together with Dave Phillips, Reto Mäder and Tom Smith they did 21 gigs as Ohne. A journey probably so intense that everyone needed a break thereafter. And what works better to get back to solid grounds than to pursue projects on your own or develop new ideas?
Ohne itself is nothing more than an idea that evolved out of such a creative free space. A notion that tries to bundle certain parts of social surroundings in order to investigate what might happen if these engage with each other. That was the basic idea Dave had in mind when he sent an email to his buddy Tom in the summer of 2000 asking whether he'd like to be part of a common project - along with others. Tom supported the idea from the beginning and was full of fervour. When their ideas began to gain shape even euphoria was lurking around the corner. In one of the early mails Dave thought of Ohne as full of "psychological border-crossing and the blackest of all humours with lewd concupiscence, deviated sensual affronts and most bizarre conundrums strewn in for good measure. Punk as fuck! And sick! Sick! Sick! And hilarious! And totally confrontational! With a giant smile! But worked out to the last detail - no improv shit. Aleatory, okay, but tight as a virgin's ass. We'll blow everything to bits!"
Dave is the driving force behind Ohne. His musical career started at the age of 17 when he founded the Swiss hardcore-group Fear of God in 1986. Next to Napalm Death, Carcass or Extreme Noise Terror they belonged to the elaborated spearhead of a genre that probably wasn't much larger than this very spearhead. Nevertheless it had a huge impact musicwise. Further increase was impossible simply due to the fact that one possibly couldn't play significantly shorter or sing more inscrutable. Once this border was transgressed, guitar, bass or drumsticks could be dropped easily in order to develop other musical interests and put 'thrash' on a new and more experimental level. One that was built along the parameters voice and bruitism, that coquets with field-recordings and music concrète and where collaborations are always an option. Out of this attitude emerged the still lasting connection with the actionistic Schimpfluch-group around core-activist and founder Rudolf Eb.er (Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock) and Joke Lanz (Sudden Infant). The group focuses on "psychophysical tests and training". In their actions the body, its orifices, sounds and fluids as well as processed sounds of these elements are a steady variable. As part of the audience one is well adviced to be prepared for everything and to better leave one's fears at home. But the same is valid vice versa, too. Apart from the delicate situation the performer might be in just by performing he/she might also experience quite drastic responses from the audience. For Dave the body represents a huge reservoir of ideas. One aspect of his work is to demonstrate the relatedness between nature and human beings with all their instincts, reflexes and drives that in nowadays societies tend to be negated. The parallels between field-recordings from the jungle and bodily sounds on the release |||+ (Tochnit Aleph 029) can be read as an abstract expression of respect for nature. One that is not easily digested. Of course Dave Phillips lives vegan.
Daniel founded the label Tochnit Aleph 10 years ago as a platform for primarily noisy sounds. Most releases might last like lead-plates in recordstores - if they find their way into a shop at all. That's because of a special way of economy implied with the idea of the label: bartering. One of the preconditions for this procedure is a mutual interest going along with personal contacts. Daniel lives in Berlin for eight years and although the city offers a large variety of social and other lifestyles not all of his needs can be satisfied there. The label operates on a global level and functions as a network for artists from Japan or the United States as well as Greece. Each release is of unique authenticity and demands devotional debate. This is not always easy - listening to Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock's Asshole/Snail Dilemma (TA 025) e.g. is a painful experience for Daniel himself. Others probably wouldn't be able to stand Yakushinji Kaori's painful screaming at all, as it is as unsettling as witnessing torture. The community linked to the label grew over the years, so one of the latest catalog-numbers impresses with an extensive line-up: 68 artists celebrate The end of the Fear of God (TA 048), amongst others grand personalities like Kevin Drumm, Hecker, Kid 606, Jim O'Rourke, Merzbow, Russell Haswell, Pita or Zbigniew Karkowski. Daniel also operates as a DJ with the mysterious group Blackjewishgays or solo as Tochnit Aleph Empire. His sets are known for razor-sharp timing and a well-balanced mixture of different styles along the cornerposts brutality, connoisseurship and humour. Yet another alter ego appears when its comes to own musical works. As Raionbashi he releases conceptual tracks that resemble an orgy at doomsday. On the current CD Kollekte (TA 049) a large variety of phenomena from what sounds like a mad bagpipe-orchestra conducted by a drunkard to a pack of agressively coughing tigers get featured; but there is also microwave-music, sick soul, pure noise, breaking glass on end plus a spooky, yet warm bonustrack. Several years ago Daniel took the occasion of working in a psychiatric clinic to satisfy his fascination with certain ways of perception. Some of those experiences might still be fueling his imagination today. He is known as a notorious troublemaker in Berlin, but above all he is a good looking communist.
Seeing musicians sitting paralyzed behind their laptops usually just clarifies what kind of a barbarous workplace this instrument is. Reto used to look just like that when performing in his early days as a laptop-musician. After some years in the Postrock-league during the mid-Nineties in bands like Siddharta, Absorb or Dodge he started to develop his personality as the computer-musician rm74 in 1998. At the beginning of the tour he still felt like a wannabe-rocker, bound to the machine with one hand chained to the mouse and staring very seriously at the events on the screen - surrounded by the others in action. One of the liberating effects of being on the road with Ohne was that Reto developed a new style in dealing with the machine: although it might happen that he's wearing a great deal less clothes while performing he appears to be much more in command of the machine than before. This transformation hasn't affected his ability to produce babbling and yet childlike or dreamy melodies that contain occasional groans of melancholy. Despite Reto's liking for atonal sounds his trademark is the mergance of piano and computer.
So what is an adequate counterpart for all these electronically stamped characters with their affection for noise, action, brutality and tinkering? To balance and furthermore enrich or expand this spectrum the element of maturity would have to come into play - ideally in a combination with singing. Two qualities embodied by Tom Smith- the dinosaur. Even though at home in showbiz and on various stages of the world for more than the quarter of a century he is still hungry for the aesthetically unknown. A quite exceptional attitude after all those years in bands with diverse line-ups, surrounded by shooting stars, human tragedy and stuff you might encounter when opting for a lifestyle that provides a home in bands like Boat of, Peach of Immortality, Pussy Galore or others that todays kids might just know from hearsay. Tom went through the often rough school of the 80's in its entirety and preserved a healthy taste of pathos, kitsch and melancholy. As a Jack-of-all-trades he is active as producer, mixer, author, sick-cineast, webdesigner and musician in projects as To live and shave in LA or Memories of Undervelopment. Reto refers to the Miami resident as a doter.
Dave and Tom met for the first time when they shared a bill at a concert-night in Paris in 1997. A friendship evolved and both of them had the feeling that they'd like to set up something together. This idea was getting concrete when they started to exchange mails upon Dave's concept for Ohne. Daniel and Reto got asked whether they would like to join and as both perceived a potential for mental growth they agreed. The beloved internet provided a suitable tool for first musical steps and soon soundfiles got swapped between Florida, Berlin and the Greater-Zürich area. As one cannot smell each other this way they had to deal with each others ideas on a mere musical surface. This somewhat handicapped procedure proved to be a fruitful one: almost all possible constellations from the favored one-on-one-encounter to the group-of-four-model got tested and resulted in very oppositional tracks. Music that offers shelter despite all layers of noise and that has an aura of warmth and strangeness at the same time. Provided that one is not too alienated from the darker or paranoid aspects of one's personality it even could be labeled 'humanly'. However these tracks might offer an invitation to trace those aspects. The label Mego liked the idea of this project so much that they offered support for manufacturing and distribution of a CD. That's probably why the actual release looked as if on this label. Apart from the shape of the cover it even uses the same font, just that it reads Ohne instead of Mego on top of a carcinogenic looking something painted by Rudolf Eb.er.
Along with this warm-up the planning of the tour passed of. It was the core element of the project and as the concept of Ohne is about challenges the terrain for the tour should break new grounds, too. Funnily enough virgin soil might just start in front of your own porch nowadays, as Thailand's remotest beaches are known to more westerners than the Baltic Sea. That's why Ohne opted for the former Eastern Bloc when they skipped through their address-books in order to find people who might be able to set something up: a place to stay, vegan food and probably a little bit of money for the next load of gasoline in return for a show. The old and for some reasons not any longer fashionable adventurous concept of being on the road. A road, where the actual gig wouldn't mean a kind of service or an isolated creative self-actualisation. Performances should rather function as the basis on which a social exchange with audience and organizers could take place or even friendships might evolve. Through cross-recommendations the schedule expanded and finally there were almost twice as many concerts as initially intended.
One of the demands for Ohne's performances was the ban on improvisation; yet there should be loads of unexpected action. Probably the four were surprised themselves more than once during the 10 days spent rehearsing at Dave's spacious warehouse-loft near Zürich. Due to everybody's different musical background a quite productive area of conflict arose. The mixture of actionistic performance, introverted laptopmusic and Rock'n'Roll turned out to be a good basis for building a dramaturgy for the shows. The ultimate blend contained traces of all those elements and combined them in a theatrical spectacle of the absurd. With a first framework in mind Ohne went for two gigs in Paris: one in the self-organized cellar-club Les Voutes, the other close to Centre Pompidou surrounded by the white walls of a gallery named Public. Like many noise-artists the group had to deal with the conflict between ones own punk-roots and the feeding hands of middle-classe culture from the beginning.
The tests in Paris revealed shortcomings and offered reason for hope at the same time. After 10 more days of rehearsing and some changes in the programme the phase of initiation was over - the transformation of four individuals into a special live-project got completed. The adventurous Euro Schizzo 2002-tour full of aquaintances, excesses, fears, delights and annoyances was about to kick off. Somewhat blank spots like Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia were to be filled with experiences during the following six weeks. Apart from a lot of personal exchange, appearances in radio and TV-shows, drives through beautiful landscapes and experimental cities there were numerous gigs with all kinds of settings in squats, posh clubs, galleries or culture-centres. The belarus label The Egg and We released a CD documenting the Ohne show at Buddha-Bar in Minsk. A QuickTime-movie demonstrates how comical, brutal, theatralic, dedicated, loud, straight and most notably intense this appearance was. Witnessing it must have felt like a trip on a roller coaster through subconscious spheres or how one might imagine the jumble of certain nights at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich in the days of Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara. Obviously several people were not amused at all by something that provocative presented by four tattooed and pierced men with flamboyant haircuts. However, usually reactions were friendly. Although the confrontational show must have looked somewhat puzzling for most people in the audience, they were curious enough to just watch which emotions got addressed in them. Some even compared the intensity of the gig to the hoodoo of Chernobyl. In a place where mutated insects are a common phenomenon during summer this is a rather special compliment.
Ohne give reason to reflect about the meaning of taboos. Why is it so attractive to break a taboo? What are the effects? Capitalism absorbs former taboos in an ever faster tempo and integrates them in an ever more absurd overall picture. Bader-Meinhof gets fashionable on a mere surface as Prada-Meinhof and today's revolutions take place at the softdrink front-line. Actionistic events along with noise-culture still function as kind of a bastion and almost only the art-world nibbles at it. Ohne operate at the intersection of both and it'll be curious to watch out for the development of the group and its members. Will they extend social networks or jet around the world with scholarship-money dwelling out of their pockets? Will they depend on cultural funding or stupid jobs? Or is it possible for them to deal with aspects of both worlds in their work? The first public appearance of Ohne after two years at Avanto is definately a step into a new area of conflict. For all parties involved.