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Things I Have Learned

Things I Have Learned: Adam Richardson Of Ramesses On Jake & Dinos Chapman
John Doran , July 12th, 2010 11:15

When Ramesses’ bassist and singer Adam Richardson asked the enfants terrible, Jake and Dinos Chapman, if he could use their art to adorn his band’s new album Take The Curse, he had no idea that they’d say yes. He explains his love for their disturbing vision…

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I first became aware of the Chapman Brothers when they were part of that art class that also featured Tracy Emin, Damien Hirst and Gavin Turk as well.

To my mind, and with my limited knowledge of pop culture, they were harder and more underground than the other artists and usually more shocking, more upsetting or more likely to be banned. The first exhibition of theirs that I went to see was Explaining Christianity To The Dinosaurs that had all the African masks and totems. That was the first time I walked among their work as it was and it was fucking mind-blowing. When you walked into the art gallery, it was like walking into a jungle clearing in an Edgar Allen Poe or HP Lovecraft short story. You couldn't walk properly in there, you felt like you'd fall over because it was so dark. It was really fucking menacing. There was an atmosphere that immediately reminded me of what I'm trying to do musically. It was a profound experience for me. But walking round that exhibition and you see that these totems are all McDonald's characters and the whole experience is turned upside down - you suddenly realise that all these characters are Ronald McDonald, Hamburglar and the rest…

I just went mad for their artwork.

But even the experience of seeing Explaining Christianity To The Dinosaurs was overshadowed by the first time I saw Fucking Hell. It was just a bizarre experience. You could easily just stand there in the one spot because it's so detailed you could just get lost in it and stare and stare and stare for hours. Days even. You could come back a week later and stand in the same spot and see something that you hadn't seen the last time.

When I first saw Fucking Hell, I was surrounded by people saying “Fucking Hell”!

Their mouths were hanging open. They were either saying or mouthing “Fucking Hell...” It was really funny. It was bizarre hearing this mantra going on while people were looking at the most harrowing things seemingly possible to the imagination. I said it myself: “Fucking Hell!” Because it reminded me of an Autopsy album cover - except an Autopsy album cover that didn’t exist - one from my dreams.

Its utter grotesqueness is unflinching.

It's so accurate; it's hard to take in. I've seen it several times. I can't get over it, even though it's all over the cover of my album!

Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst may have made art that is considered shocking but it is not as visceral as that of the Chapman Brothers.

I wish Tracy Emin would just fuck off, to be honest. Her art is fucking boring and facile yet it's all over the press. You'd be hard pressed to find a quote in a newspaper about Jake and Dinos but then they don't stand on a pedestal screaming about what they've done. They just produce this art like a deadly virus in a lab, release it and then sneak off... probably sniggering I'd imagine… They produce these doom bombs for people to step on top of if they're not careful.

They exist in a lineage of artists.

The first time I saw their work - just after it reminded me of an Autopsy sleeve - I was reminded of Hieronymus Bosch - and [Francisco de] Goya as well. These were controversial artists in their own times. They laid out visions for people to see. With Goya, the link is made explicit. There is a concrete connection to paintings like Witches' Sabbath and Disasters Of War.

There are certain aspects of heavy metal that they love.

The horror and sound of some bands really attract them. Although it's a bit weird for me to talk about, they're fans of Ramesses. I've spent some time with them and if I'm there and I've got a new mix of something we've recorded they'll stick it straight on the office stereo and listen to it at extraordinarily loud volume. It's really funny... I can't listen to music too often at that volume unless I'm off my nuts! They had me blinking at my own record with the sheer volume! When they got the album [Take The Curse] they played it all at a punishingly loud volume. They love parts of the heavy metal aesthetic and they love aspects of the shock and the noise of metal.

It was a dream to have their artwork on the cover of Ramesses’ latest album Take The Curse.

I really wanted to find out if they'd be up for doing some kind of collaboration, specifically with the idea of using photographs of Fucking Hell. But within an hour of thinking this I realized that they're basically untraceable. They're really hard to get hold of. They had a website but there was no contact for them. It blew me away: how did modern artists manage to be so covert. No one knew where their studio was, no one knew where their office was... I was hitting a brick wall so I resorted to... a friend of a friend! I mentioned it to him in passing and he was like 'Dude, he would bite your hand off...' So I got this artefact to them via him. It was a letter to them after a fashion but it was also a spellbound, incantation inscribed onto wooden laminate. Basically I made this huge black canvas of rubber, painted in black paint on black canvas in the shape of a huge inverted cross and inside the package, which I would imagine took ages to open. It was all lashed up and covered in all my wax seals and once you've opened that, basically, inside is Ramesses' back catalogue and a piece of 100-year-old wooden veneer about A5 size that I hand wrote a note to them on saying: I fucking love what you're doing and I'd love to use Fucking Hell on our album. And my mate got back to me and said 'Give them a ring'... I phoned them up and they said 'When do you want to come over?' And I said 'Er, now?!' I was bunking off work you see. I got to their studio and spent half the day there, went back the next day and spent the whole day there. We got on like a house on fire, basically. And the next thing I knew I was being let loose on Jake's computer unsupervised going through about 3,000 pictures of Fucking Hell.

Fucking Hell is a vision of Hell.

It features Nazis as victims of their own tortures and horrors in Hell. It’s a very literal piece of work. You are looking at Nazis paying for their deeds on earth in Hell and nothing is left to the imagination. The way it is presented is like a snapshot.

We’re experiencing difficulties distributing the record in Germany as you might imagine.

Weirdly, we may have to put an anti-fascist label on the album to reassure them, which we’re totally happy to do. It’s not something we’re going to kick and scream about. Anything else that we may or may not believe isn’t anyone else’s business but with this it’s different. We don’t want to offend people in that way. Especially not in Germany. They do have mental laws surrounding the use of the swastika there... quite understandably. But just in case it needs to be pointed out: we’re not right wingers or fascists in any way. We do not have any associations with anything of that nature, no bands, no political figures, no individuals... In fact in this country in extreme metal there is more of a left wing, anti-fascist tradition than anything else. Just look at bands like Napalm Death and the whole grindcore scene. You would go to the gigs and get a load of stick from skinhead Nazi pricks and stick the boot in on them yourself if you got the chance. And I would do again. Fascism is totally fucking unacceptable. The irony is however, that this piece has already been exhibited in Germany.

The difference between Hell and Fucking Hell is primarily one of scale.

Hell was a similar piece. It was these little figures of Nazis in Perspex cases arranged into a swastika, but it burned down in the Saatchi warehouse fire. Because it burned down and they obviously loved the piece, they wanted to redo it. The difference is that, in the original piece, the figures were bigger and a lot less detailed. There was a bit more of a chilling edge to the figures because they were rougher. It must have looked fucking mental when it burned down! It must have been frustrating for them but when they made it again, rather than go to the casts from which they made the original they built everything from scratch. They were half the size, again, the new figures are only about an inch tall now, and they’ve doubled the detail.

They have a sense of humour.

There’s a great little detail in Fucking Hell of Stephen Hawking living on an island. It’s tiny, with barely enough room for him in his wheel chair. He’s got a little shack and in front of him frolicking in the surf are three bimbos. Imagine him getting frustrated having to hang out with these frolicking characters! It’s full of these little winks to the viewer. I love the keyboard player in the church. It’s full of undead Nazi goats and their Satanic goat lord who are holding a sermon for the undead Nazis. And there’s a six-armed organist playing the keyboard, but if you look closely, every single key is a human finger.

Take The Curse by Ramesses is out now

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