The Experiment Is Vital: Damien Dubrovnik Interviewed
, September 4th, 2013 09:40
Emerging from the same close-knit Copenhagen scene as Iceage, Damien Dubrovnik create coruscating vistas of provocative synth-noise, as raw as a fresh stab wound. With latest album First Burning Attraction released this year, they speak with Ian Maleney about making new worlds
Loke Rahbek and Christian Stadsgaard are two young Danish musicians you might recognise from their other bands. Rahbek is in in Vår and Sexdrome, as well as contributing every now and then to the Sacred Bones-signed Lust For Youth. Stadsgaard plays under the name Sarah's Charity, and has also appeared in bands like Angry Ayrans, Opec and Severe Photography, who also featured Rahbek. Together they are key to the vibrant, tight-knit and unnervingly young noise and punk underground in Copenhagen. With their label Posh Isolation, they have lent some coherence to a scene built on tiny runs of cassettes and impossible-to-find 7"s. Everyone seems to have played in everyone else's band at one stage or another. Everything seems linked, from Iceage all the way down to projects with one run of 25 improvised, blackened noise cassettes under their belt.
Damien Dubrovnik is one of Rahbek and Stadsgaard's longest running projects, with their Songs For Loviatar 12" kickstarting Posh Isolation into action back in 2009. First Burning Attraction, released earlier this year on Luke 'Helm' Younger's Alter label, is their fourth full-length and arguably their best to date. The black metal screams and dank atmospheres of their earlier releases have been eroded to some extent, with a richer, more refined approach to texture apparent throughout. It's still minimal and as raw as a fresh stab wound, but equally it's also more dynamic and vibrant than anything they have done to date.
The Quietus emailed Rahbek and Stadsgaard - who have answered as the single entity Damien Dubrovnik - to discuss the Copenhagen scene, fetishistic art, the ethos behind Posh Isolation and why experimentation is crucial to their approach.
What drew you to Alter as a place to release First Burning Attraction? Were you familiar with the label beforehand, and the artists that have released on it?
Damien Dubrovnik: Alter asked to release Damien Dubrovnik the same week we had just finished First Burning Attraction. It seemed liked the right label to do it. We knew Luke Younger before we decided to release on his Alter label - his work both as artist and label-head is impressive.
I immediately got a more "American" feel from First Burning Attraction than I did with the earlier Damien Dubrovnik releases, which felt more European, especially with the more prominent black metal influences. Listening to FBA I thought more about Yellow Swans and Hospital Productions than anything else. Do you think what you're listening to and absorbing has changed at all? Has the vision of what constitutes Damien Dubrovnik broadened?
DD: The music we listen to changes all the time, of course. However, we think that the vision of Damien Dubrovnik has been broad from the beginning. First Burning Attraction is a follow up to what started with The Vanity Set and Europa Dagbog and in many ways has a lot in common with them both in sound and idea. First Burning Attraction is definitely, at least on a conceptual level, a very European record.
What makes it a very European record in your minds?
DD: We would like to leave out this question.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the rise of right-wing agendas in Scandinavia. Traditionally industrial music has assumed a stance of commenting on this through absorbing the aesthetics of fascism, libertarianism and industrialisation. Do you see your music as continuing that tradition in any way? Is it explicitly or implicitly linked to political or moral struggles? Also, one of the continuing criticisms of noise music and specifically power electronics is that it is too ambiguous, politically speaking. Is this something that bothers you, that what you create may be interpreted in ways that are distasteful to you personally?
DD: There has never been any political agenda in the work of Damien Dubrovnik. It is important to make a distinction between political and fetishistic art. We dare say that the vast majority of industrial music falls in the latter category. The world of fetish is a game, and often it is far from the facts of the real world. It is tragic to see this misunderstood time and time again. The world of fetish allows you to do anything, to make impossible connections possible. When someone uses aesthetics from fascist movements in a context of S&M for instance, everybody knows that it is not because they necessarily agree with the given political doctrine, it is done merely for the pleasure that they derive from it. They re-contextualise, they collage. The idea of collage has been around since the Dadaist movement a hundred years ago, and since Throbbing Gristle the element of collage or "cut up" has been an essential part of industrial music's definition. We can never control how the receiver will interpret our work, and it is not in our interest either. The artists we appreciate and work with make art not to change the world, but to make a new one.
Would you consider yourselves and your work apolitical then? Some might see this as unfortunate, considering the Europe-wide (and nearly world-wide) dominance of conservative/neo-liberal politics that alternative music and art of almost every kind has always been fighting against. Do you feel there is a responsibility on the artist at all to engage with and challenge those kinds of systems and policies? In some way, not necessarily explicitly, but in the way that those systems continually affect their daily lives. Even Dada was doing that, in its own way, and the surrealists certainly were. Challenging reality, re-imagining it.
DD: The historical avant-garde was clearly reacting to the events of their time. Dada was in many ways a reaction the horrors of the First World War, and the modern, industrialised world, and an attempt to deconstruct some kind of imagined world within art. Surrealism was more constructive in its work, and [aimed] to build a free world through liberating the unconsciousness. Breton later incorporated Marxist thinking within the surrealist program. Both of these movements were influenced by ideas of their time. We are also influenced by the time we live in, but in the context of late modernity; we don't see ourselves outside or as an alternative to the market economy. Instead we try to build our own space and structure within the existing. Damien Dubrovnik is about creating a space that we control and can take pleasure from - it is artificial. The releases and performances are an invitation for an audience to enter that space and gain from it whatever they want. It rarely offers an answer, not even necessarily a question. It is "fetishistic art" or "experience art". The creator of "fetishistic art" has no responsibility to anything but his work. Is that apolitical? Maybe so. It deals with creation of space, utopian/dystopian. It is about an experience, about feeling. Emotion is, in its nature, an irrational thing.
Posh Isolation has developed a reputation as label and as a gateway to a pretty coherent scene. What were your initial goals when you started Posh Isolation, and have they changed or developed since? How do you see the label progressing in the future?
D: Posh Isolation is a subject to constant change and should be. At the same time, the goals are to a large extent the same as they were when we first started: to present quality work in the best possible way, mainly focusing on the scene we come from and live in. It is a learning process and ideas about how that is done in the best way of course develop and change. The idea of presenting, rather than documenting, has been a part of it from the beginning, and it is important to us that a Posh Isolation release is very much that, a Posh Isolation release, no matter who the artist behind the creation might be.
You released the Kommando RJF record, which links Posh Isolation to a history of Scandinavian noise and industrial musics. Is tradition important to you, learning from the past as much as thinking about and imagining the future?
DD: It was not our first assignment to work with already established names and lean on tradition, however we felt that with Kommando RJF we could do it in such a way that it made sense. RJF is an important project in Scandinavian industrial history, however this record is a new record, and should be viewed as that as well. History is important but history also changes every time it is mentioned. The present and the future is where the main focus is and we dare say, always will be.
Is Dubrovnik itself an influence on your music or your ideas? It's an historic city and an important one in terms of European trade and travel, perhaps one of the first modern cities in terms of commerce, republicanism and international trade unions.
DD: It was and still is. At the same time it is also a name, and a name has a tendency to at some point free itself from its initial meaning and adapt new ones. Recontextualise, again. That said, European history and ideas are a natural part of our habitus as we are Europeans, but it's not part of a political agenda, it's a matter of making do with things that are present to us in some way or another. Maybe one could call it personified history writing. The inhuman nature of politics, economy and history starts off with that; humans. What happens if you take all of that and put it back in to a very emotional, very human context, put it back into a man? Damien Dubrovnik?
I want to ask you about Coil, because they seem to be a primary kind of forerunner of what you're doing as DD and in other projects, especially tracks like 'Women Of The History' and some of the Vår material, yet I don't see them mentioned too often. Is this the case?
DD: It makes sense to mention Coil. Often more in idea than actual sound. Its fair to say that we have a conceptual approach to things similar to the scene that spawned Coil or other artists in that vein.
What would you say that conceptual approach is? What do you find in Coil (or others of their ilk) that resonates with what you want to achieve as artists?
DD: It is always dangerous to debate other people's work, because so often you end up being terribly wrong. But what we can say is that there was actual experimentation taking place, something that is sadly too often lacking in today's noise/industrial scene, where so many people choose to work the same story, that has already been chewed, spat out and chewed again to a point where there is very little flavour remaining. The experiment is vital, even if that means you end up failing sometimes, even it means you end up with terribly embarrassing work.
Damien Dubrovnik's First Burning Attraction is out now via Alter. Click here to visit the Alter website.