The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Things I Have Learned

Field Day 2010: Mouse On Mars On Pimping Your (Bike) Ride
Luke Turner , July 26th, 2010 06:11

This Saturday, Mouse On Mars headline the Quietus Village Mentality Stage at the Field Day Festival in Victoria Park, London. To kick off a week of special content, we talk to Jan St. Werner about a teenage obsession with cycling

There does seem to be a connection between cycling and German electronic music

It's funny isn't it? I started getting into electronic music much later, I was into bikes first. Maybe the bikes started it? There's a certain clarity and honesty about a bike, your own power drives it, you can see the mechanics and it's very obvious what is happening. Basically electronic music is made from the same principle, you can build up something very complex from very simple bits and pieces. It is an honest way of connecting sound, and mechanic in a demystifying way.

In electronic music and cycling, you are part of the machine

When you ride a bike it helps you to get somewhere, or when you go downhill at 60 or 70 kilometres an hour, it's quite a rush. But it's not that the bike controls you, you have to understand how to ride the bike. I was scared by instrumentalists because of how much they become their instrument. I always had a little dislike for that, and I'm not sure it makes better music in the end. You can have distance from the instrument when you're making electronic music.

My fascination with cycling was part of a wider movement in Germany

The whole bike thing was incredibly sexy in the 80s. It was something you'd be really amazed by, there was a whole tradition that had started in the 70s but by then it was a mass movement.

Discovering cycling had a lot to do with hormones

By the age of 14 there was a division in my class at school. Most of the kids there would get a motorised scooter, and started embracing the liberties and urges you started getting at puberty. Then there was this other group which said 'no, we keep it like the sporty way, we don't want to immediately surrender'. If people asked if you had a girlfriend you either flushed red or asked 'what, are you crazy? Never ever! I don't want to hang out with women'. When these things change it's a drastic change in your personality. Me and my group of friends didn't want to surrender, and wanted to keep the whole thing on a 14 level, and decided not to go with the motorcycle thing.

Back then, it was all about getting the lightest bike possible

My uncle was completely into bikes, and he'd researched the whole thing really extensively. With him I had developed a plan of how to get the best bike ever. It should have been an aluminium framed Alan bike, an Italian company. They were quite expensive, so you had to think about it. You don't just buy the bike, you bought the frame, and then the brakes and so on, and you have a budget. It had to be the most beautiful-looking frame, aluminium and really light. My uncle said if we go for that frame, we can't spoil the lightness by having extras which are too heavy. We had to think about quality stuff and light stuff. There was a French company who made titanium brakes, the lightest brakes ever made, and we were really pleased to find them.

Drilling holes all over the bike made it lighter

You could drill holes in the brakes and the pedals - we couldn't do that with the frame, but all the other bits. We discovered places we could drill holes where no-one had drilled them before. My uncle was even more extreme. He got his own Alan frame, and he even cut his saddle, and didn't have any grips around the handlebar. He made his bike 7.2 kilogrammes, and mine was 8.2. The lightest I could ever make was 7.9, then I realised that some parts... I just really needed them.

It became an obsession

I shared this with my friends, though they didn't have such fancy bikes and had spent their budgets on other things. Still, even their bikes with chrome alloy steel frames, which are much heavier than mine was, maybe 9.5 kilogrammes, they started drilling holes in their bikes too, to make them lighter. We'd drive around in the city together, or went out into the countryside.

I never raced

If you race professionally you can't just do that, you have to be part of a club or a team, and have to do certain applications and then you race in quite a big group. You have to do it at certain times, and you don't necessarily want to hang out with all those people!

You have a more intimate relationship with a bike

If you had a crash or something broke, it was possible to repair it, which doesn't happen with a car or a motorcycle. All the motorcyclists I know would go to the garage, but cycling is more self-sufficient. You understand your tools by doing that, and you understand OK, you clean it, you find good oil, or use fat for the chain rather than oil.

The modern bikes aren't shaped so well

I looked up the Alan catalogue to see what they're doing now, and they're horrible, the bikes they make now. They look really bad, and they're quite heavy. I thought bikes would get lighter and lighter, but someone told me there's certain weight restrictions for racing. You actually need more material to make a bike aerodynamic, which is weird. That was when I stopped being interested in cycling, and electronic music took over.

Mouse On Mars play the Village Mentality Stage in association with The Quietus this Saturday, 31 July. For tickets and more information, visit the Field Day website