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In Extremis

Women At Work: Greie Gut Fraktion Interviewed
Val Phoenix , August 19th, 2010 08:07

Val Phoenix downs tools to speak with Antye Greie and Gudrun Gut of the Greie Gut Fraktion about their collaboration, Baustelle (Construction Site)

It was only a matter of time before the paths of sonic explorers Antye Greie and Gudrun Gut would cross. Gut, the doyenne of West Berlin's experimental underground, has roots stretching back 30 years to Einstürzende Neubauten and Malaria! and runs the Monika Enterprise record label. Greie, formerly of Laub, has played with everyone from Craig Armstrong to The Lappetites and performs solo as AGF. Joining forces for a four-song commission from Radio 3's Late Junction, Greie and Gut expanded that work into a concept album, Baustelle (Construction Site), which, as well as incorporating field recordings of drilling and chopping, also includes a funked up cover of Palais Schaumburg's 'Wir bauen eine neue Stadt'. At the UK premiere in April, Greie Gut Fraktion turned the Queen Elizabeth Hall stage into a building site, draping their laptops in safety tape and performing in labourer uniforms of hard hats, work boots and coveralls. Given their love of technology, international outlooks, and busy schedules, perhaps it was fitting that this conversation took place via the magic of Skype.

So, tell me where you are and what you can see.

Antye Greie: I am right now in Hailuoto. It's an island in northern Finland where I live. We have white nights, so it's always light. And I watch some trees and some moss and sky, mosquitoes, too.

Gudrun Gut: I'm sitting on a balcony in Berlin and I'm looking at a tree and some houses.

I'm unfortunately indoors in London and can only see a wall, so you two have a better view. I'll start with Gudrun and ask how you two met.

GG: I know Antye from her former project, the group Laub, and from her solo stuff as well. I knew her as an artist. Then we played at a festival in Moscow in 2008 and we had dinner and drinks in a club and talked and we got to know each other a little bit more. And then Antye invited me to join this collaboration for the BBC.

AG: BBC commissioned me to do a short, 20-minute show with somebody from Berlin I have never worked with before. I had met Gudrun previously, and I thought, "Hmmm. Maybe that could be interesting." We were both privately building at the same time, and we thought, "Oh, let's talk about that and see what we can musically create from that topic." We decided to continue and make a complete work.

The whole building thing is so interesting. There are so many layers: there is physical construction, but it seems there are a lot of ideas behind it, as well.

GG: We found it really interesting, because it has much more to offer than one would think, because everybody has a little construction site somewhere. Especially, nowadays, you have all these different projects, or at least everyone has one project which is being developed.

And, of course, Berlin is something of a building site.

GG: It's not really about Berlin as the biggest construction site. It's more just creating something and doing something. That's more the idea of it.

AGF: After a while, we realised like Gudrun is coming from the West Berlin side. And I am from the East Berlin side and I am East German-born. We realised, while we were working, that we had this quite interesting German tension with us, which was really nice. Like, I learned a lot from Gudrun about West Berlin and the West German underground music scene, which I had not known. There were several occasions in the making of the record that we realised that we have quite a different background, even though we are both German, and it was funny and interesting and sometimes odd.

GG: Yeah, that's true.

Coming from the two different Germanys then, are there things that you picked up from Antye, Gudrun?

GG: Um... (long pause).

AG: 'Baustein'.

GG: Yes! Thanks, Antye. The last track we did for the album was 'Baustein', which was a little idea: "a man like a stone". What does it mean? I put down the basic idea and sent it to Antye, and she then did this vocal piece over it: "Für eine bessere Zukunft [for a better future], blah, blah, blah". Then I wrote back: "Antye, are you sure about this lyric?" And she told me this is an old East German communist song.

AG: Propaganda song.

GG: I thought: "This is so cool", like it's a really nice reference, but I didn't know the song. But everybody who comes from the east knows this song. Construction was a big theme in East Germany, which I didn't realise.

Well, I was going to ask about that, in terms of the workers. You come onstage in coveralls and you put on hard hats. I had a thought in my head of the idea of building socialism and the workers state. I don't know if that was intentional.

AG: No. That's just a humourous way to deal with this.

GG: We wanted to do something more together and have it different from our solo shows. Definitely, it doesn't have anything to do with communist propaganda, because for me, for my personal artist life, it was more a reference to Einstürzende Neubauten. This Baustelle is more my version, or what I put into there. To work on this theme was for me kind of interesting and sometimes I thought, "Oh, this is going back to industrial", but it doesn't sound at all like going back to industrial.

I wondered about that. Because 30 years ago was the first performance of Einstürzende Neubauten, on April Fool's Day. That was a bit of scouring of building sites. I wondered if you were going back to your roots in some way.

GG: It felt a little bit like that, going back to the roots, but it's always good to go back to the roots. And for Antye, the strange thing was that, because of this Baustein thing, there was kind of a root thing happening, as well, but in a different way.

Now you are building things, rather than destroying them.

GG: That's right. That's the difference.

AG: That's the difference, yeah.

Are you going to expand on your building site? Are you going to take some jack hammers out?

GG: No, we thought about it, but we would rather have some guys doing that.

Ah, you're going to get some beefcake in there.

GG: (Laughs.) No.

AG: I just saw this 'Work' video with Ciara and Missy Elliott, where they are almost naked on some construction site. It's insane. We should copy that video - not naked, though.

GG: I think the live show is quite good. I have a little drill I thought of bringing, but then it looks ridiculous.

AG: That's sweet. After all, we don't take ourselves so super-serious. It's about encouraging people to do something.

GG: Especially now. It's really difficult in the music industry. The music counts. We have to just continue. I wanted to add something: Baustelle rules!

AG: That's it, that's it.


Baustelle is out now on Monika Enterprise.