Because there has never been a Kurhaus interview in English I decided to translate the best one that has ever been done and put it online here. It has originally been done by Benni, who is also writing here, for Trust Fanzine:
There is something happening again in this country! While northern Germany was known in the 1990s for a meanwhile faded wave of bands labelled „northcore“ there is finally some new and interesting bands. In the past years a lot has been heard of Just Went Black, Turbostaat and Escapado – as well as of Kurhaus from Schleswig-Hostein and Hamburg who are already active since 1996.
At the latest since their 2004 release „refuse to be dead“ Kurhaus have caused a stir with their brute mix of Loxiran and Refused as well as through their extensive touring.
These days the follow up record „a future pornography“ is being released on which the band is unerringly heading away from classical hardcore while it is creating a more varied style. Based on the sound of the precursor the song structures are getting more complex. The final result is neatly produced posthardcore in which quiet melodies, brute parts and emotions meet. Without blinders and with a lot of playfulness they combine straight up punk songs with singalongs and instrumental tracks with synthesizers and influences drawn from electronic music or screamo. All this is highlighted by sophisticated lyrics whose will for change is encroaching the listener. With this record Kurhaus manage to belong to the small circle of German bands that have created a sound of their own.
Some fans of “refuse to be dead” might have problems with recognizing Kurhaus when they listen to the record for the first time but isn’t that the thing that makes a band interesting over a longer span of time? I talked to Jan, singer and lyricist of Kurhaus, about the Kurhaus’ latest developments.
In how far were the circumstances during the songwriting process different from those last time? I mean, the recordings sound a lot different!
The circumstances were different in so far as we used other equipment, other guitars, another bass, some other amps and the drum kit was lent from Peter of Turbostaat. And because the studio in Norstedt doesn’t exist any more we recorded in some other studios but once again with Hauke Albrecht as our engineer. We’ve consciously reduced the distortion in the guitars drastically and tried to become more varied in our style. The last record was really quiet a compact chump. But another very important factor in my eyes is that personally we are facing very different problems now compared to when we recorded the last record. This winter all but one of us will have finished university or apprenticeship and so we all ask ourselves questions about the future and about in how far we are willing to take part in the whole game. The fact that the topic ‘death’ is playing such a major role wasn’t really planned but unfortunately this has been one of the most important topics for us in the past months. Personally I am very thankful for having the chance to scream out a few things here with our music.
Yeah, their variedness makes the new recordings sound a lot more mature then the older stuff. You told me once that punk rock must evolve constantly to stay relevant. Is that a personal thing? After all a lot in hc/punk is mostly about repetition and staying true to the classics!
I don’t know if this is something personal. At least I hope that I am not alone in this. I am an idealist and for myself I define hardcore and punk in a way that I can identify with these labels. If hardcore in my eyes was Bridge 9 and that stuff I wouldn’t be able to identify with this label no way. I just think that punk used to be a musical rebellion against the deadlocked rock thing and that hardcore, just as new wave, were a rebellion against punk once it had degenerated to a freeze image. But that was roughly twenty years ago and trying to sound like Youth Of Today nowadays might be fun sometimes but it will never have the same impact as Black Flag or Bad Brains and respectively Wire or The Clash. When I listen to Minor Threat’s „out of step“ today I can still feel how this song must have blown away everything back in the days. I have this feeling with hardly any band today and that’s a mess. Of course, every band has the right to just want to make music and write good songs. But that just isn’t what fascinates me about hc/punk. I don’t know in how far we ourselves reach this standard. I think you can’t do things like these on purpose. Either it happens or not. But I think we are doing our best not to constrain ourselves but just let out what we got to give. If this isn’t hardcore anymore in some ears that’s not our problem. Our passion is anyway more hc/punk as a way of thinking than hc/punk as a style of music. Sometimes electronic music or singer/songwriter stuff a thousand times more punk than some street punk or youth crew band.
At some points I got the impression that your development is not about looking at classical punk contents in a more differentiated way but about denying them (consciously). Would you agree on this? Lines like “we may look like you” or “life love no regret” seem to be leaned on hc/punk classics but used to be sung just the other way round. Or am I taking single lines out of their context here?
The first question would be how you define punk content-wise but if punk means retreating to your own cosy subcultural ghetto and adapting all the norms it sets without questioning, than: nope, I really got better things to do.
Concerning these two lines I must say that they were meant in another way. Of course I had Unbroken on my mind when writing “love, life no regret” but it wasn’t meant to be an anti statement. Actually all I did was changing the object that isn’t mentioned directly in this line. Unbroken meant you should feel sympathy for others or at least that what I think they wanted to say… And what I say is that you shouldn’t pity yourself. What has happened, has happened. Fuck it, fight on!
The other line is referring to mainstream society. In this band we all look very civilian but that doesn’t mean we are fully in line. Not at all. On the other hand this could of course as well be applied to people for whom punk is mostly about optics. Mohawk and nothing below. I think it is inspired by one passage in Martin Büsser’s „if the kids are united“ where he quoted from an old Zap how all the mohawks and leather jackets were shocked when in the mid 80s at a Dead Kennedys show a bunch of Italians showed up with short hair, short pants and sport shoes. I like the idea that my fellow citizens can’t see at first sight how radical I am. But if someone wants to look crusty I am fine as well. What counts is intellectual radicalism which needn’t exclude optical radicalism. Nor include it. I am going in circles…
What exactly is the title „a future pornography“ about? Why are you calling for a new nudism?
The title is from the song “(there’s a) party at the crack house” in which pornography and nudism are some sort of metaphor. Max Goldt once said that when he was young he used to imagine a dominatrix as a dark, mysterious person and today he’d think of his fat neighbour. Back in 1968 there was this idea of sexual liberation and sexual revolution. Today sex is nothing but a commodity. And what used to be perverted can now be bought at the neighbourhood sex shop. The sexual revolution has eaten its own children. However do I believe that we haven’t reached the end of history yet. It must be possible to discover a sexuality beyond social roles and market mechanisms but I guess we will once again have to overcome capitalism before that. The one thing that can still shock people like porn, naked skin and free love might have done back in 68 is openness and honesty. The title is just three times ciphered a call for a call for a society where we don’t have wear masks and disguise ourselves any more but are free to be who we are and who we want to be.
Television is going a similar way when it is focussing less on naked skin but tries to penetrate the people’s inner selves.
Of course. Learning from capitalism means learning to win… But I don’t think or rather I don’t have the feeling that television is on a way to more honesty or sincerity. I rather have the impression that afternoon talkshows and the stripping naked of one’s soul are related to open and honest contact between people the way cheap softcore porn is related to sexual revolution. Prejudices of social subgroups have about one another are transformed into market shares and by that reproduced. And the viewers are happy that other people seem to be stupider and more fucked up than they are themselves and frolic in the status quo. Anyway, who wants to see the truth when they turn on the tv? For the majority of people tv is only a possibility to relax and forget about their fucked up everyday life. The only problem is that this won’t change their fucked up situation and that it will go on like this forever but I guess you know that yourself… I’d really be happy if we could show some people – at least ourselves – a way out of this everyday life.
I am wondering a little bit about the fact that the cd version of your album is being released through PxF Records. What connects you to Ruhrpott hardcore? Your new songs are rather posthardcore, aren’t they?
The whole thing began a few months ago when we played in Schwäbisch Hall along with Sirens, where Daniel of PxF and posionfree.com is singing. He heard that we were in search for a label for the cd and the rest simply happened. By the way, apart from Deadsoil PxF has only released good records and We Are Invisible are music-wise almost a negation of Rurhpott hardcore. We fit together.
Obviously you care a lot about the content of your music. You have those shirts that say “kurhaus – university of hardcore”. That sounds a bit like everything has to be considered well and fulfil a certain standard as regards content. But probably a lot of the people who are attending hardcore shows on weekends just want to have fun and don’t want to deal with political ideals, don’t you think?
That’s right. We care a lot about our lyrics, probably more than many other bands but to be honest I don’t know how is could be any other way if you are not starting a total fun project. But for now we got too much on our minds for being content with something like that. The shirt was more or less meant to be a joke. Like after old school and new school it’s university now. So it’s more about the music than about the lyrics. The latin slogan means simply “screaming for change” which is a Uniform Choice quotation who aren’t really what you’d call over-intellectual.
This thing about simply wanting to have fun and not wanting to deal with political ideals is a different story. In our eyes we don’t really have a huge agenda. Most things we sing or talk about are minimum claims in our eyes. It’s a rather sad thing that in the hc/punk scene 2006 there is still a need for saying that “gay” is no pejorative or that shoving and jumping into people is not dancing. We like to have the people having fun but a little input to think about later on can’t do any harm, either. And as long as people come and tell us that what we sung and said means something to them we’ll give a fuck about the few guys who want us to shut up and rock out.
On the “emo apocalypse” compilation that just came out on React With Protest you are featured with a song called “punk needs capitalism like holmes needed moriarty”. In this song you are criticising the fact that rebellion is often no more than fashion and not about actually making a change. But what exactly does the song title mean?
The title as well as the whole song are meant to express that we tend to forget that hardcore and punk and antifa and being against things is pure luxury that most people on this planet simply can’t afford. Mostly white, male middle class kids play rebellion. Punk is a product of capitalism and wouldn’t have come to existence in a world that was all perfect and just because there would be nothing to rebel against. I think a perfect world would be pure tyranny. Imagine living in a Disney world! I prefer living in this imperfect, doomed world with its fucking capitalism where I got more than enough things to rebel and scream against. Maybe the lyrics are some sort of declaration of war against the hippie in me. More dirt, more blood, more nihilism!
Okay, if you say that capitalism is necessary for punk then is it possible at all that punk or people within the punk community can actually change something from inside capitalism? The punk scene itself isn’t free from capitalism as well. A lot is about money when it comes to releasing records, bands on tour, merchandise etc. Without money all this would be possible at all.
As nowadays capitalism is overall and omnipresent there ain’t no outside anyway. In best case that’s mere illusion or self-delusion. For sure punk itself will never change anything on a societal level. On a cultural or personal level however it can surely move something. Punk can provide ideas and energy for individuals who then might be able to move something. I don’t think it will change anything on a societal level if we sell records and t-shirts at fair prices or keep asmissions at shows low but if we do it right shows may be places where people can feel a little more freedom and find inspiration for their own lives or maybe grow hope that not all people are idiots. Punk could be some kind of subcultural ghetto where people have that possibility to speak out what they think, where guys, who think it’s okay to touch a woman whenever they want to, are not accepted and where there is more and more honest communication. Punk could try to tear down walls between musical genres and be open for everyone who wants to take part and doesn’t disqualify him/herself through intolerance. Or as Bane put it “a place where the strange were accepted, judged by what’s inside, a scene of truly open minds.”
Of course punk is neither of all this. Punk and hardcore are the most conservative musical genres under the sun. Dresscodes and codes of conduct are more repressive than in the outer world. Sexual assault and even rape happen over and over and sexist or homophobic talk is more common than we might want to think. People who are really honest and try to be what they are or want to be got nothing to laugh about as soon as they break the rules of their clique or subscene. Individualism is by far less en vogue than the scientific literature suggests and there are more than enough jerks. At some shows of bands called hardcore or punk they are the overwhelming majority. But that doesn’t make me wanna give up. Maybe someday, but for now my subculture and many, many very nice people in it are far too important to me for giving in without fighting. Probably I am just naïve but I still believe in a change for the better despite having the slightest clue for it…
Hard stuff. What exactly was the motivation for writing a song like „microphysics of power“? Especially concerning the punk scene that you might reach with your music…
I’m not quite sure but I must have been pretty pissed off. I think the direct reason was a discussion I had with someone who wanted to prove to me that veganism was rubbish and counterrevolutionary or at least that’s what I understood. What really pissed me off was that the very same person used to preach veganism to me some years ago. Of course, people can and may change their points of view and as far as I am concerned he may eat animals. I can’t do anything about it anyway. The point is that he seemed to be sure that back then like now his opinion was the one and only truth and that is just plain stupid. There ain’t no such thing like an absolute truth, no right or wrong, no good or evil. Every knowledge is provisional. Everyone who studied anything scientific must have come across this and in my eyes this should be taught in school as well. Even Socrates said he knew nothing but that he knew nothing. It seems like some thousand years later the message still hasn’t come across. There is much talk about dialectics without getting that one core of the idea of dialectics is that always thesis as well as antithesis are wrong. And to be precise the synthesis is wrong as well because it is just another thesis to another antithesis and so on.
The title came later. It is quotation from Michel Foucault and means something like that smaller groups in society – like the hc/punk scene – are able to force stricter norms and rules upon their members than mainstream society. Basically as a part of the scene we are facing more social control than the average member of society and that’s no thought I tend to like. Said ex-vegan told me as well that he just went vegan to belong to the club and if this is true that just a perfect example for how fucking authoritarian our scene can be. Of course that doesn’t mean we have to tolerate racists, sexists, homophobes or anti-Semites because ideologies that want to oppress freedom can’t be tolerated in freedom’s name.
Phew, that’s a lot of scientific shit. I guess my studies of sociology ha ve corrupted me a little here but for me that is the essence of punk: question everything! Always! I see punk in a tradition via dada all the way back to Enlightenment. Whenever someone tells you he/she knows the truth you better stick to violence than to good faith. And because this is exactly what punk means to me I can’t accept any dogmatism in punk. Neither political nor musical nor any other form of it or to quote ourselves: “maximum dissent forever!”
Okay, Dolf [of Trust Fanzine, t.e.] got a question for you, too: You say we couldn’t tollerate „racists, sexist, homophobes or anti-Semites”. Does that mean for an atheist that he can be against stupid Catholics, Protestants or Muslims but not against just as stupid Jews?
I might sound a little over-scientific but I didn’t say a single word about religion. As a former Christian and convinced atheist I would totally agree with you that all religions or at least all organized ones are bullshit and responsible for many bad things. But I think what you mean is me mentioning “anti-Semites”. The definition for anti-Semitism that I know is not rejection of the Jewish religion or of those who believe in it but the hate against people who are thought to belong to an hallucinated Jewish “race” that is very often as well thought to run a worldwide conspiracy, rule the world in secret or be the puppet masters of the capitalist system. Anti-Semitism and real Jews are related in a way kids in an eastern German village with 1% immigrants are hating “niggers”. Most anti-Semites, at least those in Germany have never seen or met a real Jew. Personally I met a Jew for the first time when I was 18 and he was a visitor from England. It is really gross how complete the extinction of the so called „Jewish race“ by the Germans has been. In the city that all members of our band grew up in there has been Jews. One of which founded the rheumatism hospital and died in a concentration camp. Today there is no more Jews in Bad Bramstedt but I’d take any bet that if you went and asked people in the streets more than just a few weird people would tell you that there were too many Jews. This makes me sick. That’s why I spoke of anti-Semites but not of freak who believe in gods. And of course do I think that the Jewish religion is nonsense but freedom of religion is a human right and so we’ll have to live with the fact that some people want to believe in fairytale creatures. We can only hope for more intelligence.
University is often connect with career but you sing that „punk is no carrer“!?
University should be no career either but a chance to learn. Unfortunately this idea is a little out of vogue nowadays. And punk should still be an antithesis to rock, a possibility for people to make music, arts or their lives the way they want to instead of eating what they are fed. I know that my ideas are hopelessly antiquated but all this could mean so much more. So many people are satisfied with so little. I think if you experienced just once how a band is really believing in what they sing and play then all those plastic tears and third hand emotions will no longer satisfy you. Once you experienced this it will never let you go. Our goals should not be guaranteed payments of 500 euro, hotel rooms or galactic record sales but unforgettable nights, new friends and the feeling of living a dream. If you haven’t figured it out yourself: Yes, I really love pathos.
Many bands with political lyrics are only repeating what has been said before by countless bands. Why does it make a difference if 1000 or 1001 bands sing about a topic? If it didn’t work a thousand times why should it work the 1001st time?
I don’t think that the last one thousand times didn’t work. Bands like Slime or …But Alive really made me think about things. Other bands meant the same to other people. And what more can a band expect that just that: Making people think about things or giving them hope? Punk will never change anything but maybe some punks will. Maybe we can be for someone what Slime and …But Alive were for me ten years ago. This would really be a great compliment.
However I don’t believe that our lyrics have been sung before. At least I don’t know a song that is as radical against things as “microphysics of power”. It is true, there have been a thousand songs against capitalism and racism and whatever but all this shit is still there and it is still shit. We can’t let it uncommented, can we?
Wouldn’t it be a lot more effective to read books than listen to 20 or 30 lines of punk rock lyrics?
Well, of course a song can never match a book in its amount of content and it would be good if people read more intelligent books. But why should one thing make the other one impossible? You can do both, both at its given time. No book in the world can tell you as frontally as “schweineherbst” by Slime that Germany is a fucked up country, at least not in two or three minutes time. And music is able a lot better to touch you emotionally. When I am down no book can help me out but there is bands and records that always put me back on track when I am about to lose hope. And without punk rock songs life would be too shitty for reading books anyway.
Thanks for the interview!
Interview originally done by Benjamin Schlüter and issued in Trust Fanzine # 120 in October 2006.