Női Kabát is one of the most interesting acts coming out of Europe in these times. It consists of three people, namely Dee Rüsche (Lungs / Metal), Owen Pratt (Synthesis / Noise) and Jonas Ranssøn (Simmons / Live Drums). One of the unique things that have shaped them is the fact that they’re situated in different cities. Considering the fact of how hard it is to keep something going, when you live so far away from each other. Yet, they’ve managed to strike the public with their immerse first release “Make Room! Make Room 7¨“, which was released by aufnahme + wiedergabe. It sold out very quickly. The music itself is bordering on synth-pop, new beat and cold wave – to name a few genres which have set root with them. Since people began to talk about them, revere them with kind words, they set out upon a Summer-tour in Europe. It’s when I came in to the picture. After reading a few interviews that had been conducted with them, learning a bit more about them, it felt like I missed something. Therefore, I decided to get in touch with them and do an interview with them. This is probably one of the more in-depth interviews out there, so I hope you learn something new and like what you’re reading. Or you might hate it, for all I know. But I did my best. In this interview, we get to know more about them personally, their influences, the origins of “Make Room! Make Room!” and much more. Get in line, read it up.
I’m starting this interview off kind of unconventional. By partitioning it into three different points of views, as I ask Owen Pratt the first question; you’ve been involved with the group “Bobby Peru” before Női Kabát, and you’ve also been working on a lot of different things before and during your alignment with this group. What can you tell me about these different endeavors in music and your own experience?
Owen Pratt: There’s sometimes a little confusion about this name. I do production for other bands and I often use this name for the more electronic projects that I’m working on. There’s a house producer in Manchester who also goes by this name which compounds the confusion. The internet sometimes credits him with work that I’ve done. I haven’t got round to straightening this out yet. I’ve worked as an engineer and a producer for a while now and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so as it’s a really good way to learn a lot in a short space of time. I’m interested in working with people who have a fresh approach to making music and feel pretty inspired by some of the bands that exist at the moment. There are a lot of people making really exciting music without a producer or any financial support from a label. I really like this element of self sufficiency as it’s often a pretty pure expression of what they are trying to do.
Now you, Dee Rüsche. I found out that you’re a DJ, have run some clubs in the past and you also work in a bookshop. And what about the fanzines you like to make?
Dee Rüsche: I haven’t worked in a bookshop for a while but I am a big reader that is true. A lot of 70’s and before science fiction and odd gothic classics from Bulwer Lytton to the Comte de Lautréamont. I used to make fanzines and do some bizarre things to go with old clubs like Bad Taste (Leeds), Divine Incest and our club Future Obscura. With that and dj’ing I have worked with people like Adam Ant, Steve Strange, Wolfgang Tillmans, Tim Burgess, Pam Hogg, Mark Moore, Larry Tee and of course a lot of good bands from Selfish Cunt, Scum, Ipso Facto to synth bands like Schwefelgelb, Pavlov’s Children, Linea Aspera, Nik Colk Void (Factory Floor), Soft Riot, Moduretik, Gertrud Stein, Mild Peril, The Present Moment & The KVB.
I moved to Budapest this year where I have mainly worked on the bits of songs for the band and booking the Europhoria 2 tour with Soft Riot but I’ve been trying to get the scene going here with clubs like Küss Mich and Ipari Szakadárok. I think a lot of synth bands go to Prague and Vienna and then miss out Budapest and I understand why as there is not the money here to make a show good for artists. The nightlife is good and the people are passionate like Gáspár Kornél who does Új Látásmód Fúzió out of Pécs. I’ll be bringing my friends Sid and Zoe over as Keluar in October though so here is hoping that with these kind of bands over we can all make Budapest a regular stop on the synth touring circuit.
Jonas Ranssøn was easier to find on the internet. You’re a print graduate from the Royal College of Art. This probably makes you the academic person in the band. Working with everything from exhibitions, artwork designs for music releases, poster designs and everything related, in absurdum. What have it been like to combine all these different time-consuming events that you participate in, work that you do – with making music within the realms of Női Kabát? Do you have any musical background?
Jonas Ranssøn: Sure I have a musical background! I’d been playing in various bands and genres since teenage. I’ve been in less successful/unknown bands and semi successful bands alike. My last band was based in Bristol but there came a point when I decided to break free from the restrictions I felt it was imposing at the time and instead return to full time education, which is what resulted in me studying print at the Royal College of Art. Női Kabát is different, it’s the band I always wanted to play in.
I’ve always had an interest in the role design and print has played in the music industry, and I’ve been attracted to the forms album and poster art packaging would take. It plays a very important role as to how a band is perceived. The most obvious examples would be Peter Saville at Factory of course and Malcolm Garrett at ASSORTED iMaGe. These were the guys that inspired me during my formative years.
I’m certainly aware of a resurgence of interest in releasing and the collecting of new vinyl releases and the d.i.y ethic that plays a part in the uniqueness and editioning of a release.
I really enjoyed having that design input into the Női Kabát Make Room 7″. We each have our own knowledge and skills that we bring to the band. Mine just happens to be the design side. It’s all a collaborative process and everything is on a consensual basis. With Philip Strobel at the label also. The guys help me produce the best results I think.
How did you three find each other?
Jonas Ranssøn: Fated//love.
Owen Pratt: We met through the nights Dee (Divine Incest) and Jonas (Deus Ex Machina) used to put on.
It seems like you haven’t released that much material yet. But you’ve been around in Europe playing a lot of shows together with other bands. Could you give me an insight into what it has been like, touring as Női Kabát?
Owen Pratt: I think our experience of touring has been fairly privileged as there’s a really strong scene in most of the major European cities that we feel very happy to have contributed to.
Jonas Ranssøn: Much of the organization is down to Dee and Jack of Soft Riot. Jack has been instrumental in establishing many of the shows, and I love his company and the chance to listen to his set each performance. Dee also works very hard at this. Like I say, we each have our own role and skills within the band , and this is Dee’s I think, uber communicator. He has the fine eye for detail and knows what needs to be done logistically.
It’s been quite difficult initially to arrange shows in an order that makes sense geographically. It’s always the case that when we do establish a promoter or organiser you kind of wonder why you didn’t know of these people before. The net work is strong, people are passionate and committed to the music. We have been very lucky in that all the organisers have been so kind and welcoming, and have made our experience a very positive one. I just can’t thank everyone enough. And all are unique in there own way. I just regret that we don’t get to spend more time with people, but that will come I think. It’s certainly a thrill for me to travel so widely in Europe, I’d do it more often if I could.
Dee Rüsche: That’s what I love, visiting all of these European cultures and connecting with the different people there.
As it says in your biography, you wanted to create a sound that was “reminiscent of the early industrial pioneers”. Which makes it pretty clear what kind of ambition you have. Even though it sounds a little bit industrial, there’s also a lot of new-wave, synth-pop and cold wave in the mix. But, most importantly, it’s machines against man. Why did you want to have such a sharp contrast between machine and man (vocals)? How do you incorporate this with your other influences, as you strive for authenticity?
Dee Rüsche: For me, it’s the battle that we all have with technology. We have spent countless hours pushing buttons on phones, computers, drum brains and synthesizers. Where with stringed or other instruments you can perhaps get a lot more feeling into playing, some of the music in synth sounds very note on / note off. We as Női Kabát almost have a battle with our instruments in the way we play them. Including amplifying and hitting scrap metal live. I also like to think my voice is the impassioned human element in all of this. Trying to emote the fruitlessness of the battle maybe.
Owen Pratt: We didn’t set out to create a specific sound, but we all listen to a lot of these genres so I guess some of that just seeps in naturally. I’d imagine our approach is pretty similar to some of the early new-wave/synth pop artists and I guess that’s why it might be reflected in the music. We’re also probably using a lot of the same equipment as they did too. A large part of how we sound comes out of wanting to perform electronic music live. We really wanted to play sequential electronic music but as a band. That way we end up incorporating human and machine errors into the music which I find interesting.
Jonas Ranssøn: It seems quite simple. Having a genuine physical presence on stage will always require more than just a laptop. It’s about the physicality of the performance, which is something that has perhaps been lost with the introduction of new technologies…. do you want to f**k the performer or the computer…..?
When it comes down to the influences, there must be something that separates you? Even though you work as a unit, what kind of things influence you separately?
Jonas Ranssøn: Yes, I guess we are each listening to different things depending on our circumstances, people we come in contact with, shows we listen to. That’s the great thing about touring, we get to play music while we’re travelling and can turn each other on to what our latest playlists are. I’m always surprised and delighted as to what new music Dee and Owen introduce me to, and I hope that is reciprocated.
Dee Rüsche: I’m influenced by a lot of different things in music. A lot of literary and film things as well. Bernard Herrmann, John Wyndham, Charles Baudelaire, Matthew Lewis, Octave Mirbeau, Aubrey Beardsley, Otto Dix, Christian Schad, Andrei Tarkovsky, Quentin Crisp & Katalin Karády to name a few old dogs.
I don’t know if I interpreted this right, but in your latest release (due 18th of July), there seems to be a lot of criticism against all kinds of things in the main song “Make Room! Make Room!”. Could you tell me the lyrical meaning within the release itself, and that particular song? Or do you simply leave it open for the listener to interpret what he or she wants it to mean, lyrically?
Dee Rüsche: The title comes from the book ‘Make Room! Make Room!’ by Harry Harrison. This was turned into the film Soylent Green. It is generally a story of overpopulation and the decadence in decay that perhaps that would facilitate. I like to think of it as a love song also and a thought that there would still be a way out. These fragile figures ultimately burn in the fire like the human race is heading towards. It also has some references to Romy Haag (Bowie’s Berlin period), a Poe quote or rather half taken from the 1959 film ‘A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth’.
“Make room! Make room! he said
In your penthouse apartments
No space to operate
No love underground
All heat, all flesh and bone
We ransack, we raise you
Dividing your silver tongue
Lovestruck with turmoil
Mit Rom, mit Romy Haag
Crushed by your red lips dear
Bound by bad influence
And absinthe minded
You’d screw us to hell
For all of you doubters
Sail with me
Find me frail
But find me new, my love
Seek a cause
To kill your only son, in the fire
Make Room! Make Room! he said
For no sons and no daughters
No space, no space anymore
Inward we breath
Absurd in illusions
Those slices of death
For all of you doubters
Sail with me
Find me frail
But find me new, my love
Seek a cause
To kill your only son
Hear me hoarse
But hear my sequined roar
Stay the course
And be my dandelion in the fire“
A lot of new releases seem fairly generic to me. Make Room offers something different and for that alone it makes it special. Before the release “Make Room! Make Room!”, you’ve self-released “I Corrode/Seeds Of Time” on cassette. Other than that, I can’t really find any more material which you’ve created. Do you have other songs which aren’t released yet, that you’ve performed when playing live?
Dee Rüsche: We have some recordings of our previous sets and have built up a good amount of material for live. We are quite picky when it comes to release and work painstakingly on our final offerings. This is probably a bad thing with the immediacy that the average synth band offers to fans. Recording a song in a day practically but I believe that with us having a live drummer and our techniques none of this can or should be rushed.
Owen Pratt: We have a few recordings we made in the rehearsal room of songs we have been playing live but at the moment we don’t have any plans to release them. If you want to hear them you’ll have to come to the shows.
Which makes room to ask an interesting question about your music. Since you don’t seem to have a lot of material released yet, which is understandable, how long time does it take for you to create your songs and how is your co-operation when doing just that?
Jonas Ranssøn: We are very pleased with the way Make Room has been presented as our first vinyl release and also very happy that Philip Strobel at [aufnahme + wiedergabe] has made this commitment to the band. We couldn’t think of a better label and person to be working with right now. It’s is a great consistency with what they do there. Obviously the recording and production has been self initiated and certainly, as with most bands it would be great to have more financial input from an independent source. We’d like to do something further with [aufnahme + wiedergabe] which ever form this may take.
Owen Pratt: The songs actually come quite quickly but in the past it has taken us a while to record. We’re trying to streamline this and make things happen more quickly, maybe trading a bit of fidelity for a little bit of immediacy. We’re all involved in the recording process so co-operation is essential!
Recently, you’ve also talked a little bit about D.I.Y. in another interview. What does that mean to you and do you think its going to flourish even more in the future, as it is doing now?
Owen Pratt: I think its never been easier to do the things it takes to exist as an artist yourself.
Dee Rüsche: I guess for some people our stuff might look quite polished but it is all done by ourselves. Form artwork, recording, merchandise making… we literally make everything with little or no outside input but we try and do this to a high standard as we are very proud of our product. I think the ethos of D.I.Y has been in all of us from making fanzines or club nights for ever. And I think it is a great thing that now people can record and make an album from their bedroom. It makes everything so accessible. It can have negative affects of course with the internet eventually being full of useless unlistened to material but I’d like to think the cream can always rise to the top, even if the milk bottle is full of shit.
Do you consider yourselves to be a part of a scene? The last few years, there’s been an upswing of electronic artists indulging in crossover music, almost the same as yours. Are your intentions to put out a message, or simply just make music with meaning, but no real intent?
Jonas Ranssøn: God… I hope it does have intent!!!! and that comes across in our performances. What has been the most encouraging with the touring and live performances is that we strengthen that network by participating and engaging with that ‘scene’. To communicate online is one thing… to then commit and to meet and work with these people is entirely another. These people are inviting us into there communities, there homes for god’s sake. As far as I can make out, this seems a very positive and committed network, what ever people’s personal music tastes, and it can only become stronger. I’m convinced that it will be respected and revered in years to come. The press are always f**king years behind anyway. It still needs to grow of course. But lets enjoy it while it remains underground.
Dee Rüsche: I think that is a criticism that has been laid on synth music since the 80’s and I can see why to a point. Of course when some people can make music without the knowledge of music in the seemingly ‘flick a switch’ style it can lead to the ‘posing’ elements, I understand why others can criticize to a degree. But at the same time I think it is a negative point of view. For instance, you could say that a room has ‘nothing’ in it. Well it has nothing, and that is something.
Where does one find your fans?
Dee Rüsche: The oddest places. Of course all over Europe because of our tours. But we’ll find ourselves getting a message or being featured from South America or Russia or somewhere. I still find it funny. The world is definitely connected by wires. Or actually we are wireless now. So perhaps the world is connected by waves.
To ask the same question, but word it differently, and put it in reverse; what are you yourselves fans of?
Jonas Ranssøn: Veronica Vasicka of Minimal Wave show… despite her critics, I love that show. I’m also a massive Tuxedomoon fan and am reading Isabelle Corbisier’s chronicle of the band ‘Music For Vagabonds’ currently. Buy it!
Owen Pratt: Portishead, Alva Noto, Soft Riot, Factory Floor, Open swimming.
Dee Rüsche: For modern things Zsófi Pollmann’s art, Friedrich Strasse collage artist/writer/hit picker, Ivan Antunovic’s fanzine Small Doses, Martin Eder, Chris Moore, Felix Kubin, Dedalus books, Transformer in Vienna and Cydonia Vintage here in Budapest. Also, Wolf Empire – a designer from Moscow.
By the way, what kind of things do you dislike about how people consume music nowadays and how the music industry is right now? I know that a lot of people have speculations about those different compartments. What would be the ideal environment for Női Kabát, considering these topics?
Jonas Ranssøn: I’d like to stay fairly niche I guess. I admire bands who have retained integrity throughout their career despite being tempted by commercial forces. ‘Bonne renommée vaut mieux que ceinture dorée‘. It’s all about integrity no matter how you achieve it.
Owen Pratt: People are consuming music in such a variety of ways now. I mean there’s definitely still people avidly collecting vinyl, we’ve witnessed it a lot on tour, but I guess you’re talking about people consuming music digitally. There a lot of things that I dislike about mp3 files but they definitely have their place. The effect of the way they are disseminated has had a massive impact as it’s basically made making records unprofitable for many artists.
Sometimes, I simply want to compare you with Image Of Life, the US-based minimal synth artist. But then I realize that he has a whole other approach, since his music is a little bit darker and even more minimalistic. What would you compare yourselves to, if you had to choose from artists, bands and groups from the 2000’s and forward?
Jonas Ranssøn: I wasn’t aware of the band, obviously I should be. I aspire to produce work on the level of my influences of course. Time has yet to be a judge in this.
Dee Rüsche: I don’t know if I would compare us with anyone not meaning to be rude, comparison and bracketing into genres I find leads to the death of those things. Or if you are comparative with another band for me it feels like you are not doing your job of being something unique. Don’t worry about the neighbors garden. Make your grass green. Or purple. Whatever you want.
I noticed that you’re still unsigned. Is that the pleasurable state of mind for you, or have you simply not gotten “to it” yet and gotten “signed” with a label? There should be people interested in doing just that?
Jonas Ranssøn: Again it comes down to one of the previous answers. We want to do things our way and work with people we respect and have a shared goal. But also it would be great to share the burden of financing shows, tours, recordings etc… through management etc… it would free us up to concentrate on the music. It has to be the right person. Investment is good, but our freedom within that investment / commitment.
Dee Rüsche: I think of course the freedom of d.i.y versus the lure of being signed is a hard one. I think we are not on that level yet anyway and if we moved up to it it depends with the people you work with like Jonas said.
Since I noticed that Billy MacKenzie is a great influence for at least one of you, or the whole group, what makes his music with The Associates great? Also, what’s your favorite album(s) with his band?
Jonas Ranssøn: Associates for me I worship purely for such uncompromising and imaginative approach to making music, the Fourth Drawer Down and SULK LP’s. I like the artful recording process that went into making those albums so different. For me McKenzie elevates the aesthetics to a living religion. His dandyism in certain respects comes close to spirituality, particularly in relation to his suicide, and to a stoicism and these beings have no other status, but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons, of satisfying their passions, of feeling and thinking. For the perfect dandy, these things are no more than the symbol of the aristocratic superiority of mind. This for me encapsulates what The Associates achieved at there height.
Dee Rüsche: I’m a big Billy fan too. The voice is heaven soaring for a boy from Dundee. Songs like White Car In Germany with Rankine’s drones going against the vocals are magical. Reading about how they recorded some parts have been like us in ways having interesting approaches in the studio. We’ve flicked tin foil through spring reverbs and sang whilst spinning round.
While listening to your music, I noticed that you’re quite original, at least when compared to some of the other bands and groups in rotation. I don’t know if they are unoriginal, but you’ve got a certain feel in your music and an approach musically, that simply sounds unique in many ways. I know that the underlying philosophy and influences make it that way. But do you ever find it hard to maintain such a sound? Is it in constant development?
Jonas Ranssøn: It never feels difficult to write or work on new music. We’re just constrained by time, geography and maybe money. When we are able to make time to rehearse and make music it comes very naturally. Dee and Owen are gifted in this way.
Dee Rüsche: It is in development but this is natural. It changes with the instruments we get, how we feel on that day and what we have just done. Hopefully the next single will be better and so on and so on. I think it’s important to do what we do best and not worry about anything else.
Also, when it comes to aesthetics, is how you dress something you wear normally – or is it simply to enhance the feeling of the band itself, when performing or associating with Női Kabát?
Owen Pratt: It’s pretty much what I wear when I’m doing the dishes.
Jonas Ranssøn: The kind of dandyism Dee portrays, in certain respects comes close to a spirituality, that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons, of satisfying their passions, of feeling and thinking…. this is the way to go.
Dee Rüsche: I do think of these things but that is my personality and thought to go behind a show. At the end of the day people are paying to be entertained. At the same time you can ask anyone though that my answer could be the same as Owens as I will wear waistcoats and sock suspenders while washing up on a Sunday.
I’d also like to ask you where you record your songs and where are they mastered? It seems like you reside in a lot of different basements, or maybe just one.
Owen Pratt: We are lucky to have access to a studio that I run with a few friends. Its sometimes pretty hard to get in there which often means everything takes longer. The mastering has been done at various places. Last year most of the shows seemed to be in basements, especially one in particular.
Jonas Ranssøn: Vogue Fabrics… Lyall Hakaraiais the owner is ‘the’ artistic patron of the age…. well… in my neck of the woods at least. He’s been really helpful letting us use his club to rehearse. Owen does all the production at Flesh and Bone Studios in Hackney East London. We’re very lucky to have access to that facility and Owen is a very competent producer. Ragnar who’s based in Berlin also mastered our track Industry featured on the flip side of our 7″. He did the sound for us at the Urban Spree show in July which was one of my favorites to play from the tour.
Now I’ve run out of time and questions. So I’m simply wondering if you’ve got any material that is due to come out any time soon?
Dee Rüsche: We’ll be working on some new releases soon and looking for shows on the continent. If anyone needs us, get in touch.