When scouring the web for something interesting and new, you rarely find what you’re seeking – if you’re even seeking anything out, at all. Sometimes, you stumble upon something that is greater than the genres that can be attributed to the music at hand. Schwefelgelb is one of those exceptions. I happened to find them in connection with an earlier Gooiland Elektro release, titled “Dunkel Vor Den Augen Uns“, which contained a lot of great songs despite being a four-tracked EP. Which in turn made me interested in finding out more about them, as I had read a couple of lines in different interview with them. One of the most interesting thing is that they have a conceptual approach, which in turn make their presence even more noticeable. Even though my thoughts might be a wee bit disorganized, I decided to ask a few questions to Sid and Eddy – the core of Schwefelgelb itself. Hope you enjoy it, and have a Merry Christmas!
I have been trying to track your history down, which seemed to be an easy task – considering your own description of it. But what you left out from that is your first album “Inferno” and the self-titled release “Schwefelgelb”, together with the second self-released “album” titled “Im Galopp”. Was it simply a transition from the “old” Schwefelgelb to the “new” that made you discard those releases? Or was it something else?
Sid: – It’s been such a long time. It was us, but it’s not anymore. I hate thinking about it.
Where did your aliases “Sid”, “Eddy”, “Nyx” and “Hal” – come from? In regards to the meaning of different names, “Schwefelgelb” – albeit it being a corny question to ask, but what does it mean and symbolize?
Sid: – The aliases were a conceptual approach. We all wanted to have short artist names. Sid, for example, was inspired by the Commodore 64 music chip and not by Sid Vicious, as most people assume.
Eddy: – All names have different backgrounds, but not important ones. It was more a concept of the form.
I’m trying to figure out what happened before you went on different tours. What’s the history behind Schwefelgelb, before you went on tour? Considering that you were such a “young” band, before the album “Alt und Neu”?
Sid: – It’s a romantic story and journalists usually love it: Eddy and I met in Kindergarten the first time. All of us went to the same secondary school. So the idea of forming a band came out of a friendship’s urge of doing something all together. But as we all studied in different places, though no longer then 3 hours driving apart from each other, every one of us had his own separated path to walk at the same time.
The album itself, “Alt und Neu”, which basically means “Old and New” – seemed to spark off the start of your livelihood as a group. It also seems like it was the transition into the sound you seem to have refined since that album. What was it like recording that album and what were you up to during that time?
Sid: – We recorded it at my home studio in Essen, the centre of Germany’s mainly given-up charcoal industry area, where I was living at the time. We were all studying back then – myself composition, Eddy photography. I can’t really remember the recording process consciously. In fact, it was a slow process rather than one big recording session.
You transitioned from self-released material into a whole new world, together with Tapete Records. How did it come to be, when you hopped onto their “roster” and released your debut?
Sid: – Tapete Records contacted us out of nothing. We were a bit sceptical as their roster didn’t really match our style, but we were glad that this opportunity was given to us. It was a good experience to work with a label that supports you and not having to take care of all the bureaucratic stuff. And we have been very curious to see what it’s like to be part of the myth about signed bands. Nowadays, we consider changing things and being responsible for more things ourselves again, but we’re not sure what we’ll decide for. All the possibilities have their advantages.
There was a lot of talk about NDW (Neue Deutsche Welle), in combination with your own sound, early on when it comes to both your debut and the material that was released before that. What kind of relationship do you have with NDW as such, as you’re from Germany?
Sid: – For example, we do listen to Minimal Wave and its different facets, which can almost sound like NDW. In general NDW is too poppy and happy to us, but its naivety provides an attraction. When you grow up here, you automatically get to know a bunch of NDW tracks. We checked out the genre, as it obviously overlaps with music we like in parts. That’s how we found Grauzone, which truly is an inspiration. But I don’t really consider it NDW. To me NDW is more commercial and “Eisbär”, Grauzone’s only commercial hit, is indeed one of their worse songs to me.
I actually watched a documentary about NDW and its origins, and it becomes painfully clear that it was related to BRD (Bundesrepublik Deutschland). What are your opinions about BRD as such, as you probably know more about it then me – and how did you manage to bring NDW into the 21st Century?
Sid: – BRD is what I was used to as normality. I can’t judge on it, because I never lived somewhere else. I’m lacking references. BRD had a rather unconscious influence on our music, unlike Berlin which has a conscious one – at least since I live here since 2011 and Eddy even longer. But it almost feels like this is a place of its own kind. My surrounding in Berlin is very international. There’s no place like this anywhere in Germany and therefore it’s not representative for it in total. Maybe it was easier in BRD to get in touch with electronic music. We got stuck in the 80s related one, so our own sound refers to that and I think that this in combination with German vocals easily reminds a listener of NDW.
Eddy: – But it has also tendencies of early techno and stuff from Detroit and France, that had way more influence on us.
As your biography starts with your invitation to Wire festival in Tokyo, was it then you decided to include Nyx and Hal as dancers – or had you already worked out a concept for your “visual” side of things already?
Sid: – I don’t like biographies about us. There are a couple of pretty bad ones out there in cyberspace. However, the dancers were part of us from the very start as they were part of that circle of friends that formed Schwefelgelb. Even though the dancers mostly needed to become dancers as they didn’t provide enough talent to learn how to play any instrument, the visual aspect was always very important to us. I think it is an idea of an aesthetic that can be mapped on music as well as on visual elements.
It seems like a lot of the “younger” and “newer” bands out there seem to start off with smaller releases and then they go on tour immediately. You were also one of those bands. How did you get the opportunity to go on so many tours, so quickly? Had you already hypnotized a part of the world with your rather unique sound?
Sid: – We didn’t tour that extensively before the release of our first album took place. But we had a fair amount of shows at some noticeable – businessmen would say ‘important’ – locations. I think we just sent out promo copies of our self-releases and got in touch with more and more people that were willing to help us. Maybe the music was somewhat good enough to see potential in it.
Did you make any tour-diaries when you were on tour in England, Spain and Poland? How was it to travel through Europe and what country did you find to be closest to your heart, in the end?
Sid: – Eddy started a kind of photographic/videographic tour diary at one point. There are some samples of it in our video of “Auf der anderen Seite vom Fenster” as well as on our homepage (main page). Most recently, we had good times in Italy very often. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the country is close to my heart, but we had plenty experiences with nice people that we won’t ever forget in our lives.
Eddy: – In France we also felt that.
Somehow, even though most (if not all) your songs are in German, I sense a non-European influence. Even though the United States of America basically consisted (at first) of Europeans, what do you make of that country and have anything from across the pond influenced you in any way?
Sid: – I’m happy to hear that and I assume that this is partly why we were able to gain that little bit of popularity out of Germany. I always hated contemporary German Pop music of all kinds. I never thought that it’s very strong music and that the artists that do it use the vocals/lyrics as a seely way to distract from this. As in, when someone is able to understand the lyrics and it’s so easy to sing along, the song appears to be good even though it’s still boring crap. In my teenage years, I was strongly influenced by US American Rap – the electronic one, not so much the sample based stuff – which itself was referring to a sound like Kraftwerk, to make a confusing feedback to Europe again. I think this is definitely in our music.
Also, does anything outside of Europe influence you as you proceed to steamroll across the world with your music?
Sid: – At the moment, not really. Things like traveling outside of Europe do shape our personalities, but they change our music only very indirectly. The main influence is indeed Europe and the international blob that we live in, in Berlin.
Eddy: – We try that, on a superficial level, in the visual appearance of the dancers, who are dressed in combinations of accessories from foreign cultures. These global influences partly help to get rid of clear references.
When one comes even further into your biography, you describe yourself as having a duality of musical and optical appeal. What exactly is that, and how did you refine your aesthetics as you went by?
Eddy: – Maybe it’s because I’m not a professional musician as Sid is, that Schwefelgelb was never focused on the act of making only music. The visual part of the show, the setting, the dancers, the outfits, the artwork were important parts from the beginning and we never stopped thinking of that. We’re still trying to put a lot of effort in the question, how can we visualize it? On the stage and elsewhere. Not only as a way of describing the music, more in a duality, as you quote.
In the same paragraph, hipster-magazines took notice of you and made you fashionable. Or were you already fashionable, with them making you hot within the “hipster”-community (if that actually exists)? Do you consider yourselves to be hipsters?
Eddy: – As “hipster” doesn’t depict something static but means something continuously developing, it’s very likely that it might overlap with the field in which we are rooted. We don’t pay attention to it though. If you’d try to avoid these overlaps, the consequence would be doing nothing in the end.
With regards to the question above, where do you deride your hardline fans from? Different sub-cultures, or a unified and special Schwefelgelb-squadron, made up of mish-mashed cultures?
Sid: – I guess you mean “derive”. Our “followers” have always been from very different scenes and subcultures. I think the goth related scene was one of the first that got track of us. Then there are people from the younger rave generation, queer scene, slightly left wing alternatives, ‘EBM baldheads’, to tick plenty of boxes here.
Did those hipster-magazines actually come with interesting questions that were relevant for your band as such? What kind of questions do you find yourself thinking about, philosophically?
Sid: – Which magazine are you talking about?
Lately, I’ve come up with a way of thinking that divides art into three elements, which are instinctive, context-based and intellectual. I think the former is the most powerful one and therefore I’d like to find out what all that can be, besides music (which can contain the other elements as well, of course), and then try to use it. I’d also like to check if somebody else wrote about this way of deconstructing art. But I’m doing too much music to do that at the moment.
Eddy: – When it comes to any kind of forming, the balance of perfection and interim, or roughness, is essential when you want to get touched by something. That’s quite a simple and old approach. But it’s getting more significant, the longer you’ve been pushing your skills, and improving your environment. Therefore the attempt to keep things more open than closed by trend, is influencing my work a lot (for different reasons), Schwefelgelb included.
And according to the thoughts of the mentioned coexistence:
There are no more times of defined alterations of destruction and creation, as there maybe were only a few years ago. And that lets me refer to the “hipster”-question that keeps you busy: When there is nothing killed, before anything else comes up, you have it all at the same time. There’s a guy called Martin Bergelt who speaks of the “century driving carousel”. But there is no problem in everybody referring to everything, because that’s not the reason for an interesting or uninteresting work to me. It’s more the way you’re using certain things and why. The idea, that destruction/creation can only be a correlation today, is engaging me much more.
One thing that interested me a whole lot was the tag “punk”, that can be seen regarding your earlier material at least. When I saw that you fuse what you call “smart music” with “pogo” – the circle itself was closed. Would you call yourselves punks? Or do you simply put it in when it fits?
Sid: – Was that in the Drop Dead Magazine interview? There has been an elementary manipulation of the interview. As far as I remember, words have been changed (probably because someone assumed we did a wrong translation of what we wanted to say in German), which then changed the whole meaning of it.
As we know, there are some definitions of punk that go beyond ripped trousers and the mohawks. One of them is to try out things without really knowing how to. We kind of did that when we started. We released our debut album fully home-studio self-produced without knowing how to achieve a certain “quality standard”. And then there was this expression of “fast and hard” in our music that is apparently one of punk clichés.
I believe that, when I first heard you, it came clear to me that you were one of the only ones able to combine hard-hitting EBM with melodic intrigue. Either you get one of them, or you don’t get it at all. Where do you sketch and think up all these wonderful melodies, rhythms and structures in your songs? Also, what would you call your music yourselves?
Sid: – I don’t know. It comes from somewhere deep in our brains. Must be the musical education, essentially (as we don’t come up with a lot of far east scales and rhythms). I think our music is relatively primitive. It shouldn’t be so hard to come up with that. But it’s probably a certain sense you have to own to be able to feel what a raw sketch points to and to guide it to a more or less finished piece then.
Eddy: – There’s a really high and dark energetic element in EBM. But the problem with 90% of it is the bad quality and the, let’s say fatuous, ambition. And right, there are not so many examples we know, that pick up these structures and are inspired by the amazing push it can have. When techno tries it, we often like it. I think Gooiland Records tagged us with “Techno Body Music” on Soundcloud. We find this term quite appropriate.
When it comes to labels as such, you’ve moved around quite a lot. As you released your “second” album “Das Ende Vom Kreis”, it seemed to have been a double-release between Tapete Records and Indigo. What prompted you to release on both of those labels?
Sid: – Indigo is just a distributor that Tapete collaborates with. We released both albums on Tapete, in fact. Then, our most recent release (Dunkel vor den Augen uns EP) appeared on the quite young Gooiland Records label. Right now, we are free and need to make a decision of where to release a next album in 2014.
Also, it seems like “Das Ende Vom Kreis” (in English: The End Of The Circle”) refined your sound to what it is today. But for those of us that are total beginners when it comes to Schwefelgelb, what would you say is the noticeable difference to earlier material?
Sid: – The status quo is the latest EP, which again changed a lot from “Das Ende vom Kreis”. On the first album, we had both rather poppy and rather punk like songs, most of them with a very obvious 80s reference. The second album was heading more towards contemporary Electro. The latest EP is rougher and purer again: no song structures, raw synths, four to the floor beats. It’s definitely body music by its literal meaning: music to trigger and move your body.
But one can also say that you’re constantly trying to figure out what your own sound actually is, as a musician. This seems to apply to you as well, since “Dunkel Vor Den Augen Uns” was released. In where you seem to step off the line into a more techno-like territory. This was released on Enfant Terrible, too, an almost legendary label from The Netherlands. What would you say about the fact that you are still trying to find “the” sound? Do you have any “goal” as such, or will you keep experimenting?
Sid: – It’s true and it might be a blessing and a curse at the same time. A considerable amount of people that once liked us couldn’t follow as we changed too much. I think this development is based in the fact that we are always looking for a challenge. Once we did something, we don’t want to do it over and over again, but are looking for the next thing to try out. This might even lead to things we try, which don’t really work (as in sounding shit) because we couldn’t pass the challenge. Nevertheless, right now it feels like we could hesitate at this point we reached, for a while. We still can identify ourselves with “Dunkel vor den Augen uns” and the upcoming stuff will probably not be that different. We’ll see.
Why did you pick Enfant Terrible for that particular release? Or did he pick you?
Sid: – We had been in contact before. But after not talking since a while, Martijn wrote to us, mentioning his new sub-label Gooiland Records. We really liked it. We have been influenced by labels like Bunker Records and related stuff from the Netherlands a lot and would have loved to be part of it. As Gooiland reminded us to this, we seized the chance and just did it.
Now we’re nearing the end of this interview, but I have one question left to ask you: where will we find you next? Are you planning to release something bigger, like your third album?
Sid: – There was a single (with video) released on the 19th of December. We’ll play more live shows in 2014 again. As our label situation is not clear right now, we can neither say when exactly we’ll release more nor wether it’s going to be album no. 3 or another EP again. But there will be releases in 2014 – that’s for sure.
Thank you for answering my good and bad questions. What’s your opinion about them and what other bands/groups should one check out?
Sid: – One can see, that you put effort in preparing the questions, which is very nice. If you do some web-based research in advance, there come up some misunderstandings easily due to false interviews or too many small fragments put together. But that’s not bad. I mean, the counterpart can correct it. Me, personally, I’m not a big fan of too much history, so I prefer questions about now.
Listen to and watch the music-video for Schwefelgelb‘s latest single “Den Keller Vollaufen“, together with the Radical G remix down below.