The Second Wave
An interview with Thomas Thyssen
Could the heyday of Germany’s Goth Rock, Wave and Post-Punk fit onto a cassette tape in its full glory, without losing any of its contrasts, experimentalism and spontaneity? You will undoubtedly answer yes after seeing, touching and, of course, listening to “The Second Wave”, an strictly limited to 200 copies compilation release - or should I say archaeological treasure - assembled by the reputed DJ, magazine editor, promoter and, ultimately, authoritative voice of “the scene”, Thomas Thyssen, for and on the Berlin based DIY label aufnahme + wiedergabe. In this no-waste interview, Thomas not only talks in depth about “The Second Wave” project but also gives us an accurate picture of the German Goth Rock, Wave and Post-Punk scenario at the time when these 23 collector gems were released.
Without further ado, allow me to start from the beginning: Where did the idea for “The Second Wave” come from? What’s the story behind this project?
Well, to be perfectly honest, I’ve carried around that idea for quite a while already, but it never really had the chance to come to fruition due to me not having enough spare time apart from work and my cherished private life, in order to be able to focus on all the efforts that come along with such a project. It was while having dinner with Phil from aufnahme + wiedergabe, when I told him of the vision I had in mind, and since his immediate feedback was pretty enthusiastic, it simply was now or never, I guess.
The story, if you want to call it that, behind the project was that I grew up with all the bands that are now being featured on the tape. And I literally mean all of them. Although my taste in music has become way more diverse and broader throughout the past years, there aren’t a lot of genres out there that hold such a dear and enormously big place in my heart than Goth Rock, Wave and Post-Punk. Additionally quite a lot of the participating bands and artists have never experienced any kind of success, even back in the day when they were still active. Showcasing their music, their art, intertwined with songs of rather infamous and bigger acts, was and is definitely one of the main purposes of the whole project – kind of as a means to preserving German Goth, Post-Punk and Wave history if you will.
Why did you think the time for this compilation was right now?
Simply put: If I hadn’t started working on the compilation in autumn last year, the chances of it never seeing the light of day would have been pretty high. The aforementioned conversation with Phil of a+w was the proverbial kick in the ass that I apparently needed to get back into work mode.
Personally, I’m all in favour of cassettes though I can easily admit that nostalgia for the good days of tape trading influences my appreciation, besides certain collector fetishism. Many are actually skeptical about the resurgence of cassettes, as hardly anyone has a tape player anymore and are generally linked to lo-fi genres and demo issues where sounding (supposedly) bad is acceptable. So, why did you choose this release format? Do you think cassette is making a solid comeback or it’s just another hipster short-lived trend?
Neither do I think that the cassette is making an all-around comeback, nor do I believe that it’s just another hipster trend. I think, especially in the underground, the tape scene has become quite healthy again, which is something that most likely no-one would have predicted a mere few years ago. To me personally, it is even a tiny wee bit romantic to be able to release a tape compilation in 2016 as I of course grew up with cassettes myself as well, with tape-trading and with actually buying demo tapes of bands via ads in fanzines or at their concerts.
All 23 songs of “The Second Wave” have been carefully mastered by none other than my pal Achim Dressler, who owns the Wellencocktail studios in Hannover, and who’s also the drummer in New Days Delay. Achim already mastered the past two volumes of the “Pagan Love Songs” compilation series for me, and since I’ve always been a fan of his work, he was my first pick for this particularly difficult job. Therefore the sound quality shouldn’t be an issue at all, although two songs that are included sound a little less impressive than the rest, since the original recordings were either really, really old and/or of a dubious quality to begin with, but I had to include both tracks – “Johannesburg” of Love Like Blood in its gritty and rough original version from 1988 with their first singer Gonzo still on vocals, and “Nightlife” of The House Of Usher, including the intro which is missing on the version that was released on CD later on – because both tunes have a historical importance. Of course you get a digital download of the compilation in the audio format of your choosing as well when buying the tape.
If I’m not wrong, we both entered our teenage years listening to Goth Rock, Post-Punk and Wave music at the era referred to in the title, so we are not strangers to the term “Second Wave”. However, how would you explain it to those who are not familiar with it?
To me personally “The Second Wave” means the influx of new bands and artists in the late 80s and early 90s, which were all deeply influenced by the founding fathers of the genre, who paved the way in the late 70s and early 80s. When the Berlin Wall came down, all of a sudden everything seemed possible. New bands were popping up left and right, east and west. And so did new venues, new parties, new festivals, new ideas, new visions. It was such an exciting time to be a part of. In regards to “The Second Wave” as the chosen title for our nifty little tape compilation, it of course means that all of the included acts were – intentionally or unintentionally – inspired by said cult groups and bedrocks of Goth, Post-Punk and Wave to make music themselves and hence creating a new wave of Goth, Post-Punk and Wave music in Germany. A second one. The Second Wave.
I would like to get more in depth into the German scene of those days. Which record labels, clubs, zines, etc. do you consider that were crucial in its development? As an active member of the “second generation”, what were you involved in at the time?
Networking back in the early 90s was rather complicated and different, especially compared to social media and the internet in general nowadays. I had the fortune of growing up in a little town which already had a quite active albeit small “scene”, though. Furthermore it wasn’t that far to the sacred halls of still legendary clubs in and around the Ruhr area like, for example, the infamous and irreplaceable Zwischenfall in Bochum; the beautiful eXX in Moers; the Old Daddy in Oberhausen; the especially in the late 90s thriving Lurie in Bochum etc. If you owned a car, you could practically go clubbing seven days a week back in those days.
Really important record labels were Alice In..., which is still run by my dear old friend Frank D’Angelo; Glasnost Records, who brought us Corpus Delicti, Into The Abyss, Ghosting, The Eternal Afflict etc.; of course Danse Macabre, who were responsible for a neat newcomer contest in cooperation with Zillo in which quite a few really great demo tapes were featured; Hypnobeat released Cancer Barrack and Arts & Decay, Rebel Records were responsible for Love Like Blood; Hyperium were home to Sweet William, The Tors of Dartmoor, Still Patient? and Dark Orange; Celtic Circle Productions signed The House of Usher, Capital Hell, The Escape and Malochia; Alex Storm, who is very active with his Trisol label up to this day, discovered London After Midnight and released their official debut album “Selected Scenes From The End Of The World”. And the list goes on and on.
You can easily see that there were a lot of very passionate and active German labels at work. The influence of the UK based Gothic Rock labels of said time, Resurrection Records and Grave News come to mind, or the catalogue of the US label Cleopatra Records also left their marks on the German scene for sure.
The 90s also were the decade in which print magazines were the most influential. Of course Zillo started it all, then Gothic Magazine, Sub-Line, New Life, Sonic Seducer and Orkus came along. To me personally it was especially fanzines like Fight Amnesia, which was published by Into The Abyss band leader Iannis Kalifatidis; Wolfgang Scholz's The Torturer; Goth’s Not Dead and Bloodstained Tears, both based in northern Germany, as well as publications like Entry, Der Hofkurier, Codex or UK and US zines like Lowlife, Propaganda and Bats and Red Velvet were near and dear to my nerdy and always hungry-for-more blackened heart.
I was a very, very young teenager in the early 90s, who was extremely lucky to have older friends who treated me like an equal. Thanks to them, and especially thanks to my older brother Ralf, it was absolutely normal for me to go to clubs up to three or four times per week on a regular basis. I got my first job as an editor because I gave the offices of Sub-Line magazine, which was published from 1992 to 1995, a call with a handkerchief put over the receiver in order to make my pre-puberty vocal-change voice sound deeper and lied to then head editor Mike Litt, who is a very well-known German radio DJ nowadays, that I was already 18 years old.
In 1994 I joined the Electronic Gothic Rock band Capital Hell, which was founded by one of my oldest friends, Marc Heppener. We played quite a bunch of shows with bands like The House of Usher, In Mitra Medusa Inri, Apoptygma Berzerk, Die Form, The Escape etc., released one full length album and one EP before the band split in 1998. Ralf, my brother, taught me the basics of DJing at a very young age and it was with him that I had my DJ debut in 1993 in a local alternative youth centre. I was interested in basically everything that was connected to the scene. And I wanted to know everything as well. How is a club run? Who is putting out the magazines? Who’s behind the labels? How can we set up live shows? What is the best way to promote club nights and gigs? The still very big DIY element of especially the early to mid-90s really helped me to up my own ante.
When you embarked in this musical venture, did you find yourself joining the dots between the artists that were part of the Second Wave and a future lineage of Goth Rock, Post-Punk and Wave music? Have we entered a Third Wave with the new millennium or is it yet to come? Are we now at the dawn of a Fourth one?
Joining the dots happens subconsciously while working on such a project, I believe. So yes, I did, and to my mind we’re in midst of what some people already call the Third Wave. And to be perfectly honest, there aren't that many acts from the new millennium that were able to thrill me like the founding fathers of our beloved genre or their successors in the 90's. What is severely lacking nowadays is originality and new visions and ideas. What I mostly miss is simply good songs with a proper build and hook, but also distinctive voices, both male and female. Where are the Third Wave smash hits of today, the evergreens and classic anthems of tomorrow? I'm still trying to give each and every new release a proper listen, but it's mostly single tracks that are able to grab my attention, not entire albums. There are lots and lots of really interesting bands that shouldn't be considered Gothic Rock although their overall sound is often times highly influenced by the late 70's/early 80's Post Punk- and Goth-icons. On the other hand, there are bands which not only derive their own sound and ideas from old icons, but also from innovators from different genres. The genre itself has to prevent itself from being too stagnant as stagnancy is the death of all creativity. And since we, i.e. the readers of this interview, love a healthy dose of Goth Rock and Post-Punk, we wouldn't want that to happen, wouldn't we?
But of course and luckily there are exceptions to what I just stated, even – and unfortunately – if there are just a few. Too few for my taste. The talented bastards of Sweet Ermengarde immediately come to mind. But also the gifted guys from Aeon Sable and undertheskin from Poland. Post-Punk-wise bands like Whispering Sons from Belgium, In Letter Form from San Francisco or Haul from Sweden do their best to leave beaten paths and try to mix the old with the new, tradition and modernity. Not to forget, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the first proper release of my old friend Justin Stephens’ new band Wires & Lights. Their first and only live gig so far in 2014, which I promoted, was a pure blast and a sign for magnificent things to come.
Returning to the compilation itself, all it takes is one glance at the tracklist to realize the hard work behind, as many of the participating bands are not in existence anymore or just self-released only one tape for more than two decades now. What could you tell us of such a research effort? What difficulties have you encountered during the process? Which has been the most hard-won inclusion here?
Since I’ve compiled my fair share of collections and samplers throughout the years, the whole administrative process behind such an endeavour was nothing new to me. The most complicated difficulties – as always when trying to license really old songs, especially from bands which haven’t been in existence for twenty plus years in some cases – is simply trying to find the former musicians and artists. Of course the internet has made said process a tiny wee bit easier.
When compiling the first “Pagan Love Songs” compilation in 2003 and 2004, I still vividly remember browsing through big piles of phone books and seemingly endless talks with the phone assistance. All in all the compiling process took me nearly five months which isn’t particularly long to my mind. I had a couple of really, really helpful hands, who provided me with leads, contacts and – most of all – motivation. Thank you, Wolfgang Scholz of No Control Torture; thank you, Jörg Kleudgen of The House of Usher; thank you, Bruno Kramm of Danse Macabre Records; thank you, Thomas Stach of Murder At The Registry; and thank you especially to Paul Cuska of Strobelight Records/Kiss The Blade. In more than 90% of all the related cases, someone knew someone who knew someone who was in contact with a friend of a former band member a few years ago etc. – you know what I mean.
It’s like playing Sherlock Holmes in a roleplaying game in gothy surroundings which is exactly right up my alley and also my understanding of having fun. The Attainment Of Nirvana, a pretty obscure German Goth Rock band of the early 90s to begin with, were perhaps the toughest to track down, but in the end it was very rewarding to get the okay of ex-lead singer Olaf to include their pretty Leeds-esque “Desperate” on “The Second Wave”.
Without a doubt, we’re facing a carefully curated compilation which furthermore brings together a good amount of almost unattainable material and rare-tracks; not only that, but it’s also an accurate testimony to the climate of experimentation and fusion prevailing in that microcosm back then. So, congrats for your great work. However, one could conspicuously miss some relevant Goth Rock names who also played an important role during that period, both inside and outside Germany, such as Garden of Delight, The Merry Thoughts, Still Patient?, The Tors of Dartmoor or Dreadful Shadows, as well as cult acts like Sepulcrum Mentis or Angina Pectoris, for example. I guess they’re of your taste too so it was a bit strange to realize that none of them have been included. Why did you choose the tracks you did? Did you manage to collect all the songs you want? Are you planning to release more tapes?
First of all, thanks a lot for the compliment, it is highly appreciated. I knew that this kind of question simply had to come up. Yes, most of the acts you mentioned are of my taste as well, although I have to admit that I’ve never been fan of Dreadful Shadows. Never. But of course this has got nothing to do with their impact and the importance of their output in their heyday.
Back to your question: I asked Artaud Seth if he’d be willing to contribute a really old Garden of Delight song of my choosing to the compilation, but he wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of doing it on a tape comp. We exchanged a few e-mails and couldn’t come to a mutual agreement. I’m absolutely fine with that, we’ve known each other for many, many years already and on top of it all, I really do appreciate Mr. Seth’s sense of humour quite a bit.
Marvin Arkham of The Merry Thoughts has unfortunately been M.I.A. for quite a while in the virtual world, hence I wasn’t able to track him down, although I’d have loved to include an early tMt track or even the live version of the still fantastic “Wires Hum”. The nice fellas of Still Patient? and The Tors Of Dartmoor were indeed on my shortlist, too, but once the tape was full, it was… well… full. Same goes for Sepulcrum Mentis and The Angina Pectoris. It’s always a bummer when you have to leave out a certain band, or when you receive positive feedback too late, that’s for sure, but such is life. And although I unfortunately didn’t manage to license all the songs that I originally wanted to feature on “The Second Wave”, there are no plans of doing a volume two. Yet.
As regards the genres addressed in it, is “The Second Wave” fairly representative of what can be called a "breeding ground" for an own designation of origin? Musically, what do you think were the main differences between the bands emerging from Germany and UK back then?
Yes, I at least think so. I simply have to quote my good pal Paul Cuska here, with whom I compiled the “Another Gift From Goth”-90’s Goth compilation a couple of years ago and who also wrote the according liner notes from which these citations are taken, simply because it not only reflects my very own opinion 100%, but also because I couldn’t have said it any better:
“We think that what we suggest to call 90’s Gothic Rock, the genre, is an exciting type of rock music with substantial relevance within the broad spectrum of music, the arts, and culture in general. (…) While the artistic tradition of the bands (…) seems fairly clear, what many of them achieved is far from purely emulating idols or anything like that. The deliberate choice to work creatively within certain aesthetic or technical boundaries is not only not of inferior value, but rather fairly common and even, at the end of the day, unavoidable; at least on the level of an individual piece of art, if not regarding a full body of work. Anyway, what’s important is what has actually been achieved, combined, added and omitted within this chosen corridor of sound, arrangement, melodies, lyrics and other artistic aspects. And whether you get a kick out of it or not. So if a band’s (or an entire scene’s) sheer quantity of work within these boundaries leads to boredom on the side of the listener, well, that may very well be – but it should not go unnoticed that it says more about the listener than about the band (or scene). They still enjoy that type of music, they are still searching for that perfect song, they can’t get enough of songs with such guitars, such vocals, such drums, etc. And neither can we. To attribute irrelevance to that genre is nothing but individual opinion based on personal preferences, attention span, and boredom threshold, expanded beyond oneself; a person’s subjective view of an object rather than that object’s feature; and a mere claim of being common public opinion. A claim which we consider perfectly unjustified.”
Considering your second question: There aren’t that many big differences between bands from Germany and the UK at that time if you ask me. There were lots and lots of hungry musicians trying their very best to compose that perfect song within their specific artistic boundaries. Some of them succeeded, at least in my ears, some of them didn’t. On both sides of the Channel, it was the Trinity of Gothic Rock, the Sisters, the Nephs and the Mish – above all –, along with other influential bands such as (The) (Southern) (Death) Cult, Killing Joke, The Chameleons, and many more, which were the biggest influences on the vast majority of all of the Second Wave acts.
Special focus has been given in this release not only to sound quality but also to visual appeal. As a professional in this field, I think the tasteful artwork adds even more value to an already attractive product, but most importantly, it also succeeds in reflecting the zine and print media aesthetics which prevailed in those days. Who is responsible for it? And why did you choose these artists?
You nailed it! That was exactly the intention, the gritty, black and white Xerox look, somewhat cliché pictures, but everything with a little 21st century update quality-wise. The beautiful photos for the artwork were contributed by the utterly fantastic Berlin-based photographer, Helen Sobiralski, whom I hold in highest regard. The overall layout was composed and created by the immaculate Peer Lebrecht, who’s mostly known for being the singer and front man of the Berlin Goth Rock outfit Golden Apes. I’ve always really liked Peer’s graphics skills and I’m lucky to having been able to work with him on numerous occasions throughout the past years. The label and I are really happy with the visual presentation of the compilation.
Let’s talk about aufnahme + wiedergabe, the record label behind this project. What is your relationship with them? How would you value their contribution to the current musical panorama? And, in general, what do you think about DIY labels?
Philipp Strobel, the head of a+w, and I have been friends for what seems like aeons already, we kind of grew up together, literally and not literally, although I’m a little older than him, but just a little. (laughs) To me personally, a+w is definitely one of the best and most high quality German underground labels. And in a certain way, they are more “indie” than a lot of other self-proclaimed DIY labels as well since Phil as well as Gabriel and Julia, who also work for a+w, don’t give a damn about genres or pigeonholing themselves into just one niche. They only care about great music. It doesn’t matter if it is guitar driven, electronic, vintage or brand-new. It doesn’t matter if it is Cold Wave, Post-Punk, EBM or… *gasp*… Techno. They simply release what they like and what they want to support.
To me, that’s certainly one of the biggest positives when it comes to working with them. Apart from them all being first class human beings that is. I wish them nothing but the very and utmost best and – totally unselfishly – hope that their label will thrive for years to come.
Still on the subject of present-day situation, do you think that terms such Post-Punk and Goth Rock still carry their original meaning? I mean, sometimes it comes across that we’re chewing a gum that has lost much of its explosive and genuine flavour.
For some people they do, for the majority they don’t – most likely. Everything gets stale when you’re chewing on it for years and years. Everything get boring when there’s no update available, no new influx of ideas, visions and sounds. Everything will be compared to the originators when the umpteenth band plays a really bad cover of a really good song from yesteryear. In Germany, sometimes the dark press even labeled bands like Unheilig, Mono Inc. and Lacrimas Profundere as “Gothic Rock”. Come on, marketing people, what have we done to deserve this? And after the huge Nu-Post-Punk movement at the beginning of this century, with bands like Interpol and Editors emerging, all of a sudden you’ve had a gazillion copycats who – of course – have all been influenced by Joy Division, but who at least only tried to copy the new bands and not the originals for a change. I personally still do believe in both terms. And most naturally I have a very subjective and ready-made point of view of how I believe a band has to sound to classify as either Goth Rock, Post-Punk, Wave or whatever.
Let’s not talk about pigeonholing bands, labeling them and creating new terms for styles, though. Let’s work on how we get the music and the sounds and the styles we so dearly love finally ready for the second half of the second decade of the 21st century.
I know many people who started being an active part of the scene in the early 1990s and nowadays are not interested in it anymore. What’s that “thing” that makes this sort of music so important in your life, so that you’ve never left it aside?
That is a pretty darn good question which I’ve already asked myself quite a few times. I have no clue. I only know that from the very first day I got hooked when accidentally listening to the German verse of the Sisters’ “Marian” while my older brother Ralf was throwing a party with and for his Wave and Goth pals when our parents were on holidays, this kind of music has not only been a vital but also an integral part of my life up to this very day. I’ve been working within the “scene” for nearly 25 years now. And working within the music industry in general has been my full-time job for more than ten years already. Apparently something must have been triggered when I was a little teenager with a horrible haircut back on said fateful day, or at least so it seems.
And although I’ve grown fond of quite a few other genres, artists and bands throughout the years, as I already mentioned earlier, the sound of a proper flanger guitar echoing through a wall of sinister bass lines and stomping Dr. Avalanche-esque drums will never ever stop gaining my immediate attention. It is as simple as it is addictive. Or, as someone else has already brilliantly put it: “Goth is what makes you feel good between your legs.”
What about you, Thomas? Do you remain as actively involved in these issues as back then? Is there any future project that you want to share with us? Any dream to realize in this regard?
I still remain actively involved, yes. To what capacity depends not only on my mood and my spare time, but also on the ideas that pop up in my head at random. I just (co-)promoted two very exciting club nights at this year’s 25th edition of the Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig. Before that I co-promoted the sold out “Zwischenfall Festival” in Bochum which was a total retro affair, but a total fun night out as well with more than 600 guests from all over Europe. I still work as an editor, mostly for Sonic Seducer, but also for post-punk.com and Gothic Magazine – I was the head editor of this publication for more than half a decade as well – from time to time. Occasionally I’m also (guest) DJing, although I stopped (co-)promoting regular club nights when I finished being a resident at the still running Ceremonies club night in April 2014, which is still being organised bi-monthly by my friend Ian P. Christ of DEATH#DISCO fame.
Dreams I have many. Too many maybe. Most of them are really impossible and fancy ones e.g. promoting a big 90’s Goth fest with Rosetta Stone, Corpus Delicti, The Wake (US), Nosferatu (with their 1993 line-up), Love Like Blood (with Mark Wheeler on guitars), The Merry Thoughts and Kiss The Blade. Or seeing the Sisters perform with a proper live bassist once again. Then again, I’d love to witness a reunion of Blacklist, who released one of the greatest albums of the 21st century. I also wouldn’t be opposed to seeing the criminally underrated Ulterior as special guests for Depeche Mode on a stadium world tour. Ahhhh, one can dream right!? Concerning future projects: I have two or three ideas that have been evolving silently but steadily in the back of my head. If I ever find the time to at least realise one of them, I’d be a happy camper, that’s for sure. Then there’s still that unfinished book on my external hard-drive for which I’ve conducted more than 150 interviews since 2003 already.
And above all, I really want to go back to Iceland alongside my beautiful significant other, escape from the urban world we chose to live in and explore the Westfjords.
In closing, is there anything else you want to say about the compilation? Any juicy anecdote about “The Second Wave”?
Nothing juicy at all, sorry, but I simply want to stress that I’m really stoked that this project is now seeing the light of day. It may sound sappy and even a little pathetic, but I’m not only thankful for the great collaboration with aufnahme + wiedergabe, but most of all for all the experiences, international friendships, moments and incredible music my personal journey of the past 25+ year has provided me with. There are quite a few people out there I would love to see more regularly, there are quite a few people out there I’d like to raise a glass with once again, there are quite a few people out there with whom I’d cherish to exchange stories once more. I do hope they still know who they are, for they will be forever cherished by yours truly. And that’s the bottom line because 2xT said so.
Interview by Billyphobia