Interview with Totenwald

The Berlin-based anarchist dark-punk band TOTENWALD will be performing for the first time in Copenhagen on September 13th for Totentanz at Ungdomshuset D61, Copenhagen.
Though all of the members are currently residing in Berlin, the members all come from different countries and hence describe their music as "Immigrant punk!". But no matter where you originate from, there is no doubt that Berlin has a long tradition for being the place to be when it comes to goth-oriented punk and synth music.
We decided to talk a little to the members of Totenwald about their local scene, their past and of course most importantly their music!

TOT: First of all we'd like you to introduce yourself. We know that this is the first time performing in Denmark for two of you, but at least one of your members has played in Copenhagen and also at Totentanz before as a member of Tanzkommando Untergang. (Tanzkommando Untergang played at a Totentanz event in April 2012 and at K-Town Hardcore Festival in June 2013.) So tell us your names, what you do in the band and maybe a bit about what other projects you've been involved with prior to Totenwald.

TRISH: I'm the singer and Totenwald is my first band.

SERGEJ: I'm playing the bass and yes, I was in Tanzkommando Untergang. The gig at K-Town was one of our last concerts.

BORIS: I'm playing the guitar in Totenwald. Aside from Totenwald, my actual main project is The Wings of Desire. We play a kind of post-punk that we call psychedelic wave. It's wave music with an experimental side to it, like a clarinet player for an example. The music we play with Totenwald is a bit different, more punk inclined, so it compliments eachother very well.

TOT: Tell us a bit about your band. When did you start and what were your main inspirations? Is there another agenda behind Totenwald that differs from your former projects?

SERGEJ: I was organizing a show in Berlin with Metro Cult and Dystopian Society and I needed a local support band. I got the brilliant idea; I will make my own new project. Boris had been telling me that if I wanted to start a new band, then he would like to be a part of it. At that point I only had to convince Trish to try singing. We had 4 months before the concert to write and rehearse the whole set.

TRISH: As Sergej said; He had to convince me. Even though it had always been a dream for me, it was my first time singing outside of the shower. I didn't know what to expect but in the end it turned out fine. It looks like people like it.

SERGEJ: We are more punk, less goth and maybe a bit more experimental. I think - nowadays - that too many bands are trying to copy some specific bands, so we have copies of Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie and the Banshees, D.A.F. and so on. I'm inspired by 80's style punk and wave so I want to play that kind of music, but I also want to make it in our own way. My dream band would be some kind of mixture of Crass and Bauhaus.

BORIS: I'm the least "punk" member of the band. I'm kind of trying to pull the music in different directions and I think it's the combination of us members that makes it so interesting. As the main songwriter, Sergej's got very good ideas but since we come a from slightly different places in music, the end result becomes very various and sometimes unexpected. That's what I like the most in our band; The variety. Just take a look; There's elements of punk and a big inspiration from goth, but you can also find elements borrowed from Reggae and even certain folk motifs. That's what "immigrant punk" is about; Being exposed to different cultures, different types of music, all of which melts into your own songs.

TOT: A bit atypical for other bands in the scene, you use a drum machine instead of acoustic drums live. Was this a deliberate choise and how come?

TRISH: I'm actually not pro-drum machine, but I also know it's not easy to find a drummer who wants to play this kind of music and who's not busy with 10 other projects.

SERGEJ: I Really like drum machines because they can play exactly what you want. I like their monotonic and mechanic vibe. It also makes it possible for you to experiment, as we can put on different kinds of percussion. Like Einstürzende Neubauten.

TOT: How would you say Totenwald connects to the local scene around Berlin? In Copenhagen we tend to mix punk, goth, deathrock and various synth, wave and industrial genres in the same scene, but in Berlin the different genres seems to be more separate scenes? What is your impression of the Berlin scene, and do you feel connected to any certain group in the Berlin subcultures? Are you actively organizing shows?

SERGEJ: Me and Trish goes to different kind of parties, but we mainly belong to the DIY punk, hardcore and squatter scene. Okay, maybe not musically, but on a more personal level via friends and so on. The Berlin underground is so big that subgenre scenes don't mix so much as they all have their own audience. So on the same night you'll have four punk shows and 2 goth parties, and all of them will be packed with people. It's common that people only attends gigs and parties in their own district of Berlin. I used to organize some gigs, mostly for my friends, but it's such a "pain in the ass" that I stopped.

TRISH: We try to make different kind of songs, some more punk and faster, some more wave, to attract different kind of people. I would say Totenwald is more connected to the punk scene, as the punk scene tends to be more supportive of emerging bands, where in the goth scene people prefer to dance to the same old music or go to concerts with famous bands.

BORIS: I see myself more connected to the goth scene, as punk appeals less to me than old post-punk and goth stuff. On one hand Trish is right, a lot of goths prefer to go to a club and dance to music made by people who passed away long ago, instead of going to see a new band for the same price., but I still think that no matter what scene you belong to, as long as you like and appreciate music, you'll go and find it. Luckily there's still people like that in Berlin.

TOT: It seems as though there's a new wave of darker and more experimental punk music going on internationally. Do you feel inspired by and connected to these groups, and why do you think that so many are picking up this style of music?

SERGEJ: Maybe this kind of music is just the best out there, and that's why so many people want to join in on it. Anyways, for me it's like a continuation of late 70's and early 80's punk, which was sometimes dark and sometimes more experimental not always as cliché as later punk and hardcore.

TOT: Can you recommend some good active bands? Perhaps both internationally and from your local scene?

SERGEJ: I think Oliver Sheppard's Cvlt Nation website is a good place to search for new dark punk bands. But maybe now when there's so many bands that are playing this style of music, it becomes a bit of a cliché as well, and a lot of bands sounds similar to eachother. I hope Totenwald won't fall into this trap. From Germany I would recommend Monozid, Genetiks, and New Days Delay, who we just played with at Black Days Glowing.

TRISH: I would recommend you to listen to my favorite band Kalashnikov. It's romantic DIY punk from Italy, for once not a dark-punk/post-wave-goth band.

BORIS: It's not a punk band but I'd definitely recommend our friends Monowelt. They are a great cold wave duo. They played at Totentanz half a year ago.

TOT: Lastly, I'd like to hear what we can expect from you in the future. Any releases, tours og videoes coming up? Do you have a long term plan?

SERGEJ: Right now we're working on our debut EP, that I hope will be released in the end of the autumn. We have gigs booked untill December, in November we're playing the Return to the Batcave festival in Wroclaw, Poland. Plans? We plan to play as long as The Rolling Stones and get as rich as they are.

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