Please enjoy this interview with Stephan Kraemer of Zwischenfall!
Thanks to Veronica Vasicka of Minimal Wave for letting me use her questions!
1. Where are you from originally? And what was the music scene like growing up there?
Born in Belgium, but of German nationality. In the 80’s there was a vibrant music scene in Brussels, a city that was ideally located at the crossroads between the UK, France and Germany. Lots of trendsetting electro-bands like Telex, Front242 etc came from here
2. What music or bands were most inspiring to you growing up?
Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze in the electronic genre but also general pop-music and the whole punk and new-wave scene, early Simple Minds, Siouxsie & the Banshees etc
3. Did you grow up surrounded by music? Can you tell us a bit about your family background and how it may have affected your music?
No real musical background in the family but a lot of support. Started playing guitar at 8 and drums at 13
4. How did you first form the band for Zwischenfall?
I had already been in a band in 1980 but in 1982 I got together with Michael (Sass) to experiment with two synths, an analog rhythm-box and a string-ensemble we had together. We added real bass (Martin Urban) and electric guitar to the equation to combine electronic with traditional instruments so as not to be limited by one genre. By the end of 1982 I played two songs to Patrick (Codenys) from Front242 who was looking for acts for their newly-formed MASK label and got us signed for the first EP “Heute”
5. Who handled the vocals and the electronics?
Martin and later on Iben (Larssen) were the singers, Michael and me did the electronics – Michael playing most of the keys and me programming the drums and bass-sequences
6. What was your approach to lyric writing?
The singers wrote the lyrics, mostly pretty abstract stuff. We also used a poem by a famous German poet for the song “Heimatlose”.
7. There are some gorgeous arrangements and melodies on the Heute EP. What is the story behind it?
When we did the recording at Front242‘s studio, a cavern of Ali Baba opened up for us. Daniel B. – the main composer – had a huge collection of synths, so we used stuff that we didn’t have access to and experimented joyfully. To give an example: we used three different synths to make the drum-sounds for some of the songs…a big Roland System 100 for the bass drum, a Syrinx for the HiHat etc. There were also a German PPG Wave-synth and other assorted goodies that we used, like one of the first digital delays. Everything had to be painstakingly programmed step-by-step or played live – this was before the MIDI-standard became common-place. Also we didn’t want to loose the organic quality of some of our arrangements, so we incorporated acoustic and electric guitar, trumpet and bass into the electronic arrangements. There wasn’t a big master plan behind all of this, we just proceeded by gut feeling and continued to do so with later songs as well.
8. Were any demos recorded before the Heute EP?
The only demo to Heute was “Katastrophe” which turned into “Flucht”. It was one of the first songs that we wrote/recorded after the house of a good friend of ours burned down. All the other songs on Heute were written just before recording and during the studio-sessions.
9. Were you aiming to write any sure-fire pop hits, or were you aiming for the dance floor?
There was no particular intention either way, the music just poured out of us. We were quite aware that what we did wasn’t comparable to a lot of other music from the time, but we never would have imagined the cult-status some of the songs later obtained.
10. What image do you think your music conveys?
Hard question: maybe in a way we were trying to show the many facets Germans have in their culture, from very literary and intellectual, to martial yet also soft and cultivated and spiritual…
11. “Flucht” is enjoying a renewed popularity and appeared on many radio show and dance club playlists. Please tell us the story behind this amazing track.
This track went through so many versions, starting with “Katastrophe” and our two later remakes of it under the name Flucht. It got remixed by so many people, like Luc van Acker (Revolting Cocks), Luca Anzilotti (Snap) etc. It still seems to be our best known song and still gets played today in some retro-clubs. There is actually a club in the German town of Bochum called “Zwischenfall” where there are a lot of gothic and new wave parties, and every time our song gets played everyone races to the dance floor….hilarious actually.
12. Where did Zwischenfall tour?
Only in Belgium and Germany…mind you, I think we only did something like 10 gigs in all of the bands life.
13. What equipment did you use for your live shows?
A backing tape, some drum-pads with electronic sounds, electric bass and guitar and of course five different keyboards. I think at some point we were on tour with three Ensoniq Mirage samplers (one of the first affordable sampling keyboards)…it was all very cumbersome and rigid…there was no way to make a song shorter or longer on stage if we felt like it.
14. Do any songs from your career give you a particular satisfaction?
It was a fun ride, but it is very early stuff for me. I have made a career in music and probably some of my later song are a bit more mature. But we are all very proud of what we accomplished and the recognition we got, even if it took a “rediscovery” almost a decade later for that.
15. Zwischenfall ‘s music was ahead of its time and seems ripe for rediscovery. Do you feel an affinity with today’s generation of listeners?
Of course there is an affinity. I have never been out of touch with what’s hip at the moment as it’s my job to be up-to-date. I also think it’s a good thing to rediscover or honour some of the stuff from our musical past, as everything new is somehow based or related to something that was there before. In some instances (us NOT included) some past music has never been played or composed better than at the time, every cover version being only a pale copy of the original. Some bands or acts also had something so unique to them that no one ever did it better than they did… So – in that respect – I feel it being a good thing to seek out the roots of a certain genre, for example, to see where modern hip-hop comes from, or some of the techno/electro-stuff. What disturbs me though, is that some people are ONLY reminiscing of a certain period musically – as if everything that came after that was totally worthless – but we had that at every point in time: some are always complaining that everything was better yesterday….
16. Any plans or ambitions for the next couple years?
Personally I’m just pursuing my career in producing and engineering bands and artists. None of the other guys in the band are still active in music – so a reunion is out of the question.
17. How you think technology has affected music creation these days and do you welcome the changes? What do you listen to these days?
Things are so much more accessible today with what’s possible with a computer and some decent software. In the 80’s the price of the hardware was quite prohibitive, and connecting and recording was cumbersome. Nowadays it’s so much easier and faster – yet it has not necessarily produced more interesting music. Today you can very quickly record an idea with a result that is close to finished-product quality – 30 years ago we were looking for hours for a certain sound…and sometimes you forgot your initial idea after that…but sometimes you found something else instead while fiddling with the knobs. This whole tactile experience is almost gone from electronic music-making unless you invest in vintage gear, and that is a bit sad because it was part of the process….I could go on for hours on this subject but ask anyone who’s been in the music business for 30 years and they will all have the same kind of things to say.
My musical taste today is very varied, from mainstream pop to obscure underground…too vast a subject to describe here….