With this year’s incarnation of DARK MOFO just around the corner, we take a look back at our 2017 interview with Einstürzende Neubauten’s Alexander Hacke and his partner in life and creation, multi-media artist Danielle de Picciotto. At the time of our meeting, the pair had just returned to Hobart following the completion of a pilgrimage which saw them perform at six unassuming roadside churches between Launceston and Hobart over several days.
You’ve been performing across Tasmania as part of the ‘Crossing’ project - can you tell me about the work you presented and how it went?
Alexander: We presented our album Perseverantia, which is our latest release that we recorded in the Mojave Desert in California. It’s a cinematic drone project that works very well in a spiritual environment, like the churches we’ve been playing in. The combination with Miles Brown and J.P. Shilo was very well curated, so it went well. It was a great turn out.
Danielle: The whole record is based on the fact that we became nomads in 2010. We’ve been living like this for almost 7 years now and we don’t really have any walls that we call our own. The open drone atmosphere of the record is very much a part of how we’re living at the moment. We both felt the theme of a pilgrimage was a perfect fit for us because it mirrors our lyrics and our music in an incredible way.
Seven years is a long time to spend on the road. Have you encountered a place that feels like it could be ‘home’?
Danielle: Originally we only intended to live this lifestyle for about 18 months (laughs). We’ve found a few places that felt like home, but a lot of things have changed over the last few years – not so much with us, but politically. With things as they are in America right now, we don’t really know if we’d want to move to there just yet. There are two places we really like there, but we’re still kind of up in the air. It’s not easy.
I know you’re both very passionate about bringing new experiences to remote locations. How are you generally received in the more culturally isolated areas?
Alexander: Our work seems to resonate better with certain places than others, but that’s basically a cultural thing. Playing in a remote place like Tasmania works so well for us, because what we do also requires a certain state of mind that we can achieve more easily in places like this. I never thought I’d feel this way, but nature and surroundings have a strong impact with how I work.
Danielle: The desert had such a strong impact on us.
Can you tell us more about your time in the desert?
Alexander: It was just us and a few trees in the middle of nowhere.
Danielle: We really like metropolitan cities - we love London and LA, and I’m from New York - but inspiration-wise for us, it’s all about the places outside that inspire us to do our music and create.
How are you finding Dark Mofo so far?
Danielle: It’s amazing! Tasmania is such a magical place. Going to Launceston and seeing the landscape, then coming back to this whole festival atmosphere and visiting a museum like MONA has been a really amazing experience. I feel like I’m in a sort of fantasy world!
What did you enjoy most at MONA?
Alexander: We thought the whole ‘Museum of Everything’ exhibition was just so well curated, even down to the way the pieces were hung and the space was designed. A museum atmosphere can be so tiring and ludicrous, with the lights and the air-conditioning and all of that, but I didn’t feel any of that.
Danielle: I love how the architecture makes you feel like you’re in The Matrix or something (laughs). It really has a strange effect on you; you start seeing people differently all of a sudden, everything kind of morphs together. That place really does something with your brain.
Alexander: It’s an absolute experience, and I like that you don’t see a lot of conceptual art there - most of the work on display is related to a mythical experience and that’s what makes it so powerful for me. I get bored so easily with academic art.
Danielle: One thing that I find really interesting is how David Walsh has understood that you can help a complete economy through art. To see that happening here is so fantastic.
Alexander: I think it has a lot to do with the willingness to take a risk, to actually confront the locals with this revolutionary artistic concept. The driver of our shuttle bus said “Some of the art at MONA will challenge you and intrigue you”. I thought these two words were an excellent choice, because that’s exactly what it’s about. Art should challenge and intrigue, not just entertain. Psychologically I think that’s very important.
Your pilgrimage has taken you all over the world. Is there a city where you think artists can thrive more than others? Or is the artist just doomed to struggle wherever they land?
Danielle: One trend we keep seeing is that artists are moving away from the big cities. In the states it’s the desert, for Berlin it’s the countryside. Artists are becoming more and more active by finding or starting their own communities. I think people are realising that nothing is going to come from the inside; no one is going to help artists within the city, and the global art market is not going to support them. Outside of that, though, there are a lot of possibilities. I think there’s going to be a wave of people who are able to survive without compromise.
One of Danielle's artworks finished just prior to our interview.
Alex, you’ll been performing with Neubauten in a couple of days. You’ve been playing with the band since you were 15, so I wanted to ask how your approach to writing with the band has evolved over the years?
Alexander: Neubauten is actually a very traditional, very old school sort of group - as opposed to the way music is made these days, which is basically two friends in front of a laptop sending files back and forth. We actually spend time together in a room and we refuse to look at any screens. On top of that, we create artificial problems for ourselves. We have always faced obstacles and if there weren’t any, we’d create them in order to overcome them and produce something new. That was the approach from the get go and it remains the same today.
How does it feel to be playing these songs after all these years?
Alexander: What I learned from my life in this group is that you need to reach a certain state of mind to play the music how it should be played; a ritualistic approach to performance. I tried to achieve this from substance abuse when I was younger, but now I have different strategies to achieve a state of high concentration that allows me to be present and focused. I enjoy it immensely, getting into that state of mind is imperative to me. And, of course, there are certain physical sensations in playing music - not just in Neubauten, but in the music that Danielle and I play together. It is a place of concentration and connectedness.
I imagine the presence of an audience would also bring another dimension to your performance?
Alexander: Oh yes, it’s instant gratification and also a feeling that we are experiencing reality and the present in a room together. It’s like an agreement we have all made together.
Last question for you both: do you remember your first meeting? Could either of you have anticipated the journey your union would take you on?
Alexander: (laughs) Well, we have different anecdotes. We’ve known each other for 30 years. I remember seeing Danielle in about 1987, she was standing at a bus stop in Berlin. I was riding by on my bicycle and I saw this girl with a, all in a... pleather...
Danielle: You know that shiny table cloth material?
Danielle: Yes that’s it!
Alexander: Such a shiny outfit.
Danielle: I sewed the dress myself.
Alex: And she had, like… beehive hair, but three times the size of a beehive (laughs). She was standing at the bus stop and I remember getting off my bike and taking a seat on a stoop somewhere nearby and just staring at this lovely creature. We got introduced a few weeks later.
What about you Danielle?
Danielle: I first remember seeing him probably a few days later. I was in the car and I was stopped at a red light. He had stopped next to me and was singing really loud. I asked the person who was driving me “Who is that?, and they told me it was Alex from Neubauten. I just remember thinking he was really loud.
What would you have been singing back then Alex?
Alex: Well you know, it was just...
Danielle: It was probably a cowboy song! I couldn’t believe that someone could sing that loudly. I was impressed though, he’s always been really good at loud things (both laugh).
Alexander Hacke and Danielle de Picciotto will return to Hobart to perform ‘Crossroads’ as part of DARK MOFO 2018. The performance will see the pair present a silent film documenting their 8 year pilgrimage across Europe, North America, Australia and Mexico, set to a roaring, rattling live score.
Tickets for Crossroads available here.
Purchase releases through Alexander and Danielle's Bandcamp here.
Danielle's solo album Tacoma can be purchased here.