As long as it's electronic
Stefan Groth, Mr Apoptygma Berzerk himself, discusses their success, his latest work, the electroclash scene and the abuse he has received.
In recent years, Apoptygma Berzerk have become a major force in electronic music. As pioneers of the crossover sound of futurepop, they, along with VNV Nation and Covenant, have achieved a level of success unknown for European EBM-based bands in the ten years or so since Front 242 were at their peak. Apop signed with Warner Bros in Europe with their last album "Harmonizer", but didn't know what to expect of the release.
"Everything was new, we changed all our agencies, we changed record labels and everything, so, I was saying what's gonna happen's gonna happen. It's been a huge success in Europe, especially Germany. Of course, Warner Brothers don't put out anything that's not going to be a success."
Their massive success has bred a hoard of imitators that has flooded the market and, as a result, people are starting to lose interest in a sound that, only a year or two ago, had excited the scene. Stefan says that that's how it goes, that it's just the natural development of music. He compares the scene to others, like trance and drum n' bass, which started out as underground things with a few bands, which then got popular and more bands started to do the same thing and eventually it was flooded.
"Then you have to start over and find new stuff. That is actually what I'm doing now, I just started the new Apop album and what I'm doing now is quite different. There's no point for me in doing the same, every album we've put out so far has been very different. I think there's a lot of good stuff being put out these days and it's a much more exciting and interesting scene now than it's ever been, to be honest. So, I don't necessarily think of that as something negative, but I think there will be, as soon as the market gets flooded, new stuff coming out and it's always when something new starts that it's interesting. So, the whole futurepop thing might not be that interesting anymore, but it's good."
He says it's too early to tell what the next Apop album will sound like. He has been experimenting with different sounds and is very interested in the electroclash sound. "I've been doing a lot of electropop-ish stuff, but I'm thinking about putting that out under a different name so it will be a totally other project."
He says that he's always more interested in what's going on outside the scene, pointing out that, when you're like Apop is, on the frontline, there's no use looking into the scene to see what's going on now. It would be ridiculous for them to pick up on somebody trying to do what Apop tried to do five years ago, which would bring them round in circles.
"So, I would rather look to the other scenes, like the electroclash thing, and say, 'what's going on there, what can I pick up here and how can we try to merge things together here and create some new stuff'. At the moment, it's way too early to say anything about what it's going to be, there's some really interesting stuff in the works now. Of course, we've always had songs and been very melodic, but I'm gonna dress it up more."
However, despite his own forays into the electroclash scene, he doesn't want it to move closer to the EBM-based scene. He says the big difference with what's going on with the electroclash bands like Ladytron and Fischerspooner is that the vibe is different, it's so fresh and new and, then again, it's not new, because it's what he's been listening to his whole life. He's been listening to synthpop since the '80s and, living near to Sweden, he's been aware of the Swedish synthpop scene that's been going strong for many years.
"I got bored with that Depeche Mode rip-off synthpop, it's always the same and everything is so extremely predictable, so what is going on now with Felix da Housecat, Miss Kittin, all that stuff, is that there's no rules. I mean, the crowds should mix, I think it's cool if EBM people listen to that and the other way around, but musically, I think we should not, I dunno, pollute the new thing, because now we actually have something really new and interesting and there hasn't been any new and interesting electronic music coming out since drum n' bass."
One thing that does bother him is the criticism that his music receives for being too poppy due to the elements of dance music he incorporates. He doesn't know why there was ever a split between the different types of music, into dance scene on one hand and the industrial/EBM scene on the other. He says it's all electronic dance music, that he was always into Detroit techno and couldn't hear the difference.
"I was always into everything that was electronic because it was electronic, I was excited and interested in the electronic music, I didn't really care if it was Kraftwerk or if it was Throbbing Gristle, whatever, as long as it was electronic, interesting, because on top of that it's groovy. It has lyrics or not, who cares? But in this scene, it seems to be a big deal, and also the attitude thing, it's... I dunno. I was never that much into that, I don't care."
He can see, though, how, when something gets really popular, like the whole trance scene at the moment, that people in the scene don't want to listen to the same thing their 10-year-old younger brother listens to. But he argues that this doesn't mean that trance is bad, because trance started out in little dark clubs with 100 people.
"Trance music started out as underground as EBM or industrial, it just happened to get more popular, so that doesn't mean that trance is bad, but I can see that people don't want to have that very commercial. But that's typical, everything that gets commercial, when a lot of people start to make the same thing, a lot of shit will come out."
A big problem electronic bands face is how to make their live performances interesting when they rely so much on pre-recorded elements. Apoptygma have always put a lot of effort into their live shows and, strangely for this kind of band, have released two live CDs and one live DVD. Stefan says it's hard to do it, but he thinks it's a little boring if what you hear on a CD and what you hear live is exactly the same.
"I mean you already bought that CD, so you could have stayed at home and listened to the CD instead. It's important to me to have that whole live thing, even though 50% of what you hear is actually run from either DAT or from a hard-disk or whatever, we have added the drums and guitars. It's just more rock n' roll in a way and that is what touring the way we do is, you know, rock n' roll. I've been touring for eight/nine years now and it's important for me and for the band that we also have fun, if we had been doing the same thing, we wouldn't be doing it now."
Of all the major figures on the futurepop scene, Stefan Groth is probably the most maligned. Anyone watching comments that appear about Apoptygma Berzerk online, particularly on newsgroups, will have noticed a particularly high level of venom that goes beyond a simple dislike of their music. "When something gets popular, then people just enjoy slagging them off and, I don't take that that serious. But there's definitely been some not so good things written about me as a person and about the whole project."
The attacks were particularly strong after the band toured the US and cancelled some of their shows. Stefan says he doesn't understand why the reaction was so strong. "I've bought tickets to so many shows that have been cancelled in my life, and cancellation in Europe is something that happens all the time, but in America they got really, really angry about that."
Stefan understands how this happens, though, acknowledging that you can only be flavour of the month for a very short length of time. He says he was initially praised highly when people first heard Apop, but, as the band became more popular, they started to slag it off.
"Some years down the road, when VNV Nation came along, it was the best thing ever to happen to mankind, now they start to sell records, same shit happened. I think that's the way it is. I think it's kind of an envy thing and it's also a thing about if you start to sell records outside the scene, people that are really hardcore into the scene feel that OK, they don't only belong to us anymore. It's weird, I don't know."
by Girl the Bourgeois Individualist