“Artists think they’re better at everything than everyone else.” Dinos Chapman talks Luftbobler, monsters and melancholy
You have to envy Dinos Chapman.
Not content with being one of the world’s most celebrated and controversial visual artists, thanks to 21 years of gleefully transgressive collaboration with his brother Jake, Chapman this month releases his debut album of solo electronic music, Luftbobler. And, far from falling flat on his arse, he’s turned out a work of considerable poise, power and originality.
The London-born artist is an avowed fan of Aphex Twin, Stockhausen, Throbbing Gristle and Squarepusher, an you can certainly their influence in Luftbobler‘s complex, kinetic compositions. Equal parts wonder and dread, dream and nightmare, this music is nothing if not nocturnal in character – indeed, it’s unsurprising to learn that Chapman, a chronic insomnia sufferer, recorded everything in the dead of night.
Interestingly, Chapman had no intention of releasing any of these crepuscular sketches, amassed over the course of 10 years; but when The Vinyl Factory‘s Sean Bidder heard them, he convinced him to select the best and release it as an album. Chapman remains self-effacing about the work, dubbing it Schlampige Musik (sloppy music), but he does himself a disservice: the process of creation might have been sloppy, but the results most certainly are not.
The Vinyl Factory [full disclosure: FACT is part of the Vinyl Factory group] have made Luftbobler available on CD, digital, gatefold LP and limited edition (300 copies) LP formats. All are beautifully packaged, with artwork by Chapman and design by FUEL, but the limited edition is especially lavish: it includes an additional one-sided 12″ pressing of an exclusive bonus track (never to be released on any other format), an exclusive coloured etching by the artist, individually tipped in, with five colour screen-printed artwork across four panels; each sleeve is hand-signed and numbered.
To celebrate the release, Dinos has created a site-specific audio-visual installation of Luftbobler for The Vinyl Factory. The show takes place at The Vinyl Factory’s Soho gallery (beneath Phonica Records) on February 28 – March 3, 2013, and will premiere eight new short films created and soundtracked by Chapman. More information here. He will also be presenting a live audio-visual show at the 2013 Sonar festival in Barcelona.
“Well, I was asked how long I’d been making music and I said 10 years, then as soon as I said it, I thought, probably not. But then recently I found a WAV file that pre-dated the dinosaurs so yeah, it’s been quite a long time. I don’t sleep very much, and I’m an obsessive tinkerer – I fiddle with things. I remember a long time ago asking friends who made music how I might go about it myself, and no one would tell me, so I had to find out for myself. Which is what I like to do anyway.
“I never intended any of this to be heard. It was only for my ears. I was very reticent about anybody hearing it. It wasn’t intended to be for mass consumption. Sean [Bidder, of The Vinyl Factory] grabbed me by the ear and pulled me out of the basement and said come on, let’s put this out. I didn’t actually imagine that would happen. And that’s absolutely the truth. My brother would always say to me, why don’t you release some of this? And I’d say, hmm, I don’t know…in a way to protect myself. Because if it’s for nobody but yourself then you don’t worry. As soon as you do things for an audience, the audience becomes part of the procedure. This was just me in the basement, trying to avoid sleep… and it has a certain naivety that I like. I do like amateurishness. I’d hate to know how to use these tools properly.
“So yeah, I didn’t intend anybody to hear it, and it took Sean twisting my arm and making me show him what I’d been doing, to realise that maybe it could be released. I wouldn’t listen to my brother, he could just be trying to make me look a fool [laughs].”
How does it feel to have it out there now? Are you anxious about it at all?
“I’ve learned from what I do with Jake that making something is by far the most interesting part of the process. Showing it – well, you can’t be responsible for what people think of what you do, so in a way you have to divorce yourself from even imagining that. The completion of the work is a necessary evil. As far as I’m concerned you’re making the same thing over and over and over again in an attempt to complete it and never have to do it again. But obviously you can’t so you just keep doing it.”
Do you have any background or schooling in music?
“When we were kids, my brother, my sister and myself were frogmarched to guitar lessons. And I think we all became fairly proficient – my sister was certainly very good, and my brother was very good – he continues to play in a band. But I dropped out. Because I realised that I was too shy to play guitar in front of people. It’s a performance instrument, you can’t hide behind a screen. So I stopped.
“I grew up with punk, so I managed to see most of the bands. I actually wasn’t a good enough guitarist to be in a punk band, which is saying quite a lot [laughs]. The thing about punk that I liked – and it’s the same thing that has since happened with digitalisation and the mass production of sequencers and so on – is that suddenly all those old ideas of virtuosity are no longer necessary. This technology means you can go it alone too: people have been given them means to make their own music and not necessarily have to share the experience with anybody.”
The rise of electronic music and laptop performance – literally “behind a screen” – must have seemed a godsend to you.
“I’ve seen people performing live with their computers, and there’s not much you can do apart from stick your hand up in the air occasionally and that just looks stupid. I saw Aphex play a few years ago in New York, and all you could see was the top of his head. It probably wasn’t even him [laughs]. But yeah, that kind performance: it’s the shy person’s way of showing off.
“I’ve always been very interested in experimental music. Recently I’ve thought that I want to start making some of my own instruments. The nice thing about soft-synths and all these kind of things is that you can manipulate them til they sort of stop being what they originally were. But a lot of the sounds that I’ve put on the album are digital representations of, for instance, an amalgam of a piano and a guitar. They’re very obviously digitally produced sounds, but a lot of these sounds are…wanting to be analogue. And I like the idea of instruments having character: for example on the last track there’s an instrument that I kind of imagine as this sort of thing with legs, which makes this noise as it moves…”
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