Loke Rahbek wants you to send him naked selfies.
In fact, it’s the only way to get hold of The Wild Palms, his new album under alter ego Croatian Amor. It’s released on cassette today – Sunday, June 22, the day of Rahbek’s 25th birthday – and available for a month until July 22. But it’s not available for conventional purchase. To acquire a copy, you have to email a full-frontal nude self-portrait to Rahbek at [email protected], with the text ‘The Wild Palms’ written on your body or in some way present in the photo.
The idea for The Wild Palms, says Rahbek, grew out of his musings on the relationship between the artist and the audience, and how one might break down the barriers between the two. “I’ve been very interested in coming up with ways that this relationship might be made into something more like a communication,” he says. The number of copies he’ll make of The Wild Palms is strictly limited to the number of people who agree to take part: an experiment in intimacy and shared vulnerability.
“When you share your work with someone, it can be like showing your own skin – you are stripping naked,” he says. “So I ask that anyone who gets the music does not share it with anyone. And I promise in return to not share those photos with anyone. They are going to be in a file, and they are going to stay there. I wanted it to be secret, because you know if we’re talking about intimacy, nothing is stronger than keeping secrets together.”
Ostensibly, you might call Loke Rahbek a noise or industrial musician, although it feels slightly deceptive to locate him in either, his work being wide-ranging and unbeholden to genre tropes or stylistic boundaries. The hub of a vibrant Copenhagen underground scene that has also spawned groups like Iceage and Lower, Rahbek co-runs the Posh Isolation label, who have just celebrated their fifth birthday, and plays in a dizzying number of projects: Damien Dubrovnik, his synth-driven power electronics duo with Posh Isolation co-founder Christian Staadsgard, who recently released the great new seven-inch Patterns Of Penetration on Alter; Lust For Youth, an electro-pop group helmed by Hannes Norrvide, who are currently touring the goth Balearica of International on Sacred Bones; Sexdrome, his black metal-tinged punk group, who may have played their last show at Posh Isolation’s 13 Torches For A Burn festival in Los Angeles last month; the recently retired Vår, a sombre electronic group with Iceage frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt; and his solo project, LR.
Croatian Amor is a softer and more contemplative project than much of Rahbek’s work, characterised by soothing, synthetic textures that remind me a little of the synth soundtrack work of Angelo Badalamenti; Rahbek himself calls it “bubblegum industrial”. As he drifts further from his noise roots, so too does the music released on Posh Isolation, which in forthcoming months will feature music from a diverse spread of acts: from the gloomed-out techno of Mischa Pavlovski to the serrated basement post-punk of White Void to the cobwebbed church organ elegies of Vanessa Amara.
We speak on a Sunday morning shortly after Rahbek’s return from Stockholm, where he has been an artist in residence at the city’s electronic music studios EMS, working on an album with his friend and collaborator Frederikke Hoffmeier, aka Puce Mary. “It’s an incredible place,” he says. “If you’re from Scandinavia, they give out extensive residencies, three or four months – they pay our way, give us a room, and we can use the studios as much as we want.” EMS’s vast analogue systems are something quite new for Rahbek. “They have technicians there who can sort of walk you through it. But I get lost all the time.” He laughs. “I’m not a very technical person. But it is interesting to try something new.”
How did the idea for The Wild Palms come about?
Throughout the last year, I had a lot of long conversations about performance – they were a recurring theme. I found I was touring these experiments with how you use a stage, and how you use yourself on a stage. But in terms of releases, it’s just been how it’s always been. People buy something, and then they go home and listen to it, and they are the observer only, they are the listener. I do as well, we all fall into the trap where we give culture, or any piece of art… we measure it out from how many people we manage to touch with it. If you sell a lot of records, or a lot of people go to your show, it’s a successful record. I found that intimacy can get lost in that, and so I wanted to set that whole thing in reverse, and sort of make something that’s for very few people – or maybe a lot of people, but at least it’s not going to be out there. It’s been a crazy process to work on. This is a full album. It took a lot of work to finish. And ultimately if no one agrees to this experiment then no one will hear it.
But you’re comfortable with that.
It’s strange, but I think if it does work. I like this idea that it is a sort of a membership card to a society, or a gang, or something like that. And in order to take part you have to put a bit of yourself in there. To make it even – the audience are no longer the audience, but an active participant in the project.
What is the significance of the title?
It’s taken from this ’90s TV show, a science fiction about these travelling gangs trying to take over power in America. One group is called The Fathers, one group is called The Friends. The Fathers are, I guess, the evil people – they’re in charge of this broadcasting channel, and they make these holograms. They’re inventing new ways of entertainment, so father than watching television, you have this entire soap opera going on in your home. But as it’s always been with Croatian Amor, it’s not hooked to one theme. It’s been a very important part of Croatian Amor that it’s not linear. It’s a project about fantasy, and the titles and the imagery is sort of kept at this brainstorm level, for it to stay playful.
How does Croatian Amor differ from your other solo project, LR?
Well, it’s a solo project, but I think the idea was always that it shouldn’t be me, so it feels very different from LR, which is very much me. LR is the project with the least amount of fantasy. Croatian Amor is probably my project that is the furthest away from anything real. The idea was to present things in a way that we, or my generation, experiences stuff. When I first got into noise and underground music, you would read interviews and people would talk about the old underground tape trade world, mail art, all this stuff. At first, you think ‘oh, this is the right way of doing it’. But I came to realise, this is not what I come from, this is not my generation, and this is not how we do things. We shouldn’t aim to relive this nostalgia for something we ultimately never experienced. I wanted to do a project about this overload of information we get now. We don’t have to look for information – now we have to filter information. It’s all there, literally a lick away. The task is moved from finding information to filtering it.
Yeah. That’s the word. I wanted to make music like that – like being on YouTube, or changing the channels on your TV really fast, or being able to travel round the world in 24 hours. I wanted to do something very now.
You call Croatian Amor “bubblegum industrial”. It has this unsettling industrial aspect to it, but melodically you’re reaching for something beautiful.
It’s all about beauty. And maybe about finding beauty in strange places. But there is definitely a longing to make something beautiful. But then I think that’s true of any project I’ve ever been involved in. I want to make something pretty [laughs]. That’s what I want.
Your last album as Croatian Amor was titled The World. A lot of your earlier work has used Scandinavian or European symbolism. Does this signify a broadening of concerns?
Yeah. All of a sudden I was spending more time in the world than I was spending in Copenhagen or Scandinavia. And of course that changes what you can talk about. All of a sudden I wasn’t seeing the grocery man at the end of my street, I was seeing strangers on the other side of the world. Maybe that’s a broadening, or maybe just a change of climate. And I suppose I realised yesterday that the new Lust For Youth record is called International. So of course, they are dealing with the same stuff. These endless amounts of adventures that you are involved with, as you tour the world – but also a disconnect in some way. Ultimately if you are a visitor, there are certain experiences you can’t have – you have these very brief, often very intense relationships with some people, but ultimately they only last 12 hours. It was very much about that – of coping with this new reality.
Do you take to that climate well?
Yes, I think I do. I think I have a never-ending need for new experiences [laughs]. But it’s also problematic in some ways.
The new Lust For Youth album is radically pop. When I interviewed Hannes a couple of years ago, he was talking about being a fan of the Pet Shop Boys, and I was like, OK, I can hear a little bit of that. But the last two records have been big steps in the direction of pop. It doesn’t feel like you’re doing it to be subversive, it’s an earnest attempt at a pop project.
I look at is as pop music. It’s been a crazy experience, trying to make something that functions as pop. I don’t think I ever wanted to make that before. But the idea here was like, let’s make something that people would want to dance to, let’s make something that would want people want to do ecstasy and stay up all night. And I think I could take part in that process because I do feel like it’s still Hannes’ project, even if me and Malthe [Fischer, guitar and production] wrote as much of this record as he did. But you’re still putting it into this project that is not something that I invented. And it’s been fun – it still is fun. Very much a learning experience. Maybe coming from underground music, you fall into the trap of thinking making pop music is the easy thing. That couldn’t be more wrong [laughs]. It’s the most difficult thing.
You can make something that kind of sounds like pop – but making something that people respond to as pop is difficult.
Yeah. I don’t know how it works, still. But it was a good process. I learned a lot on this album – both me and Hannes learned a lot. Malthe brought a lot in. He comes from a real music background – he was in the group Oh No Ono, who I actually had never heard until recently. While me and Hannes come from not-normal music backgrounds.
Hannes comes from the Utmarken scene in Sweden, which I gather was not unlike Posh Isolation?
You could say that. But working in the studio, going over things again and again was a different way of working. But I like it a lot, I learned a lot. Ultimately that’s what all these different projects are about. Exploring new ground. And so it that way for me it felt like an experiment. In a way it was an experimental record for me, it was finding a new language I had never spoken before.
Will it feed back into other things you make?
I think so, some of it will. I’ve never worked in one project. Since I started it’s always been a collage of different ideas and different images. I think of it like a clothing closet. And I have women’s clothes, and men’s clothes and pretty dresses and worn-out T-shirts, and put them all together. I’m like a drag queen or something.
The image of the transgender beauty queen Jenna Talackova appears on some Posh Isolation releases and mailouts. What does she represent to you?
I think of Jenna Talackova as a proponent for real freedom. A person very much of this world, and not of the fantasy worlds where I do my work, where I put on my dresses. She reaches the mainstream, something so bizarre as the Miss Universe competition, and she makes that place better. She makes people realise – or at least she makes them think, and with her fight she fights for transgendered people in general. And by fighting for transgendered people, she fights for the world. For the real world, for the big shared room where we can’t, and should not want to escape. I don’t understand the Miss Universe competition, but the fact that questions like hers are raised in a forum like that, so full of ignorance, is a very powerful thing. By her doing so, she made the world a tiny bit more beautiful. And I side with beauty, always.
I saw you perform as Damien Dubrovnik in London the other month, and your performance is pretty intense – gagging yourself with a microphone, dunking your head in a bucket of ice. I was wondering if the Actionist artists were an inspiration.
That’s definitely an inspiration. But what really changed things for me was the first time I got to read [Antoine] Artaud, the surrealist theatre critic and theorist.
This is the Theatre Of Cruelty stuff?
Yeah. It’s all about how you use the stage, how you address an audience. Artaud had this quote I keep going back to, and it’s about theatre, but it could be about music or any sort of live performance. That if you use these tools, you can ultimately create emotion that is stronger than we ultimately have in reality. That you could be more in love, watching the theatre, or you could be more sad watching the theatre, than you could be in real life. A heightened experience. When we work with performance in the field of art, we’re not working from reality – that would be lying. But we’re working with this sort of refined fantasy reflection of reality, where we can trim all the stuff that’s unnecessary away and find some sort of refined core of emotion.
A lot of noise and power electronics is an expression of a sort of macho power thing, which can certainly work sometimes, but for me often comes off a little boring. But when you perform with Damien Dubrovnik, you’re choosing to debase yourself, humiliate yourself. Aspects of it feel almost pornographic.
The place I come from, from Sexdrome and my early noise experiments, it was this very masculine, very aggressive angle. And to me that’s not so interesting anymore. I realised that’s not exactly what I am, or at least that’s not what I am all the time. I wanted to broaden the themes and the emotions in these fields. But I think you are quite right: there has been a pretty limited emotional palette and to me… I don’t need to be a white heterosexual man shouting any more. I think there are other things that are way more interesting.
And of course if we look at this tradition, well, Genesis P-Orridge is a great example. In a strange way he founded this music, and what he does is… it’s both masculine and feminine. It takes on the world, and all the different emotional aspects and personas that you have as a human being, I suppose. Ultimately I think that we should strive to be more honest, to have the work be as honest as possible. When the rules of a game are established, things become a genre, or a style. If you want to call your work experimental, that should be avoided at all costs. Because then it becomes music, and I’m not interested in making music, ultimately.
In an earlier interview, you talked about how your work was about “making spaces”, fantasy places that can exist within neoliberal or capitalist society. I wondered, is that because capitalist society is inescapable? Does that make your art a sort of capitulation, rather than a liberation?
[Thinks] I had this diary when I was a kid. And rather than writing a regular diary I was allowed to make up lies, if nothing interesting happened. I think that’s still what I’m doing. That you ultimately change things by… we said before that the whole beginning of Posh Isolation was kind of like a lie. In the beginning it was me and Christian and our friend Klaus [H Hansen]. We were all doing projects and giving them different names. The idea wasn’t really something that we spoke about, but we thought, if we make it look like a lot of people in Copenhagen doing stuff – if we make it look like a rich scene – maybe it will turn out that way. And it did, and now we don’t need to lie anymore. Then we started calling our scene like the best scene in the world – like there’s no music scene better. And now I can genuinely agree to that. Art can be sort of lying. But I think of it as lying in a very respectful way. Or lying to make the work as good as it can be.
But I think I also said before that rather than trying to change this world through these projects, it’s about building another one. And I will still say, that’s how I prefer to work. Ultimately I’m not clever enough to tell people what the world should be like, because I don’t know. But I should tell people what my world should be like. People should agree to go into those rooms, if they want to. That’s how I look at the performances, the releases, the label – it’s an invitation into rooms. And The Wild Palms is trying to take that further. It’s a more demanding room and hopefully a more rewarding room.
What was the music that really set you on your path?
I never wanted to be a musician. I remember growing up and my friends forming rock bands, and I had no interest in that world. Ultimately I find no appeal in that classic idea of rock’n’roll. I am not rock’n’roll. I think the first time I realised that music could really be something else was when I saw my first noise show. I was taking part in an exhibition in Copenhagen with some other young people, aged 15 or something, and one of my friends had invited someone to do a noise performance in my friend’s studio space. When I saw this, I realised that you could make images using sound that were stronger than those hanging on the wall.
A few years later I was doing another art show in this fancy galley in Copenhagen. It was quite bizarre that I had been invited to it, actually. At the time, I had moved away from home, but I had a small room in my father’s apartment where I could work on my paintings and drawing, and I had been working there for months and months. And in this small room I had the paintings and the drawings filled the space. It felt monumental. But when I went to this gallery I started hanging my paintings, and I noticed a change when I put them on these big white gallery walls. It was as if the colours faded a bit. I remember being nervous – like, what’s happening to the work? When the opening happened the entire space filled with people, and I remember it was like all the paintings had disappeared, there was nothing hanging on the walls anymore. And it made me very sad, frustrated – to a point where I had to leave.
And I went to a noise show that Christian was putting on, a Prurient show. I come into this small basement space, and I get there as Dominick was about to start. And he plays 10 or 15 minutes of feedback from microphones, with screaming. I remember thinking that no matter how big the gallery was, no matter how white the walls, no matter how much free white wine was served, there is no way you could be indifferent to this. If that was put into that space I had exhibited in, people would have been forced to listen, to engage.
Even if it meant turning and running.
Yeah. And that was when I decided I wasn’t going to be a painter anymore. I was going to make noise music. You know, I don’t have any musical abilities – I don’t know much about anything really. I think I’m a pretty good listener [laughs]. I was sitting in a studio a few months back and someone asked me to play a C on a synthesizer. And I had to tell them I didn’t know what key was the C.
Technology is a means to an end.
Yeah. And when I don’t have all the technology, I end up listening more. And that’s when you make good music, when you listen.
Ostensibly, Posh Isolation is an industrial noise label. But seeing the stuff you have coming out – indie rock groups like Communions, techno music from Mischa Pavlovski, more orchestrated chamber music from Vanessa Amara – it feels like little of what you do fits this industrial or noise niche.
We never wanted to be an industrial or noise label. From the beginning, that was never the idea. Genre is something that someone came up with to make music journalism easier.
Sure, but there are many labels that would think of themselves as industrial or noise labels, and would guard that boundary.
I don’t have any interest in that. I don’t belong to a certain scene. I don’t think we belong to a certain scene. I think if anything we belong to our own scene. Posh Isolation feels very natural. We’ve been working together a few years, me and Christian, and it flows very easily. The label decides for us, in a way – it’s just a product of the community that we’re a part of here in Copenhagen. There are definitely industrial or noise releases coming up, but ultimately we’re about good art. That’s what it’s about I think. And a certain feeling that I can’t – I’ve been asked to explain it before and I can’t, it becomes unsatisfying to put it into words. But there is this thing that is Posh Isolation, and it’s in all the releases we put it out. It’s there and it has to be there.
I guess that’s why you make the work. To find out what that thing is.
Yeah. We’re getting closer, every time. You know, I still feel like we’re really just starting up. It’s a strange feeling because people talk to you in a different way, now Posh Isolation has been around for five years, and put out over 100 releases. But I never envisaged it as a record label. It’s not even what I want it to be now. I think of it like a room to enter, or a monument that’s being built. And all the different releases are bricks. That’s the way I like to think of it.