With our interview series »10 Questions With…,« we would like to introduce you to a number of bands and artists from this year’s Pop-Kultur programme who definitely deserve a place in your playlists and hearts. After SADO OPERA and MADANII & LLUCID, we welcome the Berlin-based duo Mueran Humanos this week.
- You have been releasing music together since 2007. How did you originally meet and what sparked your collaboration?
Carmen Burgess: We met in Buenos Aires when Tomas was leaving his old band DIOS behind and I was playing in another band called Mujercitas Terror. A few years later, Tomas was living in Europe and I came to visit. I was kind of disappointed with music and wanted to only make art and experimental films. However, living together we also started to play just for ourselves, and I couldn’t escape it. Tomas proposed to start an art group in which I would be doing my stuff – most of it video experiments – and we would produce music to go along with it, a bit like Coum Transmissions. We gradually evolved from an art group to a kind of rock band. Many of my early film works were dug up again when we made the movie that accompanies our new album »Hospital Lullabies.«
- The video that accompanies »Hospital Lullabies« was directed and shot by Carmen. What was your motivation to make a film for not only two or three songs, but the entire album?
Carmen: We were close to finishing the mixing process and were talking with the label about the details of the release. One day I mentioned towards a friend of ours that usually Mueran Humanos songs on YouTube get more views as uploads by anonymous users who just use the cover artwork than the proper music videos do. So my friend said that for this album, we should upload the whole album before anyone else does it. We liked the idea and started to go through all the material that I had gathered. While we were mixing the album we started to notice how the images were in sync with the album, so I started to work hard on putting it together with the music, also filming new material.
- The video is quite literally very visceral and blends body horror with eroticism. How do the pictures correspond with the music and the lyrical themes?
Carmen Burgess: I approach both music and video instinctively. You can clearly see eroticism with a hint of madness in the movie and you can also feel it – well, at least the ones that have feelings left inside of them – while hearing our music. The girls that appear in the movie are wild; in the video you’ll see depictions of pristine childhood. The same goes for us and with our music. Everything that I do follows the same approach: it must be playful and real.
- Your record covers have a very stark aesthetic and most of them feature human, almost puppet-like faces that have mutated or have even been mutilated in some way or another. Where does this implicit leitmotif stem from?
Tomas Nochteff: Most of the covers – not the last one but all the others – a part of a project Carmen did and for which she worked with the teen magazine Seventeen. Carmen made seventeen cover versions of seventeen Seventeen covers and got very violent with them. I saw it as a reaction to what society demands of young girls, which is to be dumb and superficial. Carmen unleashed her hate for that concept with a lot of humour, cruelty, and gore. That’s just my opinion and I’m not sure if she’ll agree with it, there’s probably more to it. Anyhow, we thought they make perfect album covers. We liked the absurdity of them and also the balance between beauty and repulsion.
- Pop music is usually dominated by English lyrics, especially in the field of rock and electronic music. What does singing in Spanish mean to you?
Carmen: Well, it feels like the entire world is dominated by the English language, not only the music world. But it is not like that inside my own world, and there is quite a lot going on inside that world. I am too busy to even think about that! I easily notice how classist and also sometimes racist people are, I especially hate it when I see this in people who are supposedly part of the counterculture. I have met people in music scene that really think they were born as police rather than as artists or musicians. Of course if you are from a rich country it is more difficult to recognise this because simply most of the times you will be treated better just because of where you come from. I am from a poor country and that put us at a disadvantage as a band, I guess. But I am an artist, not a yuppie. We sing in Spanish simply because for us it is natural and real. It doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t sing in French or German or English or Vietnamese if it just came naturally.
Tomas: There was no plan, really. Singing in Spanish felt natural for us, we were surprised at first when people started to listen to it. Then I thought that listening to music without understanding the lyrics is a beautiful experience actually. You make up the lyrics on the fly by using your imagination. I don’t think you have to understand the lyrics to get what we do.
- Literature is an important part of the Mueran Humanos universe. What writers have you been enjoying lately and who would you suggest people should pay more attention to?
Tomas: Lately I finished reading the complete works of Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood, my two favourite cosmic horror writers; anything by them is great. I started to get into Graham Greene’s novels. They are entertaining and has some depth at the same time, which is something I appreciate. I also started to get into the works of Mario Levrero and Rodolfo Fogwill as well as Mina Loy’s poetry. There’s a novel I recently found and loved, »Generación Cochebomba« by Martin Roldan. It is set in Lima in the late eighties, during the Sendero Luminoso years. I highly recommend it. The writer is a punk musician, he was there and the novel is like a punch in the face. I hope it gets translated at some point, it deserves to be.
- Your music is very multi-faceted, drawing from experimental electronic sounds and more conventional rock structures. What are the ingredients that are essential to a Mueran Humanos song?
Tomas: I don’t think we ever have written a song that follows a conventional rock structure, but I get what you are trying to say. Indeed we have a very high standard of what a Mueran Humanos song should have. You are correctly guessing that it’s a number of elements that can collide with each other. Usually it starts with a raw, abstract sound that we like, but then we want it to have a meaning, so we add lyrics, which can take very long. Then it also needs a good melody, a good rhythm, and of course a distinct atmosphere and a hypnotic quality. We want every song to be a living entity, like a place to which you can go to… It’s a very ambitious goal that probably is impossible to achieve, but what’s the point of not being ambitious? As the song says, »it’s my party, and I cry if I want to.«
- Your albums usually have a very »live« feeling to them. What does your working and recording process look like?
Tomas : As with everything for us it’s an experiment and usually it’s a long and very detailed process, but we always put in some improvised bits or something that had been recorded quickly to make it livelier. We don’t want it to sound too clean or precise, we chase a feeling, an atmosphere, and parts of our records are crafted as in if in a laboratory, with attention to detail and some very »un-punk« methods. We can fight for three days straight over the level of a snare drum, get very obsessive and lose our minds. It’s unhealthy, I suppose, but I love it. If you are not willing to become mad about your art, what’s the point of making it? We throw spontaneous things on our records to counterbalance that, also leaving in a few mistakes sometimes, mistakes that could be fixed but for some reason we prefer not to do that. It’s alchemy.
- Especially your concerts showcase your knack for excessive improvisations, not unlike those of classic Krautrock or psychedelic bands. What kind of experience do you want to provide for your audience?
Tomas: Our live shows are where the group is at its best. We create our music live anyway, both of us playing at the same time. On stage our songs have open structures so we can stretch or modify them. We don’t know exactly how we are going to play them on a particular night. It’s a living thing. I like the danger of it.
- Obviously though, your contribution to Pop-Kultur will differ from the usual Mueran Humanos experience. Can you already tell us a little about what you’re planning to contribute?
Tomas: We are doing a video fanzine as an intervention within in TV show that Pop-Kultur will be. In it, we will show different things that we have made across different media. It will be shot and recorded all in our studio in Berlin especially for the festival by us and a team of frequent collaborators.