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Interview: Chris Shape/Su Eko

"Bela Lugosi's Dead is obsessive and repetitive, it's already techno music."

by François Zappa

One of the main attractions of going to certain festivals, is to see new collaborations between artists that you follow that hadn’t played together before. So, this year we will see Velvet Kills’ sensual voice Su Eko together with the powerful rhythms of Italian producer Chris Shape. Both artists have been recording for the same label, Unknown Pleasures Records and worked together in a couple of tracks that left us dreaming of more. They are playing together for the first time at Ombra Festival that will take place from the 24th to the 26th of November. The unknown pleasures born of new collaborations.

―Chris, you played in two Goth bands at the beginning of the nineties, Flower of Sin and Marika Martyr. How do you remember those days? Did you have any other band before?

Marika Martyr was my first band with Matteo Leoni and Alberto Frignani. We were schoolmates and Depeche Mode fans. We started playing with some electronic stuff we had at home: Roland Tr505, Roland D5, Casio SK1 and SK5, trying to make electronic music. We were teenagers and the first reason we saw ourselves playing was because we had so much fun, we spent most of the time laughing at our silly jokes. Flower of Sin was my second band. It was Raffaele Venturelli, a dear friend I met in my city’s goth scene, who insisted on joining them because he lacked a keyboard player and someone who could program the electronic drums. In the meantime, I bought a Korg M1 which also became my first sequencer.

―How did you move from there to trance and techno music? Just a few years later you were in projects like Super F, Sensoria, Venusia and Wings of Joy. You were linked to the Cocoricò club, right?

―I have been attracted to electronic and repetitive dance music since the early 90s when the wave of techno / Rave culture hit the pyramid of the Cocoricò in Riccione which became the most famous Italian techno club in the world. In ’93, intrigued, I entered the Cocoricò for the first time and it was love at first sight. I quickly left the goth circles and Marika Martyr‘s music became more techno. We began to collaborate with the number 1 dj of Cocoricò: Dj Cirillo. In short, Marika Martyr became Sensoria who then produced almost all the records of DJ Cirillo and recorded with various pseudonyms dozens of vinyls ranging from Eurodance to trance and hardcore.

Here things got more serious, and our game became a job. At the time, you could earn a lot of money selling vinyls and record labels were giving out large advances. Quite the opposite of today, it seems prehistoric!

―With Franz & Shape you returned a bit to your dark roots, especially EBM and industrial and collaborated with Dirk Da Davo a few years ago. What happened with this project?

―At the end of the 90s, I got tired of the techno scene that had become too static, let alone the early 2000s when minimal was in fashion. For a few years I devoted myself to an electro-pop project: Countermove.

Then, I met Franz in 2003 while he was doing a DJ set with very interesting electronic music in the Cocoricò’s garden. I was excited with techno again because he made me discover a world of new electronic music underground artists also linked to my goth / new wave origins. These were the years of Vitalic‘s “Poney EP” which made me realize that techno music could renew itself. I started producing new music with Franz & Shape without thinking about how many copies I would sell or the charts, trying to do only what we liked. It was a success.

―You toured a lot with this band, right?

―A lot!! I finally managed to make one of my dreams come true: to play my music around the world. For 10 years we played all over Italy, in all the most important European cities plus one tour in the USA and 2 in Australia.

―At the same time, you had this other AKA, “ICN” more focussed on IDM. What did you like of this style? Before, you also released a couple of albums of IDM under your own name, right

―At the same time, I also became a live music resident at Cocoricò and started releasing chill out / edm experiments that I was playing live in the Cocoricò garden, a job I did until 2018.

―Your first release as Chris Shape was called Eat the Bankers, exactly the same name as you last ICN album. Did you want to create any kind of link/continuity or just thought that the name was too good to use it only in that work?

―Yes, the name was too good to leave it tied to chillout/electronic productions to which I did not give any weight.

―With you and Abraxas in the line-up, Ombra more than a festival is going to be an anti-capitalism meeting. As we already asked him, do you think that there is a solution to capitalism?

―I have been living the solution for almost 20 years. I live in the countryside, I have farmyard animals, a vegetable garden, fruit trees, I cut trees to make wood that warms me all winter long. I do not have a television and many other appliances, I am a vegetarian and eat only fresh food produced in the area, I do not go to shopping centres, I try to buy only local products, no multinationals products, and no pharmaceutical products. I push the use of bartering by donating my time to others. I am aware that the purpose of life is to fulfil oneself and money is an obstacle.

―There are a lot of new producers coming back to EBM and creating what could be called Techno Body Music. Why do you see that this style has become so popular again and what do you find interesting in it?

―The sound of Front 242, DAF, Nitzer Ebb, Pankow that I listened to in my youth has remained indelibly imprinted on me for almost 40 years and influences what I produce. I don’t know why EBM music has returned in the recent years, but I was very happy with it as it gave me the drive to start a solo career as Chris Shape after Franz and Shape split in 2012.

―In Italy we knew the label Gang of Ducks and all the artists around. Do you see yourself part of any scene there or just more linked to the UPR roster?

―I’m so happy that in Italy we have some new good techno EBM producers and labels. At the moment in Italy this music is more related to underground parties. More than feeling part of the scene I feel myself part of the universe… ahahaha.

―You collaborated on a digital EP with Dave Inox for UPR sublabel +Closer2: What can you please tell us about this collaboration?

―I met Dave on FB and he had already worked with Pedro from UPR. It was he who asked me to collaborate, so we decided to do an EP together for the new Pedro’s label +Closer2. It was a great collaboration and an excellent result.

―Have you been following +Closer2? Any album that you have liked?

―I’m a fan of UPR and +Closer2 is an enormous catalogue! Pedro has been able to discover many new artists who produce high-level music, his work is a great gift to the world underground scene. I like many things in his catalogue, but I don’t mention names … They are all friends 🙂

―How did you choose the voices for the album Shaped to Deform?

―As a Dj, I’m constantly searching for new music for my sets. I simply contacted the singers that I like the most.

―You have been using analog gear in your last releases, I guess also in Shaped to Deform. What are the advantages according to you?

―To answer this question, I would have to write a book but I try to be concise: the analog gear is pure fetishism, there are no advantages! With modern software synthesizers and plug-ins, you could make a great sounding track in a few hours, with analog gear it takes you many days … but that’s not fun! I prefer to grow and eat my own vegetables, they are not perfect, they don’t shine, they have been attacked by some insects …. but they taste so good to me!

―In the track “Fuori dal Fango” you have collaborated with Alberto Frignani, who also appeared in a lot of your projects. What can you please tell us about him?

―We have been friends for more than 30 years. I worked with him throughout the 90s: he wrote melodies and voices and I was the producer, it was a great team. Then he decided to do a “real” job and to leave the music production. When I wrote the lyrics for “Fuori dal Fango” I thought he was the perfect interpreter because in my head I wanted to reproduce that “vocal sound” that was present in the first productions, like Marika Martyr where Alberto was the singer.

―You have also collaborated with Blind Delon in two tracks. We saw them live at Ombra last year and we are also big fans of their music. Why did you want to collaborate with them?

―I’m simply a great fan of BD as you are! Was an honour for me to collaborate with them. Blind Delon are great producers, writers, interpreters and they do a lot of sound research as I do…. I think they should be much more “famous”!

―Recently you have done a new edition of the album, released only in cassette with new tracks, among them a remix by Qual. Did you want to give more visibility to the album with this new reissue?

―I had contacted Pablo and Thomas (Imperial Black Unit) of Area Z to release the single “Holy Ron” on their label, then things grew and we decided to also print my album on cassette enriched with 2 unreleased tracks and remixes by Chainbreakers (Pablo Bozzi and Foreign Policy) OTHR and QUAL. Of course, it also served to give more visibility to the whole project.

―You live in the countryside as you said before. It’s weird because your music sounds very urban and makes me think about futuristic cities.

―I like to live in the countryside but I work in the city, I hate technology, but I work with computers and machines, that’s why I have a white and black moustache!

―You made a cover for the Death in June cover album and said that they have always influenced you, but how do you think that they have been important for your music?

―I was a collector of their records in the 80s and their fan. Analysing their tracks in search of the song that, in my opinion, could have worn a new dress for my cover, I realized how much my way of playing and composing has been influenced by them. There have been more or less occult references to Death in June in my songs since the 90s.

―We also heard your cover of Sisters of Mercy and you have been in the three Honoris. Do you enjoy making covers? What song would you like to cover?

―This is strange because since I started writing music over 30 years ago, I have never loved doing covers and this is also one of the reasons why I have never seriously learned to play a musical instrument. Today, however, I had a lot of fun making the 3 covers that appeared in the 3 editions of Honoris. It was a great challenge: to make a cover for me is to give a different interpretation to a song I love! To make it the same as the original even if with modern sounds it makes no sense to me. It was very difficult to bring these 3 songs into a “dancing” environment without losing their spirit and without disappointing their fans, like myself. I think I got a good result judging by the views and comments from the audience. A new song to cover? Dozens… but I’ll wait till Honoris IV 😉

―Your second collaboration con Su Eko was the cover of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. Is it difficult to approach such a classic to do a cover? Why did you choose that song?

―”Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is obsessive and repetitive, it’s already techno music: I just made it more obvious for people to feel it. It was not easy to make this cover because there was a risk of being burned in front of all the Bauhaus fans. I think in “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” I’ve reached a good compromise by adding an EBM techno touch without taking away the mystical vibe of the original version. And Su Eko is the perfect voice who can compete with the strength of Peter Murphy.

—We have focused the interview on Chris as we would like to interview Su Eko and Velvet Kills in the future but we would like to ask her a few questions too. Su, how did you meet Chris and get involved in this project?

―Su Eko: We were introduced through Pedro Peñas Robles from our label Unknown Pleasures Records, I think, it was in 2020. Our 1st collaboration was “Crises”. I really enjoyed working with Chris, we’ve continued working together ever since. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was a great challenge and Chris totally boosted my fire to produce the music video. We are so happy with what we have accomplished together.

—Your main band is Velvet Kills and you have recorded two albums with them, the second one quite successful. When and how did you and Harris started the project?

―Su Eko: We met in 2014 at a music festival in Portugal. Harris moved to Portugal a few months later and we had the opportunity to spend a lot of time together playing music and finding new ways to express through.

Our debut EP “Memory” was released in 2015. We caught the attention of Unknown Pleasures Records, who contacted us for our upcoming album. Mischievous Urges was released with UPR and Oráculo Records, both in 2017. The album was considered one of the best albums in Portugal by Radar Radio. Our latest record Bodhi Labyrinth was released in early 2020 with Icy Cold Records, Manic Depression Records and UPR.

This album brings us into the reality of our current society with messages encoded in sarcasm, euphemism, hyperbole and irony, where we dig deeper into the archives of a lonely civilisation and question the purpose of life versus government structures. Two weeks after the release of the BL music video “Bitch Face”, the world went into lockdown with an epidemic of covid and the message of the album became even clearer to

—When is going to be ready the new Velvet Kills album? Can you advance anything of it?

―Su Eko: I’m so excited to share the new album with you, but I can’t reveal more at the moment.

—As we have been talking a lot about tributes in this interview, we would like to ask you about your song on “Icon – Tribute to Siouxsie and the Banshees”. Was Siouxsie an important influence in your way of singing?

―Su Eko: This tribute was a lovely invitation from Oil Lec. Siouxsie‘s voice is wonderful, I love her work, but she was not a major influence on my singing. I love the challenge of working on tribute songs, I learn from the best, it’s inspiring and it was great to read ICON‘s review in Rolling Stone Magazine.

—What can we expect in the future of Chris Shape and Su Eko? More collaborations?

―Su Eko: We want to continue this adventure and keep making music full of great energy. We are planning an EP together and more shows to be announced after our Ombra debut.

—What can we expect of your concert at Ombra Festival?

―Su Eko: You can expect to dance, a lot. 🙂

―Chris Shape: I know what I expect, that’s why I’m so afraid hahaha!!!!

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