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Interview: Das Ding

by François Zappa

The resurgence of interest in 80s cassette culture has brought us a lot of incredible material and, without any doubt, the music of Das Ding is among the best. Thanks to the Minimal Wave compilation released in 2009, his music has been appreciated by a lot of new fans and since then, Danny Bosten has released a lot of very interesting material. He will be playing on the 28th of November at the Ombra Festival in Barcelona. It might be the last chance of seeing him playing live.

You started your music career in a punk band called Spastix. Do you think that you have kept the punk spirit in your music? I mean you have always been very DIY and tried to keep the music as simple as possible.

I would say it’s the post-punk spirit, but yes, the DIY aspect is squarely punk. Or maybe it is just a matter of practicalities we learned from the punk spirit.

—The name of your main project Das Ding means The Thing, as a reference to Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks’s classic “The Thing from another world.” Did you watch John Carpenter’s The Thing back in the day? Do you like that remake?

I was, and remain, a big SF geek, and all of Carpenter is great, also his music. I saw The Thing on German TV when I was looking for a name, and ‘Das Ding’ immediately seemed perfect. The remake is wonderful!

—Most of your initial gear came from your brother’s dismantled band. As most of the equipment were synths and sequencers, I wonder what kind of music he was making. Was your brother an influence for you? Did he help you at your beginning to use those machines?

It was a Rock band (called Link), but they experimented a bit with synths and sequencers a little at the end, just my luck! We all dabbled in music, but he is a phenomenal guitarist, and I figured out the equipment by myself.

—You have always named Fad Gadget as an influence and we, at the Garaje, don’t like to miss a chance of talking about him. What do you like of him and how do you think his music has influenced your career?

It was the simplicity of the songs and the clarity of expression in songs like ‘Back to Nature’, I saw him on TV and thought, ‘I could do that!’

—What can you please tell us of the creation of Highly Sophisticated Technological Achievement in 1982? Why the reissue on Minimal Wave had different tracks? I mean why to keep the same name when it wasn’t the same album?

Nothing especially stood out when I recorded that. You just keep typing sequences into the machines until you hit a lucky combination (and add lots of delay!) I was very happy with that recording. The album was more a compilation curated by Veronica, so it was up to her. Though we did do a back and forth about what would be included.

—I am really curious about your time being part of a squat. Did you actually live there or only work with them? How was the atmosphere there? Did you have any relation with punk legendary band The Ex?

Yes, I was a squatter for many years. It was a bit grim at times, having to fortify your house against the police or angry homeowners who would send their hired hands to threaten you. We hung around the Emma, a legendary punk venue in Amsterdam, with the Ex and many others, like BGK and de Kift. So yes, I know all those people. Our band – The Cherry Orchard- did its last gig at a garden party annually hosted by the Ex.

—At the same time, you were part of the artist collective called “STORT.’ What kinds of events were you organizing?

That was total chaos mostly, parodies of political rallies, strange installations, too much to mention. I wrote the speeches, mostly, and was involved with the sounds/music, and the radio show we did twice a week on Patapoe and Radio 100 in Amsterdam.

—You were in different bands during this 30 years “hyatus” until Minimal Wave released your songs. What kind of music were you doing at the time?

All kinds of stuff, whatever I fancied at the time, lots of guitar music and industrial noise, and everything in between. But the emergence of a renewed Das Ding provided a clarity of concept I found very satisfying.

—You have often called your work “robot music.” Is it because of the futuristic vibe of the music or do you also imply the loss of humanity in society?

It’s mostly the futuristic vibe, in the sense that the machines are expressing themselves, sometimes through lucky accidents and quirks in connectivity, things like that. But it is still a human that pushes the ‘start’ button.

—In December 2007, Frans de Waard created a post about you in his No longer forgotten music blog. That was the very beginning of your comeback. Were you aware of this? According to you, is there still any artist of the time that should be rediscovered?

I was not aware of the resurgence of an interest in 80s music, no. Until Veronica contacted me, I hadn’t seen the blog post before that. It just totally passed by me! Funny.

—How do you approach Why Is My Life So Boring?, your first new album as Das Ding? Did you want to separate your modern work from what you did in the past and was being reissued at the time?

Not really that different, though maybe a bit more polished. After all I had more and better equipment. Still very happy with that record, especially the last tracks of each side, these are like benchmarks to me.

—You have recorded material for important labels such as Pinkman or Mechatronica. Do you try to adjust your music according to the general style of the label or don’t really care about this? Although I ask you at the end about your live in Ombra that it’s going to focus on your two 12″ for Mechatronica, what can you tell us of these releases?

I never took that approach, after all, they asked me, so I guess what I was doing was what they liked. There are always practical requests such as longer intro’s and outro’s for the DJs, etc., and to make the collection a unified whole as an EP, but that’s all. I’m very happy with the Mechatronica EPs, it is one of those labels that give precise and excellent feedback about your tracks and the collection.

—After Missing Tapes, can we expect more compilations of non-released old material?

There is no more old stuff that’s worth compiling, but who knows. Maybe I’ll find an old cassette somewhere (I have a few hundred stashed away)

—In an interview you said that you wanted to make “an album with songs that are completely finished, so with lyrics, verses and choruses and such.” Do you still want to go in this direction? Are you planning to make a more synth pop album? Or just more pop?

I’m still doing that, for Electronic Emergencies in 2022, hopefully. But maybe not all the songs will be that complete (with lyrics and stuff).

—In Summer we made a contest to win HIV+’s last album and one of the winners was Dmitry Distant, who released an album on your label, Tear Apart Tapes. It’s a very small world. How do you select the artists who will appear on it? What can we expect of the future of the label?

It is mostly through meeting people in real life and working from there. The label is now mostly producing eurorack modules and it’s become almost a full-time job now! Internet sales have exploded during the Covid lockdown, and I’m doing very well with that, it’s crazy. For now, I focus on that. I would like to do more records and tapes, but records are expensive and always a gamble. Cassettes not so much, of course, that’s the DIY thing.

—In your second reference, a compilation called Kalkulator, there are bands related to Spastix but also a track by Jad Fair. Is he one of the brothers of Half Japanese? If the answer is affirmative, how did you contact him?

Yes, that’s him. We just wrote to him and asked for a contribution. I still have the original cassette somewhere, Woolworths brand! (That’s an American chain of warehouses.)

—With your more experimental AKA, Schedelvreter, you released a cassette in 1985 (reissued in 2012). What were your influences in that album? Are you finally going to release an album with new material of Schedelvreter?

—It’s in the planning for Futura Resistenza records, some stuff already recorded. I want to make a concept album about ‘Cosmic Nihilism’! 

Schedelvreter was conceived to be a break from the “rigid” Das Ding format, not completely pattern-based or sequenced, the synth sounds are hand-played over a collage of found sounds. At the time, I had a Crumar synth that was falling apart, and would sporadically create sounds that were like human voices. I created massive drum sounds by layering noise, using leftover four-track additions in reverse and some live drum recording courtesy of his brother’s tapes. The end result feels narrative and filmic, like the sound track to an imaginary apocalyptic movie: bleak and desolate. I was heavily influenced by the bleak atmospherics of the original Frankenstein movie, and the strange, alien stories from 16th-century missionaries that went to the New World.

A strange clip appeared on YouTube for one of the songs: “Cibola”, accompanied by footage taken from a Soviet tank in – I think – Afghanistan, which perfectly sums up the mood:

—You put music to the short “Cat Soup” for an event. Would you like to do the same with movies?

I love that cartoon, the sad story of its creators, but it’s a lot of work.

—In an interview you said that you wanted to write a novel. Is it true?

I write a lot, I love it, but it’s not my main focus at the moment. There’s just not enough time to do all the things I want to do, so it’s better to focus.

—You are also building your own line of sequencers, called Baby 8. What can you please tell us about this?

Like I said, the label is focused on that now, I’ve sold a lot of the sequencers, hundreds by now. It’s a great hobby to focus on, an escape from all the craziness in the world today. Without outlets like these, I would go mad from worry about the state of the planet and the people.

—What can we expect of your concert at Ombra Festival? Is it going to be focused on your Mechatronica releases?

Since it’s for them, I will focus on those, but also include some new stuff and the classics, of course.

—We read that you were planning of retiring. Is it going to be your last concert?

For now I have a strong feeling that it will be. After 18 months of the Covid craziness hiatus, looking back on all the gigs, it seems crazy to me now to dismantle my home studio, pack it up, drag it across the world, at the mercy of the baggage ‘handlers’ and reassemble it in some dark room, with fog machines and strobe lights and loud noises, haha. (I sometimes compare it to astronaut training, or police horse training; how can he do it under these conditions!) But in the end a good gig is worth it. But I don’t know if I will do more gigs after this, honestly. There will always be music, but performing is a different thing.

In March 2020, just before Covid became a pandemic, I was broke, worried I didn’t have enough gigs, so I took a day job at the Dutch mail company. I literally started working on the day that physical distancing and all the measures were introduced here in the Netherlands. Then, all nightlife stopped! All my friends were without jobs, on state Covid welfare support. Not me. Funny coincidence. I opened up an Etsy shop and made more money than in a year’s worth of gigs!

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charlie 5 October 2021 - 18 h 14 min

Very nice interview! build music, not bombs.

François Zappa 5 October 2021 - 18 h 15 min

Thank you 🙂


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