A dark pairing of two legends in the scene produces a fascinating blend of tripped out techno and sensual industrialized grooves. Mona Mur and En Esch discuss their electric alliance, hinting at plans to invade U.S. shores in 2012.
An Interview with En Esch and Mona Mur
By: Ilker Yücel
Mona Mur and En Esch need no introduction to the underground industrial scene; as two of the most revered and creative artists in their field, they’ve helped shape the musical foundations for dark electronic and industrial music since the ‘80s. Mur, having worked with a variety of musicians such as Joachim Witt, Christian St. Claire and members of Einstürzende Neubauten, has been heralded as one of the dark underground scene’s most active and dynamic vocalists, while Esch is renowned for his years as a member of KMFDM, Slick Idiot and Pigface, contributing his multi-instrumental and vocal skills. Coming together and performing across Europe, the two signed to Pale Music International and released 120 Tage: The Fine Art of Beauty and Violence in 2009, featuring a number of songs originally released by Mur, as well as a number of covers of dark cabaret classics from the likes of Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill, topped off by the “Candy Cane” single. Seeking distribution stateside, the duo signed with Artoffact Records, including additional remix tracks for the U.S. market. In 2011, they took to the stage in Chicago for the WaxTrax! Retrospectacle event, recalling the glory days of KMFDM with Günter Schulz, Mark Durante and Raymond Watts. Shortly thereafter, they released their second album together. With more of their own original material, written during their tour with Slick Idiot, Mona Mur and En Esch released Do With Me What You Want. A trippy amalgam of melodic techno and industrialized grooves, the album marked a uniquely gothic and sensual atmosphere unlike anything either artist had released previously. Later in the year, the pair performed a series of Canadian shows alongside the likes of Hanzel und Gretyl, Promonium Jesters and Three Inches of Blood. During their time on the road, the band took some time out during the mini-tour to speak with ReGen about their music and where they plan to take their dark visions in the upcoming year.
You guys supported Hanzel und Gretyl recently in Canada, correct?
Mur: No, not really supporting them. We played six gigs, and we had some very nice gigs in the west. It was really cool. In Canada, we played together with Three Inches of Blood. That was an awesome, big show; really, really enjoyable. People liked both of us. Even the metalheads were quite enthusiastic about us.
Esch: Yes, Three Inches of Blood is pretty much a metal band from Vancouver.
Mur: And they are really great!
Esch: We only played two songs from the album. We might play a little more in the future, but it’s really hard to decide what to play. But I don’t think the audience was that different, because there didn’t seem to be much of a hardcore metal crowd.
Mur: No, it wasn’t what we expected of a metal crowd.
Esch: Yeah, there were more young people who really enjoyed some different things and enjoyed the energy of a metal band.
Mur: Yes, and I enjoy them too, even though I’m not really a metal listener. They have some kind of harmony and changes in their songs that I really like. They were very sweet, and the whole thing was a good match, somehow. I don’t know how that worked, but it was great. And many people seemed to enjoy it.
Esch: I suppose the Canadian audience is maybe a little different than the U.S. perhaps in that they are better artistically. I mean, especially noticing on the tour of last year, we haven’t toured here in awhile, in ages. We had problems with a tour manager who was always drunk and lost our papers, so it was more like a circus to play to only 12 people. [Laughs.]
Mur: You really think the new album sounds very different from the last one?
Well, on the previous album, there were a lot of songs you’d released on your own before and featured collaborations with members of Neaubauten. There was more of a dynamic of the two of you working together.
Mur: Oh, yes, that’s right. The past is really done for me now. I’ve worked through it, so I’m really happy to be free to do new things, and this new album was so relaxing and good to do and not draw from the past. I’m very happy about that.
Esch: It was good to be able to do more things that we enjoy, like playing with different instruments, certain things that I enjoy. From my perspective, it was meant to be electronic, but not so electronic that I couldn’t use different things like space echo and delay.
Mur: Yes, it’s a very trippy album.
Esch: Yes, and we were adding much more of a sort of psychedelic element in it.
Mur: And I would say you’re right, there is more of a dynamic of the two of us together.
Esch: Yes, we hang out a lot and we are big friends, and we travel a lot, so we could create together.
Mur: It was very interesting. We don’t talk a lot, but there was the flow. As long as the flow is there, then we just go with it.
Esch: Better is perhaps not the right word, but it is different from the first album. It’s probably more homogenous. This new album, you really must listen to it from the beginning to the end; like listening to a symphony from Beethoven. On the other album, you could pick out certain songs that you like, but with this new album, there is more of a story, so context is a key.
Mur: It’s like a trip, so you must start from the beginning.
Mur: I very much go by the inspiration of the moment. Later, you find that things make sense, or a pattern or concept will appear. I think that just happens, but I can’t say that I start with a very…rational…idea, I guess. I really go very much by the inspiration of a certain moment.
On the first album, you covered a lot of material by the likes of Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill, but on the new album, there was the cover of Uriah Heep. What was it about that song that you feel contributed to the flow of the album as a whole?
Mur: I immediately said that I will do that song. Ever since I was a kid, a teenager, I wanted to do that song.
Esch: It’s something that we listened to when we were children. I like the idea of it being redone in a slow and sad way, because it is a very sad love story, like most of what we write.
Mur: Yeah, it’s a very bloody story.
Esch: And very minimal and very slow. That was the idea.
Mur: Yes, before that, it was a very tight and fast song where one would go apeshit and end up at the doctor afterward. It’s funny in a way, but I loved the song as a kid, and when Esch suggested it, I immediately said yes.
You both have been making music for a long time and have a long history in industrial music. While what you’re doing together now would arguably not be called industrial. What would you call it?
Esch: I suppose some kind of trippy techno. To call it industrial, I suppose, would make it easier for other people to understand. Obviously, in our case, we don’t feel it makes sense, but even in the KMFDM days, we didn’t call it industrial. We called it ‘Ultra Heavy Beat.’
Mur: The world needs categories.
Esch: Yeah, it’s always like that. People have a tendency to categorize stuff; otherwise, they’re not happy. I would call us trippy techno.
Mur: Yeah, just go beyond, like Throbbing Gristle. And they invented the term. There’s a big right wing German newspaper who 30 years later said, ‘Oh, we always knew that they are great concept artists.’ 30 years ago, they didn’t give a shit. Now, they say, ‘We always knew.’ But you should transcend the genre and absolutely ignore the people who don’t want to take a closer look. I’m sorry for them, but that’s how it is.
Mur: Well, if they do, that’s fair enough.
Esch: I think that a lot of people stay the same in my book. A lot of people will follow what you do, and we make our living off of people who have that constant or continuous taste and interest in good music, in our music.
Mur: Yes, but at the same time, you don’t always think about what the people think. You just have to do what you do. Do we see a change? Well… maybe. It is hard work and development. I don’t know.
Are there plans to put on a tour of the United States again?
Esch: We hope to make it to the States again, but a lot of it has to do with the technicalities of immigration and such: papers filed too late, routing discrepancies, this and that. We hope to, though. But in general, we may come back in May if all works out.
Mur: Of course, we will still do shows in Europe. We are working with FM Einheit on something that might be like Einheit, Esch and Mur. We’ve started working on that already, but nothing is ready yet, but it’s going to be pretty wild!
Both of you have touched on politics in past music and collaborations. What have you noticed about the state of U.S. politics from your perspective and how it’s affected your ability to perform in the States?
Esch: I don’t think that much has changed over the years. Obama does the same bullshit that everybody else does. I suppose it is a little more difficult from an immigration standpoint. A long time ago, during the WaxTrax!/TVT days, it was simpler and we would have things done a year ahead of time, and now it’s filed after you need it, like four weeks along. It’s a little more difficult, because they want to make sure that you have a history, and that you’re culturally together, so you have to prove to them that you have music out there and that it is stuff they want to see in America. I think that Europe is almost looking to America with a lot of interest. The anti-American vibe is nearly gone; it was worse a few years ago, and a lot of people, even Americans, were criticizing the government. In that case, I think people are a little more at ease and understand that there are good U.S. people who have nothing to do with the government. There are good U.S. people in every country, but obviously, America’s got problems, especially with the money to keep the rich richer. I don’t know what’s going on with health reform and insurance. It seems like the people who don’t have it are going to be fucked. But it’s the same way in Germany.
Mur: They will scrape you off the road after running you over and stitch you back together.
You signed to Artoffact Records and rereleased your first album with some additional remixes, and now you’ve released the new album with them. Are you still associated with Pale Music Int.?
Esch: We are still friends, of course, but I guess the label has folded. It was a good, interesting year, but it wasn’t really that effective for us.
Mur: Yeah, they gave us the release, and we are thankful for Steve Morell and starting things up with us. But now, we have to simply move on in a different way.
How has the relationship with Artoffact worked out?
Esch: They’re a small label that understands the music and what we need to do. We’re just happy that we do have a label in the first place. It’s nice when they take things off your hands like working on the promotion and marketing. Who knows? We have a contract with them for a little longer, so we’ll see what happens down the road.
Mur: Yes, but so far things have been very positive.
Esch: By the way, we released a different version of that same record on iTunes in Germany.
Mur: This is our own release with the one extra track. But we will also do a series of remixes and that will be called Do With It What You Want, and we have already got some interesting remixes, already three of them.
Esch: It will be like a series of remixes every two months or one month, and at the end, we will probably put it all together into a physical set.
Mur: The first one is by Massiv in Mensch of ‘My Life.’
That does bring up the question of the “Candy Cane” single that was supposed to be released when you had the remix contest. There were some mastering issues that prevented its release?
Esch: Yeah, we have to work on that. There was a fuck up, problems transferring the master files. The whole thing ended up getting put on hold, and maybe we need to reissue it.
Mur: We’re talking to Pale Music to find out what happened precisely and to save it and hopefully release it the right way. We really apologize for that, but we do want to see it finally come out.
Mentioning how you planned to release the remix series as a physical product, considering how everything is going digital, from TV to movies and such, do you see the physical formats like CDs or vinyls disappearing?
Esch: Well, I think for cassettes, there will be a revival. I think the digital distribution is obviously happening, but it’s less harsh than people think. If you look at CD sales, they’ve only dropped about 50 percent. I think CDs will be around and of course, so will vinyl, and people like having special edition cases and things like that. I think people still like having the packaging and having the covers and the booklets, and we are maybe moving toward more special and more exclusive things and people will still find it worthwhile to buy. Maybe there won’t be any more jewel cases.
Mur: All of the new media have the arrogance to think the older media will disappear. No way! Why would they? There is always going to be a love for lo-fi. I know I love it. I still like hearing the sounds of FM and shortwave. It all coexists. You don’t burn a Rembrandt because it’s fucking old! [Laughs.]