In February the Berlin based band Fenster toured through Europe with a new show. In the month of March the experimental pop band took a rest, in order to continue the concerts mid April at full force. An exquisite moment for an interview.
This winter you performed in various European countries, including Belgium. How did that tour go?
Lucas Ufo: It was great. We had a lot of fun on stage and enjoyed the diverse vibes in each city. Also the Morr Music Nights that we played in France with Aloa Input and Slow Steve were particularly nice.
Are your shows completely based on the last album Emocean and the film of the same name?
Jonathan Jarzyna: It’s a mixture, always depending on the venue and the conditions. We play ciné-concerts, at which we project our film and play the soundtrack live, as well as regular shows without the projection. For the ciné-concerts we obviously need more space to set up a screen and our instruments. If it’s not the right kind of space then we just play a normal concert which is a mix of songs from all three albums that we’ve made so far.
JJ Weihl: Of all the tours we’ve done this may be my favourite one. As a band we’ve reached a really good level musically and personally. We try to play as well as possible but don’t take ourselves too seriously. Also the accommodation and hospitality have been great and even the drives from one city to another were really chill. On the road we’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts these days. It was also great to have our sound technician Christian full-time with us. He’s basically like the fifth member of the band.
Jarzyna: Christian is fantastic indeed. You could call him an energetic angel.
Weihl: He did a lot of driving this time. Jonathan used to do almost all the driving and that was really tiring after a while. Also Amande, our French booking agent, is on tour with us. Having a solid team really makes the difference. For the members of the band it is nice to have some other people around, people who are not directly involved in creating the music and performing on stage. They give us energy and support. On tour it was also really nice to take a couple of days off as we did in the Basque Country. We chilled by the fireplace, watched movies, went on a wild cheese hunt and cooked together. It’s good to have a balance on tour between good shows, nice parties and every now and then some time to relax.
What about the reactions to the film you made?
Ufo: In general they were really good, except for some places where they didn’t get it so well. In Spain I sometimes had the impression that people didn’t understand English well enough to catch the meaning of the text completely.
Just a Joke
Where did the idea to make a film come from?
Ufo: It started as a joke, quite a challenging joke, actually. After our second album we said aloud that we were going to make a feature movie. This idea grew bigger and bigger and eventually we started it.
Jarzyna: When our second album was lying on the shelves, we thought about the direction we wanted Fenster to go. A logical step would of course have been the release of a third traditional album, but we decided to do something out of the ordinary.
Weihl: I think we wanted to do something challenging without putting too much pressure on ourselves. When we start working on a new record, there is usually an element of artistic and personal pressure, which can create interesting tension but can also hinder the creative process. To escape from this and to give ourselves some freedom, we wanted to do something completely different. As film lovers we thought it would be great to try to make a movie score. But no one asked us to do that, so we decided to just make our own movie.
Ufo: Indeed, we worked on it with two VHS cameras, eight aubergines, one digital and one drone camera, the help of approximately one hundred people and a bit under ten thousand euros, collected via crowd funding. We were shooting on about twenty locations and even shot one scene on a little island just outside of Berlin. The result was Emocean, a sci-fi music film that starts out as a documentary about Fenster wrestling with the making of their third album.
So the film is autobiographical in a sense?
Weihl: Yes, although I’d rather call the docu part a mockumentary. We definitely made fun of ourselves and tried to show what it’s like for a band to record an album. Egos and characters clash, artistic ambitions don’t always correspond and people get stuck. During the creation of a new album we sink so deep into our own world that we are totally absorbed by it, in the film even literally. We are prisoners of our own reality and end up in another dimension.
In this other dimension, the sci-fi part of the film, we see how citizens are manipulated and even dominated by a higher power. Is this the reflection of a particular world view?
Jarzyna: Well, our film is very exaggerated of course, almost cartoonish. It’s a picture of an over-simplified, black-and-white cosmos with a dictator called Nosmas.
Weihl: The paradox is that we ourselves, the directors of the film, were often surprised at what we made actors and extras do on the set. So many crazy things!
Ufo: Cultural logic is also reversed in the film. The people that look like cool hippies in our story are evil. The people dressed as business men wearing grey shirts are the good guys, the victims. We wanted to invert people’s perceptions of the superficial.
Weihl: Yeah, the point was to assign opposite meanings to things people usually connect, consciously or unconsciously, to a certain pre-existing cultural symbolism. Like the inverted peace sign which is the sort of “evil” brand of the film. When you first look at it, it evokes all of these implicitly assumed meanings about peace and love. But when you put it in a particular context, it could actually become something rather sinister. In the film we use common cultural symbols like hippies and peace signs to highlight the hypocrisy of branding, especially nowadays when all of those things have kind of lost their original meaning and people just wear ideologies as fashion statements. I guess what we’re trying to say is that things aren’t always what they seem.
Jarzyna: When we were in Brussels not long ago, we visited the Magritte Museum. There we realised that even provocative and colourful artists like René Magritte simply wore dark suits and hats, just like the financial elite, lawyers and the average man in the street on Sunday. It’s as if everybody wore a boring suit back then. Sometimes I really miss the time when the packaging mattered less. These days people focus disproportionately much on the surface, to which they then attach too much meaning.
Ufo: Yeah, and because of that we can get stuck as a society. We’re continuously labelling on the basis of looks. The way you dress and the way you look determine to a great extent what people think of you, whether they like you or not, and what they think you’re capable of. As a consequence lots of chances and possibilities are crippled in advance.
Jarzyna: But it is true of course that I like wearing funky clothes too. (JJ bursts out laughing) Clearly we all do. But I think you can’t judge a person on the looks only.
In the past your music was never as trippy and psychedelic as it is now. What about this evolution?
Weihl: Our tastes and interests have evolved since we started the band. In the last couple of years, we’ve consumed a lot of different music, ranging from 70s Turkish disco to African beats and experimental Japanese dance music. We’re probably influenced by that. At a certain moment we also wanted to make something people could dance to. We’re always trying to challenge and re-invent ourselves. There is a constant intention not to re-create the past, but we couldn’t even if we tried. Everything we make is the product of a fleeting moment that by definition can never be repeated. The music reflects our shifting state of personal, creative consciousness. We want to push our own boundaries all the time and make music we also want to listen.
Jarzyna: The evolution in our music also has to do with trying to figure out spiritual questions in life. The older you get, the more layers you add to the complexity of life. You can probably hear this in our music. What people perceive as trippy or psychedelic is simply sometimes free imagination. Strong imagination doesn’t have to do with somebody actually taking certain substances. I don’t think for instance that Magritte needed psychedelics to make his art. He played with reality and the imaginary in his own way, challenged particular conventions and said ceci n’est pas une pipe. For us this was the first time we discovered together what a person can imagine and how absurd that actually is. I feel that we can go way further in that.
Ufo: The making of a film was obviously new to us from start to finish. We had never done something similar before.
Weihl: As we had scarcely any money or time our possibilities were limited. But this was actually really freeing at the same time. When you can’t hire anyone for technical assistance you have to explore and discover everything yourself. This we did mainly with free software and online tutorials. We learned a lot via the internet, about chromakey for instance, the technique of shooting against a green screen.
What were the aubergines for during the shooting of the film?
Jarzyna: If you watch the film you might indeed notice a few aubergines that are used for different purposes, as a weapon or a telephone for instance. We’ve always considered the aubergine an ambiguous vegetable. It evokes a rather dark and bizarre feeling, and as a requisite it provided us with an absurd symbol we could connect the story to.
Under a bridge
How was Fenster started?
Jarzyna: In 2011 JJ and I met for the first time in Berlin. I was then playing in another band. We clicked right away and started writing songs.
Where does the name Fenster come from?
Jarzyna: Strangely enough a window fell on JJ’s head during the recordings of our first album. We sort of took it as a sign (Fenster means window in German, Ed.). Also it’s somehow just an empty term, a frame to put around something, a portal to look through.
How did you get to Germany as an American, JJ?
Weihl: I studied Film in Prague for one semester and I decided to check out Berlin afterwards. Basically I fell in love with the city. Because of my grandparents I have a German passport so it was really easy for me to move there.
What part of the city are you living in for the moment?
Jarzyna: JJ and I live in Wedding, a really diverse neighbourhood in the north. It’s really my favourite area of Berlin at the moment. There are so many great and undiscovered places.
How did you end up in Berlin, Lucas?
Ufo: Originally I came for my studies, but a bit later I played in a band there. One day we had a gig under a bridge in Berlin. Fenster also happened to be playing there, so we met. We always kept in touch since then, even when I was back in France. Now I live in Neukölln, more in the south of the city.
Weihl: At a particular moment Lucas came back to Berlin and we were looking for a new band member. We were convinced that it had to be Lucas so we met to see whether he was interested. We told him carefully that we wanted to ask him a question, but before we even asked, Lucas interrupted us and said “My answer is yes!”. That was in 2014, just before the release of our second album The Pink Caves. The three of us then made Emocean together. The fourth member of the band is Elias, the drummer who joined us not long ago.
Are you working on new material now?
Jarzyna: We’ve got a lot of jams and we’re planning on working on some new material this summer between playing festivals.
Weihl: Yeah, we’d like to start writing some time this year.
But not a movie anymore?
Weihl: Not for the time being, no, first we want to make some new music. But you never know…
We’re looking forward to it. Thanks for the interview and the best of luck with your tour.