Secret Thirteen Interview - Damien Dubrovnik

Damien Dubrovnik  of Posh Isolation

Photo by Jonas Bang

Posh Isolation founders and Danish noise act, Damien Dubrovnik, share the story of their musical path, talk about the emotional content and the future of music.

The Danish noise duo, Damien Dubrovnik’s Christian Stadsgaard and Loke Rahbek are here to share their stories about things ranging from the beginning of their musical path to the more abstract thoughts on the ever evolving music scene, their own philosophy on the emotional aspects of their music and more.

As all of you likely already know, in addition to being musicians, these guys are also founders of the Copenhagen-based independent label/store Posh Isolation, where such names as Puce Mary, Varg and Lust For Youth release their mind-bending audio explorations.

Knowing the fact that the duo prioritize weaving challenging raw audio signals with austere, but at the same time very dynamic sound textures in their live performances and studio works, we wanted to hear their thoughts on the content of their output.


Justinas Mikulskis: What was the first sonic experience you remember? Could you describe the moment when you realized you want to make music and the following progression?

Loke: In my early teens, I never imagined that I would make music, and to this day I still struggle a little with that term - being a musician.

I decided that I wanted to work with sound when I realised that, for what I wanted to do, it was a stronger tool than images are. The show that made me decide was, funnily enough, a show that Christian had set up in Copenhagen when I was still in my teens. I was doing an opening show for a gallery and was saddened to see my paintings and collages drowned in the small talk and the free white wine at the reception to the point where when I looked at the walls, I did not recognize them myself. I left the opening early and more or less by chance ended up at a noise show. There were 30 people in a small basement room and it was the exactly opposite environment to the gallery I had just left - but I remember thinking that the sheer volume and personality put into it by the performer would have been impossible to drown, no matter the size of the room or crowd, no matter what the small talk was about and no matter if the free white wine would have flowed endlessly. The volume demanded that you either had to witness it or you had to leave. The performance forced anyone in the room to decide - do I want to be here and experience this or not. I stayed - I am still there.

And still, I don't know if I am a musician. I suppose it depends on how we define the term, is someone ripping out his own teeth a dentist?

Christian: I, on the other hand have no problem with the term ’musician' or at least ’electronic musician’. Most of the original electronic music was way more abstract than the music we do as Damien Dubrovnik, and I think many of the original strategies and techniques of electronic music are in line with what we do today. And I do feel very connected to that part of modern history.

I was always very sensitive to sounds, especially electronically generated sounds other people would find annoying. Very late in my life I got into making these sounds myself. And I was always into music, but only very late in my life did I get into making music.

I can't remember the first sonic experience that made an impact on me, but seeing (well, everybody in the audience was blindfolded) Francisco Lopez in Copenhagen around 2000 was the first electronic concert that really made a big impact on me. It was precise, delicate and very loud and physical, and that was clearly appealing to me. In many ways my preferences have not changed in the past 15 years.

JM: I always tell musicians: “If you can express an emotion/idea in 4 notes, and it takes someone else to express it in 50 notes, you are a better musician.” Do you agree?

Loke: Different emotions and stories require different languages and settings. In general I think you are right, but there are so many exceptions to this rule. In modern mainstream music, everything is extremely condensed. You need to reach your emotional conclusion within very few bars of music and while it works for some things, I think applying that method to other forms of music or other forms of expression would be a very big mistake. Some things need to take time, some things need space, and sometimes we need to walk in the opposite direction than where we have actually been going for a while. In my experience we are often a lot more awake when we are waiting for someone to say what we want them to say than when they actually do.

Christian: Sometimes less is more and sometimes less is a bore. Essentially I think you are right, but expressing emotions over a duration of time – as in music – is a very complicated matter.

JM: There is a cliche statement among older musicians: when technology gets easier you have to think less. You have enough experience with the electronic music industry. Please compare the situation now to when you got started.

Loke: It would be just as easy to argue, that when technology gets more advanced there is a lot more to consider. The options are endless. I like my walk-man and I like my computer - they serve different purposes and they make a good team.

Christian: I would like to think less and just let the music flow out of my machines like a natural extension of my body. But unfortunately that is very far from the case. I'm sure making something that sounds ’decent’ has become more easy with the democratization of electronic equipment, but sounding decent has never been interesting in the entire history of music.

JM: Maybe you have ideas or at least a vision of how technology will continue to influence art and music?

Loke: There are a thousand aspects to consider. One key aspect is that our tools of communication have changed and are still changing. Today I have talked to as many people outside of Denmark, through computer and telephone, as I have met people face to face. I have talked to my friend in Stockholm about his upcoming record, a girl in America about a potential show, another in Berlin about this interview and someone in Canada about something completely different. I have sent an e-mail that reaches a potential crowd of thousands in one click. And I have met my old friend for a glass of wine and a man that works in the same street as where our office is, and chatted for a minute. As any form of expression we work with is in its nature communicative. To witness these new languages emerging while others are disappearing is something we have to be aware of both as human beings of course, but also as artists.

Christian: Art and technology have always walked hand in hand, and probably always will. Whatever happened in the sphere of technology had an impact on all walks of life, including art and music. What puzzles me is that even though we have seen an explosion in electronic technology and music equipment over the past 20 years, I can’t really point to any fundamentally new music style since jungle and early drum n’ bass. Surely there have been developments in music, but structurally over already established forms of music. I don’t blame technology, but it does leave some food for thought.

Damien Dubrovnik - Live Performance

Damien Dubrovnik - Live Performance

JM: Shakespeare once wrote: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” What are your thoughts? Do you think that nowadays there are too many cowards who are afraid to express their true thoughts and feelings in life and the music scene and this somehow stops the overall progression of humanity?

Loke: I won't comment on the overall progression of humanity. I don't think it is our place. I will say: Honesty is key, if we want to be totally free.

This statement also provides an interesting battle with my answer to your next question, I stand by them both and think that it is possible to do so at once.

Christian: I don’t think there is such a thing as an overall progression of humanity. I think there are different frames of thinking from time to time, different epistemes if you like, but some kind hegelian idea of progression I'm really sceptical about. And I must say that after seeing mass-mediated pictures of drowned refugee children, children of the age of my three year old boy, I find it very hard to talk about the concept of humanity at all.

JM: How did you feel when you were recording “Vegas Fountain”? I know it took 2 years (2012-2014), and I suppose it follows diverse emotional states. I was reading the PR of that release and I would want to go deeper into these statements: “Rahbek’s words and imagery”, “concepts like relations, performance, sexuality and their breaking points”. These topics are quite obscure and could be interpreted through many different perspectives. Could you talk in detail about the emotional and psychological background of the album, maybe even about particular situations that influenced it?

Loke: Vegas Fountain is essentially about seduction. The aim with Vegas Fountain was to make a piece of work that addresses the nature of seduction and performance as a seductive performance in itself. A theatrical play about the nature of a theatrical play.

While touring with the material that eventually became Vegas Fountain, I realised that I was lying, that while I was saying something I believed to be true, it was a lie at the same time. That art is no place for truth. We don’t want truth on stage, it would be dreadful to watch. We want the exaggerated movements of a well-performed lie to help us understand something true, namely the artist’s truth and if it is skillfully done, some of that will become our truth. Picasso formulated it well; ”We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies”.

In many ways that is what Vegas Fountain is about, but instead of taking place on a stage, in an audiotorium or in a gallery, it takes place in a seduction, of the kind that leads up to most romantic or sexual relations. Vegas Fountain takes on the notion that for the romantic seduction and the seduction that takes place on stage many of the same rules apply.

With most successful seductions there is an element of lying, of untruthfulness. That we essentially lie in order to give the highest impression of truth, that within a performance untruthfulness is a stronger ambassador of the impression of truth than truth is. When David Bowie can seduce an audience of 50.000 people in a concert, it is of course not his voice alone that does it, nor is it solely depending on the melodies of the band performing. It is his masterful seduction - we essentially fall in love with him or rather, he leads us on and we fall in love with the perception he let us have of who he is. In these situations I have found that I can feel almost more than I do in ”real” emotional interaction. I have loved actors and musicians with more passion than any real lover I have had in my life. The pure emotion is essentially possible because it takes place in a lie. The emotional reaction to a perfectly executed performance, I believe is more pure than reality.

That is why the performative art creates idols in a different way than let's say painting does. When someone paints a beautiful picture we are moved and impressed. When someone performs a powerful role, whether it is a musician or an actor, we want to consume them, we essentially want to be them. Much like the emotion when someone has seduced us in romance, we want to be one.

Performance is an act, and that is a show of strength, not a weakness, in the theatre the hero can die and come back to life every night. Vegas Fountain is a theatre about seduction, and the theatre that takes place on, as well as off stage.

Christian: Seduction is a play where both parties know what's going on, but pretend they do not. It's a game, and if you break the rule by, for example, being too straightforward and stating what your intentions really are, you ruin the game. I don't think anyone would benefit from that.

JM: Following the previous question, do you hope that people will feel the same when they are listening to it? Is it okay with you if they interpret it in a completely different way or do you really care that people feel the fundamental mood of the record?

Loke: It is impossible to control how other people interact with a piece of work. I think of it in the same way I think of our other releases. Vegas Fountain is a room. What people choose to do in that room for is entirely up to them. I am very flattered and it makes me happy and proud if anyone would choose to spend time in there.

Christian: I prefer to see my music as an open text. I would choose other means of communication if I wanted people to get a specific message. And even there I know there would be a question of interpretation.

JM: It seems that Damien Dubrovnik and Posh Isolation are focusing on art aesthetics a lot. I assume it is a very important aspect to you. Could you tell us a bit more about the importance of visual art for you? It helps with the sales, but it is not the main reason, right?

Loke: I am not sure what you mean by art aesthetics but presentation is important to us, people often comment on this and I am surprised. It really isn't very different from applying make-up before you go to a party or wearing a nice shirt to a meeting, getting good scenography for your play or a fitting frame for your painting.

It is the first thing people meet if they acquire the physical release and hence your first chance as an artist and label to pinpoint the story, to set the mood so to speak. The thing about physical releases versus live performances is that you are not there as the artist to make sure that the setting is right for the listening. It might be played in someone's bedroom on their stereo with the windows open on a Monday in bad weather, it might be at 3 am in a club over a massive system with hundreds of people around and it might be in a coffee shop. The cover and potential writing is the chance you have to indicate a scene or a room for the music to be listened in. It is the first impression. First impressions are said to be very important, especially if you want to seduce someone.

Christian: No, the main reason why we work with a strong visual identity is that we see Posh Isolation as a unity. Each release is a brick in a building. And bricks must fit together to build anything. We have been doing this from the very beginning when there were hardly any sales, and we never saw it as a sales tactic.

JM: What is your favourite work of art or art movement? How would you describe your relationship with it?

Loke: I like a lot of different artists and a lot of different movements for a lot of different reasons. Lately I have been really into Michael Jackson.

Many of us have weaknesses or addictions, for example I still can’t quit smoking even if I try so hard. Also I’m a terribly impulsive person, I could kick someone’s ass for no reason. These weaknesses, however, sometimes indirectly help me to finish hard challenges.

JM: I know it is more reasonable to discuss only positive topics, but let’s do something else. Could you talk about your weaknesses and maybe how they helped you to achieve something?

Loke: The weaknesses are all over the work. There is hardly any reason to mention them further, really. I smoke ciggarettes mainly because I think it makes me look really cool.

Christian: I find the distinction between strength and weakness a bit off. It is all part of the human condition and what is strength and what is weakness I’m not even sure anymore.

JM: What do you think about negativity? Do you believe humanity could live without this phenomenon?

Loke: I have never lived without it, but it is also not an emotion that I am very interested in. I found that I get very little done out of sheer negativity. I don’t think of Damien Dubrovnik as negative music, to me Damien Dubrovnik is about celebrating emotion, both negative and positive. It is about the beauty, that we human beings can feel.

Christian: I have absolutely no idea about humanity and its relationship with negativity. But as Loke said, Damien Dubrovnik is about celebrating emotions – and I would add – the human condition in general. Weather it was positive or negative, strength or weakness, it is all part of everyday life. As I said earlier, I see it as an open text, and if I can make music that moves people emotionally for whatever reason, either to tears or rapture, or both, I would be really pleased. Because that's what it is doing to me.

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