Music & clubs

Rune in the Volksbühne

Interview: David Tibet of Current 93. Current 93 came into the world three decades ago like a caterwauling neo-folk tumor on the body of industrial music. And have grown immensely.

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Photo by Lauren Winton

David Tibet’s (born David Michael Bunting) Current 93 came into the world three decades ago like a caterwauling neo-folk tumor on the body of industrial music (early, pre-club industrial). The progenitors of the genre, one that seemed subsumed in controversial symbolism ranging from Christ, paganism to white power, Current 93 has worked with everyone along the way from members of CRASS to Death in June to Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons. The famously leftwing Volksbühne has booked the Christian musician for March 28 to support his new meditation on Jesus, HoneySuckle Æons.

How do you look at the state of Current 93 today?

I don’t really look at it in a different manner than how I looked at it in the beginning. I’m doing it for myself and my friends, and if other people find something there that touches them, then that’s of course wonderful. But it’s always existed, in a sense, purely for itself. It’s still a vehicle for my own fascinations, obsessions, loves, fears. I’m still very enthusiastic and interested in so much, and I’m always interested in expanding that frame of reference and the totality of that which moves me. And it’s a family centered on myself. I don’t mean in the sense of a cult leader or anything. It’s a family of friends; we all care for each other. It’s a living organism that responds to the pressures on it, both internally and externally.

It’s guided by the lyrical and religious and aesthetic parameters I’ve set, based on the text and the concepts behind the albums. All of the albums have always fundamentally been concept albums. The concepts may have been nebulous or even incomprehensible to the people who are listening to it, but it’s always been clear to me what the albums are about. For example, the new album Honeysuckle Æons, which is subtitled A Dream of Christ and Two Thieves Descending After the Crucifixion, takes the form of a dream dialogue between the two thieves who are being crucified on either side of Christ, and Christ himself, who keeps on bursting into their dream-like dialogue of their dying. And within this dialogue, which sees the two thieves going back to their youth and seeing their life in a linear temporal sense as well as a multi-dimensional reality. For example, there’s one part where it starts of fairly quiet, and then the line comes in “Christ the mirror,” and that’s where Christ breaks into this dream-like dialogue. So he’s coming in and out of their dialogue. So, that’s the conception to me. But obviously, in the album, I haven’t said “this is what the album is about,” because it’s what it’s about to me, and other people will perhaps think it’s about something else, which is fine.

Do you enjoy those other interpretations?

I’m just indifferent, really. I don’t enjoy them, exactly.

Have you heard any interpretations that have particularly upset you over the years?

Well, no. I never Google myself and read people’s criticism of myself, the group, or my work. It doesn’t bother me. Some people think I’m this or I’m that – they’re wrong. I’m only judged by God and Christ and my friends. Or rather, their judgment is all that matters to me. So, the people that think incorrect or negative things about me, that’s fine. They’re entitled.

I don’t think any negative interpretations of the album have ever bothered me, because I’ve probably never seen any. I think that people often think that my texts are very post-metaphorical. On Black Ships Ate the Sky, which I said is about the Second Coming of Christ, defeating the Antichrist. This was given to me in a dream, and some people said to me “you’re talking about the Second Coming of Christ, but you mean this metaphorically, don’t you?” I mean, Christ’s consciousness, or whatever. But I said “no, I literally think this is how it will happen.” But I did emphasize that that’s how I see it happening, and perhaps this is how I will see it happen, but there’s never a sense of “this is an objective truth, and what I am saying is the truth for everyone.” It’s how I see it.

Do we have personal truths, or is there only an objective truth? We’ve all got things that are personal truisms. That might be more accurate. So, it’s true for me at that time, and perhaps that will change. But I’m not going around to people’s doors and trying to get in and saying, “Here’s the Book of Mormon.” I don’t want people to believe what I believe, and I don’t care if they believe what I believe. Everyone makes their own judgment and makes their own decisions.

How does symbolism function in your work? Do you have fascination with symbols?

I think fascination with symbolism is a pretty nebulous charge, isn’t it? The first album, Nature Unveiled, was a Christian apocalyptic record. I don’t know – there are a lot of crosses in my work. Recently, there’s been a lot of Coptic material. On the new album, there’s also Hebrew letters.

Fascination with symbolism. Whatever. It means nothing, doesn’t it? Do I have a fascination with symbolism? No. I’m looking around the room now, and I guess there are just no symbols here. What are these symbols I should be looking out for? It’s a sort of lazy, generic category that you could apply to anyone at all, couldn’t you?

Generally people categorize because it’s easy and it doesn’t really mean anything, and they don’t have to defend the category, because it’s so nebulous that it could take anything in.

Or perhaps people start with something vague in order to draw out some sort of specificity.

And a lot of time people put some sort of specificity on something which one doesn’t intend oneself.

Can you explain that?

If I do a record, for example, I did the record Swastikas for Noddy, and some people said “Oh, that’s a bit strange… swastikas,” but it’s obviously a tongue-in-cheek, cartoon reference to a children’s book. But if somebody wants to look at the word in the title, then they can go, “Oh, that’s a symbol. There’s a fascination with symbols.” But it’s difficult to look at what someone else is doing, what you’re doing for example, and assess it without understanding that person and knowing their frame of reference and sense of humor.

I’m not saying that they should get it or should understand that, but equally, perhaps it’s not such a good idea to say that any reference is always made in a straight, matter of fact way without any subtext or sub references within it. See what I mean?

I’m still kind of vague on this. In order to make a good reading on your work, you must know David Tibet and you must know Current 93?

That’s true for anyone. And it’s not possible; because there’s no way that you can ever know anyone else. Because there’s no way that we can ever know ourselves either. If it’s not possible for us to even know ourselves, then how can we ever possibly know anyone else? So everything is going to be interpretation of something that we can never fully interpret.

So do you believe that we should turn toward ourselves and find those truths rather than looking toward others?

No, I just really have no advice on it. People will do what they do, they’ll make the judgments they wish to make. All I’m saying is that all the judgments we make are guaranteed to be wrong to some degree. It’s just what it says in The Gospel: “Judge not lest you be judged.” It applies to everything.

If we look at Lady Gaga, and we think x, y, z about her because we’ve seen her doing this or that or something she said in an interview, then it’s going to be a partial interpretation made by people who don’t know her. On another level, we could say that everything Cyndi Lauper does is absolutely perfect. Because I really love Cyndi Lauper. She’s really underestimated.

To a certain extent, they’re putting themselves out there to be evaluated in that context, as their art or performance, or whatever their message might be. On the basis of what they do, they’re asking to be judged.

Is that based on how popular or successful they are?

No, based on the idea of what a performer is. You’re out there, performing for people.

Are you? Because I’m not. As I said before, Current is done for myself. And if other people like it, if they’re moved, that’s well and good, and if they’re not, that’s also fine.

Even in the context of live performance, where you’re on a stage in front of people who have paid to come to see you, and there’s a feed between the audience and the performer?

And I think that’s true. But what’s more important, at the end of the show, that the audience has been touched by it or that the artist has been touched by it? And I use ‘artist’ as a form of shorthand, because it’s a word that I never particularly liked. I think it’s more important for every performer that it’s been real for them, rather than it’s been real for the audience.

Couldn’t it be just as important both ways? Just as important for the artist and the audience?

I can’t speak for other people, I just think that if I’m not pleased with it and if Current’s not pleased with it, then it’s not been what we’d hoped for. We can only talk about ourselves, and with someone like Cyndi Lauper, Lady Gaga or any of these mega-stars, I still think that we don’t know them, we don’t know how they are or how they’re feeling, we don’t know their intention or their drive. And it’s easy to be cynical about them, because finally, we’re cynical or jaded about ourselves, too.

Perhaps taking away that self-criticism and self-judgment and putting it on someone else makes us feel better for a while. People don’t often ask me about a fascination with symbols, as you said, but they do often ask me about Cyndi Lauper and cats and seahorses. So, you know, give me a seahorse over a symbol any day.

This doesn’t sound like a very Rock and Roll interview.