Music & clubs

Mafia pop: Stereo Total

INTERVIEW! Everyone’s favourite Franco-German liaison Stereo Total takes over Lido for a threesome with new album "Les Hormones" April 20, 24 and 25.

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Photo by Sim Gil

Everyone’s favourite Franco-German liaison Stereo Total takes over Lido for a threesome with new album Les Hormones.

When Françoise Cactus and Brezel Göring met at a bakery on Adalbertstraße in the early 1990s, they laid the groundwork for one of Berlin’s most beloved lo-fi pop exports. Ten albums later, the duo has toured the world countless times, passing through South America, the United States and Japan, coming home each time to their humble abode on Oranienplatz. Celebrating the release of Les Hormones (Staatsakt) with three consecutive gigs at Lido this month, Stereo Total invited us in for a little Kiez talk.

As longtime Kreuzbergers, what do you think of all the Kotti headlines lately?

BREZEL GÖRING: I’ve always felt safe in Berlin – excluding Hellersdorf maybe. Also, I don’t think that it’s just been in the past years that the world around Kotti has changed. In the 1980s, when I moved to Kreuzberg, police drove through the streets as quickly as possible. They always had barred car windows, and their cars had dents all over. That was the usual appearance of the Ordnungsmacht here, coming in hordes and wearing helmets. The entire area here was considered ‘unpacified’. Leftist structures and squats had an entirely different momentum and force. That has been largely replaced by commerce.

Do you feel the need to react artistically?

BG: With the camp on Oranienplatz or the conflicts at Gerhard-Hauptmann-Schule, I could have seen myself reacting by organising concerts, but not through songwriting. We don’t write songs like Ton Steine Scherben would have, but our basis is the [former squat] Georg-von-Rauch-Haus. We live in the remnants of this past world.

FRANÇOISE CACTUS: Our lyrics are feminist and convey certain anarchistic vibes, but they are not political in a direct sense. It’s rather an atmosphere.

How much political impact can you have with music?

BG: The shocking element of punk rock music was sucked up by the mainstream as much as feminism by Beyoncé or revolution by Madonna. By now, the media have swallowed every kind of subversive attitude. It’s illusory to think that an artist can have great political impact with music. We live in times without glamour and grace; things are very prosaic. On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to create a disturbing listening experience if the bass is missing, for example, making common radio listeners feel uncomfortable immediately.

Are there any subjects you’d refuse to tackle?

FC: I wouldn’t write a song about Angela Merkel. [Laughs] Although, why not? Maybe if I wrote it in Titanic magazine style! I wouldn’t want to write pornographic songs or a song in which I flounce around like a sex bomb. Many mainstream singers always put their sexiness in the foreground. I wouldn’t want to do it. I don’t want to embarrass myself. But you can write songs about everything. You just have to find the right form, and strike the right chord. I have heaps of songs in drawers, boxes and suitcases. Later, when I’m old and there’s no one to support me, I will sell my songs.

As a couple, do you find it irritating when people draw conclusions from your songs about your private life?

BG: Sometimes, people really believe that our songs are 100 percent autobiographical. Well, they’re not. When we wrote ”Liebe zu Dritt”, journalists asked us if we usually have other ‘guests’ in our bed. [Laughs] Of course, everything an artist does has to do with his or her life, you can’t separate them, but you can’t take our songs at face value. There are more layers to discover.

You’ve proven that couples can also work together successfully.

FC: I find it more problematic when couples don’t have anything to do with each other except going to a restaurant on Wednesdays or to the cinema once a week. Maybe if they have good conversations and very good sex, maybe then it works, but I don’t know for how long. [Laughs] It’s just a stupid prejudice to believe that you’ll break up just because you work together. Quite the contrary. People usually ask, “How can you do that; living together, making music together, touring together?” So what, couples also go on holidays together.

BG: We’re a bit like the mafia. It’s an example of a well-run family business. [Laughs]

FC: Often problems arise in bands because all musicians are egomaniacs. They get totally frustrated when they realise the bass player has more success and what not. But because he’s my boyfriend, I’m happy for him when people like him. I can’t get jealous, that would be strange.

Eight-track recording. Restriction or blessing?

FC: It’s good to restrict myself in everything I do. I tend to spread myself too thin. When I paint, I restrict myself to only using three colours, for instance. If you start recording music with 50 different tracks, computer programmes and such, you get totally lost and blur your original idea. That’s why I like the sound of old records. You don’t need a separate mic and track for each shitty drum part.

BG: These days, it’s not so important to have overbearing arrangements, it’s more important to make decisions, and do things fast at the right time. Primitive techniques like ours help us a lot in that. It took us a long time to record our new album, but sometimes we went to our studio just once every three weeks, recorded a song and we’re done. It’s all about a good idea, and the right vibe when recording it. Someone said about Bob Dylan that the sound of his voice might have had more of a political impact than his lyrics.

Do you think you’d have the same impact if you had started out in a city like Paris?

FC: It’s a special situation for me here as a permanent tourist. I would never have written German songs had I stayed in France; why should I have? But it would’ve been a pity. I also would’ve written different lyrics in French. I play a lot with French clichés. In France, I probably never would have done that. Not only the lyrics, Berlin is a unique city with a unique music history…

BG: Even if people arrive in Berlin from other German cities, they’re astounded by how peo- ple look here. Everyone falls short of any limits of taste, which influences the city’s climate. In the 1980s and 1990s, I always felt like competitiveness didn’t exist amongst musicians. I was shocked about the pushy behaviour amongst musicians in other cities – here, people felt embarrassed if they were successful.

STEREO TOTAL Wed, Apr 20; Sun, Apr 24; Mon, Apr 25; 20:30 | Lido, Cuvrystr. 7, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Schlesisches Tor