The sultry and sensual Carmen Burguess and the hard hitting rocker Tomás Nochtef came together there, became partners.
They then formed a band while deciding to relocate to Europe.
Their sound has many influences but definitely falls at the dark end of the pop spectrum, the roots of synthpop can be heard there, as can the post-punk sounds of JOY DIVISION and the avant-garde experimental synthwork of acts like SUICIDE. Their back catalogue consists of 2 singles and a debut album. Their third single, ‘Culpable’ was recently released in the UK.
They’ve recently played live in the UK for the first time, and have also just completed their first tour of Southern Europe. TEC decided to talk to the couple to find out a little more about them, their sound, and why you should listen to them in 2013…
Carmen: Initially we met in our hometown, Buenos Aires. We became friends immediately when we meet each other, then lovers, then friends and secret lovers.
We met again when I suddenly decided come to Europe. Tomás was in London but he came to meet me at the airport and we’ve stayed together since then. I didn’t know that I would stay in Europe, I didn’t know that I would play keyboards again because I had no plans at all at that moment in my life.
Tomás: 10 years ago I went into this punk club in Buenos Aires and a new band was playing, the keyboard player was a teenager in a white dress, barefoot, shaking her red hair like she was possessed, like someone out of a Peter Pan movie.
I was blown away by the band and especially by her. That band was MUJERCITAS TERROR and the girl was Carmen. I wanted to play with her straight away. It took me four years and another continent to kidnap her. In the beginning the idea was that MUERAN HUMANOS was a name for whatever we would do together, we started doing installations, fanzines, videos, the music was just a part of it, and it was much more abstract, we didn’t sing, we improvised for hours around drones, soundscapes, a lot of sound manipulation, collage. One day I started to sing over it – we loved it and kept on doing it and slowly it evolved to the point we are now. There was no plan, it was an organic process.
How did you get the name MUERAN HUMANOS and what does it mean?
Tomás: Before the band I did this fanzine with cut ups from newspaper headlines. I was using cut ups not with a literature intention, but more as personal Ouija game, very influenced by the ideas by Gysin, Burroughs, that the cut up can connect you with hidden part of your brain, deactivate control, reveal hidden messages on the media, even reveal the future. I did this fanzine of only cut-ups which looked like ransom demands, no information, only a name: MUERAN HUMANOS.
I didn’t sell the fanzine, I was leaving it randomly around Buenos Aires. The name is impossible to translate really, it’s very cartoon-like, like something a Martian would scream while wiping out people with a laser, like “Die, Humans!”. When you cut-up words from newspapers you always end with dark subjects, because the most common words are war, murder, rape, tsunami, flood, etc.
So the name was meant as a sardonic take on that on one hand. I was playing also with the fact that the Argentinian national anthem said something like “We swear to die in glory”, all this classic epic shit, MUERAN HUMANOS could be also translated as “Die before losing the human condition” so I was playing with that. And a third meaning in Spanish could be “Let your human part die”, and in that I was playing with the notion of evolution. So it has a lot of humour and ambiguity and it means a lot of things, but it certainly does NOT mean “Death to Humanity” which is a very stupid name!
It was a great name for that fanzine and when we started to live and play together Carmen liked the name so we decided to use it as an extension of the fanzine and the cut ups. We were still in the Spanish speaking world and it was a small private art project more than a band, so I didn’t think too much about it. I don’t think perhaps it’s appropriate for what we do now any more, but it’s too late to change it and Carmen still likes it, she has her own interpretation, so we stick with it.
Carmen: Yes, I like it more because of the primary sensation that the name gave to me, for me it represents that moment in which you realize that most of people around you are the same people that you obeyed to as a child, it’s just “inconsistent”… and there’s no reason to fear them.
Carmen: We formed the band with the instruments we had. Synth is the only instrument that I’ve ever really played. Well I can play drums as well but I can only keep time for about 10 minutes! In Buenos Aires I used to play keyboard in MUJERCITAS TERROR.
Tomás: We didn’t want anybody else in the band so bass, synth and drum machine and manipulated tapes are the core of our sound, we also used on and off percussion, Theremin, sampler, piano. We do exactly what we want with what we have and don’t let the character of the instruments dictate us the music, but the other way around.
So, talking of synths, what do you use, both in the studio and live? What are your favourites and what is it you like about them?
Carmen: Well, I’m a keyboard player so, I like synths most, especially analogue ones which are like animals, I feel like they are alive, while digital ones are more like toys (I like them too though). The same with drum machines. We’ve got a Jomox now and it feels so different to the digital ones! Anyway we keep using everything we have, analogue or digital. We are far from being experts on electronic equipment. We are more like an old school rock band that use drum machines in a quite heavy / neglected way.
Tomás: Believe it or not, 99% of our album was made with a Microkorg, and two 50-euro drum machines: an Electribe ER-1 and a Yamaha, and a bass with only distortion, octave and delay. All cheap digital equipment produced in the last 15 years. Then we read the reviews and they were going “analogue electronics with guitars”. There’s nothing of that on our album, but I took it as a compliment. We worked a lot with our cheap equipment, experimenting with strange connections to make them sound as we wanted, and people are hearing instruments that are not there, instead, what is there is played in non-conventional ways that we developed ourselves.
We never play instruments the way you’re supposed to play them. After we made the album a Berlin friend who’s a synthesiser freak and works with them got us a Moog Prodigy really cheap. He wanted to see what we would do with good equipment. Also he works for Jomox, so he got us an X-Base drum machine for a good price. So now we use these two high quality instruments AND all our shitty gear that we love so much.
Carmen: I believe in fate, our instinct brought us here and things are going well so, nothing else matters more than feeling like your life is going the right way.
For me being with Tomas and MUERAN HUMANOS are the most important things in life. When I was in Barcelona I felt an immense hostility from others to me and to our band, and in Berlin things were just the opposite.
Tomás: It was an impulsive decision but looking back I can see that I was tired of struggling to do music my against the current in Buenos Aires and felt something like “let’s jump into the world and see what happens”. That’s why we ended up in Berlin I think. It’s been 4 years now here and it feels like home.
Carmen: We don’t have set roles, sometimes one of us makes a song and sometimes the other. Sometimes we do a song together. I do the drums mostly and Tomás’ bass lines mostly, but also he plays keyboards. We both write the lyrics.
The artwork and aesthetic of the band is mostly created by you, Carmen. Is that as important to you both as the music? How important do you think your visual image is to the band?
Carmen: It wasn’t planned. I’ve been an autodidactic artist for long time. Tomás is the one who likes my art the most and since we’ve been together I’ve taken it more seriously because he always pushed me to work on it. I started to publish my stuff at the same time we started the band. Art is something really important to me, yes. The same importance as my music. But at the moment we are so busy with the band that I can’t afford the time to work on any new projects.
Your stage presence is very powerful, you seem to ooze presence, sexuality, power, and tension. Does that come naturally or is it something that you’ve worked at? Is either of you is the boss?
Carmen: Thank you Mike! There’s no boss, I mean, maybe sometimes it’s me , sometimes it’s Tomás. That just happens naturally. The only thing I can say that I worked at is to not fear stages. The stage is a sacred place for me and I love it more than any other place. I feel like I’m in a ritual sometimes. An angry one sometimes, happy and ecstatic at other times. But I always take the stage really seriously. So it’s not an act, it’s the real thing for us.
Carmen: We rehearse at home. We play together and also alone while the other is doing some other stuff. One of us is playing in the living room and the other will come in suddenly and say “Oh I like that! Keep it!”.
That’s a typical off stage situation. Sometimes we sing on the street and invent songs, like ‘Monstruo’ which is about a really bad looking fish that Tomás ordered in a restaurant. It was just like a little monster over the plate with tentacles and his eyes opened, we were so fascinated about the way he looked and we started to sing to him “monster, monster, you are so beautiful, etc”. That became a song later.
Tomás: There’s no separation between our lives, our relationship and the band.
Carmen: The current bands I like… most have a very strong impact on stage and are totally not revival, some of them could be Mujercitas Terror (Argentina), Valeskja Valcav (France), AWOTT (Russia). Also I like current music from Connan Mockasine, Cult of Youth, Austra, Ill Winds. My favourite classic bands are The Fall, Psychic TV and Suicide.
Tomás: I’m influenced by literature, experimental cinema, religions, lots of things. My current favourite bands, well, all that Carmen mentioned and also Om, Sunn O))), and many others: Coil, Silver Apples, Royal Trux, Disco Inferno, Neu!, Can, Sand, Chrome, Einstürzende Neubauten, Steve Reich, Alvin Lucier, Syd Barrett, Captain Beefheart, anything that makes me feel good.
You’ve just been on tour in southern Europe, how do you it? Do you prefer being on stage to being in the studio?
Tomás: Touring is great but very hard also, not for soft characters. Some cities were amazing, especially Nantes, Barcelona, Florence and almost a secret village in Galicia called Bueu.
And what about the UK?
Well, we have already had our first material out in UK, the 7 inch ‘Culpable’/’Amuleto’ on Louder Than War/Southern Records and in January 2013, Vanity Case will release the second one, a 12” maxisingle. So definitely we are planning to go, we only played there once last June when Rhys Webb and Coffin Joe from The Horrors saw us live in Berlin because they played a DJ set at our concert that night and after we finished they invited us to play at The Cave, it was great and we hope to come back soon.
And finally what next from MH after this tour?
Go to Argentina and make some gigs on December, also Uruguay and maybe Colombia also. Stay there till end of January and play in UK on February or March. Then focus is totally on the next album We are planning to record the second album with Boris Wilsdorf who is not only an engineer but also an amazing producer – he’s recorded many great bands like Einstürzende Neubauten, Pansonic, Alva Noto, etc. With him we did ‘El Circulo’ which in coming now on January on the next 12“ and we want to continue working with him.
‘El Circulo’ b/w ‘La Langosta’ is released as a 12″ Maxi-single on transparent vinyl by Vanity Case Records UK
Text and Interview by Mike Cooper
8th January 2013