Stefan Netschio, Stefan Tillmann and Michael B Wagner released ‘Tybalt’, their first album proper as BEBORN BETON back in 1993.
The trio became a cult success on the alternative electronic circuit with a US tour opening for APOPTYGMA BERZERK in 2002 among their career highlights. But the sojourn across the Atlantic took its toll and BEBORN BETON went on an extended hiatus.
Returning in 2015, the comeback album ‘A Worthy Compensation’ saw the band refreshed and present possibly their best collection of work to date.
Now 7 years on, a brand new long player ‘Darkness Falls Again’ is due in the Spring. Its first single ‘Dancer In The Dark’ makes an important statement on behalf of its parent album. With greedy capitalists and war mongering zealots hell bent on destroying the planet in order to satisfy their own fragile egos, the message to remain positive in the face of adversity. Without this hope, there is no will to resist and make the world better for all. The worse thing to do is to say nothing…
With a hypnotic second single ‘I Watch My Life On TV’ now public, BEBORN BETON front man Stefan Netschio chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the making of ‘Darkness Falls Again’, when to sing in German, how to choose a Johnny Cash cover and borrowing from DURAN DURAN…
‘Darkness Falls Again’ follows 7 years since your last album ‘A Worthy Compensation’, but it is nowhere near as long as the 13 year gap which preceded that. Is it healthier to have larger spaces between records? Can bands release “too much” music?
I have often found that with a high frequency of releases from the artists I follow, there comes a lower level of depth in the music. We in BEBORN BETON do not live off our music, we have the luxury to take as much time as we need to work on our songs and album and artwork concepts, to reflect on the things we need to say in our lyrics, the emotions we want to stir with the compositions.
And finally take as much time as we want to finalise our albums with our producer of choice. If we feel, after countless revisions, we are still deeply moved by the work we have created, then we are definitely onto something profound and lasting. There is probably some narcissism to it but there are times when I listen to our songs, especially from ‘A Worthy Compensation’ and ‘Darkness Falls Again’ and I start wondering “This is really us? How did we manage to create such beauty?”
We started working on the songs for ‘A Worthy Compensation’ about 20 years ago. I had quit my job and left my hometown to relocate to the city of Hamburg. We had just been touring the United States with our friends from APOPTYGMA BERZERK, so that was an exciting period in our lives with lots of things happening, meeting and working with interesting people. Being on the road for more than 2 weeks confined to a van and motel rooms, playing shows almost every night in mostly sold-out venues, touring the US brought us even closer together as a band and as friends.
And when we returned to Germany, even though we were living in different cities, hundreds of kilometres apart, we always found ways and time to make music together. So, every other weekend I went to visit Till and Michael to work on new material. After finishing some songs, we eventually met Olaf Wollschläger in 2005. We instantly clicked and so whenever we wrote something new, we went into the studio and did some production work. 10 years later we had put an album together that contained the essence of our lives of that past decade. Highs and lows, ups and downs; it is indeed a very emotional and personal album. So, we were relieved that it was so well received. It put us back on the map.
Was ‘A Worthy Compensation’ like getting back on a bicycle or horse? Are there any favourite tracks from it?
For us, it actually felt like we never really dismounted the horse in the first place. We always made music of some sorts. We had been in the studio many times and learned a lot about mixing and production.
We played festival shows in Germany and Europe every now and then, we did remixes for other artists and also collaborated with other bands. A lot of this probably went unnoticed by the public because we just hadn’t released a new album. Favourite tracks… well, when you are working on an album this long, it is like raising children and you become emotionally attached to each and every one of them. Especially when the stories are personal and heartfelt; ‘Last Day On Earth’ and ‘I Believe’ are definitely highlights, but for me personally the title track ‘A Worthy Compensation’ is a song that weighed heavy on my heart. It was cathartic. It was the last song that we finished with Olaf in the studio. And when we did, when the vocals were recorded, the moment when it all came together and took form, I knew that we had created something special. The story bears so much pain that it became a tearjerker for many years and years to come.
When first you started releasing music, did you ever feel an affinity with the other German bands like ALPHAVILLE, CAMOUFLAGE, WOLFSHEIM and DE/VISION?
When I grew up, ALPHAVILLE was a band to look up to. The first album was just “Wow”! I think every synthpop fan loved ALPHAVILLE one way or the other. And Marian Gold is a super nice guy and an exceptional performer. He has such a unique voice.
So has Peter Heppner; WOLFSHEIM had some killer songs and their success was more than well deserved. But affinity would be too strong a word. It was respect. CAMOUFLAGE had some major hits in the beginning and they released a couple of fairly successful albums, most of which escaped my radar. I was interested in different bands.
DE/VISION and BEBORN BETON did start about the same time and early on we did some touring together. At some point, their career took a different turn and they kept releasing album after album. Every now and then our paths cross when we are booked for the same festival. Fun times we had.
How does the creative dynamic within BEBORN BETON work with regards writing and instrumentation?
Usually it begins with a lyrical idea or with some chord progressions that are conceived on the piano. So we get together and we infect each other with more ideas to take the initial demo further. Sometimes we get quickly to a stage where the essence of the track is already laid out and ready for production. Sometimes it takes us several sessions over a period of weeks to get there. But there is nothing like these magical moments when we create some truly emotional pieces together. When the excitement kicks in while you’re writing, your judgement might be clouded, so we take breaks to give it a rest and let it sink in, then revisit songs to see if the initial spark is still there. Since we have no reason to rush, we give it all the time that it needs. It’s our QA.
You have worked with producer Olaf Wollschläger again on this album, what special qualities does he bring to your music?
Olaf Wollschläger knows where we are coming from musically. He breathes the exact musical air that we do. When we introduce him to a song, there is hardly ever much explaining to do. He is able to see the essence of our songs and enhance them. When you are working together for such a long time, you develop a friendship.
We’ve known him more than 15 years now. Some marriages don’t last that long. And we can still laugh about the same jokes and are fascinated by the same music. And when we meet with him to produce our songs together, we are fairly certain that the end result is not far from perfect.
So what is ‘My Monstrosity’? How does this track shape the tone of ‘Darkness Falls Again’?
We chose ‘My Monstrosity’ as the opening track because it kind of sets the mood for the whole album. This detuned piano sound right at the beginning of the song is derived from an actual piano that stood outside a garden centre, battered by wind and rain. And it is meant to tell you “You are about to hear things that are not going to be easy to digest”. It is a rather uncommon song for BEBORN BETON and that’s the beauty of it. Starting off with something people would not expect from us. I find it musically intense and pretty dark lyrically. I hope people will love it as much as we do.
The album title is mentioned in the first single ‘Dancer In The Dark’; with all the tensions in the world coming from the East and being Germans, has there been a feeling of “Déjà vu” at all?
No, not really. It was a different time back then. Or I was just too young to see the whole picture. Surely there had been Middle-East crises, but none of the countries had the resources to be much of a global threat.
And as far as I’m concerned, The Cold War was just two superpowers not getting along and bluffing each other. They all had these nuclear weapons, but the players themselves didn’t play out the supervillain act. There was no imminent danger. Except for one NATO manoeuvre simulating a nuclear strike that almost set the wheels in motion, a regrettable mistake that changed the course of history for the better. The leaders seemed to have that last bit of sense to not push the button because they were all too afraid they would get wiped from the face of earth.
For a reason, the last few years there have been fights on multiple fronts. There was that idiot that destabilised the US. Then there is the other one that has gone completely nuts, void of reason destabilising the world economy, and in-between all of Europe trying to de-escalate the situation, still they can’t just look away and leave the oppressed to themselves. And the even bigger crisis in the long run being the race against climate change.
We actually finished the songs, the album concept and title before there was a war in Europe, so we initially planned on painting a picture of a dystopian future. We did not expect reality to catch up this quickly.
‘Last Chance’ is interesting in that there are sections that are almost goth-metal?
I can see what you are getting at. When we are working on a song with Olaf, there are no boundaries and given the fact that our musical tastes are very diverse, anything can happen. Goth-metal is a strong categorization for a synthpop song and for people that have not heard it yet, it may be misleading.
The song incorporates some vocal parts that are treated with a vocoder and different levels of distortion and in conjunction with that bass synth line it has its Marilyn Manson-esque moments, but these moments are brief. I feel it is an embodiment of the protagonist’s anger and looking at the whole picture it is just an enrichment of the song’s sonic palette, so when the chorus kicks in, the subtle metal connotations are gone. Then again, I gotta hand it to you, the song has a bit of a rock attitude.
‘Burning Gasoline’ points to your environmental concerns?
I guess the title and the lyrics indicate as much… environmental concerns, mildly put. The exploitation of Earth’s natural resources and their processing, plus the use of fossil energy sources is destroying our planet, rendering it uninhabitable for generations to come. If we do not change our course of action our children and grandchildren will pay the price. The idiocracy regarding climate change and its origin is unspeakable and it gets my blood pressure through the roof.
These kinds of melodies are burned into the BEBORN BETON DNA. They are part of what we are. We have always been fond of those uplifting sequences that are reminiscent of 70s and 80s mystery and science fiction TV series and movies. Sound and instrument-wise, there are hardly any tools that are not at our disposal. It’s always a mix of vintage and modern hardware and software instruments.
So we have a couple of hardware synths in our arsenal. Our beloved Moogs, an ARP, some Korgs, a couple of Waldorfs, an Oberheim and a bunch of Roland synthesisers, plus a ton of boutique effect pedals and we also used Olaf’s Prophet and his tasteful collection of Eurorack modules. A friend of ours owns a small museum of vintage analogue synths and of course we paid him a visit to record some tracks with his old Jupiter 4, Jupiter 8, Roland System 100 and GRP A4. The GRP A4 is a rare and insanely beautiful sounding analogue boutique synth from Italy.
All these synthesisers have their distinct sound and above anything, we love the hands-on approach with these machines. When it comes to VSTs… you name it: Arturia, Native Instruments, UVI, u-he, Xfer, GeForce. Pretty much everything. When you put your mind to it you can get every imaginable sound and all these happy little accidents. Olaf and we are pretty much up-to-date on what’s happening in the music technology business.
‘Electricity’ rhythmically swings with a live drum feel and even throws in some timpani. Where do you stand on bands using live acoustic drums in a concert context when the original recording has more and sometimes exclusively programmed electronic percussion? 😉
As an artist you should be allowed to evolve and try out whatever tickles your fancy. When you are an aspiring single artist, most of the time you don’t have a drum kit or a drummer at your disposal, so you start programming beats. At a later stage in your career, your taste in music evolves and your status allows you to hire a drummer and you take a song to another level. Whether or not this results in an improvement is subjective. Sometimes it works, adds drive and energy to the track, sometimes it just kills the vibe that was the essence of the song to begin with. So, I am not totally against it, but I can understand that fans lose interest in a band that started as a purely electronic act and then turns into a rock band. Well, grow a pair. The number of new artists to explore is endless.
You primarily sing in English but like with ‘Was Immer’ on ‘A Worthy Compensation’, ‘Trockenfallen Lassen’ on this album is in Deutsch, so how do you decide what song is delivered in your own language, what factors do you take into account?
We chose English as our first artistic language because it is international and has a wider reach. It’s also fun to write in English because the language has so many options for wordplay and ambiguity and its melody is so great to sing. German lyrics are way harder to conceive, in my opinion. It can be very beautiful and whenever we find a song that presents itself as an opportunity for a German lyric we are happy to take it. When we perform in front of a German audience, as we usually do, singing in German hardly leaves anything to the imagination. To be authentic, you have to tell the truth and hit a nerve.
With ‘Trockenfallen Lassen’, we managed to write a strong lyric that leaves room for interpretation and we weaved it into an ambient soundscape with melancholic chord sequences and it became a beautiful gem. If you ask me, it is one of the strongest songs on the album. These are magical moments that just happen. You cannot plan for this.
The 2016 ‘She Cried’ single featured a cover of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘The Black Hit Of Space’ while the deluxe edition of ‘A Worthy Compensation’ included a Johnny Cash song ‘Folsom Prison Blues’; are there any cover versions planned as future bonuses? Some DURAN DURAN maybe? 😉
The list is very long. Our musical taste is so diverse and we have heard so much great music in our lifetime.
And doing a cover is always fun. For example, on our second album we did a cover of ‘Being Boiled’ that we also performed on stage. ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ also has a story to it. Initially the idea sparked when in 2000 we toured Germany with our friends from ICON OF COIL. They told us that Stephan Groth had the idea of putting a compilation together with Johnny Cash cover versions and they told us which song they had chosen to do. Time passed, nothing happened. Then in 2002, we toured the US with APOPTYGMA BERZERK and the topic came up again. We browsed the works of Johnny Cash and finally decided which song it was going to be. Time passed, nothing happened.
So when we put together the bonus material for ‘A Worthy Compensation’, we remembered there was still that cover version to be made. And since that compilation didn’t happen, we recorded it exclusively for the Complete Edition of the album. Surely I can see us working on some DURAN DURAN in the future, but at the moment we are focusing on our own material. By the way there is that song on our last album that kind of pays homage to early DURAN DURAN. Not many people have noticed, but some have.
Oh yes! ‘24/7 Mystery’ has a ‘Girls On Film’ vibe… so ‘I Hope You’re Not Easily Scared’ closes what could be considered BEBORN BETON’s protest album, how do you hope ‘Darkness Falls Again’ will be received?
Every artist hopes that his new output will be received well, we are no different. We are aware that the political content of the album may throw off people, but that’s ok. There are plenty of other bands to explore.
Our albums have never been a quick fix. There is always a lot to discover, so many layers of sound to dive into. So much that you cannot grasp it with just a few listens. Our albums have always been growers. But if you give them time they will stay with you for life. Throughout our history, there have always been songs that had some bitter and melancholic references wrapped in a sweet melodic shell. These are the matters we like to address. The new album has an overall darker touch than for example ‘A Worthy Compensation’. We were and are still living in a time of a multi-level crisis. So the darker tone just came naturally. Still, we hope that people will feel the strong uplifting energy of the songs that is meant to drag peoples’ minds out of this misery and give them hope that things can change for the better.
What are your next plans as BEBORN BETON?
We have just lifted a second single off the album and there will be a third one that will be accompanied by a video before the album sees the light of day. I don’t want to go too much into detail, but we plan another release for later this year with one or two surprises.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to BEBORN BETON
Special thanks to Volker Maass at Operating//Generating
‘I Watch My Life On TV’ is available now without a countdown plonked into a countdown via the usual online platforms
‘Darkness Falls Again’ is released on 17th March 2023 by Dependent Records as a 48-page artbook with bonus CD, digisleeve CD, black vinyl LP and limited edition white vinyl LP as well as on the usual digital platforms, pre-order via http://lnk.spkr.media/beborn-beton-darkness
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Chris Ruiz
10th February 2023