Interview With Nihil Fist – Full Transcript
Nihil Fist first appeared on the scene with a number of self-released cassette tapes and CDs in the late 1990s where he started defining his own vision of rapid fire beats and relentless noise attacks combining elements of harsh noise and speedcore, but at the same time far apart from these genres.
Early on he started developing a cult following with these releases and his live appearances. In 2003 his first vinyl release came out on Praxis (Think & Destroy, Praxis 38) to be followed by a 7” on Sprengstoff and another 12” on Praxis in 2005 (Resistance is Fertile, Praxis 42, reviewed in Datacide 9 here)
After this the Nihil Fist project took on a lesser priority until he resurfaced in 2019 with a plethora of new releases on labels such as Cathartic Noize Experience and Independent Bloc 36 as well as new live shows.
We sat down with him in Berlin in October 2022 to talk about the past, present and future of the Nihil Fist project, organising parties, political activism and his work as a radical lawyer.
Q: To start with I’d like to ask you where are your musical and cultural origins?
Nihil Fist: I was born and grew up in East Berlin, so I grew up in the GDR, a socialist country, and I was 14 when the Wall came down. Maybe this is an important cut in life. My father was also born in Berlin, already my grandfather came to Berlin when he was 16. I’m quite happy that I was born here.
I could say about my musical roots, already when I remember when I listened to music passively in the radio when I was six or seven, I was always fascinated the most by electronic music. In the beginning of the 80s, ‘81, ‘82 when I was six, seven there were already electronic pop songs in the radio with synthesizers, and I always like these electronic songs the most.
When I was maybe 12, I think, I was starting to listen to music more actively, I was having a big passion for music, and I was into the music of bands like Yello or especially Depeche Mode. When I was 12 I was very fascinated by this comparably very dark and cold electronic sound they made. So I was from the beginning into electronic music and automatically only listened to almost only to electronic bands and I was really a big fan of Depeche Mode.
You also have to consider that I come from East Berlin so we had not access to really underground music, only what was somehow in the radio we could consume… and yeah when I was 14 the wall came down, this was really a very good timing for when I started my life with going out and going to parties and concerts.
I had this West Berlin world suddenly as well and also access to all kinds of music. I also changed school to West Berlin for some reason, I lived in East Berlin still but went to school in West Berlin then – so I also had friends immediately in West Berlin and they showed me places there and my taste then changed a bit to even harder and darker electronic sounds.
I was listening to electronic body music and around this kind of a music, also industrial I liked a lot, Blackhouse and Throbbing Gristle, Skinny Puppy, Frontline Assembly, Front 242, this kind of bands, and already when I was 16 years old I started also to interfere actively in the scene…
I had some friends and we already organised parties in East Berlin in former cultural houses of factories and we organized parties with music in this field, from Depeche Mode to electronic body music…
Then I was moving on and got to know the people, they were like two three four years older than me, who made these Terror Dance parties mostly in Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte which was a good part of Berlin at this time [laughs] where many things happened and which were focusing especially on electronic body music, and we made parties in Kulturbrauerei which was at this time just an empty industrial area.
We could rent a room and make everything DIY, like getting the sound system there and decorating the room a bit which was just a former room where the workers had their dinner during the day in Eastern Germany times and yeah, well this is roughly where I come from.
Until I was like maybe 18 I was into this scene and then realized that I was starting to search even more extreme sounds, that that was the sound that fascinated me, and from Industrial Music I discovered then even noisier stuff like Harsh Noise especially from Japan, and I was really much into Harsh Noise.
A friend of mine then gave me – which is a not so electronic – gave me tapes from bands like Napalm Death and Cannibal Corpse. This is how it started, and I also very much liked the very extreme and aggressive kind of Grindcore, Death Metal, Black Metal, Powerviolence, Crustcore a bit, and so I listened to Harsh Noise on one side, this extreme Death Metal stuff on the other side.
And a third part maybe was then… I have to explain: In the beginning of the 90s I wasn’t really fascinated by Techno, Electronic Body Music was something very different or quite a bit different, Techno I didn’t really like so much at this time, because it was for me too slow and not dark and aggressive enough, but then like around ‘94, I was nineteen, my cousin gave me a tape from Bunker with a recording of a Gabba Nation, Cut-X set and then I realized, okay now some parts of Techno move into a very dark, fast and hard direction and I started to like this also…
So I listened to the dark hard Gabba, the Death Metal, the Grindcore stuff and the Harsh Noise stuff, always searching in the mid 90s for the most extreme and aggressive music because somehow I had a passion for it, and I felt the most passion and energy when listening to this music. Also of course I went out in this direction. Berlin is a was a fantastic city at this time as well, I mean it’s still fantastic, though it changed a lot, I went out into these directions…
The concerts [took place] mainly in squats or small concert venues. I like that more, but also the music that I liked anyway had smaller venues because not so many people liked it.
Q: Then you also started making music yourself what was your inspiration for that?
Well yes, as I said what stuff I mainly listened to, but also of course I also had a lot of other musical
influences, also what was at this time interesting for me was this kind of Industrial Metal, a combination of Industrial and Metal with bands like Godflesh and things like this, and also Breakbeat, Digital Hardcore or what you call today Breakcore.
I listened to all of this, but I never had the idea that I would myself do music, I never learned how to make any kind of music, music equipment – I had no idea about this – but the thing is that I reached a point where I was not satisfied with the music that existed, that I could consume.
I had the impression, okay I discovered all the extreme boundaries that genres already had at the moment, and it was not really aggressive and fast and hard enough, and then it started in my head, at first I started in my head without a plan to compose music or have music in my head that I think would be even more aggressive and would be more interesting and then I reached a point the moment where I thought maybe I just try it myself.
But how and with what equipment? The thing is it just automatically…. I don’t know how it happened, but my cousin – as I said he was a bit more involved with the people in Bunker Berlin where I used to go – he gave me one day a a disc a diskette with the program Fast Tracker 2 on it, a music software, a very a simple one and I had no equipment at all…
I had no idea how this program worked, and I just bought a sound card, because at this time computers didn’t have a sound card internally and couldn’t do a music and so I bought a sound card and this was like all I invested financially – I think it was like 60 marks maybe, I don’t know, maybe 100 marks – and then I could get this program running and I started to get sounds out of it.
It was learning by doing because there was no internet, no YouTube tutorials or anything, and I just tried to get some sounds out of this program on my computer that could sound like the stuff that was inside my head. It was quite a slow process, very difficult to reach a sound that I liked because the sound had to be extreme in my imagination, but there were no extreme sound samples that I could use.
But slowly and slowly I just did it the way it was done at this time – very cheap by sampling sounds from like CDs or tapes, sampling them into my computer and then the only effect that was existing for me at this time was to maximize the volume of the sample and maximize it again, maximize it again until it got completely distorted and had a extremely distorted sound. So I tried this way to reach sounds that would somehow sound good and yeah, this is how I produced it then. And it took maybe one or two years until I had a result where I thought, okay this sounds not bad, this is something that I like.
There was this one first demo tape that I did with the name Terror! Terror! Terror! [laughs] and this tape was not really already something that I was completely satisfied with, but I thought okay it is already a statement. The idea in my head was to have a fusion of these three main music styles that I listened to, to have Harsh Noise in it but also with the rhythm and with hard drums like in Gabba, but in Gabba the songs that were existing were too slow for me, I wanted it to be as fast as in Grindcore and Death Metal so I tried somehow a combination of these three music styles and to make something of my own out of it, and I can say already or still today that like from the second demo tape that I made, the Audio Death tape which is now also re-released on vinyl, I was quite satisfied with the result – not with the sound, from today’s view of course I would do it completely different, but still I can live with it and um yeah this is how the sound came to life.
Q: Your very first releases at Nihil Fist were self-released on your own label Less Than Zero. Was the DIY aspect an important part of the project?
Yes, there are different aspects. On the one hand side yeah I told you it has also to do with DIY how we organized also parties. Generally I like DIY much more than the other way, the way with getting serviced by someone and you only do a special part of the whole thing.
I like the idea to do everything myself, because I think it’s also fun and it’s like a round thing if I do also the cover and then if I also go to the copy shop and do the stuff for the cover artwork. But in the end the DIY thing was just the only thing that was thinkable for me, because at this time I did not expect anyone to like the music that I made.
I even myself didn’t call it music. I wanted to do anti-music. I just wanted to do noise in a certain kind of sense, and I did not think that anyone would ever listen to it and like it. But as I was happy with the sound myself, I thought okay let’s do some physical – because there was no digital at that time – let’s do some physical items of it and tapes were the cheapest way to do it, and give it to people and maybe someone likes it.
So that’s why it was DIY. Also I mean I don’t remember… I think when I did the first tape I didn’t even know anyone who had a label, and I also did not really understand the concept of a label at this time. For me even the independent labels that existed were in another world, and I had not really contacts at that time to think about releasing it on some label. And as I also said I didn’t really expect someone to like it.
Apart from like one or two friends that were with me into extreme sounds, I also got these reactions that I thought I would get. Even people from the Gabba hardcore scene, when I played them my stuff, when I showed them my stuff and maybe one or two times I also asked maybe I could play at this party at the beginning or something – even those people said “come on this is not music anymore, this is just not normal, do you have mental problems, what is this stuff?” which is really funny because this is exactly what also their parents would think about the music they are listening to!
So I got also in the beginning these kind of reactions and to be honest I was very proud of these reactions, because at this time also I wanted to be the hardest and the one who makes the absolutely un-normalist sound you could ever imagine and so I was very proud of the anti-reactions or the negative reactions!
Q: Your first vinyl releases appeared on Praxis and Sprengstoff, two of the most explicitly radical left labels at the time in hardcore electronics. Was that a conscious decision?
It was not a conscious decision, but I think it was just a natural thing, because we already knew each other, you and me, and this also had reasons. I think yeah we we got to know each other three or four years before we did the vinyl thing together and it had reasons that like I think we had a connection… Also with Hannes from Sprengstoff Recordings because he was later joining the team of my party series, so we were together because we were not only sharing the same musical tastes, but also because we were all politically active in some way and had shared the same or similar political ideas. To put out the releases on these labels I mean this was not a decision by me, because I did not ask you – you asked me, and I was very happy about it that you asked me!
I did never expected to have a release on your label because I really admired your label and your work and that’s also why I seeked in the first place contact with you because I like the work that you do, the sound, the music you do, but also the label output and the parties you played. So I liked that and I was very happy that you asked me, as a person and also as a label where I really could very much imagine myself to be on, also because of its political content and political direction.
And it wasn’t only about the music so it happened like this!
Q: Utterly Wipeout was an event series you co-organised in the late 90s early 2000s – tell us more about that.
I had the idea together with Orange who’s also known under the pseudonym Cocktail Lytique. He had organised already parties before under on a different name, which were more industrial parties and he had the idea to start a party series with me because I came from a bit of another sound more from the Gabba-Hardcore-Breakcore which he was not into that much before.
He also liked my music. I played at one of his parties… So we decided to make our own party series and I liked the idea a lot, because somehow before our party series the genres were quite a lot split. The Gabba 4-4 Hardcore sound was almost only played in Bunker Berlin until it closed, and then later there was a location outside of Berlin in a former bunker, but the Breakbeat/Breakcore stuff had a totally different kind of party series and venues. Also Industrial Noise didn’t really have any party series and I liked to combine all these extreme noisy dance music directions, the harder side of Gabba, like Speedcore and the noisy music and so I wanted to have a place where this music was played at the party that I liked and also Mirko liked, Orange.
Also we liked to do it in different places, especially parties in squats because we like the people, the political attitude of the people very much as well as the surroundings, the atmosphere in squats which is more run down and dirty and DIY than in normal clubs or something like this.
That was the reason we did the parties and it worked out quite well. We were in different locations usually mostly squats. We started I think in Rigaer Strasse 78 and then in Eimer Berlin, but then soon we came to Køpi, which was anyway a place where I was active politically and personally a lot already. This was for us the perfect place to have these parties. So we did it for a few years and had lots of fun and invited people from other countries. It was a good time.
Q: You mentioned political activities what did they consist in?
I was a always, I mean not always, but from quite a young age somehow politically active. The musical stuff came first, but I was always a politically thinking person and had my opinions and I was in the squatter scene for instance, also in Antifa groups and things like this, and I always wanted to do something so I was always involved in different kind of groups. You can call it like autonomous kind of organization in squats but not only, to be active in the field especially of anti-capitalism, what you now call gentrification against the commercialisation of the city, rising rents etc.
Antifa was in the 90s a big thing in Berlin because there were a lot of Nazis in Berlin, threatening people, beating up people… so these kind of activities… In squats I did things like cooking for people and improving rooms that are there, like libraries and stuff like this…
I was also involved in the so-called anti-globalization movement in around the 2000s which I always like more to name anti-capitalist movement. I took part in protests against the big summits of the EU and G8 and the World Bank and things like this were a part of my political activities.
Q: You worked as a lawyer as well how are these activities connected?
For me it was interesting how I came to be a lawyer. In the first place I started studying law because I had no other idea and my stepfather was a lawyer – so somehow I thought okay, until I find something better that I have a passion for I study law. Also there I was politically active in left-wing student groups and we invited for instance lawyers who were active in interesting fields.
For instance defending a left-wing activists or asylum law, migration law or different kinds of stuff and this way I got to know lawyers that were somehow you could call activist lawyers, and this fascinated me and I could imagine to be a person like this to continue my political activity in this way. This is what I did then for like 16 years from 2003 on.
I was a criminal defense lawyer where I defended people who had problems because of their political activities, for instance who had clashes with the police on demonstrations and or problems because they squatted houses and things like this, or problems because they had clashes with fascists and then afterwards charges. So, yeah for me it very much made sense to work in this field, to help people professionally to get a good defense, a defense that is definitely on their side, helping them the best way out of charges professionally and also in an affordable way because I was not an expensive lawyer because these people don’t have much money. I only took what I needed to survive and to continue the work, and yeah so for me being a lawyer was somehow continuing to be politically active on another level.
Q: In the Nihil Fist discography there’s a gap from about 2005 to 2019. What happened there and what made you pick up the tracker again?
Yeah there’s a gap for two reasons I would say. The one reason is as I already said, I started to work finally, I mean I was not that old 28 years old or 27, I started to work as a lawyer. So I had not that much time and it took me quite a lot of energy and time to work. So there was a limited amount of time but also, maybe this is the more important reason, a bit I lost the passion for this kind of music.
I had listened to extreme aggressive music for a very long time until then and somehow I got a bit bored and concerning the Nihil Fist project also I had a bit the impression that I had said what I wanted to say somehow at this point in time. I didn’t have an idea what else I could produce music-wise. It was what I wanted to do and at the same time I started to be very passionate about other music styles, and I was all these 15 years active in music scenes, but I was not producing music.
I was DJing, listening to different music in the underground of course and was going out and making new connections meeting new people and I just was into different music. It was also electronic music, like I could say inspired or original 80s electronic underground music from very melodic stuff Synthpop, Italo Disco, New Beat and again Electronic Body Music, but also industrial of the 80s and there was very much going on in Berlin in this kind of music scene in these years, so I was more there, DJing a bit and doing stuff there.
Then yeah, I would go too far now maybe to explain why I did it, but I stopped working as a lawyer a few years ago, for many reasons, but one reason was I wanted to have time again for other things. I invested 16 years of time and energy into being a lawyer and also it got a bit I can say boring, but also exhausting. I’m not getting younger and I wanted to have more time for other things like music.
Music always was my biggest passion and then it was like an accident like always… A friend of mine asked me to play as Nihil Fist on her 30th birthday party in a famous former squat in Berlin. First I didn’t want to, but then I said yes okay I’ll do it. I did a Nihil Fist live act again after this big gap and it was fun.
It was really nice to meet the old people again and meet also the new people who were in the scene and I discovered again that I really like very much the people in the noisy core scene of Berlin and even more maybe than it was 15 years ago. It got much more diverse how you say it now, people are even more freaky and it’s not only about being the hardest today, and it’s not so only the darkness like it was then.
It’s very interesting and the people are very nice people, so I felt good and it developed that other people heard I was playing, they asked me to play in Vienna. I had interest in trying to do music again and somehow I really had fun with it and I had new ideas, and now I’m really intensely doing music again as Nihil Fist and I’m having a good time with it – and I think I’ll continue producing stuff. That’s how it happened that there was a gap in the discography and now it’s starting again or it has started again.
Q: You have quite a lot of releases since 2019. What can we expect in the future?
There will be even more releases in the future there will be very soon I hope in the next one or two months a new release on vinyl – so much I am allowed to say – and also there are other plans so I continue producing and I have ideas and I will see how life develops and my passion develops, but at the moment I’m having fun. (The new release is out now on Cathartic Noize Experience, see player just above this paragraph).
Some people may know, I also do some fun experiments and other music directions and producing sounds, but it’s just always for fun and what I like. The main thing is still the Nihil Fist project, especially because I’m still very much into the thing of very aggressive fast danceable music.
This was always important to me. I mean I could have also done Harsh Noise. Harsh Noise maybe the most aggressive music ever, but for me it was always important that the music still somehow was danceable and it has rhythms and you can dance to it and this I think for instance is not really given in Harsh Noise, it doesn’t really yeah animate you to move and dance and people have fun together.
So yeah, there will be stuff in the future also!
- Praxis Records
- Nihil Fist: Think & Destroy (Praxis 38)
- Nihil Fist: Resistance is Fertile (Praxis 42)
- Nihil Fist Bandcamp
- Nihil Fist Soundcloud
- Nihil Fist Facebook
- Nihil Fist YouTube channel
- Nihil Fist discography on Discogs
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