2023InterviewsOnline ExclusiveYouTube

Joke Lanz / Sudden Infant Interview

Full transcript of the exclusive interview with Joke Lanz / Sudden Infant from our YouTube channel Noise & Politics.

Christoph Fringeli: Can you tell us about the punk scene in Switzerland at the time in the early 80s. What were your experiences there, how did it relate to the wider experience in Switzerland at the time, and how did that lead up to you making music yourself

Joke Lanz: The punk scene in Switzerland at the time – early 80s – was was pretty small, and I got into it through a good friend of mine. We met in the Boy Scouts when I was like I don’t know 12, 13 years old and he was a bit older than me and he was one of the first punks in Switzerland. So I went quite often to his home and we were listening to the latest records from London and that was kind of my entrance to the punk scene and I just completely got into it and so I started to to go to punk shows – and yeah of course I had the wish to also to make music in that direction, but it took me a while until I got into a band.

Switzerland at the time was pretty grim country. I mean it was quite a rich country, everybody had a a job, but the normal life was was not really exciting. I mean in the sense of different cultural activities and things. People went to Opera, the theatre, the music scene was pretty boring and in 1980 there was the Autonomous Youth Center in Zurich that created a big political discussion because the young people were going on the street to fight for the for the centre to get this house. At the same time the bourgeoisie and the upper class in in Switzerland got millions of of Swiss Francs for the opera house, so big riots started in Zürich.

That was also for me an exciting time to witness this whole thing. I think it was big news even in other countries in Europe because there’s rich Switzerland, Zürich with all the banks, and suddenly they had this uprising from the younger generation. There were riots everywhere, shop windows got broken in the famous Bahnhofstrasse and that was a big thing.

I mean I was a young punk at the time, still in a small village and I traveled to Zurich or to the next bigger city from time to time to to see some punk shows, and at the time the subculture was easy to overlook, I mean there were Teddy boys, skinheads, punk people, poppers or you know it was it was not so diverse like it is nowadays.

I mean nowadays there’s no such thing anymore as a subculture; this was really a phenomenon from that time. I mean you got really stared at on the street, people were looking at you because most people dressed very normal, they had normal haircuts and either you had long hair you were a hippie or a rocker – or you had a kind of short hair or whatever, then you were more in the punk scene.

So yeah it happened that I had to run away several times from some like groups of of upright citizens or even from Teddy Boys, who tried to chase me and beat me up. So that was kind of a game, you know…

CF: Eventually you started playing in a punk band called Jaywalker.

JL: Yeah that was a bit later then um when I moved to Aarau which is a small city and I opened a record shop, a small one, and one day a guy was there and asked me if I can play bass and I said “no”, so he said “but you can try” and then “why not” – and so we started a band called Jaywalker which was more a bit like hardcore punk, direction Black Flag, with kind of experimental parts in it as well, and so that’s how I started to make music.

CF: Your first release as Sudden Infant appeared in 1999 there was a cassette tape as well as a 7” with the sounds of bottles getting smashed which was still pretty punk… What led to the drastic development of Sudden Infant, what was the inspiration to move away from traditional instruments and band format to the action arts of Sudden Infant?

JL: In 88 – I was still playing with the with my punk band – my girlfriend got pregnant and we decided to to go through this and to have this this baby and so I decided to stop with the band. The band continued, but I quit the band and I wanted to still to make a project and it was the time when when I was really interested in Industrial Music, like noise experimental stuff. Throbbing Gristle, Suicide… all that stuff was really great to listen to and a big influence for me.

So I started with tape manipulations at home and very basic, stuff very noisy stuff um so that’s the beginning of of Sudden Infant. The same time when my son was born, Celeste, and I met Rudolf at the time, it was a very exciting time and going more into the noisy side of music. My idea was to get to start the first release with a very pure statement like smashing bottles. So we amplified a recycling container where people go to throw the empty bottles in there. So we amplified it with microphones and I was throwing bottles in there that was basically the whole 7”.

CF: You just mentioned Rudolf Eb.er. You produced a radio show with him called Psychic Rally on the Zürich alternative local radio LoRa. What was the concept and the ideas behind Psychic Rally?

JL: Psychic Rally was a very unusual radio show it was not um in the normal sense of a radio show where you play some music from a record and then you make a comment and then you play another track. We played like several tracks at the same time, I mean we created a big collage and we included live talks or people calling us on the phone so we mixed tapes, records, spoken word stuff all together. It was great to do this with together with Rudolf because I was just about to know him as a person.

Another friend of mine told me about him, and when I got the offer to make a radio show at the LoRa radio station I thought why not ask Rudolf. So I got his phone number, I called him and then we met and that was the beginning of our friendship and of our working relationship. We were both very much into Dada and also Vienna actionists like Otto Muehl, Günter Brus, Schwarzkogler, Nitsch etcetc.

So we were very fascinated by this physical approach of doing art or music, you know, and so that’s what we tried to do then with all these experimental sounds but also do it in a more performative way, like live performances as Schimpfluch group or Sudden Infant. in the early years, Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock. We had many different names but we were basically always the same guys.

CF: The first Sudden Infant release appeared on the Schimpfluch label and on the back of the first LP Radiorgasm is a manifesto-like text. Tell us more about the ideas expressed in that text and the Abreaction play and the “creation of a new reality”.

JL: I mean the Schimpfluch label was run by Rudolf himself and it was obvious that when we became good friends and we worked together that he also wanted to release my own stuff, so I released the very first Sudden Infant LP Radiorgasm on his label. I recorded it at the radio studio LoRa in Zurich together with guests. Dave Phillips was part of it, Inzect and B. Lingg that’s Sändu Widmer, who sadly passed away some years ago. We recorded it there and the manifesto on the back of the record is – as you probably can guess – very influenced by the Vienna actionists.

It means for me a kind of a Liberation act, to step out of of the of the bourgeois context and create your own creative universe. And yeah just do what you want to do, be courageous, be crazy, be subversive and don’t just follow the normal path of normal daily life as other people do, and so that’s the whole thing about the abreaction play.

In this whole sense and philosophy of Sudden Infant as an adult go back to be an infant, you know, and just scream and and express yourself in a more dadaistic way. Don’t be just normal or or friendly, you can be mean, you can be playful but you know I think these are things that um can lead you to another sensual aesthetic. The whole Schimpfluch group aesthetics got more intense after some years, we were doing a lot of live performances together Rudolf, me, Dave sometimes in in various combinations.

We got invitations to perform in other countries, and one of the highlights was in 2012 I think in Bristol at the Arnolfini Art Center. We had a three days festival which was built around the whole Schimpfluch group, it was called Extreme Rituals. We got quite a lot of money from the British Arts Council, the Swiss Arts Council etc and and so we were able to invite other artists from all over the world who were kind of close to Schimpfluch like GX Jupitter-Larsen for instance or Mike Dando or some Japanese artists like Junko.

This was a big festival and we had panel discussions, talks, workshops, performances, exhibitions. That was a great thing in Bristol as I remember, really cool! The core of the group was mainly Rudolf, me, Dave, Marc Zeier aka G. Park, as well then Daniel Löwenbrück who was also a member of the group and at the same time he was also publishing a lot of our work on his Tochnit Aleph label. The group is based in different places in the world. Dave is still in Zürich, Rudolf is in Japan since a long time, I’m in Berlin since a long time.

So it’s not that we work together all the time I mean it’s been a bit out of out of activity since quite a while, but still some releases are coming out from time to time.

CF: You also ran your own labels Soya-Sauce Bolognese but released a lot of tapes CDs and records on a string of other labels. How was the Sudden Infant project developing, both musically and in terms of subject matter?

JL: I was working a lot on different sounds and also my own performance stuff, combined a kind of a physical appearance on stage, moving with contact mics. I always loved the the energy of punk so I wanted to transform this energy also into an experimental performance, I mean the early Sudden Infant stuff was mainly very noisy stuff, very simple noise stuff. I opened up more and more into using different aesthetics, from rhythms, texts, spoken word, body sounds… of course that was always important. I loved to change the music always, so I was never staying on the same thing.

That’s why I got so many releases on different labels all over the world, because some labels liked maybe my old stuff, others they liked my new stuff, so yeah, I got many offers to release things. Blossoming Noise was a great label who approached me, but also Harbinger Sound in England. And of course I was touring a lot, I played many many shows in the noise scene. I think every noise promoter knew my name, so it was kind of easy to organize a tour.

I was all over Europe, performed in the US many times at No Fun Festival in New York, I performed in Japan, I was in South Africa, I think I remember in one year I was doing four tours on four different continents, which was quite exhausting but somehow also funny because I was sitting at the airport waiting for my plane and and I saw all these business people running around, and then I thought that’s that’s interesting I mean I’m kind of a a guy who is is traveling around with his noise music… and I’m doing my own little business if you if you look at it in that sense. But of course a different business, not a corporate capitalist business – it’s a totally the opposite.

CF: You didn’t uh just tour a lot in that period um you also moved to Berlin at first in 1998 for a couple of years then back to Zürich before living in London for three years until 2006, and then you moved back to Berlin where you still reside now. How did these urban environments affect your artistic production?

JL: Well I always loved urban environments! I was born in Basel and I grew up in Basel until I was 10 years old and then we moved to the countryside, but yeah Basel is maybe not the biggest city, but still it’s an urban environment, and I loved it to walk through the city and so I always wanted to move into a bigger city. Berlin was a always one of my favorite cities I went there often in the early 80s, to West Berlin at the time, just for a holiday.

I was walking around Kreuzberg at the time and and I loved it and, so yeah one day um I made this dream come true – I moved to Berlin in 98, but I went back to Zurich afterwards for a while, and then I went to London it was a great time in London but it was a bit difficult. London is very expensive, it’s not the best quality of living because you live in tiny little houses for expensive money in zone four or five and it’s it’s not easy to meet your friends in London but still I loved it.

But after three years I was completely broke, I couldn’t finance myself anymore, so I decided to go back to Berlin which welcomed me with open arms and yeah since since then I’m in Berlin. Of course the the city has a big influence on me although it changed a lot but I just love all the little scenes and moments in daily life.

I’m a big observer of situations, I love to watch people, you know, what they do and how they react to certain situations, and these little moments sometimes go into my lyrics and into my performances, so that’s why I really prefer to live in a big city, in an urban environment – although getting older now I sometimes feel the urge to to go somewhere, I don’t know, the mountains or in south of France and enjoy the more the easy way… But you know I still need to make another million to buy me a house!(laughs)

CF: You use cut-up voice lyrics and spoken word elements in your work. What is the function of the human voice and of text in your work?

JL: The human voice for me is the purest expression. When a baby is born it’s not really looking around all the time, it’s mostly making noises with the voice, you know, kind of like this [makes baby noises]. This expression is fantastic, and you eventually start to build words and your own style of expression. So that’s why I was really keen on working mainly with with my voice and I got more into working with words as well, with texts and with poems, but mostly in the sense of kind of childish things like nursery rhymes and and dadaistic word constructions that I really love, like things that you repeat all the time and then you change it slightly, so this became a main part of my work, of the work of Sudden Infant and it still is.

CF: Tell us more about the equipment you used over the years. You mentioned some broken electronics earlier in the interview, I think, and how you approach the production aspect of the Sudden Infant releases.

JL: In the early years, as I mentioned before, I worked with really simple and cheap equipment like tape recorders. I read William S. Burroughs’s Electronic Revolution and I was fascinated by his theory of recording voices with different tape recorders and then making cut-ups and play them back somewhere in in public spaces or wherever. So I bought me some old tape recorders from the flea market and maybe sometimes you also found an effect pedal or something, but it was all analog really cheap low-fi equipment. And I started these experiments with microphones and and also creating feedback.

I recorded my son when he was small many many times. We did playful games with recording stuff, played back together and so I still have tons of archive material from that time. Of course over the years the equipment became a bit more sophisticated, when I bought my first sampler or when I started to play the turntables. They also got important for certain Sudden Infant tracks, but not not that important. Later on I separated this, playing the turntables under my own name, Joke Lanz, and doing the Sudden Infant stuff more with my voice or with electronic sampling.

CF: After a quarter century of mainly doing solo work for Sudden Infant the project mutated into a three-piece band in 2014, I believe, and has released three major albums so far. How did that come about?

JL: Yeah, around 2013 I was still performing solo as Sudden Infant. I got a bit bored and tired always to play in the same the same noise venues or same noise festivals in front of the same people. At the time noise became a bit more trendy, I saw many noise shows that were really bad, I mean everybody was suddenly a noise artist and the quality dropped. So I really wanted to change something with Sudden Infant. I thought either I’m gonna stop and I’m gonna start a completely new project or I’m gonna change Sudden Infant drastically and transform it into a band. Most of my friends supported me in this, Sudden Infant should continue in any form.

I asked my favorite musicians at the time, Christian Weber – bass player – and Alexandre Babel – a percussionist and drummer – and they were completely enthusiastic about this, so yes sure they really wanted to be a part of Sudden Infant. Ever since then we are a three-piece band, drums, bass, I do electronics and vocals – so it’s kind of going back to my punk years, to have a a proper band on stage and it’s still this Sudden Infant aesthetics with this absurdist humour, with the dadaistic forms and aesthetics, but it’s more powerful it’s more Noise Rock, a Noise Punk with a shot of industrial.

Sudden Infant as a three piece band

We can play different venues now, different festivals, we can play in front of a rock audience and so it’s opening up a bit more. But yeah I mean of course it’s more difficult now to find gigs because we are a three-piece band, we need a bit more money, the equipment is larger, so I recently decided to reactivate my solo performances, but of course not under the name of Sudden Infant, but just under my own name. Last year I did a couple of shows in France and the people really loved it, so I’m probably gonna do another tour this year where I just do my solo stuff, you know.

And then the other stuff that I’m focusing of course very much on is my turntable playing, because being a turntablist is for me very special because it’s like playing an instrument. I play this this turntable stuff for 25 years now and I have access to another scene, more the improv Jazz scene or sometimes even contemporary music. They ask me for turntable compositions which is great because it opens for me a world on a higher level, you know, you get proper hotel rooms and you get a proper salary for what you do – which is great because normally as a as a musician in the experimental scene you’re completely underpaid, nobody really wants to give you money and you have to fight for it because it’s it’s a job like any other job

CF: You have been involved with many different collaborations over the years… Tell us more about those! We already talked about Schimpfluch Gruppe, but there’s been quite a lot of releases and presumably tours or at least single gigs with duos.

JL: I have a lot of collaborations and mainly duos, also some trios where I’m playing the turntables. One of my oldest is with Christian Weber, where he’s playing the double bass, so it’s turntables and double bass which is a quite a special combination of instruments. This is an ongoing project. I have a duo with Shelley Hirsch, vocalist from New York but also with Ute Wassermann in Berlin. She’s an experimental vocalist and I love to perform my turntable work with vocalists because really it creates a very special intensity and atmosphere.

I also have a great trio with a Almut Kühne on vocals and Alfred Vogel on drums, which is sometimes almost a bit an abstract trip hop groove thing and I have a new collaboration with a Swiss guitar player Beat Keller the duo is called Two Dogs, there will be a an LP coming in May, and then there’s another great trio I’m performing with Sophie Agnel on piano and Michael Vatcher on drums he used to play with The Ex in Amsterdam. Yeah that’s it so far – I mean I cannot complain! I’m I’m pretty busy doing lots of things and, as I said before, I really want to focus again on my solo voice and electronics just under my own name and I hope to present this new program soon in Berlin, but also in other cities in Europe.

CF: What other projects are you currently working on and for the other plans for the future?

JL: Working in the field of improvised experimental noise music you can’t just hold on to one or two projects, you always have to be in a certain movement and I really love to try new projects with musicians and people that I like. So one brand new thing is a duo with Julie Semoroz from Geneva. She’s a great sound artist, she works a lot with contact microphones like I do, so we just recorded some stuff in Geneva.

In general I would love to spend more time doing compositions at home, working on solo sound collages, either with turntables or with my voice. All this also combined with my visual universe because I still love to create visual stuff, either paintings or collage stuff and so I see this all as one thing. So if I ever would get the time and maybe the money to stay at home for a while, then I would love to just work on one thing and not be on the road all the time… or in the bars [Laughter] cheers!

CF: Thank you!

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  • The Molehill Report #11 - January 2023The Molehill Report #11 from January 2023 presents as special guest Joke Lanz, aka Sudden Infant and traces his journe from punk to actionism. We also celebrate the first birthday of The Molehill Report and look at what else is in store for the Noise & Politics YouTube channel.

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