Q&A: Hackedepicciotto

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hackedepicciotto performs January 30 with DBUK at Lost Lake. Photo by Sylvia Steinhäuser

Hackedepicciotto is an avant-garde, multimedia project formed out of the collaboration between Alexander Hacke and Danielle de Picciotto. Hacke is the bassist and one of the sound designers in influential industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten and de Picciotto is an internationally renowned author and musician in her own right as well as a co-founder of the now defunct electronic music festival the Love Parade in Berlin. Their work in various projects across the past few decades has been rich, diverse and prolific. As Hackedepicciotto the duo has produced a body of work that explores the ways in which what some call late capitalism and its fallout with widespread gentrification in cities and the consequences for those who have carved a niche as creative people and those who are drawn to doing so.

De Picciotto wrote a remarkable graphic novel published in Europe in 2013 and in the USA in 2015 called We Are Gypsies Now in which she outlines how she and her husband, Hacke, came to realize they were basically being priced out of their longtime home of Berlin and how it was becoming a city that was increasingly losing some of its character, of decades if not centuries, as a place generally open to and welcoming creative types and lateral thinkers of all stripes. That realization inspired the couple to travel around where they could perform in search of a new place to call home. In the end, as you will read below, de Picciotto and Hacke came to some conclusions about the state of the world and their hometown. That subject and their discoveries since have been the subject of at least two albums, 2016’s Perseverantia and 2017’s Menetekel. A powerful expression of despair can be felt throughout both albums but in the end, Hackedepicciotto believe not the platitude that things will all work out but that hope for making a better future is not a naive concept. We interviewed Hackedepicciotto via email in 2018 following their 2017 tour of North America.

Queen City Sounds: How did you come to record Perseverantia in the Mojave desert? Is there anything about that setting or the circumstances of being there then that inspired documenting your travels up to that point?

Danielle: We have been traveling art nomads for over seven years now and at one point we ended up in Joshua Tree. I fell in love with the starkness of the desert. It is incredibly inspiring because it brings you back to life’s basics so we recorded not only “Perseverantia” there but I also recorded my solo album “Tacoma” during the same time period. I would have loved moving there immediately but Alexander does not have a drivers license which would have made it difficult for him to move around freely and it is very far from Europe where we do need to be quite often so we decided to put it on hold for the time being. I still do have the dream of owning a small cottage there to retreat whenever possible.

Alexander: The desert is vibrating with energy. You might say that it’s a barren and lifeless landscape, but it really is radiant with life. There’s hundreds of plants and creatures within every square inch. Also there’s no apparent boundary, few geographical features blocking your view. All of that does have a very inspiring effect and gave us the opportunity to look at our work from a different angle. We gave up traditional song structures and arrangements thankfully due to those surroundings.

QCS: What seemed like the most likely places to find a sanctuary for creative types as you had in Berlin in the 80s and to some extent in the 90s? What ultimately made those places not quite what you were looking for?

Danielle: Joshua Tree and the Hudson Valley both seemed like the perfect places because they are not overpriced yet, have a great artists community and are beautiful nature-wise. Hudson Valley was basically the decision we made after five years of contemplation. In the end effect we did not move there for two reasons: 1) we were originally invited to do an artists residency in a private art space there for a year and had planned to use that as a starting point from where we could look for work and connections. After we told the curator that we would accept his offer he informed us that as we had stopped drinking his invitation was not open anymore as that would bother him whilst drinking. (!) The art residency was obviously a very unprofessional one and we are happy it did not go through but it did shock us to be confronted in such a manner on something we were rather proud of having achieved so we started looking around once more when 2) the elections happened. That was the second shock which brought us back to Berlin to try and understand what is happening in the world at the moment.

Alexander: Well, ultimately we didn’t manage to discover a place, a city or a community that would live up to the West-Berlin standards and we realized that it would be silly to even try looking for that. Instead it is imperative to understand what “[survival of the fittest” really means, because it is not about strength, or appetite or ambition, it’s about being able to adapt, so we should all let go of the romanticized, sentimental and awfully nostalgic notion that anything could be the way it once was again and rather try to make things happen in any given place. Not being twenty anymore sort of reduces the options though, of what I am willing to invest myself into.

QCS: What circumstances do you think made Berlin such a great place as a sanctuary for artists? How might such a situation be attained now even given the dire state of the world?

Alexander: Not only were we perfectly secluded from the rest of the west, the special status of our elitist little village informed the selection of people, who would go there. You wouldn’t be drafted into the [mandatory] year of military service if you were a registered citizen of West-Berlin, so all the freaks who’d have a problem with the system represented by the army and whatnot, could safely realize their personal utopia there and because of the presence of the allied forces stationed by the winner nations of the Second World War, we had quite a good connection to what was happening abroad internationally, in London, New York and Paris to some extent, if you will.

Danielle: In the 80s Berlin was an island which was completely subsidized because of being an island within cold war communism. That meant that everything was very cheap and money was not an issue. You could work in a cafe two times a week and pay your rent and food from that so art and music were not done with commercial interest in mind. This brought about that Berlin became a madcap laboratory of unusual sounds, ideas and experiments which would nourish creativity all over the world. Personally I think that this is the key to being able to live a healthy, humane life and make oneself free of our insane world: find a place to live which is cheap and spend your time not trying to earn money but to do things that really mean something.

QCS: Have you found havens to stay while you travel? How has being on the move regularly now impacted the legal aspects of being able to travel and other mundane matters most people take for granted?

Danielle: We have many homes now and they are mainly influenced by our friends. We have discovered that the saying “home is where the heart is” is true and that the heart is mainly there where one has good friends. Because of traveling so much we have met incredible people all over the world and those havens are places that give us strength and hope. We try to travel to their cities regularly to create a net connecting all of them with like minded people and in this way spread the strength that we receive.

Alexander: I used to enjoy air travel a lot more than I do now with all those security and luggage regulations “The Man” is imposing on us. What equipment we are able to bring and what not is having considerable impact on our work. That is maybe a good thing, because we have to calculate and re-adjust the weight and efficiency of every detail in our cases over and over. We travel with a scale and make sure that all our checked luggage is maxed out.

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Hackedepicciotto, We Are Gypsies Now tour 2015, photo by Tom Murphy

QCS: Why do you feel times have changed and it seems more like a dog eat dog world? That makes it sound like you gave up on the idea of finding a sanctuary like Berlin used to be. Have you?

Alexander: I am grateful to still be able to make a living with music. We are doing pretty well in comparison to almost every other profession. I do really cherish to get to put my energy into creating something meaningful, rather than having to do some kind of slave labor or, even worse, to get paid for being a heart-[less] and soulless corporate prick, in order to pay the fucking rent. And yes, thank God for our wonderful friends who have our backs.

Danielle: Negative news is everywhere and reading it all the time can be very depressing. But there are very many positive things happening all the time and it is important to concentrate on them and give them your support. It just takes more time to find out about them—I try to keep my Facebook page free of negative news and post as much positive news as possible to prove this. There are a lot of small communities getting together everywhere, in the US and Europe, connecting people that are environmentally aware and that actively work on changing things. These communities are incredibly inspiring and one can either join them or learn from what they do and try to integrate this into daily life. All of them are as inspiring as Berlin used to be but in different ways. Berlin’s most creative times were in the 80s and 90s which is now quite some time ago and it would not make sense to turn back time. The world has changed and we need to look into the future not into the past.

QCS: When you speak of displaced people, the thousands of homeless souls you speak of in your press release, what is the essence of what you think many of us have lost in the wake of what made Berlin unaffordable in the way it used to be but also many other cities in the world where creativity found a home?

Danielle: Society has become corrupted. We all seem to believe that what the companies want us to think and we need to become free of this because it is not only killing our health but also our souls.

Alexander: Change, transcendence and reform [are] imperative for the survival of mankind. Luckily it can’t be avoided and will happen anyway no matter how hard reactionaries will cling to their valuables. You have to start with yourself and try not to be too frustrated with the ridiculous amount of time it seems to take for everyone else to get into it.

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Hackedepicciotto, Menetekel tour 2017, photo by Tom Murphy

QCS: The word “Menetekel” means “the writing on the wall” and I take that to mean that what was happening to the creative community and the social and physical infrastructure that made a creative life a viable option and possible to thrive is now happening to everyone. That is to say, in our capitalistic world where rampant greed is the only protected value, creative work is not valued and seen as a luxury and thus more or less the first thing to go, to be sacrificed. My melodramatic language aside, what made the collective despair of the world seem like particularly fruitful material for your new record?

Danielle: When we record it happens instinctively and we were quite surprised how dark some of our tunes had become. It is always interesting to record first and then speak about what happened because that way you can see what your subconscious is saying. Here in Berlin we work in an area that is very poor and in which a lot of refugees are put. Their collective despair can be felt palpably, being displaced is terrible. Living in a country after having lost your family, your job, your home only to arrive somewhere where you are considered a subhuman, cannot speak the language and have almost no prospects besides being alive is unimaginable for anybody that has not experienced it. I think we felt a lot of this despair besides the feeling of homelessness we felt whilst traveling ourselves. When you travel a lot you can experience transcontinental shifts on a one to one daily basis and our world is changing at a breakneck speed. Most people do not think it will affect them because they refuse to see the writing on the wall and go on numbing their minds with fatty foods, alcohol and non stop media. If people do not wake up it will soon be too late.

Alexander: Menetekel is about waking up to the reality of our condition.The reference to the word as it is used expressing impending doom in German, is a biblical story found in the book of Daniel, chapter five.

QCS: Obviously the dark intensity of the album matches the subject matter. How does performing this music along with your visuals affect you revisiting the music and channeling that kind of vibe?

Danielle: It makes me want to find as many ways as possible to help change things to a brighter future.

Alexander: Ideally we create with the vibrations of our music and Danielle’s imagery (if we have it) a bond between the audience and us, the performers. By sharing the moment together in the given venue, we get to connect and experience reality as a unit, a community. Separation is an illusion and with our art we try to overcome that false view of the world.

QCS: The final song is “Crossroad.” What kind of crossroad do you feel humanity and human culture may be at this time? What do you see as possible paths that seem likely before us?

Danielle: I think that people have to realize that they cannot wait for others to save us. We are the others. Every single person is responsible to make change possible. As we can see with elections: every body that does not vote makes evil possible.

Alexander: Know thyself. Stop buying into consumerism. Quit drinking and go vegan. Meditate. That’s a start.

Best Shows in Denver 1/24/19 – 1/30/19

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hackedepicciotto performs January 30 with DBUK at Lost Lake. Photo by Sylvia Steinhäuser

Thursday | January 24, 2019

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Meet the Giant, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Meet the Giant w/Dead Pay Rent, Mr. Atomic
When: Thursday, 01.24, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Meet the Giant, perhaps unintentionally, perhaps subconsciously, perhaps entirely by plan, has drawn on both 80s and 90s sounds at a time when the various aesthetics of those decades are firmly back in vogue. Downtempo, brooding post-punk, the rhythms of sample-driven composition and emotionally rich vocals make for a band that sounds instantly like something beyond having an appeal to nostalgia while drawing on a hint of that. The group spent nearly a decade honing its songcraft and chemistry as a unit and more than a small amount of the intimacy that comes out of such extended wood shedding comes through in the music like you’re getting to experience that connection that friends have who can share much with each other and be real. Many bands put on some kind of ego-driven facade fueled by a kind of borrowed rock and roll myth bravado. Meet the Giant comes about its rock and roll power honestly and with tender emotions laid bare, which is always more compelling than tough guy strutting any day of the week. Do yourself a favor and see them or at least check out their remarkable 2018 self-titled debut.

Who: DSTR, eHpH, Cutworm
When: Thursday, 01.24, 8 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: DSTR is Destroid, a project of Daniel Meyer who some may know more for his work as half of influential EBM band Haujobb. Distorted vocals, imaginative soundscaping, strong, pulsing beats and menacing, glitch-hazed atmospherics. Denver’s eHpH has been making an interesting hybrid of industrial rock and dark EBM of their own but refreshingly unlike any of their peers in the Mile High City. Cutworm is a bit of a left field choice for a bill like this if its 2018 Swallow EP is any indication with its sound being unfruitful in placing in a particular genre box. Its sounds range from modern downtempo darkwave to especially beautifully moody IDM. Live, though, Cutworm definitely brings the industrial edge into the production.

Friday | January 25, 2019

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Klaus Dafoe, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Red Tack, George Cessna and Blindrunner
When: Friday, 01.25, 9 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: Red Tack is the solo, somewhat weirdo singer-songwriter project of Ted Thacker who should be remembered widely for being in 90s alternative rock band Baldo Rex and later as a member of indiepop band Veronica. Whatever his pedigree, Thacker has remained one of Denver’s most interesting songwriters and personalities. George Cessna is the son of Slim Cessna of Auto Club fame. The younger Cessna’s own work is both not too surprising considering his father’s legendary musical legacy but he is far from a carbon copy and his use of raw sound and atmosphere in his recordings and his wide ranging musical style in a broader realm of Americana and weirdo folk is noteworthy on its own merits.

Who: faim (record release), Line Brawl, Euth, Moral Law and Targets
When: Friday, 01.25, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Hardcore band faim is releasing its latest seven inch through Convulse Records and celebrating the occasion with a few of Denver’s and Wyoming’s best hardcore acts.

Who: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1 and 2
When: Friday, 01.25, 9:30 p.m.
Where: Sie Film Center
Why: Tobe Hooper passed away in 2017 leaving behind a legacy of unusual and influential films beginning, in terms of impact, with 1974’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a movie so graphically violent and darkly disturbing for the time, because it felt more like a documentary than the mostly tame horror cinema up to its release. In 1986 he released the sequel as a horrifying kind of parody. Between that, the 1982 Poltergeist film, 1985’s space vampire spectacle Lifeforce and numerous other films, Hooper’s unique cinematic vision will be celebrated for years to come including this month-long or so series hosted by Theresa Mercado kicking off this night on the director’s birthday.

Who: Flaural, Panther Martin and The Eye & The Arrow
When: Friday, 01.25, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: The kind of line up you want to see more often in the realm of indie rock with Flaurel’s psychedelic pop, Panther Martin’s visionary lo-fi rock and The Eye & The Arrow’s re-working of Americana into something we’re not hearing ad infinitum on playlists and radio stations with a fairly vanilla stream of content.

Who: Klaus Dafoe, New Standards Men and Simulators
When: Friday, 01.25, 9 p.m.
Where: The Skylark Lounge
Why: Klaus Dafoe seems to be a sort of instrumental rebirth of late 90s to mid-2000s indie math rock but deconstructed to be more fractured and potentially more interesting than some of the bands mining that neo-mathcore/emo sound of late. Simulators are the kind of post-punk that carves out the overtly atmospheric quality for stark contrasts of tone and angular rhythms that somehow still flow without getting splintery and yet, despite that intentional minimalism, bursting with Bryon Parker’s raw emotional vocals.

Saturday | January 26, 2019

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Hippo Campus, photo by Pooneh Ghana

Who: Hippo Campus w/Now Now
When: Saturday, 01.26, 9 p.m.
Where: The Ogden
Why: Hippo Campus has been writing finely crafted pop songs since its early days and challenging itself to make each record reflect not just personal and creative growth, qualities you’d want in any band worth your continued attention, but an evolving approach to larger cultural narratives. The group’s 2018 album Bambi offers no pat answers or platitudes. It is a record brimming with questions instead of the instant opinion/instant expert tendency that permeates our culture from the way people interact and present themselves on social media and how one must conduct oneself in various contexts lest one be thought indecisive rather than recognizing and learning to identify nuance—not in a way to placate all sides but in order to avoid the hubris of being unaware of one’s own limitations of knowledge and comprehension. It can be enjoyed as just a solid pop album but there’s a great deal of dimensionality and content for anyone wanting to listen deeper.

Who: A Celebration of 1/26 with Weird Al Qaida, Gregory Ego and Mermalair
When: Saturday, 01.26, 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Weird Al Quaida is an avant-garde punk/noise/psychedelic band from Denver that doesn’t perform often. Definitely for fans of the more rock end of Sun City Girls.

Who: Space Jail, Snaggletoothe and Claudzilla
When: Saturday, 01.26, 7:30 p.m.
Where: The People’s Building
Why: Space Jail might be described as a psychedelic synth band. Snaggletoothe as psych prog. Claudzilla as a one-person keytar rock weirdo extravaganza. All in likely the only venue in Aurora where you might see music anywhere within he realm of these bands.

Who: Soulless Maneater, Sliver, Endless Nameless, Fox Moses, Equine
When: Saturday, 01.26, 9 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Soulless Maneater is somewhere between the best death rock band in Denver and a moodily creepy doom band. Sliver is “Diet Nirvana.” Fox Moses sounds like a gloomier neo-grunge band and all the better for that. Endless Nameless sounds like a hybrid of math rock, shoegaze and post-rock—not that those are mutually exclusive concepts. Equine is the avant-guitar and synth solo project of former Epileptinomicon and Moth Eater guitarist Kevin Richards.

Sunday | January 27, 2019

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Sumac, photo by Anne Godoneo

Who: Sumac, Divide and Dissolve, Tashi Dorij
When: Sunday, 01.27, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Aaron Turner’s guitar work and songwriting in partnership with fellow musicians has helped to define some of the boundaries of the more experimental, heavy music. As the leader of Hydra Head Records he also encouraged the development of that music throughout the 90s and 2000s. As a member of Isis, Old Man Gloom and Mamiffer, to name a few projects, Turner has crafted consistently interesting material that is undeniably within the realm of metal but with an ear for abstracting sounds into noise and then back together into coherent expressions of emotion outside the realm of standard songwriting in the genre. With Sumac this may be especially so in particular the band’s 2018 album Love In Shadow where the trio takes the concept of love at its most primordial level pre-marketing device, pre-narrowing the concept down to a relatively trite, or at least limited, word casually thrown around. Also on this tour is Bhutanese guitarist Tashi Dorij whose noisescapes could be considered loosely as avant-garde but also seem to contain a kind of personal ritualistic expression. See his own 2018 album gàng lu khau chap ‘mi gera gi she an example of the sorts of music you’re in for during his set. Since Dorij and Turner have collaborated on at least one record maybe you’ll get to see some of that this night as well.

Tuesday | January 29, 2019

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The Maykit circa 2015, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Nadia Bolz-Weber – The Shameless Book Tour
When: Tuesday, 01.29, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Tattered Cover — Colfax
Why: Nadia Bolz-Weber is the activist and Lutheran pastor whose 2014 memoir Pastrix: the cranky, beautiful faith of a sinner & saint traced her personal growth from a kind of bohemian comedian to sober theology student and pastor. The book, brimming with irreverent humor and sarcasm as well as plenty of illuminating insights into human psychology, whether you’re Christian or not, struck a chord with a fairly sizable audience. In humanizing challenges many people face, Bolz-Weber made a good case for how we can embrace an expanded sense of our own best selves. In July 2018 left her pastoship of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. Now she is releasing her new book Shameless: A Sexual Reformation. As a candid reexamination of “patriarchy, sex, and power” (from the Tattered Cover website), Bolz-Weber will likely further cement her reputation as something of a refreshingly maverick religious thinker and writer.

Who: Big Paleo album release w/Places Back Home, The Maykit and Quentin
When: Tuesday, 01.29, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Denver-based math rock Big Paleo is releasing its, presumably, debut album. One of the opening bands, The Maykit, may not be math rock but its intricate musicianship and songwriting and Max Winne’s indisputably sincere vocal delivery will be a standout of the evening.

Wednesday | January 30, 2019

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Mallrat, photo by Michelle Pitris

Who: Gnash w/Mallrat and Guardin
When: Wednesday, 01.30, 7 p.m.
Where: The Bluebird Theater
Why: Mallrat is Grace Shaw from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Since high school, Shaw has been writing sophisticated pop songs that bring together elements of electronic dance production, hip-hop style beats and the informal structure of modern indie rock—really an ideal synthesis and vehicle for expressing one’s ideas with nuance but a direct emotional quality. Her 2018 EP In The Sky is an interesting blend of contrasts: dusky atmospherics speckled with bright highlights, onomatopoeic cadences and vivid lyrics and soaring, saturated melodies dissolving into introspective minimalism. Headlining the show is Gnash, aka Garrett Nash, who released his debut full-length We on January 11, 2019. Nash made waves with his early breakup EPs and his far better than average beat-driven R&B.

Who: Hackedepicciotto w/DBUK
When: Wednesday, 01.30, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Hackedepicciotto is a multi-media, experimental music duo comprised of Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke. De Picciotto was one of the founders of the long-running electronic music festival The Love Parade in Berlin. The festival was initiated as celebration of innovative electronic music but also as a subversive kind of demonstration for peace through love and music. Hacke is the bassist for influential industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten. The aforementioned couldn’t completely encompass either artist’s work, output and collaborations and it would be worthwhile to explore their work in depth. But with this project the two bring together a set of skills in composition, performance, film making and storytelling. The word “immersive” gets thrown around a lot these days but it definitely applies to a Hackedepicciotto show. It isn’t just that the sound design and visuals and songwriting are striking, they are, it’s also because before it quite became a widely articulated phenomenon, de Picciotto, in her 2013/2015 graphic novel We Are Gypsies now vividly and powerfully captured what it’s like to be noteworthy, internationally renowned artists have to uproot from one’s home and home city of decades due to gentrification. Then, as explored in further detail on the 2016 album Perserverantia and 2017’s Menetekel how the way the world economy functions now globally has not only all but dismantled the way independent artists and not-so-independent artists can live, function and thrive. The albums alone are worthwhile experiences in the listening but the live show is where you truly get to experience a deep emotional manifestation of faith and hope nearly crushed by despair at the state of things supported by a drive to seek what must be better over the horizon. There is no naivete to the work, de Picciotto and Hacke both know they can never really regain what they once had, but a reminder that one’s compulsion to pursue one’s life work can be a beacon through difficult times. The duo’s latest release is the 2018 meditation soundtrack Joy.

Who: The Pink Spiders w/Television Generation and Smile Victoria
When: Wednesday, 01.30, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: The Pink Spiders are a power pop band from Nashville who had a minor hit in 2006 with “Little Razorblade” from their Ric Ocasek-produced album Teenage Graffiti. Smile Victoria sounds like it’s still wearing its Pixies and others 90s alternative music fairly freshly. But not in the neo-grunge kind of way as the trio has more atmosphere and melody than some of its peers tapping into the same era. Television Generation somehow perfectly blends grunge with power pop without sounding like Nirvana or like Cheap Trick gone metal. Is there a bit of sonic DNA in there out of Love Battery and Buzzcocks? Probably but live the band has plenty of grit and emotional darkness to keep it from ever feeling derivative.