Queen City Sounds Podcast S2E33: Blacklist

Blacklist, photo by Scott Irvine

Blacklist was a flagship band of Pieter Schoolwerth’s Wierd Records label, the imprint that perhaps best known for 2000s and early 2010s post-punk, shoegaze, industrial and noise. The group in its initial run from 2005-2011 released one full-length album Midnight Of The Century (2009) but even then was establishing itself as distinctly different from other bands lumped into the then emerging modern coldwave and post-punk scene that would lead to the current version of that movement. Blacklist incorporated elements of metal and clear, melodic vocals with crisp production. It’s astutely observed, politically aware lyrics one might even compare, given the music especially, to late 80s Queensryche or Vision Thing-period Sisters of Mercy. At that time a new uptick of fascism beyond the prevailing authoritarian swing of world politics was making itself known, blossoming toward the middle of the 2010s onward. After an extended hiatus Blacklist returned with Afterworld (Profound Lore Records, October 28, 2022). The new record builds upon while more or less reinventing its earlier sound somehow evoking shades of Comsat Angels, Fields of the Nephilim and the aforementioned with emotionally charged commentary on the world in this moment and the larger challenges human society faces with the environment, persistent social ills and political turmoil and inequality (all of which are deeply intermingled) but with a personal touch. The music doesn’t shy away from artful melodrama and in not adhering to trendy post-punk or metal aesthetics. The production on the album is multi-resonant and feels like a time-bridging sound of 80s rock and its emotionally earnest quality with a more contemporary ear for nuanced depth of mood. It sounds unmoored from and unbeholden to a particular cultural timeframe or context and a more enriching listen because of it.

Listen to our interview with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Joshua Strachan of Blacklist on Bandcamp and follow the group’s exploits at the links below.

Blacklist on Facebook

Blacklist on Instagram

Blacklist LinkTree

Interview: Mic Jogwer of Pink Turns Blue

Mic Jogwer of Pink Turns Blue, photo by Daniela Vorndran

Pink Turns Blue is one of the foundational bands of modern darkwave. When the group formed in Berlin, Germany in 1985 its blend of then New Wave and dark, moodier post-punk was in line with the fusion of those elements one heard in The Cure, The Chameleons, Comsat Angels and The Sound. The group’s first two albums If Two Worlds Kiss (1987) and Meta (1988) had a spacious and dusky vibe with undertones of emotional urgency giving expression to the on the brink tensions of that decade when the world seemed in a tenuous and conflicted state. Pink Turns Blue split in 1995 for several years before coming back together in 2003 after the post-punk revival was well under way and ahead of the darkwave resurgence of the 2010s and in some ways benefited from both as a cult band that had influenced connoisseurs of adjacent styles of music. In 2019 respected experimental and more or less darkwave label Dais reissued If Two Worlds Kiss and Meta and introduced a new generation to one of the still extant legends of German post-punk. In 2021 Pink Turns Blue released its latest record TAINTED with its decidedly political content as a critique of a human civilization bringing to bear a completely and utterly inadequate response to anthropogenic climate change and the political and economic systems in place that ensure future destruction to the world we took for granted in a kind of feedback loop of escalating devastation. The future climate scientists have warned about for decades is now here. But it’s not all doom and gloom and the music of Pink Turns Blue isn’t a nihilistic analysis of world events, the new record, as with previous efforts, offers poignant personal portraits of love and loss and the life experiences and connections to others that give our existence its essential meaning beyond our utility in some economic context.

Pink Turns Blue performs at the Hi-Dive on Thursday, September 15, 2002 with Radio Scarlet and Redwing Blackbird (doors 8 p.m.) and ahead of that date we were able to pose some questions to founding vocalist/bassist/synth player Mic Jogwer via email about the band’s origins, background, the content of its music and the challenges of operation as a band from Europe in the USA.

Queen City Sounds: Before forming bands what kinds of things did you see or experience that prompted you to pursue making music? Was Rockpalast a part of your youth in getting exposed to some of the more adventurous music as well as more mainstream faire?

Mic Jogwer: I have to honest and say that my love for music began very early when I was 8 years old. And also that my first heroes were The Rubettes, Sweet, Abba and the likes.

I started with trumpet at 9 and changed to guitar at 12 (Genesis, Pink Floyd), then bass with 14 (Santana). And so on. Blues, Rock and then Punk. It wasn’t before I started Pink Turns Blue when we got compared to The Chameleons and The Sound and we got listen to those bands a lot. On Rockpalast you would not find up to date bands very often. Rather the classics. Still watched and liked it a lot.

QCS: When Pink Turns Blue was starting out in Köln you won an award from WDR. As a fledgling band in what ways do you feel that the German government and local arts groups supported music?

MJ: Definitely not. At that time, if you were a German band you had to sing and sound German. Ideally not too serious. The WDR in Cologne was a rare exemption. The was this one guy who was very much into new music and was excited to find bands that were daring enough to reach an international audience.

QCS: Early in your career you toured with Laibach. How did that come about? How did you smuggle Western studio equipment across the border?

MJ: We were lucky that our label FunFactory! released an Laibach album in Germany and also booked a tour for them. Also, we were lucky that we were the only band in its roster that Laibach were ready to take on tour with them. They didn’t like our name or our appearance but very much loved our music. Also, because were quite intrepid bigmouths they offered to produce our next 3 albums if we smuggled studio gear across the iron curtain. We nearly got caught but were lucky again and they were really impressed and started to like and support us.

QCS: I read Burning Down the Haus by Tim Mohr a few years ago and as you may know it’s an account of the punk and underground music scene in East Berlin. Did you have interactions with and/or were you familiar with artists from that scene in the early days of Pink Turns Blue? If so how did you facilitate perhaps bringing those bands over or play shows there if that was even possible before the fall of the Berlin Wall?

MJ: No, sorry. Until 1989 it was impossible to get in touch with any of this East Germany bands. The first contacts were made in the late 90s. Some of them became famous in different formations (Rammstein) others vanished. And yes, we know some of them but there never was a common scene.

QCS: People who weren’t there might assume you were part of a scene and friendly with the likes of Xmal Deutschland, Malaria! and Einstürzende Neubauten. Did you feel like you had a sense of community with other German bands? How did that look for you in terms of operating and touring and supporting one another? If not, why do you think not?

MJ: We had a strong bond with Einstürzende Neubauten, because they were daring and innovative. We also had a loose relationship to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (then living in Hamburg and Berlin) and Gun Club, The Sisters Of Mercy, again because they were based and working in Hamburg and Berlin were spent a lot of our time. The relationship was more like: we are the kids and they were the grown-ups.

QCS: Pink Turns Blue split in about 1995 and reunited in 2003 before the resurgence of a fairly widespread interest in post-punk and “darkwave.” Did the “post-punk revival” of around the turn of the century play a role in helping to relaunch the band?

MJ: The relaunch was more like a short romance with your ex-wife. The post-punk revival brought a lot of fresh and very talented musicians and many of them liked Pink Turns Blue very much. Then we became the “originals” (the old guys), and they were happy to have us around. So we got invited to many festivals and tours where we met quite a few of them and were both impressed and encouraged to write new songs that were our version of the post post-punk.

QCS: Dais Records reissued If Two Worlds Kiss and Meta. How did it come about that you connected with Dais and what ideas were presented to you to approve making those records available again for potential new fans?

MJ: Drab Majesty was supporting us in Barcelona and mentioned that their label surely would be interested in signing us. So we got in touch with Gibby [Miller] and proposed that they released our first two albums as vinyl to support our US tour in 2019. We also planned to co-release TAINTED but Covid and the vinyl production disaster made everything too difficult. Hopefully, when everything kind of has come back to normal we can follow up on this.

QCS: Some people may be surprised by some of the very direct political content of Tainted but that’s been part of your music since early on. But in those lyrics there is both a challenge and a personal touch. Why do you feel it is important to address issues of climate change, inequality, global conflict in terms that seem so immediate and grounded?

MJ: Well, I think that topics like climate change and equality have become a really important issue for everyone. The last 5 years and especially the Covid years have put most of us in a state of disarray. And if you write songs that describe the world as you see and feel it it is only natural that those topics find their way into your songs. I guess – at least for us – those times where you were singing about your first drug experiences and feeling like an outsider as a young white male university student are over. Well, hopefully.

QCS: German artists have had a tough time touring for a variety of reasons. What might be helpful in facilitating this in the future other than imponderables like the world coming to its collective senses and addressing the aforementioned with reason and compassion? Are there practical things that maybe people can do to ease your journey touring North America?

MJ: I guess I have no idea. I guess we Europeans have our own insanity to get on top of. Not a good position to give advice to others. What I find encouraging is that many Americans and Europeans are able to make jokes about themselves. Wish it would be more of them. Still hoping that we all can inspire each other to try harder.

Absinthe Vows Urge Us to Fight Through Our Insecurities on “In The Fray It Wouldn’t Factor”

“In The Fray It Wouldn’t Factor” by Absinthe Vows will probably hit many ears as having descended from Floodland period Sisters of Mercy except for the vocals which sound like they were recorded in a darkened closet initially until they become more frenzied and distorted toward the end of the song. The bass line is simple but commanding and the guitar hovers around like a ghost both carrying melody and breaking up into atmospheric textures as it lays back in the mix rather than dominating like it might in another rock band. The lyrics are about a great internal struggle and one against perceived social pressures that in the end don’t really matter as the title of the song suggests. As the song becomes more chaotic in the last third with the vocals urging one to “fight” against insecurity and anxieties one might think of more modern post-punk bands like Pop. 1280 and A Place to Bury Strangers and their own collage of lo-fi, contorted atmospherics and urgent dynamics. Listen to “In The Fray It Wouldn’t Factor” on Spotify and connect with Absinthe Vows on Bandcamp.