Photo by Errefotografia
The avant-garde musical duo of hackedepicciotto, Alexander Hacke of Einstürzende Neubauten and Danielle de Picciotto, co-founder of the Love Parade festival, are currently in Canada on a short tour in support of their new album Keepsakes. The nine-track album is dedicated to the concept of friendship, with each song inspired by a different person who has affected Hacke and De Picciotto’s lives.
“All nine of them influenced us deeply,” says De Picciotto via phone with Hacke ahead of their show at the Tap Centre in London, Ontario.
“Alexander and (I have) known each other, basically since I moved to Berlin, which was in ’87. Although we weren’t a couple until 2001, we basically had the same background. So the interesting thing is that we know quite a few of these people from different perspectives. We knew them from before we were together. A lot of them are musicians, or they’re just characters. They’re a very eclectic collection of people. They’ve definitely influenced everything we do in a way.”
With most of the subjects of Keepsakes being musicians, Hacke and De Picciotto sought to incorporate their friends’ musical styles as well as their personalities into the songs. This presented a challenge for even these two well-seasoned avant-garde musicians, and forced them to explore new styles like jazz. This was particularly true on the album’s centrepiece, the prog-punk opus “La Femme Sauvage,” dedicated to the late Françoise Cactus of the electro garage-punk band Stereo Total.
“That was the most difficult song we’ve ever done,” says De Picciotto.
“We really wrestled with it, we usually don’t wrestle a lot with songs, they usually come quite naturally. But with this song we at one point thought ‘This is not gonna work out.’ Then all of a sudden it clicked and now we love it, we absolutely love it. That was an example of trying to somehow represent her but at the same time keep our key sound which really wasn’t easy.”
“It was hard because she has a very specific sense of humour and a very specific sense of sound,” adds Hacke.
"Her sense of irony was very defined."
It’s interesting to hear two musicians known for their eclectic output speak about their musical challenges. Something that seems to be an essential part of hackedepicciotto is how their conflicting influences come together and somehow find common ground. When they begin to compose music they usually start with a general concept of where they want to go, but that’s when things get interesting.
“A lot happens because of the friction between our different backgrounds and our different approaches,” says Hacke amusedly.
“Danielle, being a classically trained musician that plays quiet acoustic instruments, and me, growing up in this industrial noise kind of scene. Having these elements collide with each other is basically what makes our music happen. The good thing and the magical thing about any artform I suppose is that at one point the work takes over and becomes its own entity and then dictates what you are supposed to do. Even though we have shared or different ambitions about what we wanted to do about a certain piece, in the end the music would always say like ‘No. That might be a good idea. That might be a noble thought. But that’s not what I need.’”
There are many electronic elements on Keepsakes, so I was curious to know in this context how Hacke felt about industrial music’s progression from DIY and found object instruments to modern technology.
“When I refer to industrial music I mean the original, old school, as in Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire-kind of industrial music,” he clarifies.
“Not metal with samples. (But) I like some of those bands.”
The theme of friendship that inspired Keepsakes doesn’t just come from the loss of a friend like Cactus, but also the loss of friendship in general. Hacke and Picciotto, who have been married since 2006, like many in recent years have dealt with fractured friendships because of political disagreements.
“In Germany you have the feeling that nobody can really speak anymore without getting into a heated argument about either climate change or the pandemic or the war,” says De Picciotto.
“Everybody is polarized, it’s terrible. We just wanted to put emphasis on how important (friendship) actually is, because it’s one of those things that you can’t buy in life. But it’s actually one of the most important things. We thought it would be important for us to dedicate our album to people that were especially important to us, and really influenced our lives. It was a very interesting experiment to do that, because it’s very intense.”
As much as the world could use art that is a call to action, motivation to speak up, or inspiration to live your truth, perhaps there’s room for the simple idea that your friends, and friendship in general is important. That may sound trite to some, but maybe that's why Hacke and De Picciotto made Keepsakes, as a reminder to a cynical world that it’s not.
“That’s also an aim of what we did with this album, because the whole society and our group of friends also is polarized because of the pandemic, but then also in general,” says Hacke passionately.
“It’s just a zeitgeist thing the way society is polarized. (The album) is an homage to people who have informed our development, in respective ways but also together. That also needs to be emphasized we think, how important it actually is to have people in your life while you are developing, while you are evolving. You don’t evolve on your own, you evolve with people and by people. That’s such a gift and that’s such a treasure, and that’s what the album is about. Even more than to the original friends, it is an homage to the feeling of gratitude, of being happy and thankful for knowing these people. People need to be reminded of how lucky we are to have each other.”
hackedepicciotto’s new album Keepsakes is available this Friday, July 28th from Mute Records. That night they play as part of the Wavelength series in Toronto, followed by a performance at the Electric Eclectics festival in Meaford, Ontario on August 5th. You can check out the video for “Schwarze Milch” and listen to “La Femme Sauvage” below.