The fate of humanity rests in the hands of villains who will not hesitate to drag everyone into their fall.
Enzo Kreft likes to keep a finger on the pulse of what's going on in society, and he's never shy about speaking his mind when he thinks something is unfair. On ‘Different World’ (2021), he sang about the corona pandemic and everything that resulted from it, ‘Control’ (2019) handled about the control that contemporary society can exert on the individual, and on 'Wasteland' (2017), environmental issues were discussed extensively. With his new album ‘Shelter’, the minimal veteran – active since 1983! – made war the subject of his music. Not as a result of the war in Ukraine, as you might think, although a good deal of the actuality has once again made it onto the record. Enzo Kreft provides text and explanation for his new release.
Hallo Enzo. I'm so happy to hear your new record, and love it again. I know you always have a concept behind your records. Tell me, what is the main theme this time?
You might think that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was the starting point for ‘Shelter’, but actually I was already toying with the idea of making an album about the theme of war at the end of 2021, and the title was already set.
When I heard your first single ‘Duck And Cover’, I thought you were going to make a record about the nuclear threat, but the main theme turns out to be war. Did the theme of the record evolve as you worked on it, or did you have a clear idea of the outcome you were aiming for from the start?
I made ‘Duck and Cover’ last year, when Putin and his cronies started threatening with their nuclear arsenal. That nuclear threat, meanwhile, seems to be becoming a permanent part of the Kremlin’s war rhetoric. By stationing tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Putin is now taking it a step further. The days of a new Cold War have arrived, and the atmosphere is becoming increasingly grim. So I felt the need to write a song about it. I soon found inspiration in the eponymous American information film from the 1950s, in which children were taught – in a very absurd and hilarious way – by a certain Bert the turtle how to ‘protect’ themselves against an atomic bomb.
When I started working on the album at the end of 2021, I already had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to go, but current events have certainly had an influence on the further course of the project.
The song ‘Standing On The Soil Of Another’ immediately reminds me of the war in Ukraine, but actually also of the war in Iraq. Was this your intention? Do you, like me, see parallels between these two wars?
Those parallels are certainly there! Just as Russia justifies its ‘special military operation’ on the basis of lies, the US did this in Iraq: that country allegedly had weapons of mass destruction and was said to have had connections with Al Qaeda, which has never been proven. The US invasion of Iraq has led to masses of refugees and killed hundreds of thousands. Just like now in Ukraine, the infrastructure in Iraq was razed to the ground. Chemical weapons were used, and prisoners were brutally tortured. The country was left torn apart, and terrorist organizations such as ISIS sprang up on the ruins. Like Russia now, the US should have been held accountable for the war crimes committed. The fact that Bush and co. got away with this unpunished, was a precedent for other dictators and autocratic leaders to commit illegal deeds, also for Putin in Ukraine.
It's probably a controversial question, but I'll ask it anyway. I am very much against the war in Ukraine, but I am also annoyed by a certain kind of ‘pacifists’ who think that Ukraine had better surrender to Russia quickly. Of course I want the war to end as soon as possible, but I also believe that it would be unfair for Russia to annex parts of Ukraine just like that. What do you think about this?
If the international community were to agree to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine, Pandora's box would definitely open, I'm sure. This is intolerable… the world has been silent for too long after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. No, if that were to happen, the international world order would tilt even further. Then the path will also be smoothed for China in Taiwan, and what will follow is incalculable, I think.
In ‘There Is No Tomorrow’ you sing about the indifference of the people towards the threat of war. Do you think there is a risk of the war in Ukraine turning into a nuclear war? And what do you think we can do about the apathy of the masses?
‘There Is No Tomorrow’ is a dark, apocalyptic track that invites you to dance while you still can, just before the complete destruction. In that sense, it is comparable to what Prince sang about in ‘1999’. The underlying question in this protest song is: are we on the verge of nuclear armageddon? I think we should not underestimate Putin when he threatens to use tactical nuclear weapons. Perhaps he will conduct a nuclear test somewhere first, and if this does not change the attitude of the international community in his view, I see him capable of deploying a nuclear bomb in Ukraine. You can imagine the escalation that could result from that. It is therefore up to current and future generations to show political courage and to protest worldwide. We must take to the streets en masse. At present, the fate of humanity rests in the hands of villains who will not hesitate to drag everyone into their fall. This must be stopped!
The guitars are strikingly present in the mix this time. They were also present before, but were always in the background. Why did you give them a more prominent role now?
When the tracks were being created, I found that the guitar sound fitted well into the atmosphere and theme of the album. A guitar can cry, and a guitar can also have a chilling effect or make the atmosphere creepier, and that's what this production asked for. That's how I felt.
The result is a more eclectic record, with of course the minimal wave influences that we know from you, but also musical variation from guitar wave to EBM. Did you deliberately pursue that variation?
Certainly, I did pursue musical variety. Actually, I try to do that with every album, but with ‘Shelter’, it worked out the best in my opinion. There's nothing more boring than an album where all the songs sound alike. I've been hearing too many flat releases lately. Is that because certain bands desperately try to fit into a musical box? Everybody is free of course, of course, but I personally think that variation is very important. In the end, it doesn't really matter to me which genres my tracks belong to. For me, an album is a story in which different moods are reviewed, a musical journey in which there must be relief. That's why I want to alternate between sung tracks and instrumentals, slower and faster, exciting tracks, etc. I also think the order and structure in this is super important!
I find your lyrics quite sharp, and I wonder why you have incorporated so many instrumental tracks on your record. Is writing lyrics a difficult task?
I do that because of the musical variation. Instrumental numbers ‘speak’ just as well. Moreover, they are given an appropriate title, just as an abstract painting can be given a title. I also like to use sound collages with instrumentals – I did that even with my very earliest songs from 1983 and 1984. The Junkers in ‘Here Come the Birds of Prey’ immediately set the tone of the album, and I think lyrics in this track would be superfluous. The sample of the crowd chanting ‘Stop the war’ at the beginning of ‘The Power to Turn the Tide’ carries the track. No further text is needed here either, I think. Instrumental songs also give an album something cinematic. I've always had a preference for film music. But writing texts is of course also very interesting. Is that a difficult assignment? Sometimes, but sometimes not at all. With certain songs, I struggle with the lyrics. I delete and replace words or passages. With other songs, the lyrics just flow from my pen, without effort.
You rightly bring up the refugee problem in ‘Refugee Song’. Wars lead to refugees. Europe was willing to take in a lot of refugees from Ukraine, but if they come from Syria, there is more mistrust. What do you think about this?
Refugees who are under serious threat or who are victims of human rights violations always have the right to protection, shelter, food and healthcare. This therefore applies to all refugees, whether they come from Ukraine, Syria or elsewhere. The situation in Syria is still dire: the conflict has now lasted more than a decade and has affected millions of people, young and old. Due to the ongoing violence, many children have lost their homes and their families. The existing infrastructure has been destroyed. Sending these people back is simply a violation of human rights treaties.
On your various records, you always stress the need to revolt. To what extent do you believe it is realistic that people in a country like Belgium will revolt? And do you believe that such a popular movement will really weigh on politics?
Despite all adversity, I want to continue to believe that individuals and communities have the capacity to bring about change, all over the world. So why not in Belgium? People must be urged to take responsibility and to recognize their own strength to initiate that change. Social and political movements, environmentalists, peace movements, human rights fighters… have been doing this for decades. The message of empowerment must be disseminated. We must have the strength to shape our own lives and work towards a better future. If we lose hope and faith in this, we become defeatists.
I'm just expressing my own opinion. When I first heard ‘Shelter’, I thought it was the best record you've ever made. I suspect that the theme immediately appealed to me, but also the musical diversity, which is greater than on your previous records. I know it's a tough question for artists, but do you also feel like this is a milestone in your career?
I always like to present the most recent creation, maybe because I’m still very emotionally attached to it, so right now that's ‘Shelter’. I can confirm that the musical variety on this album is great, but whether this is a milestone in my musical career, I really can't say... I prefer to leave that to the listener. So far the comments have been very positive and I also feel very gilded with your compliment!