Tantrum Zentrum

Door Xavier Kruth

14 juni 2024
Wouldn’t it be great if the people on the front lines just stopped and refused to fight?

On Saturday, June 15, we will again hold a Dark Entries Night in the Kinky Star in Ghent. In addition to the Brussels electrowave group Partikul, we also invite London's Tantrum Zentrum, who make a form of experimental post-punk, influenced by krautrock and nowave. The man behind the group is a mysterious Vaat Dafuq, although that is of course not his real name. We had a conversation about music, history, politics and art.

Hi Vaat Dafuq. Can you tell me how you created Tantrum Zentrum? At the beginning, was it just a solo project?

Sabine and I were working for a legacy UK punk band back in 2018, when they were still touring. Sitting in the tour van, somewhere between Berlin and Leipzig, we were listening to the ‘Pink Flowers’ EP by Horrid Red, and almost at the same time we said to each other: “We need to start a band that’s as cool as Horrid Red.”

Only in the first UK lockdown of 2020 did we find the time to actually work on this idea. Initially, it was just a studio experiment involving Sabine and me.

It’s hard to find the chronology of the band. A first version of ‘October Frost’ seems to have been recorded in 2020 all by yourself. A second version was recorded during the lockdown of that year together with your partner Sabine de Rousseau on guitars. And if I understand well, the band today consists of four musicians, adding Valhalla Schimmer on bass and Endzeit on guitar. Is this a regular line-up, or is Tantrum Zentrum just a fluid group of musicians around you?

The project started during the Covid lockdown in 2020, as an experiment, with Sabine and me playing everything between us. We didn’t really have any expectations or a plan for it, but after playing the recordings to a few people, we were encouraged to actually form a band. So, Val joined us in the early 2021 on the bass and we had a couple of drummers too. Sabine and I were playing the guitars. Finally, earlier this year, our drummer left us for work-related reasons and we decided to move me to the drums and get Endzeit to play the guitar. So, that’s the current, regular line up.

In your biography, you mention that you were born in Yugoslavia, in the Serbian republic. You fled the country during the wars of the nineties. Many of your songs reference the Yugoslav civil war. Is it a part of the concept of Tantrum Zentrum to work on the subject of the wars in ex-Yugoslavia?

I was born in Bosnia, but lived in Serbia, which made things even more complicated back in the 1990s! I wouldn’t say that talking about the civil war in ex-Yugoslavia is really the concept behind the band. The war did affect me greatly and shaped my political opinions, but only the ‘Culture War Songbook’ EP – the first 5 songs that we wrote – is about that. Since then, we’ve written a number of songs that are more general, politically and personally.

I am especially interested in the ‘Culture War’-EP, released in 2023. It contains five songs, that are all inspired by traditional songs from ex-Yugoslavia. Tell me more about the motivation and the working method you used to make this EP.

As both Sabine and I are big fans of experimental rock music, we decided to write and record those five songs when we were stuck indoors for weeks during the lockdowns. We have a little project studio where we can record all the instruments. Mixing and mastering was done remotely by other people.

We usually tend to overthink and overcomplicate when we write, but for this, we forced ourselves not to do it. Almost every song started with that “infinite” beat that you can hear in the songs by Can, Neu! And Kraftwerk. Then, we added the guitars without thinking much about structure, melody or harmony – we simply let our emotions guide us. Finally, we sprinkled some analogue synths and acting on our gut feelings, again, I used the lyrics from some Serbian folk songs that I’d known since childhood.

And that’s the EP – a product of anxiety and anger at a very uncertain time, similar to what I went through in the 90s.

In your biography, you write that the civil war and nationalism destroyed the rock scene in Yugoslavia. Can you tell me more about that?

Throughout the 80s, the Yugoslavian pop and rock scene was really strong and young people were connecting through ideas based on art and collaboration, not national identity or the Communist Party ideology. Then, the war came and destroyed all of that. People became more insular and afraid of one another. This creative power of both mainstream and the underground music was forced into hiding, especially in Serbia, where such music was considered “Western” and against “traditional values”. Of course, even at the height of the conflicts, there were some rock bands, but they were either very bland and timid, without much to say, or they basically parroted the ultra-nationalistic ideas of the government.

There was some underground music: punk, goth, metal, indie, and so on, but it just seemed impossible to get any gigs or record deals if you had any “teeth”.

Another of your songs, ‘Der Leierman’, is a rock adaptation of a song by Franz Schubert, which I really like. Since you draw so much inspiration out of other people’s work, I wonder what your take is on author rights. Would you say, just like that other ex-Yugoslav band Laibach, that originality doesn’t exist?

I am a great fan of Laibach and I really admire their music, visual art, politics and philosophy. But, I wouldn’t agree with that statement. There’s originality in every piece of art. Maybe not enough for it to stand out or withstand the test of time, but it’s there.

I think that these days we’re a bit too obsessed with originality and especially authenticity in original pop/rock music. In other musical genres such as classical, folk or jazz, it’s very normal to take someone else’s idea and expand on it. And that’s what we like to do sometimes: take another artist’s idea, expand on it, but also aknowledge the fact that another person or band inspired us.

In one of our latest songs, for example, we take the main theme from the composition called ‘Schaudernacht’ by the 70s band Chronos and turn it into something completely different.

Not everything needs to be original or authentic (which is simply a marketing ploy) as long as the work of art communicates effectively.

As your musical inspiration, you cite both the German krautrock and the New York nowave bands of the seventies. You also described your music as Killing Joke on happy pills. What draws you towards these musical styles?

Those styles represent the total artistic freedom, devoid of any consideration about genres, mass appeal, audience demographic, number of sales… It appears that those bands simply did what they were compelled to do as artists, without thinking about getting fans, or appealing to this or that subcultural group. So, it’s the sense of freedom of expression, playfulness and experimentation, without any worry about consequences, that appeal to me.

Of course, I didn’t live through those times and in those places, so it all may be an illusion, a lie, I don’t know and don’t really want to know.

Most of your songs are in Serbo-Croatian. Does it bother you to sing in a language that most of your audience will perhaps not understand? Or is it also a way to distance yourself from the dominance of English in rock music?

I don’t think that the language really matters any more. Some of the most popular bands in the goth/coldwave scene don’t sing in English. I love hearing people sing in their native languages.

Also, the lyrics aren’t the most important thing in our music. Words are there primarily to give structure and rhythm to the voice – the meaning comes second.

So, as of now, most of our recorded songs are in Serbo-Croatifan. But since those first five songs, we’ve written a lot of pieces that are mostly in English, although I do like to sing in multiple languages, sometimes all in one song. It’s fun.

You seem to take a keen interest in the subject of mental health of musicians. Could you tell me why this is important to you?

I don’t know about other countries, but in the UK, musicans are statistically at a very high risk of suffering from mental health issues, addiction, poverty, depression, etc.

The thing I value in people the most is creativity. It’s a basic human need and, dare I say, a basic human right. And only a healthy mind can be productive and creative in the long term.

I want people to play and create, in whatever way they choose. I don’t want anyone to be ill for the sake of art. I really don’t buy that “tortured, suffering artist” crap.

You have fled the war in ex-Yugoslavia as a young man. What are your feelings when you see the current wars in Ukraine and Gaza?

I would just like the destruction and the violence to stop, and for the international community to do everything they can to make it happen as soon as possible. I know that my answer sounds like I’m sitting on the fence, but I believe that any sane person would want the same.

I think that humanity can be much better and these wars are only down to a few remarkably narcissistic individuals, just like in Yugoslavia. Wouldn’t it be great if the people on the front lines just stopped and refused?

Tantrum Zentrum: bandcamp / website / facebook

Dark Entries Night with Partikul and Tantrum Zentrum, Saturday 15 June 2024, Kinky Star, Ghent, free entrance

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Over Xavier Kruth

Xavier Kruth bekeerde zich al op jonge leeftijd tot het gothicdom. Toen hij begon te puberen, moest hij lang zagen om een zwarte broek te mogen hebben. Toen hij tegenover zijn moeder argumenteerde dat hij gewoon om een zwarte broek vroeg, niet om zijn haar omhoog te doen in alle richtingen, repliceerde ze dat als hij nu een zwarte broek zou krijgen, hij daarna toch zijn haar torenhoog omhoog zou doen. Xavier was versteld over de telepathische vermogens van zijn moeder. Hij leerde destijds ook gitaar spelen, en sinds 2006 speelt hij in donkere kroegen met zijn melancholische kleinkunstliedjes in verschillende talen. In 2011 vervoegde Xavier het team van Dark Entries. In Dark Entries las hij ook dat The Marchesa Casati (gothic rock) een gitarist zocht, en zo kon hij een paar keer met de groep optreden. Later speelde hij bij Kinderen van Moeder Aarde (sjamanische folk) en werkte samen met Gert (kleinpunk). En het belangrijkste van al: in 2020 bracht hij samen met Dark Entries-collega Gerry Croon de plaat ‘Puin van dromen’ uit onder de naam Winterstille.

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