Thursday, November 19, 2015

An Interview with Gulag Beach!

Gulag Beach are a political powerhouse of a punk rock band from Berlin Germany.  They walk the fine line between stripped down 77' style Punk and later, harder hitting Oi!/ Street Punk.  Their music uniquely and exquisitely exhibits anxiety, high energy, and enough entrapping hooks to make the Cenobites in Hellraiser jealous. Unlike the Russian Gulag, these four Germans aren't here to force anyone into their beliefs.  They offer their opinions on society and world events in lyrical form and they present them loudly.  Weather you choose to listen or succumb to the pogo is up to you!  

Interview by J Castro

Let’s start out by introducing yourselves.  Who is in Gulag Beach and what does everyone do in the band?
GB: We're the Gulag Beach Boys from Berlin and have been around since late 2013. So far we played nearly 50 shows in Germany, Poland and Greece, released one demo tape cassette ("No ice above the DMZ") and two vinyl-LPs ("North Korean Sun" and "Favela Blues"). There is Hupe on vocals, a smartass and weisenheimer, because he is that old. Then we have Hässlon on bass, who always has to drive being the only one with such a cool car. We also have Marcel on guitar, always tired and overworked and Nils on the drums, always late and playing with broken cymbals.

How did you all meet and decide to play music together?
GB: Berlin is quite big and a lot of hedonists are stranded at this melting beach so it's easy to find each other. Anyway, it all started as a project. Hupe usually is a drummer and has been doing this for many years. He was bored by playing drums and wanted to sing. He knew that Marcel and Nils share more or less the same music taste like him and so they met. Hässlon usually plays guitar and sings and joined Gulag Beach some weeks later after buying a bass in a Berlin so called Späti (kiosk). We all knew each other (more or less) before the band started and all have bands beside Gulag Beach.

Can you remember who it was that inspired you to want to pick up an instrument and learn how to play/write music?
Hupe: I remember when I was a kid and around 6 or 7 years I was very impressed by Udo Lindenberg. My aunt listened to Udo's "Sonderzug nach Pankow" behind closed doors because we had GDR and Stasi was everywhere. I liked his cool voice, his sunglasses, his appearance at all and from this day on I started playing air guitar on a battledore. As a teenager I started playing drums after listening to NY Hardcore and Deutsch-Punk. I was always autodidact and in my early 30s I started singing, after being inspired by Abe (Bodies) or Greg Attonito (Bouncing Souls).

Nils: I may be a little bit hyperactive. Playing drums is probably a good way to overexert myself in a good way. And that's the point. For me as drummer (by the way, also autodidact), it's always impressive to see drummers hitting the set so hard that they are already soaked in sweat after a few minutes on stage. Harda Tider for example. You should see this band live and direct your attention on the drummer. So powerful! In the end, it's too many bands that could be mentioned. Besides, Hupe - our singer - he's a very good drummer as well (haha)!

Hässlon: When I was 14 and I realized that most punk song structures are done quite easily and most people that did punk rock haven't been real musicians, I thought to do this by myself and started playing acoustic guitar. One year later I had an electric guitar and played in my first punk rock band. Bands that inspired me in those days were Slime and Die Toten Hosen and later all those English punk bands from the late 70s.

Marcel: Yes, I can remember, but it's like a cliché story. When I was the age of 9 or 10 and I saw Die Ärzte and Die Toten Hosen for the first time on TV performing their songs "Schunder-Song" and "Kauf mich", it touched me and I wanted to play an instrument as well. A few years later I got influenced mainly by early German punk stuff.

How would you describe Gulag Beach to someone that’s never heard your music before?
GB: We are a primitive melodic punk rock band that likes to play live. In our opinion a punk song doesn't need much more than verse-chorus-verse-chorus-interface-chorus. Just like the Ramones did many years ago.

What sorts of things inspire your lyrics?  Can you remember the strangest person or event that inspired you to want to write a song about?
GB: An easy answer to the question as our demo and first LP was only inspired by North Korea. We've been writing 13 songs about the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea because EVERYTHING there is so fucked up, so far away, so special, so surreal. Like a sect. And so we remember the strangest person everyone from the KIMnasty: Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and little fatty Kim Jong-un. Anyhow we like to write songs about dictators such as the KIMs or Putin or Pol Pot.

For us, Punk is a good way to express important things happening in the world in a more simple way. Describing things in a few sentences. To put it in a nutshell and to be subversive (at least we try). If we sing about the favelas in Brazil in the first-person perspective, it's clear that we are not affected by ourselves. Look at us. We are four white guys. We don't want to treat someone like a child, we empty the artistic freedom that Punk enables! And we think it's important not to care only about the shit going in our own lives.

I’ve heard people say that writing/playing music is therapeutic to them.  Have you ever found this to be true in your lives?
GB: Just try it Mr. Castro! We recommend it. Making music is fun and it helps you break out of daily life. A band is always very special by meeting so many different characters inside the band and seeing the result after the 1st song is written and also by meeting so many different characters outside the band at places where you never would have gone if a band wouldn't exist. Interesting and maybe therapeutic but anyway something we all don't wanna miss.

What sorts of feelings or sentiments do you want your audience to walk away with after seeing one of your live shows?
GB: As we are a political band and playing pretty sad songs we are not really entertaining our audience in the way that most bands do. But we absolutely like to play live and hopefully people recognize this and share this. We don't expect applause but pogo.

Can you remember how you were first introduced to punk rock music?  Tell me if you can recall who it was that first played it for you, where you were and what song/album you heard?
Hupe: I discovered Punk when one of my distant cousins played this Toxoplasma song "Pass dich an" on his tape deck that sounded as shabby as his mohawk looked like. It was after school when we met at a secret spot to smoke our first cigarettes and I liked the rough and pissed sound and the lyrics. Toxoplasma was also one of the very first "bigger" punk bands that played close to my village after the wall broke down. Anyway my first "punk record" was Kreator's "Extreme Aggression" on tape as well after my aunt bought this cassette in Hungary totally overpriced and one-side-only-recorded (so the vendors at the black market ripped off my aunt) back in 1989. I will never forget the first time I heard Mille shouting the chorus "Extreme Aggression" through my little ghetto blaster. All I wanted was Volume Max.

Nils: That's easy. My eldest brother once gave me a Misfits record. I can't remember which one. One of the releases from the 80's. I still love that music! I went on with political HC/ Punk from U.S. like Dead Kennedys. Later all this Skinhead/ Punk Bullshit from UK. Oppressed, Blitz, Angelic Upstarts. I still love it! That is to say, I didn't start my love to Punk with German music like Toxoplasma. I recognized all this good stuff from Germany a little bit later.

Hässlon: My first real punk album was Slime's "Yankees Raus". I liked its lyrics and its forceful energy that you as an outsider makes you feel strong and all you want is smashing your fist and spitting your snot in some asshole's face. If you like this music you feel it.

Marcel: My first punk record was the Bloodstains across Germany-compilation. I got it at a record flea market when I was still in elementary school. I was really interested early on in music and wanted to get some vinyl records of bands I liked so I introduced myself to punk rock. I was looking for a sound that kicks me. I found this sound in early German punk, even if some of those bands were singing in English. It really impressed me how punk bands shout out their feelings, what they are thinking, this non-conformity, the aggression and always that fast music.  I still love all the songs off this compilation. Maybe my favorite were the Buttocks with their song “Kreatur:, the Pack with their song “Com'On” and the Cretins with their song “Samen im Darm”. 

I don’t like using the term “guilty pleasure” just because I don’t think anyone should feel guilty for liking something if in fact they actually do like it.  So with that being said, what record do you own and enjoy that you think some Gulag Beach fans would be surprised you like?
Hupe: I like Rio Baile Funk (Funk carioca) out of Brazil's Favelas. I'm glad I don't understand Portuguese 'cause the lyrics must be very very stupid. And I like everything CCR did - John Fogerty is the shit!

Nils: I personally like Hip Hop and rap music a lot! But not this "Zeckenrap" bullshit (mostly rap from german "antideutsch" guys). I like music that is authentic with good lyrics. There's a lot of great Hip Hop and rap from the Banlieus in France. I love Keny Arkana! Or Jedi Mind Tricks from the US.

Hässlon: For me there's no other kind of music that nearly has the energy that punk rock has. But there are bands I like all by myself and don't match into this "genre": Fehlfarben, Element of Crime or Die Aeronauten.

Marcel: I like some pop punk stuff like Cub or Tiger Trap. It's a hectic and stressful world and I need music to relax and to calm me down and that's exactly the right music for this! The acoustic stuff of Keven Seconds also helps me to relax. I also like some new Indie bands from the States like The Babies and King Tuff.

I hear a lot of old school punk influences in your music.  Are there any current bands you guys like listening to that inspire you from Berlin?
Hupe: Well, for me as the view from a singer - currently from Berlin I like Mark Sultan singing in The King Khan & BBQ Show, Jasper Hood singing in the About Blanks or Elli in the Inserts . But sorry, there's not only one band from Berlin that inspires me in doing Gulag Beach.

Hässlon: Don't forget the Dreipunktbande (RIP) because of their nihilistic attitude that you can even hear by just listening to their instruments. I also mention The Shocks (RIP) that had a lot of energy and steam. But finally I am more inspired by bands of Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Hannover or ex-GDR.

Marcel: There are not many current Berlin Bands who inspire me. Maybe The Shocks or NOXON did but I don't think that they inspire me in what I'm doing in Gulag Beach.

Nils: All the bands my friends from Berlin play in. I don't care if it's not my kind of music or simply bullshit. It's cool to see friends live on stage and have high level talks (haha) about music afterward.

Where is the best place for people to go or log on to hear and buy your music?
GB: You can stream all our songs here and buy here

What’s in the future for the band? Any new recording or touring plans in the works?
GB: As just released our new LP in November 2015 we're currently writing new songs and playing shows in Europe. Maybe we can also find a label in the US to release our crap there. And maybe we buy Nils our drummer some new cymbals.

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