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Interview with Jurgen Engler of Die Krupps on August 18, 1995, at the Troubador in Los Angeles conducted by Abbey Stroud

With the mainstream popularity of underground music and musical expression that was once viewed intolerably only as noise, it was just a matter of time and luck before the U.S. was graced with the emergence of forgotten genius. One such act is Die Krupps, headed and founded by Jurgen Engler. Die Krupps started in 1980 from the remains of Male in Germany and produced their first album "Steelworksymphony" the same year and month that another giant in the industrial genre would emerge, Einsturzende Neubauten. These two bands created a music that utilized metal percussion, such as empty oil drums, powertools, and metal handtools. Die Krupps was, as many believe, further in the forefront of using sequentially programmed keyboards to produce a whole new class of "Electronic Music." The early industrial was characterized by wild experimentation with anything at hand to create a very rhythmic, rather than melodic pattern, to elicit listeners to find "music" amidst the noise.

Bands such as Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb readily admit to being influenced by Die Krupps and the acknowledgement doesn't end there. For the bands 1995 release, Rings of Steel, which was mostly a collection of remixes and collaborations, the line-up is astounding: members of NIN, Sisters of Mercy, Revolting Cocks, Einsturzende Neubauten, KMFDM, and Biohazard, to name a few, all lent their skills and talents in support of this groundbreaking band. I met with Jurgen at his August 18th show in Los Angeles, we chatted awhile on politics, social responsibility, the face of Industrial today, and his role in the scene.

Abbey: Let's get this out of the way... how is the band's name pronounced?

Jurgen: Die Krupps - pronounced Dee Kroups (as in group, except with a "k") - we're named after the big industrial factory in Germany. It has been around forever and employs a lot of people in that country. It's an important economic employer, a very big company, but at the same time, they built weapons for the Nazi's during the Second World War, which is something about my own country that I'm very critical of. And we wanted to choose a name that would show or be like a mirror to how Germany is seen in the rest of the world.

Abbey: How do you mean?

Jurgen: It would show people we are aware of the negative things that come from Germany. For instance, when I think of the word "Germany," foreigners - I mean people from outside of Germany - I believe they think of the economically strong world power. At the same time they have mixed feeling about all the negative aspects, the past and all, that comes with it.

Abbey: Okay, I did manage to pick up Rings of Steel, and as I was reading through the liner notes it reminded me of our discussion last night. You are staunchly opposed to the fascism and hate that is coming from the some of the bands in Germany, as well as abroad. How do you see your music as countering those factions?

Jurgen: Okay, well as I see it, we all can do our share. Play our little role in trying to make people aware of the fact there's still too much racism and fascism in this world. We as a band, have always made it clear of where we stood politically. Sometimes you have people who idolize you - the kids that follow you - and you have to tell them what's wrong. Also, on all the record sleeves we have the Stop Fascism logo.

We have for example, the song like Fatherland...that we wrote after what happened in Germany. Which was actually meant to be in a global way, which means fascism is everywhere and I just wanted to make a point that everybody should be aware of it and not close his eyes. It's possible to do something against it, because its stems from the electronic music field. A lot of bands - like Nitzer Ebb, Front 242 - whenever they were asked if they see the fascist tendencies in the electronic music scene or if they are fascist themselves, they are never made clear that they're against fascism. Maybe they didn't want to lose any fans or... I don't know, I don't have any idea. But, we always made it clear, because we feel we have a responsibility in any performance to the public and the kids that follow you, they shouldn't get the wrong idea, you've got to tell them that fascism is wrong.

Abbey: Do you think it's gotten worse? Like say in the last ten years, because we've certainly heard a lot about it recently.

Jurgen: Are you talking about a certain country?

Abbey: No, just in general. It seems like hatred and neglect of human decency are getting a lot of press these days.

Jurgen: See, I'm one of those people who believes that actually the 90's should be about bringing people together, again. In the music world in the 80's everything got separated by putting different terms on different music. Every little piece of music had to have a different label: thrash metal, speed metal, grunge, punk, BM, industrial, hip hop, this and that, blah blah blah; and in the 90s it's all about bringing it together again, which means go away from all that from that one-dimensional music where every little piece of music had a different label, and go back to bringing it together again. The kind of music that we're playing is a mixture of a lot of different musical styles, and actually, if I were to use a term for it I would use my own: metal machine music, 'cause I think it sums it up pretty well or just call it just rock music. It's definitely rock music...that's the way it should be. Now we're trying to bring people together again by abolishing all the separations. In Europe when we play we have people of all different musical genres. I mean we have fans of gothic and metal or crossover or electronic music, whatever. You know everybody can come to our shows. We're trying to bring people together again. I think on a global level it should be the same thing.

Actually, I was one of those people that believed in the 90's being the age of bringing them all together again, but I mean, we see that it doesn't really work out. Yugoslavia is a good example that it's not been working out. I'm not sure that it's getting worse...I think it's just a matter of people trying to convince others what is right or what is wrong. We've got to understand something about the Eastern bloc countries. They were all under one big power, under communism, and now that those countries have become, well not really free countries, but they don't have so much political pressure; the people don't feel that much pressure anymore. They all try to separate, because they were under one big power. You know what I mean? And that's probably why it's happening in, that's probably why that is happening in the Eastern bloc countries. In the States, I think it's a totally different thing, cause people were thrown together here right from the start, I mean, you know every American has ancestors in Europe or in Asia or wherever, you know. It's like the whole country exists of people that are from all over the world and there's parts of the country where it works better or worse. Like for example in New York, where people have, where they're not separated as much, because they... I mean, it's like a city where you can walk around, actually, there's interaction between people, not between cars, like in Los Angeles, where's there's, like, ghettos... of Mexican ghettos and a Korean ghetto, whatever, people are more separated here. In NY, they have to live with each other more, and that's why there's probably a little less problems there than here

Abbey: That also might have to do with just the age of the city, since NY has been around for so much longer that Los Angeles.

Jurgen: Yeah, I'm sure. On the East Coast, all the cities are built in a totally different way. They're more European-style cities, probably because the Europeans landed there first, and the culture and everything is more European over there, still. On the West Coast, its a totally different feel

Abbey: I'd like to talk about some of the people who had collaborated with you on Rings of Steel. You've got an amazing roster of musicians that were either doing remixes or worked with you in one manner or another. How did you get involved with these people?

Jurgen: OK, what happened was, I wanted to get some remixes done for a song that was pretty popular in Europe, To The Hilt. It was out as a single and it got a lot of play on MTV. Some friends of mine and I - Julian Beeston, who used to be in Nitzer Ebb, Carcass' Jeff Walker, a friend of Lee's, Jim Martin, who used to be in Faith No more, and also another guy from Germany, F.M. Einheit, who's very big in the independent scene - wanted to show what's possible in the 90's; that you actually can get people from different musical genres involved and have them do remixes on one single . After that, it became a word of mouth thing: Die Krupps was looking for some people in the varied music scenes to do remixes.

I still get phone calls constantly by bands. We have a lot of friends in the music business, because we've been around a long time and a lot of people respect the band. In the end, I ended up with something like 25 bands that were all interested in doing remixes. I though it would be a better idea to put out a whole album because the Rings of Steel album is basically a compilation of songs from The Final Option and The Final Remixes that came out in Europe about two years ago and about one year ago, respectively. I decided to put out a whole album, because I thought the Final Remixes as an album would make sense to show people what's possible in the 90's, because it wouldn't have been possible in the 80's to have bands like Einsturzende Neubauten and Sisters of Mercy and Biohazard and Carcass and whatever, all those bands, on one album. That's why I loved the idea of putting out a whole album that would consist of remixes of people that I respect for their work and I am friends with and that are from totally different musical genres

Abbey: Have you found that most of these people share in your vision of a more harmonious world...the end of fascism, better racial equality and understanding?

Jurgen: I think that most of the people that I'm friends with have that same idea. I think that everybody who cares probably has the same opinion about that, because there's enough wrong in this world. All those people that I'm friends with have the idea of doing their share to change peoples' ideas, when it comes to them being on the wrong side.

Abbey: You and the members of Einsturzende Neubauten have seen the genre develop from the initial, very percussive industrial to what is considered Industrial now. What do you think of the whole development, do you think it's just a logical progression?

Jurgen: We started in 1980...Einsturzende Neubauten and us put out our first records at exactly the same time. They had their first single out exactly the same month we put out our first album. What we were doing was very experimental, noisy industrial "music"... that was in March '81 and I think what people consider to be industrial nowadays is a totally different kind of music. To me, it's just contemporary rock. When I think of Ministry or Nine Inch Nails, to me those bands are not industrial in the traditional sense. What they play is contemporary rock's song-structured music. What we did, back then, was play experimental music on environmental instruments. I played metal percussion and it was basically just pure industrial noise, which is a totally different thing.

What is being played now developed out of that, but as I said, I have problems with putting labels on music. I think its better than one-dimensional rock music; that's what I call the kind of music that was popular in the 80's. Rock music without keyboards or samplers or samples, you know, without a noise element is old music to me, dated music. I want music that's more dimensional, three-dimensional, that gives me the impression that the band's trying to bring elements together and create something new out of them. So, I think that industrial music has developed into contemporary rock music. But, it was the same thing with us.

On the new album we just put out 2 weeks ago in Europe, we brought back some of the noisy, pure industrial elements into our music. I was playing metal percussion on that album, again, because we have this background and I wanted to make people aware of it again. On the next tour I'll definitely bring my metal percussion back and show people what Die Krupps is really about.

Abbey: When do you anticipate doing another major tour here?

Jurgen: Well, our next tour is planned for November. We might go on tour with Pigface, which is not confirmed, but they're working on that. Then, we are thinking of releasing the next album here by the beginning of the year and going on tour as a headliner in March or April. Hopefully, we'll be able to jump onto a big tour and support a bigger band, sometime after that. We talked to the guys in Prong last night {August 18th} and they were really open to the idea of it. That would be a very good package, because I'm a really big Prong fan. I really love their stuff and I think it would be really good mix.

Also, we have a lot of friends in the business and I could even imagine the Biohazard guys taking us on tour; whatever comes along. We never know... Sisters of Mercy? We just had Andrew Eldritch do three more re-mixes for the new LP, the Clawfinger guys have done remixes, Luc Van Acker from Revolting Cocks was on this one. So there are a lot of things that could happen.

Abbey: So this is actually a sizable springboard for you, doing these smaller club dates that you are doing right now.

Jurgen: You know, we were never here before, so we didn't know what to expect and we decided to check out the market, basically. We had this offer from Jerry Gerard, who is the booking agent, to support The Young Gods. In Europe we would have never done it, but here we've never done a tour on our own so we didn't know what to expect. We just decided to check out the market and see what kind of reaction we'd get on the tour, so far is really good. Audiences have been really into it and we've heard from a lot of people that we could have easily been the main act. A lot of people have, actually, been waiting for us a long time. I wasn't aware of that before I came over here, so now it looks like we'll be back very often.

Abbey: What do you see as being the main subject in your material? What are you trying to communicate to people?

Jurgen: In general, our songs are about negative things: we have songs against war, songs against fascism, songs against... basically a lot of things that have a negative effect on people. What we are doing on the new album, called Odyssey of the Mind, which is not out here yet...we're trying to show that those negative situations have an effect on your own psyche. But that is a different level for us, we've never been so introverted. On the Rings of Steel album, our messages are very extroverted and pretty much against what's wrong and on the next one, how do these things have an effect on you. We're trying to draw our little share or contribute to making things better. I know it can't work on a large scale, but we can contribute. For example in Germany, when we put out Fatherland. Or, when we put out Germaniac, which was a song that was a warning to what might happen after the wall came down in Berlin. We were aware of the fact that with the wall coming down, we might have a lot of Right Wing terror - like fascism - growing in the Eastern Bloc countries. We wanted to warn people.

We got a lot of fan mail from people that were very happy that somebody was saying something about it and warning people, especially young people, what might happen. We have a huge following in Israel and Turkey, for example, because those people admire us for our messages. I see myself as a world citizen and not as German and I want to make people aware that being a flag waver, being a nationalist, is wrong. That's the kind of message that needs to be a part of people's thinking in the '90's.

Abbey: Do you see it as your duty, as an artist, to help change society for the better? Do you think most musicians should, since they are the voice of the people in some respects?

Jurgen: Okay, what I really need to say is that the people that really have the power to do it - don't! Like, for example, the ones that sell millions of albums they could actually do it, but most of them don't. And I think that's sad, because they have the power and they could change things. I'm not saying that every person that listens to a Krupps album or to music in general understands the lyrics or is totally into understanding the lyrics, but as I said, we can all do our little share. If everybody's doing it, or if a lot of people do it it can have an effect. We are performing for the public, we have the chance to tell people what is good or what is wrong and if we do it we can have the chance to change things. If you're not performing for the public you don't have that opportunity. Though, you could write books, everything that is immediate that people can listen to, or read it, or watch it, can have an effect on people's minds and ideas. I feel we are contributing to changing things. Again, I'm not saying that every performer should make a stand, but it is sad that the ones who could help a lot and do there share are not doing it, because they don't ruin their careers, I guess.

Abbey: Have you followed Pearl Jam's fight against Ticketmaster?

Jurgen: I don't even know what Ticketmaster is.

Abbey: Ticketmaster is the big distributor for tickets that get out to the public and Pearl Jam gripe was they thought that Ticketmaster had a monopoly and were fixing the ticket prices and charging way too much. So Pearl Jam went outside of Ticketmaster so that the audience only had to pay a nominal sales fee, rather than the huge mark up that usually occurs. Ten or twelve bucks for a show, rather than twenty-five.

Jurgen: Great!

Abbey: I think that that is a healthy change with some of musicians these days. They are starting to take some amount of social responsibility, they are starting to speak up since they have got the platform for it.

Jurgen: That's very good. That's exactly the kind of people that I mean. That's great, exactly what we are doing too. For example, in Germany - we don't have anything like Ticketmaster - but we try to keep the prices for the shows very low, which means we don't want to charge twenty-five bucks or whatever. Twenty-five bucks is a lot of money now in days, if you want to have your fans in the show and show them what the band is about you shouldn't charge them too much. Like all these mega-bands, whenever you go to a show you pay sixty bucks over there. Here it's even crazier, I've heard that when the Stones were here it was up to one hundred and fifty bucks or something. That's ridiculous! To me it's important to get the message out to a lot of people and especially the people that can not afford it.

Abbey: So what keeps driving you, year after year?

Jurgen: I can't tell you. I can not tell you. It's hard... it's probably all the things that I see and have absorbed, that I don't like. That keeps me going. There's still... as long as the world is not perfect I'll probably be around.

Abbey: I find that really admirable. I've seen a lot of bands start off with good intentions, get money-driven, and loose sight of what they're doing.

Jurgen: I mean, if we were money-driven we wouldn't be with an independent label, you know? In Europe, with Rough Trade, which is a big independent label, but it is independent and here we're with Cleopatra and in Europe we're a pretty big band and we're still. We got offers from major labels constantly, but we didn't sign with them because to us, what matters to me is to be with a record company that is totally behind us and understands the band and grow with the band. Which means, when we get signed to Rough Trade in '90, we were at a point where we are here right now. Which means, we weren't big at all, because we stopped working for awhile and they basically had to build up the band again. Because, in the early '80's we were pretty popular over there and then we stopped working for awhile and then in the beginning of the '90's we started building up the band again. Rough Trade built up the band and we tried to our best and now we are their absolute number one band! That is something that is very important to me: that they can help us and we can help them. Because, now we are selling more albums than any other band on Rough Trade and we are helping them, it's like, we are growing together. And it's the same here, we are friends with those people and that, in my opinion, is the best situation that you could want.

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