Heathen Harvest: Can you discuss how Stahlwerk 9 came into being and who the founding members are?
Reinhard Hopfe: Ok, let's start from my very arcane and dark beginnings...It was the early 90s, when I started off making more experimental music. At the beginning we were two people, and as it happens so often, we had our name, but no idea what sort of music we should make. My friend wasn't so keen on making noise, although everything we did with his machines sounded a bit crude. I hope everybody understands that these recordings should never be released. After a while, my friend, who owned all the machines decided to go a different way in making death metal and so I was alone with some broken radios and an Amiga 500 computer...and that's how it all started in the summer of 93.
HH: Did you have formal musical experience previous to forming Stahlwerk 9?
RH: Yes, although these experiences were non-electronic. I was a member of a three-piece independent band, but we never managed to release more than a demo tape. All our tries to become famous were a complete failure and we just managed to do three gigs before we finally split up. Besides I had some try-outs together with the guitarist of that band with his Amiga 500. These results were quite funny, and we released two tapes limited to four (!) pieces.
HH: What was the initial founding vision of Stahlwerk 9?
RH: It was in a way the idea for me to find a name for the project that allows everything, because as I've already told, we/I didn't know what the final results would be like. I think that Stahlwerk 9 is a name that is non-political and expresses some of the later thoughts transported through it. But there was no real "vision" at the beginning.
HH: What originally inspired you to explore experimental / electronic music?
RH: I had always some sympathies for non-commercial music, be it death metal/grindcore from the mid-eighties, alternative sounds, seventies experimental music or electronic music. I can't say exactly what the reasons were, maybe I had always friends who were a bit stranger in their music styles than others. One of them started to deal with records, and so I was able to listen to that sounds very early. Let's put it like this: I fell over it by chance!
HH: Were there other established musicians that influenced or inspired the formation of Stahlwerk 9?
RH: It is strange, but I get my inspiration mostly from bands that have no connection to industrial at all. I am fond of 70's psycho stuff, as well as bands like Pink Floyd or Eberhard Schoener. Maybe I've got my ambient influence from there. I was also a big fan of the early Earache Records releases, such as the first two Napalm Death records or bands like Carcass. Honestly, I bought my first real industrial record in the early nineties...
HH: Are there other bands within the postindustrial music scene that have had a direct impact on the formation or sound of Stahlwerk 9?
RH: Oh there were many projects which have influenced me. I don't know what can be claimed as "postindustrial". I never make such differences, because I think there's only good and bad music. As I'm from Regensburg (Kelheim is a town 20km from it), there was Ant-Zen, of course and the very early recordings from that label, such as Pineal Gland or P.A.L. I was and I am still an admirer of early ambient pioneers. Raison D'être was a project which influenced my recordings as well. Also Max's Steinklang Industries label and his early recordings/outputs were a source of inspiration for me at that time
HH: Stahlwerk 9 began releasing commercially avaliable releases around 1995. What kind of input or reaction did you receive from these early recordings and was the response encouraging?
RH: Definetely not! The reactions to these releases were not the best. When I released "Alles für die Front" in 95, many people said that the quality was very low and advised me to quit making music. Maybe I had asked the wrong people, but nevertheless I was quite disappointed with this feedback and recorded my second CD without releasing it. So I can advise everybody NOT to stop making music at all, no matter what the other people may say...
HH: Early Stahlwerk 9 releases appeared as strictly limited editions that were offered in very small batches. Was the decision to release these albums in such limited numbers an aesthetic or financial decision?
RH: Neither nor. It was simply a question of what was possible in those days. As I've said above, the resonance was not the best, so why releasing hundreds of CDs? The other thing was that I didn't own a CD writer and so a friend helped me with burning the CDs. In 95 it lasted 70 minutes to burn one CD-R, so a limit of 30 pieces seemed realistic.
HH: On the Stahlwerk 9 website the first four Stahlwerk 9 releases in the discography do not have labels designations. Did you release these first four recordings yourself?
RH: Yes, I made everything on my own (apart from the burning of the CD-Rs), and distributed it myself, this means, I gave all the "important" people one copy of my CD. Well, today I regret that I gave away my releases that easy.
HH: On the Stahlwerk 9 website it appears as if Achtung Baby Records of Russia was the first official label to release music by Stahlwerk 9. Can you discuss your experience trying to find a label for Stahlwerk 9 in the early years of the band?
RH: Oh, that was a hard job, really! I tried out several possibilities without any success, from ANT-ZEN to Hands Productions, but no-one wanted to release it. The comments were very harsh, and mostly I haven't heard anything about it again. The worst thing about it, is that I hate getting on other people's nerves with my music, so I simply quit searching and did my first 4 releases without any label.
HH: How did your business arrangement occur with Achtung Baby?
RH: In early 97/98 I came across Igor's page by chance and was really surprised, that our kind of music had some supporters in Russia. I contacted him because I had plenty of time as a student in Regensburg and simply wanted to know a bit more about the Russian industrial and ambient scene. Igor was very kind and friendly, and so everything went its way. I sent him some tracks of my project, and he gave me the opportunity to release one track on his 10 YEARS OF MADNESS compilation...
HH: The next label that Stahlwerk 9 appears to have worked with is Eternal Soul Records. Eternal Soul could be considered an elite label as their mission clearly entails releasing only limited edition vinyl releases of the highest quality. Can you explain how you came about working with Eternal Soul and how the experience was?
RH: I can't exactly say who contacted whom, but it was also a great opportunity for me...I think ES contacted me because of my Oradour release...but I'm not quite certain! The experience was one of the best ever. ES is really a high quality label and is one of the most professional labels I've ever come along. I also was treated very fair and all my ideas were realized and respected!
HH: The first widely internationally avaliable release by Stahlwerk 9 was “Oradour” which was released by Achtung Baby. Can you describe Oradour and its theme?
RH: I think I don't have to say anything about the martyr village Oradour in France and the story behind it, because it is widely known. My purpose was to release something on it, because of the anniversary in June 1999. It didn't work at all and the release came later. I also didn't want to do just another record about another topic of WW II and so the work on the concept took longer than the work on the sound material.
HH: Do you see the release of “Oradour” as a defining moment in the career of Stahlwerk 9?
RH: Yes, definitively! It was the first "real" release of STAHLWERK on a label and it opened some doors that would otherwise have remained closed for me. The resonances and reviews on it were brilliant and I have got many offers for releases since then. I think it was the breaking point in my "career"...
HH: Can you say what album first gained Stahlwerk attention in the post industrial music community?
RH: I think this was ORADOUR although I have heard that many people had also listened to VATERLAND, which I had released some time earlier. This question is always very difficult, because I seldom know how the audience likes or dislikes an album or how many people buy them. Of course I get my feedback every time, but these are just a few people...so who knows?
HH: Do you feel as if demand for Stahlwerk 9 music exceeds your current production and if so how does this influence you as an artist?
RH: No, definitively not. I try to stay as I am as good as possible. I try not to be influence by comments or feedbacks. Of course this gives you an impression of what the people think about you, but I try not to do what the people say. But to answer your question: I have more the problem that I release too much material, but I have always done so, so this is not a question of quality. I try to improve my work and achieve the best results possible.
HH: In previous interviews you have discussed your dislike of “commercial industrial” music which is often driven by large scale music sales and bands who regurgitate guitar driven rhythmic industrial composition styles. Have you always identified your music as being in opposition or outside the current mainstream “industrial” scene?
RH: Yes! I don't want to be part of this music scene. This is not because I am a notorious rebel, but more because I hate music as a mass product or product at all. All of my releases deal with things I had thought about beforehand, with which I had spent my time, my interests, ideas, dreams, hopes and fears. It's a part of me and my life, my experiences and my cultural background and not just a CD you can buy at EBAY's for twice the price it is worth! One example: A friend of mine once told me, that he likes listening to my music, when he sleeps with his girlfriend. This piece of news shocked me a bit, because that's not what I make music for.
HH: There exists a thriving underground industrial music scene that is largely based within Europe. This underground community has remained closely influenced by the original sounds and ideology of the early industrial music era that began in the early eighties with bands like Throbbing Gristle and SPK. This underground community is currently exemplified by labels such as Stienklang and Tesco Records amongst others. What are your impressions of the current underground industrial community and how it has evolved over the last two decades?
RH: Oh god! I'm not a music journalist and I don't have the knowledge about it. What I can say is that STEINKLANG for example is more a family than a label. We are all close friends, know each other and share our ideas. No question: I prefer this to any high-quality label who just wants to sell their 10.000 copies of each release and don't bother about your ideas!
HH: Buried within the industrial underground is the emergence of martial toned and historical themed music which has taken on the title “martial industrial” music. This emerging genre is headed in many directions ranging from the pounding orchestral anthems of Von Thronstahl to the more ambient based explorations of bands such as Toroidh. What are your thoughts and impressions of “martial industrial” music?
RH: Martial industrial doesn't exist. It's nothing but a label in my eyes to sell these products. I can just see some project dealing with war and war-related topics, that's all. Just an example. What do I have in common with Von Thronstahl or Derniere Volonte??? I can't see anything at all, except that I sometimes make something on war. The sound is far too different to use the same label for our music.
HH: Are you comfortable with Stahlwerk 9 being categorized as “martial industrial”?
RH: I have no problem with it, although I don't think my work can be categorized like that. How can industrial be martial??? A person can, of course, but a sound can't be that! But, that's nothing I think about too much.
HH: Stahlwerk 9 features music largely inspired by historical and wartime events in Europe. What is your personal interest in history and war and how did this interest develop for you?
RH: Oh, that's not difficult to answer. I'm very interested in history I've always been, especially in eras in which people had to act under extreme circumstances, e.g. wars or revolutions. This interest came up, of course, when I was a student for history and had to learn all these things. It was strange, but although I was at a university, there were absolutely no lectures on World War One or Two, although no other events have changed the face of our old continent like these two wars did, and we still do suffer from their heritage.
HH: What do you feel we can learn or reclaim from looking into the past and observing history?
RH: We may find similarities to the present, and one thing I have learned is that history is always connected to people and their non-logical behavior. The people haven't changed over the last 10.000 years. This means that the soldiers marching with Alexander the Great had the same feelings and fears like the modern GIs in Iraq have today. This also means that everything is possible in the future that has happened in the past. Who dares say, that there won't be a war or revolution here in Europe the next 20 to 50 years? Famines, religious fanatics that destroy our culture? No problem!
HH: When you approach creating an album with an identifiable historic theme what kind of research do you conduct to learn about the subject matter?
RH: Reading, reading and reading. Usually I search, which anniversaries we have. For example: I intended to release 1905 exactly 100 years after this revolution happened, 212 came 212 years after the introduction of the revolutionary calendar in 1792 and so on. After that I try to get as much information as possible, from books, the web, old recordings I can use, whatever. It takes several months before I start with the production of the material itself. I am working on a concept for 2008 right at the moment. This will not be the end of the war 1918...this would be too easy and obvious, because dozens of projects will do something on that! But this will remain my secret, of course!
HH: Do you feel that it is necessary to remain neutral or non opinionated when creating music that deals with historical international conflicts or political revolutions? Or do you feel it is within an artist’s rights to narrate from a point of view?
RH: Yes, it is. Why not. I think, it is not possible to tell a story like it happened. We all have a social background, different histories, and political attitudes. Isn't the choice of the song titles itself something that influences people? The choice of the samples, whether a track is sad or funny...it's an illusion to believe that a story can be told from a neutral point of view. But I think that is the personal right of everyone...no one forces me to buy a record of someone with whom I don't share the same opinions.
HH: When creating music inspired by such events what are you attempting to communicate to the listner?
RH: I want to create a feeling that comes close to the feeling I have when I think of the events. I want to create pictures in the inner eye of the listener, thoughts and of course I want to tell a small story as well. But that is what I want. As mentioned above: I can't know what people really do when they're listening to my music!
HH: Stahlwerk 9 regularly uses European history as inspiration and themes when composing music. Is there a religious or spiritual element to your music as well and if so could you please discuss it?
RH: I'm not very religious. I have got my Roman-Catholic education, but I don't like church itself very much. It's too antique. I think religion is an act of totalitarianism. I can't support someone who tells me when I'm allowed to eat meat and when not! Am I a better person because I don't eat meat on Fridays? I dare say no. I support some of the thoughts and traditions of course, but I want to leave this completely. There is something I want to include in my work, something deeper and maybe spiritual, if you want to put it like this. I want to spread thoughts and emotions, of course. If you call this spiritual, then it is ok with me.
HH: Is the music of Stahlwerk 9 intended to contain a political message or commentary?
RH: As I've said above, there can't be anything without an intention. Therefore I am political, of course. I put it the easy way. My intention is that there is no truth at all that is not connected to people. Everybody has to search his own opinion. Never believe in anything. Don't trust anyone who wants to tell you something about what you have to believe! This is, in a way, my policy.
HH: The music of Stahlwerk 9 is a blend of electronic, ambient, industrial, and experimental music. Please explain how the musical identity of Stahlwerk 9 was created?
RH: It was not created in an active way. It came piece by piece. When I started back in the 90s, I intended to do more rhythmical stuff, like it was in fashion in those days. Honestly, I wasn't too successful with it. When I sent ACHTUNG BABY! my Die Schwarze Fabrik tape in 98, Igor chose the only ambient track from it, because he liked it best. He also convinced me to make more stuff like that. This was the point when I decided to go a different way. It was the best decision I've ever made. It is so easy to make a technoid track with no feeling, but it takes far longer to create something deeper.
HH: Stahlwerk 9 does not have many musical comparisons. Do you feel as if you are pioneering a new sound and if so where do you believe it will lead?
RH: Really? I never think of such things when I start a new project. I also don't feel like someone special or a pioneer. Maybe I am who knows. I don't know what I will do in 5 or 10 years. I will continue of course, as long as there is fun in making music and as long as I won't simply copy myself. I try to develop my sounds and create something new every time. No idea what STAHLWERK 9 will be in 2010.
HH: What motivates you personally to create the music of Stahlwerk 9?
RH: May I be honest? I often get asked to participate in something. I am very bad at saying "No" to the people, and so I have to do something. It is strange: this forces me to work on topics I have no knowledge about, but in the end, it motivates me and all my thoughts don't come because I'm forced to, but because I want to do all of this. When I do something without being forced, it is sometimes a feeling that stands at the beginning. A flash of sadness or joy, a book that I've read, a film that I've seen...it can be anything!
HH: Stahlwerk 9 was very productive in 2004 with numerous releases and appearances on compilations being published on labels as Steinklang, War Office Propaganda, Neuropa Records, Der Angriff, Derzantsu, Fluttering Dragon and Eternal Soul. Amongst this flush of releases was the very ambitious and epic release “212” published by Steinklang Records. “212” is comprised of 12 x 7” vinyl albums packaged in a deluxe wooden box. Can you discuss you describe “212” and discuss how you conceived of this release and what inspired it?
RH: I must confess, that 212 is the most exhausting project I've ever done. It took almost two years to finish it, from the first idea that I had to the final result. With 212 I have come fairly close to the borderline to what is possible. I intended to do something on the French Revolution and came across this year 1792, in which the revolutionary calendar was started. It was 212 years to 2004, and I liked this number. First of all I wanted to release 12 singles, one piece per months, and the box with the titles at the end in 2005. Max convinced me, that this would be a too great effort for the customers of the singles and said it would be better to release everything at one single point of time. The only problem was that the price would be really high due to the high production costs. The limitation to 212 pieces came as an idea, as well as the idea to use the three colors of the Tricolore for the vinyl colors.
HH: Was Steinklang eager to publish a release with such a high retail price tag?
RH: Yes and no! First of all I still have to say thank you to Max for his efforts in this project, his understanding, patience and his will to take this high risk on his shoulders! Not every boss of a label would have supported such a mad brainchild of one of his artists, and thanks to STEINKLANG all of this had become possible. It was clear, that 212 would be a risky enterprise, because not everyone is willing to pay nearly 100 Euros for a single release, although there are 12 x 7" in that box. In the long run this will be one of my most important releases at all, if not THE release of STAHLWERK 9, because I hardly will do something like this again!
HH: Do you create releases such as “212” with elite records collectors in mind?
RH: Definitely not! Frankly spoken, I hate releases which have this limitation. But if you're honest: Our music scene is too small to make thousands of copies. You won't sell them! And 212 was so expensive and risky, that we couldn't afford to sell just a fraction of it. Besides, there is no re-release planned, because the concept with the three colors and the 12 singles, which stand for the 12 months is not realizable on a CD.
HH: Stahlwerk 9 also contributed to the War Office Propaganda Scontrum compilation series in 2004. Stahlwerk 9 appears on Scontrum III alongside Cold Fusion and Krepulec. The theme of the release is submarine warfare during WWII. What interested you in appearing on the Scontrum series?
RH: Hmmm...The WOP people asked me so kindly, that I couldn't say no to that release! I was convinced of the idea, the concept, and I had listened to COLD FUSION and KREPULEC just before and liked their stuff...so I said yes. I didn't want to release anything more that year, but I thought that a limitation of 36 pieces wouldn't harm anyone and wouldn't keep anyone from buying my other releases. Well, I didn't expect that success...
HH: War Office Propaganda is a rather new label that has accumulated an impressive roster of emerging post industrial artists. What was it like working with this new label and what kinds of potential do you see in War Office Propaganda?
RH: I may think for hours, I wouldn't find anything negative about WOP. It has always been a pleasure to work with WOP, their releases are some of the best in Europe. Some years ago, I was a great Cold Meat Industry fan, because of their artwork and the fact that you were able to buy any of their releases without being disappointed. Today this is what WOP is like. Whatever I listen to from WOP, it is great. The concepts, the artwork, the artists, sounds...In my eyes WOP is top 5 among the European labels. So there goes a big "Thank You" to Marcin and Robert!
HH: Stahlwerk 9 also contributed to the “63 Days” series published by Fluttering Dragon. Can you discuss the theme of this series and Stahlwerk 9’s contribution to the series?
RH: Once again I've been asked, and I wasn't able to say no, when I've heard the other contributors of the series. I have claimed more than once, that war-topics bore me, but there was the fact of the good concept of the series and that the Warsaw Rising was told from the Polish point of view. My tracks base on two songs sung during the rising. In my opinion, there are two things that transport the feelings of the people best: songs and poems. I always come back to these two manifestations of human feelings, because there is no better way to come closer to those people who bore the unbearable. In my eyes more than watching a film from that time!
HH: A new album by Stahlwerk 9 titled “1905” just recently became avaliable. Can you introduce the album and discuss the title and theme of the album?
RH: 1905 deals with the Russian Revolution of 1905, which failed, but became important, because it was the offspring for many things going on in Russia until 1917. Once again it was an anniversary, and I wanted it to be released 2005, but because of several problems appearing we failed in this plan. In a way this is the second part of Oradour, because there are similarities in sound and artwork, which was done again by Igor Vaganov, who made the artwork for the Oradour album as well. I wanted to keep the album entirely in Russian and so I used Russian titles as well as Cyrillic fonts.
HH: Discuss some of the other musical projects or interests pursued by the members of Stahlwerk 9?
RH: In a way I prefer working alone, as far as STAHLWERK 9 is concerned, but there are a few projects in which I took part. First there is/was A.R.S., a collaboration with Atrox and Rasthof Dachau and then Fall Weiss, which also is a collaboration with RASTHOF DACHAU and - this time- Radio Murmansk. Both projects were in a way live recordings. STAHLWERK 9 is mostly composed music, and so both projects were also an experience, because it was a completely different way of creating music and I saw how other people do their stuff.
HH: Does Stahlwerk 9 ever appear live and if so can you discuss how your music manifests during a live performance?
RH: Oh yes, I do. I will go to Japan Friday this week and do a concert there. I hate playing live, not because I don't like it, but because I'm too lazy to prepare something, I must confess. There are sometimes also problems with some of the organizers, because often/naturally they want to make live records of the gigs, and I'm not so keen on having all of my concerts released on several labels. Maybe I'm a bit special there, but if ever I'm going to release a live recording one day, it must be as perfect as possible and it must be a professional and good label. Concerning this topic, I have had some discussions already. When I'm on stage, it is a great feeling though. It is difficult to present industrial or any kind of electronic music to an audience without being boring, because there are some parts which have to be played playback. On stage we are two people who try their best, but you need at least video backdrops, which I also create myself and a good concept as well. I try as well as I can to vary some of the tracks, so that there are some differences to the studio recordings.
HH: Looking forward what are your goals and plans for Stahlwerk 9?
RH: I'm not so much interested in having success, although it is nice, of course...this will vanish sooner or later anyway. Health, peace, sunshine, love... and being able to meet even more wonderful people is far more important to me. And if I'm able to entertain you a little bit with my releases, well, that would be fine... :-)
HH: Lastly, Is there anything you would like to add?
RH: Nothing in special but to say "Thank you" for the opportunity to tell you some of my thoughts and the patient waiting for my answers!