We’re snapping at her heels: It’s the big interview with Stephanie Müller of Beißpony and ALLIGATOR GOZAIMASU

I’m going to quote from the Beißpony website here because it says it way better that I ever could “here really is such a thing as a beißpony.It is pink on one side, blue on the other; it sports a horn, a black mane and a belly full of squashed toy cars. Most importantly, though, it has razor sharp shark teeth in an unhealthy yellow hue and it’s those teeth to which it owes the name.It was born in 2006 when a songwriter called Laura and a textile artist called Steffi met each other for the first time and decided to start a music project. This is how it happened: Steffi stitched a giraffe onto Laura’s coat, Laura returned the favour in the form of a demo cd  and the beißpony experiment was born. Part band, part performance art duo. Part stories, part sounds. Part songwriting, part improvisation. Part piano, part modified drum kit and part singing sewing machine, talking skirt, rattling umbrella, noisy toy pistols, clattering typewriters and a whole toy sound orchestra.”

On the 15th of September 2016 beißpony released the ALLIGATOR GOZAIMASU. Shorthy afterwards they sent it to us and we were entranced.  This LP is a record of an experimental art and music exchange with artists from all over the globe. About 35 artists located in Munich, Berlin, Cape Town (South Africa), Ivano Frankivsk (Ukraine), Kailua-Kona (Hawaii), Oxford (UK), Sapporo (Japan) and Tokio (Japan) collaborated with each other.  It’s an intriguing, exciting and at times brilliant work. ALLIGATOR GOZAIMASU was the very first release on the  beißpony label RagRec. We were delighted to speak to the creative heartbeat of the Alligator – Stephanie Müller.

The level of ambition behind the project is astonishing. How did it start? What planted the seed?

It all started at the Kafe Kult. It’s one of the oldest DIY venues in Munich, founded in the ‘80s. Allison Wolfe from Bratmobile played there, The Notwist, AIDS Wolf, Chain And The Gang, Des Ark, Mika Miko, Lightning Bolt, Kickballl, The Good Good, Lydia Lunch and Jeffrey Lewis. I used to be part of the booking collective for a couple of years and all these different musicians inspired me a lot.

The Kafe Kult is also the place where I met Laura Melis Theis for the very first time. It was during a Kimya Dawson concert in 2006. It didn’t take long and we startet our own music project – beißpony. Meanwhile Laura is based in Oxford (UK). In the years since we started, we’ve always been trying to bring together artists from all over the world.

Our tiny base is still located in Munich. Klaus Eris Dietl is the one who creates the music videos and supports us with great artwork. Together with Fabian Zweck we produce our albums and sound art for radio plays and art installations.

In autumn 2014 we were artists in residence at the “Feniks Festival” in Mortsel (Antwerp, Belgium). During our residency we’ve started to collaborate with our fellow scholar Mikio Saito, a media artist from Sapporo. Mikio creates weird, uncanny and at the same time dreamy animations. A perfect match! We immediately liked each other a lot. We totally appreciated Mikio’s unpretentious, spontaneous and humorous way of interacting with other people. So we didn’t hesitate at all and decided to keep in touch with each other despite the distance.

And just a few months later, in May 2015, Klaus and I were invited to Mikio’s hometown for an art exchange with Sapporo’s underground art and music scene. The time we spent in Sapporo was very intense. Mikio and the other artists didn’t hesitate at all. There seemed to be no need to consider at first. We had the chance to become part of their live performances and their recordings without even practising before. I guess, what we experienced during our stay in Sapporo was a little bit like a trip back to Western Berlin’s 80s. With a vital, unpretentious musical exchange, a fierce love for experimenting together live, without hiding for months in your rehearsal room in search for a so-called perfection. It was a very direct, honest exchange, super-fast and with no fear of any dissonances, not aggressive at all, absolutely polite instead – and motivating as hell.

We definitely wanted to keep the vibrant art exchange alive. So the idea to keep on sharing ideas via a collaborative album was more than obvious. Most of the 17 songs on ALLIGATOR GOZAIMASU are based on a public recording session. Aoi Swimming, one of the artists we had met in Sapporo, visited us in September 2015. Together with her, we invited people of all ages and with different backgrounds to take part and experiment with us. Colin Djukic from the underground venue FLORIDA supported us and artists, queer activists, young refugees and filmmakers outside of the local community, such as German filmmaker Doris Dörrie, took part.

By the end of Aoi’s stay we travelled to Berlin where we performed together with Lisa Simpson aka Agente Costura and SchnickSchnack. During the last day of Aoi’s very first trip to Germany we met Kris Limbach, a Berlin based sound artist who collaborates a lot with John Bock. At his studio we recorded an experimental trash set with a singing sewing machine. It is called I KNOW; YOU KNOW. It is also on the album.

After the recording session I started to send a selection of sound, text or voice fragments we had recorded to some friends of mine who are into DIY music. Musicians and artists from Munich (Colin Djukic, Michael Jandejsek), Sapporo (Japan – Cup&Saucers, Miboujin, Takeshi Hattori, Shimettainu, Mirai Oukura, Otaco), Berlin (Futaba Nakayama and Patrick Weh Weiland aka SchnickSchnack, Kris Limbach, Lisa Simpson aka Agente Costura), Vienna (Max Amling), Kailua-Kona (Hawaii – Keiko Saile), Cape Town (South Africa – Billie Thomason aka Munumeloo) and Ivano-Frankivsk (Ukraine – Ivanna Zhuravchak, Ruslan Boiaryn) were invited to collaborate. And after a short while they sent back their compositions based on the public recording session.

As Beißpony you appear to spend a lot of time on the move –tell us about your best and worst trips.

One of our most exhausting trip was to Rome in Italy. This was really early on, when we first met like 11 years ago. We were invited to a festival together with about 15 other international artists. Despite the invitation to the city of Rome, they kind of abandoned us in a squat outside of Rome. The organizer of the festival just disappeared. Nobody could contact or find her anymore and the place had no roof and it was winter and snowy. Soon, the general mood hit rock bottom. I was the only one who spoke Italian and thus everybody expected me to take the charge, get us out of the uncanny situation and back to town into a warm hostel. In such a situation the only thing you can do is to stay calm and down-to earth. Back then I was quite shy. To be thrown in at the deep end made me stronger. Since then I’ve always tried to start with almost now expectations and to be ready for any kind of surprises.

One of our best trips was definitely the one to Sapporo (Japan). One Sunday morning we were part of  a little music and art festival. I will never forget this one. The “Guten Morgen Lärm“ festival already started at around 8am in the morning with a tiny musical sewing performance, followed by Yuko Muronoi’s Butoh dance. Her partner, Iruko Takahashi, an inspiring drummer and percussionist who worked together with musicians such as Damo Suzuki (Can), accompanied her dance performance.

Step by step more people joined the festival, enjoyed their morning pint and had a delicious picnic. It was great fun to perform together with Cup&Saucers. We transformed the packaging of salty crackers into a tiny little drum set whilst Takeshi Hattori from the punk/hardcore group „Colour Me Blood Red“ was playing an experimental noise set on top of the trees with his musical toy bat. And we were fascinated about Abto’s and Taichi Furudate’s Ghostbusters’ backpack performance.

In the early afternoon we invited the local artists to become part of a video shoot for our Beißpony song THROW A DOG A BONE which can be found on our upcoming album. The setting, a beautiful hill full of cherry tree blossoms, was great and we had amazing props. Amongst others a huge cat mask created by the artist duo Regu Regu. These two filmmakers have brilliant ideas and their lovely house is full of the most fascinating collactibles and pieces of art. Imagine you slip through Alice’s rabbit hole and wake up on a treasure island run by Jan Švankmajer and Terry Gilliam. Another highlight was a spontaneous video shoot in one of Sapporo’s dog beauty hotels. And we found a lonley incisor in the midst of Susukino, Sapporo’s red light district.

How did you choose artists/collaborators for the ALLIGATOR GOZAIMASU project?

The artists involved in ALLIGATOR GOZAIMASU are all friends of us. We had the chance to get to know all the Japanese artists who contributed their compositions during our stay in Sapporo in 2015.

Keiko Saile from Kailua-Kona (Hawaii) used to live in Zurich and Munich. We met each other for the very first time about 17 years ago. Despite the distance we’ve never lost sight of each other and collaborated again and again since then. Keiko is a great performer and photographer.

Billie Thomason is a sound artist from Cape Town (South Africa). Klaus and I met him during an international sound art festival TONSPUREN in spring 2014. He also composed the music for one of our collaborative short films: ONE AND A HALF ORBITS.

In summer 2015 we had the chance to visit the Ukraine. In Lviv, a city located in the western part of the Ukraine, we developed the trilogy BLENDWERK. During our recording sessions and the film shootings, we met two young sound artists:  Ivanna Zhuravchak and Ruslan Boiaryn. Ivanna is still studying and Ruslan is trying to get a living with street music. We decided to share all ressources and to compose the film music with them. When we started to work on Alligator Gozaimasu, I invited them to take part and to exchange sound ideas via email with all the other artists who were involved. It was a great and very inspiring exchange. At the moment we are composing the music for a radio play written by Elfriede Jelinek together with Ruslan.

Given the numbers of people involved and the commitments you have to make personally and to each other as artists did you ever worry you might have over reached or that it would fail?

Honestly, during this open, collaborative process there are definitely moments when you have the feeling that all these different ideas, cultural backgrounds and languages just clash together. This can be quite exhausting at first, but if you take the time to discuss and solve misunderstandings, the team has a chance to work together with no boundaries in a very honest and outspoken way. Then distinct pieces and perspectives start to meet each other and it is possible to create one, interesting, cohesive creation. It is important not to be afraid of dissonances if you work with a lot of different people. It’s not comfortable, but definitely more challenging and interesting than anything else I’ve done so far.

Our stay in Sapporo was definitely the spark for ALLIGATOR GOZAIMASU. There, everybody just experimented, performed together and there was no need for perfection. I guess, this was a very good start. We had no expectations at the beginning. We just wanted to bring the good vibes of lots of open-minded artists together. ALLIGATOR GOZAIMASU could have become a radio play, a noisy electronica album or something completely strange or poppy. We had no idea at first. And when we did the public recording session in Munich, we were open for any kind of content, except racist or homophic bullshit. I really wanted it to be something fluid without artistic restrictions.

I don’t know anything about music theory or let’s say it like this, I’ve never spent time on learning more about it, and long ago I forgot how to read notes. My only chance is to experiment uncompromisingly, to rely on my intuition and to collaborate with other people I appreciate.

RagRec is our own label, there is no industry involved, so we had no external pressure at all. We could just finish what we started.

Have you imagined performing the whole album live with all the artists involved? Perhaps as an online event with people performing from different locations?

Back in Sapporo, before Alligator Gozaimasu had even been started, I had the chance to perform live with most of the Japanese artists involved in the album.

Last summer, Klaus and I organised an art exchange in Munich. Our idea was to bring a lot of artists involved in Alligator Gozaimasu together again. We worked on a collaborative film project – Promises & Other Failures – and we organized some live shows and a performance festival. However, we never performed the album itself.

Somehow the collaboration is not static at all. It started as something very playful and improvised and is still permanently under transformation. For example, when we celebrated the album release concerts in Munich and Berlin in September 2016, a bunch of artists who hadn’t been involved before, performed together with us – amongst others Gülcan Turna from Eskişehir (Turkey), Justine Maxelon, a coreographer from Brussels, La Bernadette, a songwriter from Vienna, Angela Muñoz, a drummer and dancer from Madrid and Martin Krejci aka Institut für Leistungsabfall und Kontemplation.

Maybe I’m just not so much into online sessions. I definitely love the rough spirit – interesting locations and of course, the friction and communication with the audience and the other artists during live shows.

However, a collaborative album production with artists from different cities or countries wouldn’t be possible without the web. If you have little money, you can’t just buy flight tickets, but you can easily share files and exchange ideas via skype.

As you say yourself ”It was a collaboration full of energy, with no fear of any dissonances and no need for perfection”. The album is wildly inventive and far outside the mainstream – what do you think in your personality draws you to being an “outsider”? (if you don’t mind the term).

Am I an outsider? It sounds tempting and smells like street credibility, but I guess I’m not really an outsider. I love to take a step aside and to question myself, my beliefs, my own reservations. I’m always in search for other perspectives and I don’t mind frictions. But I think as long as I have the strength, health and chance to keep on going in this society, I’m not really an outsider. I’m still inside, I’m still privileged. I had the chance to study, I’m a white female. But, yes, I love to challenge and question the double standards I’m surrounded with and for me it has always been important to try more than preaching to the converted. I enjoy it when I have to leave my own comfort zone for a while and when I have to get in touch with other people’s opinions and ways of life who aren’t like-minded on the first go.

I was raised in a tiny Bavarian village in the midst of a working class family with little interest in art or music. So, you can imagine how hungry I must have been for leaving behind my roots and trying to search for as much new input as possible 😉

Do you have a favourite piece from the LP?

It is difficult to choose a favourite piece, because all of them are so different and special. I guess, I have a strong personal connection with TAKANO TANKA. This song is based on a poem I found at Saka’s „Retro Space“ in Sapporo. The „Retro Space“ is a very special mixture of a museum and a confectioner’s shop. It is packed with rare records, comics, strange stuff such as a collection of bondage Barbies or sexy underwear from the 50s, but also collectible items which give a profound insight into Japan’s underground art scene and protest movements. In the midst of all the collectibles I found a tanka (Japanese poem consisting  of 31 syllables) written by Kazutaka Saka, the owner of the „Retro Space“,  (when he was in his early twenties). Back in the late 60s he was involved in the protest movement. In his poem he is questioning whether he and his fellows will have any chance to inspire further generations. Based on this poem and on excerpts from Etsuko Takano’s writings, Laura Melis (beißpony) wrote a a very quiet, delicate resistance song. Etsuko Takano is a Japanese activist who committed suicide in the late 60s when she was a young woman. The song based on Saka’s and Etsuko’s poetry was composed and recorded together with Aoi Swimming and Ruslan Boiaryn.

We spoke to Markus Acher recently, he painted a picture of a very vibrant music and art scene in Munich. Can you tell us what is exciting you there at the moment?

I have the impression that some of the local artists based in Munich have started to realize that it doesn’t really make sense to compete with each other. I like it, if people start to question themselves and the boundaries of their „holy“ little scenes. It is way more interesting to take the blinkers off and appreciate the other’s talents.

On the one hand there are DIY clubs and booking collectives such as the Kafe Kult or radio shows such as the Kanalratten or the Zündfunk that have never stopped to support the local music scene and that have kept on providing a platform for experimental artists for decades. Such a persistent base is very important for a vibrant underground culture. On the other hand more and more spontaneous and fluid projects emerge. Their strength is to question the already established and to deliver new perspectives.

What Markus Acher from the Notwist is doing in Munich is great. Many people know him and his music projects. And if he and his friends put up a platform for interesting, but not yet so well-known international artists, a lot of people will come and listen. That is very supportive. Besides Markus Acher, I appreciate a lot artists such as Augusta and Kalle Laar from Kunst oder Unfall, Gretta Louw, Paula Pongratz and fts nostromo from the iRRland, Anna Blumenkranz, Anja Uhlig from DasKlohäuschen, Raquel Izquierdo Rodriguez from the Magdalena Project, Leive Leirs and Sema Schäffer from abArt, Mira Mann from Candelilla, Anton Kaun aka rumpeln and activists such as Thomas Lechner from Queerbeats, Zara Pfeiffer from DECOLONIZE München, Matthias Weinzierl from the Bellvue di Monaco, Moni Kliche from the Queerthing, Matthias Stadler from TamTam, Doro Hugle and Heike Barnes from Yara and Nick Neubert and Sylva Häutle from the Queer Film Festival.

They are all interested in crossing the separators and put a lot of effort and expertise into projects that are open-minded for different perspectives and collaborations within the local art community. There are even more, than the ones I’ve just mentioned, out there. It’s absolutely worth it to keep on searching for them.

Munich is not easy-going for artists. It is a quite expensive city. People who concentrate on their art have to struggle for their living and this all too often results in competition. It is great that, in spite of everything, there are still some artists and activists that are ready to take the blinkers off.

Will there be an “ALLIGATOR GOZAIMASU 2”? Where did the name come from?

During our stay in Sapporo I never really got familiar with being super polite all the time. „Arigato Gozaimasu“ means „Thank you very much“. In Japan it is also appreciated that you bow to your vis-à-vis whilst saying „Thank you very much“. I transformed the „Arigato“ into the bity „Alligator“. I think it was funny, but also relieving for all of us. We all started to exchange the more formal „Arigato“ with the „Alligator“ whenever we thanked each other and bowed as low as possible – a bit like a weird limbo challange for the unsportsmanlike who will never get any winner’s certificate. That’s how the titel for our collaboration was born.

When we celebrated the album release of ALLIGATOR GOZAIMASU in September 2016, a couple of artists who hadn’t been involved before, performed together with us – amongst others Gülcan Turna from Eskişehir (Turkey), Justine Maxelon, a coreographer from Brussels, La Bernadette, a songwriter from Vienna, Angela Muñoz, a drummer and dancer from Madrid and Martin Krejci aka Institut für Leistungsabfall und Kontemplation. It would be great to expand or transform the original version of ALLIGATOR GOZAIMASU and start a second album, a festival or another collaboration. And there is a ALLIGATOR GOZAIMASU project we are already working on at the moment – the postproduction of our collaborative film PROMISES & OTHER FAILURES.

Tell us more about Promises & Other Failures. What’s the theme? When will it be released?

Promises & Other Failures will be released in 2017. At the moment we are working on the postproduction. It is a black and white feature film in the elegant guise of a weird musical. Promises & Other Failures mainly focuses on how our societies deal with loss, decay and death. It also questions our narrow-minded beauty standards. At first glance this sounds very serious, but between the lines there is so much humour. For example, there’s an episode where the main characters want to visit their therapists but they don’t work in a private and intimate surrounding. Like prostitutes, the therapists work on the streets and sell their therapy sessions in tiny little cars, parked besides the highway. Another episode shows how people can preorder their favourite funeral like a burger menu at a McDonald’s.

How does one come to play the musical sewing machine?

The sewing machine is always around me. In 2003 I started my textile art project Rag Treasure. Besides my fashion and textile art I’m deeply into experimental and noisy music. For me it feels very organical to use the sewing machine as an instrument. Her noises are always around me. But that is just one of the reasons why I put them in the centre of my performances. Another reason is, that I’m very interested in crossing the separators between different fields of art and work. I don’t only use the sewing machine as an instrument. Whenever I perform I also create something. So the audience is able to gain insight into the production process, too. However, the textile piece will never be perfect, because I also focus on the sound. And the sound will also never be perfect, because  a part of my attention is directed towards the textile production process. And when we are on tour, it is always interesting to challange our audience and the venues that host us with our set up which is far away from common indie or rock standards. Besides my sewing machine and parts of a drum set, we also have a selection of other handmade instruments with us: for example a skateboard that has been transformed into a slide guitar, some noisy tools or textile telephone receivers with text and music implants.

How far ahead do you think?

I’m a freelance artist. My daily life is full of different challenges. There is a lot of freedom, but almost no reliable structure. A lot of voluntary, often unpaid work. A situation which isn’t easy to handle and definitely not a good basis for someone who enjoys longterm plans. You really have to love art and music to keep on going like this. Not all people appreciate artists. There are still a lot of prejudices around you have to deal with. Being an artist is a decision. And it is a statement for a different way of living. So, honestly I don’t think very far ahead in terms of my future self – no mortgage, special insurances or similiar knickknack. I draw most of my motivation from the unexpected, from surprising, special moments and from trying new projects together with others without to much expectations.

At the moment being involved in the art exchange „From Textile Wasteland to Crystal Graceland“ keeps me going, a project organized by Corinna Mattner from Zurich. And this year we will release our second Beißpony album BEASTS & LONERS on RagRec. That is another personal high-light I’m looking forward to.

You speak a lot about queer feminist ideas. Do you think coverage and the portrayal of gay women in the media is improving or not?

I think one of the main chances of queer feminism is to have a closer look and to question inequalities. Thinking of film projects like Tangerine LA, I have the feeling that it is definitely possible to improve the potrayal of queer issues in the media. This film was originated by the queer community itself. There is no voyeuristic director that delivers her or his stereotypical portait or fantasy of queerness. The feature has a lot of drive, drama and humor, too. It is experimental, but trendy enough to reach a larger audience. I think that’s quite cool.

On the other side we are in the midst of a social and political backlash. Europe is full of right-wing extremists. In Germany we have right-wing parties and politicians with way too much public support. And those people propagandise a very narrow, binary, sexist and racist view of the world. And that is not only the case in Europe. So there is still so much to do. And it is not only about the portrayal.

What would be a perfect day for you?

A perfect day for me would start quietly in the morning, waking up slowly, having a nice breakfast (I almost never take the time to enjoy a nice breakfast ;). And then, around 11 or 12 am I would be ready. A surprise in the early afternoon would be great, for example getting involved into something complete new with good friends and people I haven’t met before. It would be great to exchange some ideas, to improvise and record something spontaneously. Then I would love to take a little break, enjoy something with green peas or Lasagne and in the evening I would love to watch an indie movie, visit an interesting performance or concert. If there would be time to jump into a cold lake, in-between, that would be the best! And if there would be no phone calls, I would feel perfectly comfortable.

Well, in real life, just enjoying a relaxing day would already be enough.

What artists/musicians have been the biggest influence on you and in what way?

I really appreciate artists like Viv Albertine from the Slits or Carrie Brownstein from Sleater Kinney a lot. It is great to have role models you never stopped strugggleing to live their dream. I like their music, but what inspires me even more is that they are not afraid of sharing their ups and downs and questioning themselves openly. I can heartily recommend their biographies – especially the parts when they give us insight into how they deal with their own decay and insecurity: „Clothes. Clothes. Clothes. Music. Music. Music. Boys. Boys. Boys“ and „Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl“.

And now to the artistic substance itself. I’m fascinated by the complex artwork of Mike Kelley. His drawings, objects, installations and videos. The way he investigates the uncanny parts of the American society he was part of. I also like his music project Destroy All Monsters a lot, it is very wild and rough.

And I like some of Robert Altman’s cineastic work a lot. I love the polyphony of his feature film Short Cuts so much. Another very inspiring filmmaker is the German artist Ulrike Ottinger. As a starter into her body of work, you should check out her film „Bildnis einer Trinkerin“.

 What question would you like to be asked that we didn’t and what would be your answer?

What causes you a feeling of discomfort? I think, I’m still a little ashamed of my roots. And being ashamed, I’m ashamed of myself.

The Playlist

 

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