Photo: Carsten Aniksdal.

INTERVIEW WITH ARE MOKKELBOST FROM KILLL

On the occasion of the KILLL DVD + CD release on Fysisk Format, Are Mokkelbost from KILLL have compiled an interview from past interviews and new questions. Thanks to Andreas Schiffman and Dagmar from Legacy Magazine, Kristian Kallevik from Fysisk Format and Martin Revheim for the questions.

KILLL is Espen T. Hangård (guitar), Martin Horntveth (drums, vocals and FX), Are Mokkelbost (bass, synth, vocals, sampler and FX) and Erlend Mokkelbost (guitar), as well Kyrre Heldal Karlsen on lights.

The album, which contains two posters, can be pre-ordered here (Norway) or here (elsewhere).

You finally decided to release an album – why?

Our statement not to release a studio album was by many understood as not wanting to release an album at all. That is not true. That said, we were not in a rush either. Actually, the lack of desire to rush up the hierarchal latter of the music industry with this project has been a strange blessing for us.

KILLL was formed in order to play one concert back in 2003. Since then it has been a live-only band. It could only exist as a side-project due to all the other projects we are involved in, meaning very few shows, no rehearsals other than to prepare the next show, and no time in the studio. Invitations to play shows at clubs and festivals has grown steadily by word of mouth only, giving us time to evolve slowly and naturally. 

Also, the lights and visual part of the shows became more and more important, to the point were they could not be separated. Today, if our light man Kyrre can´t play a show, we won´t do it.

So to answer your question; if we were to release an album, it had to capture the live audiovisual experience as well. So we decided to do a live DVD compiling footage from various concerts. The CD is simply the soundtrack from the DVD, and as such, secondary to the DVD.

And why did it take so long to make the DVD?

Aside from me being busy with other art and music projects, it took a long while before the material amassed to something that seemed precise and varied enough. And since we are not playing very often, it took a long time before we were happy with it, and the longer it took the more eager we were to make it worthwhile the wait.

In addition we were jinxed with what seemed like an endless string of missing files, unsynchronized recordings and general chaos. It started with the guy who was supposed to log the first recorded concert – he disappeared for almost a year, with all the tapes! We later retrieved them and found out that he had had some kind of breakdown...

This production has been made on a minimal budget so it was always about doing the most with what was available.

In Riga, Latvia. Photo: Arnis Kalnins.

Before we talk about more about the DVD, let´s start at the beginning. You said KILLL was formed in order to play concert in 2003. Can you tell me more about this?

KILLL was formed on request by Martin Revheim, who, at the time, was booking for the contemporary music festival Ultima in Oslo. Martin Horntveth had been talking about the idea, and Revheim dared him: “ If I set you guys up in the program, will you do it?” So we did. The first time we all met face to face was when taking a picture for the brochure. We regarded the concert as a one-off affair and all the tracks were hurled together in three days. Some of those tracks are still part of the set, actually.

Since then most of our concerts and tours have been based on requests, such as the Norway tour when we were invited by Riksutstillinger and Rikskonserter to expand the visual elements of our show, which now is a crucial part of the experience.

The composing of tracks follow the same gung-ho approach; anything else would be too time consuming and make KILLL a too demanding project given we are all busy with other bands and activities. Most of us are organizing our other bands so KILLL is very different, much more democratic and fast, no dwelling on complex ideas. Anytime we have tried that it has lost in favor of simplicity.

It's quite hard to follow your music; is this confusion something you seek out consciously?

I think smaller obscurities in a known language sometimes are more confusing than an altogether alien or new language. An example: in Norway there is quite a broad range of dialects, where especially vowels and pronunciation differ the most. Sometimes on the street, I have a hard time picking up on what someone is saying, even if it is in Norwegian, because I haven´t identified the right “channel”, meaning picking up the signifiers for the given dialect. When I do, the brain can backtrack a few sentences and make me understand what I just could not.

I think this might be the case with KILLL, in musical terms. I think most of the elements in our music are quite common, but the parts that are not cause the confusion. Again, the brain is looking for genre signifiers to organize everything around. If you do not know the genre specifics maybe it would not sound strange at all?

Also, the visual experience dislocates the usual corresponding bond between music and visuals, basically exchanging metal aesthetics for op-art aesthetics and colored light.

So do you think the visuals make the experience more alienating for the audience?

Drawing by Agnes Hangård.

Our experience is that the visuals actually open doors for people to extreme music that they would not ordinarily identify with. The concert becomes more of an open-ended experience and less of a genre thing. Distortion, speed, aggression and heaviness – these are basic qualities everyone should be able to relate to.

When we played at the Henie Onstad Art Centre at Høvikodden on a Sunday afternoon, there were several kids in the audience, and on the recording I could hear gleeful outbursts coming from them. Apparently one kid walked past a blinking traffic light days later and screamed “Music! Killl! Music! Killl!” Later we got a drawing from her (see left), of the poster. So it can´t be that alienating!

To me your music is on the one hand simple, on the other hand quite complex - at the same time. Could you explain this paradox?

It is hard for me to see how you and others experience the music. What I will say is that most of our music is made from simple pairs of polar opposites – musical contrasts. There is a lot of on-off dynamics, silent-loud, quick-slow, simple-complex, rhythmic-flat, noisy-melodic, distorted-clean and so on. These binary elements are employed in what is truly a quick and effective way of song writing, the songs slowly evolving over the years as parts are added and subtracted.

You have an unusual set-up on stage. Are the guitars unplugged – there´s no amps on stage?

The whole band is plugged directly into the mixer and FX units on stage. The guitars are plugged into amp simulators. Having no noise from amps or acoustic drums allows for a real vacuous silence when everything is suddenly muted. The direct line-in set-up allows alterations of the complete band sound – a surprising contrast to the expectations of a normal band set-up.

Martin Horntveth´s electronic drumkit.

Photo: Sokolov Roman.

Is there a certain aesthetic ideology in KILLL, an underlying structure? Or is structure itself the ideology?

It is interesting; we have never had an outspoken ideology amongst ourselves. The process has been very practical, with everyone putting something forth for the others to include, transform or reject. So whatever ideology we follow is silent and intuitive and has slowly grown solid over the course of 8 years. When we started in 2003 the initial idea was to make a kind of live version of the music Martin and I were doing solo in the studio, this hard and percussive sample-based music. We wanted to get the electronics out on stage and mix it with guitars and vocals.

That set the tone, and to a large degree that is still the core of KILLL, although it has grown to encompass more. We have a common interest in extreme music but are active in quite contrasting genres, even more so now than when we started. (Martin is in the jazz band Jaga Jazzist, Erlend in pop group Montée and Espen is making pure electronic music as Pseen in addition to playing metal acts Altaar and Diskord).

We have been very intent on keeping the musical elements simple, so that they become less of a genre-signifier and more of a basic building block in what is a more general aggressive sound. The use of electronic drums, samples, programmed elements and Kaosspad FX units are also a break with traditional metal, but I would say the visuals are further away from metal than the music. The visuals have been a collaboration between light man Kyrre Heldal Karlsen and I, something we brought into the band that propelled a new direction.

Kyrre contemplating the lightboard.

Speaking of which: the backdrop, how does it work? What makes it seem to move?

Well, when Kyrre and I developed the stage show we wanted to explore an aesthetic that cultivated the RGB color logic of LED lighting. LED lights have an immediate response, which is a good match with the digital elements of the music, the abrupt and angular dynamic of it.

We made a 20 x 4 meter backdrop of my design to frame the stage, creating a consistent look for all venues. The colors of the patterns on the backdrop are calibrated to be as close to the RGB color temperature as possible, so they would light up as much as possible.

The stage set-up in Trondheim, 2005.

Before it came to this point we had to test it on A4-sized printouts, running LED light programs to see what effects were happening, like in the examples below:

The backdrop is lit by LED lights and colored strobes, which change the perception of the backdrop colors. When the color of the light changes rapidly, individual parts of the backdrop are “turned off and on,” creating an illusion of movement, a primitive animation. The effect is a simple but effective, given the large scale of the backdrop and the lux of the light.

The effect happens because the eye tends to divide color perception into light and dark. So, when red light is projected on the backdrop, the white and red parts of it light up in bright red. The other colors become dark red, almost black. And when the light changes to green, the white and green become bright, the other colors dark. And so on. The eye follows the bright parts and this is what is causing a sense of movement.

Each song of the set has a different color code, and the concert takes you through everything from single color modes to full spectrum stroboscopics. Kyrre is the only light man I have met that gets personal pleasure from driving the audience out of the venue!

Video still; glitching surveillance camera.

Speaking of visuals, the DVD is heavily edited and seems to switch “modes” throughout. Can you tell me about the way you edited it?

The video editor Thomas Østbye and I decided early on that each track should be edited around a different idea, as the type of footage we had varied greatly. Carrying on the formalism of the music and visuals, we wanted to cultivate the aesthetic of the video recordings itself, anything from camera glitches and movement to the color schematic that our light man has defined for each track.

For example the RGB (red, green and blue) logic of the LED lights was carried on to the RGB logic of the television set itself. We realized that certain color values would make the tube of an analog TV set reboot, creating an additional glitch to the strobes when viewing. Things like that. 

New recordings from shows came in as we were working on it, from audience and organizers in addition to our own. We used footage from surveillance cameras, small wireless cameras (the opening sequence is filmed with a camera around the neck of the drummer), a camera swinging around in a rope above the stage, mobile phone and pocket cameras and more professional gear such as steady cams and broadcasting cameras. When we realized there was no good footage of the backdrop we mounted the whole thing with lights in a warehouse and played through the entire set while filming the backdrop and animating it in-camera only with moving the camera and zooming.

But actually, in the end the most intense recordings came from the audience, because they responded to the concert as they were filming, and the cameras would distort under the pressure of the lux, decibel and movement. So the DVD is heavily tainted by early digital cameras and what happens when their limits are overstepped – in stark contrast to the clarity and high fidelity of HD cameras used nowadays.

Video editor Thomas Østbye.

Photo: Carsten Aniksdal.

Sometimes your live show reminds me of the psychedelic elements of the hippie movement of the 60s – but in a more aggressive and extreme way. Is this kind of psychedelic music an influence on you?

Musically, not really - not in KILLL anyways. But the audiovisual emphasis of the lightshow scene in San Francisco and elsewhere at the time is definitely a kindred spirit.

A couple of years ago we were asked to play to a film of choice at the Øya Festival in Oslo. Before we realized there was not enough time to prepare for it, and therefore cancelled, we were looking into the abstract film experiments of the brothers James and John Whitney. They were doing their work at the same time but in a way more structured and formalist way, gradually becoming spiritual, and I relate more to that than the more random psychedelia visuals common at the time.

An important reference for the editing of the DVD was the Pikadourei DVD from Discordance Axis on Hydrahead: its heavy editing and the great sense of an unpolished and raw live concert, captured with a cheap camera.

Still from John Whitney´s Arabesque, 1975.

Could you explain the meaning of the name of your band name?

Just as the band was thrown together really quickly, so was the name. It was a short and simple word, single syllable, and a cue for us to rid ourselves of a lot of inhibitions and other musical interests and just aim for a simple, brutal and angular form of music. The letters are all straight lines and that was important, in a visual sense.

Later, to avoid confusion with the Swedish black metal band Kill, and to mark the entry of light engineer Kyrre Heldal Karlsen as an equal member of the band, we added an “L” to the name: KILLL. It then became more abstract and visual, which is more attuned to our overall approach.

At least three of you are doing vocals in the band. What are the lyrical topics of your songs?

There are no lyrics – everything is improvised on the spot. The vocal parts are treated more in terms of their sound qualities, so what is decided is where the vocals parts go and roughly the pitch or dynamic. Hi, mid and lo, stabs or long screams, and so on. It therefore varies from concert to concert, and it usually sounds like some sort of speaking in tongues. We have had a lot of fun trying to decipher these recordings in retrospect. That does not mean it is some kind of a joke - it is a very liberating thing to jump into that mindset and have no script to follow, a kind of possession of the unconscious.

How much of the music is written? How much is improvised?

Very little is improvised. The tracks are tightly composed, with short pockets of improvisation here and there.

I´ve seen this strange footage on Youtube from the Øya Festival in 2006, where you were playing on the main stage behind the stage curtain. What was that about?

Espen Hangård in St. Petersburg, 2011.

Photo: Sokolov Roman.

We were invited to play this outdoors festival in the daytime, and as we had just developed the whole stage set-up we didn´t want to play in broad daylight. So we proposed sealing off a black box on stage with black cloth, to keep the light out, then have the backdrop on the inside and play there. This festival always has a camera crew that films the shows live, broadcasting it on the huge screen next to the stage. So we thought we´d make a stage within a stage, with full light show, and let the camera crew come really close. So, in one way we were shutting off the audience, but at the same time we let them closer than ever before.

We were cleared to do this by the festival but when we were about to go on it proved impossible to get the black cloth up by the stressed out festival crew. So we hung up the backdrop instead, as a last minute resort. Or actually, during the long build up of the first track, it gradually rose up. The concert was a lot of fun, although not exactly as planned.

Why isn´t the footage on the dvd?

It costs a small fortune to buy the tapes from the broadcasters, and like I said, this is a low budget production.

Spectators big and small.

The large screen facing the audience.

As Norwegians playing metal, how do you see KILLL in relation to the Norwegian metal scene?

Obviously, as music listeners we are all into metal, from Norway and anywhere else. Espen and I play other variations of metal in other projects such as Altaar, Diskord, NunfuckRitual, Single Unit and Juv and Erlend played hardcore / punk rock in JR Ewing when they were around. Other than that we are into vastly different music, and are exploring that actively. As all scenes, the metal scene has certain unspoken aesthetic codes and I can see how KILLL stray from several of those. To me the best part of the Norwegian metal scene is the attitude of experimentation, and I believe we share that. So I´d rather be related in spirit rather than subscribing to a genre. I can live with aesthetical disagreements – in fact I disagree with my own preferences all the time.

So, I heard Fenriz of Darkthrone played at your first show – what does he and other scene “originals” think about your music?

He was DJ´ing on our first show back in 2003 – I have no idea what he thinks of the music, or if he has even heard it. We wanted to promote his very eclectic and far-ranging music taste, exactly to stress the point about how interesting music comes from open minds.

From my view outside of Norway, it seems to me that there is a very vital scene in Norway, where borders between different genres are less important. What is special about Norway?

Erlend Mokkelbost preparing to cue.

I think experimentation is going on everywhere in the world, and the focus on where the next, vital music is coming from is changing all the time. Today it is less geographically given than before as well. But sure, there is a lot happening here.

The scene in Norway is relatively small, but quite prolific given the size of the country. It all comes down to the attitude and effort of individuals, as well as some key clubs, labels and organizers. But that is also changing all the time. What IS fairly constant is the willingness of local and national institutions to support music and art, even extreme expressions. Few bands openly acknowledge this but it is no question; the social-democratic attitude in Scandinavia, but also Holland, Switzerland and elsewhere, has been key to fostering a broad and diverse music community. Knowing this I gladly pay my taxes.

How do you regard other metal hybrids that are happening these days?

Well, I´m interested in music where the fusing or transcending of genres happens as a consequence of following ideas and experimentation, more than the conscious blend of genres as a strategy. Maybe that´s why I tend to enjoy bands that are moving from metal into other genres, more than the other way around. Experimental black metal moving into ambient and electronic music through experimentation with duration and noise textures and taking away the drums, death metal moving into frantic free-jazz and the avant garde via the fascination of complex drumming and lightning speed riffage, doom metal moving into minimalism and physical sound through adoration of bass, sustained notes and sheer volume.

And I have always loved metal intros and the contrast between them and the main tracks. This collaged music where musicians leave the comfort zone of the guitar, bass and drums and make ambitious compositions with synths, field recordings and samples. I have always wanted to make music that merge these realms constantly, throughout the tracks.

In Ravensburg. Photo: Roland Fricker.

Is your music anti-music?

Not at all. I speak for everyone when I say we are music lovers – and all across the genre spectrum. Just look at our other bands! I would rather say we challenge some genre borders, or try to rid our memory of them so to concentrate on making something intuitively. Part of that is giving ourselves some limitations to work within. There is very little anti-attitude in us; it is more about being eclectic. Saying NO to something means saying YES to something else. We say NO to a lot but really the focus is on the YES part. KILLL is YES music!

On that note, what better place to end this interview? Thanks!

My pleasure :)