Johan van Roy (Suicide Commando) and Martin Sane (Fïx8:Sëd8)
Johan and Martin recently returned from the US - Johan did a North American tour with SUICIDE COMMANDO and Martin attended three shows of SKINNY PUPPY’s “Farewell Tour”. I thought of it as a good reason to ask them some questions about the US scene, their concert experience, and also about the future of the concerts and alternative music scene in general. They also discuss their scenic imagery, concert, and release plans (SUICIDE COMMANDO’s new single ‘God of Destruction’ is completed and FÏX8:SËD8’s ‘Octagram’ is in the making), whether they plan to collaborate together, what gives them energy and drive to keep making music.
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: Hello, guys! Thank you for agreeing to this little chat. Let’s start with your most recent experience in the US. Johan, you did a short but rather intensive tour in 8 cities. How many kilometres was it in total, 23,500? Martin, you attended the first three shows of SKINNY PUPPY within their “Farewell Tour”. Could you tell me your impressions regarding the concerts and the current US scene as you see it?
Martin: The PUPPIES were fantastic, obviously. The set was great, the band in top shape, and the show, despite being maybe the least spectacular of their entire career, entertaining. Particularly the third show in New Orleans was emotional for me, knowing I am seeing them walk off the stage for the last time. I will feed off those memories for a very long time for sure and I am glad I made the trip. But I do suspect that the announcing this as their farewell tour has attracted a bigger audience than it would’ve otherwise. You could tell that there weren’t all that many die hard-fans present, instead mostly people who were curious to see them and only knew a few of the more popular PUPPY-songs but not their entire discography. When I saw them in the US in 2014 the crowds and the locations they played were smaller which again would confirm my theory. I can’t say much about the US-scene in general since as a band I am all but non-existent there. Without an infrastructure, network, and label support it’s very difficult to make a name for yourself over there. I’ve come to terms with never playing shows in the US. But I certainly will go there again on vacation, which frankly sounds much less stressful.
Johan: Compared to Germany, the US scene still can be seen as pretty small, especially if you look at the numbers of residents in big cities like LA, New York...
RoD: Playing and / or attending concerts almost every day is very strenuous, to say the least. Where do you take your vital strength from? Do you feel that younger audiences now have the same love for music that fuels them up to go to such lengths as to follow their favourite artists with such intensity?
Johan: Sure touring is very exhausting, but on the other hand it also gives me energy to see people come out and enjoy our shows. I like this connection with the crowd and I frankly don’t care whether we have to play in front of 5,000 people or 50 people. It’s the intensity that matters, seeing people freak out to your music… At such moments you forget you’re f***ing tired.
Martin: I rarely ever have two shows back to back, let alone 10 shows in 10 days like for instance DIARY OF DREAMS had in March. If I had to do something like that I’d pull a Bill Leeb and hire a stand-in to do the job for me. Doesn’t even have to look like me. Any 1,93m beanpole will do. I do try to get in shape before single shows too though. My performance is very physical, not to mention the outfit and masks that make breathing difficult while simultaneously slowly boiling you alive. I run a lot, trying to build up stamina and lose weight to counter that. The main reason I don’t want to do a traditional tour where you play many shows within a month or so is the psychological pressure. I can’t imagine being able to put on a good show every day, doing the same thing, day in day out. And I don’t want to fake it. The moment I don’t enjoy playing shows I would quit for good. So I prefer the Guerrilla-style of playing the occasional show here and there and be psyched about them rather than a condensed tour where something I love and is supposed to be fun quickly turns into strenuous work.
RoD: Some bands touring the US, such as the aforementioned SKINNY PUPPY, but also some smaller calibre bands like KAELAN MIKLA or CLAN OF XYMOX have no problem selling out venues, whereas others struggle to sell 20 tix. Since it obviously does not depend on whether the band is well-established or a “legend,” what do you think success (also ticket sales related) depends on? Do you think it differs in Europe?
Martin: It’s easy to sell out a show, the venue simply has to be small enough... I very much believe that being established or not makes all the difference. KAELAN MIKLA certainly are. CLAN OF XYMOX too. Them doing well in the US isn’t really a surprise. But even established bands have to set their sights low compared to playing Germany or festivals in Europe. They might sell out the occasional small club with 100-200 people, the next day they play in front of 50. It comes with the size of the country. You play more shows in front of fewer people on average whereas in Germany you play fewer shows in front of a bigger crowd. But I am speculating here. In general, I’d say having a good booking agent helps. If you are a well-known band that is. Being a support band for a big band probably also helps to get gigs in the US. The mechanisms are probably the same as in Europe, but it takes much longer to feel an effect in the US because everything is 1000x bigger there.
Johan: I don’t always have an explanation why some shows sell out and others hardly get any crowd, I guess it usually is a combination of things that makes a concert a success or not. I for example notice that these days some organizers think it’s enough to make a Facebook post and think that’s enough for promotion. Of course, it doesn’t really work this way. Unfortunately, this is something happening worldwide. It also doesn’t make things any easier if you see the oversupply of concerts in some cities, sometimes having 2 shows in the same town at the same time (for example our upcoming show in Hanover). It’s pretty obvious that no one benefits from such strange actions.
RoD: There are various opinions regarding the future of the live music scene. Some are optimistic, while others are pessimistic. What do you think is the direction the “alternative” scene is heading in?
Martin: I assume we’re talking about live music within the dark scene? Then I’d say it depends what subgenre within the scene we are looking at. The Dark Electro / EBM scene is aging rapidly, one barely sees younger people at shows. Cold Wave and Post Punk on the other hand does attract a younger generation. As do the big names such as BLUTENGEL, COMBICHRIST or VNV NATION. Since I will always keep making the music I like, and this happens to be Dark Electro AND I am not getting younger myself, there is an expiration date on live shows in this particular subgenre. Eventually, people and bands simply will be too old. Also, none of us is doing this for a living, we don’t have to go on a five year long-farewell tour. On the upside: music always evolves and the adjacent scene with it. And people always have been drawn to the dark, the mysterious, the non-conform. So all in all I am certain that the dark scene will always exist in one form or another.
Johan: I don’t necessarily agree with this, in my opinion, there will always be a live music scene, those being negative might just be in the wrong scene. For me “Alternative” always was another word for “underground”, we don’t need to copy the Pop scene and try to make things bigger and bigger, what’s wrong with bands playing in small dusty basements for 100 people? I mean, I even discovered bands like FRONT 242 playing in small clubs for maybe 50 or 100 people back in 1984. Nothing wrong with that in my opinion.
RoD: It’s a well-known fact that bands from overseas cancel or cease to schedule their European tours. Do you feel this trend will continue? In your opinion, will there be fewer live shows in the future?
Martin: European bands have cancelled single shows and entire tours due to all the post-Covid effects, which I won’t list here again, too. Of course bands from overseas are taking a much higher financial risk and depend on good presales even more than local bands. So it would make sense that their tours got cancelled even more often. I don’t want to speculate or even look into the future too far ahead. There is no point since you simply can’t predict anything. I for my part am grateful for every show I can play or attend. But if it all ends today or tomorrow, I wouldn’t be sad for long. I had a great run and as long as I can make music, performing and presenting it live is just a bonus, the icing on the cake so to say.
Johan: I think most of it has to do with money, everything became so expensive over the last few years (flights, visa, accommodation…). Bands and booking agencies tried to counter this with raising their fees, but of course, there are limits to all of this.
RoD: You have both been in the industry for quite a long time. I’m curious about your perspective on the changes that have taken place within the music scene during, say, the past 10-15 years. In what way have you changed, if at all?
Martin: Not sure too much has changed in the past 15 years - aside from Covid and everything that is attached to it. Streaming got huge, devaluing music even further. Cold Wave and the Post Punk revival are big spawning dozens of identically sounding bands. I never understood the artistic value behind this phenomenon: one band pioneers/ creates a new genre, often with one song as fire starter. Let’s call this band SUICIDE COMMANDO, the song ‘Hellraiser’ and the genre Hellectro. What happens now is that every new band tries to copy this new style and even bands that have existed before adapt their style to this new fashionable sound. In the end, you feel like listening to ‘Hellraiser’ for four straight hours at what used to be your favourite party. I don’t know if bands seek commercial success by copying the successful role model or if they’re fans and want to make similar music because they love it. Or they start out as fans and turn into “businessmen” in the process. Either way, it’s the death of creativity, experimenting, progress, and diversity and we’re experiencing the same thing with Schlager-Electro, Cold Wave, and Post-Punk these days. I can’t tell bands apart within one of said genres for the life of me. Fortunately, there are exceptions but it is tiresome if 90% of what’s played at clubs or festivals is the same stuff over and over again. I certainly have become more cynical, knowing the industry from the other side of the table now, so to say. Knowing what’s happening behind the curtains, the mechanisms of the industry is frustrating, disillusioning, and often upsetting. I try to avoid being part of it wherever I can, but sometimes you have to play the game, and an ugly game it is. At the same time making music has allowed me to meet some great people and artists, I got to see and do things I wouldn’t have been able to see and do otherwise. I am grateful for that and focus on this whenever the urge to burn everything down is getting stronger...
Johan: Sure the entire music scene has changed a lot over the last decades, but I refuse to see it only negative. Sure there’s the decline of the CD market, people hardly still buy CDs these days, the revival of the vinyl market sure doesn’t fill the gap that is lost with CD sales and is more of a fashion thing. Sure bands by far don’t get enough for digital sales through Spotify or other channels. And sure there are (way too) many copycats ...But on the other hand look at the benefits of today’s technology and industry, over the years it became so much easier and cheaper to make your own music, it became so much easier and cheaper to release your own music through different channels, the technical (r)evolution never has been as big as in the last few decades, possibilities became infinite.
RoD: It’s a cliché that travel broadens the mind, but it happens to be true anyway. You travel A LOT. When people visit as many places as you have and meet various people, I’m always curious to ask: Was there a particular event or person that influenced you as artists or human beings? What did you learn about yourselves during these journeys - and I’m not only referring to the fact that sleep is overrated?
Martin: Traveling while on vacation is obviously more fulfilling than traveling while on tour, but even then I try to visit the place we play at, especially if we haven’t been there before. I used to backpack a lot all over the world. I’ve been to over 50 countries and if there is one thing traveling taught me it’s empathy. It really puts things into perspective to see how people live elsewhere. What’s important to them, how they handle certain situations, let alone the regional customs, behaviour, etc. It teaches you to look at things from a different perspective, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and that how we do things isn’t the only way to do them.
Johan: Sure we travel a lot and whenever possible, we try to visit as much iconic places as possible or try to soak up the atmosphere of a certain place, culture, or country, but often we also only get to see airport X, club Y, and hotel Z. What I remember most from traveling the world is the diversity of places, but also the diversity of people & cultures. This planet has so much to offer, but too often we’re just blinded to see the beauty of things.
RoD: You shared the stage numerous times. Were there any particular concerts that were particularly memorable that you are not afraid to share a memory of with us? What are your favourite festivals / scenes to play at?
Martin: The truth is, we only shared the stage for the first time in Belgium on EBM day, so less than two months ago at the time of writing, and then three weeks later in Bochum. Johan famously is said to be nice, down to earth and patient and I can confirm that he indeed is all those things. I on the other hand am famously said to be none of these things and I am sure Johan can confirm that in return.
Johan: Yes, I definitely can confirm.
Martin: Well, I hope I made a better impression in Belgium and Bochum than at our first encounter at Familientreffen 2019 where I drunken-chewed his ear off for 45 minutes while he let it happen with what can only be described as the patience of a saint.
Johan: My ears are still bleeding man.
Martin: Hypothetically the club / stage needs certain requirements for me to be able to perform my show to its full extend. Stage needs a certain size, accessibility for the wheelchair, screen for projections needs to be a certain size etc. But the more different venues I play the more I discover that it doesn’t really matter to me. I can improvise pretty much everywhere and it’s more important to me that the crowd is having a good time and I am playing with bands I am friends with. The fun-aspect over the top professionalism so to say. Ideally you get both so if I have to pick one and piss off every other venue I’d say Kulttempel in Oberhausen.
Johan: Naming this or that festival or club would derogate all those other clubs and festivals we already played at. Maybe it’s better to ask which clubs we didn’t like… as sure sometimes we end up in some dirty little shithole with no stage or backstage… but even those can be fun and adventurous as it indeed depends on the crowd. As long as they have a good time, they can put me on a stage sized 2 x 2 meters with plants on the side, with 2 spotlights of which one is not working, with a sound guy wearing a gun, with a light guy trying to hit me of stage, with a white sheet as a projection screen sized 1 x 1 meter… been there, done that!
RoD: Have you ever thought of closer collaboration, like a duet?
Martin: Ok, it was supposed to be a secret but we might as well tell it to the world here and now:
There will be an album with covers where we do duets. Here’s the track list:
01. Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes - (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life
02. Annie Lennox & Aretha Franklin - Sisters Are Doin’ It For themselves
03. R. Kelly & Celine Dion - I’m Your Angel
04. John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John - You’re The One That I Want
05. Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder - Ebony And Ivory
06. Lionel Richie & Diana Ross - Endless Love
07. Sonny & Cher - I Got You Babe
08. Dennis Schober & Elena Alice Fossi - The Great Unknown
It was challenging to do Diana Ross and Celine Dion justice but with pants tight enough it wasn’t as difficult as I thought.
Johan: First we wanted to do a MODERN TALKING tribute, but we couldn’t agree who would be Dieter Bohlen and who would be Thomas Anders.
RoD: Looking at your scenic personas, you both chose to go for aggressive, harsh, rather gory, and / or nightmarish imagery. It has undergone some modifications but consequently remains on the dark side. To what extent is the choice of scenic performative style an artistic creation, and what part of it reflects your own taste, artistic sensitivity, and imagination?
Martin: It’s always been both. I like the idea of entertaining people on a visual level too. Ideally, the show thematically matches the latest album. The beauty of performing is that you can do whatever you want and afterwards say that it’s art. It’s fun to become this crazy person on stage. Having props on stage also gives you things to do during longer instrumental parts of a song and keep the theatrics going beyond just an outfit or a decorated mic-stand. But the most important thing for me is to enjoy myself, to enjoy the music. If I had to play songs I hate I wouldn’t be able to put up a believable performance.
Johan: Imagery definitely is of high importance and should fit the music and atmosphere you try to create. It’s also an important part of my inner self. I think we all have a dark & aggressive inner side, for me my music is the perfect way to express those darker feelings and aggressions. My music is my own personal therapy!
RoD: What can we expect from you in the near future? I know SUICIDE COMMANDO has several concerts scheduled for 2023, and FÏX8:SËD8 does as well. Martin is also busy cooking up his new album ‘Octagram’. Could you tell me more about what you will be up to in the upcoming months? Please be as detailed as possible at this point.
Martin: As a matter of fact I indeed am spending every free minute working on the new album. I only have one song left to write, then it’ll be all about writing lyrics and vocals recording. Still a lot of work but I am making good progress and already am very proud of what I’ve accomplished so far. It’s going to be so much music... in every song. So it’ll be full focus on this with the occasional show in between. Seven or eight more to go before this tour ends. What a ride it already has been... Next up London, opening for HOCICO, Dark im Park, Black Mountain Stomp (with SUICIDE COMMANDO!) and Amphi.
Johan: Indeed we’ll do several more concerts in 2023. We just finished our North America tour and in September we hope to do a South American tour as well. I also just finished the work on a new single (‘God of Destruction’) which should be released on Out Of Line pretty soon and later this year should see another release (also on vinyl), but I can’t reveal too many details about that one yet.
RoD: And finally: Is there anything that you’ve always wanted to ask each other but never had the chance to? Now is the perfect opportunity, the floor is yours.
Martin: Sure. Any particular reason why I had to do all female parts in the duets?
Johan: What do you mean ALL? Isn’t Aretha Franklin a woman? And why did I have to do the Stevie Wonder part with the same choreography?
RoD: Thank you very much for the chat, and I look forward to meeting you somewhere on the road.
pic together - private
Fïx8:Sëd8 by Alex Jung
Suicide Commando by Daniela Vorndran