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elivanvegasInterview with

Eli Van Vegas (vocals, music, lyrics) from Zweite Jugend

Eli van Vegas proves the sky is the limit when it comes to the number of fields an artist may express himself in. An impeccably trained musician, a versatile artist with a deep insight into various forms of creative expression but also into life itself, and above all incredibly smart and kind person. Meeting such a personality must have given a result in a thought-provoking, sincere, and good interview - not only about music but life as such. And it did.

Actually, the variety of topics discussed during this particular interview is as diversified and complex as Eli van Vegas’ artistic endeavours. We discussed the new album by ZWEITE JUGEND ‘Der Wille zur Nacht’, the EBM book ‘Elektronische Körpermusik’, his musical background, the beginnings of ZWEITE JUGEND, cooperation with TENSION CONTROL, the touring life, the creative process, and why he decided to quit his plans to become a professional musician and became a pro in visual design and communication instead. And much more… with Eli van Vegas.

Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: Hello Eli, thank you for finding time for this interview. You mentioned you just completed two big projects - the layout of the EBM book (‘Elektronische Körpermusik’) and the new ZWEITE JUGEND album ‘Der Wille zur Nacht’. You must have been busy. Could you give me an overview of the two undertakings?
Eli: Hi Karolina! Yes, indeed it was a busy time for me completing two very time-consuming projects. I had days with a work rate of 16 hours, but it was worth it. There were days of commuting between the studio and my office, which is a ten-minute walk. Often several times per day. Sometimes my mind played tricks on me when it came to daily things, because I was totally focussed. These adult things seem to be trivial, but you have to deal with them anyway. You know, there’s always a time of creation and a time of rest and sleep. I prefer to be sober and awake when I create, so 7 a.m. is my time. The morning is the time of being mentally unencumbered. The nature of producing an album is exactly in that area, you still need to write music at that point even if it is the very last missing percent, whereas doing the layout of the book was simply putting the pieces together. Both projects went well side by side. I am pretty happy with both results.

RoD: What is actually the EBM book (‘Elektronische Körpermusik’)? You mention it’s the first literary work about the EBM genre. From what I read it is quite a thorough piece of work. How long did it take you to complete it? Who are the people involved in the project?
Eli: Yuma Hampejs and Marcel Schulze are the central authors. They directed everything, collected sources, pictures and articles from all over the world, most of the texts had to be translated and adapted. But there have been more than 100 people involved. Some people wrote about their bands or the EBM history in their respective countries. In late 2019 Yuma asked me to contribute to the project by writing a chapter about the generations of the genre. At that time, they called it something like “a book about the forty years of EBM”. And so, I dug into the work.

At first, I underestimated the amount of work, because there are no good and complete sources. Everything had to be carefully researched, and if in doubt about something, I tried to ask eyewitnesses. Yuma, Marcel, I and a whole bunch of people did the same in their respective topics. Around June 2020, my job was done. At least that was what I thought. In 2021 they came back to me with the finished script and a bunch of material. They carefully asked me if I would take care of the design and layout of the book, just because the designated designer was not available.

The real work had only just begun. But I was busy with several other projects all the time and with touring through Europe in 2022. The alternative was to let the book sit until somebody would be available. Imagine all the hours that went into the script. It simply was too good not to be published. It took longer, but we had a deal. Now here we are, ‘Elektronische Körpermusik’ is ready to be let into the world. A fun fact is that I didn’t know that Yuma and Marcel wanted to name the book the same as the last album of my band ZWEITE JUGEND. I remember a video call in which they told me. I had mixed feelings first, but then I thought we named both the album and the book after what it is called.

RoD: ‘Der Wille zur Nacht’ won’t be out earlier than May / June - could you disclose a bit of the general vibe of the album? You hinted it’s the last element of “the trilogy” with ‘Liebe ist Luxus’ (2016) and ‘Elektronische Körpermusik’ (2019) being the first two parts. In what way does the last release fit the puzzle?
Eli: ‘Der Wille zur Nacht’ is much darker and much more pessimistic than its predecessors. It is all about tragedy, about transience and about the personal downfall. Many of our songs before this were either optimistic or affirmative, some were criticising. A big part of them are love songs. Now we wrote anti-love songs. The circle of life ends, if you would say so. The title is the reversal of Nietzsche’s ‘Der Wille zur Macht’, because we thought that his thought construct was no longer up to date. We as a species do not survive through an instinct of self-preservation, but through the constant destruction of ourselves. And after all, everybody is subject to the second law of thermodynamics. Anyway, the new album is full of scientific topics. You will find the big freeze or particle fusion, but almost always in an emotional and personal corset.

Back in 2015 when we founded ZWEITE JUGEND, we thought of an album trilogy. Sure, we could have tried to have every stage of development produced at once, but does it work? A band must evolve from chapter to chapter. We wanted to write three main albums: ‘Liebe ist Luxus’ as the youthful and harsh beginning, ‘Elektronische Körpermusik’ as the mature beautiful sound and ‘Der Wille zur Nacht’ as the old but wise and desperate curmudgeon. Sure, the album names were not present in 2015, but we had a rough plan on how we would have to develop the songs and concepts. This was a thing of 80 percents prefabricated in our minds, the missing 20 percents came over time. But we never saw each album as absolutes, there are a few cross references between them. One or the other song could have been on one of the other records as well. Don’t forget, nothing is absolute at all, life is always relative to something. We are thinking about the release date now. I am not sure if it comes out in May or June or if we decide to release the record a little later. We had to wait during the pandemic and we are willing to wait a little longer if needed.

elivanvegas2022 02 byDanielaVorndran

RoD: I read you have quite a musical background - seven years of piano lessons, eight years of guitar lessons, and five years of singing lessons. I must say it’s impressive. In what way would you say the training you underwent shaped you as a musician and a composer?
Eli: It had an impact on how I write music today. Not just on the theoretical side, but more on the social side. You could call me pretty well-educated. I wanted to study music, at least I have learned that it wasn’t my way. I only noticed it during the university entrance exams. All they wanted from me was copy and paste. I had to play Jazz and Blues all the time, but I was a Punk. Sure, having learned all this is very useful now. I always wanted more than what my teachers could ever give me. However, some ideas have survived to this day: My guitar teacher once told me, that it is more important to play one right note than a million wrong ones. He meant, if you can reach to the listener’s soul with one note, you are the master of your work.

Another important thing that I have learned is the scale of my natural speaking voice. I am too lazy to let my voice adopt another alien scale, so the songs of ZWEITE JUGEND are predominantly in d minor or a minor - the dominant of d minor, depending on the content. And because you have asked, one thing I always do is staying in the scales and chords. Many electronic music composers write a song in - let’s say, because it is within my natural environment, d minor and then transpose that perfect sequence to another base. For example, to f. The sequence now plays f minor, which is totally wrong. F is the parallel key to d minor, but f major in particular. You would have to adjust the tones of the scale accordingly. This is an easy example, there are a lot of other useful transpositions. The sixth or seventh chords of your key are beautiful options. All this does not apply to every genre, I guess, or if you inevitably use old hardware sequencers. Back in the day the equipment usually wasn’t that extensive. But if you want to break the rules, you must do it intentionally. Never by mistake.

RoD: Your decision to switch your field of study from music to communication design seems very brave to me. Have you ever regretted it? What brought you to the latter direction?
Eli: Very few of us can make a living from music. The service providers around the musicians can, I know because that’s what I did before studying. They don’t get rich though. There are so many people who get attracted to the showbiz, people who want to be a part of it. The only thing they see is the glitter at the frontend. But earning enough from writing or playing the music is even a more difficult business. It’s like the tons of people who move to Los Angeles and hope to become a famous actor. How unlikely is that? And to be very honest, being a musician isn’t half as attractive as most would think. Wherever there is light, there is also shadow. And I mean the darkest shadows that you can imagine. However, for me it’s like being the moth that necessarily wants to fly into the light. I must confess that I am guilty for trying it myself day in and day out.

When I was a child, my family and teachers told me that I wasn’t capable of creative things like drawing and even many said that music wasn’t my thing. I really wanted to show them and at a point in 2010, when I was fed up with being the sound engineer, I needed a new challenge. It was a kind of self-assertion when I applied to the communication design studies. As with music, you have to pass some entrance exams. Imagine how happy I was when I received the confirmation of acceptance. Now I would give my everything to succeed and to graduate as one of the best. Studying design was the most self-fulfilling decision of my life so far. I didn’t know that it would become my greatest passion. I love being a conceptor and a designer, and for me, writing music isn’t much different from that. This is how I got back to writing music a few years later. I would rather design the lyrics and music than just write something interchangeable.

RoD: What do you think it takes to make good music or good lyrics? Does music have to be personal?
Eli: Music surely must touch your soul. It has to become a part of you, rather than just simply being understood in a theoretical way. Some good lyrics tell you truths you wouldn’t have known. Most people say that music has to get into your feet or is simply meant to entertain you. I have to vehemently disagree. If you have never sincerely felt love for music, you have never understood its potential. It’s the same with art in general. Do you remember what I said about the one right note? With lyrics it’s a bit complicated. Language, and I mean a third-degree language like English or German, is abstract. Our words nowadays are far away from those of the first-degree languages. They formerly derived from imitating the sound of the object. Our species developed all that further and further. But it’s true, there are opportunities of using NLP, the so-called neuro-linguistic programming. Language is very fluid all the time, we learn lots of new words and phrases every year. You can achieve an effect by using a specific word or another. Good music has to use this, if it is not instrumental music of course. I always try to get access to the listeners’ memories by using pictures as words. And for me this is what good lyrics are made of, they touch you very intensely.

RoD: Do you prefer communicating by words, sounds, or images?
Eli: One way or the other, all three are ways of communicating. The medium might be different, but the message can be conveyed either way. Acoustics and images are similar, both sound and light consist of waves. There are only a few who really know the connection, the synaesthetes. Words are just abstract messages, as I said, but they can address emotions and memories. I would say, that I prefer to communicate by words, sounds or imagines depending on the individual case. One is always the obvious way to convey the content. But sometimes it can be fun to mix things up. Sometimes you just feel like you have to use a certain medium preferentially, especially after a period of working with just one, languages, visuals or acoustics.

RoD: How did you and Marcel meet? Who came up with the idea to team up to form ZWEITE JUGEND?
Eli: We were close friends for many years before we founded ZWEITE JUGEND. We wrote our own personal stories together all the time. And we went to concerts, festivals, and even art exhibitions on a regular basis. Because of my studies, I was very much into art at that time. I finally got an idea of how to understand art and how to create art myself. Marcel was all the same like me, very much interested in music and art. So, we came close to each other. He then played as a second drummer in my former band COMBAT COMPANY and in 2013 we had the idea to found our own band. It took us almost two years to get started. We fell in love with German poetry, even though I am always half English in my mind. But the latter is another story. So, we are now always writing the lyrics long before we even think of writing music. I collect themes and phrases every day from which the best ideas and concepts make it into the songwriting process later. We write the sequences and notes in the best possible way to contribute to the narrative. This is a strict rule for us and we discuss so many things in that process. You see, we are of one mind. Bosom buddies, if you could call it that. Friendship is our top priority.

elivanvegas2022 01 byDanielaVorndran

RoD: What is your best experience with ZWEITE JUGEND?
Eli: It’s hard to say whether if it’s the self-fulfilment in creating meaningful art, the hundreds of fans singing your own words at your show, the opportunity to travel around so much and to gain friendships all over the world, the people who have your logo tattooed or if it’s the band family that we have won over the years. I am writing music to play live for sure. And if my best experience with ZJ would be a concert, then I couldn’t decide either. We wanted to play so many festivals and places when we talked about it in the band’s first months and years. The WGT, NCN, Bimfest, Bodyfest and many others were on that list and we have played at all of them. It was very special to play at E-tropolis Festival at the Turbinenhalle in Oberhausen. It was one of the rare bigger events in the autumn of 2021 and we were set to be the opener on the main stage. There were thousands of people raving to be able to see us play and to party with us. It was unbelievable. And somehow it is still surreal sometimes.

RoD: What does it give you to be a tour musician? Do you intend to play some more with, e.g., TENSION CONTROL in the future?
Eli: It is big fun indeed. Even though I miss the self-fulfilment part of playing my own music, I love to travel and meet people. I can’t deny that it’s wise to develop your network and there’s no better way to do that than by touring. You meet so many professionals during the tour. I am not sure how my future at TENSION CONTROL would look like. It takes so much time to be on the road, sometimes it seems to clash with my work with the other bands. Until now it didn’t happen, but you never know. I want to be a part of TENSION CONTROL as long as I can. Hopefully, it’s going to last forever. If in doubt, I must certainly choose ZJ, just because it is my baby and my everything. Apart from playing the synths live, I am responsible for the stem mastering of the TENSION CONTROL tracks. So at least my studio work would always survive at that project. With ZJ we have a different approach. We have been focussed on playing festivals, but we want to change that to touring for ourselves as well.

RoD: Why did you decide to go solo in 2018?
Eli: After all those years, I felt that I wanted to have a different perspective in my work. I was bored walking the same paths week in and week out. The truth is, I was never a one-dimensional person. Growing up with Punk, Techno and later Crossover, I have never found my one musical identity. In early 2018 I tried to found a Punk band, but I failed. One band member just never practiced, another wanted to keep the band as a basement band forever and we couldn’t find a suitable drummer. This reminded me why I started to make electronic music: You don’t have to rely on others. After the Punk band silently quit, I began producing Techno. Since then, I tried to work on my own and with featuring other musicians. And I did some vocal featurings for others. The song ‘Salz’ from Krischan Wesenberg is one of those tracks in which I have sung, if I have to name one. I’ve already provided some more vocal tracks for Krischan and for other bands and projects too.

I love to be that independent. There is no deadline, no pressure and no dependencies. I have to admit, that I always was somewhat like a raver. One thing I learned on tour was that almost every professional musician has told me that at home they don’t listen to the kind of music that they produce. This applies to me too. And I go even further by predominantly going to techno clubs when I want to dance. I fear that I would stop going there if I am presuming my work into Techno too much. I am careful, it hasn’t happened yet. It’s just too precious to me. I usually have the best time there when I simply forget the feeling for space and time spending tens of hours on the dance floor. And it’s great when you’re just a stranger.

RoD: You toured both as a sound engineer and with ZJ or TENSION CONTROL. Do you like it?
Eli: I like it, yes. To be honest I prefer being on tour as a musician. As an engineer you are the very first in the venue, working all the time until late, and then you are the last to leave the venue. If you are lucky enough, you’ll catch a shower before heading to the next city. But I had a very important reason to stop working as a sound engineer. I was quite successful with working for Metal and Medieval bands. In those genres the promoters are used to pay higher fees, so the bands had the money to pay an own sound engineer. I speak of professional Metal bands, just to be clear. I was socialised in the nineties when many people had prejudices against electronic music. I thought I was used to it. Later, those Metal and Medieval bands let me know what they thought of my attempts to become a successful musician myself while I was already intensively engaged in the production of electronic music. This stupidity annoyed me. So many people are just narrow minded and think they are the real deal. But you never stop learning. Later, as an electronic musician, I had many better experiences. The most impressive thing about touring is that you forget how to have a single home. You become much more open-minded. It is because you simply have to or because you become more empathetic. The road and the whole world become your home. As a musician you have more time every day to reflect that.

RoD: What is your personal taste in music? Do you have any heroes or inspirations that are particularly close or important to you?
Eli: At this time being, I am listening to bands like SLAVES, SLEAFORD MODS, KID KAPICHI, BOB VYLAN, SORRY, BLOOD RED SHOES, KAE TEMPEST and similar. There’s obviously something going on in the UK, many of those are DIY bands who entered the UK charts with their music without a major label deal or a label deal at all. In the last weeks I found my love to bands I listened to a few decades ago. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE for example. And in between I listen to TOOL almost every day. My all-time favourites are most probably MUSE, TOOL, NINE INCH NAILS, NITZER EBB, FATBOY SLIM and THE PRODIGY. And my absolute heroes are definitely Matthew Bellamy, Trent Reznor, Bob Marley and Ludwig van Beethoven. All four know or knew exactly how to write the most emotional music. Did you know that the “van” in my artist’s name derives from Beethoven? All of these bands and musicians are perfect for attending a concert or for private consumption. When it comes to a night out, I prefer techno, house, tech house or similar genres.

RoD: Would you say there was someone or something in your life that substantially changed your vision of things or your approach to music or life?
Eli: Studying communication design was such a thing. But there are also a few people around me who changed me a lot in who I am and how I create. Marcel, as I mentioned, is one. Maria is another one. She is my soulmate. Although we don’t have much contact sometimes, we are always emotionally connected. Everybody needs to have that one close friend! And last but not least there is Kerstin, my girlfriend, and my guilty conscience. She always strives to make me a better person and artist than I have ever been before. There are a few others, you know who you are. I love it when learning new things or connecting to people have an impact on me. I went vegan for ethical reasons almost 20 years ago. That undoubtedly changed my perspective like nothing else. Today, almost all my close friends are vegans too.

RoD: The music of ZWEITE JUGEND is minimalistic, sometimes ironic. Would you say that’s your approach to life in general as well?
Eli: Not so much. I am the person who overthinks everything. Presumably, I am one of the most complicated characters you will find. One day I want to do something and for that I give everything. The very next day I have completely different ideas. Only a few things stick in my mind longer. Unfortunately, I do the same with emotions. I take what I want to take. Every kind of consistency is very difficult for me, although I have found a few constants over the years. I try to intentionally hold onto things for a longer period of time. I think, this somehow is the opposite of a minimalistic lifestyle. Not in the physical sense, but in the psychological one. But you are right, I have a bad sense of humour. You could call it irony as well. At that point of realising how unimportant you are in the universe, you set yourself free.

RoD: When ‘Der Wille zur Nacht’ is out, are you planning to promote it on tour? What are your plans for 2023?
Eli: Admittedly it is a weird time. We really want to play as many shows in 2023, but a lot of the clubs are totally overbooked. There is still a backlog of catch-up dates and bands who are just as longing for a tour as we are. We are working on this, so hopefully we will have a whole bunch of club shows this year. Expect us to be around in autumn when our album has been released. In the pandemic we have learned that time is less important. Everything will fall into place. Instead, we plan to release some singles around the album. They are going to be in good company of music videos and everything. One of those songs is a featuring with Martin Bodewell from ORANGE SECTOR. This is a real honour because the band used to be one of my first inspirations for creating EBM myself. Back then I called my music EBM, not like today.

RoD: With many concerts being cancelled many people start sharing a rather pessimistic vision when it comes to the “alternative” scene. What do you think the future will be like?
Eli: I am definitely not that pessimistic. In some genres the audience is dying out, not because they are staying at home, but because they don’t accept change. Life is fluid, as I said, and so is music. There is always a new scene or a new genre that will exceed all that has gone before. Hopefully the old will transcend itself to survive somehow. If not, we will have a great time either way.

Pictures by Eli van Vegas (intro) and Daniela Vorndran ( /

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