January 30, 2014
by Tjeerd van Erve
“This is where Rooie Waas started. And it is where all are songs are created. You are standing in the heart of it. As we sit ourselves down,
Gijs Borstlap points at the settee in the middle of his attic apartment. Right in front of the couch we find a little altar of computers, synthesizers and other audio equipment, the Rooie Waas studio. He and Mikael Szafirowski, together Rooie Waas just picked me up from Amsterdam Central Station. An adventure in itself, since this is the first time we meet and I only know the two from the mash-up picture of their debut album, Het Is Maar Een Constatering and some videos.
On my way to Amsterdam, I listened through the duo’s discography thus far; namely, the 2012 début and the upcoming NU, two impressive and loud, very loud, pop records. On Het Is Maar Een Constatering it is industrial noise that somewhat reminds of Young Gods and Laibach that forms the basis, but within a pop coating, created out of undiluted noise.(Or what is referred to as noise, as hardly any traditional elements are used). A gimmick, some say. Or whim of genius, as others proclaim. The music is predominantly created with two small boxes, the cacophonator and the weird sound generator, bought and modified for the sole purpose of making Rooie Waas a band.
“We were sitting here on this sofa when we came with the idea to tour Croatia. I have several contacts in the Balkans, coming from previous tours there as sound engineer*, and knew I’d be able to organize a tour. So we did, only to start thinking about what we were going to do when the whole thing was arranged.” This became Rooie Waas, two blokes creating pop music with noise. And noise alone, for which Gijs actually sold all his guitars just to buy the sound generators. “During our tour in Croatia we learned how to work with the machines and we also crystallized what we wanted to do with it.”
It is typical of the way Rooie Waas operates. Songs start out as a small idea, then are built up by trial and error. Mostly Gijs comes with the first skeleton and then Mikael, a professional musician, and one fullytrained in improvisation techniques, adds his part. It is also how we work this Saturday. Earlier the day Gijs has already worked out a beat to work with – surprisingly funky for a Rooie Waas-track. He now introduces it to Mikael, who whimsically lays down a bass line below it. Jazzy, somehow… They start ‘discussing’. Is this a middle piece? A refrain? A couplet?. Nothing is decided yet, as the improvise even further. I sit on the couch and watch them tag along, like some sort of wrestling game: in and one outside of the ring waiting to be tagged in to play his part. I yearn to play the cacophonator or weird sound generator – not daring to ask or act – scared to make a fool out of myself.**
NU, the follow up of Het Is Maar Een Constatering, has a more jazzy free style touch to it than its predecessor. Of course, a deliberate choice, nonetheless enforced by the addition of Gerri Jäger of Knalpot on drums and Ofir Klemperer on keys. Over the last year they became the nucleus of Rooie Waas’s live routine and in the creation of NU they had their own individual input (even though Ofir has moved to America. Long live the interwebs!). It gives NU more depth and variation, but that is not the most significant change in sound. That lays in the lower tempi, the broader focus on melody and the introduction of oriental elements. “When Het Is Maar Een Constatering came out, many critics referred to Rooie Waas as industrial, often comparing us with Laibach and others” Gijs tells me, when we shortly discuss the differences between the two albums, “I never really heard that though, nor intended too. I didn’t really see us as an industrial band. Not until we were doing this radio show in Belgium and I heard the performance back. The pumping martial rhythm, industrial, I didn’t want that on the new record.”
So boomtsjakboomtsjak made space for more melody. Rhythms on NU now go for the hips instead of the legs and make the upper body twirl in in slow concentric circles. Breakbeat and jungle movements in the bottom layers and more musical freedom in the upper part, almost jazzy. On our way to his apartment Gijs tells me that he has been listening to a lot of Sun Ra lately (too much according to his bandmate Gerri, but is there ever such a thing as too much Sun Ra?). Whilst this doesn’t make the new record into a jazz record, it does however have an influence on the free attitude and the ethnic elements in the music. Injections into the sound of Rooie Waas that makes the noise not only play with the idea of pop music but actually makes it easier to digest for the faint hearted. ‘Accessibility’ one might call it, though that is most surely not what the collective was aiming for when they were ping-ponging the tracks up and down, each adding their own parts in the process.
Gijs quotes Merzbow somewhere during the evening. According to him, noise artist Merzbow once said that if the definition of noise would be sound that makes you sick, Britney Spears would be noise to him.*** An attitude that Rooie Waas clearly has adopted. Gijs’s take on modern music is anyway that everything is already noise, which he clarifies with metal as example. Here the typical guitar noise is a very disturbed and distorted guitar sound already. It is referred to as guitar, but the actual outcome is created by electronics; noise. “But also when you’ll listen closely to Björks Homogenic: all the blips, hiss and other background sounds – these are pure electronic noises.” says Gijs. The next, almost logical step then would be to leave the traditional instruments out; and that’s what Rooie Waas have done, at least on the début. On this second album recognisable sounds do return, though. Some trumpets and Eastern blowpipe instruments show up, not always true instruments but in sound not just the noise used on Het Is Maar Een Constatering.
NU will be the first record of Rooie Waas released by Blowpipe Records. Gijs met label owner Wim Dekker during the first (and so far only) Sound Of The Dutch Underground in 2013. Gijs had taken over part of the stand next to Narrominded and was installing all special art constructions that were designed with the debut, when Wim Dekker came up to him. As it came out, his wife was a real big fan of Rooie Waas and Wim Dekker want Gijs to meet her. Blowpipe Records since then decided to reprint the début album on vinyl as the CD published by Narrominded was long sold out. The only few left for sale are part of art objects made by young artists, such as Yuri Landman. Rooie Waas sticked with Blowpipe Records. Happiness all over the place.
Caught on candid microphone
“The idea is that you participate, right? So, what do you think?“. Gijs breaks my passive observer role with the only right question. I pull back a bit, saying I don’t know anything about electronic sound devices. Honestly, I am scared shitless seeing this professional musical tag team perform and in matter of minutes role out a firm song structure. So I hide behind the fact that my only music schooling is based on trombone and trumpet, which is the moment for Mikael to jump up; “You can play trumpet?!“. “Yes…., I mumble. “Yes, but it has been a while.” There is no need though for me to explain what I mean with “a while”, as Mikael is already half way the stairs in the middle of the apartment and starts fumbling in a small storage to come back with a small shining trumpet.
Twenty-five years it has been, but soon enough I find the right lip pressure to get a decent tone out of the cupper again. The machine needs oiling, but so do I, so we match and I try to play along with the musical skeleton that is playing from the small studio altar, not noticing that Mikael secretly is recording every squeak I produce with the big vocal mice in the middle of the room. Long notes, small quick riddles, I’ve tried several things, when Mikael suddenly asks me to play one long high note. Caught on candid microphone.
Vegan stew and pints
“So, what do we do now?, Gijs asks after we had a vegan stew. Personally I had hoped we could already put some lyrics on the dubsteppy, triphoppish jazzdustrial track that we – my trumpet squeals have been made into a whole with the work of Mikael and Gijs – before I would have to head back home again. Gijs, though, feels uncomfortable singing and especially creating lyrics with others in the room. “Lyrics mostly take the longest in the whole writing process. I can’t just say Heb je zin in een zinnetje? and the record that. Rhythmically, it has to fit and I can’t just say anything. Some of the lyrics on the records have been moulded for months to get in the current form.” It may sound weird, but the short, snappy lyrics of Gijs are actually very well thought through phrases. Leaving out all unnecessary lyrics, he leaves loads of space to the listener to fill in the blanks and feel uncomfortable with the scene set.
Lines from an subversive observer that look from the outside to an ever speeding Dutch landscape, not so much posing criticism as forcing questions with the listener. Lyrics that need careful tending to to have the wished effect. The art in writing is to delete, which makes the lyrics of Rooie Waas almost a form of higher poetry. Well, at least they make you think. So, understandably, Gijs has to think about his words, work on them, let them grow, which is not going to happen at the spot, especially considering he is low on inspiration. Actually we’re all a bit low on the muse now. Best thing to do is to stop, go to the pub and have drink and a last chat. We leave the song unfinished and hit the punk tavern nearby.
Proud, pride and happiness
Two weeks later Gijs sends me a message, asking if I received the mail. Wetransfer. A song. My lips still hurt from the fifteen minutes on the trumpet, but only fifteen seconds in “Geen Zin In” I know it was worth it. Gerri, Mikael and Gijs have been working on the snippets created on the evening in Amsterdam. Gijs here combines what he had come up with on the evening itself (Heb je zin in een zinnetje?) with a comment I made in an email (let me see if I can find some adolescent poetry at home) into a true rebellious youngster anthem (Ik heb daar geen zin in. Ik, heb daar,geen zin in. Ik heb daar geen zin in.****). To add some mystery both Mikael (Finnish) and Gerri (Austrian) sing their own part in their regional dialect. No clue what they are singing, though I’m sure it fits the part of Gijs. Anyway, what ever it is, the end result is no less than great. As is NU, a great record to dance and vent your irritations to.
* As a sound engineer Gijs Borstlap worked for/with Aux Raus, Soda P, Feverdream and several other interesting bands in the Dutch underground.
** Man!!!!! Get over it!!!! Just step up and play along!!! You FOOL!!!
*** Should fact check, but a) I’m not a journalist, b) lui = lazy, thus I’m lazy, c) not unimportant, I trust Gijs Borstlap on his word. He strikes me as a very honest person, with strong principles, a very own observation of society and slightly subversive, but in no way a liar.
**** I don’t feel like (doing) that. I. don’t feel like (doing) that. I don’t, feel, like (doing) that
Tags: blowpipe records, cd, gijs borstlap, het is maar een constatering, joins, knalpot, luifabriek, modern participation society trumpet, Narrominded, nu, recensie`, Rooie Waas, The Modern Participation Society, Tjeerd, tjeerd van erve