Digging up Dutch undergrounds – an interview with Dirk Polak of Mecano
February 27, 2014
by Richard Foster
Dirk Polak is one of the more extraordinary figures in the Dutch music scene. Often cast as the opposite of Wally van Middendorp, Dirk has nevertheless followed a similar trajectory to Wally when it comes to working (and often fighting) with the Dutch music industry. Polak’s production work (Bakfiets), label (Torso), and band (Mecano) are the stuff of underground legend here, and like van Middendorp’s Minny Pops and Plurex label, Polak’s concerns often acted as the vehicle for the Dutch punk and post punk scene. Dirk invited me round to his flat in Amsterdam for tea and cake, and what turned out to be a long and enervating chat. Now, this is a very long transcript; and not all of it suitable for the thesis I’m writing. But hell’s teeth; it’s an entertaining, stimulating, contradictory and often gnomic read. I originally thought it would be a good idea to split it into two – sticking the thesis notes on Luifabriek and presenting the Mecano information on my other website, Incendiary. But somehow the conversation steered its own path, often choosing to run through rivulets and secluded backwaters before rejoining the main stream, normally under the rabble rousing impetus of Kaiser Dirk. So, it would be wrong to try to discipline such a fun and at times gnomic talk to fit preordained templates that somehow don’t do it justice.
A brief note: As I will use the interview for research purposes, I’ve tried to edit as little as possible, to keep the feel of the original interview intact (and given Dirk’s unique phraesology it would be counter-productive to edit); but any reference to what I consider personal, or legal matters, and names of partners and family have been omitted. And some of my rambling questions have been shortened, and a number of interjections and “conversational gambits”, (noted down when transcribing the interview) have been reorganised to create a more readable and coherent piece. The full transcript is in my possession and available on request.
Richard: The thing I wanted to talk to you about was based round a general question. How do you think music works in Holland as a social element?
Richard: Why is that?
Dirk: I don’t know, it’s still… In England it’s part of the economy I think, and always has been, and there are all sorts of fighting for rights for the music, and things like that. Look at Brian Epstein and Andrew Loog Oldman with the Stones – they saw it was important to write your own songs because then you could protect yourself and make some money with it. And in here, they are copying things. Everybody [note: here] asks themselves how is it possible so many bands from the sixties come up with so many brilliant singles? This is because there were great studio musicians, like Jimmy Page; these kinds of people made these brilliant singles. And it [note: copying] works quicker. I mean they played their own kind of stuff live but in the studio they [note: again, Dirk I think is referring to Dutch music industry] copied this also and they had some people who became studio musicians.
And it’s not a social thing as such.
…I mean when punk started over there [note: Dirk means the UK] it had to do with the whole climate culturally and politically. Here it’s not… they don’t put that in music, and here it’s mostly copying, not creating. In England for instance they have a nose for new things, so if it’s new art or a new sound, even if someone’s not singing really well but writing interesting stories then it gets attention. And here they try to be epagoges; they copy others before anyone else. And the real core, the people that try to change things, is very small, and it was always like that.
Richard: And you can talk from quite a while back. You will remember the 60s and the 70s…
Dirk: Yeah yeah…
Richard: Provos and such…
Richard: And so it’s never changed in Holland, so you’d have a small amount of people making a noise…. And then it would be ignored by the majority?
Dirk: Sure! But there are points where it can deliver some interesting things. For instance, the white bike plan, Provo. Provo was anarchistic but it was also pacifistic, in a very peaceful way. It’s almost impossible to be anarchistic and be pacifistic at the same time. And Provo did. A friend of mine who became a very famous artist Ulay, Ulay Abramovic, came to Holland because he was triggered by an article on Provo. Because it said it was a kind of anarchistic nihilism but with a pacifistic structure; not militant.
Richard: Very playful. That’s another thing about Holland, and Dutch music. I’ve been reading a lot of background information, such as Harold’s book on ULTRA [note: Harold Schellinx – ULTRA] and I’ve been talking to Ronnie (Kroes), Wally (van Middendorp), Oscar (Smit) and what I get is that things are very playful…
Richard: …in a sort of small form?
Richard: And when reality hits, when things get serious, people seem to stop (snaps fingers).
Dirk: Or, or, even worse they continue but in erm, erm a very… egoistic way. I can give you an example. I had Torso. A record company. Wally had Plurex, I had Torso, and we were the only two at that time. There was another one in the Eastern part called 1000 Idioten, a thousand idiots; that was the other thing, when it started. So; I wanted to make an album with four bands – it’s an example to make the comparison [note between British/American and Dutch modus operandi] – with four bands from Nijmegen. They were great bands, and it was interesting what they had to mention… from the oldest city of Holland… it was Mekanik Kommando, Das Wesen, Bazooka and Vice. Great bands. So I went to them and I discussed this – and they were also artists who created things. So I went to them and I said, okay so you’re also artists and designers. What do you think of the offer to make a double album, so all of the bands have one side, so you can make a beautiful booklet in full colour, because I have to press two pieces of vinyl instead of four, so we can make a nice booklet?
(Dirk pauses, leans forward and, with sotto voce)
And they didn’t want it, no, ‘because I want my own record’.
And I said even when the cover is much less interesting in colouring or…
‘oh yeah, because I want my own record’…
…Now if you had a proposal in England to a band and you say okay we make a side with twelve songs on it and you can have three minutes, they’d kill themselves to get on the album! And here it’s oh no otherwise we don’t want it. And this is a sort of spoiled way of thinking about these things.
Richard: Is that because lots of things are so ordered in Holland?
Dirk: Yeah I think so, I think it has to do with that. Yeah! You know it’s an attitude! If I get the chance to get a piece of mine on an album, I want to BLOW MY BALLS OFF to show to people that I’m good or whatever. No! Here they say, oh I want my own record or whatever, or they don’t…
Richard: So by extension to that, any sort of movement, whether it’s Provo or punk or Gabba or whatever… it all gets channelled…
Richard: …into these, erm states of mind, individual, artistic things that are like a game…
Dirk: Yeah. It’s true. It’s not serious; they don’t take it that seriously.
Richard: And do you think that’s why people look to America and Britain, because it’s easier?
Dirk: Sure. But they forget, they forget that there, it’s part of the heritage; the cultural heritage. Pop music is in the cultural heritage of England, more than the painters I think right now. And the music does it and these movements that you’ve got. In here if you have a movement it’s true that it’s so small – and because of the country also – that it becomes a kind of elitist thing that is only for the chosen few, let’s say.
Richard: Yeah this elitism and smallness… I hear this so much because I was reading Leonor’s book [note: No Future Nu] about things being small like it was an excuse, and this word being paraded about, that Dutch word, kleinschaligheid, and then I think to myself (laughs) what about Belgium!? Because in Belgium they push really hard, they promote their own bands…
Dirk: But they are different! I don’t know maybe it has to do maybe with the Bourgondian style of the French as well, because there are the Wallonians there, not only the Flemish. But anyway there’s a different attitude, for instance in sports, these Dutch people they are really collecting medals and the Belgians don’t have even one. This is not their thing! If you compare it to the music, Factory chose at the time not to go to Amsterdam – Ian wanted to come to Amsterdam; I know because we had a talk then, but he couldn’t because they had to go on tour to America […] and they chose for Brussels, Les Disques du Crépuscule. This is a good label; even people like Tuxedo Moon who lived in Rotterdam, they went to Brussels. Minimal Compact, they lived in Amsterdam, I made their first two records, went to Brussels. It’s more… international I think.
Richard: Belgium is more…. what’s the word? They seem to be much more comfortable with parading their own erm… problems in public in terms of art, and you never seem to have that in Holland. When problems are on the outside, in terms of Van Gogh or Rembrandt, they are outsiders. They have to leave or shut it (laughs).
Dirk: True but if you take the modern thing, let’s say the surrealist thing which is more of a modern way of thinking, the surrealists are really great in Belgium still. The more north you come, the less surrealist you become. Surrealism is a warm, Mediterranean kind of thing.
Richard: More Calvinistic?
Dirk: YEAH! ABSOLUTELY! This is the point. I think the Calvinist point, we didn’t mention it yet; THIS is one of the main reasons it goes the way it does, and it’s still like it’s [note: Dutch artistic outlook?] in the baby shoes. THAT’S a good idea, to be in the baby shoes, and stay in the baby shoes.
(Dirk at Grauzone – by Guido van Nispen)
But, the good thing for me was, to mention Grauzone; okay, Chris and Cosey, I knew about it, and I knew about New Order, and I see Peter doing his thing and I think okay man, play your records and play your band but it’s still re-re-re-re-re-hashed or what else. With Mecano, we played the stuff EXACTLY as it should be, let’s say a little bit more rocky. It was less set on the edges, but we captured the same thing. It was not retro; it was like a fresh band.
Richard: It was shocking to see on the night… the one band that seemed fine in going for it was Mecano! (Laughs) Probably Eton Crop as well, and one or two of the new bands went for it too; like Pop1280. They also said sod it. You were one of the bands who went for it…
Dirk: But it will be everywhere, it will be! When I go to England, people listen to my lyrics. In here, who knows about it? When I was in Tel Aviv, I saw not ten but a hundred people miming my lyrics. The same happened to me in Athena, in Athens; a hundred people miming my lyrics In Holland, maybe three people. For instance, in Greece, there it was, en masse!
Richard: This brings us back to the idea of music’s social identity in Holland… I wonder how people used, or saw bands like yours, Minny Pops, Mekanik Kommando at the time?
Richard: Because I was reading the VINYL magazines of the time…and reading that, to me it seems to hint that everyone [note: here I meant mainstream Holland] thought it was “best” [note: best I suppose isn’t the best word to use, but I mean more out of ignorance or un-inquisitiveness than active aversion] ignore the ULTRA bands; is that true?
Dirk: No but it was an underground scene, it was not one that was picked up by radio. Radio didn’t play it. In England it is seen that a band like Paul Weller’s band, The Jam – through the radio – is a big thing. And their songs can boast some… erm… social structure; such as “The Butterfly Collector”, listen to some songs and they are quite erm… aware of their position and what you can change; Buzzcocks, they are aware of things, smart clever people who write lyrics like Howard Devoto.
Richard: And you get the fact that the British press is often complicit in making something bigger than it is; and here you don’t get that. Here it’s the opposite, don’t you find…
Dirk: Yeah! Yeah!
Richard: And then people here [note: mainstream media] say oh it’s not that good, which is really stupid…
Dirk: It is!
Richard: And you think, why not back it and make something [note: a Dutch scene] fun?
Dirk: You’re right!
Richard: Did it always get you that you’d always have – say that Andy Gill article in 1980 [note: “Why Not to Hate the Dutch”, NME, November 1980] – and I read that and I remember thinking, “Jesus this is totally over the top, compared to the fact that the actuality is this bunker off the Marnixstraat” [note: in Amsterdam]. But that’s typically British because they want to make it exciting!
Richard: But here, you’d never have that would you?
Dirk: No! No!
Richard: And you think that’s sort of… do you think that’s an inferiority complex?
Dirk: It is.
Dirk: Well you asked me and gave me the answer!
Dirk: It is! It is an inferiority thing. At least it is a state of mind about what inferiority is, and how you should question yourself about that. I don’t think an English band thinks it [note: their work] is inferior or not I think they just do it and see what happens.
Richard: Do you think Dutch people question themselves a lot?
Dirk: Yeah! They question themselves and are then insecure about the answering…
Dirk: I dunno (shrugs). It’s maybe the Calvinist thing.
Richard: I think one area where the Dutch don’t seem to question themselves, and I know we talked about sports earlier, is where the Dutch are very confident is football or sports, where they know they can win; and then they just go mad.
Dirk: In speed skating you see that the whole day through and maybe a few, maybe two million watch it and in the rest [note: of the world?] they don’t see it; I mean my friend from Manchester he sees it and laughs, and says “it’s only for the Dutch!” (Laughs)
Richard: The other thing I wanted to talk about was…. what would you think was the most important thing that came out of that whole ULTRA, erm… sort of new wave punk thing I Holland? What can you say survives, and say that’s really important? You can say for the Provos that there is the white bicycle thing, and that this town is the way it is; it’s not knocked down and there’s no bloody motorway through it. What would you think is coming from that era that still matters, from 77 to 1982, say?
Dirk: I dunno, what does matter….
…If you look at Leonor [note: Leonor Jonker] she is a young girl, she didn’t grow up then, for her, in retrospect it was the do it yourself thing. But; we picked it up here, Hansje Joustra from Torso, my former companion, he picked it up you know. He had this shop… He went to London and he said, I’ve seen something, and he was a hippy with long hair…. and he came back in 76, and he cut off his hair. And he had heard about the Pistols. From the right beginning [sic]. And one thing you should know, this is interesting; the first album from the Pistols, “Nevermind the Bollocks”, came out in Holland a week before England.
Dirk: It’s a fact. You have to check this. [Note: I haven’t yet, so we go with Dirk’s word on this for now] Because, on the back side, it’s completely rose, [note: sic, rose here means pink] no titles. The front side is the same but the back side; there are no titles on it. And these pressings are, I think interesting because they were pressed here.
Richard: I didn’t know…
Dirk: You didn’t know? This has to do with the shop, it was called No Fun, and we got all the shit in there. I used to produce all the singles from No Fun. I must show you this single.
(Dirk rummages through his singles collection and pulls out Helmettes’ ½ 2)
…It’s seen as the best punk single made in Holland. It’s on No Fun, which in effect is the same as Torso; we did four singles as No Fun then it was Torso. Bakfiets, the production credit, that’s me. I took the name Bakfiets as the production because I liked that (laughs). If a record on Torso says produced by Torso, it’s also me.
….So I left my name out, Mecano was a whole thing. I liked the collective thing. And this links us back to the difference in attitude. In England, ok, it’s the music and they are far ahead of everybody I think. They are far ahead in many things in music but they took their names from interesting European movements! Like Cabaret Voltaire. That was THE Dada movement. There’s a band called Bauhaus. They took the outside, not the inside but they took the outside to make their own thing. Provocative! It’s the same as you said in that inside of Factory there was one side such as Joy Division and New Order that refers to fascism and another side, Durutti Column that refers to left wing anarchism! Same label! Friends, even!
…OK this has to do with stylish things. They are very good with stylish things the English. You have design teams like Peter Saville’s. I mean HOW DID they create things and say to a band – I mean if I say to a band, I can make beautiful sleeves, they want to make their own sleeve! HOW did they manage to say to a band like Section 25 or whatever, “okay we make everything!” Peter Saville was in charge, Martin Hannett was in charge, and that was what you heard and what you saw.
Richard: Same with 4AD or Virgin with early Simple Minds, when the artwork is handed over to in-house design, or design associates.
Dirk: Why do you think, you tell me why do you think this is?
Richard: I think they might realise that some people maybe better than the band at doing art?
Dirk: This is the big difference with the Dutch! They think they can do the best themselves! Which is not true! I was so frustrated then, when I had this label, and I had some good ideas for design. I know these things would look great on vinyl! If we were more allowed to do it ourselves, it would have been MORE, like Factory.
….This thing is different for me because I grew up in a Communist way, my grandfather and my mother were established in the party as well, so my background… I came across Elvis Presley when I was six years when I saw a film from this man; because my father wrote for the newspaper on films. Later on boxing, but in the beginning, on films. And for instance when I saw this man with this false toothpaste laugh all the time I thought my God, this guy is a hero? In my opinion Yuri Gagarin was a hero because…. but I didn’t know Elvis. So for me the view was different than normal [note: Dutch society]. The view we got on the Second World War was controlled by a man, he became the big leader of the Institute [note: I’m unsure what Institute Dirk means here]. At the time of the war, he was in England! That’s for me enough to say; “no I don’t want to know what you have to say about that”, you have to be in the middle of it. I mean, you don’t have to be in the resistance but I mean – at least you have to have something, for me to believe you! So our stuff came from the Eastern part of Germany. So when I was five or six years old I already saw the completely cold body of Goebbels when he was lying there and the two people from the Russian army are there looking at his body… And that when was I was five, and these pictures came much, much later here.
[Note: author Martijn Haas saw that I was unsure about Dirk’s reference above, and notified me on 27th February 2014 via a Facebook update: “By the way when Dirk talks about Gagarin and Elvis he means our view on WO2 was controlled by a man who was head of the RIOD war archive: Lou de Jong. He had a televisionprogram about Holland and the war and wrote the big book on it. The archive still exists as NIOD on Herengracht.” My thanks go to Martijn for this clarification.]
…And for me in this period, when punk started, I wanted to sing about the fact that we should restore our society like the Soviets. In Israel I sang about kibbutz because there is a link between the Soviet and the kibbutz, and back then I thought it was worthwhile to do this.
… In the festival I was invited to play in Greece, a guy came to me and said “thank God you’re alive!” I said, damn right I’m alive you bet I’m alive! Who are you for Christ’s sake? He said I am a big fan, and I wish I had my albums here and you could sign them. And he was a nice guy. And anyway later on I saw this guy; he’s the singer of Franz Ferdinand!
Richard: Hahah! Really? He’s a friend of mine, Alex.
Dirk: He’s half Greek, half Scottish! And he was…
Richard: I never knew he was a fan!
Dirk: Talk to him! He had my albums! And I thought, he’s a smart guy (laughs).
Richard: I always find these things where… working from my side I Holland now I think there’s more looking back from young people to that era to search for something, to search for inspiration.
Dirk: That’s true.
Richard: So you have Leonor, Trish Trash, Maarten Nauw… they use it as a kick start for their own ideas.
Dirk: OK that’s fine.
Richard: I find it very…
Dirk: Charming. Yes it’s charming.
Richard: But at the same time you think is this really what a Dutch expression is now; of their own identity, to remark on or remould something that’s already gone… This is a country who have the Provos, (who are big heroes of mine) the punk here…however small… it was it’s always very interesting. It breaks down, it smashes up very quickly.
Dirk: And then after, they start appreciating it. That’s what happens a lot of times in here. Something starts up, there’s something good in it but it dies very quickly, also.
Richard: I wonder why it dies so quickly…
Dirk: I dunno! Because there’s no response here?
Richard: I wonder if it’s partly because the position of the country, next to England and next to Germany and it’s like a stop point, and that’s why historically being positioned where they are, they’ve made so much money…
Dirk: True and they are good in that they are pirates like English, so…. and they wanted to rule the world, like the English wanted. And they can trade very well; they were the first who were allowed in Deishima to trade with the Japanese, the white people allowed to trade with the Japanese were the Dutch. So definitely there is some talent in that thing, but it’s also very quick in being institutionalized.
…So if you’re in “De Wereld Draait Door”, this programme. This is the same with these bands, also a writer, if you’ve written a book and on De Wereld Draait Door, the next day you can sell five hundred more books through bol.com. This is the only way it works. Or you should go into the circuit of alternatives, like Doornroosje, Rotown, Paradiso… but these are depending on being subsidized [sic]. The subsidy is not that good, so they don’t pay you well. We got (XYZ) euros to play Grauzone. I mean you come to the attention of people at Grauzone, to the attention of people like you, who write about us, so this is worth it, but normally… I said to my manager, I said to Oscar, from Lebowski, who is now my manager, he arranged already for us and we play on 20th of April in Rotown [IMPORTANT NOTE! the gig is the 13th APRIL. It’s not noted as yet on Rotown’s listings but here’s a link to the venue’s agenda, keep checking] and it will sell out. I promise you and it will be marvellous and you will write AGAIN why is this band not more known? And that Richard is a GOOD question, why, and why Golden Earring yet again with Radar fucking Love?
…When I wrote songs that really have to do with fucking change and society?
Richard: Why is it… why… I mean I love living in this country but one thing that really drives me mad is when – and this is worst at Leidse Omzet on October 3rd – and yes, Barry from Golden Earring is, I think, from Leiden and… wait, Dirk, wait, that you Dutch just seem to know three songs! And one of them’s Radar fucking Love! Why is there no mainstream, public curiosity for music?
Dirk: I don’t know! I don’t know! In England they know everything by heart from the Beatles out of their heads. If it’s about poetry in Russia everybody can recite lots of poems out of their heads. In here you’re a speciality [sic] if you know a poem or you know more songs than five to sing…
Richard: Yeah… Is it because it’s so easy to live here or…
Dirk: I think this is not a strange… erm option [sic], what you say. It was easy and if it gets a little harder they are not used to it and they are reacting like spoilt children!
(Long silence, where Dirk glares menacingly around, as if looking for spoilt children)…
…But I mean I can understand you can live among Dutch people because a very good friend of my father, my mother also was Haye Thomas; and he was the Dutch man for television [note: for the NOS Journal] so if there was a big story, it was always Haye Thomas; he was a big character and a good friend. And he was a writer with a lot of fantasy and he had his own style. But he has a kind of easy attitude as a man, and could live amongst English people in England, which also has a different attitude you know? I’ve lived in London for a while so I know about that. In the same way you can live here and it is GOOD you have these questions you have, although you will NEVER get the right answers! (Laughs) Because it has to do with the character. And you already spoke of the main term to do with this…
…You mentioned the Calvinists. And I sing in one of my songs about this; I sing I the Calvinist Basilie!
[Note: the lyrics are transcribed phonetically, below, as Dirk sang them, and I’ve not tried to fit them to the lyrics on the Mecano’s “Entitled” inner sleeve. For example, I THOUGHT Dirk said basilie, which is the Dutch term for basilica; it turns out that Dirk meant bacilli; a word which translates as bacteria in English. Somehow this phonetic misunderstanding STILL makes poetic sense, to me at least, so I’m leaving it.]
“I have it over the Calvinist basilie / this is the ruin of your family tree”… to sing this in Israel is fantastic! (chuckles) I assure you!
(Dirk now strikes a pose in his chair and declaims the lyrics)
Chained man of tomorrow, suffering from pre-history stress,
Your bona fide prejudice has… (erm, erm… no.. moment…)
Your bona fide prejudice has derived from original sin,
Your hypochondria; authentic ancestral disease,
Welcomes amnesia to undermine prestige,
But all serves as counterpoise to Calvinist basilie,
That swarm in all the nerves of your family tree!
Dirk: That’s what I sing in “Escape the Human Myth”! And this is still a political thing that you can sing everywhere, and it’s still rebel-esque, it’s STILL rebel-esque! And I’m sixty years old! And I have the voice to fucking do it so why not?
Richard: Let’s talk about Mecano now. You’ve started up Mecano again and you’re going to get some gigs… and that’s great. What was it about Mecano – I’ll tell you something that’s funny a friend of mine from the States, Mike, he’s a fellow British Sea Power fan, and…
Dirk: British Sea Power! Great name! GREAT name! I must check them.
Richard: …and Mike, when we first talked about Dutch music, he started talking about this “Dutch band you’ve probably never heard of, called Mecano, me and four other people in New York are crazy for them”. And I know other people in France who are crazy on Mecano, and now you mention Alex… it seems there are small cells of Mecano fans…
Dirk: All over the word. I give you a good example! Cape Verdian islands! And maybe at the end of the year next year we go to Sao Paolo for three gigs because we have a big following there, same in Athens… and in France and same in Israel. Now Theo van Gogh – who got killed – we were friends and we were very close… I identified him for the family; he said to me – and he had a very high voice; (Dirk adopts a high pitched voice), “ooh Dirk you’re an asshole! I am a popular guy but only in Holland and you have fans all over the world so why stop Mecano?” And I replied something like ach it was my youth, blah blah.
…Later on, I started doing new Mecano stuff, and I wasn’t even aware that we should play the old stuff. When we restarted Mecano [note: 2005] it was because he died and I wrote songs about my grief and about him and me. I worked with Theo (Bolten), and we made songs, we are enemies now but then we made an album, then they asked from Greece to come over, so we started a band, and rehearsals went very nice. And we started on the album, with new things… but then they [note: the band] said, “what are we gonna play from the old stuff?” And I said “old stuff? What do you mean?” Well, songs like “Mecano” and “Permanent Revolt”? And I said, “we don’t play stuff like that man, it’s thirty years old!” But they said, yes! “People come for these songs I think you should!” And I said “no, I want to go FORWARD man, I want to do new things.”
…But then I was having a cigarette outside and the band started, they started to trigger me I think, a song, an old one, and then I heard “dum dum dum…” and then, (Dirk stands up directly and makes to run into the studio) and I went in there and I was into it! And yes, we did five songs, and a few years later we play live and it’s COMPLETELY the old songs with one exception, and I have to prove this for myself! “Environmental Twist” [note: from the Polar Twins’ LP] is in there and it fits perfectly!
…So I will show you this…
(Dirk guides me to one of the many Mecano-inspired drawings and paintings and Mecano sculptures that adorn the flat’s walls, and shows me a small, but very precise drawing of a Mecano-pattern)
…is the piece of art I made, this is in the form of the honeycomb and it’s for a new Mecano song, “Web Comb Queen”. This will be a song and maybe next week we start new Mecano songs!
Richard: I was listening to “Entitled” recently and you think, woah; it’s absolutely still edgy!
Dirk: You got the American pressing?!
Richard: Well I did get the copy in Delft!
Dirk: Yeah that’s right! Because he brought it out! It’s a compilation of the first two Mecano EPs “Untitled” and “Subtitled”. And Martin from this shop, Plexus, brought it out.
…So look at the boy eh?
(Dirk shows the line drawing of a boy playing with a Meccano set on the inner sleeve).
…Meccano was from Liverpool and it was set up by Frank Hornby, who made the model railways. But you know the boy here, who made the suit from the boy on this picture?
Richard: Tell me, I’ll never guess.
Dirk: Jaeger. They decide for Jaeger, for this clothing for the Meccano boy. I will show you what happens now, eh? (Dirk gets increasingly excited about something)…
Richard: I knew about Hugo Boss designing Nazi uniforms…
Dirk: Oh yeah, that is also linked into something – I’ll tell you what. Meccano transported [sic – Dirk means exported] their toy to the Germans, to Märklin. And they, the Germans they started a big problem, they took out the name Meccano which is engraved in it, [note: as far as I can gather the dispute’s from 1919 to 1928 http://www.nzmeccano.com/image-58840] and added their own name Märklin. There should have been a big trade fight but then came World War Two. What happened? The guys started to change their stuff and they made Messerschmitts there and the factory in England where they made Meccano, they made… what’s the name of the English fighter…. Spitfires! They made Spitfires there. So the boys who played with Meccano in their youth, they were building fighter planes later on against each other!
…The whole Meccano story is interesting, and I made lots of things with Meccano; most people made bridges and things, I made people with instruments. Look I’ll show you some of the things I made.
(Dirk then conducts me round an astonishing collection of butterflies, band members, geometric shapes, musical instruments, paintings inspired by Meccano, one of which will be the cover of the new record).
…You know, I had a proposal for Liverpool; to create an orchestra, or a band, guitarists and a drummer, in Liverpool, on City Hall! And in Meccano! This is their home city! They should have gone for this!
Richard: Now to move to your band again! Mecano had such a romantic expressive sound…
Dirk: Thank you! And yes! It WAS expressive!
Richard: Seemingly the polar opposite of what other Dutch bands did, you know, they’d be quirky, constrained, hold things in… Or the opposite to a lot of modern Dutch bands they want to get everything right on record, you don’t want everything perfect you want…
Dirk: Yeah, yeah, yeah, there needs to be the space to get more…
Richard: But you did allow that space. A big sound.
Dirk: And that’s why I call the current band Mecano Un-Ltd (Unlimited)! Because at first, it was limited, the first single was called Mecano Limited, and then we became a band, Mecano, and then because of the people in the band we became Un-Ltd. I recorded with Mick Ness in the nineties, and I was at that time so frustrated… we had this heavy bass and highs, like Martin Hannett’s production you know, and I heard the album, and there was only middle there was no high or low. And he said “what are you talking about?” I said “I can’t hear the rest and I can’t hear what I need on my album”. And anyway I wanted to get into the cutting room to hear what was going on. This is something else in Holland, though not any more. But I was not allowed into the cutting room! So I took the master tapes and looked to take them somewhere else so I could control the sound. On my own record! I had to deal with these sorts of things as a small independent label with no money…
…Now I still have the master tapes of Mick Ness so we are looking to bring the Mick Ness tapes out on our label, Out of Print. And Now Mick was part of this group, not in Mecano, but part of a group of people I knew, and more my friend than anyone else in the band at the time. So anyway we are going to release the music, to show the link between now and then.
(Dirk shows me the artwork and indeed, one track is online – and with Mecano’s US name also present (they are known as Erector Set) as we speak – here).
…And we are looking to do an exhibition at the same time as the gigs. We really should! It should all be a project in the round!
Richard: Actually that reminds me, didn’t Malka Spigels’ band, Minimal Compact, play at your exhibition?
Dirk: their first gig, was at my first art show; I had finished with Mecano, and I was busy with my paintings after that. So the only opportunity I had to play was with Minimal Compact. I made their first two records, so we agreed to do that. Malka’s married to Colin (Newman) isn’t she? The first two or three Wire albums are among the best, what great music!
Tags: Amsterdam, belgium, Mecano, Torso, ULTRA