Digging Up Dutch Undergrounds – An Interview with Wim Dekker of Minny Pops and Blowpipe Records
April 8, 2014
by Richard Foster
I met Wim Dekker, Minny Pops synth player, head of Blowpipe records and Moskwood media, and Haarlem local, at the Patronaat café during sound check for a Narrominded / Subroutine night. At times, the talk was interrupted by gusts of electric noise, which means the interview was split into two broadly equal segments. Wim, arrived carrying a bag full of records and tapes from his Plurex, Studio 12 and Factory Records days that he had either produced, released or compiled; as well as the first rap record released in Holland; Alex & the City Crew’s ‘Say What Say Who’ (something he’d also produced under the name Wim Decker). I wanted to chat to Wim about the local scene in Haarlem, where he ran the Amigos record shop in 1980-81, produced and worked at Studio 12, (plans for remastering and re-releasing the tapes are in the offing) and of course Minny Pops.
A brief note: I’ve tried to edit as little as possible, to keep the feel of the original interview intact, but any reference to what I consider personal matters or names of partners and family have been omitted. The full transcript is in my possession and available on request. Notes and additions to make the text run smoothly are added in […].
I was talking to Harold today about his book, and it struck me that it’s the only major record of ULTRA; certainly in print. Why is there so little record?
WD The thing is that… first of all ULTRA was a spontaneous group of people who made music all at the same time, which was erm… pushing the borders.
…And then, you know, with the Minny Pops, although Wally organized the ULTRA evenings, we refused to go on the ULTRA cassette, the Mark Honingh thing; [note: Man about the ULTRA scene, and Tox Modell member Mark Honingh released an ULTRA cassette in 1981, just after all the evenings had finished] because we were, how should I say, quite stubborn and what we thought about ULTRA back then…. (Long silence)
Ach we just didn’t want to go on that compilation! (Laughs) Because we were “recalcitrant” I think. But some things were gradually reissued. The Mecano things are slowly coming up. And the RadioNome reissue. I have it with me, (Wim produces the first of his many treasures from his bag) which was from 1982; with all sorts of ULTRA related bands. We reissued this last year. Cargo Cultus, SMALTS, Nine Circles, Stephen Emmer, of course is here… So there were things after ULTRA but very…
…And of course Haarlem was a very active town in the ULTRA scene.
Why was that?
WD I think it was because we started very early with our own scene. We had a great record shop which I did – Amigos. So there was already a punk movement in my record shop. Kids from fifteen years [sic] were hanging out; we had the latest imports from England and America, from Boudisque, in Amsterdam, that record shop. And the reason why I started that record shop was that I was a big fan of Roxy Music and Brian Eno. And in 1977 or 1978 I bought a synthesizer. And in those times anyone who bought a synthesizer was very into things like Rick Wakeman, and Baroque things… ‘Tubular Bells’ kind of things. Also because I did not have a proper musical background I did minimal stuff. And the second thing was I worked with a colleague – when I worked at Schiphol – and his boss was a guy who worked in No Fun [note: legendary punk record shop in Amsterdam]. And he found it [note: Wim means his synthesizer ideas] interesting and invited me to meet them in their house in Amsterdam. And he was playing me Suicide, The Residents, and Throbbing Gristle and Pere Ubu. Of course I knew the Stranglers who I liked, and the Sex Pistols but the Pistols I didn’t find the so interesting. But anyway, through them I became aware that the American New Wave and No Wave was very, very interesting. So, through them and with that synthesizer I started a record shop.
…Haarlem in that period was also full of squat houses.
Really? Can you tell us about that?
WD For instance you had the old Haarlemse Dagblad offices in the middle of the city. They made rehearsal rooms and studios that kind of thing; and altogether that gave a kind of twist in Haarlem, that we had some really nice bands. I’m going to reissue them, bands such as Nexda. They played on self-made instruments; they used an oil drum for drums…
Like Kiem did too? [Note: Kiem, a Rotterdam band from the early to mid-1980s, made their own percussion instruments].
WD Yes. And I am looking to reissue them. But I think that in the moments that ULTRA was in Amsterdam; there were not many records from bands. The records came later I think, round 1982, 1983.
This whole nexus of support gets me; so there’s no support, very few records, no distribution. And the support from kraak beweging [note: squatting movement, which was then fairly widespread through the Netherlands] is seen as punk. So the postpunk, art school ethos ideas get swallowed up in that [note: punk] in Holland. So you can’t take advantage of anything really!
WD It’s very true.
And Harold Schellinx says that the scene gets support through VINYL magazine. And that starts when the force of ULTRA is stopping.
WD Exactly, yeah!
So it carries on as a ghost scene. And the main actors are gone…
WD Or doing other things. For example, Wally, me and Michiel Kleiss we tried to… in 1983, we tried to start our nightclub in Amsterdam. And Michiel was the disco guy, and Wally was the ULTRA guy… So we did eight evenings with rap music, electronic music and variety artists. And my task in that whole thing – I’m giving this as an example of how we continued – I had to arrange amateur artists to play; and I wanted to employ an old woman playing piano, playing old Joy Division songs (Wim starts warbling ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’). But I think we were too early. It was electronic, rap, ULTRA or new wave things, also with amateur artists like whistlers (starts whistling).
Sounds like the kind of thing that should happen now.
WD Of course!
And you have this thing with ULTRA that Harold mentions; that ULTRA musicians didn’t want it to become a fashion. Why is that?
WD I think that is something that can be explained by what happened here in Haarlem heh? I was involved in Amsterdam and in Haarlem. And in Haarlem we had a lot of artists; who, in the short moment of Oktopus [note: Oktopus nightclub in Amsterdam where the ULTRA nights were held] were involved; everybody was there. But after Oktopus stopped, everybody spread out and did their own thing again. A lot of people from the ULTRA beweging [note: movement] went to the direction of Club Roxy for example. So there are a few steps in between but that was the general direction of that scene [sic]. You know, it was all quite organic. But in Haarlem, the punk kids carried on being punk. And Nexkda for example, they had started making their own sounds and instruments, they moved to reggae and it was not so interesting anymore. It was kind of tight and then it spread out.
But it’s different in how a scene pans out to what you’d expect…British and American musicians work hard in an understanding that you could get picked up. But here there’s nothing there to help.
WD No. It’s all “meer vrijblijvend” [note: “do what you want” as a rough translation, which has an undertone of not being that committed in this context] here. In America and England it’s a lifestyle. You can make a living, still, and it’s a large language territory. That’s why we all sing in English. But erm… you can’t forget the business model was invented in America. And for example Rob Scholte, he was singing in a band, [note: The Young Lions] but he became MUCH more successful as an artist.
That’s the Dutch angle then?
WD Yeah. It’s more… vrijblijvend and it was also not really necessary to make money out of it because in the beginning of the 1980s there was a big subsidy thing with the social security. Everybody got the dole. If you left school you immediately got dole if you couldn’t get a job. An army of workless squatters! Hahah! I lived in an enormous villa in Aerdenhout, enormous with a big straw roof. And there were 10 or 15 people and we had a rehearsal room. And I had a room in the villa; the guy from Nexda lived there with me so we did some music things together.
…But especially with Wally and we also didn’t want to limit ourselves with ULTRA. As soon as you give a name to something you are marked! You can’t put a ticket on it. And we immediately wanted to do other things. With most of the ULTRA people involved, we did different things [sic]. My record shop lasted for 9 months or a year; but it was really great, because reggae was also very strong in that time. We had a big black guy and he was always smoking when he was listening, and the punk kids who hung out would be there, and this guy gave a big spliff to one of them and he went straight on his back; and then we were in trouble. After that I started working with Boudisque and then I kept recording for the Minny Pops.
…The whole VINYL mag I found not so interesting; not for myself, I mean. Because what they were doing they were trying to capture the spirit of a movement that had already gone. It’s very hard to capture, especially then; because the scene moved so incredibly fast. The first 5 years of the 1980s were incredibly fast moving, and you couldn’t capture it. It was so intense. And then you had rap and breakdancing. Electronic things. In the small halls like Oktopus, there was a rainbow of colours; everything was possible. I produced the first breakdance record in the Netherlands in 1983 [note: Alex & the City Crew’s ‘Say What Say Who’]. And also I produced heavy metal for Boudisque, who also had a record company. But… With the Minny Pops after 82 we did a soundtrack… and that was it.
‘Poste Restante!’ I saw it in Velvet, Leiden for 55 euros, and original copy. I bet it never sold for that back then!
WD Anyway I’ll show you a few things. These are records and tapes produced at Studio 12 which was the Haarlem part of ULTRA. It was based at the Haarlemsedagblad building, it was number 12, so we called it Studio 12. In that period, the tracks don’t have proper names. And Nexda never named their tracks in the whole of that period. I have the whole of the Studio 12 stuff, 8 cassettes a few records. I have it all digitized. In an ideal world I could release 10-12 records.
(We look through a lot of tapes and records)
It had so much art tied into it then.
WD You could not separate it, no. The artists were connected to the scene. Rob van Middendorp, the brother of Wally… and Peter te Bos from Claw Boys Claw.
All these small labels, The Ex with their studio friends in Wormerveer, Torso, it’s like a whole load of small cottage industries all around the country.
WD And that was fantastic because we didn’t know about Nijmegen, or Groningen, or Rotterdam in those times. And they didn’t know about us!
Why was that?
WD I don’t know! It was pre-internet. We had tape recorders, on one to one cassettes, and I have no idea how we got things printed. I Amsterdam one or two bands from Studio 12 went to the ULTRA evenings.
OK Wim, you said earlier that people in Haarlem and Groningen never mixed. To me that is really Dutch. I mean you’re happy to… I mean Truus can go and speak to Lee Ranaldo or something [note: American Lee Ranaldo, later Sonic Youth guitarist, was briefly a member of Plus Instruments] Wally’s talking to Joy Division, and none of you hang out in the next fucking town. Why is that?
(Wim backstage in Manchster, 2012, Leonor Jonker)
WD Probably because we could not imagine that something was happening in Groningen as well. Because how was it communicated in Oor? No. In newspapers? Hardly. So the things we saw of course in the music papers, we saw the New Musical Express and the Sounds and the Melody Maker. We saw things written about the new English and American music. But not about the Dutch. That’s why VINYL, of course… when it started, it started to write about the Dutch bands. Or Oor wrote a few times about the Minny Pops, but they just erm…. They talked it down.
And the British magazines came out weekly.
WD Yes! And of course because of the punk, and the energy of the British punk movement, which was strong and vivid; that also was visible in the Melody Maker and the New Musical Express. But yes, we were watching London and New York more carefully than Groningen or Nijmegen.
Nijmegen is crazy and in fact something that is difficult to fully add in this ULTRA thesis as with Nijmegen you could write a book about it alone. It’s got this sealed off, independent quality to it.
WD Nijmegen is a strange city. It is always left wing and the structures are different. The municipal set up, and how things are arranged there, is different from here. The benefit for Haarlem was in that period the big economic crisis [sic]; there was the No Future thing, and there were a lot of big villas in Aerdenhout that were empty and just for squatting. And in Haarlem itself. Nowadays there is also an economic crisis, but now there are companies that arrange a temporary residence. So they found a way. But in that time….
So back then there’s this weird sixties continuation, the squat thing and social benefits. So to start anything it’s great but to take it somewhere it’s difficult.
WD Yeah but nowadays… at that time we had to invent things. Now everybody can make music or be a graphic designer. Now is the real time of do it yourself. And now there’s no business model anymore. (Laughs) On the other side you had the megastars and back then you knew what they did. But now… But tell me, have you ever actually heard a Bieber song?
WD I have never heard this stuff. Radio is also pretty dead now. And those types of artists are sucking the attention away from real creativity. They are a sponge. Of course the American marketing does this well. If you take the film business, to make a film it takes three years. And the Americans start pushing it on day one and the potential stars are pushed on day one. So it’s good marketing, but musically… I don’t know what they are doing. What are they doing? At least with… with Michael Jackson you could dance to ‘Billy Jean’! I suppose now with people who only want to be famous well… they are in one place and there is a lot more room in a way. Everybody knows you can make a buck in the music but there have never been as many musicians as there are now in music, it’s fantastic.
No middle men in ULTRA. What do you think?
WD The problem with Wally and Dirk [note: Wally van Middendorp, with Plurex (Records), and Dirk Polak, with Torso (Records)] they were also musicians.
It’s the ultimate Dutch job, the fixer, but there are no the middle men like Seymour Stein or Tony Wilson.
WD I know… I know. But why be a middle man when the press finds it more rewarding to write about an unknown Canadian band than write about one that is 20 kilometres up the road. And in that way our culture is really very international. Certainly in music with the English language used in music. Everybody speaks in English. And I’m guilty of it too. But a lot of bands start a band because they hear an English or American band, and these bands are kansloos, [note: without hope] because they have no identity. And you are competing with the rest of the world. Look at Sweden they do it very well, international music.
(Wim second left, in 1981)
…But here… When the Minny Pops played in the Netherlands, no one was really interested. And you can measure success then by the amount of girls and boys we had following us around. In England you saw some girls and they put their heads round the door, and they were interested but we were still weird. But in America, we all had groupies (Laughs) We were a band that was a guys band not a girls band. Though we had a lot of humour. Nowadays girls and like our music as well!
You are a total transgender band too! Certainly after the Manchester gig at Gullivers [note: January 2012]
WD Yeah I loved that! We exchanged limericks with WOMB [note: sadly deceased Manchester band] on this!
One last question. What was the American tour of 1981 like?
WD It was more I think we didn’t play very well there. We played one great gig but the distances were enormous, the public was different and erm… we were… a bit shy and nervous. We played with Suicide and of course we were the little kids, I was 22, and Alan Vega was lying down in his dressing room. But he was lying on the sofa and he didn’t communicate at all. But I must say that the whole… here it’s more serious. It’s more serious there. It’s more – not subsidized – it’s a business with serious people who are professionals. Also in England it’s the same.
Tags: Amsterdam, Haarlem, Minny Pops, Narrominded, subroutine records, ULTRA