Plague Mass – an amazing band from Vienna/Graz, Austria – interview conducted via email May 2004 by Chris 12-o-5.
RN: O.k, first of all, The Plague Mass is made up of members from various other bands, please could you explain the history of how The Plague Mass came to be and the origins of the name? (The name ‘The Plague Mass’ seems to denote an apocalyptic prophesy of some kind, so I find this very interesting)
G: Well, we all used to be in Pledge Alliance (Maybe the name rings a bell. We’ve been touring the UK twice.). Chris (guitar, vocals) played bass in Antimaniax, Schnee (bass, vocals) used to sing for Jan feat. UdSSR and sings and plays guitar for Knötaröt – a two-men-and-a-drum-computer punk band, Bernie (drums) is also in a kinda Refused-esque rock-hardcore band called You Make Me Nervous and I (guitar) used to be in Once Tasted Life. After Pledge Alliance had called it quits for many reasons we formed this band. The name…we ripped off the title of a Diamanda Galas record… (I came up with that name after me and Cyrill (singer of Pledge Alliance) went home from a really impressive Diamanda Galas concert. One of her programs is called ”Plague Mass” and I thought that this would be a great name for this new band….Diamanda Galas is an amazing artist check her stuff out!!!—Chris ) It’s indeed intended to be apocalyptic to some extent… The ‘plague mass’ is the world that surrounds us. We’re all right in the centre of a sick celebration of values and moral laws that keep us from exploring and implementing our true desires. This ‘plague’ is all-consuming…
RN: Here in the UK we are lucky to have seen a few bands from Austria touring here regularly (Antimaniax, Red Lights Flash, Once Tasted Life, etc.) how do you compare the reception/treatment of bands/organisation of gigs in the UK to the way it is done in mainland Europe?
G: I don’t wanna generalise things here but there are certainly things that are worse in the UK than they are in mainland Europe…like, you almost always get fed here whereas you have to be really lucky to get decent food at shows in the UK. The same goes for accommodation. However, you can’t really compare western mainland Europe to eastern mainland Europe, simply because there’s a strong east-west divide, not only in terms of wealth but also because people in the east seem to be more open-minded when it comes to different styles of music. However, I’d say that there are places in the UK, such as Guildford, where all the gigs we had with our other bands were amazing…no matter if we played emo, ska or brutal metalcore…
S: We made very, very positive and really shitty experiences in mainland Europe as well as in the UK. and met great people and assholes here and there.
RN: Something we have discussed is the place of women within the hardcore/punk scene, for example, I found it very difficult to find people interested in starting a band with a frontwoman as oppose to a frontman. Do you feel that is this is apparent in Austria? Is there something less credible about a band made up of women as a result of the poor representation of women in the scene?
C: This was actually one of the main discussing points which led to the splitting up of Pledge Alliance. Some of us were really bored of just playing in male only bands and of moving within this male dominated scene because it made us miss a lot of aspects that could be explored in mixed line-ups. But it’s really hard to find female musicians in our area who like to play this kind of music, so, we ended up again as a male only band but we try to support female bands in our area… and we also try to overcome our socialised gender roles. (…which is much more important than looking for women to join the band, I think. If the four of us happen to be four boys and the whole thing—the creative process and everything—works the way it should, it’s O.K., I believe, as long as those four boys don’t act like total macho-morons, thus make girls feel uncomfortable at shows etc.—Gerfried)
I think that this problem just shows that all the sexist structures we are facing within our patriarchical society are also reflected in hardcore/punk! I mean almost the whole world is dominated by men and so is the punk community. Most hardcore or punk bands are male only and I think that’s mainly because of the stereotype role models that are brought to us from outside the punk community and are reproduced by us, of course… as long as we, socialised as men, are not thinking about our dominant macho behaviour and start to break through these stereotype roles, there won’t be more humans socialised as women actively involved with this scene. I don’t want do be in a fucking boys club…that sucks…let’s smash gender roles!!!
G: I agree with Chris. In Austria it’s just the same as everywhere else. And even if a band is female-fronted there are always guys among the audience who stare at the girl’s tits and compare her to this society’s standards of beauty/physical appearance instead of comparing her to other male hardcore singers etc., if you know what I mean…
S: The punk and hardcore scene is just a mini-version of western society, both playgrounds created mainly for and by white, middle to upper class males and therefore both are in a very poor condition. There are the same structures of hierarchy, basically the same moral codes. They are burnt into our heads and you can’t just get rid of them by colouring your hair and wearing a (dress-code approved) punk/hardcore outfit. It’s not that easy and you can get an idea about the fact that it doesn’t work at every show where you see the boys in the front performing their macho-farce, the girls in the back watching and looking pretty. I don’t think that the ”scene” is encouraging women to take actively part in it, not in a way that would be needed to overcome male domination. Those who do play in bands often have to face problems most of their male colleges never have to worry about (people seldom stare at my tits and hardly never call me a ”hot chick” …) In Vienna there is a group of women called the Phoolan Devi Kollektiv, who face this problem from a feminist point of view. Gerli, what’s their website? (I don’t know but their email is firstname.lastname@example.org –Gerfried) Anyways, boys, you don’t have to be tough, girls you don’t have to be sweet! Be your fucking self! And maybe we should rather try counter-culture instead of sub-culture?
RN: In the scene report that you wrote for my fanzine, you said that the number of people turning up to shows is dwindling, why do you think this is? Austria is comparatively small compared to neighbouring European countries, do you find that you are often bypassed by touring bands?
G: Bypassed?…not really. It’s just, like, the same problem promoters face wherever a lot of shows happen. Nobody gives a shit about unknown bands. If you put on band x from y here people just don’t care and rather stay at home and watch TV or whatever than coming out to the gigs no matter whether the band is good or not. Some years ago the situation was much better…Some ‘local’ bands, like Antimaniax, still draw a decent number of people and, of course, big hardcore bands especially from the States do so as well.
RN: I understand that some (or all) of you are vegan and involved with anarchism in the form of shoplifting, boycotting corporations, etc. How far do you feel that your personal politics affect your music and do you feel that putting across these kind of messages is equally as important as the way the band sounds?
S: For me the message is much more important than the sound. I joined the band not because I’m that much into that kind of music (maybe 3 years ago I wouldn’t have even thought about playing stuff like that…), but because of the political background. Making music offers a platform to express thoughts, ideas and feelings and that’s what we do. Rather than trying to convince somebody with the ‘pointed finger’, we’d like to make people think by themselves about the issues that are important to us. I have no use for dogmatic ideologies. I want self-determination for every human and non-human animal. That’s it!
G: Punk is always about the message. However, it’s the music AND the lyrics/contents through which I express myself. I’m a musician because I love music and I’m interested in ‘politics’. Anyway, I’d rather play completely non-political music (if something like that does exist at all…) than ‘just’ being active politically, if you know what I mean…(Don’t get me wrong, I truly appreciate political activism.) We’re all vegan but everybody except Schnee sometimes eats vegetarian stuff if we find it in the garbage. I consider myself an anarchist simply because I don’t think that anybody is more qualified to have control over my life than I am. I hate bosses. I hate hierarchies.
C: I am doing things in this scene mainly because I love this music and because of the great people you can meet within this community. But this scene sometimes also frustrates me because many people in hc/punk are just scratching the surface of any political content. It makes me sad that lots of people just don’t give a fuck… We could make this a much more positive platform for each of us. The message is the stuff we are dealing with, the things that make us angry… for me the message is not dividable from the music!
RN: You guys are doing a big Eastern European tour this summer, have you ever visited these countries before either as individuals or with your other bands? I know a lot of bands can be put off by these kind of tours because of perhaps not enough money to cover travel, language barriers or long drives, how do you feel you will be received there?
C: Yes, except for our drummer we all have been to these countries with our former bands like Pledge Alliance, Once Tasted Life and Antimaniax. We always had great shows there! I think most people from Western Europe are just scared of all the horror stories they hear about eastern countries in mainstream-media, like the bad gangs of thieves from Romania and shit like that…
G: When touring there money is a problem indeed…and it can be totally exhausting. On the other hand it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced.
S: I loved most places and I’m looking forward to go on this tour. We will be visiting some countries I haven’t been to before and some we’ve already played in. So, we’ll meet friends we made last time and hopefully make some new ones as well.
RN: I know that Chris is involved with social work, but as for the rest of you, how difficult is it to find ‘ethical employment’ in Graz, or if you do not work, how hard is it to ‘live on nothing’ as such? Austria has National Service, which is something that hasn’t existed here since the 1960s, so I would be really interested to hear your impressions on the subject?
S: No one of us lives on nothing (especially because my band-mates have some kind of arms… oops, amps race going on…), but in Austria it’s relatively easy to live on very little or even no money, if you know how… you can get good food from dumpsters, you can get almost everything out of shops (one thing I really love about the UK is your big stupid supermarkets…so many entrances, so little staff to watch you sneak out…) without paying. You can save a lot of money by using things in common. You can get free rides in public means of transport, free cinema, free shows,…whatever. You just have to know how…Doing national service, you can choose between 8 months of military service or 12 months of civil service. Except for Bernie, who, because of his young age, hasn’t had the pleasure to serve the state yet, all of us did civil service. It’s shitty that the state can legally steal up to one year of your life and you can’t do anything about it… except maybe faking disqualification when they are testing your health and skills. I worked with mentally handicapped people and I learned a lot about social marginalisation and hierarchies in working places, about my own pointless fear of people who are ”different” and about washing clothes and cooking in large quantities, what was good, but I’d prefer not to be forced to do so, but to make that experiences by my own decision. By the way, what exactly is ethical employment in a capitalistic economical system?
C: If I had to do civil service now, I would do everything to avoid it. I would move to another country….for example.
RN: This is the ‘DIY’ themed issue of Rancid News, so I would love to hear any ideas you have on how to incorporate the ‘DIY ethic’ into day-to-day life, whether it is musically or otherwise.
S: I think it’s always preferable to do what you can yourself, not just because you reclaim your independence but also because you get rid of the alienation imposed upon us by just consuming stuff of which we don’t really know where it comes from, under which conditions it was produced, who profits from it and so on… Vegetables you’ve grown in your own garden or on your balcony are not only much cheaper than the ones you get in supermarkets, they are also much tastier and healthier. Self-made soy milk doesn’t really mean that much effort and costs hardly anything. There isn’t really that much that you can’t do yourself. The question is whether you prefer to spend the time and effort it takes to do/produce whatever you need yourself and know what you have or rather work in a job that’s pissing you off to get money to buy what somebody else makes you think you need…Of course, these aren’t the only options to get what you need… anyway, the less you need to buy the more self-determined your life will be…and the more fun!
G: I don’t think it’s really necessary to incorporate the D.I.Y. ‘ethic’ into day-to-day life. It’s there already…to some extent. I figured that if you want to get things done you gotta do them yourself because no one else is gonna do them for you. It’s as simple as that…In fact, it’s not…but what I was gonna say is that if you don’t do anything for a living and play in a band that plays a rather unpopular style of music you have to be creative and do whatever you can yourself. By doing so, you improve your skills and get more independent.
RN: O.k, finally, I read on the website that you intend to release an E.P (?) on Best Foot Forward Records over here, what other plans do you have for recording?
G: We’re going to hit the studio on September 10th to record a bunch of songs for a 7” on Blackprint Records, London, an album (we don’t know who’s gonna release it yet) and some of the songs will most probably be on a 3 way split CD on Best Foot Forward Records…all that stuff should be out by the end of the year…we’ll see…just check out www.theplaguemass.at.tt to find out more about what we do. You can also download some demo songs there…Cheers! Thank you! x