It’s funny how things happen. I interviewed Mads, Reptile from Reptile and Retard, last year before The Antidote’s Zhejiang Festival. Soon it will be a year ago. Because life is crazy in Shanghai and I was distracted with other matters, I put the task of transcribing this interview on pause for much too long. But recently I’ve been thinking a lot about it when doing my mental list of things to do. I was thinking to publish this interview during the week of Layabozi’s second anniversary, but I just realized that Reptile and Retard are back in China and ready to rock it, beginning on Peaches’ night this weekend. So, well, I just rode the wave and did it now.
Still I feel like I need a better excuse for my delay, because although it took me a year to publish it, it’s an interview I much enjoyed. It could be redundant to say I love to talk about music, but it’s necessary to repeat it just once in a while for my own benefit and because it is good to give it a moment of recognition to something that could be overlooked sometimes as obvious or maybe superficial by some people, but chatting with Mads was in fact inspiring, and thought provoking.
Reptile and Retard are a great duo: not only they do nice music and great shows, but they also have a thoughtful concept behind their project, and this is a project that’s being explored from every possible angle they find on their way. You can see this deeply when reading the outcome of their first experience in China.
There’s a great story behind the evolution of the bands and the music they are creating. A band, as a collective of artists, develops a language, and the way they tell us the story is with music. And when we get to know more than their music, their creative process, there’s a chance for us to get closer to the whole concept of their art, and then get even more from that music they are playing for us. In this interview, we talked about these kinds of things, and their future plans, for a future that already was. Now we can easily see how things have evolved for them since then. Enough intro. Enjoy this, and later their live show.
Layabozi: I was listening to your tracks on myspace, there are only three of them.
Mads: Yeah, because we are really young we just started on 2008, and we were playing in other bands before. We actually haven’t had the time to record more songs yet. We will record songs once we are back home after this time in Shanghai. We’ll be here for three more weeks, but we’ll come back next year. For now we have 8 songs to play live, but still we need to work on them to record them well.
LYBZ: Were you playing before Reptile and Retard?
Mads: Yes, we had a rock band, like stoner rock. But the first thing we did is I raq and roll. Some years ago we met this guy from Iraq who came to our school, and he never saw a rock concert ever, so we were like wow! We took him then to many rock concerts and had very much fun with this. He was playing in Iraq with the war going on outside, but all the time practicing inside, because of the war. So we met and we knew he had to be a rock star and so began to play all together. We played for almost half a year. That was the first time we played together with Esben. Then we played in other bands, and then one day I said to Esben, who is very talented with computers, that we had to do something together. Once we knew we were coming to Shanghai, we decided to do this electronic project to bring here.
LYBZ: Why did you come to China?
Mads: Esben (Retard) and me, we are studying here. We go to a private school called The Khaospilots, it’s a leadership, project management, and creative processes education. And as a part of this program, an entire class goes to another country to study for four months. We are 37 people in the class, we work with many projects, it’s practical education. Esben has been working for the Danish embassy with some marketing projects for Danish products, and I’ve been working with an American company called Play, doing inspirational tours, we arrange a three-day tour for leaders from all over the world to come to Shanghai, and get inspired to create ideas once they are back at home. And about The Khaospilots we are educated to know how to navigate chaos, so we learn to be able to be creative with what happens along the road, you know it is like a hippie business school.
LYBZ: Did you know what you were coming to in China?
Mads: No we didn’t. We had some contacts, some friends that were here last year and told us some things. But we were really lucky to meet Michael [from The Antidote], nobody knew us, and it’s hard to be a band that nobody knows and he took us under his wing, and helped us a lot.
LYBZ: Why did you move from rock to electronic music?
Mads: From my point of view, because I know I want to be a musician full time, and I want to have three outputs, a rock band, an electronic band, and a folk band, that’s the more quiet one too. So I can have these three platforms to work on. I already have the rock band, The Bang Bang Brain, doing 70s rock style more like Led Zepellin and White Stripes. And Esben also plays in other band, The Artificial Lips. We have recordings and still work with them.
LYBZ: The description of your music on Myspace says techno soul. What is techno soul?
Mads: It’s something we invented; we named it that. The thing is that I believe in the future of computer music. Right now it hits something in people, like big bands like Justice, they hit something. But I think the problem is that a lot of electronic music doesn’t have much heart, because it seems very controlled. I mean, it’s made on machines so it’s very machine-like of course. So what we want to do with Retard is to give it more heart or soul, or try to make a kind of music that has something more authentic than common electronic. We say to each other, to clarify the expectations between each other, that we would like to be somewhere between Jim Morrison and Justice.
LYBZ: You are saying that the computer music has future, isn’t that the same thing that The Who and Emerson Lake and Palmer thought at the end of the 70s?
Mads: Yeah, it’s right. But it is much more computerized right now. And who knows what will come out in the future to make music. But also I’m kind of split here, I have a big heart for rock music too. But there’s something about rock music, that’s been going on and on for almost 60 years, and there’s a certain extent of things you can do with drums, guitar, and a microphone. I mean, you can make songs that no one ever heard before of course, but the range of sounds is limited. And computers, they give the possibility to create sounds that nobody heard before. And it’s really hard to do that with a guitar. And that’s why I think that computer music, electronic music, is very interesting, because of the chance to make a sound that nobody heard before.
LYBZ: Why is that important?
Mads: Because it’s important to make something that’s interesting, new, and inspiring for people. And what inspires people is also something that they have never heard before, like what rock was in the 60s, people were like “wow, what is this?! I’ve never heard something like it before!” And you can’t really say that with rock anymore, because you can find a band that you love and think “I really like that,” but it’s very hard to listen to anything that would make people say “I never heard something like that before.”
LYBZ: So what happened with this music that uses sounds that have already been used before, do you think it can be good?
Mads: Yes! Of course! It can be amazing. But well, electronic music is pretty new. And I love so many rock bands too, but it’s more like I really want to be somewhere where it’s possible to make something new that nobody heard before, and I think electronic music is one of those places now, where the frames haven’t been written yet.
LYBZ: Why do you want to do that? What is the feeling you have that is moving you to do something like this?
Mads: Uhm … It’s like painting a picture, about the feeling that people get out of the picture. Maybe I paint a flower, and it’s nice, and people can put it on their wall even, but what’s really nice is to paint a picture that will make people react more strongly, be surprised by it, and go like “I never saw a flower painted like that before!” I know it’s very egocentric, because it’s for the feeling I get out of the reaction of people to my work, and that’s the vision I’m going for. But also it’s about creativity, because if you have a drummer and a guitar player you can be very creative of course but there are limits on the sound you can get, and it’s just interesting to work with electronic music because the frames are more blurry, you don’t really know all you can do within those frames. I mean, the limits are more blurry than those for the guitars and drums. There’s a bigger platform for experimentation.
LYBZ: Before coming here I was talking with Gaz from The Shelter, and he told me you made an incredible show there and people had so much fun with you. What about your show, what’s the relevance of the show for Reptile and Retard?
Mads: The show is everything, we are live musicians. It’s nice to go to the studio and make good recordings of the music we like. But showing it to the people and performing is probably the best part of being a musician. I love it, I put a lot of time into giving people a good show.
LYBZ: What is a good show?
Mads: It’s one where you will be entertained and where unexpected things happen. It’s also about the story of the show, of course, the story that people live with us during the show, that means a lot to me. And a good show is important for our growth, especially in these times, you know, musicians live from live shows these days, records don’t sell anymore, so you have to be a good live act to survive. And I just really really love to perform music live.
LYBZ: How important is the influence of the audience on a show? What if the crowd sucks?
Mads: Yeah, I’d like to say that influence is important, but I can’t. This is something that actually we talk a lot about with Esben. The less people the better show we gotta put on, because it’s so nice to go to a concert and see a band that gives you all they can. And also I think is very important for the music industry, so there’s a time when big record companies are standing in the back of you, and you could act like a big idiot, but if you give the best of you then you are doing it right. We are very much a live act. Are you coming to The Antidote festival? It’s going to be cool I think.
LYBZ: Yes, I am. …Tell me,what do you focus on for a show?
Mads: My focus is gone… I think. I just go and do without thinking.
LYBZ: How would you describe the audiences that you’ve experienced here?
Mads: It’s very different. We’ve been very lucky, we’ve played only one gig where the audience was not big, mostly all our gigs have been packed. I think it’s been a really good audience too. We had one gig in this small place on Changsha, and the crowd were all from China, like 120 people, and only one western guy there. That was nice, because it’s a strange feeling to come to China and perform for an audience that’s mostly western people. So it’s been nice to play for big Chinese audiences. Anyway, compared to Denmark the audience is more open here, I think because the scene here is smaller than in Europe and Denmark, so people appreciate it much more. There they can be a little bit arrogant, I think maybe because there are so many artists around.
LYBZ: Where do Reptile and Retard names come from?
Mads: I’m Reptile, the reptile is something about the reptile brain, in situations when you are under pressure the reptile brains takes over and you have three possible reactions, you either flee, fight, or play dead.
LYBZ: Which one do you do?
Mads: I fight most of the time, I guess, well, musically. But in other matters I’m very much divided with the three of them. But the Reptile and the Retard, we are something about this, and that there’s an idiot inside of all of us, you just have to set it free, and you should be proud of the idiot inside, because that idiot is the human in us. You don’t have to control everything, sometimes we do things that are very stupid, and that’s because we are human, … uhm… it’s a bit religious, it seems. So, it’s true an idiot can become harmful, but instead of hating that, you can see the other side of things, and don’t hate it. We like to hear people who says “yes I’m a fucking idiot sometimes, yes sometimes I hurt people although I know I shouldn’t but I’m human,” this is the kind of image that inspires us. Maybe it’s very much like David Lynch kind of characters living in the countryside, in those strange societies.
LYBZ: And what is Retard about?
Mads: Retard is more about the idiot, the one not self aware, like those people that do whatever they want to. Like those people that masturbates in public, because they don’t have self awareness, and that’s extremely interesting. It’s about not knowing what’s right or wrong. And also about letting go.
LYBZ: So how that’s related to the music you are making?
Mads: Uhm.. it’s related to the music in a way we are very inspired by these people, idiots. It’s about provocation too, like you can’t do something, but then once it’s done, it provokes, and I would rather provoke something than not touch them at all. But also again, the mystery behind retarded people, we find that very interesting, and it relates with our music too. It’s in the lyrics, in the way we explore our subjects, and the way we disagree with Esben. And also it’s coming from the differences on our tastes in music. I have really good taste in music, and he has really bad taste in music!
LYBZ: Really?! What’s his bad taste in music?
Mads: Esben likes dick rock, like ACDC. And you know, I like more thoughtful rock, like Neil Young, Radiohead, The Beatles, The Doors, White Stripes too.
LYBZ: Is there any music that you like that you don’t enjoy liking?
Mads: That’s a good one. … (long silence) … I think I have to think about it … uhm… maybe Kanye West. Actually, I think he’s really good. … Uhm… Anyway, it’s funny, because I’m searching for pop music, instead of other styles. And pop is where you don’t want to go as a musician.
LYBZ: Why do you think that happens? Don’t you think that pop is interesting?
Mads: Yeah but it’s also something about … as musician being a little bit artificial, saying “no I don’t listen to the mainstream thing because I’m special.”
LYBZ: Isn’t the dream of every musician to be popular?
Mads: No, I dont think so. Not every musician. But …half of them maybe. …It’s also about the way you get popular. Like to get popular as Americal Idol guys do, like twenty million sold cds on one week, big big shows, and they get very popular, very fast, but it’s not the way to do it right I think.
LYBZ: Have you listened to Asian pop? What do you think about it?
Mads: Yes, I have. I think is very horrible. The sound is very clean, and very plastic.
LYBZ: Why is clean horrible?
Mads: Because I’m a dirty boy, I guess. I really like it dirty, and rough. Because I like dirty in the sense of old things. You know, old books, old clothes, old things, like that.
LYBZ: About your relationship with Retard, working just the two of you together, how does the creative process works with you two?
Mads: You know it’s very interesting, because being just two people discussing the aesthetics of the project it could be that there will never be an agreement, you know without a third part that can say I like better his idea than your idea, to make a final decision two against one. So if he really likes Britney Spears, and I really like Metallica, then how do we make it happen? That could be really hard. The good thing is that we go to school together, and there we learn about creative processes and a lot about working together, so we have very much the same mind set. If we didn’t have this, I’m sure it wouldn’t be as successful as it is working together, but because we have this knowledge it gives us a lot, so instead of saying to each other “you are a stupid if you think that way,” we say “I think you are not being fair, we should consider that,” etc etc, and then we are constructive about our work. But of course it’s not easy to make art with another person, but we know we are depending a lot on each other, and we understand it. We talk a lot about what we want to do with this, what we want to communicate, what mood we want to create, we discuss a lot about this, we discuss about our visual identity for example.
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LYBZ: What about it?
Mads: For myspace, or the cover of a record. We are both from the countryside, we have our heart in the country side, and those areas are these little societies and everybody is so strange, educated on the outer outer sides of the world, and that’s part of us. And we are also very inspired from the 50s, especially if you see pictures from the 50s in the countryside, you see those images of people sitting all formal, but you can see the story behind, you know, the father that hits the children and is cheating on the mother, but so self aware of how they look, having this going on in their lives, because you know the society was very uptight on that time, and they were not showing what was behind the doors for real.
LYBZ: What are you doing after China?
Mads: We just hit a record in Denmark: we have the longest China tour for a Danish band ever!!! (laughs) There’s a guy that came before and he played three big stadiums and that was it. But we’ve been so many places that we got the record now. It’s funny this, uh? … Well, we are maybe supporting Pet Conspiracy on their tour in Europe. Tomorrow we go to Beijing, after the show at The Antidote festival, then right after we go directly to Beijing, then we will play a festival, I don’t remember the name of it, organized by the European Union. It’s going to be in a park in Beijing. Then we’ll stay for a week in Beijing, working with the Danish Cultural Institute there, and connecting with more bands, doing some experience-gathering to help new bands come to China, so they can use our experience. Once in Europe will have a mini tour in England, and then we are going to play to Norway, and probably Germany, and we’ve thought also about Poland, and then go on tour for two months, but we haven’t decided the place yet. The first thought was New York, but actually these days I’m thinking about going to South America, because I’ve heard the scene there is blossoming. Anyway we are still talking about that, but we want to go on tour for sure. And then we’ll come back to China. And we can’t wait to go to Denmark to make new songs.
LYBZ: Why wait? Can’t you make the new songs here?
Mads: Because we use our piano and guitar, we do the songs first like that and later we pass them to electronic sound. So we can make new songs but we can’t produce them in the studio yet. It’s so much easier to be creative in front of a piano than in front of a computer.
LYBZ: When are you going to record your first album?
Mads: Maybe next year (2010) in January or February. We’ll be too busy playing live shows to do it this year in Denmark, although we are looking for possibilities with Chinese record labels. It’ll be interesting to do so. We don’t really need a record label, but it makes it much easier, so we can focus only on music. We are both product managers, but it interferes with creativity if we have to concentrate on other things too.
LYBZ: And you already have 8 songs, for that right?
LYBZ: Do you play any cover?
Mads: Yes we play a cover, Queens of the Stone Age “No one knows” You know it?
LYBZ: I don’t know it, I think.
Mads: What music do you like?
LYBZ: I like rock. I like music. But yes I like rock the most, metal, and well rock.
Mads: You like metal! Ratatat was very metal, right?
LYBZ: Yeah! You know, a friend told me at the end of the concert, “isn’t it cool to listen to Metallica without lyrics?!” That was so funny, because I was just thinking, isn’t it cool to listen to Stravinsky with electric guitars! …It was a very good concert. Ratatat was fine, but I was more happy because of the success of the concert.
Mads: That’s also very interesting for us, to see the possibilities here, things that haven’t been explored yet here. At one point the average Chinese guy will start to be interested in western music.
LYBZ: Why do you think a Chinese guy needs to be interested in western music?
Mads: I don’t think he needs to be interested. I think he will be because for many years they haven’t been able to hear it, and I’m sure they’ll hear something that they’ll find interesting. Maybe they’ll like or not, but I think it’s most of all about having the possibility to listen to it. And they have this for some years now. Now I can see many cool kids in China getting into western music, being inspired by it, and that’s the picture I’m getting, and it’s natural that people follows what’s cool, and then people who thinks that’s cool will follow those cool people. Like cool people like Macs, and then other people thinks they are cool and so they get it.
LYBZ: What is your vision of what’s going on here with the music scene?
Mads: One thing that I’ve noticed here is that punk is so big here, and hard rock, and I can’t help thinking about it, that of course it’s like that. China is just breaking from a very controlled society, and there’s anger, like Europe was years ago, and now punk is small in Europe, because people doesn’t have anything to be angry at anymore, and, you know, punk is very aggressive. So what happened in Europe years ago, it’s happening here now. And I think, like in Europe at one point, punk is going to die here too, and it’s interesting to be here now being part of it, and it’ll be interesting to see what comes after like in a year when we’ll be back.
LYBZ: Going back to Reptile and Retard, how do you manage the edge between party and music, do you care about it?
Mads: Yes, we do. Maybe it’s like the horse of Troy, you know, we hide inside the horse and wait til the party is on to strike. We like to party, and we also have something to say, so we use this special situation. You know, drunk people are very easy to influence, and we can use that, and we use it to inspire people. So people go to party, but then they get this moment that actually for real inspires them, to do anything, even to hug each other because they are having so much fun. If we can hit the people, so they can think the pick of the night was that concert, then that’s it.