Schon einen Tag, nachdem wir uns mit Louise Gold zum Interview getroffen haben, stehen wir auch schon wieder mitten in Neukölln, denn auch die Dirty Honkers, vielen bekannt als Kings & Queen of Retro Futurist Electro, haben hier ihre Headquarters aufgeschlagen. Eigentlich hätten wir also gleich hier übernachten können. Indessen hätte dies Lina Liebhund um einen weiteren Versuch gebracht, den gestrengen Herren Polizisten in Schwarz, auf die sie aus welchen Gründen auch immer total abfährt, auf dem Alexanderplatz eine Streicheleinheit zu entlocken.
Leider wollten die Beamten auch diesmal nicht mit Lina kuscheln – doch Ersatz fand sich schnell in Gad Baruch Hinkis, dem musikalischen Kopf der Dirty Honkers, und auch Sängerin Andrea Roberts und Saxophonist Florent Mannant sparten nicht mit Streicheleinheiten. Vollends versöhnlich gestimmt war das Tierchen wieder, als es in der Honkers-Küche diesen tollen, deckellosen Mülleimer entdeckte – im Liebhund’schen Universum ein unwiderstehlicher Genuss, für den man Ärger mit seinem Menschen gern in Kauf nimmt.
Und während die drei Musiker und ich dem Hund abwechselnd leere Streichholzschachteln, gebrauchte Teebeutel & Co. wieder aus der Schnauze operieren, gelingt es uns nebenbei, über die Songs ihres neuen Albums Superskrunk zu sprechen, die sich oft aus den Live-Shows entwickeln, über die Berliner Electro Swing-Szene und den unbedingten Willen, sich nicht darauf limitieren zu lassen, und nicht zuletzt über das Superhelden-Image, das sich die Honkers kürzlich verpasst haben. Viel Vergnügen damit!
Klangverführer: When I first heard about you, the first thing that attracted my attention was your band name. I wondered – and I still do – what in the world made you name yourself “Dirty Honkers”?
Florent: I guess it was a little bit of a brainstorm. We started doing music before we had a name.
Andrea: Yeah, we started collecting a lot of words that we associated to, and „dirty“ was one of them, and the word „honkers“ sounded very cartoonesque and we were quite Swing-orientated and thought about cartooney music … And it also can mean „a big nose“ or „big boobies“, or the sound that a goose make – we have two saxophones and they really sound like ducks or geese.
Gad: And it’s a good combination– like, „Dirty Honkers“ is what we sometimes like to direct our sounds to, like a really explosive horn, like the horn of an old, loud car.
Listening to your new album, the first impression is: Oh, this is just another act riding on the Electro Swing wave. But soon the music turns out to be going beyond that and you hear vocal big band with a Rock’n’Roll attitude and techno beat, which is retro and futuristic at once and which I would describe best as “Swingtech” … How would you yourself describe your kind of music?
Andrea: Dirty Honkers!
Gad: Thanks a lot for the compliment, first of all! Well think, for a long time we used to describe our music as „Dirty Swing Tech“.
Andrea: Yeah, the vibe is sometimes more Swing, then we actually do have more of a Rock vibe in it, there are some songs on the album which have a surf vibe and really go away from the genre, so it also became tricky for us to just put a title on our music. Basically, we really like to take retro sounds and mix them with new-timey beats like techno or Drum&Bass …
Gad: You can also call it skrunk, skrunk music!
Florent: We develop the music rather from the stage than from the studio, always thinking about what we can do to make the concert exciting, to make it a really vibrant experience, and that’s why we always think of dance music, that makes a lot of sense.
Andrea: It’s a constant development because when we first started, we had a lot of songs, and then we found out what we really wanted to do: to make the kids dance. That was really a huge requirement. So the music definitely went a bit in the direction of electro and techno so we could create songs that the kids will move their hands and shake their heads to, pretty upbeat music.
Which makes it quite difficult listening to it in your living-room! Talking about Electro and Techno, your music sounds, at least to my ears, very metropolitan – not to say, very Berlin. Which role does this city play for the way you sound or for the Dirty Honkers, in general?
Gad: It’s hard to say how Berlin influences us. I think mostly it just influences us in the sense that we can do our thing here, that we can be ourselves. And maybe because each one of us can be more his- or herself, the combination between all three of us is less influenced by Berlin, you know? Because Berlin is so very much letting you be who you actually are you are less influenced by Berlin. Like, if I imagine that something like this would happen in London, for example, then maybe we would – because we would be forced to fit into the scene because it’s so hard there – sound more like London. But because we live in Berlin, each of us can really bring his or her own influences and create something that doesn’t sound like anything else for us.
Does that mean that Berlin, compared to London for example, gives you a unique artistic freedom by letting you be who you are?
Gad: I would say it’s freedom on an individual level for us to bring our own influences, but we definitely do have a relationship with the German and in particular with the Berlin Electro Swing scene. I think we helped a lot to bring Electro Swing into Germany before it was popular here.
Andrea: I definitely think that the fact that Berlin is not an expensive capital city definitely plays a role on the freedom you have. You don’t have to push yourself in a certain genre and can afford to be more experimental and more open. But there are definitely small vibes of minimal techno that you hear on songs like for instance „Party People“, and minimal techno definitely comes from the Berlin techno scene – you can hear it in all the clubs … So I would definitely say that Berlin, at least unconsciously from hanging out in clubs, influences the sound that we make.
Florent: Well, I think Berlin has influenced us in a way … for me personally, I grew up here for ten years, and when I first came here I really discovered a wide spectrum of how you can make music. I think Berlin has this very strong call of musicianship. All levels, all backgrounds, street musicians, very high-end musicians, there is really everything here. And it also clashes together very intensely. And I think this also brings this wide range of sound and music and inspiration you cannot find everywhere. In summer for instance, in Berlin you have music everywhere, outside, inside, late, early and this naturally influences us.
Andrea: Plus, on a show aspect level, we have a bit of a Punk Rock attitude that’s coming out of Berlin, kind of „Ach, scheißegal, let’s get drunk“, this kind of party vibe that you can do what you want. When my brother came here from Canada he was like, wow, I’m drinking a beer on the street – it’s a huge thing! Canada is really strict about this, you can get in jail. And here you can feel like you can party all hours to, whatever, eight in the next morning, and this kind of brings this Punk Rock attitude into your stage vibe, like „I’m partying in a cellar, in a dirty club and it’s ten o’clock in the morning, I’m pretty drunk“, you know? It’s not so detectable in our music but in the stage attitude.
Gad: Maybe an interesting point is that there is this contrast in the electro scene and in the live scene, whereas the electro scene is very, very specific, divided into sub-genres and sub-sub-genres, and you can’t go too wild in that. But, in contrast to the live scene which is very free and displays a more Punk Rock attitude by letting people do interesting things, the electro scene influenced us in the way that we all come from that scene individually and it’s a good place to come from.
Your first hit song was “Gingerbread Man” from your first album, an almost “classic” Electro Swing track. The songs of your new album sound much more freaky, overexcited, and, yeah, simply “superskrunk”. What has changed, musically speaking, and why?
Florent: I think „Gingerbread Man“ already stands out on our first album if you listen to the whole thing, it has more Electro Swing sounds …
Andrea: Yeah, more of a pop vibe …
Florent: It’s definitely more poppy with that Jazz guitar …
Florent: True. But meanwhile due to the fact that we played a lot we play a lot of big sounds. We came to develop the sound towards larger audiences, you know, we tend to play late shows and big parties, and that influenced the way we develop our music. We still have the playfulness of our acoustic side, but the sound is cultivated differently.
Andrea: We’re really sensitive to our audiences, we roll with the punches here for we are very flexible people. We love to make music and we still have the same instrumentation, but if we’re playing at two in the morning or at midnight in place of a live show at nine or ten o’clock, then you have to conduct yourself a bit differently. We are doing more and more of this late-night stage shows where people expect some freaky fun dance music, so we went into the direction that we like to dance on stage ourselves. Our set is quite dynamic; it starts a bit more songey, then it’s going quite techno in the middle and at the end it’s a big mash-up of party-hardy music … So our new album is definitely party music.
Talking about your musical roots, I think Gad’s lay in the Tel Aviv HipHop scene …
Gad: … and Rave! HipHop and Rave!
… whereas Andrea and Paul played Swing and Rock’n’Roll with the Berlin-based “Haferflocken Swingers”. What would you say, how does the musical background of each of you influence the Dirty Honkers?
Andrea: Just exactly as how it is, of course!
Gad: Definitely, I’m the one with sounds, like I bring a lot of rave into the whole thing, and hiphop with the rap, and Florent is definitely the jazzer, he brings rich harmonies, arrangements and improvisations … A lot of the songs come from Jazz and a lot of the themes we wrote were developed in the show by just improvising on something. And on this Album, Andrea has brought a lot of this Rock’n’Roll edge, that’s something she really pushed for.
Andrea: I like Rock’n’Roll – and Pop.
Gad: Yeah, she’s really on top of the arrangements, like getting everything not too much, like pop structures, coupled with her Rock’n’Roll attitude.
Florent: And, what is more, that we don’t come from the same places. That means from before we met we only shared specific influences. The only thing we really had in common was that we wanted to work around Swing. That was the base.
Andrea: I think another huge thing is that it’s not just about Swing music, it’s really about Jazz music where our music comes from, playing a theme together as well as going for the solo improvisations … It’s more like the soul of the music. We’re not just doing cliché swing. For instance, with the Haferflocken Swingers it was really like going to where Swing music came from, like New Orleans traditional Jazz, Blues, Dixieland, but more about the idea of how the music was played and not too much …
Gad: … more like the raw energy! And I think this energy is also very much in the Dirty Honkers.
Like you’re trying to extract the soul or spirit or energy of that music and translate it into something more contemporary?
Florent: Definitely. And also in the attitude and a lot of times in the groove itself we extract these old grooves, like just sampling a riff and putting it on a house beat.
Andrea: We like it when it actually swings.
Florent: But when it comes to production, we don’t use samples, that’s why we also sound kinda different. We actually record the horns by ourselves that we put on our beats.
Gad: And through the Swing network – Berlin actually has a big underground scene – we know a lot of musicians who are always happy to participate. We prefer to have a real musician playing on the track rather than using a sample. It’s more soulful.
Let’s move on to the subject of favorites. My favorite track on your new album is “Back to the jungle”, I like its oriental approach, and I like “Dirty Looks” for its laidbackness – is there one of the songs that you like best?
Andrea: I’m starting to become a pretty big freakin‘ fan of „Oh Doctor“.
Gad: It’s surprising, it’s refreshing – it’s the last song we did for the album. And it was a mess! We had it for a long time, this song, we had to re-arrange it for the album and it was like mission: impossible. But everything fit together in the end and now we are just so happy with it.
Andrea: It’s really retro, but it’s more than cliché Electro Swing. People that only know us from „Gingerbread Man“ are looking for that and will not find it. Maybe they are disappointed, but we don’t care, because we admit to the evolution of music and maybe the next album will be one hundred percent different from this one! Now, this is our second full-length album, and with every time that we play together or recording together we’re learning so much more about each other, or how the music works or how to record – it’s a huge learning process.
Gad: We have a certain will to be independent from clichés. So people who know us for Electro Swing – and don’t get me wrong, „Ginger Bread Man“ is a great track, but it’s not necessarily the music we want to be identified with. We have a lot more to say. And because this whole Electro Swing movement … I think it’s great, but it also puts limitations on the directions and on the way you do it. And we don’t want that. We want to keep some freedom. So that’s also why we take different directions, as a kind of statement, saying: We’re not what you want us to be. We are gonna be wild and we are gonna be experimental and we want to try to sound unique. And I think we do and I think this uniqueness is our strength.
I understand that being associated with a certain genre puts limitations on a musician, but I think for the audience, especially the younger one, Electro Swing is a great thing because it lets them discover some classics, for instance Ella Fitzgerald records which they probably wouldn’t have heard otherwise!
Gad: Yes, and I think Electro Swing is also nice because it connects to Swing dancing – and for me it’s also like a gateway for … first of all, like you said, for getting to know some of the roots of modern dance music, and secondly for changing the attitude that is going on on the dancefloor in the clubs. In Electro Swing, you can actually couple dance, or pretend to couple dance which is sometimes good enough but is something that was not done for decades! So this is maybe like a gateway to something else.
Florent: Yes, that’s a very good point, I also think. Because if you go to any club nowadays, people are dancing in their bubble, not paying attention to the other.
And it takes people away from this monotonous four-to-the-floor thing because it operates with off-beats and stuff. So I think it brings a bit more musicality into music.
Florent: Yes, it can be very musical! But again, it depends on how you do it, but it can definitely be very musical.
Andrea: This is the most important thing for us, I think we don’t want to be a too much classified genre because each of us has so many musical ideas from so many different genres that it’s impossible that they know where each of their ideas come from.
Gad: And only in the last year we have kinda decided with ourselves that we’re gonna try to get this balance of making music that people would want to hear but being true to ourselves and not being too much in this Electro Swing …
Alright, completely different question: If I look at your promo pictures, I experience style seems to play an important role for you. Can the Dirty Honkers be described as a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art?
Andrea: We’re definitely very do-it-yourself, D.I.Y. I’m making the costumes, Gad is producing the music and Florent is doing the graphics and the website. We’re not really hiring people to do our dirty work. So it’s that we really create this superhero vibe image by ourselves, come up with concepts and develop our image around it – though it changes quite often.
Talking about this superhero thing – do you enjoy slipping in this role from time to time?
Gad: Yes, but it’s not about creating a totally different alter ego but having our own characters – only bigger. This is the first time we really put on these characters with the pictures and the video. It’s actually the first time we’re going for this superhero thing. We will not go on stage and pretend to be someone who we are not – it’s always gonna be us, you know? Our real characters can always be identified on stage.
Florent: But yes, it’s definitely like a “Gesamtkunstwerk” because I think it’s far beyond only the music . We have a lot to show, so during the concert itself it’s not only about the music, definitely not. It’s like we interact with the audience. For instance, Gad made some custom-made joy sticks … There’s a lot going on in the show, and we are very aware of the impact of the image and we play with that, I think. We want the people to scream when we come on stage – we want to make it Hollywood-style, you know?! Hollywood-Las Vegas.
It must be therefore that the Dirty Honkers are kind of notorious for their live shows! Talking about the synthesis of arts … . You just mentioned that Gad has created some kind of a self-constructed joystick controls to generate certain special effects?
Gad: Basically it’s because I have to apply a critique on electronic music. If you want to play live – you need some instruments to do that. And the instruments that are on the market are not at all good for being in a live band, cuz it’s no instruments that you can hold and go to the public and play on. Usually it’s like a box.
Using a laptop on stage is not an option?
Gad: Oh, we have a laptop, it’s there. But I’m not gonna go behind the laptop and work on it during a live show! And even if it’s an instrument, it works like a laptop: It’s a heavy box with buttons and knobs and you can’t do anything with it! So taking a joy stick or a game controller is a cheap and easy way to do it. They are already built for control – you just gotta connect them to your computer and you can control basically anything you want!
It gives you the freedom to move.
Gad: The freedom to move – and I don’t have to look at its screen. I can make sound effects, or now I only started to play melodic solos, Andrea is controlling her vocal effects – there’s a lot you can do with a game controller! Florent now has a dance mat. We used to have a foot station with pedals and buttons, but that was way too heavy …
Florent: And it was much less fun than the dance mat. You can make loops, you can make effects … If we want, we can sound like a wall of sound, we can improvise …
Andrea: That’s when it comes back again to the spirit of Jazz music, of improvising … The controllers give us a lot of freedom to improvise and to have fun. It’s cool when you have this option.
And I think its playfulness is also a big part of it, isn’t it?
Gad: Definitely the playfulness! And I think in this band, we have in each category – the music, the image, everything – we have a lot of important subjects to say, but on top of everything, it’s just fun. We’re just about having fun. And having people together, having fun together – and lose your inhibition. I think one of the best compliments we have ever got is in our shows … we want people to dance … and the girls dance without noticing what’s going on, like completely losing themselves in music.
Once again, talking about your live shows … You’ll be celebrating the album release on the 19th of April at Festsaal Kreuzberg. What can your audience expect?
All: Should we tell her?
Florent: I think we want to make it definitely special because we play in Berlin a couple of times in a year, that’s why it must be extra-special, for sure. So we are gonna have a couple of surprises like …
Gad: We’re gonna have guests. Beautiful guests.
Florent: Without being too detailed, because we want to save some surprises … It will be flashy.
Andrea: It’s gonna be flashy, it’s gonna be fun.
Florent: We will also be screening our latest video for “Static” on an big screen behind the band.
Well, we’re almost done. Is there anything left you would like the world to now?
Andrea: Be prepared to dance.
Gad: And give us all your virgin daughters!
Florent: Yeah, be prepared to be honkerfied.
Gad: Warm up your nipples …
Andrea: … it’s gonna be a honkin’ good time!
Superskrunk erscheint am 19. April 2013 – klar, dass das mit einer Superrecordreleaseparty gefeiert wird: Im Festsaal Kreuzberg in der Honkers-Wahlheimat Berlin. Gehen Sie hin, wenn Sie können!