Photo by Elizaveta Porodina

Photo by Elizaveta Porodina

In German music, there aren’t that many bands making music which stays with you for years. With BILDERBUCH from Vienna there’s finally a band that makes music in German and delivers a certain attitude at the same time. Before the release of their album Schick Schock in 2014 the band made pretty okay but also not particularly spectacular indie pop before changing their entire band concept.

The album saw singer Maurice Ernst changing his fashion style to bottle-blond, golden leggings and silver necklaces. The song messages were customized to that kind of style: It was all about luxury, big cars and living the high life, although always with a slightly intellectual and ironic twist. The anticipated follow-up album Magic Life might seem to continue that stream, but is actually very different. The artwork for the deluxe box already is presented in a European flag style, only with the stars being replaced by the Magic Life lettering. But it’s not like BILDERBUCH have suddenly become a political band, they always were and were not in some sort of way as Ernst tells us:

‘The way we are political remains the same, it only got more consequent and on point. It stays cryptic, but for the people who look at the cover and think about it for a second it may be obvious. You meet people who would never see the European flag in it, some people see it after a second. You can just throw a picture in the room, that’s the task of artists. In our new generation, we should overcome this time with art, not just with statements or opinions who are easily articulated within five minutes. Because what you think I can think too, but how I articulate it, you couldn’t imagine. That’s the joke. You just have to articulate a feeling — that’s more complex and wider than an easy sentence.

He continues:

It’s a corset when you begin writing an album in early 2016 and you feel that for the first time in your life you have a responsibility because you’re being heard and because it’s awaited from you. The people wish that you find the right words to save them. It’s this vacuum, you feel that as an artist. Bands who don’t do this and lie to themselves are wrong. For us, it was obvious that what happened the last years occupied us.

The Aftermath of the Schick ‘Schockness’

So there won’t be any obvious statements by the band on political issues on social media in the near future. But while the predecessor Schick Schock delivered the band’s own way of glamor, Magic Life can be adjusted to the listener’s own perception of the two words. But the initial idea for the song title came from an Austrian all-inclusive holiday called ‘Magic Life’ (a chain from TUI) that Maurice also sees as a feeling our generation has. We’ve been born with an all-you-can-eat voucher, but when will you wake up and be actually responsible for your actions?

Are the songs slow, do they deliver a fragile feeling? To do a second Schick Schock wouldn’t have been right, we archived the ‘peak of gloriness’ (sic) in our society and celebrated it, but we also sort of felt its decay. Now the fireworks are exploding, but what comes after it? That’s why I somehow see Magic Life as a Zeitgeist and political. Magic Life is also confident, but way more introverted, way more fragile and the reaction towards Schick Schockness.

Magic Life stands for this feeling of living in an uncertain way of life that could be over within the next second. Whereas the debut was an extravagant statement, the second LP is a more uncertain feeling. But there’s another big difference: While Schick Schock included hits only, Magic Life has only few instant ones, but many shorter and more experimental tracks (comparable to FRANK OCEAN’S departure from Channel Orange to Blonde). The BILDERBUCH frontman explains why that is the case:

I had to think about how to write music I feel comfortable with. How can I meet my own standards — emotionally, not in terms of success? A reflection of how I feel, either you’re utopian or you get more honest. Magic Life is very honest, we’re not just doing pop songs now. They are fragments, you don’t know where a song starts or ends. I feel like a lot of artists do that sort of thing, I think of FRANK OCEAN or KANYE WEST. We can let this in, we don’t have this Hollywood production with 150 people working on it so that every fart sounds like the most beautiful fairy dust. We have to create sounds in a punky way like we always did. We just let ourselves float.

Maurice Ernst at Lollapalooza Berlin 2016 (Photo by Annett Bonkowski for NBHAP)

Actually, the band knows of the similarities to FRANK OCEAN‘s recent production. Another track called I <3 Stress has a guitar intro that clearly reminds you of PRINCE and is also directly meant as an homage to him, as Maurice tells me. With his idols PRINCE and BOWIE both dead, there are just two more artists in the game that have a similar approach to music to BILDERBUCH:

We always hoped during the production that FRANK OCEAN wouldn’t release before us. He always delayed. It’s beautiful we’re not just focussed on Austrian music, our only fears were FRANK OCEAN and GORILLAZ. They have an exuberant creativity, GORILLAZ more than FRANK OCEAN. He is more a construct of ‘American hollywood incest we put everything together and let him sing over it’, that’s how it feels like a factious melancholy.

‘No one does this kind of music in German’

Another inspiration to Maurice is KANYE WEST, even though he has a love-hate relationship to him because of his recent political statements: “If I’d only look at If I’d only look at Kanye’s music I’d say; amazing year, done a lot of things right. Unfortunately, apart from the political things that are really unfortunate, unfortunate, unfortunately. You ask yourself: If he has thoughts in these directions, he could keep them to himself.”

But recently he went to America just to see a concert of Yeezy with his bandmate and guitarist Mike:

It was a pleasure trip. Mike and I sat on the studio for Magic Life, then Kanye announced his new album and tour. And as it is with those big American artists, there was no European tour. After six months of sitting in the basement it fit exactly that we were doing that, we did everything around the concert as a holiday to San Diego and watched seals.

The trip can be also seen as a feeling of escapism, departure from the resort club life and feelings that surround us at the moment, in Europe, America and elsewhere. And Magic Life really carries a road trip vibe: Maurice sings about Skodas, bungalows and petrol. For the band who promoted the glamorous way of living three years ago, things have gotten a lot of more normcore, almost common. But the return to these more common and almost stuffy things is reactionary as much as it is a departure:

It’s a paradox feeling — on the one hand everything gets unsettled, that’s why the bungalow and not the villa. We have changed the shape, Skodas instead of Lamborghinis. That’s the truth — the perspective of life hasn’t changed but it looks around the corner. The most beautiful moments were the most insecure, like the single ‘Sprit and Soda’. No one does this kind of music in German. When we played this one in the studio, I got goosebumps. It’s enormous, for most people the lyrics don’t mean anything yet but it has an energy that stands for departure, despair and also stagnation. Always the same but in a rebellious way.

Another theme on Magic Life is the iPhone-ization of the world and its consequences. In the video to the latest single Bungalow, Maurice and his bandmates can be seen with iPhones flying around their heads. Paradoxically, on the album, there’s a hymn to the digital world with the track  I <3 Stress, but also a call for meditation with the 40 second long intro Carpe Diem. I<3 Stress follows directly after Carpe Diem, and that’s not a coincidence:

It’s a divergent relationship to those digital things. I notice that on the one hand we want to withdraw ourselves from this, but on the other hand we are extreme victims, although we have an esoteric and ecological (digital) behavior. I think everyone with a bit of sense thinks he has a very good handling of his smartphone, only few people think they are very, very addicted. We have a similar feeling to this – there’s this Carpe Diem feeling, a game with this esoteric. In the next moment, there’s I <3 Stress, the opposite of this, of course you get into a snowball effect without noticing it. It’s an attention handling on this topic.

Photo by Elizaveta Porodina

With topics such as departure, digitalization, the band members flying to San Fransisco and of course us being an English speaking blog based in Berlin, there’s the obvious question about whether BILDERBUCH will try to set a foot into the English music scene. Viennese Johann Hölzel aka FALCO was the only German-speaking musician who ever made it to the peak of both Billboard and British single charts with his track Rock Me Amadeus. For German-singing bands nowadays, there isn’t too much success awaiting abroad, although some bands will eventually tour internationally. But BILDERBUCH want to take the international step slowly, even though they use a mixture of English and German in their lyrics and would probably have the option to tour outside the German-speaking world:

I think you can’t plan it at all. Our song ‘Spliff’ will apparently be used in a Hollywood film. You have to see it first, to believe it, but apparently it was made like this. It’s a film by Gore Verbinski, the director of ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ and ‘The Ring’, he made a new film called ‘Cure For Wellness’. There’s a dancing scene with ‘Spliff’ in it. The moment where it gets international — apart from the language — but what happens, you can’t influence it. Could be that ‘Spliff’ will be a catchy tune for a few people, if we wanted and really wanted, in terms of successful, it would be futile, a waste of time. But you can’t stop dreaming, because then the Hollywood film happens and you take place. There’s not just calculus behind it. We don’t take language to be successful in America, because it suggests itself in a way like it’s natural to our generation. It would be antique, wrong, totally retro, nearly traditional and weird to hide yourself, we don’t want to be reactionary.

Obviously, being reactionary is the latest thing Maurice wants his band to be. But while Austria got away with fortune in their elections — social democrat Alexander Van Der Bellen was elected as the president instead of the right-wing extremist Norbert Hofer — the band still has and wants to show a political sense in these times. It’s clearly a message that more German-speaking bands should promote in front of this year’s elections in Germany, but also around the world.

In Austria, we were lucky because we had the opposite of what could have happened. If you see the rest of the world, we’re a positive utopia. We have to stay alert about the extreme — in any direction. It’s important as an artist to deliver a positive feeling. That people realize there isn’t just black and white but also music. It’s more important than in the last 10 years that we contribute that to our society.