Interview with Grendel (JD aka VLRK)
By Rafi Shlosman
The first time I had heard Grendel’s music being spun at a club I stood in shock. The beats were so intense the ground was shaking and a flurry of bodies began to fly in a flurry of aggressive dancers. This has been the scene in clubs across the world, as many were being taken away and intoxicated by the sheer adrenaline you get from listening to the amazing sounds of Grendel’s infectious tracks. This Netherlands export has yet to release their grip on the crowds and have now returned with their first full length album in 5 years entitled ‘Timewave Zero’.
I caught up with Grendel’s founder VLRK in the midst of touring for the new album, to try and tap into the psyche behind the beats. Ladies and gentlemen I give to you Grendel:
Rafi: I have always found that versus other electronic bands there are so many more underlining layers to Grendel’s music. I have to ask where did your music education begin? And what made you decide to take on electronic music?
JD: I actually started out with guitar lessons around 13 years of age and in the following years went on to bass, drums and eventually bought my first synth. Although I had already started before any of that with electronic music composition, using Fast Tracker (later on Mad Tracker) on PC and Cubase on the Atari ST. So the two really came together as I started getting into industrial & EBM, resulting in what is now Grendel.
Rafi: You have mentioned before that the formation of Grendel was to release pent up aggression, how has Grendel helped you evolve as a person ?
JD: A lot, and not only to vent any frustrations I had in younger years. It's given me so much more life experience than I might have had otherwise and let me travel all over the world, interacting with people, cultures and sights/sounds. Plus getting in depth with electronic music has opened me up to a whole world of different styles and possibilities, but I guess that might also be a development independent of all things Grendel.
Rafi: A few fans (myself included) have talked about how dancing to Grendel really helps to get out all of one’s negative emotions. How does it make you feel to hear fans saying this?
JD: That means a lot, absolutely. There's nothing that comes even close to seeing a whole audience or crowd on a dance floor going mental to your own music. At the end of the day, that's what makes it all worth it: seeing & hearing how what you made affects other people's lives in a positive way. It's all about that pride, the energy/buzz and contributing to the life's soundtrack.
Rafi: As you have mentioned in previous interviews each album for Grendel is a sort of evolution for you, showing us how you have grown and changed as an individual. With the new album ‘Timewave Zero’ out now, how has the actual message changed on it versus those of the past?
JD: Although I don't consciously intend to spread a 'message', it's definitely evolved thematically from rather angsty & nihilistic (as one tends to go for while growing up) to more constructive and interesting subject matter. What has remained is the post-apocalyptic vibe, which has survived since day one. Musically things have evolved quite a lot as well, going from a retrospective/scene-introverted focus to more contemporary electronic dance music influences from outside the industrial/EBM scene. I believe this is essential for the survival of any kind of music, as opposed to cannibalizing from previous work within genre.
Rafi: Speaking of old and new ‘Timewave Zero’ features a re-recorded version of 2009’s “Chemicals + Circuitry”, what made you decide to re-do this particular track?
JD: To be honest, I wasn't completely satisfied with the original version and felt it needed that energy boost. What most people don't know is that the final released version was actually a rendition, due to losing a lot of work on the original after a power surge at my house. This resulted in a busted external HD and a fried motherboard on my desktop machine. After that happened, I switched to an Apple Mac with Logic and had to re-do a lot of the track. The original actually sounded closer to the new version.
Rafi: It was refreshing to hear the voice of Lis van den Akker from Misery on the track “Deep Waters”, how did you two come together to make this track? The lyrics for the song are very haunting, who put them together?
JD: Lis van den Akker and I have been friends for years and we had been talking about doing a track together for quite a while. When I had finished “Deep Waters” it was clear that this was the ideal track for that colab, so we got right to it. I wrote the lyrics, recorded a 'whisper track' (whispered vocal recording, to give her a kind of guideline to work with) and she recorded the vocals spot on right away. We're both very pleased how this track came together and I really hope to do more work with her and other highly talented singers in the near future.
Rafi: The limited edition bonus CD was pretty diverse with the artists you decided to have remix your material. Couple things that hit me was that pretty much all are from the newer breed of “EBM” and quite the global group. What made you do this? Was it a conscious effort to make it so diverse or just coincidence?
JD: Just coincidence, really. All the artists I asked for remixing are ones I respect a lot & who's music I enjoy, partly because they are progressive stylistic.
Rafi: I have to ask, though there was an EP released in 2009 (‘Chemicals + Circuitry’), this album marks the first full length one from you since 2007’s ‘Harsh Generation’ what took so long for this release?
JD: This is partly because of going through a lot in my private life, but also because I was soul seeking for a direction to take and had certain standards in mind (both production and composition-wise) which I wanted to reach first. Luckily I'm back in a position now where I'm on a roll again and already working on the next EP, which I plan to have released later this year.
Rafi: I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to make it for the Resistanz Festival, however heard that you had put on one hell of a set. How did it feel to get back out on the stage and how was the new material received?
JD: Although it's been quite a long time between releases, we never stopped touring/doing gigs, so wasn't so much a case of 'getting back on stage'. However, recently got back into the right state of mind and have been upping the anti on our stage performance and presentation, which is working out great. The buzz coming off the audience there was incredible, so we're looking forward to returning to Resistanz Fest in the near future!
Rafi: Having been integral part of the music industry for the last 11 years, how do you see this “scene” has changed and what do you think of its future?
JD: As a predominantly retrospective scene not too much has changed in the last decade, imho. However there have been some interesting turn of events. Most apparent is the average age of listeners being rejuvenated, alongside a lot of new young (sometimes very talented) producers popping up in recent years, delivering their own sound. On the downside though, the void between the decline in physical sales and rise of digital sales still hasn't been bridged, so I'm hoping that this market will soon catch up with this technological development.
Rafi: I have to ask given that you have either worked or been remixed by some music’s best, who has been your favorite and that you learned from the most? Who would you like to work with that you have not had the chance to yet?
JD: Hard to say, as I really have a lot of respect for all of the artists I collaborate with. However I have learned the most from Kolja Trelle (Soman) and Sebastian Komor (IOC/Komor Kommando) production-wise. As for composition and song writing, these will always be my all time favorite Industrial/EBM artists, such as Leaether Strip, Front Line Assembly, Wumpscut and yelworC. Plus more modern influences, such as Ummet Ozcan, Sean Tyas, Rafael Frost and Ben Gold.
Rafi: Considering that Marco Visconti (XP8) played live keys for Grendel in the past and that Grendel is an ever evolving project, have you thought about putting together more organic instruments on albums and live?
JD: We've actually already made a start with that during our live shows, with Addz Millner on guitar & Kitara (synth/guitar/bass hybrid) and occasionally also guest members on bass. Something we definitely plan on exploring further, at least by adding more of a human element to things.
Rafi: Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview! To close it out what would you like to say to all of your fans reading this?
JD: Thank you all so much for all the years of amazing support & let's keep this buzz going on and on and on!