This is a Q + A with Melbourne-based artist V. The solo darkwave project was born in a legendary art squat, Berlin, 2008. The highly anticipated second full-length album drops soon on cult label DERO Arcade Records.
Sharp and politically engaged, V’s powerful stage presence, industrial beats, dilated physicality and dynamic vocality mesh the right kind of magic to evoke the wise crone within us all. Thank you, V, for giving us an insight into your journey through time, scenes, and spaces as a sonic artist.
Words by Bianca Prujean
Photos by Liz Ham
V was born in Berlin. What primed the soil for the birth of this solo project?
The V project started out in 2008 in the Kunsthaus Tacheles, a legendary (now defunct) art squat from the 1980s in Berlin. It had 3 venues, 2 cafés, a cinema and countless studios, some private, some opening their doors for the tourists. I had a studio in the Tacheles where I worked manically on music and art, producing 7 demo V albums within about a year. The first V show was up the road from the Tacheles, in an abandoned building. My backing tracks were burnt to a cd on a boombox and I sung acapella. I cherry picked the best of that material to produce the first self titled V album. I played in a Grindcore band Batalj for 3 years and we did touring often in the EU and UK, which definitely informed my musical practice. I’ve played in so many bands throughout the years I’ve lost count and I learnt something from all of them. Transylvaniawas perhaps my favourite project, more gothic darkwave with guitar bass and live drums, we did some touring and recorded an album before I left. It remains unreleased.
You’ve lived as a sonic artist in a few cities in Europe. How would you compare European underground scenes to Melbourne?
The political underground is very prominent and a little bit more entwined with the music scene in Europe. I was hanging around more in the Punk/DIY scene there, in squats, house projects, warehouses. Unconventional spaces. I lived in a house project with a fluctuating population of 50 to 80 people. We had a rehearsal room, a venue, a bar, a social help centre. There were band dinners, volunteers, a lot of solidarity.
I feel Melbourne is very much a microcosm of scenes, it is wonderfully saturated but feels politically apathetic sometimes. I feel more vulnerable in Melbourne as an artist, more open to exploitation. The venues have more of a monopoly on gigs here, and there are very few D.I.Y. spaces that I know of. Hot Shots (R.I.P.) in Footscray was fantastic, it made me feel like I was back in a grimy squat in Germany. They even had a Free Shop.
I’ve seen you play live a few times in Melbourne and am always blown away by the intensity of your live performance and your vocal dexterity. Is this something that comes naturally to you as a performer, or something that has developed over time?
My voice has developed over time and it has deepened over the years. I’m a little shocked at how high pitched my voice sounds in my early demos. I have been hugely influenced by people I’ve worked with, who became mentors. Adrienne Teicher who produced my first album is a sonic genius. ReveRso who directed the Kill Me Now video and the amazing stylist Yeorg Kronnagel are style influences. Robin Alvar the guitarist of Transylvania, who has been a longtime friend and collaborator, has been a huge support of the project over the years. Obi Blanche who I worked with on VO taught me so much about musicianship and songwriting. Monika Krohl of SixSixSixties Records and my bandmate in HOLYSIX has been a huge influence on me. She introduced me to Throbbing Gristle, John Maus, The Zounds, Arthur Russell and the London underground scene. I slept on the couch in her living room for 3 months while we were writing and recording HOLYSIX material, I also recorded parts of SO PURE in her son’s bedroom. I’m super influenced by all the 80s synthwave and darkwave stuff.
V has a new album dropping soon on the DERO Arcade label. Can you tell us about your journey in finding the right label to release your highly anticipated second album? Did you always know that DERO Arcade was ‘the one’?
When Jack proposed I release SO PURE on DERO ARCADE I was overjoyed. I couldn’t be more stoked to be labelmates with bands like SSION, Divide and Dissolve, Angie, Actually Huizenga and to have Jack Mannix as my label boss, who I have admired personally and professionally for many years. It is a dream come true for me.
SO PURE took 6 years to make. Can you tell us about the process and challenges of making the album?
The album was recorded over a very long period. It stopped, it started, it was recorded in 4 or 5 cities, not including in the back of the tour van of HOLYSIX. SO PURE started out as an instrumental piece called BLACK VOMIT BLACK BLOOD that I performed in Berlin July 2014, which I intended to release as an EP, but it became the B side of the record. I took some time out of Berlin in 2016 and moved to the red light district in Brussels with some dear friends I met in my Batalj days, where I finally laid out the structure of the album and recorded vocals. I moved back to Australia in late 2017 and did the finishing touches, with the help of my sound engineer Ruby Burns and masterer Luana Morello.
Do you see SO PURE as a departure from your debut release, or a continuation of earlier work?
SO PURE is the next natural progression of my self titled debut, which was produced by my dear friend Adrienne Teicher. She arranged the synths and drums in 4 days and I feel it sonically stands the test of time. And by that I mean it sounds like it comes from the 80s! Which is fertile ground for the synthwave and postpunk sounds I love. The new album is much darker thematically than the first and I doubt I could ever write anything darker. I hope I will never have to! I also produced it myself, so it sounds quite different from the first album. My subject material for writing music almost never changes, the majority of the songs are about loss, unfulfilled desires and, of course, death. I would like to deal with more political themes in my future work.
Is there a conceptual thread or recurring theme that runs through SO PURE?
This album was written as a tribute to my ex Gentle who died in 2015 in Berlin. It was a very bad time, I’m grateful to be on the other side of it now. Writing and performing this album has been a catharsis. It's also my way to remember him and a time capsule. This album is mainly themed around death, trauma, nihilism and despair. It's darkwave.
And finally, are there other Melbourne artists/bands, and/or developments in the local underground scene, that you excited about right now?
I adore Bitumen. They were one of the first bands I saw when I came here, it gave me hope! They were so sharp and young and cutting edge, it made me feel the connection to the power of the underground. I love the duo OV PAIN who relocated here from NZ, they make evolving psychedelic darkwave. Their work ethic is incredible. I love Second Sight, it's like the Pet Shop Boys had a rotten bender in the dark rooms at Berghain and wrote music about it. Similar bands like Habits and Rebel Yell have been my gateway to techno here, a genre I resisted for many years. Nun, fronted by Jenny Brannigan are local legends who write synth punk who I deeply admire. I’m very excited to be playing their record release this November. Jack Siren, the songwriter of my other band Dark Water is an enormous talent who I feel privileged to work with. He is one of the best song writers I’ve ever encountered. Geryon is a super amazing musician and producer, their production is super hot. How can I not mention the incredible RVG! Led by Romy Vager, every show I’ve seen of them feels like watching a historic event. Most beautiful tunes. Divide and Dissolve are epicly good! Their live shows are body shaking. Slow doom drone with virtuoso level clarinet. They are visionaries and we’re on the same label! Ella Stiles is at the forefront of the experimental / pop underground scene, her voice reminds me of 80s Kate Bush. Her stuff is amazing and evolving. KT Spit is a cult favourite and I used the same sound engineer for the mix (Ruby Burns) as her first album Combluotion.
There are so many good bands happening here, it is difficult to list them all!! Embedded Figures is amazing, 80s French sounding coldwave. InfraGhosts is doing really exciting/strong/danceable 80s darkwave and she tears it up onstage. IT Records has been releasing cool stuff for years, so has Chapter Music. Ångström Space is a new record label to watch out for. They put on events with a mix of post-punk/darkwave/punk/new wave/experimental bands. I think the thread of all these bands is that they are part of the expansive underground scene, the same one I know from the EU. It makes me feel connected to the underground, even physically isolated in this massive country! The underground is real, its tangible, its a community. It keeps me alive, its magic.