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Per Aksel Lundgreen - Interview

Interview with: Per Aksel Lundgreen
Conducted by: Ines

For my first interview I had the pleasure and honour to carry out a conversation with Per Aksel Lundgreen, a long time  contributor to the dark electro scene. A recording artist, producer and musician of Apoptygma Berzerk, Angst Pop, Chinese Detectives and Cronos Titan and a close contributor to Technomancer, Rosetti’s Compass and Shatoo. Besides that, also an owner of a record label. Sounds impressive? It is and that’s just a glimpse of his long and rich resume. I would label him as a legend of the dark electronic scene, but as humble and down to Earth as he is; he would probably just smile to it. Busy with the recordings, he was more than kind to take time and answer some questions. We talked about Cronos Titan, a band that came back to the scene after being asleep for more than a decade, him joining the synth pop act Shatoo, his path as a musician and his view on the scene. Being a part of it for more than a quarter of a century, he definitely has a lot to tell. Full of interesting stories, kind, warm, inspiring and humble – you can feel his warmth and authenticity, just by reading his words.

I.Č.: To begin with, I have to admit; I'm a pretty big enthusiast of Greek mythology and was drawn to Cronos Titan just for the name itself. I'm really interested where did the idea for the name of the band come from?
Per Aksel: Well, there is a chemical factory in Fredrikstad, a nearby town and it is called Kronos Titan with a K. Knowing the story of him as the ruler and also the father of Zeus, it was a great choice for a band name. At least I thought so at the time that I picked it.
I.Č.: It indeed is a great band name. Going back to the very beginning of Cronos Titan: what was the main idea behind this band and its music?
Per Aksel: When starting Cronos Titan, I came straight out of four or five years as a member of Apoptygma Berzerk, which is more EBM oriented style of music. But my roots lie more in Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, Einstürrzende Neubauten, SPK, The Klinke, Dive and similar industrial music, so I wanted to do something free of conventional song writing, more soundscapes with samples and so on. Having listened a lot to Delirium, before they went techno, and their old albums Stone Tower, Faces, Forms & Illusions and Morpheus, I knew I wanted it to be a little bit like that, combined with the more floating vibe from Die Form. So that's the main influences behind the music.
I.Č: Titans Remain! is a powerful name for an album and the name does not disappoint. For me it's extremely dark, raw and energetic album. What was your idea and approach to this album, after all these years of silence from Cronos Titan, considering the fact it has passed 16 years since the debut?
Per Aksel: When we started on the comeback album, we had all new equipment and a possibility of approaching and realizing the sound we wanted, in a whole new way compared to 16 years earlier. Today we could sample the sounds we wanted, find the noises we wanted, get the synths we wanted. It was all within reach. If we'd told you the small amount of things and equipment we had back in the mid 90's, you wouldn't have believed us! We didn't intentionally go for "harder", "faster" or "more powerful", it was just where we ended up, and where Preben and I was when recording it. Also, we were bubbling with inspiration, so the new material just oozed out of us! It was 16 years of inspiration just coming out at once! 
I.Č: Talking of inspiration, can we expect something more from Cronos Titan in the near future or you'll just go with the flow and see what happens? Is there any work on the new material?
Per Aksel: We just put a new song out on the compilation Cultural Differences - Vol. 1 that was released on the 7th of February by my label Sub Culture Records. We also have enough songs for a new album and a new EP, but we need to get them produced and mixed first. So yes, expect the new album before summer!

I.Č. Well, that's exciting to hear, I'm looking forward to it. Planning any live shows with Cronos Titan perhaps?
Per Aksel: Yes, we're doing a mini-tour in Sweden and Norway in May as support for ex-Yello electro-guru Carlos Perón. We’ll be doing some live shows in Sweden and Norway from 23rd to 25th of May this year.
I.Č. Would you say most of your fan base is concentrated in the Northern European Region?
Per Aksel: We have a lot of our fans in Sweden, yes, and Germany, Belgium and the US as well. And a couple of die-hards in Japan!
I.Č.: Considering the fact Cronos Titan is now almost 20 years of age and that you personally have been on the music scene for even more, what would you say is the difference between dark electro scene back then and now?
Per Aksel: Back then, let’s say from 1988 to 1995, bands were mainly concentrated on a couple of countries and on a few labels, like Play It Again Sam and Antler Subway in Belgium for example. There were fewer acts around; it was more expensive to record an album. Getting a record deal was pretty difficult as well. Nowadays the technology is available to everybody and you can make an album in your own bedroom. This opened up for a whole lot of new talent, which is great, but this also means that the competition is much more difficult today, especially when it comes to promotion and marketing. Back then I liked almost everything that was released, but today, considering so many newer acts, there's a lot of things I just don't "get" or "understand" to be quite honest. Some seems to focus more on clothes and make-up than music. Not that your image is not important, but when the image comes before music, something is wrong in my opinion.
I.Č. What about the audience, how has the audience changed in your opinion over all these years?
Per Aksel: When it comes to live audience, people used to support every gig and turn up to anything remotely electronic/darkwave/industrial. It was a small scene where people supported each other. Today, there are so many bands, so many gigs, so it's hard to draw a crowd. But then again, on festivals, people will turn up. I also found out that we still have devoted fans that were there 20 years ago and are still here today, supporting us, which is pretty cool. Also, a lot of the fans now are older, have jobs and a steady income and so they have more money to buy records and band merchandise and this kind of support is quite massive. One more thing is nowadays we can see our fans clearly, due to social networking pages - like Facebook for example - and there is more direct contact between fans and bands. And I really love this side of it. There's also a lot more contact between bands, and co- operations, remixing for each other and so on, which I think is amazing! Love it!
I.Č.: If I can focus now a little bit about you, could you tell us a bit about yourself: what background do you come from, how did your journey as a musician evolve over all the years since you've been "on the scene", how you believe you have affected the dark electro scene and also vice versa; what effect did it have on you?
Per Aksel: My father was an artist, a sculptor, a ceramist and a painter, so I grew up with a lot of, let’s say classical culture around me. That also goes for music. I was "dragged around" to the theatre and exhibitions and other various happenings in the cultural scene around where I live and also in Denmark, where my father came from. I found it generally boring at the time, but it also made me respect and understand what it meant being an artist, as my father was really into his art, and experimented a lot with stones, metal, and went outside the normal art, so to speak. That is how I learnt that there weren't any boundaries to art. Art could be anything you wanted it to be. And I took this with me into the music. I started recording onto a tape recorder at the age of 10. We had three tape recorders at my house and a lot of instruments, so I played sounds, for example - from two tape recorders - and added my own voice and some noise from the background. I recorded this onto a third tape recorder. It was some sort of “sonic experiments”. I know I drove my sister crazy with it, but I was so fascinated by these “sounds”. I did my first recordings back in 1987 and those were later released in 1991 on an official tape. The project was called Ull and the name of the tape was Stallull. It was done on "environmental and found objects", meaning it was basically played on various objects found in the nature and around, like on a dumpster, a trash can, mixed with sounds that came from cars, water, trains and so on. On the side two of this tape you can find my very early electronic experiments, recorded onto a 4-track recorder with one keyboard, a drum-machine and manipulated vocals. From there I started Angst Pop my "one man project", but when I joined Apoptygma Berzerk in 1991, I focused 100% on that. I left Apoptygma in December 1994 and then started Cronos Titan and Chinese Detectives. I did those two bands until approximately 2000. Then I took a long break, as I was completely fed up with the music scene and myself. I returned back to the music scene in 2012. I know that I have evolved in a way from being very experimental to being very commercial with some projects and songs, and that was a big dilemma for me back then. Now it's not a dilemma anymore. I do Cronos Titan which is completely free of all commercialism. We do what we want, we compose however we want and we answer to no one. Cronos Titan is meant to be an experiment, free of all musical and other artistic boundaries. On the other hand, I'm involved in Shatoo, which is pure synth pop and very commercial. So instead of putting everything into merely one project, I have several projects and I'm involved in several bands and that is how I am able to explore all sides of electronic music. Today I care less about what people think about me and what I do. I used to be far more insecure and I always somehow hoped that people would like what I do. Now I have realized that this is not important and is not my driving force. I do hope that I have left some thumbprints and impressions on the electronic scene over the years, but I have no illusions that I'm a pioneer or a ground breaker.
I.Č: That’s an impressive resume! Do you still have those tapes you've made when you were 10?
Per Aksel: No, those tapes are lost unfortunately. I wish I had them for sure!
I.Č.: Now that you've mentioned you've stepped back from music industry and came back in over a decade; what was the reason for that? Were you sure you're leaving music business for good or did you always know music is in a way your "life force" and life will be leading back to it?
Per Aksel: Well, after living the "Sex, drugs & rock'n'roll" lifestyle, I crash-landed and needed to step back and take a look at my life. And that also meant needed to step back from the scene. I felt at that time that I was done with it and I had no intention of returning to music. Then in 2011, we re-released the first 12" with Apoptygma Berzerk, re-mastered with bonus-tracks and white-vinyl, via Black Rain Company in Germany. Then Jörg Freier asked me who had the rights for the old Cronos Titan recordings. And I bought the rights back from Tatra Records when that label went bankrupt in 2007, so I had the rights myself. Then they asked if they could release them, and the compilation Total Titan! was released, which included in 7 additional tracks that I found in my archives. A local festival named Electrorock was asking us for four or even five years then, if we could make a comeback and perform there. So we decided to do one gig in May 2012. After that, we were quickly asked to do another festival in Oslo in June 2012 and in Leipzig in September 2012. Then we suddenly found ourselves making new material and in just three months we finished the new album, Titans Remain! It was a bit weird. But also very good - for us - at the same time. After that, a lot of people started contacting me again, on various matters connected with music and then Angst Pop Odipus Rex 2012 EP was released with a lot of remixes from famous bands and I also produced the Technomancer’s album and made a lot of remixes for other artists. The creative juices started flowing again and it gave me new energy and new input. And I have loved every second of it after coming back! Since drugs and alcohol are no longer a part of my life and I have been clean for 12 years now, I am not restricted by that destructive force in my life anymore.

I.Č: Wow, that's a very personal story, thank you for sharing it with me and our readers. 
Per Aksel: I'm glad you liked that. I wasn't sure if I was going to share it or not, but that is who I am and there might be others out there struggling that need to hear this and it may inspire them. On that note, I'm also very happy to be back on the scene again and I’m enjoying it more than ever!
I.Č.: You also own Sub Cuture Records, a record label. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Per Aksel: As I said previously, in 2007 Tatra Records went bankrupt and I bought the masters to our releases from the 90's from Chinese Detectives, Cronos Titan and Angst Pop. I wanted to release them on digital format. A colleague of mine had a company for digital distribution, so he helped me with my project. Then it just so happened, the music was downloaded and streamed a lot. So, this was good news of course! I then became a part of his company, but for several reasons he wasn’t able to continue doing what he was doing. As I have learnt the trading of digital distribution, I used my knowledge and training from the record business to start my own label. It was basically to set up my own releases and projects, but then other bands got involved too. Now it's like a small "family" of bands on Sub Culture Records.
I.Č.: As you seem to be a musician from head to toe; what do you think you would be doing, if you weren’t a musician? Can you even imagine life without music; without composing, creating music and such?
Per Aksel: That’s a very good question, Ines. When I took a break from the music and the whole dark electronic scene, I worked with kids at child protective services. I am a drug counsellor with extra education in the area of sexual abuse by profession, so working with people, especially youth with problems, is very, very close to my heart. I enjoy doing that, helping people that have real problems. Other than that, I always liked selling and merchandise, ever since starting work at my first job in a record-shop at age 15, so I'd probably be a shop-keeper or something similar.
I.Č.: Wow, you're just full of surprises. Now a question just popped into my head because sometimes I read really silly reviews and comments about music; can you say what was the weirdest thing you have ever heard or read about Cronos Titan or any of your other bands?
Per Aksel: We'd been very fortunate and have had a lot of great reviews concerning Cronos Titan actually. We have very small, but dedicated followers, so I haven't read so much weird things about that project. However, with Apoptygma Berzerk we were accused of being Satanists, which is as far away from the truth as you can get. And this was published in a huge daily newspaper here in Norway, not a fanzine or some other smaller magazine. That was a bit of a shocker, to be honest. Apart from that, some rock-journalists in a local newspaper here always refer to my projects as "electro karaoke". I don’t know then, why he keeps coming to our shows. I feel as he's coming just to slag us off, to be honest. One should think he had better things to do in his life, if he dislikes my music that much.
I.Č: As you mentioned that you were "accused" of being Satanists with Apoptygma Berzerk it crossed my mind as I read somewhere that that name (APB) either has no meaning and that it was randomly picked out of a dictionary or it has a secret meaning? Which one is true?
Per Aksel: The name Apoptygma Berzerk was randomly picked from a dictionary of Greek art. Apoptygma is a sort of a bronze bra that women in the ancient Greece would use. Later on I think we wished we'd picked another name, but then it was too late.
I.Č: But the names really pop out: Apoptygma Berzerk, Cronos Titan, Chinese Detectives... It's hard not to get these names stuck in the head once you see it.
Per Aksel: Well, we’re happy about the band-names now, and now people know them, so it's easier.
I.Č.: You got "labelled" and wrongfully accessed as Satanists, but the religious overtone does appear in your music, any reason for that?
Per Aksel: I think the religious tone has always been there in Cronos Titan and Apoptygma Berzerk. A lot of the, let’s call it the dark scene, seems devoted to compose music with some obscurity all the evil that comes with it. We thought we could do it the other way around and I think we succeeded. Also, I always like to make people consider their beliefs and their mortality and through the music I hope to achieve that. Do I believe in God? Yes, I most certainly do. That might also be a fact why we incorporate it in our music.
I.Č: Now you mentioned Shatoo before, it's also a band you're a member of. You weren't an original member in the band but you joined in later and as we see, you spend a lot of time and effort with this band. Could you tell us a bit more how did you start with Shatoo and how your path together has evolved?
Per Aksel: I liked Shatoo back in 1987 when they released their first album, and I even bought it on CD back then. When I started doing digital distribution, I saw that none of the Shatoo material was available anywhere online to buy, so I contacted the singer, Dag Brandth, who lives in Halden - a nearby town only 20 minutes from Sarpsborg, where I live. He was immediately interested, and within a couple of months, we have - with the help of Carlos Perón (ex-Yello) - re-mastered all the old Shatoo material. We also re-mastered Dag's solo album Tranquilit from 1988 at that time and released it. I asked Dag if he would be interested in doing something new with Shatoo again and after a little while of thinking, he sent me five or six demos of songs, he had done over the years. One of them, "Back Again", really stuck in my ear. So, we decided we are going to record it as a single. Dag talked to the two other original Shatoo members, Calle Varfjell and Oyvind Haavik. Calle immediately said yes, he wanted to be part of a "comeback". Oyvind, on the other hand, lives in UK and had no possibility to take part in the comeback, so he just wished the guys good luck. At that point, Dag asked me if I wanted to join Shatoo as a producer, a manager and a keyboarder. Of course, I was honoured and said yes. On top of this, a long time mutual friend of ours, Geir Bratland, also an ex-member of Apoptygma Berzerk, was asked to join, so then there was four of us and the “Shatoo anno 2013” was created. Adding to this, Roy Julian Digre of Technomancer has become more or less what Michael B. Tretow was for ABBA - our in-house producer, remixer, video director, backing-tapes master: basically the “all-around fix-it-all-contributor”. And we could never do it without team work and effort. So yeah, it’s a large team. The track "Back Again" was re-recorded in a more electronic sounding style, keeping the 80's feel to it, trying to be true to the original Shatoo sound. It was renamed into "Nothing That I Wouldn't Do" and released in May 2013 as the comeback single. It also included several remixes, for example a 2013 Remix of the old Number 1 hit "Dangertown". Work continued and in December 2013, the second single "Floodlights" was released with addition of remixes and a 2013 remix of the old Dag Brandth solo-single song "One Night Love". At the moment we're working on a single number 3, "Movies", from the upcoming album that we hope to release before summer 2014. We're also doing live shows in Sweden and Norway this spring with acts like Psyche, Rational Youth, I Satellite, Garbo STHLM and Pust.

I.Č: You know I come from a country where Shatoo isn't really known for so let me just ask straight: is Shatoo famous in your country?
Per Aksel: Well, yes, Shatoo used to be huge in the 80’s and had 3 “number 1” singles in the charts: "Santorini", "Overload" and "Dangertown". The band sold over 100.000 records in Norway in just in 1987 and 1988. Today, most people know of Shatoo and remember them from the 80’s and a lot of mainstream radios have picked up the new singles and have those A-listed on heavy rotation. So in Norway, Shatoo is more considered like a "pop" band, like for example A-HA. In Sweden, Germany and UK and some other European countries then, we're seen as a synth pop act.
I.Č: And how do you see yourself, or even better: feel like? More like a pop band or a synth pop band?
Per Aksel: We see ourselves as a synth pop band, but we hope to cross-over to the mainstream with the sound we have. Like Ultravox, Human League, Talk Talk, Duran Duran, Soft Cell, Erasure and all these bands have done before us.
I.Č.: You mentioned world-known bands there, so if you could choose any of those to tour with, which would it be and why?
Per Aksel: I think it would be The Human League for sure. Both Dag - the singer- and I are massive fans of them. We just discussed this the other day actually and touring as support for them would have been a dream come true! That being said, we'd be ecstatic to tour with any of the bands I mentioned, to be honest. All of them have had huge impact on us, and on the music of Shatoo!
I.Č.: That’s a great choice, but I would pick Duran Duran, because I’m a big fan!
Per Aksel: Me too! I’m a huge Duran Duran fan!
I.Č.: I got to ask this one, because I find that story absolutely hilarious: is that reporter that keeps calling your work "electro karaoke" saying the same about Shatoo since you’ve joined the band?
Per Aksel: That same reporter has not yet been to see us or reviewed our live work with Shatoo, as far as I know.
I.Č.: So, Per Aksel, tell us what's rolling on your music player these days?
Per Aksel: Ha, that is a very, very good question! I have actually, due to all the work I do on my computer, turned to Spotify as my main source for music these days. I have a couple of thousand CDs, but usually it is Spotify and I have now made a playlist called "Top Of The PA Pops" with 5458 tracks at the moment. I have this on shuffle and repeat and use it as a big jukebox. It has all my favourites there. But if I have to pick something specific, that I have been listening to a lot lately, it is the new Die Krupps album, Machinist Of Joy, and being a long-term fan of Die Krupps, as well as a good friend of Jürgen Engler, this just had to come up. Brilliant album, especially the track "Robo Sapien". I have also been listening a lot to the re-mastered versions of the old Cabaret Voltaire albums that have been released in a beautiful box set now. I love the Micro-Phonies and Crackdown albums. This music just never gets old and it strikes me every time just how brilliant they are! Been playing a lot of NEU! lately too, as I'm seeing them live in Copenhagen on April 3rd this year. Other than that, brilliant minimal-wave act Linea Aspera must be checked out and I'm also listening a lot to the Swedish band Kite. That about sums it up for my listening pleasures lately. For all-time favourites, I’d pick Kraftwerk, Cabaret Voltaire and Devo. And if you and your readers use Spotify and have an interest in it, here's a link to my list:
I.Č.: Well, we got a lot covered in our conversation. If I could sit down and have a coffee with you, I could ask you for hours as you have so many interesting things to tell. At this point I would like to very much thank you for taking your time and sharing your most intimate stories. I'm sure the readers will, as do I, appreciate it. So for my last question: what would you like to tell to our readers for conclusion?
Per Aksel:  Thank you for taking time to do this and for your interest and support in my work. That really makes me humble. I would like to say that I am very grateful for all the support of both - old and new fans-, for those who stuck with us over all those years and waited for us to come back, as well as for those who joined now. It was not easy for me to make a decision to return to the music scene and by that also making me vulnerable and producing new material, wondering if "it would still be good enough compared to the new bands?" and so forth. But the way the scene has opened their arms to me or so to say, to us, when we returned, has been amazing! The people that don't understand or that criticize you will always be there. They were there 25 years ago and they are here today, but I don't care about them. I care about those who follow us and support us. It is for those people and me of course, that I do what I do. Thank you so much for the support and doing this!

Cronos Titan links: Facebook, MySpace, Bandcamp

Shatoo links: Official website, Facebook, Bandcamp

Angst Pop links: Facebook, MySpace, Bandcamp

Chinese Detectives links: Facebook, Bandcamp

Rossetti's Compass links: Official website, Facebook, Bandcamp

Sub Culture Records links: Official website, Facebook, Bandcamp