Monday, September 14, 2009

Whiplasher Bernadotte (Deathstars) interview

From the often humourless Stockholm metal scene, Deathstars come shining through with their self-styled 'death-glam' sound. (Think of a nod towards KISS, a sideways grimace at Rammstein and a fart in the direction of Front Line Assembly… with glitter.) Since 2000, they have released three hell raising albums and are gearing up to make their first Australian visit, before which I sit down with Andreas "Whiplasher Bernadotte" Bergh (singer and hat wearer) to shine some light on the dark and glammy world of Deathstars.

"Our band is kind of like a circus in hell". Andreas begins with a smile in his deep, accented voice. "I think it's important to entertain and scare the hell out of people at the same time." As a youngster Andreas was fascinated by the look of Kiss and the elaborate staged horror shows of Alice Cooper. He says, "I was very attracted to these kind of theatrical displays that went hand in hand with the music, particularly in the late '70s and early '80s. Bands then wanted to shock their audiences and give them something more than just music." He adds, "I mean Alice Cooper's Welcome To My Nightmare live show was so incredibly dark but also very, very funny." Some humour wouldn't go astray in Scandinavian music, so is there room in Deathstars shows for the odd laugh? "Our shows are very dark", He says, dragging out 'dark' to 'daaarrk' as he continues, "We are not really able to have the theatrics because of how many shows we play. We sometimes have to jump straight off the plane and go to a club and start. It's that crazy at times."

Despite the hectic touring, it's a relaxed sounding Whiplasher speaking today; "I'm actually on holiday in Norway enjoying some good coffee and some sun. I'm having a little break before we devastate Australia." There's good humour in his voice as he tells me he has no concept of what to expect from our land or even how the band will be received. "I might get my board shorts on and have a run on the beach." He laughs, "I have only been to the airport in Sydney to catch a connecting flight to New Zealand back before the band when I was a documentary film maker."

Although Andreas has played in bands since he was 13, he sidelined in print journalism and documentaries to feed a few fascinations. "I spent some time with the Maori in Tonga. These guys lived in a deeply religious fishing community and I made a film about their lives, which I think will surprise a few people." It's always good to have something to fall back on, but Andreas sees his time making films as a guide to the use of powerful imagery and maintains an eagle eye over all of the band's promotional output. "I always work together with the photographers and video directors as a way of maintaining consistency in our own style."

The Deathstars 'look' is all five members in white face paint, black hair and military style uniforms with Andreas crowned by a marching band leader's cap. Topping off the look, he half glitters his face and carries a cane leaving no doubt as to who's wearing the pants. "I like to think I am the leader but I am really just a prostitute in this band." He says, giving a low rumbling laugh and the first indicator today of that booming voice heard on the recordings. Our talk turns to the roles of the other members of Deathstars on the album. "We have a very bad democracy in the band". He explains, "I write all of the words and Nightmare Industries (Emil Nödtveidt – producer, guitars and keyboards), who is the dictator, writes all of the music. That is how we have always worked since we were in bands together in our teens. It was also because up until this year we all lived in different countries. Now that we are all living in Sweden, who knows maybe we will write the next album with more input from the other guys."

The album they are touring is Night, Electric Night. Recorded over two years, it is essentially a darker album than its predecessor Termination Bliss (2006). "It is difficult to make happy songs about suicide". Andreas explains, alluding to Via The End, written about Nödtveidt's brothers' death. "Most of what I write about comes from our everyday lives, things that are real and have some sort of impact on us." Does writing come easy to the well tailored frontman? "I am writing all of the time. I enjoy it so much and I never have to really force myself to work on my songs… I am not a lazy songwriter." Andreas is very strict on what goes in and what stays out of his songs. "Nobody gets to see what I write until it is completed, I am happy with it and it is ready to go into the song, and nobody gets to see what I am not happy with." On this point, he sounds deathly certain. I wonder if Andreas happy then with his band being tagged as 'death-glam'? "Of course, and anyway, it is a name we came up with." I suggest you can attach the word 'glam' to just about anything, but what does it mean to him? "I think it tickles a nerve. It makes me think of a time when bands cared about their presentation and had a laid back, sort of chilled attitude."

With their striking image and powerful music, Deathstars have attracted the odd… well, odd fan to their fold, Andreas coolly discloses. "I met this guy in London who had his car all painted up in Deathstars artwork and he had gotten seven tattoos all over his body of us". Enough to either delight or horrify I probe, "Actually I found it very erotic." Another of those guttural laughs escapes Andreas's throat and he ads, "I'm only joking!"











(above) with Skinny Disco
(middle) with Whiplasher Bernadotte


lEIGh5


Deathstars live in Melbourne 2009
venue - Corner Hotel (review)


If you could sum up the atmosphere of this wild night with a simple food analogy, imagine two ten tonne trucks carrying sides of freshly slaughtered beef carcasses crashing in a narrow back alley, exploding and instantly barbequing their contents. A fire truck then comes screaming around the corner, it's occupants emerge wearing steel plated armor and begin spraying the wreckage with hoses that disperse beer instead of water. This scene can be applied not to the Deathstars concert, which is still hours away, but to the streets surrounding the Corner Hotel which are filled with howling, crazed football fans. The desperately cold wind and lack of access to any venue seems to have created pockets of hysteria all around the place. The thought that there's going to be a very loud and fast metal band playing their first Melbourne show right in the middle of this fray is as frightening as it is exciting. I can't get the thought out of my head of someone running with particularly weak plastic bag filled with bricks just waiting for the inevitable tear. My photographer Fruitbat and I put off entering the venue for as long as possible, instead preferring to watch the scene unfolding at the stage door - which is a parade of black haired, black leather-clad gents carrying gear into the venue and us trying to work out who was in a band and who was a roadie. Supporting Deathstars are two new bands from the darker side of music, Familiar and INK who all up including the headliners and roadies equaled something like 20 dudes helping keep the black hair-dye trade afloat. Time to cue up, and oh boy do I feel underdressed. Nearly every fan has turned up in their best and blackest regalia from the standard platform boots and fishnets to, as a couple of girls had, some glowing blue balls woven into their hair.

The first support is Sydney band Familiar who have only been playing together for two months and to my delight, at least, the lead singer is Ashley Rothschild formerly of 90s synth-rockers Caligula. He's funny too making cheeky comments about 'panda-eyes' and general morbidness at Deathstars assembled followers. The band, although sounding a little unrehearsed, make a pretty decent start to the night with their power riffs and big chorus's. However, the second support band INK failed to keep the momentum up started by Familiar. The words 'earnest' and 'Nickelback' were muttered at the back of the room while they played their short set. Strangely, and amusingly the Deathstars current CD starts playing in the intermission while the headliners are getting pumped up backstage. Finally, the curtain parts and five heavily made-up men storm the stage as a chilling pre-recorded synthesised church organ replaces the CD on the PA.

Here are Deathstars; the accessible brand of industrial metal. The album their touring, Night Electric Night, is loaded with all the theatrical gloom references fully owned and paid for by Scandinavian bands. The themes are dark in the same way Batman is with its gothic loaded imagery and style. Sweden's Deathstars cater more to metal fans who love the massively exaggerated posturing and the bizarre clash of macho-campness that Kiss used to specialise in. They don't have a political edge and no matter how 『serious' they might sound on the surface – there's far greater absurdity underneath it all. Frontman, Whiplasher Bernadotte – a composite of a young Alice Cooper and a zombie military band leader - is tailored, uniformed and glittered, his unholy band in similar dress and white face-paint. Despite Bernadotte's commanding presence it's his lanky bass player, Skinny Disco who draws the most attention as he swings his two foot long dreads around and screams his lines into the microphone. His shrill squawks are responses to Whiplashers deep ballsy calls throughout the entire set. It's quite amazing how these guys can maintain their throat-shredding vocals unfailingly for the hour-and-a-half show. On stage it must be around 20 degrees hotter than the room as maintaining the well-tailored look is another matter - after only three songs, Whiplasher's disheveled hair is clinging to his face, he ditches the jacket and hat and has lost most of his glitter. I'll bet by the end of this tour he'll be going on stage in a wife-beater and trackies.

The story going around is that last night's show in Sydney was pretty average, but there's no evidence of sloppiness tonight - in fact it's almost impossible to fault the band at all. Whatever they were selling I wanted to buy it, and the beefy onslaught of (D.E.A.D.) The Mark Of The Gun, Tongues and Night Electric Night were some very tempting offers. The concert is both thrilling unrelenting but somehow the audience manages to remain fairly motionless – except for horns aloft and restrained clap-alongs - in which case Whiplasher's invitation for us to top two fans supposedly fucking in the moshpit at a concert in Madrid is unlikely to happen.

Trying to guess which songs are the fan favourites is impossible as everything receives rapturous cheers of approval, that is until near the end when the one I've really been waiting for, Blitzkrieg causes a near riot. It's now the mega-anthem end of the show and they unleash 『popular' singles Cyanide, Death Dies Hard and Revolution Exodus all in a row. It's taken most of the night but finally the room temperature has reached sauna level. Goths simply do not generate body heat. Whiplasher is stalking the stage drenched in sweat saying; 「Melbourne, you have a very strange climate!」

Depending on what you like to get out of a concert - Deathstars succeed absolutely as a live band. Personally, I like my shocking attention span catered for, eye bulging excitement from go to whoa, loads of visual stimulus and a sing-a-long part. They ticked all of my boxes tonight, plus if I ever find myself under a full moon in a frosty Northern European graveyard, Deathstars would be the only possible soundtrack.

lEIGh5

CORNER HOTEL SET LIST:
Night Electric Night
Motherzone
Semi-Automatic
Mark Of The Gun
Tongues
Last Ammunition
Fuel Ignites
New Dead Nation
Trinity Fields
Chertograd
Blitzkrieg
Blood Stains Blondes
Cyanide
Death Dies Hard
Revolution Exodus


Photos by me and Mary Boukouvalas

6 comments:

  1. Excellent review and interview. Thank You!!! I can't wait for them to plant their feet back on US soil. It is going to be insane.

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  2. I love deathstars and really want to see a show of theirs!!! but im underage and my fam are like super conformity..... when i turn 18 im so going to their concert!! doesnt matter where in the world it is I'M GOING!!! :)

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  3. Spectacular interview. Thank you, and I hope one day I can meet Whiplasher and Skinny. That would be awesome.

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  4. Whiplasher os so my type of guy. Man i wish he wasn't 20 years older than me. I WANNA BE 27 NOW SO HES ONLY 10 YEARS OLDER THAN ME!! FUUUUUUUUUCK!!

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