Tekst: Dawid Kowalski

If there in any satisfaction and fun left in anything for me, it must be music. I have an inner sense that as the timeline progresses, everything, the entire reality and consciousness itself become more intense, unpleasant and bring the need to entirely “detach” from the overarching external stimuli. Music feels like one of the final components holding it all together and maintains the illusory, subcutaneous connection with the world. I believe that is mainly due to the sense, or illusion, rather, of maintaining a mutual understanding with others.


One of the rare occasions to experience ‘non-being’ and moving about an area that lacks the social tensions, psychological pressure, and the sense of disappointment with the very socio-economic and political fabric of reality is the act of dedicating your consciousness to music or art itself.

Dave Phillips had made a great artistic impact on me with his 2004 Ground Fault Recordings release titled “III,” followed by the his collaborative work with RHY Yau, titled „Illusion Is A Natural Condition.” What made it make me wholly involved and appreciative of the artist’s discography were his unique live shows. They stood out not only as a pure experience, but also as a fully-fledged spectacle which made it difficult to believe that they were being orchestrated by a single human being.

I had the great pleasure to organize, in connection with this year’s Wroclaw Industrial Festival, under the cooperation with people who have been deeply involved in the Polish underground music scene, his live tour running directly through the entire country.

There are a number of people involved in the entire endeavor, while Maciej Frett, the head of WIF, is the central figure, as his initiative is what made the shows become reality.

I first heard of DAVE PHILLIPS by the late 90s; Tomek Twardawa gave me a split release of Dave Phillips/ Genetic Tarnsmission „for Rudolf Eb.Er” after a show. The video tape of Schimpfluch-Gruppe performances which we have watched with great interest a number of times, has also been circulating the underground. The first WIF was held in 2001, since then we have hosted over 500 bands related to the industrial, avant-garde, noise, dark ambient and related genres. It is natural that Dave Phillips, as an exceptionally creative, influential and original creator would become a part of it, which makes me exceptionally happy.

– Maciej Frett

I have conducted the interview together with Rafał Kochan, a well-established and thorough researcher of industrial culture. The authors of specific questions are labeled with initials. I strongly encourage you to read the interview and take your time to visit at least one of the shows as presented below.

Upcoming dates:
  • 30.10.2023 / Warszawa – Chmury
  • 31.10.2023 / Łódź – Konkret / Przestrzeń
  • 01.11.2023 / Gdynia – Czudner Spot
  • 02.11.2023 / Kraków – Warsztat
  • 03.11.2023 / Wrocław – Wrocław Industrial Festival (live action)

DK: Hi Dave, we haven’t seen each other for quite a few years, I’m very curious to learn what you’ve been up to during that time, was there anything specific you were working on and, of course, where have your travels led you this time?

i believe we last met when i played six dates in poland in july 2019. i was living in berlin then. when covid hit a few months later and all my gigs and tours got cancelled i returned to switzerland and moved in with my parents, they needed help. i lived with them for 15 months, took care of them and the household. they both had dementia, my dad’s was more advanced, he wanted to die at home and my siblings and me accompanied him into death.

i’m always working on music, it’s a constant, like breathing. projects are often inspired by life’s experiences – my “disappear” album tells of my berlin time, “to death” is from the time living with my parents and my father’s demise, and last year’s “last journey” tells of my mother’s final voyage, one and a half year after my dad’s. at the end of these three years with parents i hit rock bottom, emotional and mental exhaustion or some kind of burn out – i had underestimated these tasks, somehow, so i left to southeastasia for half a year, a therapeutical sabbatical of sorts (though i couldn’t refrain from recording). i visited 13 national parks on malay borneo, some of laos and spent time on islands in thailand and cambodia. i put my selves into the arms of mother nature – she’s a great healer. i return strengthened, and three weeks ago, moved into a new home.

DK: Do you remember the very first moment when you realized you wanted to make sound/music? How did you overcome the anxiety?

i dreamed of playing music since i was a kid, i don’t recall a ‘first moment’, but making music wasn’t really a conscious decision. i ‘built’ bass/guitars (rubber bands for strings) when i was 10 or 11, i played cardboard drums once with a “punk” band when i was 13. at the age of 14 or 15 i started playing music regularly with tschösi, my best friend since childhood, with real instruments and amps, then i co-founded a band, then another, which morphed into another band, before i was 18. it just kind of happened. after the last of those bands, far of god, it was clear i wanted to continue to make sound, but solo. and it grew from there.

getting on stage is something that always scared me to some extent, at the same time i knew it was integral in communicating via sound. as part of a band it was easier, but solo, uff, i’d be so nervous before playing i wouldn’t be able to talk or listen to talk before the show. to this day, getting on stage is not easy. in my early solo shows i often played in the dark, or accompanied by some visuals that would draw attention away from me – my rationalisation was that my persona is not important (the music is) but it probably had a lot to do with my stage-fright. alas, the wish to communicate/contribute and the therapeutical value for me were usually stronger forces than anxiety.

DK: This is your another tour in Poland, do you feel any special relationship with this country or do you pick the places you want to tour in randomly? How does Poland compare to other countries in terms of live shows as well as in the social domain. Is there anything in particular you like and dislike about Poland?

this tour happened the way many tours for me happen, cause someone reached out to me. in this case maciek of WIF invited me. it seemed an opportunity to add more shows, so i reached out to you and asked about concert opportunities – and bang, a tour resulted. 

i find it hard to answer “how poland compares to other countries”… it’s not something i can easily put my finger on. there’s a receptiveness in many eastern european countries that differs from the big urban centres in western europe, where the audience can seem a bit jaded or saturated. on the other hand there’s nothing particularly polish about the kind of network in which the parallel universe of experimental music exists, like everywhere else it’s generally driven by passion and freaks, i know local flavours exist but to a larger extent this is an international/global phenomenon.

photo by Agnieszka Zwara

RK: Radicalism in its various forms has been permanently and consistently inscribed in your artistic career which spans nearly 40 years. To what extent does such radicalism denote your self-therapeutic transgression, and to what extent your inner desire to shift the consciousness of the recipients?

you know, the “radical” notion you detect is not something that i consciously put there, it’s not part of my core intention. i just follow my heart, speak my mind and share my thoughts and sounds.  as such, it strongly, implicitly, includes a therapeutic notion, for my self/selves for sure, hopefully also for others. to what extent? how to draw that line?

i never really got warm with the word “transgression” (in an artistic context), as everyone draws different lines elsewhere, so whose lines are we crossing – but our own? and isn’t “crossing lines” just “motion”? isn’t curiosity what brings us to limits and wants to cross lines? is “self-therapeutic transgression”, in this case, another term for “evolution”?

there is a strong inner desire, to touch people, to contribute, to share my dreams, to offer food for thought, but as much as that i detect an energy flow between what i perceive/receive from “the world i live in” and channel through soundart that i am able to put “out there” which, ideally, can generate feedback, which touches the world i live in, and so on…

RK: Schimpfluch-Gruppe, the collective you co-founded nearly at its inception, was in some ways an incarnation of the aesthetic assumptions of the Dada movement from the heyday of the avant-garde movement. What is your view, on why has the radicalism of the avant-garde narrative of the Dada movement, and later Fluxus, has not (apart from a handful of cases) received more attention as a source of inspiration among our contemporary performers, with a somewhat of an avant-garde descent? Would you agree that the radicalism of the avant-garde is now rather downplayed or even frowned upon and that the image of a tamed, salon version of the avant-garde now tends to dominate?

Schimpfluch and Dada? i mean, there was a lot around that inspired us, or played a role in what Schimpfluch-Gruppe did. Dada doesn’t stand out as such, imo.

hm, a “tamed radicalsm”, difficult. in my perception dada did have quite an impact. at the same time, dada was a response to a certain time, simply said, the atmospheres and tensions of WWI combined with a central european melting pot for artistic immigrants, so naturally its narrative morphed, had to morph, over time.

our “threshold” or line for “radical” is also constantly shifting, isn’t it? things that were radical decades ago are now accepted. in that sense, “radical” has also entered the popular cultures and obviously then it’s watered down and usually becomes decorative. 

isn’t radicalism itself changing too? the “non-offensive” ways our societies are developing also imply a new definition of “radical”. 

also, lest not forget, the powers that be have strongly upped repressive measures – one of the side-effects of the technocratization/digitalization of our civilization since covid – whatever “radicalism” might have been, it has to find new ways. 

… but to be honest i don’t feel i have enough of an overview to answer this question with more than just guesses.

RK: When I purchased Schimpfluch-Gruppe’s “Do-Ku” VHS tape  25 years ago, at the very outset I was impressed by the Paris performance “Spastic Food, Aktion 961111.” I noticed that a certain Helena Greter played the violin together with you. I must admit that I had a secret crush on that mysterious girl at the time. Who was she? Was she part of your crew, or was this just an ad hoc performance? What is he doing now? Is she still involved in the arts? Please tell us more about her. By the way, was there a permanent place for women in your masculinized environment?

Helena was Rudolf’s girlfriend at the time. there was another performance she participated in, together with my then-girlfriend Doris, in Paris a few months later. Helena went into pottery later, and maybe aquatic photography? i don’t remember for sure. i last saw her over two decades ago. women played a very important part in the Schimpfluch universe, albeit not so much in the visible foreground.

RK: Tomasz Twardawa (aka Genetic Transmission) contacted you at the turn of the 1990s and early 2000s; he was an avid fan of the artistic output of all the performers involved in Schimpfluch-Gruppe, and you have recorded an album dedicated to Rudolf Eb.er together with Tomasz. What are your memories of that brief collaboration? Do you see any performers among the younger generation who would like to continue the artistic tradition of Dadaism?

Tomasz and me were in touch for a few years. we wrote letters and sent each other stuff – i have a couple dozen of his releases from back then, cdr’s mostly, many in ornate, handmade packagings, beautiful items and amazing sounds! our collab was a result of those exchanges. we wrote about art and life, what can i say, i recall him as truly dedicated and passionate about his art and outsider art in general.

i’m not sure i can say how far dada’s influence might have reached and morphed, is it everywhere or nowhere? sophie’s “faceshopping” video, is that contemporary dada?… in my eyes and ears it well could be. and what a great song!

RK: You tour Eastern Europe relatively often. Apart from Poland, you have been to Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, among others. Is there a specific reason behind this? Do you notice any differences in the perception of your performances by audiences in these countries, compared to the perception of your art in Western Europe?

usually an invitation, or a concert-possibility, and my curiosity, work together to take me places. and i possibly have a soft spot for “eastern europe”, as i do for southeastasia, but i couldn’t tell you why. having some ancestry out of kiyv might matter in the former case.

photo by Ilan

RK: One of your most recent albums is rather provocatively and thought-provokingly titled “Underlying The Vast Ruin This Civilisation Has Caused, Is Not Human Nature, But The Opposite: Human Nature Denied.” Regarding the above, I have two seemingly unrelated questions: are you a misanthrope, and does art, in your opinion, contradict human nature; if not, how do you explain its transgressive and therefore, at the same time, self-destructive nature (for its creator)?

i am a philanthrope as much as a misanthrope, they go hand in hand imo, depending on one’s angle. most of my best friends are humans ;o) i think the human potential is far from explored, but the “powers that be” have been reducing and restricting life and human evolution for centuries – inherent in this thought, however, is love and hope for some form of “evolution” or “liberation”… on the other hand,  generalised “homo sapiens as a species”, in the here and now notabene, is something i view criticially, as i often find it highly disagreeable and alienating. 

either way, contradiction is something i accept fully as part of human nature. 

does art contradict human nature? what is art? what is human nature? where’s the line between art and work? or work and playing? is cooking art? questions that ask for attention within this question. for example, finding one’s voice or calling, developing one’s skill and then sharing it with one’s environment, is as much a calling or a life’s journey as it may be art or work or passion or many other things. to me art is often a matter of its relationships, it is not a separate entity. also, art is creating, is kin to playing – and as such it’s something (that should be) inherent in us, i feel. “jeder mensch ist ein künstler” (beuys) at least in theory…;o)

i’m not sure i see art-as-a-part-of-human-nature as “self-destructive due to its transgressivenesss”. i guess it also depends on what is meant by “destruction” – if understood in the way that our contemporary global economy happens, destruction is the result of a linear process, where there’s 1) a resource, 2) usage, and 3) waste, and when destruction means waste it is pretty pointless . if however destruction happens as part of a cyclical process, as it commonly does within our biosphere, then destruction is not waste but nourishment for a continued evolution, it becomes a constructive element.

RK: We are currently living in a rather peculiar period, filled with geopolitical tensions and an accelerated development of digital technology, mainly in terms of the so-called artificial intelligence. Can art in such times play any social role that extends beyond providing mere primitive entertainment or, on the other hand, elitist alienation? In other words, which artist’s attitude would be more desirable in this case, the one associated with an egotistical and therefore hermetic exploration of one’s individuality, or perhaps the one associated with the pursuit of a specific social mission, and thus requiring adaptation to the prevailing sensibilities and perceptive capacities of an average person?

“decorative” (commercial) entertainment or elitist alienation are but positions at the extreme end of the spectrum, i would like to believe that many an artist finds an inner calling that does not a seek a “positioning” within such a spectrum but follows its own trajectory.

i find it hard to detect how exactly art fulfills its “social role” as its paths often are all but clear. at the same time it is clear that art can be an important “trigger” in a social (or environmental or other) sense, that can inspire, liberate, balance, appease, “offer food for thought” etc. this however has as much to do with the recipient, as after all art is “in the eye of the beholder”, reception is a very subjective and personal matter… 

personally i have a soft spot for art that “takes a stand”, but more than that i feel that “honesty” is the best way to go, in terms of how it can touch and reach people in sometimes unexpected and different ways…  

the way you construct your examples, an “egotistical and hermetic exploration” seems to exclude a “social mission”, which i don’t see the same way…

alas, i find discussing art in general terms is somewhat problematic… 

nevertheless, i believe art is a main motor of human evolution. and people are (very) different, so art is (very) different too, and the way it touches is (very) different anyway. even though, within capitalist systems and the “value” everything is given, many a “drive” for art has changed. when passion or the inner calling is taken over by the necessity to make a living, the paradigms shift.

DK: I am deeply interested in your creative process. Watching your live performances is always interesting from the technological perspective since you tend to minimize the amount of gear you carry or have up on stage. Can you tell me a bit more about how you record records? Do you have a dedicated home studio area?

yes i have a studio / workspace at home. i spend lots of time in it. 

playing live and doing studio work are two quite different things to me, simply because of the way time unfolds within them – live, you have one shot. in a studio, you can go back in time, go over a piece or a part again and again until it feels right. this alone already invites different approaches. 

how do i record an album? 

my audio recorders are always ready and close, i often record. i use different simple, sometimes binaural, microphones. i have a preference for what a microphone in a space can pick up, what i call organic sounds, voice, acoustic instruments, movement, objects, the room, field recordings etc., and i play with mic positioning. 

pieces, albums and recordings can be triggered by events or experiences, or experiences within a time-space, or they’re a response to ‘my’ environment in other ways. recordings can be triggered by emotional sensations or acoustic ones. sometimes it’s simply a matter of moving and hearing something one does as ‘musical’ (i.e. creaky floorboards). 

sometimes there’s more of a conscious intentionality, but often impulses come from somewhere else, usually different things together.

another possibility is that a selected recording, or a group of recordings (i.e. field recordings in a certain location), pretty much show a path. 

as a next step i treat the files, edit and clean, if wanted manipulate the sounds, time-stretching, pitching, bending, reversing, layering and combinations  thereof – i play around a lot. 

then i add selected sounds into my music program and start playing around and eventually arrange. this can result in more treatment of files or new recordings… it’s hard to say, projects can differ quite a bit from each other in their approach and execution.

once i got some sort of arrangement or a succession of tracks that might make up a narrative, i listen back regularly, on different speakers and headphones, and refine until the piece finds a form that is exciting and touching and intentional, has the spirit of what i want to transfer, or feels otherwise somewhat “complete”. once a piece is finished i have heard it many dozens of times…

DK: Dave, as you know I could sit here and talk to you for hours, but the show is coming up soon and we need to finish this interview. I really hope that your exceptional performances are going to be appropriately appreciated by the Polish audience and I hope that you will return home feeling artistically satisfied. Much love to you and I am honestly grateful that we had a chance to meet multiple times and spend some time together. Can’t wait to see you here in Poland!

thank you so much dear dawid! it’s thanks to you that the dates outside of WIF happened, so i’m very grateful for this, and i look forward to playing and getting feedback from the audience in poland. in fact i’m tingling with anticipation… these shows are the first ones i play in over a year, this tour is my first one in over two years, and frankly, as much as i’m excited, i am also scared…. add to that that i’ll be trying a new set that is, well, new….  hm. in any case i very much look forward to meeting again! much love! 

Tekst: Dawid Kowalski

Posted in English