Apoptygma Berzerk

[APB Flyer] The history of Norway's Apoptygma Berzerk is really the history of its main singer and songwriter Stephan Groth. Founded in 1989 after Groth moved to Norway from his native Denmark, Apoptygma Berzerk's first demo tape got them signed to Norwegian label Tatra in 1991. The band have released more than ten singles, seven albums and a live tour DVD. Their latest album, "Harmonizer" has recently gone on sale and to promote it, the band are midway through their extensive World in Harmony tour. Rob Dyer caught up with main man Stephan Groth backstage after the last of their UK dates at London's Ocean in Hackney on 5th March 2002...

What does the name Apoptygma or Berzerk mean?

Stephan Groth: I don't know! When we started about 10 years ago we started making industrial and EBM music in Norway, where I live, and we were probably the only band doing this type of music. So we needed a weird name for weird music.

But it got you noticed?

Yeah, what happened was we sent out our first demo tape and got a record deal on it. We sent it to 4AD, Mute and to Tatra, our former label in Norway, and we got a deal there. We were supposed to find a new band name but it was too late, and it just stuck. There's no deeper meaning. We chose Berzerk because of the Vikings from Norway and Denmark who ate mushrooms and conquered!

On the sleeve notes to "Welcome to Earth", there was a note that said that was the end of the first part of Apop, and now it was time to move on. Was there a specific plan for moving on from "Welcome to Earth" and the previous material?

Actually the quote said it was the end of the first phase. It was personal for me, then also the band, and also the scene. When I started I brought in so many elements from trance stuff, to Detroit techno, and other 'illegal' elements from outside the scene. I just saw this as okay, this is exactly what I like right now. If the scene could accept it then we were moving into a new phase where everything was 'legal': we can do whatever we want. And this is what is happening at the moment, the scene has never been as interesting as it is right now.

So was it a question of seeing how far you could push the boundaries are still keep the fans on board? Or were you determined to go that way anyway?

The day that I can't release something I like will be the day I choose another job. But it wasn't only for the scene it was also personal for me. I knew I was going to change labels after this album. There are a lot of changes after the last album.

How was it writing the new album - was it relatively easy or was it difficult?

I started composing the new songs on the last tour on my laptop. Being on tour is very inspiring, it a gives you a lot of ideas. Especially when I live so far apart from the German scene, or the UK scene, or the American scene or whatever. So the only time I'm really in the scene is when I'm touring. So on the last tour I just got a lot ideas and started writing the tracks.

Do you enjoy touring? You seem to tour quite regularly.

When I am at home I hate to touring, but when we're touring it's good fun. Of course it's necessary if you want to promote your new album. Several years ago we just had to make the best of it. If I were to tour just for the money we would have no lightshow, no display, no nothing. It's really expensive. There's so many in the crew. There's so many people involved, but we do all that because we want to give the crowd a good show. Apart from the really big bands on the scene you were the first to release a DVD with "APBL2000".

Was this something you were really keen to do?

After the 1998 tour we put out a live CD ["APBL98"] that came with a second CD with media on that you could run on your computer, and we got massive positive feedback from that. When you tour all year you have to make some kind of release, to say "okay we're still alive". In this business you have to put out something all the time otherwise you are easily forgotten. So we wanted to make another media CD. But we thought well we already did that two years ago. So we thought okay we could do a VHS video. But VHS is a 20 year-old format. DVD is the thing. Actually, I got the Underworld DVD ["Everything, Everything"] and that's what triggered it. Warner, our distributor in Germany, didn't even want to release it, they said like "DVD? No that's not gonna do well. Maybe in 20 years or whatever." But now DVD is out there. I went to the Virgin Megastore today and the DVDs were everywhere.

[Harmonizer] What pleases you most about the new album "Harmonizer"?

The cover! The limited edition digipack is beautiful. The booklet has six colour printing - you can feel it. It's so beautiful. No, I'm pleased with the whole release. I think the tracks I'm most happy with are "Unicorn", I guess, "Until the End of the World"... actually I'm kinda pleased with everything!

You are famous for your live shows. I'm not a hardcore fan but it's impossible not to get drawn into it. All the band members seem to draw a lot of energy from the audience. Is it hard for you when an audience isn't really responding?

We were spoilt today because the London audience is always extreme. The last time we played here at the LA2 there was a fire alarm. Everything was fucked up. We were like "please can we have a soundcheck?" But there were firemen saying "everybody out!", but we went out there and we played with Inertia and Carpe Diem. So we went on stage without a soundcheck, but I remember the first song everyone was like [makes the sound of a roaring crowd], and I thought "Wow! We're gonna get a lot for free tonight... cool!" You mentioned the energy thing: it's so much easier when you have a positive crowd. When we played last time in the UK, as far as I know, there were not that many gigs going on. It was quite quiet. When you live in Berlin or Frankfurt there are so many gigs all the time so you really get spoilt, and you don't really appreciate it.

People say that UK audiences can be pretty flat compared to the States or other countries in Europe.

We just played in Nottingham and they were mental! We also played Dublin which was really crazy. There were not that many people there but they were mental. They really appreciated it - totally. If you don't have that many shows [as an audience] then you give a little extra, and that's what every band needs. No matter if you're Depeche Mode or Frank Sinatra you need that feedback thing, then you can push yourself that little bit further. And I got that tonight.

What is it like playing tracks from the new album "Harmonizer" alongside Apop classics, how does that feel?

Actually, if I was not out promoting an album, I would have preferred not to play those tracks, because it is kinda boring for me to play tracks that the crowd doesn't know (except for all the MP3s that are out there). But the reaction to the new single "Until the End of the World" was great - they went mad! Yeah, but that single has been out for a while. But we're promoting a new album so we have to play [tracks from it].

When can UK fans expect to see you again?

If Warner picks the album up then we're definitely gonna go on a UK tour - playing smaller venues but more shows. One of the bands that supported you tonight, Echo Image, you produced their latest album. I'm producing their new album which is going to be extremely good. The new Echo Image album is coming out on Hard Drive - my label, and it's going to be crazy good! Kinda retro 80s.

Do you like Ladytron?

They remixed the new Apop single!

No, really?!

Yeah! I'm a big fan of Ladytron.

You are?

I love them! We were touring somewhere, and I woke up in the hotel and switched on the TV and watched MTV, and I saw these guys who had a Star Trek-like image. They were interviewed and they played the "Playgirl" video, and I thought "Oh shit - I gotta get this!" So I went to a record store and bought everything I could by Ladytron, some singles and the album. So when we put out the "Until the End of the World" single, I immediately called Warner and said "I want a Ladytron remix" and we got one! It sounds like two fifteen year olds having fun on drugs or whatever. It's brilliant! And the new Felix da House Cat album - it's fucking awesome! Every night before our show we play the Felix album and fifty people every night come up to the DJ and say "What are you playing? What is this?" I love the whole album. And this is what I've been trying to mix together all along. The Chicago House thing, with Detroit Techno and the good, old skool electro. It seems like the kids are not that much into it, but the guys who have heard electronic music for several years, the people in their thirties and older understand.

This interview first appeared in Kaleidoscope Magazine - http://www.kaleidoscopemusic.org.uk

Apoptygma Berzerk on DSO: Gig Reviews / Music Reviews

Official Apoptygma Berzerk website: http://www.apoptygmaberzerk.com