※ This interview was recorded on June 25, 2015 ※
For those who aren’t acquainted with Bong-Ra’s sound will be in for a pleasant surprise. As one of the pioneers of the Breakcore genre, Bong-Ra has managed to mix all his musical influences into a furiously energetic style. No remorse and no concession. Where other artists stick to their musical blueprint, Bong-Ra never stops the pursuit of musical development, hoping to catch his listeners off guard every single time. This is also resembeld in the variety of other musical projects he is into as for example: The Thing With Five Eyes, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble and Voodoom where he teams up with Mike Redman aka Deformer.
Where are you from? Have you live in Holland all the time?
I was born in Holland. Although my roots are also Indonesian and Australian. My youth i lived in the south of Spain. So i'm pretty much a world citizen.
When did you start to be interested in music?
Do you remember the first vinyl(or CD,Tape,etc) you bought and what it was?
I heard you studied music in University (/ college) . Therefore I would like to know if your education is still reflected in your recent music?
My first interest in music (and i remember it vividly) was when i heard 'Run To The Hills' by Iron Maiden on the Spanish radio… This must have been around 1983-ish. It was in the car with my parents, the track was played and they wanted to change the station, but i was so in love with the track after hearing only 30 seconds, and forced them to turn it back to the song. I was 10 or 11 years old. Since then i was addicted to metal music.
The first vinyl i 'bought' was a The Beatles children's mash-up by 2 singing pigs called 'Pinky and Porky', actually very much sounding like the high-pitched rave stuff :) .. I was about 7 years old at the time.
I finished the School of Arts in 1998. It was specialised in video, i still practice a lot of video stuff, but it hasn't really influenced my music.
I also did a year of Philosophy at the University, but i couldn't find myself in the bullshit of the system they applied to an open minded study like philosophy.
Had you heard 'band' music like as Metal and Reggae at the same time as dance music?
Because Your music, somehow, reminds me of "Jungle", "Reggae", "Metal", "Rave" and "Jazz".
What was an opportunity to start to listen to "dance music" and then "band music"?
(Or, maybe first "band music" and then "dance music"?)
Some type of people who listen to hard music, like Metal (especially in past), might often make light of dance music, I guess.
But did you accept it without hesitation?
I grew up with my parents music (as most of us do). It was a healthy mix of all good stuff from the 60's/70's and 80's : Queen, The Stones, Billy Holiday, Abba, Kraftwerk…random cassettes of hit tracks, like Kung Fu Fighting / Disco.. very open minded and very wide in styles. Then at my school in Spain (which was a British school) i got introduced to the British sound of the 80's : The Jam, The Specials, The Clash, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Maiden, Ska, Punk, Mod.. but also traditional Spanish music from my Spanish friends..like Flamenco music for example. The wider your palette is when you are young, the easier it is to soak up music when you grow older.
In my teens i grew up with metal : from Heavy Metal to Thrash/Speed Metal to Grindcore, Death Metal, etc etc. It was only in '92/'93 i accidentally bumped into UK rave / Jungle and was hooked to breakbeats… It was in that period i (slowly) began to switch to electronic music.
When did you compose your first music?
Which instrument you used at the first time?
You play bass for The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Wormskull and Bluuurg. When did you start to play bass?
Tell me if you have any favorite bass player and also who you are influenced.
I started composing around 1986/87. I first played bass in a blues(y) kind of cover band, just to get experience in playing the instrument (i was 14/15 years old) and quickly formed a band and we started making Thrash Metal influenced by the early releases of Slayer (Show No Mercy), Metallica (Kill em All) and Anthrax… we gradually started composing heavier and faster
music when we started to find the extreme stuff like Napalm Death's 'Scum', or bands like Repulsion, Extreme Noise Terror or DOOM.
I don't really have one particular favourite bass player, but in different styles : Ron Carter (jazz), Geezer Butler (rock), Colin Marston (metal)
Your debut was as "Bluuurgh". When did you start Bluuurgh?
We started back in 1988, after my first band 'Prejudice'. Bluuurgh was a band formed out of 3 good school friends. We had quite a unique sound for 3 16/17 year olds, mainly because we listened to so much different stuff. We released a double 7" and a LP, and made some small difference in the Death/Grind/Splatter underground in Holland.
You also played for "Celestial Season". What was the opportunity to join them?
Which bands did you play with when you played as "Celestial Season"?
How was the Doom/Stoner scene in Holland at that time?
Well i didn't join them, i actually founded the band with singer Stefan Ruiters back in 1991. I made quite an extreme switch from Grindcore to Doom metal around 1991. Gradually listening to more slower stuff like Saint Vitus, Count Raven, Trouble and of course Cathedral's debut 'Forest of Equilibruim' which was earth shattering doom at that time. We played with some cool bands back then : Carcass, Cathedral, Karma To Burn, Electric Wizard… We actually did a triple bill with Electric Wizards first tour in Holland together with Mourn.This was 1994 i think.
The Doom scene was small but good…Stoner didn't really exist yet. We played many times with The Gathering who were good friends of ours.
When did you start "Bong-Ra"? What is the origin of the name?
As for your first release, it was a 12" from "Djax-X-Beats". How was your release decided?
How did you make the first album, "New Millennium Dreadz"?
At that time, which music machine(Sampler, PC software,etc) did you use?
I started to produce tracks for Bong-Ra around 1994. The name was a coincidence of adding my abuse of the bong with watching too much Masters of the Universe (He-Man, Skeletor, She-Ra)… the name suddenly popped up.
I sent a cassette to Djax in 1997, with some tracks, not expecting anything, and Saskia (Miss Djax) loved the raw energy and asked me to release some 12" and a full album on Djax X Beats.
I made the album on 2 Amigas 2000 using Pro-Tracker and Octamed. In the studio i synced the two machines by hand, so there is some minor delay in the track syncing. It was oldschool, and producers made the maximum with the minimum of equipment.
Tell us about Bikini Bandits, "Kill! Kill! Kill!".
How long did it take for you to finish it?
How did you work together with Lolita Storm, Dirty Dred, and Mike Redman? Did you work and complete songs by transferring the files with them?
At that time, sampling used to be a kind of main tool for the breakcore-scene. But you used vocals and MCs which were not sampled, and also guitar sounds. I trust this album has been influenced by other genre of music besides breakcore. Tell us about the concept of this album. Plus, if you remember how you felt at that time, please tell us.
The B.Bandits story is a strange one. They found me through the John Peel programme. We hooked up and i was working on an idea for a new album, we agreed that i would make a track for them and i could use the images. We then agreed that it would be cool to make some sort of 'unofficial' soundtrack for the Bikini Bandits. I wanted to make something special with vocalists, so i searched to find the right balance of MC's and vocals that would fit the wide range of styles i wanted to produce for the album. In the end, i think it was one of the first Breakcore albums that had such a wide variety of styles and vocals on it. I was quite nervous to release the album. I had spent 2 or 3 years to create it, but in the end its still a 'cult' kind of album…i think.
Nasenbluten, Somatic Responses, Noize Creator, DJ Scud, Venetian Snares, Eiterherd and Christoph De Babalon are the first generation of break core and they established it, I think. Then, you, Rotator, FFF, Knifehandchop, Shitmat, Jason Forrest, Enduser and so on are the kind of second generation, I feel. Breakcore by the first generation used to be the based on Hardcore Techno(Gabba), Speedcore and Industrial Hardcore and its musics were serious. And they intend to be anti-general dance music (and also anti-polotics). I think your generation started to create the sound more for a dance floor, and with humor. Breakcore created by Bong-Ra has two elements: serious and humor. And it is made for communicating with an audience, I feel. Then, I have question for you. Would you actually have any political and underground attitude?
Why do you like breakcore? What about breakcore attracts you?
What do you think about the recent breakcore scene?
I'm not sure about the 1st generation/2nd generation stuff. For me i started producing this kind of stuff in 1994, only there were so little labels to contact, and very limited internet, not as big as today. So if it was up to me i would have released already in '94 or '95. But it doesn't really matter, the period of the late 90's and early 2000 were the template for what became Breakcore. As you mention there was the 'politically' based sound and then the more 'humoristic' sound. I don't really feel part of either, i mean i took my music very seriously, only i had no intention to mix it with politics, i had already done that back in my metal/grindcore period, and just wanted to focus on good sounding music. I never considered my sound as Breakcore, i was influenced by Jungle and UK rave, but i wanted it harder and darker. I don't think the term 'Breakcore' even officially existed back in 1998.
I like to hear some music with politics, but i think many artists don't find a right balance. Mainly its quite simple with a youthful sense of revolutionary attitude, which is fine, but as politics is so complex its hard to really express concise issues into (non vocal) dancefloor music.
As for the current Breakcore scene i don't follow it that much, i never really did. Producing your music makes it logical that you want to hear other kinds of music when you have been producing this kind of music so long. But i greatly admire and respect the artists who make similar stuff, as they are all very original musicians and persons.
As for the musical philosophy: for example, Satanism for Black metal, Rastafarianism for Reggae. When you reflect on these kind of genres in relation to your own music (also to your artwork), do you also agree with these (satanism and rastafarianism) philosophies?
I play around more with imagery in my music than the philosophy. They are powerful and very fun to play around with. As i have grown up with many of these different styles it was always a kind of tribute to do this kind of artwork. Growing up with the fantastic artwork of metal bands like Maiden or Slayer, it was normal to focus on the artwork as an important part of a release. As far as it goes in agreeing with these philosophies… I have my own philosophy which is always evolving, but its based on principle morals and ethics : Non violence, tolerance and love.
I feel your music is influenced by film. What is your favorite film?
If you have a chance to make a film, what kind would you like to create?
I really can't say that i have one favourite movie…It's impossible. It can be any thing from Horror to Film Noir, Science Fiction… anything as long as the movie is original.
What kind of movie would i make ? Probably a movie which would tell the true history of the world, or some deeply philosophical Sci-Fi movie.
Tell us about "The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble".
When did you start The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble? (Hereafter called TKDE)
How many main members does TKDE have?
How do you compose music for TKDE?
How do you switch yourself between Bong-Ra and TKDE?
Would you switch by term / time? (For example, weekly or monthly) Or, do you do both projects simultaneously?
The story of 'darkjazz' goes back to 1999. I wrote a Bong-Ra track called 'darkjazz' which appeared on the Darkbreaks EP. An experiment of using jazz breaks for a track. It was mainly influenced by the Albert Ayler track 'Ghost'. Kind of jazz blastbeats drumming. I liked the sound and working with jazz drums so i decided to create a new project which was basically the opposite in the sound of Bong-Ra. More cinematic jazz orientated project, so i came up with the name The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble.
At the time we were just 2 of us, and slowly built to be a core of 5 members, but sometimes a 7 piece band. Personally it was a great balance between producing heavy fast breaks with slow doom jazzy tracks. A kind of musical ying/yang balance. Unfortunately we split up in 2012 and i continued solo as The Thing With Five Eyes.
You play instruments, and also compose music. You compose music both with samples, and also recorded instruments. Would you think both process are a perfectly original style?
I have this question, because I read an interview with Madlib. He said that he feels inferior to well-trained jazz musicians. I think you and Madlib are similar. You and Madlib can play a musical instrument. And you are also sampling musicians.
Do you also have some kind of (inferiority) complex to the instruments players? (Or, to other genres like Jazz)
Please tell us about your idea for sampling music.
Sampling has just become part of the modern musical culture. Instruments (synths…or even electric guitars) are proof of musical instrument evolution. Sampling takes this further and has enabled musicians to use an infinite palette of sounds, creating whole orchestrations without an orchestra. I feel perfectly fine with the balance of playing an instrument and sampling, its using the best of both worlds. I am far from being a great instrument player, thats fine, because i admire great instrumentalists a lot. Its an inspiration to see great musicians at work. Each one of us has our specific talent and we should embrace that and learn and listen from what other (great) musicians offer us.
How did you encounter PRSPCT which has been your hub in recent years?
Tell us the details of how The Hard Way was organized.
How did the collaboration happen with Limewax and Thrasher?
Please tell us the musical tools you use. (software, speaker, headphone etc.)
When i moved from Utrecht to Rotterdam 6 years ago i got closer with Gareth (Thrasher/PRSPCT), we already knew each other, but living in the same city makes a contact closer. I was working on the Monolith album which was a step into a different direction and asked Gareth if he would find it interesting to release on PRSPCT. The idea of working with a label which is close to home and you can share direct contact with is a big, big plus. So thats how the link with PRSPCT started. Since then it has been such a massive support for my releases, and i'm fortunate with this.
The Hard Way followed due to this close contact. Limewax releases a lot on PRSPCT, and we did several shows together, which clicked immediately, we have the same 'fuck you' mentality in some way. We prepared a tour which was called 'The Hard Way' and made a 12" to promote the Limewax/Thrasher/Bong-Ra shows. The studio sessions where so much fun we decide to continue this idea into a fixed project/band called The Hard Way.
We ping-pong between my studio and Limewax's studio. Ableton is the basis/software for composing. The rest is just the regular way…plug-ins, synths, guitars, etc etc …
You have been releasing a lot of CDs and Vinyls.
In your releases as Full Metal Racket, Bikini Bandits, Kill! Kill! Kill! and Grindkrusher, art work seems to be very important. I fear it might have less impact when it is released as a digital release. What is your opinion about digital releases? Do you think the culture of CD and LP will continue far into the future? Will your label (Kriss/Clash) keep releasing the physical formats?
I am very pro physical releases, as you mention : Artwork is a very important part of my release and, in my opinion, part of the artists image/character. Digital becomes very impersonal and also more or less a 'disposable' product. As long as its possible i will continue to release physically. Also for future referencing, the physical release will make sure the musical will remain there on a physical item. There is a plausible chance that the digital product may one day cease to exist. Its just the I's and 0's. Although i am very pro physical, i can understand and have no problem with digital. Its a fast way to consume, its cheaper, and as there is so much to offer, sometimes its the only way to release your music if you are very productive.
Kriss and Clash still live, but are in a state of hibernation. When i will be releasing something…i have no idea. But it will be physical and/or digital.
I think there are huge differences in the music scene between '90, which was your debut, and recent years. Tell us about the pros and cons of both times.
Actually, you have released music as free download. Do you think it is difficult to make money from music nowadays?
There is quite some difference between the two eras. The most important chance is of course the internet. This changed the game completely. The advantage of the internet is that you can have direct and easier contact with your fan base, cutting out the middle men, which was much harder in the 90's. The disadvantage is that now with the internet there is so much music on offer that its hard to keep up, people have less time to really focus on an album, and makes the attention span very very short. basically the 'life expectancy' of your release on internet is barely a couple of weeks, so you work your ass off for a year or more to write an album, its picked up on social media for a bout a week or two, and then the attention span and interest shifts to the next. My opinion is that full length albums are maybe not that worthwhile anymore as in the 90's. EP's or just 2 track releases in short periods may be more fruitful for artists as a way to release music.
Sometimes i give music away for free, as i like to thank the people who continuously buy my music, and i only find it fair to offer them something in return. I wouldn't make my music for free all the time, thats just ridiculous, then i would just stop making music. That doesn't mean i make music for money, but like any person who works or produces, if it has a value you should be paid for it. Farmers who produce a crop also get paid for this. Simple.
The fact that music is available in digital form, and with torrents, etc the youth has kind of grown up thinking music should be a free asset, and don't seem to understand that with some monetary support they will not be able to listen to music from several artists they might like. Its just common decency to support an artist. Or just pay for something you want, unless its given to you for free.
In your various works, to which one you feel deeply attached?
All of them. Each and every album of very project i have made is equally important. My musical catalogue is like my personal 'journal' or 'diary'. It reflects my life, thoughts, at the current phase of my life. It carries all the emotions and reflections of that moment. Only its in musical form not in written form as most diaries are.
Let us know your future release information.
The VOODOOM album is just been released. The new The Hard Way EP comes out early 2016, and i am finishing off the following The Thing With Five Eyes release. Bong-Ra is on a little pause, i am still working on some new ideas, but i only have so many hours in the day!
Thanks for this interview, i hope you all enjoy the read!
Interviewer : Ume (Murder Channel)