Interview with Thomas Rainer

What are your musical influences?

Thomas: As further that I got along, the whole gothic electronic music came in and started to influence me. They were bands like Front 242, Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft and more lyrical ones like Das Ich and Lacrimosa, that were bigger in the gothic scene that time. Over the years, as well as the gothic scene got more and more influenced by techno and electronic music, all of these contemporary techno influences also have grown on me. In general I rather say that my music spectral, the music I listen and that influences me, ranges from pop to classical, from industrial to metal music I listen to today.

This industrial music you say you listen to is not like the oldschool one, such as Throbbing Gristle or Einstürzende Neubauten, isn’t it?

Thomas: I think that it is, in a way. It is always the question about what is industrial. Those musicians tried to use the most current technology that was available in their time to do something revolutionary, something new to make their sound. I think if these people would be around today, they would do a similar music, because they have been very up to date in their time, in late 70’s, early 80’s.

Those bands were trying to be ahead of their times, using tape manipulation, mellotrons and all the kind of stuff that was the most futuristic instruments in that time. All the musicians that are working in the more techno oriented scene today, they also try to use the most sophisticated software, instruments and synthesizers available currently. I think the whole industrial movement always had this futuristic aspect on it, to always try to be one step ahead of what all the other musicians tried to do, like more “avant-gardistic” and more thinking to the future than to the past.

I think pop music, for example, is generally looking to the past, looking to what worked in the past, so it will take influences from underground musicians from the past to influence all its current work. Look at Lady Gaga. Her imagery and music would not have been possible in pop music like 15 years ago. It sounds more like underground music from 10 years ago. So pop music is always looking back and I think industrial is always looking into the future. Anyway, I think it’s lesser a question of the actual music style you listen to but more of a general mindset I refered to.

I think these elder bands feel more experimental than the current ones.

Thomas: I call it artsy, like artsy music. In Germany, you have a differentiation between U-Musik, for entertainment purposes, and E-Musik, which means ernste Musik, serious music. And I think you can say the same for those industrial artists, who are more like serious music and less for entertainment purposes. They aim for something great or good, for something that is more expressionistic, in a way.

I think the first industrial bands were closer to the Futurist music, for example.

Thomas: Stuff like Philip Glass and those kind of composers? I think it’s more what those bands aimed for. But I always preferred to write songs like classical songs because, for me as an artist, it’s important to bring a message across. It’s important to speak a language a lot of people understand, because then you don’t limit the amount of people that listen to your music. When you write music and it’s very complex and very artsy, not a lot of people can comprehend what you’re trying to say. But if you write the music and lyrics more simple, then everybody can relate what you’re talking about. That’s what I always try to achieve: to speak and write in a musical language that is easily comprehendible for a big amount of people.

Sometimes Nachtmahr is compared to Laibach, but people say Laibach sounds more like a protest and maybe Nachtmahr is more commercial.

Thomas: It is, definitely. I totally adore Laibach, but I think the only real parallel that we have is the aesthetic. Laibach never was that song oriented. They had a very big artistic vision that was, in my opinion, a lot of times even more important than the music. It was the whole concept of the NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst) State and all these very big images. But that’s something I don’t want to get in between my art and the listener. I think these very big concepts sometimes stands between, because the music is always the first entry for the listener. He hears the songs somewhere, on the radio station, some friend presents to him or visiting a club and then he starts to get into the music. I think with a band like Laibach it is more like people read about the artistic vision and then get into the music. I think, for me, the better way is to have the other way around: first the music, the music as a door to open the world, like a gateway, to what I say.

That’s interesting because, in Brazil, I was at a party and the DJs played Laibach, Tanz mit Laibach, and then Mädchen in Uniform (Nachtmahr). Everybody was dancing, but nobody was understanding what have been sung. The message was not reached and nobody seemed to care about.

Thomas: The point is that a lot of people think “this is enough” and this is totally ok, but I also want to provide a second level for those people who want to dive deep into my mindset and for people who say “ah, what did you think while you were writing these songs, writing these lyrics?”. It’s an offer. If they want to know more, there is this huge world and this huge philosophy behind Nachtmahr, where people can find connections to their own world as long as they get interested in. It is something they can look and find themselves. So, there are these two levels and everybody can choose what they want.

But when you say “I only have one interest: I just want to see you dance”, it seems like you don’t have a message to pass.

Thomas: I think this is a little bit of misunderstanding, because I offer a second level, but I don’t say everybody who doesn’t understand everything is stupid. I think what I really want is the people to get this first: to listen to the music and to live the music, but not excluding everything else, excluding the philosophy. You can easily be misunderstood in that play, but I don’t want to act like some bands. They really compare this relation with a test. You have to know everything about the band, the name of the singer’s cat, what was on the second Japan release of this album, just to be allowed to listen to the band. I just say, as long as you dance it’s totally nice, it’s ok, I don’t want to demand much of the people.

Have you ever been prohibited to play somewhere because of Nachtmahr’s aesthetics?

Thomas: No. Never.

Because it happened to Death in June, for example.

Thomas: Yes, but Death in June, I think they take one step further. For example, I know Douglas Pearce and he is far away from the Nazi as you can think. He is outright gay, there are nude photographs of him on gay contact forums all over the internet, where he looks for guys he can have sex with. He is far away from the right Übermensch that you can think about, but he just utilizes even stronger symbols, like the SS skull, for example, or even more provocative symbols. So of course it is a big problem.

Don’t you think you also use provocative symbols?

Thomas: Of course, but I think that Death in June just take it a lot of steps further by using original symbols from that time. They are using explicit party symbols that the Nazis used and those are the exactly same ones, which leads to a lot of problems because, for example, the SS skull is forbidden by Austrian law. The Austrian law has a paragraph and it’s called Wiederbetätigung, which means doing something again, reproducing something. There is a list with pictures of symbols that are forbidden to wear and to bear by law.

Even though it’s an artistic usage?

Thomas: Yes, whatever. You can only use of course in the museum or in the antiquarians, for example. Even in Austria an antique shop sells Nazi medals. It’s no problem. But if you’re wearing a T-shirt with the SS skull, it’s forbidden. There even were cases where left wing people got arrested because they had the swastika, which was crossed out. They were wearing red arm bands, with the white circle and the swastika, but they have it with a red strip sign, crossed.

To show they don’t approve it.

Thomas: To show they don’t approve, but still the law is very strict, so even if you circle it out you still display the symbol. Even if you even not like it, it’s shown, so there was people being arrested for this. That just illustrates how strong the Austrian and the German law is about the symbols.

And you use a lot of stuff the Nazis did but the swastika, for example.

Thomas: Yes, but this is all like that. There is a list of symbols that you are allowed to use. There is a list in Germany that is even longer than the Austrian, but in Germany there are even certain runes in this list, which is completely stupid.

Runes are an alphabet and it’s not Nazi by itself…

Thomas: Yes, but the laws are very strict, so I think that is also the problem why Death in June gets in a lot of trouble in Germany and Austria, because they are just breaking the law.

It was the same with Der Blutharsch.

Thomas: Yes, because they also used the sieg runes and they are also forbidden.

And the iron cross?

Thomas: It is not, because the iron cross medals date back from the World War I, so the medal was founded there. But the Nazis used the sieg rune, which was used before, and it is of course forbidden. That’s why they get into trouble: there is no interpretation, just you use the symbol that is forbidden by law so you break the law and you’re in trouble.

What do you think about Nazi aesthetics? Which means, Nazi Kunst and Nazi imagery.

Thomas: I think it was what they did very well. I think the best of totalitarian regimes was visualizing their power and their claim to power, because they were the first ones to master this universal language of the big parades, big marches and the Reichsparteitag Nürnberg, those big events to demonstrate their power to everybody.

The mass power.

Thomas: The mass power, so nobody could ignore them anymore. They were just the masters of aesthetics and there was no need to speak a lot: you just saw what they were doing and they would easily elude it was something big, something powerful. And people at that time were craving for something powerful, for something helping them from the misery, and then the Nazis using these very very strong aesthetics, they gave the hand to the people and said: “If you join us, then we will help you”. And they shown their potential of leadership with their aesthetics. That was a very smart move. They were the first government to do it to that extreme. All of these, of course, dating with the Romans. When you look back in the militaristic, the Romans with their very sophisticated militaristic strategy and their high discipline were intimidating the enemies just by their uniforms. Every the soldiers look the same but the military formations on the battlefield instantly scared the enemy, so the Nazis were really the first to reproduce this. I will go far and say it was kind of a psychological warfare. You just see this army and you think “oh my god, this is really strong and powerful”. And Nazis took it to a level that no other government ever was able to achieve.

Not even the Soviets?

Thomas: It wasn’t that sophisticated. The Soviets took a lot when they started to hit with the Allies. The Soviets were very inspired by what the Nazis did and if you look at the Nazi ideology, you will see what the Soviets did according to a communist attitude. It was like a people’s army. Also the uniforms and everything were more oriented to workers. Like, the whole party uniform of the Russians looked more like workers, because it was the philosophy of communism. But the Nazi uniforms were nearer to a medieval level, like knights. They really made people look like they were from a higher rank, like they were dukes and counts. The uniforms were very sophisticated, very proud, very powerful. I think that the Nazis managed it a lot better and a lot stronger than the Soviets.

But they were doing it against the Jews.

Thomas: Yes, but I think with art and, with this question, you have to see out of the context. If you analyze art, for example, in the Allies’ aesthetics, they seconded their purpose, it is not what they looked about. I think that is one of the main issues that also aim of in confront. I think that first you see, you can admire something that you stand without seeing the negative sides, because at first you can just see that this is well executed, it is just well done. It’s nevertheless, it was a bad regime, it committed horrible atrocities. And something that was good was over very quickly. I totally agree, but you have to see it in another way. You have to take these two things apart to analyze it.

Is this some kind of alienation?

Thomas: I don’t think so. You have to see, for example, to break it down to a simple level: when I see an advertisement for a product I hate, I can still say it’s a good advertisement, but I don’t have to like the product to say it is a good advertisement, if you know what I mean.

I understand. It feels like a mature reasoning.

Thomas: It’s objective. This is what they wanted to achieve and they achieved this well. But the end consequences were bad, horrible and one of the worst times in history of the planet. That’s totally sure. And they did in the back of other people, but in general, they just masked these acts of power through aesthetics.

What is your relation with the Nazism? Did your relatives have something with it, in the past?

Thomas: No, everybody in my relatives were even too young and also from Austria. Most of us were not involved to that, because we were unacted and everybody kind have to work for them [the Nazis]. It was not the situation. Most of my relatives were in the Wehrmacht because they had to. It was normal for every male of certain age to go there and you had to. If you hadn’t, you would go to prison or get killed. It was not an option to say “I’m not going”. For my relatives, the Russians were more of an issue, because of course there was a war but the Russians came to a region of Austria where my relatives came from. There was pillaging, rape, destruction of villages. There was random killings and everything. It’s a different perspective from these generations, because they did not see that atrocities of the Nazis, of the Jews. They did not see this, but they felt the atrocities of the conquerors, of the Russian armies in that case. They felt it on their own bodies.

And what is your relation with the Nazism, now in the 21st century, that we don’t have a World War?

Thomas: To be honest, I didn’t see any neonazis and Nazis here [in Vienna]. There are of course right wing parties and right wing political movements, which I’m not involved in any way. Not even with the extreme right wing, who would want the Nazis back. I don’t, because I’m an Austrian. I’m an Austrian patriot and I wouldn’t want to be part of Germany. The extreme right wing, even in Austria, they want to go back to Germany. They want to be part of the Deutsches Reich again. And that would be something that is totally out of the question.

I think Austria more as a country of traditions, of a country that used to be the biggest empire on the world. This is the stuff about Austrian proud. I’m proud of and I’m a patriot prou, but not for what happened in these 10 years. This is just such a small window in totally history of Austria. I want Austria to be an independent State and do what it does best. We’re a small country but what we do achieve with this small country is a lot. We are a very wealthy country, we have a lot of good traditions, we have a good government that takes good care of us and everybody in Austria can live in peace. We all have good social security, good health services. Everybody can be happy in this country as it is. So, for me, any of these politic, extreme right wing thoughts are completely absurd in this times, because I think I’m very happy with the political situation we live at the moment. Of course there are these movements in every country, it’s not limited to Austria, Germany. There are, in Eastern Europe, for example, a lot more of these movements in Croatia, Hungary. They have a lot of even very extreme right wing parties. I don’t see that in Austria, for example, we have a problem with them.

How did this patriotic feeling of yours born?

Thomas: I think it’s something you just have or you haven’t. It’s something that is inside you. There are people friend of mine who say “Ah, as soon as I can I want to move to another country. I want to live in England, I want to live in America”, that’s all fine, but this is one extreme and the other extreme is I’m happy here. As much as I love travelling, I always want to live in my country, because I think the country where I was born in is the country where I belong to. Because of the values and the character of the people which are the closest to my personal character. It just matches, if you know what I mean. Some other people say “Ok, this is my character, but it doesn’t match the character of most of the Austrian people”, but for me it matches very well. So, that’s why I’m happy here.

Did you study something more about Hitler?

Thomas: Nothing more than I learned in school, the basic education you get in school.

Not even by curiosity?

Thomas: Not really, because Hitler was never an interesting person, to be honest. I think he was just very good at stealing pieces from other people who were very smart and getting the right people together. But Hitler’s works were never interesting, because he was just a madman. There were a lot of people in the Nazi and surroundings that were very interesting. For example, Goebbels were a lot more interesting in that, because of the whole idea of founding the SS as a kind of knightly order, for bringing all the occult background, there were all the rites and rituals in the devil’s, all the magic. They were the first ones probably to reintroduce magic into government in that way. They were basically doing black arts in their rites and rituals, because they thought it could help them winning the war.

It’s like Hellboy! (laughs)

Thomas: Yes, but that’s about fiction and this is the true. They actually did stuff like that. There were a lot of expeditions to Tibet, for example, where they were looking for magic items to enforce, to power and stuff like that. They had Tibetan monks that were advisers for them, with their magic knowledge. That is interesting, because it’s a government in the 1930’s and 1940’s that rediscovers magic, something that was only in the middle ages before. It is a government that uses magic to help them with what they are trying to achieve. I think it’s very interesting.

About yourself, I would like to know more about your soldier times. When did you join the army?

Thomas: Straight after I finished high school. At the age 18, it was normal, there was a complementary military service in Austria and I did that a bit longer because I wanted to join the army, become an officer. In Austria, there is the oldest military academy in the world, the Theresian Military Academy, and I was there and I really liked the people and the ideas. Actually, it was very interesting because it is a kind of hybrid formation: it’s not only a military school but also has the status of an university. So you finish with degree, which is a civil degree too. You finish as a magister, the same title that you would get when you finish university. And that’s interesting, because it’s a military education but also gives you a civil title and you can also work in civilian jobs afterwards. That was something that really interested me and I wanted to sign up, but music came in between that. I was already doing music for two years before then and everything went a lot bigger. First I was doing as a hobby, I never thought that I could do it for living. And then suddenly there was this chance of taking one level further and becoming a professional musician. I took the risk of trading in normal education for going straight into a job. So that was where the decision came from.

Does the Austrian army have some kind of conservative behavior? For example, in Brazil, the common sense assimilates the army with right wing thoughts.

Thomas: No, I wouldn’t say so. From the officers I know, I wouldn’t say there is more or less right or left wing there than in the normal population.

Is there no political ideology?

Thomas: In general, I wouldn’t say I met any people who I could see a big tendency. You see people of all colors, of all different mindsets, of all political ideas. Generally you have to be patriotic to be in the army. To educate your life to country, you have to be a patriotic, but being a patriotic doesn’t mean you have to be conservative or right wing, in my opinion. I think it’s something that needs to be clearly separated, because a lot of people don’t understand the difference between patriotism and nationalism. Those two terms are very different on what they are trying to say. A patriot is just proud of his country, likes his country, and a nationalist puts his country above all others. While a nationalist says “my country and people of my country are superior to all other countries”, the patriot just says “my country is the best for me and I love my country”. This is always mixed up, but there is a clear definition in English and German languages. Each one of these two terms means something different, not the same thing.

I think there is some kind of prejudice against soldiers or the army.

Thomas: Totally. I totally agree. It’s a big prejudice, because we can’t say that somebody who is protecting the country where we are living with his life is somebody who is bad. (laughs) Those people are necessary.

In the Brazilian case, for example, the army took over the country in the 1960's.

Thomas: Yes, but here that’s different. In Austria, the army is nothing, to be honest. It’s important, but it doesn’t play any roles in politics.

What do you think about politics?

Thomas: They are necessary. Let’s say I’m not looking for the party I agree with, I’m looking for the party that has at least a few things I can agree with. There is no political party in Austria that is 100% what I think. But you have to find the one that has the most percent.

Is vote in Austria an obligation?

Thomas: No, but I do vote. Because I think if one party at least represents 20% of what I want to represent, then I do it.

And what about your political ideologies?

Thomas: I would have to construct the political ideology with all the parties. Some from the green, some from socialist, some from Christian democrats, from everybody. Each party has some ideas and if one party brings up a lot of ideas that correspond with my personal opinion, then I vote for this party. And if the next turn there is another party that has good topics that I like, then I vote for this party. It’s a dynamic politics (laughs). Because there is no party that I can say that everything that this party does is great.

I think that’s common.

Thomas: Yes. So I just try to find the one party that represents my ideas in this time and then push it and just try to hold the balance. (laughs) It’s hard, but that’s what most people do now. Because I talk to my friends and people here, most of them do the same.

So, you already said in a lot of interviews that your presence in the army is a really strong influence for your work. But how is this thing about thinking life as war or art as war?

Thomas: Because I think that is the only way you can see. As an artist, you have to know what you want and you have to fight for it, because there will be always people from all sides who want to convince you to otherwise. When you are successful, there will be people who want to tell you how to be more successful. When you are not successful, people will tell you how to be more successful and there are always people to tell you how to change. That is the external struggle, but there is also the internal struggle, where you and yourself always have to fight for each new achievement. And also you will have to fight against your surroundings, because the job as an artist, as a musician, you’re always in constant struggle with your friends, with your family, with your partners, with everybody. Because nobody can understand you as an artist. They can all try to, but nobody will ever see your art and your artistic path like you do yourself. That’s what I’m trying to say that art is war, because you always have to fight against all these influences and not lose your objective.

It looks like a violent response.

Thomas: No, I wouldn’t say violent. It’s just like you have to defend your art. By means of war, you have all these people and all these situations are trying to drag you from your path and put you in another path. Sometimes, in a psychic nature, it’s because they don’t understand your vision. Being an artist and not losing your way is a constant struggle and a war in a way, because you have to defend yourself to stay true to your cause.

Do you face this like a survival of the fittest, for example?

Thomas: I would’t say survival of the fittest, but survival of the one who stays most authentic and most true to his own ideals. I think a lot of artists get lost on the way and when they achieve success, there are other people coming and telling how to change, how to do. We always have to fight for this, staying true to yourself. Would it be a survival of the truest? Maybe the ones who stay true to themselves. And, in the end, if you look at successful artists out there and those who are artists for 20, 30, 40 years, those are those who are doing just the same thing, who didn’t change, who just do the thing they want to. And they resisted all these exterior influences.

Like money?

Thomas: For example, money and success are very big factors of course and you have to resist it to stay true. Money will always influence you, because you have to pay your rent, but to be able to do so maybe you have to take another branch of your path. You have to resist the temptation of taking that road. But maybe sacrificing a lot of money to stay true to yourself is a constant war.

Would you so?

Thomas: I did. When I see L’Âme Immortelle, my another band, we made two albums in a major label and I saw it compromising my artistic vision. So we stopped, we split. And we would make a lot of more money as I made a lot of money in that time, from these two albums in major label, but it was a factory it wasn’t art anymore. So I had to let it go to find myself again as an artist.

What was wrong?

Thomas: If people invest a lot of money in you, they want also talk, they want to make decisions for you. In Austria, we have a saying, who pays give the orders, “Wer zahlt, schafft an”, and that’s the old thing. The record comes, gives you like 1 thousand of Euros to produce an album and you can have a great producer of the album, you can go to the best studios, you can do everything, but this money buys them the right to influence you as an artist. And say “We do that differently, maybe you go to that studio and work with that producer, do that song different, I change the lyrics” and that bla-bla-bla. That is when you have to stay true to yourself.

I mean your point of view.

Thomas: Yes, but it was always the same. When joining the major label, I thought I could give them my point of view, but then it didn’t work. They had their point of view and they will influence you to work in their point of view.

Was you attitude different in L’Âme Immortelle, Siechtum and then Nachtmahr?

Thomas: No. When I signed the major label contract, I thought I was smarter than the rest, but I wasn’t. I thought, in that case we thought that “Ah, we know all these mechanisms, we know the game, so we just don’t play it”, but that was not possible. That was a lie, a lie to yourself. If you play the game, you have to play the game, because you knew the rules before. You can’t change the rules of the game. When you go to a major label, you have to play their game.

Because your first work is more romantic and then it’s different.

Thomas: Yes, but with Nachtmahr is a total different story at all.

So why did you mask your attitude?

Thomas: No, you have to see that differently. It’s more musically and spiritually artistic. There are some things that don’t always go together. For example, with L’Âme Immortelle, the music changed a lot just because of other music I listened to at that time. At first I listened to more gothic music and then I listened to more rock music, so the music of L’Âme Immortelle that time got more of these influences. That was the reason. Stay true to yourself means in my opinion do what you want to do, but that doesn’t mean doing one thing, the same thing for many years. That would be boring. As an artist, you have to develop, you always have to reinvent yourself in each album, but reinventing yourself in your way and not in the way the others tell you.

I say that because it’s too different, almost opposite. I think in L’Âme Immortelle you were quite shadowed while in Nachtmahr you are the only one.

Thomas: Yes, of course, but that is also easier. Nachtmahr for me is the peak of self expression. With Nachtmahr I can do everything myself, I book the concerts myself, I do my management myself, I do most of the art myself, I write all the lyrics, I produce myself, I write all the music. Everything that is in this project is me. I do it myself, I don’t need other people. So it is more authentic, because everything that is connected to this project comes from me. There is no other people bringing their visions. It’s only me. And that is why Nachtmahr expresses me like a person, because there is no outer influences.

Feuer Frei album promo picture

Sometimes people see your promo pictures and they don’t know the concept, so they think you are Nazi. What do you think about this kind of impression?

Thomas: Let’s put in focus why I have created this image for Nachtmahr. I think that is the prior question. I made this was because I wanted to find an image that expresses the music, an universal picture language that when you see the picture, you feel what the music feels like. And I’m not saying this is Nazi, but it’s militaristic. I think that what sounds about. It’s not my problem that people misinterpret militaristic with right wing, because that is just stupid. This all militaristic images are just an universal language that you can feel the power, that is also within the music. It is the strength, the size, the massiveness and this claim to stay forever, you know, to be the best and the biggest. This is what I say with the claim of “Weltmacht oder Niedergang” [World power or decline]. Either we become the biggest and strongest band ever or we just stop. There is no in between. We will not set this fight, in this case, I will not set this fight with being somewhere in the middle, where you say “Oh, it’s ok”. No. I always try to be the first, to be the best, to do everything better than the others.

Even though you are not using something that is originally yours.

Thomas: You can’t say it is a copy because the images, the militaristic images, nobody has a copyright. It’s just something that fits.

I’m not saying you are a copycat, but other bands did the same before.

Thomas: Of course other bands did before and that’s totally fine, but I think we are doing in a different way, in a more sophisticated way, in a way you provide a deeper level. For example, other bands just had the beat and the uniform, but I just try to create a world. Maybe it’s a little bit too much to say it’s like Tolkien, but you know what I mean, you create an universe, a visual universe for a band and in your mind, at one point, you will think “No, that fit and that doesn’t fit”. It’s like an aesthetic world, where you can see what can be done and what can’t be done, a very sophisticated container for all of your pictures, all of your visions. It is very complex to explain, but I have this image for Nachtmahr and if somebody shows something, I will instantly know if it fits or if it doesn’t. It is like a set of visual rules, like that works and that doesn’t.

Maybe because Nachtmahr is a translation of yourself, so you know what works.

Thomas: Yes, it’s a bit like going shopping. You go there, you see all the clothes, you put them and you see “Ah, that fits” or “Oh, that doesn’t”. It is not something that can be explained mathematically, it is just like something that is inside you, so that is the vision you have. That’s why with Nachtmahr I want to take this step further not only in promo pictures, but also in live shows, in the artwork and also not using the same thing over and over again. I want to have a development in this world.

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Feuer Frei CD cover

What I am trying to say is that, at first, all started being chaotic. In this cover I think you see very well the first impression and the reality. Because at the first you would say “It’s Nazi and blablabla” but when you look close, for example, this guy [the leader in the middle] is black.

It’s difficult to see it, but…

Thomas: Yes, but I like to put these things inside. This guy, for example, is black and here you see somebody having a sign of “war is not the answer”. It is always one image and then this juxtaposition. Also in the booklet inside, it accompanies this first album which was basically all very dark. then you have the vision of these girls in uniform and so these kind of random pictures to give you any notion.

Are these uniforms based on Hitler’s Jugend? Because of the hat and the arm band.

Thomas: No, the arm band is used by every army, it is just militaristic. Arm bands were also used by Soviet army.

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Feuer Frei promo picture
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Hitler Youth girls
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Bund Deutscher Mädel or The Union of German Girls

But if I say it is close to the Hitler’s Jugend it is wrong?

Thomas: It is wrong because the Hitler Youth uniform was brown. Do you mean the BDM, Bund Deutscher Mädel? The Union of German Girls and the Hitler Youth had also similar clothes, but there are no arm bands, for example, and there are no hats. It was just a black skirt, black tie and white shirt. The hats didn’t have much with these groups, because this is more from sailor’s tradition and had been used widely in World War I, for example. And now the hat is only used in the navy and in the air force.

Alle Lust will Ewigkeit album cover

This [Feuer Frei album] was the first moment and then I tried to introduce more sexual and fetishistic elements, where I started to incorporate all these fantasies, the Russian uniform [Alle Lust will Ewigkeit album]. So as you can see there is a development, an artistic development, and then you go on in this third album, Semper Fidelis.

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Semper Fidelis album cover

We changed, we introduced a new uniform, for example, trying to take the current look and taking to the 21st century. We are always trying to stay true to our world, but always reinventing everything.

It reminds me of Clockwork Orange when I see Semper Fidelis album cover.

Thomas: Yes, it is a bit of Clockwork Orange. I was inspired by that, by a Clockwork Orange poster.

And why did you choose to use erotic imagery?

Thomas: Because the album Alle Lust will Ewigkeit is about power. It is about domination in a way, so I think the sexual aspect was the most universal to use as the picture for this. It is about lust and power, in a way when you get a little bit of it you always want more. When somebody gives this small finger, then you want the hole hand. That is the general topic of the album, the greed for power, and how power corrupts the people. And the second aspect, the sexual, is the one I choose from an image point of view, because it gets this longing across very well. I think in sexual action you get the same amount of dynamic, because when some people are sexually attracted to each other, it starts out. The mind stops and it starts to grow and grow and become more and more. It’s the same with power, when you have a bit of power, you always go wanting more and more and this craving, you always want to go one step up. With sexual images you can visualize this craving or greed for power.

You use only women and some people can feel like they are used as objects.

Thomas: No, that is wrong, because the women are actually strong. All women I use in my art are strong women. There is no slaves, I wouldn’t say either of my girls is in a weak position. I like strong women, I use to see the girls as my army, they are the guards, my soldiers. So they are all very strong, in a way. I don’t think they are objects because what I want to get across the pictures, in the art, that they are all strong. And nobody is like in a sadomasochistic background, like submissive. They are all strong women who are doing something because they feel like doing it. They are not objects, because they do out of their own will.

Would they be something like a dominatrix?

Thomas: No, they are dominant women, who know what they want, who are strong and independent, but I wouldn’t say and see any of this art as bad, against women, misogynistic, because I cannot see any point where it can be misogynistic. There is no men hitting a woman, no woman kneeling and somebody putting the legs on her, like in more fetishistic art. I think they are all pretty strong and none of them are misogynistic.

But they are only women and they are all showing off. They are trying to provoke sexually.

Thomas: Yes, but isn’t that what women do, provoke men’s sexuality? (laughs)

No, not really. Not just like that.

Thomas: I would say that a strong woman knows what to do to get something she wants and, in a way, I don’t see any of these girls being mistreated, not treated respectfully. For example, we really say, all the girls that are working for me on that, they are really enjoying themselves. They liked what they did, even a lot of them never had a sexual experience with other women before. They really, during the photoshoot, liked it and none of them ever complained “I don’t want to do this because it is against my pride as a woman” or something like that. They really enjoyed it from their nature.

But why women?

Thomas: I think women are just the most beautiful human beings and I think most of the women agree. The most women I know, they say “I would never look at a nude picture of a man”, near female friends of mine, when I talk to them and asked them “Have you ever looked at a magazine with a naked man?” and they always say “Nah…”. And it is true because also for most women, women are more pleasing to look at even if they are not sexually interested in them, even if they are totally heterosexual. Also women find women more visually attractive when in art. In general, I think that’s also an opinion that is scientifically widely accepted.; Generally, women like to look at art which has naked women more than images of naked men.

Maybe because we want to recognize ourselves or to compare.

Thomas: Maybe it’s that, but I think there is definitely a study somewhere, a bigger statistic about that, but I’m also pretty sure because that’s my experience, because I had this discussion with some people I work with on graphic projects aslo with girls. We had this idea of once, two years ago: we wanted to make an artwork with two guys kissing. It was an idea to make a cover with two boys like early twenties in uniform kissing and the reaction of most women I talked from the artistic background they said the problem will not the demand on it, like they would be offended with, the problem is that women won’t like it.

Really?

Thomas: Because women don’t see pictures of men that sexually appealing.

I know so many women who would.

Thomas: I don’t know, maybe it is a cultural thing.

Japanese women like yaoi (homosexual male relationship cartoons), for example.

Thomas: I agree with you. In the Asian background, also androgenic men more popular. In Europe, in general, especially in central Europe, the sexual ideal is always the man strong, powerful, a man who is a big, like people here. Asians are very skinny, they look more like women from the build. Androgynous around here are not considered sexually attractive, in general, because they are not considered like men. Here the women prefer man, the more traditional man, how they should be, more strong and power.

If you put two men kissing, maybe the reason wouldn’t be sexual but a protest.

Thomas: My first idea was to provoke with this image, but the feedback, specially from the women I talked to, who are artists, graphic designers, about to get an opinion, they were very opposed to the idea and said there would be a lot of women who would not like it. And those women prefer, in general, to look at women interacting in that way. So if you make a test, having a very good artistic picture of a naked girl and a naked man and you would question the people afterwards, I think, according to my experience, at least three fourth of total people would say they prefer the girl not only the men.

I see that on Tumblr, because everybody likes to post photos of naked women, even though they are not homosexual.

Thomas: That is also a good example, because you just look on Facebook, look at what the girls have on the pictures folders. If they have some naked pictures, most of them are girls too. I think I very seldom see on My Space or Facebook somebody having pictures of naked men on their profile, other girls profile. Very seldom. So I think it’s really different, that’s why I choose girls.

I saw on Mädchen in Uniform lyrics, where it’s told about a fascination for girls in uniform. Is it you?

Thomas: It is me. Totally.

How did it happen?

Thomas: I have no idea how it happened, it’s just I find it very attractive.

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Mädchen in Uniform EP cover
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Der Nachtportier movie cover

Did you watch that movie that inspired the EP Cover, The Night Portier?

Thomas: Yes, a great movie. Very disturbing, but great. An amazing movie. I watched it a long time ago, but I really liked the picture language of it. So I choose the cover as a kind of homage to the aesthetics of that movie, because I liked it so much.

As you said, your girls like to wear the uniform. They feel powerful.

Thomas: They feel. I asked two of my girls, who I work with on stage for example, why were they putting the uniform on so long before the concert — because these two of my four girls, when we have a concert, they arrive a few hours earlier and then they come and put on the uniform even a few hours before the concert. Just walk around and it’s just because it feels so good. They get into the uniform and they feel more powerful.

Do you have some kind of explanation or opinion about it?

Thomas: I think it’s just normal that a uniform have a kind of sexual aspect to them. Because of domination, because sex is always a game of power. And with the uniform, you feel the power, you feel stronger, you feel invincible. Nobody can touch you because the uniform gives you more confidence, more self-steem.

Because they were designed to be beautiful.

Thomas: Yes.

You feel uncomfortable when people analyze your work as part of a Nazi thing.

Thomas: I feel uncomfortable. What I should do to not get this interpretation? And that brings us back to that question. I want to express my art exactly like that even it makes people feel uncomfortable or not. It’s not my problem. I make my art and like it or not, I won’t change, that’s what I’m saying. If I get asked in interviews or fans ask me “Are you right wing? Are you Nazi?”, I will always say “No”, but I will not change myself or my art just to avoid the suspicion. It’s their problem. If I would change my art just to give people less offense, I would alter my art, I would diverge on the path.

I think some people cannot see the symbols without the ideology. Some believe that there is no art without politics, there is no usage of Nazi symbols after World War II without their original meaning.

Thomas: But the point is: where is the Nazi? I don’t see it. It’s an interpretation there is in our society, in our minds, that uniforms are generally put in right wing context. Uniforms and military dress are put into a right wing context which I don’t think there is no logical explanation.

I think there is an explanation. The Nazi times were so powerful and they are still close to us, so the association is easier. It’s common sense.

Thomas: Yes, but the common sense in that thing is totally wrong. Because every government has uniforms and every government has a military, even they are right wing, left wing or democratic. Everybody has it, so why the uniforms have to be in general considered something right wing?

The American uniforms, for example, are mostly shown as camouflaged not black.

Thomas: No, there are so many different uniforms in American military. For example, also the army in Thailand has black uniforms.

But the most known is the Nazi.

Thomas: Yes, but why should I not use what I think expresses my art, in the best way? Because some people can misunderstand?

But everything seems to be leading to this interpretation.

Thomas: Of course, but I think it is not leading to right wing, but leading to the same emotion that Nazis wanted to achieve: power and claim to power. In general, when you look at the uniforms I use, they give the same feeling that you get when you look at the Nazi uniform, but without my uniforms being Nazi, if you know what I mean. They have the same purpose the Nazi had, explaining power through aesthetics, visualizing power and strength. It is the same purpose but through different means.

I think the whole composition leads to this interpretation. It’s not only about the uniforms: it’s about your poses on the promo shoots, your haircut, everything.

Thomas: What people need to do, in general, and that’s what I am saying for many years. You have to take the symbols out of the context. You can’t always look at black uniforms and think it’s a Nazi uniform. It is wrong from an artistic and logical point of view. It’s just I will never understand why people are every narrow minded. If it would be so obvious and so problematic, then I think why did I never have problem with the government, police or anybody else? It is not. I think it’s a problem for a small group of people, not in general. None of the CDs were censored. In Germany, for example, censorship is very strong. If you do anything remotely right wing, immediately you get censored and I never had problem with that. I also always openly express I totally disagree with and totally oppose the Nazi’s ideology about race, about nationality, about everything. I oppose it and I do not agree with it, but the uniforms were great. What’s wrong about that? It’s like, for example, taking Lady Gaga: you can say her music is shit, but her video is good. What’s the problem? Everybody can differentiate with these two things, between the packaging and the content. Why do you have to agree to the content if you agree with the packaging? I think that’s the best example I can give you for how I think. You have to see it. This is over, the Nazi reign is over since 66 years now. Why haven’t our minds grown up in 66 years to be able to do so? That’s a question I raise. 66 years ago. It’s time to see these things separated.

Media and art always want to remember that in a bad way.

Thomas: Yes, but it happened, it’s the past and we have to move on. We have to see things out of that context.

But the Jews don’t want people to forget it.

Thomas: Yes, but the Nazism has put them in a very uncomfortable situation politically, since 66 years. (laughs)

That’s what I’m saying, they won’t…

Thomas: Stop. They won’t stop making German, European, feel bad for what they did in the past, because the victim position is a very powerful one.

This is why people can’t separate things.

Thomas: Yes, but it is wrong. I, as an artist, say it is wrong that people can’t do it. Because that’s what happened in the past. They have to look into the future and not always looking into the past.

Yet you use past stuff.

Thomas: I don’t see them as past. For example, look at the Japanese aesthetics. There is a lot of use of similar symbols and uniforms in Japanese manga and hentai art, for example. They don’t get blamed for that, because it’s Japanese people doing it, the rest is different. They have been part of the Axis too, but the Japanese don’t get blamed for that. Look, there are so many manga characters who are openly using this kind of uniforms. There is a Japanese cartoon series, Hellsing, which uses Nazi vampires in it. So, why can’t they do it? In Japanese culture, there are a lot of uniforms used in strict market in Tokyo. You can buy full SS uniforms, with all the insignias, and you can wear it just like people here wear like twisted crosses or antichristian symbols. It’s a kind of protest, it’s a kind of provocation. And that’s what it should be considered like. See it as what it is and not see as what it could be seen. See as a protest, as a provocation, but not as something there manifests a political idea.

It’s funny, because uniforms use to make people look all the same and we were talking about uniforms making people more sophisticated.

Thomas: Yes, but in a way, everybody is wearing an uniform. Look at the subcultures, look at all the subcultures: there are skaters, they all wear a kind of uniform, with their baggy pants and with their distinct style as hip hop guys. Everything is an uniform, in a way, looking to be differentiated, but people always want to recognize themselves with another group. The goth, cybergoth, it’s all a kind of a uniform, with variants, but there is always a kind of uniform, because people like uniforms, because they feel part of something, makes them feel part of a being group and part of not being alone with themselves.

And when fans use uniform, should they feel part of Nachtmahr’s army?

Thomas: Yes, they should be part of it. For example, I see in my concerts people dressing up in the same style and they come together, they stand together. There is a group of people from Austria who goes with the Nachtmahr’s uniforms and Austrian flags to the concert and support me, stuff like that. It’s something great, it brings people together, it makes them feel part of a group. It creates a common feeling, a feeling of belonging together.

Do you think these people are understanding your message?

Thomas: Yes, totally. Because those are the hardcore fans, who read everything, read all the lyrics and ask a lot of questions. These people see it as what I see it. And that’s what I think it’s great about the uniforms, because you instantly see people that belong together in a way. If you had been at the German festival, you would see people with the Nachtmahr uniforms or T-shirts and instantly they know they belong together, they are a kind of a group. I think it’s great.

For example, when I was seeing the photos fans sent to you on Facebook, I noticed there were girls almost nude…

(Thomas gets excited)

But I felt like they were trying to show off but not sharing the feeling and concept of Nachtmahr.

Thomas: No, what I’m saying is: what is the concept? The concept, the main concept of Nachtmahr is always oppose what you been told and go on your own, don’t change when people say, oppose to common sense, oppose to what people want you to do. And those people just want to be different in a way, but the obscure thing is that they want to be different wearing an uniform. It’s the same for goths. The goths say “Oh, we want to be different from the society”, and then they put on the clothes they buy on the online store where thousands of other Goths buy that clothes. They are the same again, but that’s human nature. People don’t want to be different, they just want to belong to another group. The biggest group is the normal people and they also have their kind of uniform. Then people will say “I want to be different, I want to be individualist”, and what do they do? They just join another group.

Then they join in the group of the individualists.

Thomas: Yes, a group of individualists, which can be a group of skaters, hip hop, hip hop goth, whatever, whatever alternative culture he chooses, it is also a group, which has its uniform.

CONCEPTS

When I was analyzing Alle Lust will Ewigkeit song, I thought it was about Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra.

Thomas: No, it isn’t. It is only the quote. I really like the quote “alle Lust will Ewigkeit” [All desire wants eternity], because it very nicely sounds up the topic of the album, this greed for power I was wanting to express. All lust wants eternity, everything you do pleases you, you want to go on forever. And that is what this quote is saying.

What were you trying to say on Nachtmahr song?

Thomas: It’s like a battle. Sounds like a speech to your troops to get into a right mood for the battle.

Which battle?

Thomas: To get in that sense of real battle. It is the first song of the album and it explains Nachtmahr: we are together on Nachtmahr, the domination of the minds, we will stay forever, just like something to get, in that case, in the mood to listen to the album. I don’t see this battle like a real battle, I see the Nachtmahr song as a battle of opposition. The industrial electro scene, in the last years, it got bigger and bigger. Everything has become very monotonous, everybody has been doing the same kind of music, everybody has been trying to be not offensive, saying “Oh, I’m not doing this because it could offend somebody, I’d rather play it safe, I’d rather not do this or that because some people could not like it”. Everybody has become really cautious about what they are doing. Because the CD market is going down, nobody has a lot of CDs anymore, so everybody is really trying to play it safe. And that’s what I totally oppose to and say it’s more bringing back the punk spirit, doing something and just giving a fuck, doing something because you want to do it and not caring about what the other people would think about it. And in that case, for example, I think it is a kind of this punkish rebellion thing too, because Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, what was his most provocative outfit what the press most write about it? He wore a swastika T-shirt. There is famous picture of Sid Vicious wearing a red T-shirt with a white circle and a black swastika in it. It was his most provocative outfit. Because what he wanted to say was “I don’t give a fuck about what you’re saying, I’m not playing by your rules”. That what I’m saying with Nachtmahr. I don’t give a fuck if you like my aesthetics or not. This is what I like, this is the music I want to do, these are the lyrics I want to write, these are the aesthetics I want to have, take it or leave it, but you can’t change me. And general opinion want to also communicate to the people that they should believe in themselves and not get their ideas from their parents, from the friends or whatever. Find your own way and going this way straight, because that’s what will lead them happiness. To be people who will be on the deathbed, when they be 80 years old, and took a look back at their lives and say “I did everything I wanted, my life was fulfilled”. You only can do it if you really do not get influenced too much by what people are telling you.

On Nachtmahr song, there is a sound of marches… You like to use these kind of samples.

Thomas: Yes, it’s like a battle rhythm, for the first song be like that. It also starts like a march, because it wants to really get people into the right mood for the album. Like when the general, before the troops going to the battle, he sits on his horse and speaks to the troop and tell them “Here we go” and “This is an important fight”. So I wanted to create this feeling to them, to create an anticipation for what is coming up, to prepare them for listening us, to what will happen.

What’s the meaning of “Nachtmahr”?

Thomas: Oh, here we go. That’s a long one! (laughs) It’s a very old word for a demon. You know, in the middle ages and before, people used to always find mythological explanations for normal things and that demon was the explanation for having a nightmare. It is said this demon sits on you in sleep, it sits on your chest and so you, breathe heavily because the demon is very heavy. When it sits on your chest, it whispers bad things in your ear and that’s why you have a nightmare, because this demon is whispering the bad thoughts in your ear and he is influencing you.

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Nachtmahr (1781), by Johann Heinrich Füssli
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Der Nachtmahr verläßt das Lager zweier schlafender Mädchen (1793), by Johann Heinrich Füssli. Translation: The Incubus Leaving Two Sleeping Women
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Nachtmahr (1800), by Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard

Is this demon a woman, a man?

Thomas: The actual one is a demon, like a small goblin. There is a famous painting by a Swiss painter called Füssli which is one of the few painting where you can see like a goblin sitting on the chest. There is a different visualization where there is a woman like a succubus and also a horse, because mahr is also an old name for horse. It’s like a night horse, which is disturbing you in your sleep. It is also another interpretation, but the most commonly known picturization of this demon, which is the small goblin that sits on your chest while you sleep and whispers those bad thoughts in your ears, influencing you in your decisions the next day. Because that’s what happens when you have a nightmare. It stays with you for the next day and you think “Oh my god, I dreamed about this and that yesterday, maybe it’s a sign for something that will happen”, “I died in my dream so, oh, I have to be more cautious when I cross the street today”, something like that. This was the explanation for the people in the middle ages, that was this demon sit on the chest.

And why did you choose it?

Thomas: Because that was what I wanted to be. I wanted to make the music that takes people into grip, so strong that I am with them forever, and even when they are in sleep, they hear my music, because the music is so good, powerful, catchy. Whatever, it’s always with them, like a nightmare.

As a DJ and as a band’s frontman, do you feel like a commander?

Thomas: Yes. That is also what Tanzdiktator is about.

And also on War on the dancefloor.

Thomas: Yes. Your soldiers are the audience and with your music and with you infection with the crowd, you command them. But it is a dual relationship. It is like every general can only achieve great things in battle when his soldiers are motivated and believing in what he does. It is the same at a concert. You can only have a good concert if all the people go with you, dance and sing. They give you the power back. It’s not an one way exchange of power, it goes both ways, like with the general: he also has to have the army to fight behind him in the war. A general doesn’t win the war, he wins the war for his soldiers and you only have a good concert when the crowd is in a right mood.

The soldier metaphor also appears on the concept of metapolitical fascism. In Anton Shekhovtsov’s article about neofolk, he talks about the concept of apoliteia. And those people that enforce the metapolitical fascism, who are called “cultural soldiers”, they live in an interregnum. They don’t like the present, they admire the past and want a brave new world, like fascism wanted.

Thomas: But doesn’t everyone want a brave new world, in a way?

But the concept of these cultural soldiers says that they feel like they are more sophisticated than everybody else.

Thomas: I wouldn’t go so far. I wouldn’t say that my message or my music is better than everybody else. I just say I strive it to be one day.

Not about your music, but the feeling you want people to have, that they are better than the average by being themselves.

Thomas: Being better than the average, because the average people go to school, have their jobs and finish university, take a job, have one child, one dog, a minivan, then they are thirty and then they do the same thing they do from 30 to death. That’s the average people, that’s the normal central European man.

I think it is an universal pattern.

Thomas: That’s the minivan, child, dog, small house, wife, job in the bank and here we go, rest of your life. If I can tell the people that listen to my music that’s not what it’s about, then they are truly better, because I think everybody deserves a better life than this, like a hamster in the hamster wheel.

What would you suggest so?

Thomas: It means something else for everybody. I think there are some people who are also happy in a hamster wheel, but everybody has to find it by themselves. There are people happy by cleaning toilets, there are people who are happy when they live in the woods alone in a house, without money. It is something individual you have to find then and do it, not doing something else and find when you 60 “Oh, I should have done that”. Live now.

What’s the meaning of the word war, for you?

Thomas: Struggle. I think war is a bigger word for what I will describe here. It depends on the context. For an artist, it means like a struggle. In life is struggle, life is war, an old quote by an old philosopher. Life is a constant struggle, you always face new challenges and you always have to fight for your piece of cake.

[PS: “Life is war” is an axiom of Doric philosophy. It was also quoted by the Roman playwright Plautus (c. 254 BC — 184 BC) in its Latin form as “Homo homini lupis est”.]

It’s quite different from people who face life as something beautiful, as a miracle.

Thomas: In my opinion, this is a bit of romanticizing. Life isn’t as nice and as beautiful as it wanted to be, because it’s human nature. Always, no matter how big the flowers, how pink the grass, how fluffy the marshmallows, everybody just strives for his own advantage. Because it’s human nature, you can’t say this person is bad because it’s in our nature that everybody strives for mostly his own advantage. If there is a decision, you’ll always make a decision that advantages you. You and everybody just wanting his own advantage, then confrontation is inevitable. These confrontations will happen. You have to fight for you place in society and you have to fight for living your dreams.

Do you identify something in your personal life that corresponds with this idea of constant struggle?

Thomas: Of course. I have chosen the rocky road. I could have a very comfortable life without. Doing military academy, getting a good job afterwards. I was very good in school, very good in university, I would have no problem on earning 3 or 4 times as much now. Having a comfortable life, a big house, two or three cars, very comfortable, but I wouldn’t be happy. I chose the artistic way, I choose to fight every day, every week to find my own. I chose make my album, find some new content. Life is too short. I let go all of these securities ato live my dream. That’s a really big struggle. I choose the harder but also more satisfying way of life. The other way would be easy, but I would just not be happy in the end. So that’s definitely choosing not the easiest path, but the path that is most promising to make you happy.

Video recorded on Overdose Party, while Thomas Rainer was DJing

And war on the dancefloor?

Thomas: In that context, it’s like the picture of the dancing. When you are a DJ standing up there, you see all the people dancing on the club. For me, it looks like when you see movies like Braveheart or some with a big fight or big war, with a lot of people that look like two armies fighting. Big movies from medieval ages. And when they are coming together, dancing, they are like fighting. You see a lot of bodies just doing something, arms moving and looks like a war scene. Also you have the strobes, the lights. It looks like war, it’s a very aggressive dancing to the point it looks like people are fighting.

Why is this dance very aggresive?

Thomas: Because it is an expression of the music. Dancing is always reflecting the emotions you get from the music on the dancefloor. It’s like the music tells which movements you should do. If it’s a slow song, your moves will be more soft and if it’s faster your moves will be more strong and more aggressive and more edgy. You will reflect the music with your body.

The interesting part is that people use their fists closed.

Thomas: It’s an expression also of the power they feel, because the music is strong.

Do you consider this dancing a kind of getting off the stress?

Thomas: Of course, it’s a kind of getting rid of the aggressions. Just going for once a week to switch off your mind and let yourself go.

Like punks. They use to get rid of violence through art.

Thomas: Yes and I think that’s very important, to get rid of all that stress and negative stuff inside. It’s just letting go out once, not thinking what you do, just do it.

Because when you make a violent art, maybe you’re not a violent person.

Thomas: No, I never in my life was in a fight, really. I am very peaceful person. But every person has this violence inside of him, everybody has. And everybody in his life has to find a way to get rid of it. Some people do gardening, for example. It’s also something very manual, violent in a way. For some is dancing, for some is, I don’t know, football. It’s also violent.

About Imperial Austrian Industrial. What does it mean?

Thomas: I see the “Austrian” reflects patriotism. “Industrial” as I think it’s the most broad description for the music, so I think if it’s industrial most of the people will expect something like that. And “Imperial” is just a phrase I want to use as a reflect of the high aesthetic value I want to see in the music and its claim to be eternal, the music to live on, to be something that is not a current trend but something to go on.

When you say imperial, are you wondering a fictional medieval times, like in fantasy fictions?

Thomas: It is, of course. I want to use this term as a kind of a naïve container for all these emotions you would associate with it. Because when most people think of Austrian empire, they think of Sissi, the empress Elisabeth, they will think more a romanticized reality than what it was in truth. But it will reach the listener, like I said, which terms are not accurate but that most people would understand. The same is “Industrial”. Industrial is a word that if used very accurately would be wrong on the context. Because industrial comes from the record company, the Industrial Records, which released Throbbing Gristle albums. But the meaning changed over the times and I think you have to use terms in their current meaning and not in their original and accurate meaning. Because in the meaning of the most people understand.

There is a paradox between imperial and industrial, because industrial feels more modern, like futuristic.

Thomas: Yes, I’m totally aware of this paradox, but as I said, each of these three words are used to symbolize singular things that make Nachtmahr. It’s not so important that they all go together, because they are just expressions of things I want to see understood in my music. It’s not so important to see those three meanings going all together well, I want to see them all as metaphors in all aspects.

It’s interesting because electronic music is considered the music of the future and you are using it with past stuff.

Thomas: It is a juxtaposition, I’m aware of it, but it’s not something that is illogical. You can use futuristic means but you can use it to express a more traditionalistic things, for example. I think about the whole German medieval bands, like In Extremo. They also bring together rock with medieval instruments and it’s also creating something new of that. The same works for that Imperial Austrian Industrial, for whole Nachtmahr theme.

You cannot build the future without looking back into the past.

Thomas: Yes. The whole Nachtmahr world I created is a fantasy world and I can create all I want. In my world, I am the god, I can tell what works and what won’t work.

Still about label. Do you consider Nachtmahr a martial industrial band?

Thomas: No, because martial industrial is more bands like Folkstorm or classic or neoclassic, in my definition. Musical definition is something really hard. Everybody has his own definition. Martial industrial is more like a neoclassical approach to the music, less techno influences. Maschinenzimmer 412, Folkstorm, this kind of bands.

Not neofolk?

Thomas: Not neofolk, neoclassical. They have a lot of classical instruments, orchestral music and strong percussion, but martial industrial doesn’t have mostly vocals. Like some Blutharsch stuff…

And Triarii?

Thomas: No, I wouldn’t say martial industrial. Everything with guitars is not. (laughs) For example, Leger des Heils is very classical, the soundscapes is more like ambient soundscapes, you get some classical instruments like strings, horns and strong percussion, but martial industrial mostly doesn’t have any vocals.

It’s strange because the word industrial doesn’t fit very well.

Thomas: Yes, that’s because of the heavy percussions and that’s an industrial element. Sometimes they have heavy percussion and also more like Test Department, Neubauten, percussion like wild drums and stuff like that. It would be my definition, but music definitions have discusses for years…

Do you believe the neonazis would be close to your work?

Thomas: No, because the music that they use to listen to is basically punk music. There is this term in German that is called Rechtsrock, right wing rock, that’s what those people listen to. Because the skinheads and right wing oriented use to listen to these two styles of music, one is the Rechtsrock, which is basically rock with right wing lyrics, and there is a right wing ballad, that is like one guy with the acoustic guitar and it’s like folk but not neofolk. Not as mystic or anything. It is just like one guitar, one guy singing right wing lyrics, ballads, like more a right wing singer-songwriter and right wing rock. This is basically those people really listen to. There are two or three like really bad, really cheap right wing techno bands, but it sounds like 90’s techno, very fast and some vocal samples. But not that is serious. Most right wing people in Germany, skinheads who listen to right wing rock are ballad guys, but they don’t listen to EBM or electronic music in our sense. Because most of them are really simple people, they listen to more simple people’s music, if you know what I mean. Electronic music is too complicated for them, in a way. (laughs) It’s out of their universe. For them, the music needs to be more real. They need to see the people that are playing the music. For them, electronic music is too abstract, because it is synthesized, but who is playing? You know, this is the kind of mindset they have. It has to be music that is authentic, because in their opinion, music only can be authentic if there are five people playing their instruments on stage and nothing else. Their music horizon is as close minded as their politic horizon.

Do you here in Austria or in Germany call yourselves rivetheads?

Thomas: No, rivethead is a very American thing.

I read in some discussion boards on internet that skinheads feel uncomfortable with rivetheads.

Thomas: Yes, but it’s more an American thing. I never got my head around this role, because the American goth subculture is so much different from the European ones.

Picture took on Overdose Party, on July 8th
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Fan photo sent to Nachtmahr’s Facebook page

But do you agree that people that listen to industrial music have some kind of martial style?

Thomas: Less here. I think the more martial people, that look more like skinheads, they are people who listen to EBM, to the oldschool EBM like DAF or Nitzer Ebb, this kind of music. They can look like skinheads, but they are not. They are more politically left wing and the industrial people who listen more to industrial here are more futuristic, not as extreme as the cybergoth, but something between EBM military people and cyber, like cyber military. They would have like a military array, a gas mask and maybe a black officer’s coat, also new rock boots, for example. It is not a traditional uniform but using, they will look more like soldiers from the 25th century, probably. It is a martial futuristic sense.

In Brazil, people who listen to dark-electro use to wear gas masks too but they suffer from a kind of prejudice by people that listen to elder bands. Is there something like this here?

Thomas: Yes, of course. You have subculture and then you have sub-sub-subculture. Because you have culture, the society, then you have the goth subculture. In the goth subculture there is the industrial sub-subculture and in the industrial sub-subculture there is the cyber industrial sub-sub-subculture. (laughs) See how stupid that is really. And of course the new movement is the cyber industrial and cybergoth people, and it is like with everything that is new: it is always fraud upon. It’s new, it’s only the kids doing it, not the real people. It’s lesser a problem of the movement itself, but more a problem with the fact that it is new, it’s current and in the trend.

In Brazil, we have two kind of parties: one for the elder bands and another to the newest. Do you have this in Austria too?

Thomas: Yes, there is a big differentiation between the goth rock traditional bands, all the bat caves…

I mean industrial.

Thomas: I don’t know, the scene is so small here in Vienna.

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Utrecht, Tivoli by Tim van Neen Photography

What is your feeling when you are on stage, seeing the public?

Thomas: It’s great. I think I played roughly 300 shows in my life and it stills like the first time. It’ so great, it’s amazing. The intro is on and the music starts to play, you go outside and people shout. It’s unbelievable, it never loses its charm. It’s always… it is the greatest feeling on Earth.

Do you keep a relation with your fans?

Thomas: Of course, I think I have a very close relation with a lot of fans. I do a lot of works on Facebook, I always communicate with fans in all kind of social media, answering all fan email and stuff like that. Also on the concerts or after them, I’m always out in the crowd, talking to fans, signing autographs, keeping a very strong relation with them. What I do all the time is contests to try to incorporate the fans into Nachtmahr universe.

I saw on Facebook they treat you like a master.

Thomas: Yes, because I am the master of this world. You have to see this like Dungeons & Dragons, you see? (laughs) They are all playing in this world and I am the master, so you have to see more like that. I think it’s more like a playful relationship, also how I write my status updates on Facebook. It’s a charade in a way, but it’s part of this world and it’s necessary. Compared to Dungeons & Dragons, with my words and how I write, how I present myself and my art in public, it creates this big playground where everybody can play in and that’s what they like. That’s what people enjoy, what makes them listen to the music, makes them continue to listen to the music. They have this big playground I create over and over again. I give them new opportunities to join this world and participate in creating new aspects of it, also influencing me in a way. It’s a bit of like this idea of crowdsourcing: you put your small idea out into the world and you get a hundred of new ideas back that inspire you too. So it’s a very healthy relationship and exchange of creative energy with people.

Do you feel like a character or is it you?

Thomas: I’m a character, definitely. Because it’s necessary to keep this world alive. Think about Dungeons & Dragons, with a world that is so cool. I think it just helps people to dive into the world if you are a character and not the real person they can meet everyday at the concerts. For example, at concerts, I’m a normal guy, I speak to them like I speak to you at this moment. Just like normal, just like I would meet them on the street and they would know who I am. But on the internet and in public, I try to create this world for them. It just works so much better if you try to be a character.

But it’s different of your idea of being yourself.

Thomas: Yes, because creating the world is necessary. That’s what I want to do. I am myself when I meet the people in person, then I am myself and authentic. But to create this world for my art, I need to create this world and therefore I need to be this character to do so.

Like after people entering into your world, they are prepared to be themselves and go out to “real world”.

Thomas: Yes, kind of. I think that sounds very well, because I am myself even when I’m in character I’m still myself. But it would not be possible for this world if I also communicate like a normal person. It would ruin the illusion of this world of Nachtmahr. When I was young, I would never have been able to communicate to the musicians I loved. I remember when I was a still black metal fan, I wrote letters for my favorite musicians, by post, and I got a reply once and it was the greatest thing for me. And now people don’t look on the internet site anymore, they just write ‘When is your next concert in Germany?”. They don’t take the effort anymore to look on the homepage, it’s just “Let’s write the star an email and ask him when it’s the next concert in Germany”. I could never thought of that! When I was young, all my idols were mystical beings, they were full of stars and sparkles. They were like God. And now people communicate with their favorite musicians like face to face.

When they answer.

Thomas: Yes, I do that, I’m supposed to do it. (laugh) That’s why you need at least a bit of distance to keep this myth alive and that’s why I’m also using this more sophisticated style writing on status updates. That is to keep at least a bit of distance, to not have this ‘he’s the guy next door’ approach, because the whole world I try to construct it wouldn’t work if I behaved like the guy next door.

To better convince.

Thomas: Yes, it just sells the world.

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Fan photo on Nachtmahr’s Facebook page

When the fans are wearing the uniforms, do you think they are conscious about the Nachtmahr’s message?

Thomas: That is hard to see, because you can never look into the people. I just think what I said before: they look like they want to be part of the group. When they show they are wearing the uniforms, they seem to belong to this world, they are part of this world. And also show respect for me as an artist, by wearing these uniform. I think this is the main purpose: to belong a group and enjoy the artist.

It’s curious how you fascinate those people.

Thomas: I think I just touched them right. I never thought this would happen. I never thought that when I had the idea for this artwork with the girls for the first album. I never thought it would possible that would be people dressing out like that. But then it started to happen, it wasn’t planned. Maybe I just awakened something that has been laid dormant in these people. They wanted to show their admiration for a band in another way than just buying a T-shirt and wearing it, but trying to impersonating this band even better. And feel connected, because why are people wearing band’s T-shirts? To show other people they like this band.

I am “this” kind of person.

Thomas: I am “this” kind of person, I like this band and therefore I am “this” kind of person. I think it takes one step up from wearing a T-shirt, wearing a complete outfit from a band. It has the same purpose but only with a stronger impact, I guess. Same basic motivation, probably.

Written by

Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD candidate in Visual Arts. Head of innovation and futurism at UP Lab. Cyberpunk enthusiast and researcher.

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