With “Trauma Bounce” VERONIKA KÖNIG releases new music under her stage name FARCE again. The sacred organs have given way to basses that pump blood through the veins in four-four time, while melodies from synthesizer wonderland cry out for happy faces on the dancefloor. The urge for conscious escalation is inscribed in the music of FARCE. After remix versions of her last album, released in 2018, VERONIKA KÖNIG pushes the project into new corners between high gloss pop and club ecstasy. Why FARCE has broken free from all dependencies, what is wrong in the Austrian music landscape and why she, as a happy person, is writing better songs, she discussed in an interview with Christoph Benkeser.
After quite some time, new music from your project Farce will be released on June 26 under the name “Trauma Bounce”. Is this a brief sign of life or the beginning of a renewed assault on Austrian pop music?
Veronika König: For me, this is the beginning of a new phase of the project, because I’m now independent. Last year I eased myself out of my previous fairways. I had to rebuild the whole framework for releasing music on my own, got myself a label code, the licenses – all the paperwork around it sucked. But I also got a lot of support, started asking around on Instagram and friends, who are also independent, how they are doing it. Lulu Schmidt had answered my story and recommended the AWAL portal to me. They leave 100 percent of my rights on every level to me – and take 15 percent of the digital sales. That’s a rate I’m okay with, because I’m keeping all the other rights. The songs of the EP were already finished in their basic form in May 2019, as a commissioned work for the Hyperreality Festival. Later in the studio I checked with my co-producer Nikolaus Abit what still was to be done to make a well-rounded release out of them.
You are talking about your performance at the Hyperreality festival. It was already noticeable back then: the sacred organs stole themselves away, the subwoofer wobbled much more, the melodies were closer to club ecstasy than to a gloomy cult in the catacombs of a cathedral. How did all this develop?
Veronika König: I’m coming from analogue music, so it was a gradual development for me. To dare to leave the band context, to play more club and pop rhythms has been a farce since the first EP. The distorted and crass sound of my last album [“Heavy Listening”; note] is still there, but has found a new home in a different context. The music I’m listening to and want to listen to in the future has to bounce. I need to be able to nod my head. This was partly the case with “Heavy Listening”, but I also wrote many quiet songs for the album. When the songs for “Trauma Bounce” were written, I couldn’t be bothered to have quietness and slowness. Because it’s much more fun live when it’s banging and I want people to be able to dance at my concerts. Then there’s the well-produced electronica or pop show, which can be emotional and sad, but above all reveals the subliminal stimulus of a four-to-the-floor beat – and takes people along on a body level. That’s what I really appreciate about club music.
“AT THE TIME OF ‚HEAVY LISTENING‘ MAKING MUSIC WAS MY SELF-THERAPY. THEN I WENT INTO PROFESSIONAL PSYCHOTHERAPY”
This is reflected in the big pop albums of the last two years. Everybody wants to party, to escalate, be awesome. Does pop music have to bang more today?
Veronika König: Yes, probably so. I’m thinking for example of “Future Nostalgia” by Dua Lipa – one of my favorite albums that came out recently. I’ve been listening to it all the time, cooked by it, had my little quarantine routines accompanied by it. There are heavy disco and even Motown influences in it. The record is reduced and pompous at the same time, a masterful sound. That’s what it’s all about for me. I bring together different influences, in the end four songs emerge that leave no room for a filler, back to back. You can’t skip the tracks on “Trauma Bounce”.
The EP format comes in handy.
Veronika König: Sure, on an album there might be quieter tracks in between. I loved each song individually and put them together – that’s what the EP is all about. Also the title “Trauma Bounce” plays a role. Every single song is about traumas – personal and social. “Heavy Listening” was an insanely depressive album, the EP was supposed to be about fun and healing. Maybe that’s why it has become more danceable and club-like.
While listening I thought to myself: “Trauma Bounce” is the logical answer to the past album.
Veronika König: At the time of “Heavy Listening” making music was my self-therapy. After that I went into professional psychotherapy. Also to ask myself these questions: Who am I without my depression? What is my artistic work like without my depression? Fortunately I had a very understanding therapist who also knew immediately that every creative person feels this way when they decide to go for a treatment. You’re afraid of losing drive and concentration because you’re using art as a coping strategy. You want to escape from yourself by making music – like I did then – and working yourself off. Now I have a healthy daily working routine. I can work on my music without having the urge to write a song in one night.
Thank you for being so candid about this. After all, as society, we are all still spinning this manic cult-of-the-genius narrative.
Veronika König: It’s about observing yourself as soon as you have a manic creative urge. The important question is: Do I even have an ear at that moment to listen to music, to create it – or do I just want to distract myself from problems? And: am I withdrawing into the music or am I going towards an open confrontation? If you manage to work on music unencumbered by all the feelings that move you, good things emerge. You just don’t throw yourself into it because you think you can’t do anything else. It’s a much more open and relaxed approach. In order to get there, I’ve worked a lot on myself. It wasn’t always fun.
“DEPRESSED ART IS EGOCENTRIC ART THAT NO ONE’S INTERESTED IN”
So writing music is no longer just a means to an end, but the possibility to bring out another facet of yours.
Veronika König: Absolutely. When I’m happy, there are still enough topics I can deal with. Depressive art is egocentric art that no one’s interested in. It’s not accessible to the rest of the world. Of course people identify with it, especially those who are depressed themselves. But it’s not a clever or informed way of writing music. For me now it’s about creating a certain kind of universality. I can only achieve that if I have emotional clarity. You are not that fragile and obsessive with every single thing, with every hi-hat, with every sound. You can take a step back and produce yourself properly. If you have the ambition to do (almost) everything yourself, you have to be able to do that. For that I had to develop myself personally, to get to the point of working happily too. Otherwise it’s not work, but only self-therapy and escapism. You can’t keep that up for long.
A hint of the new direction was already given on the two remix versions of your last album which you released at the end of last year. Four-four kicks and melodies where Bilderbuch on E get lost in the techno club.
Veronika König: That’s a nice association. At that time I wanted to take fragments from the past and re-contextualize them. I could also have down-pitched everything to make a Vaporwave record out of it. That would have been fun, because the construction of the songs is complicated and that sounds cool. But I chose the club context, so I listened to techno, although I don’t really listen to techno in general. I spent hours listening to monotonous sets from some DJs, loading samples of the old songs onto my machine and playing around. By no stretch of the imagination does that mean that I can make a techno record because it’s so easy. The remixes were just a trip and an attempt to find an amusing new approach to my debut album.
The linearity in techno, which functions according to certain structures, has practically opened new doors.
Veronika König: There are different templates or building blocks that are predetermined in themselves, certain beats, certain hi-hat motifs. In pop music there are also formulas, but it’s more fun when you move away from them – or bring them together with motifs from other genres. We see that with Dua Lipa, for example. With a bassline like the one on “Pretty Please” you’ve already won. On “Future Nostalgia” she seems really liberated to me as an artist, playful. It’s fun.
You could also mention Charlie XCX in this context. She recently tweeted that her next album will be the last one under her record deal she signed when she was 16. That’s everything that is going wrong in the music industry, in a nutshell.
Veronika König: Exactly, there’s no interest in promoting you as an artist, making a commitment for years, nurturing you and caring for you. They want you to make money for them for years and years. This is one of the many things that are going wrong in the so-called music industry. But it’s nice to see that these artists too are getting out at some point, and that the haunting will be coming to an end sometime. I believe and hope that there will be a turnaround. Especially because of Corona and the exposure of the precarious conditions in art and culture I had hoped that labels would take on a responsibility as employers. In fact, nothing of the sort has happened. I haven’t heard from any label that for their artists there’s a bridging-the-gap advance, a big aid package or a Corona compensation for the cancelled shows. On the contrary: Labels are whining because they’re losing so much money. But they are the companies that get subsidies and emergency packages. Artists aren’t getting this in the same way. Most labels in Austria have not faced up to the responsibility towards their artists. In my opinion they benefit from art, so in an emergency situation they should give their capital to the people who provide them with art. Instead, most of them said that as an artist you should work even more, for example playing home and streaming concerts, and presented this as a great alternative. This I find cheeky.
“FOR ME IT’S THE LABELS, BUT ALSO THE CLUBS THAT DIDN’T TAKE THEIR RESPONSIBILITY SERIOUSLY”
What is also visible is the shift of responsibility from the label to the state who should have assumed this responsibility and offer un-bureaucratic support for the cultural base. This has often not happened.
Veronika König: It’s clear that the state doesn’t give a shit about artists, especially if they are critical or politically active. There was state aid for established companies, labels, agencies. It would have been their responsibility to pass on this aid. A good counterexample is the AKM/austro mechana. They set up the emergency funds within one week of the first measures. I was able to submit a request there and have a cancelled concert compensated, and it worked un-bureaucratically. But for that you have to be a member of the AKM/austro mechana and already have done the paperwork. For me it’s the labels, but also the clubs, that didn’t take their responsibility seriously. The activism around the dying of clubs is impertinent. Club operators are entrepreneurs that have fired their entire staff, which lives in a precarious mode in the gastronomy sector anyway, within the first week. For them, the musicians are now to play concerts in order to collect donations, so that the companies may be able to continue one day or other – a large imbalance! I’m not talking about Venster99 and other subcultural incubators, but about the big clubs that grab all the emergency packages yet fire their staff at the same time. You can see where the priorities lie in night- and cultural life: Not with art, not with the community, but with business.
However, one will not be able to detach the entrepreneurial part from culture.
Veronika König: Another example: a Vienna Club Commission, which is funded with 300.000 Euros, should not primarily save the entrepreneurs and their clubs, but should enable the artists who play in these clubs to operate them. That would be the task of a mediator between the city, the clubs and the people. In Austria there are so many reasons and exclusion criteria under which an artist is not entitled to receive funding. It’s mainly about migrants, people who only have a secondary residence in Vienna. I am white and in most cases I can afford the necessary paperwork, the necessary fees to secure my livelihood, but even I am not eligible for most of the funding in Vienna, because Austrian money has to go to Austrian citizens and never to those who live and create culture here. That is nationalism. Fortunately I can apply for SKE funding, and “Trauma Bounce” was only financially feasible because of this. But labels can also tap into many other sources of funding, because they are companies, the economy is always supported. This is a selfish view of a common music industry where you’re putting money in your own pocket, and not a relationship by which to create culture together.
As a freelance artist you are stuck in the middle of the tunnel with no chance of seeing the light at the end of it.
Veronika König: Reflecting on the artistic and subcultural aspects of music would be the light at the end of the tunnel. This would mean forsaking the chance of making big money and taking the work into your own hands – not only for yourself, but for each other, for a common (pop) music culture.
“TO MOVE AWAY FROM A SENSELESS MONOPOLY GAME OF THE BIG PLAYERS, TOWARDS MORE SOLIDARITY”
The conscious creation of solidarity networks.
Veronika König: Nepotism, which in a negative sense mainly affects the higher leagues, should be broken up. Transparency should be created on all levels, equal opportunities should be important. There should be a willingness to share, to move away from a senseless monopoly game of the big players towards more solidarity. After all, there are enough audiences for everyone. But for that, music would need to be made real cool again. And you can only make music cool if you stop seeing everything as advertising and if you resist being engrossed by the compulsion to consume. It’s not subcultural and cool if any artistic output is some kind of branded nonsense. Then nobody wants to be a fan. But please don’t get it wrong: almost no-one is doing this out of a voluntary love of money. If you as an artist have an endorsement, I don’t think you’re doing it out of love for the brand or out of pure greed for profit, but because in the first instance a label doesn’t provide enough money for you to survive without such things. Here, of course, I’m talking about the big players, not some small to medium-sized scene labels from Vienna. Majors and bigger indies have a big share of the blame for the current imbalance in the music industry, and they aren’t the innocent victims of an evil consumer society that suddenly doesn’t want to buy music anymore.
The economy of the music industry, and that’s what it is: an industry, but it keeps going on. It’s a top-down process that requires monopolies but also produces them. I am thinking of streaming platforms that sell the curating of playlists to brands.
Veronika König: That has become the reality of all artists who want to make money with their music. You have to let Spotify rule you. That has nothing to do with the global democratization of the music industry which they are taking up as their cause. You won’t get rich from streaming – in most cases you can’t even live on it. That makes it all the more important that there are other ways of experiencing music. The thing is: using Spotify is convenient. And consuming must be convenient; but being a fan not.
And that is related to the network effect of the monopolies. It’s convenient, so you use it. Just like you can criticize Amazon in one sentence and place an order in the next. It’s cheap, and it’s easy to use – because it hides the true costs. One way to get around this in the music field would be Bandcamp, for example.
Veronika König: All the changes that are sustainable are coming through pressure from grassroots movements. In political or economic grievances, for example, it’s the trade unions that are creating the pressure. Nobody voluntarily makes processes that shake those in power more democratic. Through the precarious situations that exist across the whole cultural sector, we have stopped letting ourselves be put to sleep, letting ourselves be rendered incapable of action by this state of apparent lack of alternatives. We do have other choices. At the beginning this path may be uncomfortable. But in the long run it has many advantages. Like exchanging all sort of things between us, for example. I see this as an opportunity to take music back from the industry – and to turn it into a common good. At least that would be the musical landscape in which I would like to live and work.
“OFTEN IT’S ALL ABOUT HURT MALE EGOS WHICH ESPECIALLY WOMEN AND QUEER ARTISTS HAVE TO DEAL WITH”
You are taking a clear stand, you position yourself politically. Many people are outsourcing this emotional, but also bureaucratic work, they don’t want to have anything to do with it, with the argument of concentrating on their art.
Veronika König: On the one hand, it’s a lot of work for a single person. On the other hand, I have noticed that this is what a label actually does – and at the end of the day, it’s not much. For what they are taking away from you, it’s nothing. Let’s say I spend nine hours of office time to log in anywhere, do the paperwork, and then it all adds up. When I think I once had a label doing this and know what price I paid for it, it’s an insult. By taking responsibility for myself, I realized how some labels keep their artists in a precarious state. In addition – and this is true for the past and the present – I don’t want to work or be associated with various brands like Red Bull because they are run by racists. This leads to an automatic exclusion from various circles, festivals or bookings for which I am no longer eligible. The labels then say: If you don’t want to take the money from these people, have fun, feel good about it; but then you won’t get this or that.
Often it’s about hurt male egos with which especially women and queer artists have to struggle permanently. These are always people who are taking their personal feelings into professional areas. Although it’s your work that is filled with your emotions, as an artist you have to be the one who performs in a most professional and unemotional way, while the people who should be taking care of the office stuff are failing. Meanwhile I am doing it on my own, nobody bribes anybody for any placement and I am very happy that the public interest, a fan-base, is nevertheless there.
Because you’ve broken free from the dependencies.
Veronika König: I am no exception. There are so many able people – especially women – in music who do it that way or are self-sufficient. I don’t want to romanticize it either. It’s not ideal to do everything on your own. I’m not doing everything on my own either, but am working with a co-producer.
You’re talking about a glass ceiling that is shifting successively and through pressure, but is still far too heavy.
Veronika König: Music, like any other artistic activity, is a collaborative art. A wonderful counterexample was the collaboration with Wolfgang Möstl for the Æther Kombo single “Déjà-Vu”. Wolfgang wrote me, we made a studio appointment, produced in one afternoon – and it was done.
The track “Déjà-vu” also turned out great.
Veronika König: I am very happy with it, it was a great collaboration. Even for Wolfgang, although he has been making music for so long and so busily, it was the first time that he took over A&R, promotion and so on for himself. Collaborations like this move things forward. The public realizes that the project is born out of the will to write good music together – and not because some marketing guys thought that this could lead to a mutual expansion of the respective fan groups. In my structures in Vienna I’m realizing that there are more and more people who are willing to do it differently and on a mutually respectful level – without screwing each other. That’s the foundation for the way we need to move forward now. There are never too few people who like to listen to good and in that sense “honest” music.
This often is the argument when it comes to stimulating competition.
Veronika König: Yes, actually there’s not only room for a few. This culture of scarcity in which we are living and on which capitalism is thriving is the current dominant myth, but not the reality.
“MUSIC WRITTEN FOR PROFIT IS SHIT BECAUSE IT’S NOT AIMED AT LISTENERS, BUT AT CUSTOMERS”
Yes, because the neoliberal narrative of competition and innovation has been outdated quite some time ago. Collectively it would certainly work out with much less stress.
Veronika König: And with a better quality! Music that is only written for profit is shit, because it’s not aimed at listeners, but at customers. Then it’s all about sound exposure only. This is like a capitalist anaesthesia, which does not want you to think about the background, about politics, about world events. I want to bounce people out of that – with music that has a pop appeal and still has a political attitude. Just because it sounds good, it doesn’t have to be unpolitical. And because it’s political, it doesn’t have to sound bad! I am wishing for myself to create an awareness that enables bright listeners to recognize when industries suddenly are trying to cash in and make subcultural phenomena their own. This has been happening a lot in recent years. Political, subcultural work is more and more being pushed down and bled to death, every five years they’re coming up with an act they are declaring as the cool new thing – and suddenly everybody wants to have been a feminist anyway. And this is then being sold. That’s how you get an act like Billie Eilish that fills every spot, from the biggest Spotify Playlist to radio Billa to the scene blogs. I want to be plain about this: I myself think Billie Eilish is great. She’s almost still a child, she sounds great, and she makes great music. She’s not the problem. The campaign around her is worrying and highly successful.
Because it’s not really about the music, but about the story that you can sell in connection with her music.
Veronika König: This myth that she did it all by herself and without large resources is only there to peddle the line to the people that really anyone can do it. That means: All of us can achieve what Billie Eilish has achieved – that’s why nobody has to pay for it. This story about the genius in the bedroom studio has been appropriated by the industry and it tells us that music has no value because anyone can piece it all together with a 50 Euro keyboard anyway. In actual fact this is an emancipatory narrative, yet distorted and made ad absurdum.
Veronika König: I’m regretting that I’ve made my self-confidence depend on factors that I now know mean nothing. Maybe a thicker skin would have protected me a little from the beginning. But all in all I am thankful and think that I have been under a lucky star and still am now. Looking back, I even understand some industry guys’ aggressions better: I don’t need them. But they need the talent to make their money. You can quickly feel that, but this also creates allies. Apart from that: no regrets.
Many thanks for the interview!
Translated from the German original by Julian Schoenfeld