“People can think what they want, but that’s our side of the story, and if you think we’re liars, fuck you.”
While talking to Thomas Rainer of Nachtmahr after Ad·ver·sary’s performance at Kinetik last week, Thomas requested an interview with us in order to delve deeper into the issues at stake. Rainer invited us to make the questions as controversial as possible, and upon meeting him suggested that after we’d talked to him we speak with the women who’d been on stage as part of Nachtmahr’s performance in order to obtain a wider range of views. Given that gender issues sat at the heart of this discussion, we were happy have them join us midway through the conversation.
ID:UD: So, you opened the show two nights ago and your last album with the Winston Churchill quote “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” What does Nachtmahr stand for?
Thomas Rainer: It’s like what I already quoted to you after you caught me after the show. I think the industrial scene got too tame. In times like these, we’re trying to stick to formulas that work and not trying to show too many edges because it could be taken in the wrong ways. I’m getting a lot of shit for what I do, but on the other hand I’m also getting a lot of praise for it. It’s a weird metaphor, because that’s how my brain works, but it’s like velcro: if you have edges stuff sticks. If you’re all slick it just slides off. The more flack you get, the more successful you are in a way. There’s people who don’t want you where you are, because you’re not sticking to their rules they made. Industrial being focused on punk is about breaking the rules and widening boundaries.
ID:UD: One of the criticisms that is often leveled at current EBM is that it’s apolitical and contentless. Do you see Nachtmahr as a political band in sense?
TR: Not at all. I’m not a political person as an artist. I think politics [should] have nothing to do with music. Politics are something everyone has to do in private. I vote for a party in a booth, it’s your private thing. Music should not be used as a vehicle for political beliefs, in any way, left, right, or whatever.
“You put on a uniform, you look at yourself in the mirror and you’re feeling empowered.”
ID:UD: As we saw this weekend, a lot of people take exception to a lot of the imagery you use. You aren’t the first band in industrial to use fascist imagery, why do you think people react to Nachtmahr in the way that they do?
TR: First I would like to elaborate on something: it’s not fascist imagery, it’s militaristic. There’s a big difference. I was talking to a guy yesterday who said “I was wearing a Russian uniform in a club and I got in trouble with some guys who said ‘you’re a fucking Nazi'”. That’s the problem. Military fashion, which is very, very acceptable in the fetish subculture, is often put into the same pot into the same pot as right wing. In BDSM it’s all about domination, and about power, and the uniform reflects that kind of power. There is no political statement contained within. It’s the effect you get when wearing it, when people are seeing it, but also for when you’re wearing it yourself. You put on a uniform, you look at yourself in the mirror and you’re feeling empowered. Even people not into that feel it. You put on a uniform, you look at yourself in the mirror and you’re feeling empowered. Even people not into that feel it. We’re brought up with authority all around us, and we associate certain traits with a uniform. When you wear one yourself you feel this power. That’s what the uniform is about. It’s not fascist, it’s militaristic. I’m gonna stick with that.
ID:UD: On the BDSM side you had a tribute to the movie “The Night Porter” in your album artwork, and many of your lyrics are about the things we were just discussing. Is fetish a huge part of what your addressing then, is it about power dynamics?
TR: Yes. I’m as open as I can be now. I’m also fulfilling a sexual fantasy of mine. I just get fucking turned on by hot chicks in uniforms. If I can have that in my band, it really turns me on, and it turns a lot of people out there on. I’m living my own sexual fantasies through the imagery of the band.
“There’s a comradeship amongst musicians like amongst soldiers.”
ID:UD: You’re a controversial figure, a lot of people take exception to what you do. In those discussions “Nachtmahr” and “Thomas Rainer” are used interchangeably. Is there a line dividing the two?
TR: There definitely is. My stage persona is the Supreme Commander. He’s very arrogant and cocky. I’m not like that at all, I’m a fun loving guy, I like to be social. The stage persona is only to underline the imagery of the band. If we can go back to that, I had this concept, I came up with the music for the band and it was pretty faceless. It was founded coincidentally. I wrote some tracks to fit into my DJ sets, to bridge the gap between industrial and techno. A lot of people came up to me to say “You should totally find a way to release it, it’s really good!”, so I was faced with the challenge of finding an image, image is very important to support your music and make it stick with people.
So I was thinking a lot about that, and listening to the music, and I was reminded of my time in the army, I used to be in the Austrian army. I found there is a lot of parallels between life as a musician and the life of a soldier. You train and train and train, and there’s campaigns you’ve got to do. There’s a comradeship amongst musicians like amongst soldiers. You’re away from home, all these things, from my three years in the army and my lifetime as a musician were similar. So I found this idea of portraying Nachtmahr as soldiers of sound, who shoot with bass drums instead of guns.
“I’m an Austrian and a patriot, and I can’t be a Nazi by definition.”
ID:UD: Speaking of finding an image for the band, you also quoted John Doe from Se7en: it’s not enough to whisper in people’s ears, you have to hit them with a sledgehammer. It seems the fascist or military image of Nachtmahr has been ramping up with each release since the project started. Has that been a conscious thing?
TR: No, I think it’s very simply what is doable with a budget. You start with an idea and from record to record you refine the imagery and start to refine the concept. You get a sort of momentum. From one idea the next one grows up, and it goes on.
Again, I really want to exclude the fascist thing, it’s militaristic. There is no kind of uniform we use that would not be used by any other army in the world. As an Austrian, an Austrian patriot…every American is allowed to be a patriot, Germans aren’t allowed to be that. I’m an Austrian and a patriot, and I can’t be a [Nazi] by definition. Fascist Germany, the Third Reich brought a lot of shit on us. If you’re an Austrian patriot you believe in your country, and the roots of our country are in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is far beyond everything Germany has ever been and ever will be. This heritage has been taken from us by the shadow of the German Third Reich, and therefore every patriotic Austrian cannot be a fascist or a Nazi. [When we contacted Thomas for some clarity on this quote he wished to make it clear that this statement is in reference to National Socialist German belief not accepting Austria as an independent nation, but a part of Germany. – ed]
That’s a very valid point I want to make because it insults me as an Austrian patriot to be called a Nazi.
ID:UD: The word “Nazi” does come up a lot when people are detractors of yours. People either implying you are a Nazi, or saying you have sympathies. Do you feel the need to respond to that?
TR: That’s basically what I just did. I’m a patriot, I’m a uniform fetishist, I like militaria. If people associate that with being a Nazi, that’s their fucking fault, and not mine.
ID:UD: Are you afraid that any part of your image overshadows what you’re doing musically?
TR: I think it goes together. The whole idea about the band was to find something that supports the music. The image is very very important to carry the music across, to be a vehicle for the music. I find a lot of industrial bands are faceless. We look at festival pictures you see like, two guys in combats and black shirts behind a laptop. You need to give your band and your project a face when you see a photo, that’s Nachtmahr. To me it’s equally as important to the music.
“Industrial was always about evolution.”
ID:UD: On stage on Friday when you said industrial was all about the beat. Is that what defines what you do?
TR: I’m in this scene for fifteen years now and I’ve heard this discussion so often.
ID:UD: What is industrial?
TR: What is industrial. Bands that are now considered the definition, back in the day were like the new kids who were considered untrue. It’s a fucking joke for me. This whole “trueness” reminds me of my black metal days, what is true and untrue, let’s burn a church or kill some Christians to be proper black metal. It’s bullshit. Industrial always was about futurism. If you think about back in the days, Cabaret Voltaire, Test Dept, the old guys, they were always on top of things, cutting edge. All of those bands always utilized the newest means of technology, tape manipulation, they were always ahead of what was happening in mainstream music. They always were ahead of the musical vanguard. Industrial was always about evolution. Now there’s people who say this evolution is [wrong]. If Test Dept., Cabaret Voltaire or Clock DVA were founded now, they would do the fucking same thing. They would be using iPads, they would be using current synthesizers, embracing modern technology. That’s what it’s all about, the admiration of machinery, the nearly geeky approach to things. That lies in the roots of industrial. Embrace change, don’t fear change.
“This scene is a sausage fest, it’s all guys.”
ID:UD: As a band with it’s fair share of controversy, then, whenever there is controversy in this scene there’s a lot of discussion online, everyone with a keyboard and an opinion gets in on the debate. Do you find that’s helped or hindered what you’re trying to do with Nachtmahr?
TR: I think the Internet is a blessing and a curse at the same time. Everybody just feels the need to have an opinion, even if they don’t have one. The misogyny discussion, it’s like dudes speaking of misogyny and other dudes are commenting on it. That’s not where the discussion should be happening. I was talking to a lesbian friend the other day, and she was really offended by that. She said “It’s like sausages talking about clams.” It’s like, you don’t know how I feel, because you’re a guy and you will never be faced with these problems, so don’t speak for me. I think that’s a very very valid point she made when we were discussing the whole drama.
ID:UD: Is that maybe a problem, then, that there’s a lack of female musicians in the scene?
TR: Definitely! I’m in another band, L’ame Immortelle. I’ve been working with Sonja for a great deal of time, like fourteen years and I always found it highly inspirational to work with her on songs. Her female approach to music is so different from the male approach. I find it refreshing to get her ideas into my songs. This gives us a more holistic experience if you know what I mean. That’s why I’m sad that there aren’t more female musicians because they could contribute so much to this scene. [Rainer points to his shirt which depicts the Last Supper and labels it a “Sausage Fest”] This scene is a sausage fest, it’s all guys. There should be more women in this scene because it would make our music so much better and so much different.
ID:UD: Do you think there’s something that keeps women out in the aesthetics of industrial?
TR: In a lot of jobs you have the same problem. It’s a guy-run business, it’s really hard for women to gain ground and to be accepted as well. Also part of it is the aggression of industrial. Women naturally are not as aggressive as guys are, so maybe they can’t relate as much to the aggressive side of industrial because it’s not in their nature as much. Erica from Unter Null is a good friend of mine, she was sending me support text message yesterday when she heard what happened. She’s a very good example of female musicians who can make some kickass industrial music. So please, more of them!
ID:UD: Do you feel that Nachtmahr is an expression of a more male persona you have creatively and you have a more feminine persona working with L’Ame Imortelle?
TR: Exactly. I’m a very bi-polar person. I have this very introvert side and this very extrovert side. With Nachtmahr I found the perfect balance in my life. With L’ame Imortelle I can express my more introvert, romantic, melancholic feelings which is the female side. With Nachtmahr I can express my more male, aggressive, dominant, extrovert side. To understand me as a person and a human being, you need both sides to be seen and accepted.
“I’m used to getting flack. It’s something I do on purpose to be different, to make my voice heard louder.”
ID:UD: When something like what happened on stage [on Friday] is it something you take personally?
TR: Not at all. My friends and fans were much more pissed off then I am. I’ve been in this business a long time. If you’re taking the risk of having a controversial image and being in a controversial band that’s just what you signed up for. Everyone was like “Oh my god, did you hear what Ad·ver·sary did? Fuck that!” I watched the video the next morning and I was like, it’s a point, I think it’s wrong, but it’s nothing I take as a personal attack. Being a professional musician for more than 12 years, I do it for a living, criticism on any level is something you signed up for, it’s part of your job. You have to stick with it, and find if there’s anything in that criticism that is valid for yourself which can make you improve as a human being or as musician, or not. It’s nothing I took personally, it’s nothing I took great offense to. I’m used to getting flack. It’s something I do on purpose to be different, to make my voice heard louder.
ID:UD: We’re talking a lot about critics, but you are still one of the most popular bands at this festival, there’s lots of people in Nachtmahr shirts, uniforms and so on. Leaving aside your personal reasons for doing what you do, what do you think the appeal is for audiences?
TR: What I try to do with my music, with L’ame Imortelle, and with Nachtmahr as well, I try to create a world. It’s like Mini-Tolkien *laughter*. Create a world with mottoes, symbols, uniforms, language, stuff like that. To get something people can relate to, a lot of people are out there are in a void, and giving them a small home. It’s like, I’m going to a Nachtmahr concert, what am I gonna wear? Oh, I’ve got a white blouse and a tie in my wardrobe, why don’t I dress up as one of the Nachtmahr girls? It’s giving them something to identify with, a projection space.
ID:UD: So is the Nachtmahr army something you set developed along with the concept of the band?
TR: I was thinking about stage clothes and it all gained momentum. I wanted a uniform that could easily be recreated by people with pieces they had in their home wardrobe. It really makes me happy when I’m on stage and I see people wearing the uniform. It’s so much more praise than just the band t-shirt because it’s people making an effort to show their admiration for the band. It makes me really happy.
ID:UD: As we’ve talked about several times you’re not afraid of provoking a reaction, and you’re expecting them. Where are you planning on taking that? Do you see the project going in any new areas which will be similarly or differently controversial?
TR: We will be releasing a new album at the end of the year. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel and make Nachtmahr something different. I just have to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s not something you take in steps, you adjust as you go along to find if it’s more or less what you need.
ID:UD: So there’s no 5 year plan?
TR: No, it’s dynamic.
At the beginning of the interview Thomas suggested that we interview the women he’d had on stage as part of his performance to get their perspective on the events of the weekend as performers. We spoke to Anna Theresa DeMeo of Baltimore and Lianne Chapman from the UK.
ID:UD: What do you see your role in Nachtmahr as?
Anna: Honestly, I just came on stage to be one of the other girls, we had just talked about it and it was a really good experience. When we go up on stage, he [Thomas] actually preps us, you know if you feel sick, if you’re getting overheated, this is what to do. He used to be ex-military so like, he tells us to shift our weight and everything like that. Lianne is actually the girl who passed out, there’s a whole thread on the community that’s criticizing that. [referring to online discussion of a show in the UK in 2010] The thing is is that those lights really do get hot, performers get hot. It’s not like we’re up there being told “You have to stand there and do this”. I think people are misconstruing it.
Lianne: That stage was very small, it just got so hot.
ID:UD: There’s a huge amount of controversy surrounding what Ad·ver·sary did on Friday night and there’s been a lot of talk about how Thomas’ artwork, specifically the video for “Can You Feel the Beat”, treats women. As two women who are associated with the band and who have performed the band do you have any comment on that?
Lianne: I think that the video was taken out of context with what they did the other night. If you watch the whole video she’s portrayed as a strong woman because she doesn’t give away information. She’s not a weak woman who’s being picked on, she’s a strong character.
ID:UD: We spoke to Thomas about the power dynamic inherent in military imagery and wearing uniforms. You were up on stage wearing uniforms, do you play into that?
Anna: I think that there is a part of that because you do feel an essence of power when you are wearing a uniform.
Lianne: There’s confidence that comes from it.
“We’re not up there against our will, we want to do it.”
ID:UD: One of the other things we’ve heard as a critique is that women are used [in Nachtmahr’s show] as static figures, not playing the music, just being still or inactive. Does that relate to how you experience the show?
Lianne: It’s the most empowering thing to be up there and be able to stare at people.
Thomas: It’s actually much harder to stand there than to dance. That’s what the girls tell me a lot of the time, it’s so hard for me not to be dancing!
Anna: I think it’s more of an image thing than anything else. Let’s take a ska band, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. You’ve got one guy that just runs around on stage and that’s what he does. It’s part of the show. It’s not like we’re being told “You need to do this”, again I’m gonna emphasize that point. There’s no dictatorship here. I think people are completely misconstruing things. We’re not up there against our will, we want to do it. So I don’t understand the misogynistic undertones to any of this.
ID:UD: We haven’t seen the thread relating to the event on the [Kinetik page] yet…
Anna: What happened is [Kinetik promoter] Jean Francois posted his official statement, and basically I started commenting to someone else’s post because they were talking about the swastika and saying really unintelligent things about it. So I started posting the origins of the swastika in Hindu religion, and Buddhist religion and it’s misconstrued. And someone else is like “Don’t you take that out of context, you know the meaning of it our scene” and I’m like you’re really honestly just being an idiot now.
Thomas: In that thread someone tried to make a misogynist action out of the incident at Infest where Lianne fainted on stage and I went on.
Lianne: I was behind you.
Thomas: Yeah, a: I couldn’t see it, and b: I tell everybody the show must go on. I give advice from my army times, how to stand keep your circulation. If you’re gonna faint, someone will take care of you, but don’t mind if I’m not stopping the show, because the show must go on. From that someone was trying to suggest that “Thomas didn’t care that that girl collapsed”. It’s like fucking Where’s Waldo, people are trying to find misogynist content everywhere.
“This isn’t a political festival. Where’s Consolidated when you need them?”
ID:UD: Something we asked Thomas earlier, oftentimes the internet is a wind tunnel…
Anna: It’s a game of telephone.
ID:UD: … and you guys were being discussed without your input. Is there something you want to add to that discussion?
Lianne: I didn’t even know about any of this until today.
Anna: I tend to be guilty of being on Facebook a little too much, especially in this case I will say that I think this has been blown out of proportion so much. Everyone is entitled to their opinion when it comes to certain bands and certain genres of music and you know, Ad·ver·sary had a very blunt political statement about what they thought about [Combichrist and Nachtmahr]. What they don’t understand is that this isn’t a political festival. Like, where’s Consolidated when you need them? *laughter* I can understand where they’re coming from and I’m sure they wanted to get their point across because they wanted to be like Genesis P’Orridge or Jello Biafra, make that punk rock point and out the elephant in the room. You shouldn’t make a point to a general mass of people who are there to hear music and support music. That kind of political statement makes everyone go “What?”
Lianne: It’s the wrong time and place.
Anna: It’s not a political platform. If you want to make a statement like that go to a protest.
Thomas: The other point I wanted to make was that I heard a lot of people say that was a bold move but what a lot of people don’t understand is what could have happened. If Andy and me hadn’t been so relaxed…I’ve seen other bands do that, refuse to go on stage [for little offenses]. This is the point Jairus didn’t get. He didn’t give a toss about Kinetik. For him it was just important to make his point. That is an egomaniacal approach. He didn’t give a flying fuck what would have happened for the people who paid a lot of money to see Nachtmahr and Combichrist. That’s the big, big error in the whole thing. That’s something that was left out of the equation.
It’s important for me to speak on this and I think I could have thrown back most of [Jairus]’ arguments. It’s why I wanted to set things straight. People can think what they want, but that’s our side of the story, and if you think we’re liars, fuck you. I mean, I just want to say I have less problem being called a Nazi than a misogynist. The Nazi thing is ridiculous anyway, but I was raised in Vienna in a positive, conservative neighborhood. I was raised to be a gentleman. I was raised to help women with their jackets, open the door, take the bill, stuff like that. That’s how I was raised.
Anna: He’s a really nice guy.
Thomas: Calling me a misogynist is really against everything I was ever taught by my parents. I take a lot of offense to it, more than a racist and a Nazi.