Bettina Köster: “Everything came easily. We never put an effort into getting any deals”
On 12th of November the long awaited “M_Dokumente” will be published by Mainz based Ventil Verlag. This is nothing less than the authorized history of Mania D., Malaria! and Matador, dictated by the three protagonists Beate Bartel, Gudrun Gut and Bettina Köster and with additional essays by Annett Scheffel, Nick Cave, Diedrich Diederichsen, Christine Hahn, Peter Bömmels, Mark Reeder and Scumeck Sabottka.
M_Dokumente will be presented with concerts, talks and dj-sets from 20th till 24th of October at Silent Green.
If you are in Berlin, make sure not to miss out this high fomo event.
Kaput is publishing pre-print the chapter “Malaria! (1981—1984)”.
Bettina: We found a kitten behind empty boxes in our rehearsal room on Paul-Lincke-Ufer. We called her Malaria. I think Penguin, a good friend of Claudia Skoda, called us Malaria D because of the cacophonous kind of music we did. We liked that, and as we always wanted everything we did to start out with the letter M, the name stuck.
Gudrun: Bettina and I really wanted to realise the record we had planned to do with Zensor Records. Since Mania D. was not around any more, we said, “Let’s do something new”. We had tasted blood and we had already booked Christopher Franke’s (of Tangerine Dream) studio, which, by the way, he rented to us at the Friends-and-Family-rate. The studio was in Berlin Spandau.
Bettina: Yes, that was amazing. The studio looked like a Greek temple, although it had been a ball room before.
Gudrun: And Klaus Krueger, who had been in Tangerine Dream and was Iggy Pop’s drummer, helped us with the pro- duction. Everything went very smoothly. We had been record- ing in the winter and the record was released in April 1981. We had our first concert on April 20, 1981, at SO36.
Bettina: My attitude towards music hadn’t changed with the new band. It was the same as in Mania D., although the songs were more structured. That’s what set us apart. We now wanted to do real songs, less improvisation.
Gudrun: Not pop music, but songs that were recognizable as such. After the record was released, we decided that we definitely wanted to play concerts. For me, our music became the most alive on stage. That was of paramount importance to me and the same goes for Bettina. So we needed a band. We absolutely wanted to play with women. We checked who would be a good fit. Christine Hahn had already played on some songs we recorded at the studio in Spandau. I had met her on my trip to New York, where she had a band with Glenn Branca and Barbara Ess, called The Static. I was a fan. Christine collaborated in Berlin with Klaus Krueger and Martin Kippenberger. She had already recorded Luxus with Martin.
Bettina: Then there was Manon P. Duursma. She had just arrived in Berlin. She had been part of Nina Hagen and O.U.T Project. Finally, Susanne Kuhnke, who also went to HDK study- ing painting, Fachbereich 1, joined as the synth player.
Gudrun: And she was in the band Die Haut (Die Mieter). They also had a rehearsal room on Dresdener Straße in Kreuzberg. Mark Reeder was very helpful. He was a fan of Mania D. and helped us with booking concerts. At one point he started mixing our concerts as we couldn’t afford a soundman. Mark introduced us to Factory Records, and eventually, we ended up with Les Disques du Crépuscule.
Bettina: Les Disques du Crépuscule was the continental branch of Factory Records.
Gudrun: That’s right! And Annik Honoré really liked us. Just perfect: a woman gives us a record deal. She ran the label with Michel Duval and decided to give us a try with a vinyl single, which was already released in summer.
Bettina: Where did we record “How Do You Like My New Dog”? Still in Brussels or already at Jacob’s Studio? It all went so fast that I don’t exactly remember.
Gudrun: Yes, everything happened like a whirlwind. I had to check back: first concert in April, and in May, we played with New Order at the Ancienne Belgique – a major gig. In July, our vinyl single was released and come September we already played in New York.
Bettina: But before that we went to England. We recorded a session for John Peel. We knew that he was a fan. We had been Single of the Year with Mania D. He called us his “Queens of Noise”. After we were in London, we arrived at Jacob’s Studio in Farnham. It was awesome there – and a bit strange. It had been a manor house and there was a dilapidated tennis court. When we arrived, they were cleaning the mixing console. The Damned had spread a whole bunch of cow dung across the console while recording. Hehe – very punk.
Gudrun: I don’t remember. In any case, we worked with Ken Thomas – first on our single and then, later, on our album Emotion. He was a great engineer. He went on to produce bands like Wire, Test Department, Psychic TV, and Sigur Rós. We met pretty cool musicians there: the Au Pairs and Martin Culverwell, for example. Martin really liked what we did, and later he helped us and co-produced our album “Emotion”. The intense experience of recording at Farnham – to see what could happen with the original ideas we had. With 24 record- ing tracks you could try out a lot.
Bettina: For Pernod we were recording 36 hours in one go. One after the other left the studio and went to bed, even Ken Thomas. So, Christine and I soldiered on. Next day, everybody was up again and we continued. It was pretty extreme, but great fun. I remember there was a great drum kit, a Lynn Drum, with toms that had a red devil’s face on them! Super futuristic.
Gudrun: Above all there was great food.
Bettina: Yes, finally.
Gudrun: That I remember clearly. For me, this was really great, as normally we never ate well. They had a chef and we were taken care of. They served breakfast, lunch, and they served dinner. It was the first time that I had delicious English food. Up until then I had only known Fish ’n’ Chips and these unspeakable pies.
Bettina: In the beginning Malaria! didn’t make much money. Only later we made more. I think, one year, we played over 200 concerts.
Gudrun: Yeah, we were always on tour, all the time. Not a lot of money, but then we didn’t need much.
Bettina: Because there was always food backstage at our concerts.
Gudrun: Somehow, that was okay. We never had a record company that wanted to put up a lot of money. We never signed to a major label, we were always independent. Ad- vances, or things like that, didn’t exist. When I listen to stories of Inga Humpe or Ideal about that time – totally different experience to ours.
Bettina: No, we just traipsed through the tulips and made music. I only realized later, that our journey was pretty extraordinary. Everything came easily. We never put an effort into getting any deals. And everybody wanted us to perform. Just not in Germany in the beginning, I have to admit. No big interest in us there. That’s why we played so much abroad.
Gudrun: We really were traveling a lot and could not spend much time in Berlin. A pity. Losing contact a bit and the sup- port in the scene wasn’t that great any more.
Bettina: Performing in London, Paris, Brussels and New York seemed completely normal to us. In retrospect, it was a bit strange: at home, people were not overly interested in what we were doing.
Gudrun: Abroad we were seen as a German band.
Bettina: However, we never felt like a German Band. We were Berliners and Berlin had little in common with the rest of the FRG.
Gudrun: Nevertheless, we were “Teutonic” for the English. The press called us that. Well, in the beginning our lyrics were in German. But when the Neue Deutsche Welle took over, we were already singing in English, so that, for example, in America they could understand our lyrics.
Bettina: I never felt like I was part of the Neue Deutsche Welle.
Gudrun: Me neither. However, if you look at it from today’s perspective, it had something to do with us. Even with Mania D. the lyrics were German. In terms of having music reflect present cultural directions, we did that way before anybody else did it. And we were one of the few bands performing outside Germany. Suddenly, the movement was reduced to commercialization and simplification in relation to the NDW. Naturally, we distanced ourselves. Other than us, there were a few like-minded bands: Der Plan, Palais Schaumburg, DAF, Einstuerzende Neubauten, etc.
Bettina: As, up to 1982, people in Germany weren’t that interested, we played more in foreign countries with friends like Siouxsie and the Banshees and New Order. We played a concert at the Batcave. The club’s capacity was 350 people, naturally it was sold out and 300 people in the crowd were musicians. We had to do a lot of interviews, talking about how phenomenal that concert was.
Gudrun: We also played with the Slits and The Bloods (Adele Bertei). And with John Cale at New York’s legendary Mudd Club.
Bettina: Yeah, we were really excited about that. Huge John Cale fans. Well, he was an hour late for his sound check, and then he rehearses the same three bars for an hour and a half. When we were finally able to start our sound check, people were already coming in.
Gudrun: A concert I won’t forget is the Studio 54 concert we played with Nina Hagen. The backstage area was in the base- ment, rats scurrying through the dressing rooms, and I was in a rotten mood as I was unhappily in love.
Bettina: With whom?
Gudrun: That’s a secret – but the concert turned out to be great. A wonderful evening of mayhem.
Bettina: It was fabulous! In the Thirties, Studio 54 had been a Broadway Theatre and one of their shows was Frankenstein. They still had the light show from Frankenstein. As we were performing, the flash and thunder that was used as the mon- ster rose permeated the scene.
Gudrun: There was a huge outrage over how we were dressed. And we thought that for famous Studio 54 we should put some effort into our outfits.
Bettina: Exactly, dressed in all black, riding boots, jodhpurs, black shirts, and red carnations on the lapel. Red carnations, the symbol of Socialism – we considered ourselves to be Socialists.
We wanted to reconnect to German culture of the time before the Nazis destroyed everything. We were wholly misunder- stood – being German and all. We hadn’t been aware that it was Yom Kippur. Ian Schrager and Steve Rubel, the owners of Studio 54, had a huge fight over us. Ian had understood our statement, but Steve Rubel not so much. Rudolf and Jim Fouratt, who had organized the evening, had gone Upstate to get out of the firing line. A newspaper commented on the concert: German Rockers, Nina Hagen and Malaria, dared to play Studio 54 on Yom Kippur.
Gudrun: Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, Rowland S. Howard, Lydia Lunch & Jim Thirlwell were around, too. We really liked drink- ing Southern Comfort and Whiskey Sour together. We got to know The Birthday Party in 1981 at a concert we did together at Washington’s 9:30 Club. We were on a double bill with them. Later, well, actually much later, they invited us to perform at their Lyceum show in London. Us and, I think, Neubauten. Well, I remember, that my drum kit sat on an old rug which, during the concert, kept sliding away along with the drums. It sucked. Jos, Banshee’s roadie, helped me out and kept straightening the rug and drums while I was drumming, as I couldn’t stop to adjust the set-up.
Bettina: Wasn’t his name Murray? We used to call him “Murray the slave”.
Gudrun: They had two roadies, Murray was the guitar roady and Jos was the drum roady.
Bettina: Wow, two roadies!
Gudrun: Being the drummer, you have to hold the whole enchilada together. Even if the bass drum takes a walk.
Bettina: Birthday Party had moved from Australia to Lon- don, where they were very, very poor. We convinced them to move to Berlin, as Berlin life was way, way cheaper than London. They did as we told them to and they moved to Christoph Dreher’s (Die Haut) loft on Dresdener Straße. Su- sanne and I had been living in our own small lofts and where we were rehearsing as well. We introduced them to Blixa Bargeld.
Gudrun: We all were friends and hung out together a lot. Blixa joined Nick on stage the first time at a party that Beate and I had organized at the Empire Club on Hauptstrasse in Berlin. There were different floors, one for concerts, one for the DJ’s, and one for videos. We were a bit inspired by the New York Clubs, Danceteria and Area. That kind of nightlife we found to be really cool and we wanted to have something like that in Berlin. The so-called M Club also had an improv room in the basement. Beate played bass, Mick the drums. Nick was singing. Beate had to go back to sell tickets upstairs, so she passed the bass to Nick. Somehow, Rowland went missing that night, so Blixa jumped in. That set the beginning for a great friendship.
Bettina: We played a lot with The Birthday Party. We
did a song together for a charity concert at Music Hall on Rheinstrasse. Monika Doering, before running the Loft at the Metropol, ran Music Hall.
Gudrun: The song was called “We are the Famous Men” or something like that. Nick and Bettina sang a duet, but we didn’t record it …
Bettina: In 1982, we performed at the documenta in Kassel. Recently, Gudrun sent me a photograph taken there. There was this room which was done by Hans-Juergen Syberberg, a German film director. The room was very Wagnerian. It featured a life-size canon in the shape of a phallus which we were sitting on. Great photo session. Naturally, Beuys was also present with his Stele project. Somebody had painted the stones pink overnight. Number one suspects were Blixa and N.U. Unruh. They were to be fired from the documenta, but we insisted that if they had to leave, we would, too. In the end we all stayed.
Gudrun: Even outside the documenta we were very close with artists of all disciplines.
Bettina: We all collaborated. Painters and film makers found it difficult to get into galleries and we as musicians were always looking for spaces to perform in. So we banded together and sometimes occupied spaces.
Gudrun: As far as I’m concerned, the early Eighties were a very special time in West Berlin. The city was full of young people who all wanted to go out. Nightlife was always top- notch in Berlin. But there also was a small, hungry group of people who not only just wanted to consume, but had also come to create. Everybody was creating something, some made Super- 8-movies, some were writing books or whatever. Music pulled it all together. There was a vivid exchange between us. For me this was the most important aspect of that time. It never happened like that again.
Bettina: Brigitte Bühler und Dieter Hormel shot the amazing video to our “Geld/Money” song from the Emotion album.
Gudrun: Was a bit of a scandal, edited way too fast. Even for MTV it was too extreme, too revolutionary.
Bettina: Health advisory: fast edits! Hehe.
Gudrun: The video is absolutely great. It still is. The very best of Malaria!, however, were the live performances. Together as a band, but also every member on her own. Susanne’s synth work was pretty amazing. And Manon on her screeching, completely distorted guitar. It was like an ocean of sound. The things she coaxed out of her instrument. And Christine was extremely precise. She set beautiful, rhythmic counterpoints on her little Casio. Everybody in their own way. It was a great band. It worked, this thing. Really special, powerful and great!
Bettina: The music just bubbled up from deep inside of us. No, we never thought that we sounded like the Eighties – the Eighties sounded like us. We didn’t imitate what our idols sounded like nor did we copy them.
Gudrun: Some songs we only ever performed live. “Mädels sind toll”, for example.
Bettina: Oh yes! We never recorded that song. You had to be at a concert to hear it.
Gudrun: Such a fun song. Other songs were only recorded after we were sure that they worked well in a live setting. For example, “Kaltes Klares Wasser”. We were touring and performing the song live. At one point, we had two days off in Brussels and to cover the hotel expenses, they sent us into a recording studio. So, we quickly recorded a 12”. Calli (Maria Colours) was on drums, as Christine was on tour with Klaus Krüger.
Bettina: “Kaltes Klares Wasser” came to me at home in Berlin. I was under thick covers in my bed as my apartment was freezing cold. I smoked a big fat joint and couldn’t get out of bed to get a glass of water, as it was too cold … instead I was fantasising about cold, clear water. I want it now! That’s what’s behind the lyrics. Twenty years later, I had a concert in Stuttgart and met some students who told me that KKW was part of their curriculum. One of them told me he had to write a paper about the song. Very complicated athirnd profound. Extremely funny …
Gudrun: We weren’t really aware then, but nowadays I sometimes wonder why we were not signed to a major. We were performing pretty much all over the world, at least in the Northern hemisphere, and we did pretty fantastic things. Well, the A&R people were all guys … I think they couldn’t fathom dealing with a girl band like us. It had nothing to do with the music itself.
Bettina: We were a bit scary, I guess. At least to some peo- ple. We just had a special kind of humour and it didn’t fit in with the image of women who did what they were told to do.
Gudrun: Our reputation was a bit strange. We played a con- cert with some band in Vienna and the guys insisted we flog them. It was their idea, not ours.
Bettina: We thought it was pretty funny that they were scared. Well, that was our reputation.
Gudrun: The label guys probably thought we were difficult to handle. When we got mainstream offers, they were Bananarama-type offers: producers would write the songs and we were just to perform them. That was later on, though.
Bettina: They needed to be in control, but we didn’t offer much to control.
Gudrun: We wanted to do what we wanted to, just like male bands did. There were comments like, “You’re just successful, because you are beautiful”.
Bettina: During concerts we heard a lot of “Show us your tits”-chanting …
Gudrun: Nowadays, there’s much more awareness on the subject.
Bettina: It went on for a long time: women bands were not really backed by the majors – they were often taken advan- tage of.
Gudrun: That was a reason we started our own label, Moabit Musik, managed by our own management, Jochen Hülder with Gino Bühler. Jochen took care of daily affairs and booked a lot of concerts for us. That was pretty exhausting for us, as we had to schlepp all of our equipment ourselves. We didn’t have any roadies back then. But we had our driver, Scumek Sabottka, who now runs a successful booking agency. He didn’t drink any liquor and always got us to our shows on time.
Bettina: As we were touring the Ruhr Area, the boys of Die Toten Hosen helped us carry our equipment. They were Jochen’s soccer pals and later on, he became their manager.
Gudrun: And there were people in New York, who helped us: Eric Dufaure, Kathy Nizzari, Mole, John Hanty, Louis Tropia.
Bettina: And Anne Carlisle, best known for the Sci-Fi-film “Liquid Sky” (1982). She shot a beautiful video for our song “You You”.
Gudrun: Nevertheless, everything was kind of done by 1983. We did one more record, “Beat the Distance”, released on Dimitri Hegemann’s Rebel Records.
Bettina: We were absolutely exhausted, 23 or 24 years old and totally done. We had worked for three years non-stop: touring, touring, touring. Just a few days at a time in Berlin, and then back to playing concerts. The money we made, we mostly spent on phone charges … international phone calls were super expensive in those days.
Gudrun: I guess we were so tired of each other we had spent all our energy. Naturally, it didn’t help that we had no label support. A home at a company – it would have been great to have that. Bettina and Christine stayed behind in New York and Manon, Susanne and myself returned to Berlin. I missed my old friends and familiar places. I wanted to finally do normal things again and not rush from one gig to the next.
Mania D., Malaria!, Matador
Beate Bartel / Gudrun Gut / Bettina Köster (Hg.)
Softcover, mit zahlr. Abb.
12. November 2021