Born in Berlin, Jack Dibben and JF (Ill Winds) have been making music together since their respective moves to Europe in 2011. Calling on sombre sounds from the Belgian coldwave fold of the early ’80s spliced with hints of the Neue Deutsche Welle, Ill Winds’ music is both uniquely electrifying and terrifyingly isolating.
Despite being largely comprised of old material, Ill Winds’ latest cassette release on Hidiotic Records represented a maturation in sound for the former duo, now trio. Adding a synth to their new recordings brought a new element to their sinister brand of post-punk and signified a willingness on songwriter Jack Dibben’s behalf to embrace electronic sounds and instruments. Now situated back in Australia after a 3-year stint abroad, Jack Dibben discusses the musical landscape of Berlin and the future of Ill Winds.
When and how did Ill Winds come about?
Ill Winds came about at the beginning of 2011. At first we were going under the moniker 3D Meat, but we changed it pretty quickly. JF and I had just moved to Berlin under completely unrelated circumstances; JF in pursuit of his studies and myself in pursuit of an Austrian woman who happened to be moving to Berlin to undertake studies. My eldest sister knew JF, twigged and sent us on a blind date. It all followed from that. Marijn (Denegaar, synth) came into the picture later.
Much like the Post-Punk and Coldwave of Belgium and Germany in the early ’80s, Ill Winds music sounds similarly sinister with analogous music arrangements. Did you find that you were better placed in Berlin/Europe musically?
Well yes and no. I found a lack of band culture in Berlin and Vienna particularly. In that sense it’s pretty different from London, Barcelona, Melbourne and Sydney. It seems like everyone in Berlin is making or listening to techno, and that’s where the vast majority of the musical energy is channelled. It’s like at some point in the ’90s most Berliners decided that actual instruments were archaic and moved into the electronic/digital realm, never to return. However Berlin is certainly much more strategically located and in that sense more conducive to playing in a band. The geography of Europe and the ease of getting to so many major cities naturally lend itself to touring and thus opportunities to play with and to different people.
Do you feel the city influenced or shaped your music in any way?
Naturally, being in Berlin shaped my music; that’s the nature of music, it’s shaped by your surroundings and state of mind. The weather, the feeling of being a part of something bigger, political tension, culture shock, living day-to-day, no security, the threat of having nowhere to turn. It also very much instilled a love of techno. I was hesitant for about two years, attending the odd CTM Festival event, trying to keep an open mind, but really just turning my nose up at a majority of what I heard; possibly based on the on the precedent that it was electronic. Just dipping my foot from time to time. Then out of nowhere; BAM. I was at Berghain every other weekend. Shirt off, cap backwards, pumping my fist and losing brain-cells.
Many artists/musicians move to Berlin to hone in on musical pursuits. What’s the city like in terms of a musical community? Could you rely on the support of other bands for gigs and such? Do you feel Berlin as a city lives up to its romantic ideals?
It’s odd. Berlin doesn’t really have a music scene like what exists here in the big Australian cities. But this Argentinian band Mueran Humanos – who, from what I could tell, were one of the only worthwhile bands based in Berlin – always encouraged us in a positive way. Our good friend, life coach and guru Olle Holmberg, who produces music as Moon Wheel, has also been closely involved in everything we have done, from putting on shows to recording. We were getting gigs from our either our label Noisekölln, other club or party nights or shows that we’d put on ourselves or through friends who just liked the band. And there was always an interesting touring act from one place or another that was mulling around looking for a show on their way through which I could pick up. Regarding romantic ideals: God no. I urge anyone with any romantic ideals regarding this place to dispel them unless they constitute any or all of the following: ubiquitous expat culture, 30¢ beers, good cheap beer, techno, 6 months of grey skies and dull weather, seasonal affective disorder, Currywurst, Käseleberkäse, scrimmaging through abandoned buildings, East German and Nazi memorabilia, “street art”, FKK (naked Germans), Schlager, etc…
It seems as though Ill Winds shows are few and far between. Do you enjoy playing live? How do you feel the recordings translate into a live context?
We love it. But it can be tricky. There’s not that many parts to the whole band, and in my mind’s eye that should make it all easy to execute, but when push comes to shove is proves exceedingly tricky at times. We all live in different cities these days as well, which doesn’t make it any easier to organise and play shows.
You’ve just released a tape on Hidiotic. Most of the songs on the tape are old songs that have been recorded a few times. Do you feel as though these tape versions are the perfected product? Have you written new material?
We released a cassette in 2012 with that Berlin label Noisekölln, which was limited to a run of 50 copies. 30 of which were sent magazines, a handful of which we got reviews from. However I feel that these latest recording are for that matter much more true to form, or moreover ideally what we’d like to sound like live. If what you’re getting at in the second part of this question is trying to ask me why are the older songs on here all I have to say is I have no idea in slightest. Stupid ain’t it? JF and I are working on new material and a new release at the moment, which will not include any of the older songs. I swear it.
There is some great synchronization between bass and drum machine, coupled with interesting guitar interplay and synth layering. What does an Ill Winds songwriting session usually consist of? Is it a solo venture or does JF weigh in too?
The thing that I’ve found with song writing is that it’s always different, so that’s almost impossible to answer. I never know where the idea is gonna come from, and rarely where it’s going to go, at least initially. I have to just go by gut instinct. But this is most definitely a band where everyone gets to contribute to the composition of a song. Everyone writes their own parts, but at the same time everyone gets their say whether those are used or not.
A lot of the songs on the tape feature a repeating lyrical phrase or motif. Is there any unifying theme/s or notions that runs throughout the lyrics in your music?
To start: hysteria, anxiety, solitude, occultism, paranoia, ideology, iconography are all themes that come to mind. We might jam and I might just chant this mantra of whatever would come to my head or notes I had made over whatever we were playing at the time. However this was an experiment for me when I started doing it or at least as experimental as I was willing to go at that time. I didn’t care so much about the actual contents of lyrics themselves, rather it was just another instrument, and that repetitive nature became a stylistic motif in what can only be called our “sound”.
Tell me about your new project ‘Subterranean Rain’. Does it provide a different outlet for you than that of Ill Winds?
Yep. And I think that it’s solely for that purpose. I tried making JF play ideas I would come up with in my own time. And it’s not like he would outright refuse. He just wouldn’t play them. Ideas I might add that that I enjoyed the idea of working on. So i just kept working on them and over time it has become a distinct project.