Interview: Loud As Giants
It might be strange that both darker periods also brought brightness and hope in the music of Loud As Giants, which shines through all the bleakness and despair that influenced the scoring of Empty Homes.
Loud As Giants is the long awaited new project between Dirk Serries and Justin Broadrick and one that sees them bring a monumentally atmospheric, but ultimately bleak collection of music to life on debut EP Empty Houses. Having been both friends and admirers of each others work for many years, this new project has been a long time in the making but definitely worth the wait. To celebrate Loud As Giants and Empty Houses, Gavin Brown caught up with Dirk who told us all about this project and how it all came together as well as discussing his other vast range of musical projects.
E&D: The new EP with Justin Broadrick as Loud As Giants called Empty Houses is out at the end of the month. How did the creation of the EP go?
Dirk: It was a very long one. A bit intentionally but also just because we both have such immense busy schedules that it was hard to coordinate this. But also because we didn’t know yet which direction to take with our collaboration. It’s fair to say that Loud As Giants has been a process of almost 6 years.
E&D: Were you both in the studio at the same time it was it done by you both remotely?
Dirk: Again due to our conflicting schedules, we decided it was best to do this one in our own separate studios and actually the style of music we finally decided on was quite easy to do remotely.
E&D: How was the experience of working on new music together as Loud As Giants?
Dirk: Smooth. I mean, Justin and I already worked together quite frequently and we just knew how far you could stretch one thing or change some of the musical content without too much discussion or refusal. Like I said, I guess the coordination of getting us both in sync to eventually work on the album was the toughest part, musically it was just joy and very relaxed and stressless.
E&D: How did you and Justin first meet each other?
Dirk: The thing is that we knew each other’s music already for a very long time. We both have been active in the early eighties in the underground experimental and industrial music cassette network, sharing labels we both were on but we never knew each personally until that moment when the fantastic Belgian (now defunct) Conspiracy Records brought us together for the Jesu tour, promoting the Conqueror album, with my Fear Falls Burning project as support. It’s there in the tourbus we realised we knew and respected each other’s music for a really long time and that we walked similar artistic paths for a while. From there on we really became friends.
E&D: How did this project actually start in the first place and have you wanted to work with Justin again for a while now?
Dirk: It’s when we actually met on that Conqueror tour we start talking about doing music together for the first time. Playing together on stage as intro and outro during that tour, having Justin doing a remix of several of my solo pieces, etc. until our first collaboration which was a Final and Fear Falls Burning LP for Conspiracy Records in 2009. We never stopped talking about a new project together. Time wasn’t on our side.
E&D: What are your personal favourite projects that Justin has been a part of?
Dirk: I knew Justin from his Final project in the early eighties so that was the first encounter and remains probably my favourite of his. It was only later on that I started to listen to Godflesh and consequently Jesu, but Justin is an exceptional musician who really stands out as a versatile artist capturing the unique and best in various genres. Impressive.
E&D: The epic ‘Monument’ is the first track that you released from the EP. Did you fell that was the perfect way to introduce Loud As Giants?
Dirk: It’s our favourite, clear and simple so no better way to introduce our duo project with this one.
E&D: What have been the biggest influences on the music on the EP?
Dirk: It’s truly our love for the music of the early eighties that captured us in a mood to create this album. From industrial, experimental electronic music to the cold and new wave that was being released back then. Coincide with the bleak atmosphere of that period, just think about the nuclear war threads, the terrorist attacks, social turmoil, huge unemployment, etc., but somehow it also sparked creativity and marked the eighties for Justin and myself as one of the most inspiring phases in our lives. At the same time we finalised the album in the middle of one of the lockdowns and that also triggered the music. It might be strange that both darker periods also brought brightness and hope in the music of Loud As Giants, which shines through all the bleakness and despair that influenced the scoring of Empty Homes.
E&D: Are there plans for more Loud As Giants music in the near future, possibly a full length album?
Dirk: Let us first enjoy this one as it took a long time to make but I’m sure we’ll do another one and the chance is huge that the next one will be totally different. Justin and I just like pushing boundaries and trying out different genres to finally bring them together.
E&D: Have you talked about doing any live shows at all?
Dirk: Yes we have and we’ll play the Belgian DUNK! Festival on May 18th in Gent (Belgium) so pretty excited to do that one. Although Justin and I clearly agreed that Loud As Giants will never be a tour band. Occasional concerts here and there for sure, if the timing and opportunity is just right.
E&D: How would you say the music of Loud As Giants will translate into a live environment?
Dirk: That’s a good question. Since Loud As Giants up till now has been a studio project, recorded in our own separate ones, we are looking at this live event as that moment to re-creating tracks from the album with some serious artistic freedom. For sure the backbone will be clearly our album but live it will be more about experiment, interaction and expanding when we feel like it. Definitely excited but we are ready.
E&D: How did your debut UK solo live show in London go last year?
Dirk: I play the UK quite often but never did one performing my solo ambient music, despite doing this music (foremost on my alter-ego Vidba Obmana) since the mid eighties. So I really wanted to do it on my own terms. Hundred Years Gallery in London is foremost a fantastic DIY art gallery and a creative hub for free jazz and the free improvised. This is where I probably team up the most with my fellow musicians in the free improvisation. And the gallery was just the right little intimate venue for me where I could set up at my own pace and control every little bit of the performance. It was a blast. Intimate, close to the audience, the way I like it.
E&D: What other live shows have you got coming up that you can tell us about?
Dirk: So there’s of course Loud As Giants at DUNK! Festival this year on May 18th. I’ll do a solo ambient set at the Moving Noises festival in Bochum on April 22nd with my partner Martina Verhoeven we’ll play Cafe Oto in London on July 23rd creating a big band with several of our favourite UK free improvisers. Later on this year there’s a tour with working band Kodian Trio (with Colin Webster and Andrew Lisle) and with Yodok III (with Tomas Järmyr and Kristoffer Lo).
E&D: How was the experience of being an artist in residence for last year’s Roadburn Festival and what were the highlights?
Dirk: It was truly magical and definitely a personal highlight in my career. Not only was I super proud I got invited by Roadburn for a 4 day artist in residency. It truly felt like an honest appreciation for what I’ve done over the past 35 years for being that wilful, independent experimental artist. I don’t want to wine but I hardly experience this kind of appreciation and acknowledgement for what I’ve achieved musically over these 3 decades. Some artists with way less baggage and realisations do tend to get way more and easier exposure. So I’m extremely grateful to Roadburn that they do look at me as an artist with a unique voice who has something to say and the carte-blanche residency was just overwhelming. All 4 nights were amazing but I think the highlights were surely the Roadburn favourite Yodok III (the trio I’ve with the amazing drummer Tomas Järmyr – Zu, Motorpsycho, and the genius tuba player Kristoffer Lo) and on the last night Martina Verhoeven Quartet. A full-on free jazz quintet with, apart from myself, the amazing Colin Webster on sax, Gonçalo Almeida on double bass, Onn Goavert on drums and the overpowering Martina Verhoeven on the piano. It was a risk but the way how this quintet was embraced by an outrageously enthusiastic Roadburn audience was just overwhelming. Still get goosebumps thinking back.
E&D: You have played a the festival many times. What is it that makes Roadburn do special and what have some of the other high points from playing there?
Dirk: You see I firmly believe in the strength of networking and this is something I actually share with Walter of Roadburn. He equally appreciate how mutual support can produce unique experiences and this is the way how he build up his festival. Not only did he had the willpower to push the festival beyond one genre but also did he know that working together could create more opportunities, and this is where I also stepped in and helped out on numerous occasions. The beauty and sincerity of Walter is that he never forgets this and on top of that he always showed a huge respect for what I was doing so that I was able to play already 6 times before I was asked for the 4-day residency. What makes Roadburn stand out so much is also the audience it draws. An audience originated from what the festival initially was, a stoner rock festival, but became way more. A crowd eager to explore, discover and absorb new music and genre-bending styles. Exceptional.
E&D: What other music are you working on at the moment?
Dirk: I’m currently working on a few live mixes from recent free improvisation concerts while I have been upgrading my pedal boards and scoring a new ambient album which, I can proudly say, definitely push the sonic boundaries again.
E&D: You have just reissued the Dante Trilogy of Vidna Obmana albums, Tremor, Spore and Legacy. Can you tell us about bringing them back out and what the reception has been to them?
Dirk: First of all, I’m very grateful to Zoharum who has been reissuing the classic Vidba Obamana albums and making it such a beautiful series. Giving me the opportunity to go back and remaster all the old recordings with the knowledge and experience I’ve now. While initially we started out with some of the more straightforward ambient albums, I’m very happy Zoharum also wanted to include this Dante Trilogy. This 3cd set, finally uniting the 3 albums together, is just out so don’t know yet how the reissue will be received but I hope the response will be positive.
E&D: What are your main memories of making those three albums?
Dirk: I always have been aiming for progress and therefor constantly keen on experimenting with genres, finding musical bridges between styles and collaborating with kindred spirits in order to persue that perfect blend in music. I originally started out in 1984 with industrial music and my love for the genre never disappeared, even when I moved with Vidna Obmana through a phase of pure ambient music. Even back then I always tried to incorporate new elements in my music in order to push the musical boundaries for myself and to keep it fascinating, evolving and transforming. In the nineties when I slowly moved into different terrain with my music as Vidna Obmana, I could clearly see that the potential character of the genre started to be limiting and therefor restricting myself in expressing, experimenting and stretching the ambient genre. The genre was back then quite conservative so slowly but surely I started to move away from my alter-ego but when I got the unique opportunity to record a trilogy of albums for Relapse Records, I knew that this could be the momentum to grow beyond genres. The chance to be on a label like Relapse Records connected me with several key players in the (post)metal genres like Steven Wilson, Steve Von Till, Johannes Persson of Cult Of Luna and Justin Broadrick. Through some of them I realised my music was quite respected within the heavier genres and it opened up a lot of possibilities, hence some of them playing on these 3 albums. The Dante Trilogy has helped me to end Vidna Obmana in the best way possible, to conclude the story and to move on.
E&D: Is there a chance that there will be any more Vidna Obmana music in the future?
Dirk: Not at all, sorry. I really believe I said everything I could under this banner and of course I’ll continue to work on remasters and set out an expansive digital back catalogue with most of my archive recordings on Bandcamp. But a revival, no thanks.
E&D: What were the highlights of making music as Vidna Obmana?
Dirk: There are really many but I think I can really look back at a wonderful period in my life as being in the front, along with colleagues like Steve Roach, Alio Die, Robert Rich and others, of a genre which we all pushed beyond. Also the late eighties and early nineties was a period where the sky was the limit. Big promotional campaigns (especially in the States as I was linked to the Projekt label), being brought over to the States to do tours, one-off shows, etc. Everything was possible and the cd was a hot item. Creatively I was not only able to discover myself as a solo artists but the collaborations I was able to do with, for example, Steve Roach belong to the best experiences ever. Recording in his studio, being together in the moment against the surreal backdrop of the impressive Sonoran Desert in Arizona was just breathtaking, inspiring and uplifting, and I met there a friend for life.
E&D: What were some of your favourite memories from your time with Fear Falls Burning?
Dirk: Fear Falls Burning was a difficult ride. The closure of Vidna Obmana left me with a heavy burn-out, empty and powerless. I knew I had to steer away from the complexity of electronic instruments (the numerous synths, effects, ADATS, DAT and computers) and approach the creation of music as a fun one. Giving me the ability to enjoy playing music live again instead of being dominated by the technical side of the entire set-up on stage during Vidna Obmana period. In the last years of Vidna Obmana, I started to use the electric guitar more and more and this is what became my prime instrument when FFB started. Initially FFB was a straightforward, unedited, real-time culmination of sounds on the electric guitar through a vast collection of pedals but somehow thanks to my connections I made with the trilogy on Relapse Records, FFB became a ‘band’. I think I can honestly say that my personal highlights were the 3 major albums I made with Fear Falls Burning as a band and their related special concerts: French Of The Absolute, Disorder Of Roots and Function Disorder.
E&D: Will the band ever do anything again?
Dirk: I’m sure the band will erupt again one day… not sure in which constellation though.
E&D: What have been some of the most memorable moments in your vast musical career so far?
Dirk: I think that I was fortunate enough to pursue what I wanted to, fully independent from what is hype or hot at the time. It surely didn’t make my life as a musician easier as I never followed the easiest path as I constantly wanted to explore new things and cross over genres. But on the other hand quite happy that I was able to experience the transition from cassette production, to vinyl and cd, and back. I learned a lot and helped me to survive independently. I still run a label, still produce my own music, still set up independent concerts. It’s heavy, time-consuming, demanding but it still gives me the freedom of expression I do need in my life. Surely with ups and downs, with success and failure but one I never would swap.