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Interview: Mary Ocher Talks With Strange Stains

Interview: Mary Ocher Talks With Strange Stains

C.C. / Interview by Strange Stains / Photo credit: Klara Johanna Michel / Monday 9th September, 2019 1:59PM

Berlin-based artistic polymath Mary Ocher is visiting Aotearoa this week for a special four date tour, brought to you by the indefatigable team at Tāmaki Makaurau's experimental music hub the Audio Foundation. The critically celebrated Russian-born performer, poet and filmmaker will be supported on selected dates by Ōtepoti's Lucy Hunter (Opposite Sex) and Pōneke electronic voyager Strange Stains aka Cooki Stains – who kindly carved out some time from her jam-packed schedule to send a clutch of probing questions Ocher's way. Scope out the tour details right here and dive into their conversation below...

Mary Ocher (Russia / Berlin)

Wednesday 11th September - Audio Foundation, Auckland* w/ Strange Stains
Thursday 12th September - The Cook Hotel, Dunedin w/ Strange Stains, Lucy Hunter

Saturday 14th September - Space Academy, Christchurch w/ Strange Stains, Lucy Hunter* 
Sunday 15th September - Space Place, Wellington 

Tickets available HERE via UTR*

Cooki Stains: Kia ora, I was first was introduced to your music from our friend Holly Flecther, and then again recently from Georgette Brown a couple of years ago and I become addicted to your album Mary Ocher + Your Government. I love it, knowing that it is loved and an inspiration for a lot of people in Aotearoa. Did you want to provoke other than the enjoyment of the music a political message, and if so what was that message?

Mary Ocher: Haha, thank you Cooki! That album is perhaps the least verbal of all previous releases, text-wise it's very open to interpretations. It's also an album that was vastly ignored when it came out and perhaps it's only getting some attention now because we're touring with Your Government and it's also available at solo shows, but obviously I can't perform most of these tracks without the drummers. The next album (The West Against The People) came out with an essay, on sociopolitical topics, so there things are perhaps more spelled out, which I thought would be perhaps too simple, but it turned out to be quite helpful, because it guided the press to ask the right questions, and the dialogue was much more enjoyable than talking about stage outfits and music industry nonsense.

Berlin has resonated as a kind of Mecca for underground culture, often (sometimes oddly) lusted after on from this side of the world. How do you find that this scene has changed over the years, in particular over the time that you have lived there? Do you think that Berlin can sustain, or does stain this reputation?

Oh, the city has changed, and how it has changed! While most have already gone through the changes, we held on to it for so long, it was incredible that Berlin stayed affordable for so long after the fall of the wall! I moved here in 2007, and while I'm sure that the previous 15 years were even wilder, the last 12 have been dramatic as well.

I've always lived in community houses, which are now a dying breed. The only way to keep them is to buy them off of the landlords, most of which are not interested in selling because they can make much more profit by getting rid of us and turning the houses into luxury flats. While more and more people with tech jobs are moving here, or various office workers, in various industries that have emerged, there's less available space and rents have gone up 70% (!) since I moved here. [For comparison, median rent has raised 60% in Auckland Central during the same period - Ed.]

We have a leftist government, at least for the time being (we're an island in a sea of racism and xenophobia, even if you leave the bubble that is the city center, you'll notice how the amount of foreigners drops instantly). Non-white pals will gladly testify that even the much glorified Kreuzberg and Neukölln are full of racism and hate, there's also more violence in the air, more break-ins, more assaults, not anywhere near like in some parts of the US, but it seemed safer when it was cheaper and less competitive.

And yet, with infrastructures came some blessings – more music funding for instance – more festivals and cultural happenings... more diversity in food, but of course also dull mainstream culture – I used to love the utter lack of posters of mainstream shit in the streets, but now you can't hide from it.

The city has become much more similar to other cities in Europe. Let's see if they indeed manage to freeze the rents for 5 years, and perhaps even lower them (that's completely insane, and it's awesome that it's even considered!).

You have toured quite extensively. What has been one of your most memorable experiences?

Haha, just one?! We're making a comic book with some of the most intense things that have happened on the road... there were too many!

Are you excited to tour in New Zealand? Have you toured here before?

Oh yes! I only hope not to miss any flights or have any cancelled, sadly there's too many of them on this tour and I've learned recently that if that happens the airline can pretty much leave you stranded for days and the insurance does not step in, so that's pretty frightening.

What is your favourite element of music making? And do you have regular collaborators?

Trying out new instruments I suppose :)

Well, we play with Your Government, so I suppose you can say that is a regular “collaboration”, then there's opportunities for collabs whenever a new album is being made, there were lots recently cause I'm working on a new one.

What are you listening to at the moment?

That's a bit embarrassing – been listening a lot to my own new studio recordings and making notes for mixing and editing. But also older Scott Walker recordings, a collection of Soviet 70s stuff a pal made, Franco Battiato (another pal introduced me to his work in Sicily), Tomita and James Holden's Animal Spirits.

You’re an artist as well as a musician, do you make a divide between both things of is it a separate entity?

I'm not sure I'm much of a musician to be honest, but someone I've managed to pull this off for very long. I can't play anything too well, but I try everything out. And I'm not sure what being an artist is either, but I guess it covers a vast range of activities, and since they all require imagination and some trickery I suppose it may be the most suitable term.

Who is your favourite author?

Ooh, that's a tricky one. Unintentionally I tend to copy the style of any particular book that I happen to be reading at that time. I certainly have in the past, if not in writing, in bare thought - be it Virginia Woolf or Kurt Vonnegut, Gertrude Stein or Burroughs, their styles, though each distinct from another, are all so wonderfully composed.

What star sign are you?

I'm a Scorpio, moon in Pisces – what does that mean? I may as well be a Zebra.


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