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FRITZ VON RUNTE: NOTHING HAS CHANGED, EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED - INTERVIEW BY PHIL KING

Fritz von Runte is an artist with a singular vision.  A DJ and Producer based in Manchester, UK, he is known for his work remixing other artists, particularly with projects such as ‘The Beatles Hell’ and ‘The Beatles Hate’, but more notably with Lily Allen Remixed which has been downloaded over twenty million times in the UK alone. Now Fritz von Runte is back with a new venture: Bowie 2001. 

Boldly reconstructing a selection of David Bowie’s greatest songs, Fritz von Runte has decided to weld these new versions to an equally radical reworking of Stanley Kubrick’s epic ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’ It’s an audacious concoction that just about works, though it should be said that while Fritz von Runte skilfully projects Bowie’s work through a prism of modernity, his rewiring of Kubrick’s film renders it more baffling than the original. But don’t take my word for because you can watch the movie and download the music for free at http://www.bowie2001.com/ and form your own opinion.

I caught up with Fritz at a showing of his film at Salford’s Islington Mill to ask him a few questions about this latest enterprise.

PHIL: How did you create the music for Bowie2001?

FRITZ: I used all software that exists on the planet, everything. The whole concept of Bowie2001 was already in my mind when I decided to do it; not the narrative, but the idea of mixing the music and synchronising it with the movie so I began by arranging the tracks based on the idea of a script. I knew that the songs would have to merge into each other because I wanted it to be a mix set, like a DJ set, so I basically arranged them according to the key and tempo to the next song.  I had to make a map of the narrative, the tempo and the harmonic key and progression, and once I knew which song I was having next I could match some of the instruments from the previous record to the next record.  This is why making the re-mix CD with the separate tracks was the hardest part because I had to cut the parts where the instruments went from song A to song B and I had to edit them all.

As for software I’ve used everything.  I have a very different way of mixing music because I like to only mix audio so it doesn’t really matter where I sequence what I sequence.   I use different kinds of software when I demo, for example I may use a certain software package on the guitar and a different one on the bass and a third for the drums. And when I render it all and mix it, it gives it a certain, not groove, more organic sound.  It gives it a certain movement and it works for me a lot and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy editing audio.

PHIL: Are you frightened of being sued for breech of copyright?

FRITZ: No! I don’t think Bowie would sue me though EMI might. I’m not afraid because Bowie2001 was released on a label I have that’s a non-profit, anti-war pacifist label.  We are non-violent people, though we believe in civil disobedience, and everything we release is original though it always involves copyright breeches.  All of the releases from Marshall Records break copyright, but the main problem with Bowie2001 I would say, would be the film industry because they are really rough and it’s not a scenario I’m used to.  I’m very used to music and the copyright to sound recordings which I’ve been working with for a long time and they’ve not changed since the USA invaded Iraq about eight years ago.

I have another project called ‘Beatles Hate’ that had a reputation bigger than Bowie2001, although Bowie2001’s just starting, the ‘Beatles Hate’ had twenty-million downloads and I was sent letters from Apple and EMI which made it a very difficult period for me.  But I’m not afraid and I don’t have a lawyer although there is this guy who invented something called ‘Creative Currents’ and he’s a lawyer.  At the time I was doing ‘Beatles Hate’ I was also making an adaptation of the cover of his book because I still worked as a designer, and he was really interested in defending ‘Beatles Hate’ if it went public.  I haven’t spoken to him in five years but I’m sure if something happened I could send him an email because he’s quite powerful.

There is not much they can do to me for a few reasons. Firstly, copyright and authoring rights are different things, and this particular project breaks very little copyright because last week I released instrumentals of this record and I realised I used less than 10% of the original recordings. In fact most of the tracks only use the vocals and that means in today’s world I don’t even need to ask for permission.  A label usually pays for the artist to record an album, so for example say I’m asked to record an album and the label gives me an advance, it’s the label who owns the copyright to their recording and it has nothing to do with who wrote the song. So on Bowie2001, because Marshall Records paid for it, and because it uses very, very little of someone else’s recording, that’s not considered a sample.  But people can ask for authoring right which is something completely different and I don’t question the authoring rights. Now the film industry is different, not that I’m afraid of going to gaol or anything, it just that it’s a game I haven’t played before, I don’t know the game so I don’t know what they can do. So far they’ve been very nice.

Another interesting thing about Bowie is that Bowie was the first artist to become a brand and he opened himself to the stock market so he now has a team of people that decide his future. So if Bowie decides he’s going to re-release ‘Station To Station’ then the idea’s presented to the stock holders and they chose what to do to get the best dividends.

PHIL: What about the Kubrick estate? They’re quite protective of Stanley’s work.

FRITZ: I don’t know; they should be.  I don’t think they even know what Bowie2001 is and even if they got in touch with it they wouldn’t know what to do with it. You don’t see this a lot, someone making something tangible with someone else’s movie; it’s so new they wouldn’t know how to act. And as Marshall Records is non-profit, all the money generated from the record and DVD goes back to supporting the label servers and you can only be sued on the money you make.  If one of their auditing people examined my books and saw how much I make they’d find it wouldn’t even pay for their time.

So I think they wouldn’t know how to handle it. I have a friend in London who produces ‘Secret Cinema’ and if I let her use Bowie2001 for two or three days with five thousand people paying to see it and I was making a lot of money from the movie then I could understand the Kubrick estate getting involved,  but it’s not the case.  

PHIL: How do you see the future unfolding for Bowie2001?

FRITZ: I don’t know really. After I do these things I put them online and I leave them there and I start working on other things. Obviously promoting my work is something I have to do because I have to let people know it exists, but it’s not something enjoyable to me.  It’s not something I want to do for months because I have other things to do. That includes work as well because I have to pay the bills, this doesn’t pay the bills! I think there is a curve with this kind of project like the ‘Beatles Hate’ The first three or four months you have the cool people that are into new stuff and discovering it.  These people become advocates and they start letting other people know who don’t normally look for things on the web and they become aware of it and that’s when you have a peak.  If my theory is correct that peak will be in July or August when it’ll be everywhere, on every board and blog and everyone will be talking about it though by then I’ll be tired of promoting it.  You then have a long time of people coming to the website and downloading this project in particular I can measure the numbers very well.  I think the same thing will happen to Bowie2011 that happened to Lilly Allen Remixed when that was the most downloaded album of all time in the UK.

PHIL: Are you working on new material?

FRITZ: Yes! I am recording an original album, the first one in four years, for the new record label I’ve signed to. And I have another project which is different from the others in that I have to get funding before I can start it because it will require a lot of promotion. I plan to compose music using sounds recorded by people from all over the world. There is also a DVD as well made from videos that people send in, and, in terms of format, it’s going to be similar to Bowie2001. They will also be a remix CD; after I do the tracks I will make a DVD available with multitracks of my so other people can remix them. Everyone who sends a sound will get their name on the CD cover as well as a free copy of the CD. So it’s quite a pretentious project but I can’t do it without spending money on advertising and paying someone to initially publicise and promote it. If I get the funding which is something I going to look for in a few months and if I get the money, I should have all the structure in place by September or November.

Interview by Phil King 04/05/11
Photos from the Lycantropii Volume IV photoshoot 2010