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'YOU CAN BE HAPPY' - MYSTERY FLAME MEETS CHRIS CORNER OF ELECTRO-INDIE BAND IAMX

Chris Corner - Photo by Janine Gezang.

It’s a sunny March afternoon full of good omens. As the fast train from Malaga to Madrid approaches its final destination I spot a fat, black and white graffiti on a grey wall that makes me tingle inside: it reads IAMX. Later, as I turn the street corner towards one of the most famous rock venues in Spain, Sala Caracol, I am greeted by a fluorescent pink graffiti that makes me smile knowingly: it reads CHRIS.

I walk through the club’s open doors and look for the band manager. 15 minutes allocated for an interview is frankly not a lot, especially when you have someone as interesting as IAMX’s Chris Corner sitting in front of you. Still, I am determined to make the most of it and, above all, to fully enjoy this special moment. It’s 8pm and the electro-indie sensations have just retired into their dressing rooms; they won’t start until three hours later. After a short wait, manager Reza finally whisks me through the back doors by the left hand side of the tall stage.
Chris is even prettier in the flesh: a slender, fragile, androgynous figure elegantly dressed in black. We shake hands and sit down facing one other. His long jet back fringe sweeps across the pale forehead to plunge into the pool of his intense, dark brown eyes seductively done up in smoky make-up. Chris’ swift alabaster hands keep tugging nervously at a huge black scarf whose envious task is to keep the singer’s gifted throat warm for one of the very last performances of his 2010 European tour. As svelte (keyboard player) Janine Gezang potters around, arranging on the floor luscious raspberry-coloured, flower-like bows made of shiny PVC fabric, I explain to extremely well-spoken Chris that, due to time issues, I will base the interview around the main recurrent themes of his most recent videos.

MYSTERY FLAME: …But first of all, I have a question from one of your biggest fans, Dan Kubinski (of Die Kreuzen, Boy Dirt Car, Decapitado, Put Her In The Trunk fame) who saw you in Chicago during the American leg of your tour. It was thanks to him that I discovered IAMX, he’s a good friend... He wants to know how you liked/disliked your US tour – and I think he sends his love, Janine!

JANINE: Aw, do say hello from me!

CHRIS: Well, America is a bit like the UK in terms of hospitality; it’s very basic, you know, like the state of the dressing rooms and so on. So if you accept that it’s rock & roll it’s fine: generally that dirty, grubby underground club scene can be sexy, but Europe is far more hospitable. Saying that, it can be quite dangerous to be in the comfort zone of a club where everything is sanitized and perfect; it’s good to be slapped in the face and not to get too complacent. But the energy and the excitement of touring the US is great! I must say that Los Angeles is an extremely good place to play. I think it’s where all the like-minded people seem to congregate; we have a very strong L.A. fan-base, so it is very invigorating to perform there.

MF: Exploring the recurrent themes in your videos is one of the many keys to read into your work. Let’s start with the ambivalent and extremely powerful sexuality you often portray in them: is role swapping something that belongs to your personality, and where you at all influenced by artists like Bowie?

CHRIS: Bowie? Not really. When I was a child I was often dressed up by my sister: she was older than me and a bit of a bully so I was like her living doll. But I think I enjoyed it… I enjoyed getting into the role and performing a little bit even at that early age. I was never a huge fan of Bowie, for me it was all very well constructed, very well written and performed, but at the heart of it I always felt there was something missing. I cannot really put my finger on it…

MF: Did you feel it was too contrived?

CHRIS: Yeah, and also I think people mix dressing up with acting. With me it’s not about the acting, it’s more about putting myself in a position where I can deconstruct myself, and it’s easier for me to do that by dressing up than just going on stage in a t-shirt. You see, the older I got the more I grew into that role; I experimented a lot in my personal life but when I started IAMX in particular, I found out that that was really me.  Yeah, I do like dressing up; it is part of my personality and what I like to do. Of course, when I go out in the street I tone it down a little bit, but it is always a big part of me.

MF: You are from Middlesbrough, now based in Berlin… and I think one of the few performers I know who didn’t go to art school!

CHRIS: That’s right! I did scientific studies but I was surrounded by art students: they were all older than me and extremely cynical… I felt a bit suffocated by that because I am a very sensitive and sincere person, and IAMX helped me to get out of that.

MF: I very much sympathize with that view, I did an art degree and the competition was so harsh that it put me off being an artist for good! I have a scientific diploma too, by the way.

CHRIS: Really?! I still love science; in fact I cannot see why art and science cannot go together.

MF: In my eyes they complement each other; in the old times they used to be very closely related disciplines.

CHRIS: Exactly! (Broad smile)

MF: Another recurrent idea found in your videos is the interplay between the themes of sexuality and death. The way you use the dressing up in some of your videos reminds me of the theatrical but very poignant use of the Venetian Carnival atmospheres in the film “Death in Venice” by Luchino Visconti, where he explored the same complex themes. Are you familiar with it?

CHRIS: I like Visconti, but I haven’t seen that film… I should, definitely! I have seen his other famous one, “Il Gattopardo”, but to be honest with you I much prefer Fellini. I love his sense of humour, he’s fabulous! I think the closest thing I have come across to Venetian masks, culturally speaking, is through my travels: I like Italy very much…

IAMX – “President”

MF: More recurrent themes are found in the latest IAMX video directed by yourself for the brilliant Alec Empire remix of “I am Terrified”: drowning, smashing through glass or walls and wine drinking. It’s all very Dionysian and Nietzschean… Can you quickly tell me about the narrative behind those metaphors?

CHRIS: You are right, these themes are very recurrent. In particular, with the song you mentioned, I wanted to add more layers to its original simplicity, make its immediate meaning more complex. It’s funny as I didn’t really plan that video. We have this place just outside of Berlin, it’s just an empty space with lots of rooms where the three of us, Janine, a friend called James and I, have recently started to experiment with a couple of cameras.

MF: Are you obsessive with your attention to detail or, whether it’s a live performance or a video, you are more into spontaneous improvisation?

CHRIS: I generally work with subconscious themes: the area in my life where I am not very structured and scientific is the creative process. I think it needs to be like that! In the production stages I have to be quite technical about what I do; actually, even in my thinking as a person I can be quite scientific and rational, but with art it is different. This video was such a good experiment about playing with subconscious ideas: when I edited the film, it was all very obvious to me what the things that appeared on it were about. For example you don’t really see my eyes, so there is the theme of “hiding”; then you have the “smashing of things”, which is about trying to break through those human behavioral patterns that maybe I have and I see in other people; and there’s the drinking too much of course…

MF: At one point you are actually smashing your own CD: it doesn’t get more Freudian than that!

CHRIS: No it doesn’t haha; that really symbolizes what I think about the album now: I am trying to create another project and Alex is doing the same, so we realized we were almost violently breaking the old one to get into the next creative stage.

ALEC EMPIRE remix of “I am terrified” by IAMX

MF: So how do you feel when you watch that video back?...

CHRIS: I feel justified somehow. There is a long personal history of not really trusting myself and feeling very insecure… I am always self-doubting until I finish something and look back at it.

(Captivatingly, Chris tilts his head on one side and rests it against the wall, showing all his vulnerability: a touching and spontaneous gesture that reveals his absolute honesty. My antennae perk up and I suddenly realize I am forgiving myself for being just like him)

MF: Do you resent your insecurities? Deep down, we all feel a little bit like that…

CHRIS: Yes, I do! I am getting better at putting them on one side and just enjoy the creative processes.

MF: I would have thought that performing helps a lot in keeping the monsters at bay.

CHRIS: There is a certain amount of release that I get from performing, and it would be nice to have it in the studio too…

MF: Looking at you as both an artist and a person, I get the feeling that punk has been quite influential, am I correct?

CHRIS: Yes, actually. My personal interpretation of punk is not so much about the traditional, commercial idea of it, you know, like the spiky hair, the clothes or even the music, but I definitely see in IAMX a punk attitude: it is about surviving, living an alternative life-style and being creatively independent.

MF: I agree, IAMX is not as obvious as it may seem at first glance: you might get a hint of post-new romanticism, a whiff of Depeche Mode and so on, but in truth there are too many subtle layers about this band and pigeon-holing it would be reductive!

CHRIS: That’s very refreshing coming from a journalist. Sometimes people really push for me to describe what my music is like and I just think: ok, I can give you some tags if you want to, but they will never give you an accurate description of what we are about.

MF: I think my 15 minutes are well and truly gone now, Chris!

CHRIS: Oh don’t worry, do carry on…

MF: Great! Let’s talk about the incredibly powerful official video for “Tear Garden”, which I find fascinating and, in a sense, quite political too.  First of all, you appear controversially wrapped in real wolf’s fur, a bold choice which I interpret as a call to the shamanic notion of returning to the animal within us. Also, you appear washed out in what could be seen as amniotic liquid, which could symbolize a natural re-birth. I read the video as a metaphor of how we could reprogram ourselves to be better people by discarding the fake consensual knowledge of religions and culture in general to be in touch again with the real natural us; a sort of return to the early womb. Am I correct in my interpretation?

CHRIS: Yeah, you are spot on, the video is quite political. Most of it is about looking at the poison of the Western culture and how going back to our natural instincts could be beneficial to us. I don’t think we can go back completely to our natural instincts, but we should let them free and allow ourselves to live outside our cultural constraints. Oh god, I could write an essay on this... In the Western world we follow all sorts of icons: they are not just political and religious but also cultural, and that’s on all levels, from our most basic popular culture to academic level. It is important that we smash through those icons as they are used and put into a false context all the time and that is just wrong! I don’t go out and spell this out though, I just let people like yourself to go and discover the clues through the layers of my work, so your interpretation is correct. Of course there could be other personal interpretations to the video and they would be fine too.

IAMX – “Tear Garden”

MF: Have you had complaints about the use of real fur?

CHRIS: I think people have this notion of me as being an overly conscientious person and I am sure a lot of them thought “No, Chris wouldn’t do that!” The fact is, I can go and have a reasoned discussion with someone about why they should not eat meat, but I would not go and tell people they are disgusting for doing that, so… I know this is quite controversial, but the point here is that some people missed completely the weight of the message in the video.

MF: So from the images of re-birth and breaking free in the official video for “The Garden” we can move nicely onto that simple but clever clip for its acoustic version, where I can clearly see you trying to “get out of the womb”… in vain! You are seen walking down a set of stairs towards a corridor but, no matter how many times you try, you never actually succeed in walking right to the end of it, so eventually you return upstairs to what is your cocooned everyday life. Can I read this as a metaphor of how our good intentions to become a different – better - person get constantly suffocated by our commitments in society, family, relationships etc?

CHRIS: Oh it’s incredibly hard to get out of our constraints, but you just have to keep trying! And even if you accept that it is impossible, the journey is as interesting as you make it, so you just have to enjoy it… Yes, I completely believe that you can only be good to yourself and to others by being totally independent. Once you understand that, not only you become better towards the others, but you start to attract the right people and get rid of the wrong people naturally by just being strong and independent as a person.

Oh god, you are just touching on subjects, like family and religion, I could talk about for hours haha! But yes, going back upstairs is a bit like picking up the bottle: accepting in an almost tragicomic kind of way that sometimes you just have to get on with life and enjoy it.

IAMX – “Tear Garden” (acoustic version)

MF: (Manager Reza has been pacing up and down the room and finally signals that the end of the interview has come) One last quick thing Chris: do you feel as if rock & roll is the only place where you can truly be yourself?

CHRIS: Well it’s another very complex question! I have this strong karma of balancing out a very ying & yang situation between the extreme performance and the subtle technical studio work so, to be honest, I don’t know where else I would find the same kind of release. I am sure that most people, even the non-creative types, find their release in one way or other, like going out at the weekend and getting fucked up. But I don’t really need that… so the closest thing I could perhaps do is to study architecture; I think that would provide me with the same kind of dual release.

MF: How interesting, architecture is also a big obsession of mine! Thank you for your time Chris, I shall leave you to prepare for the show.

CHRIS: Well, time to have a drink…

Suddenly the strong aroma of malt whiskey fills the room. IAMX would later deliver a hell of a show which made the packed 500-strong Madrid audience sing out loud every single chorus from each of the songs cherry-picked from the three albums so far released. Strong and fragile at the same time, Chris has the special gift of connecting deeply with our most secret dreams and insecurities by showing his own with rare and touching courage and honesty. Sadly, (and surprisingly, given the packed-out London gigs and the close friendship and past collaboration with the likes of the Mighty Bush posse!) some press feels uncomfortable with the highly sophisticated talent and extreme sincerity of a British artist who had the cheek to find his creative dimension by moving abroad. But these days word of mouth and the power of the internet makes this kind of puerile boycotting look even more embarrassing: in the grand scheme of things IAMX are intensely loved and adored world-wide by a heterogenic and loyal audience and that is all that matters. The lesson of punk keeps shining through!

IAMX – “Think of England” live version

Album Discography:

Kiss + Swallow (Recall)
The Alternative (61seconds)
Kingdom of Welcome Addiction (61seconds)
DOGMATIC INFIDEL COMEDOWN OK (61seconds) (Remix album featuring Alec Empire, Imogen Heap, Combichrist, Terence Fixmer, Miss Derringer, Omega Man, etc.)

Almost a year later than its world release, new album “Kingdom of Welcome Addiction” (bundled with wonderful remix album “Dogmatic Infidel Comedown OK”) is officially released in the UK on 17th May 2010.

www.myspace.com/iamx
www.iamx.eu/
www.youtube.com/iamx


Interview by Mystery Flame 26/03/10
Photo by  Janine Gezang