Interview with Ingo Rohrer

Ingo Rohrer with Wu Wei (SMZB)

Ingo Rohrer is the man behind Sabbel zine and the German DIY punk label Depraved and Devilish. In 2004, he released Si Dou Le’s “A Dream in our Hearts” 7” and was instrumental in hooking up SMZB with Nasty Vinyl for their 2001 “Wuhan Punk” release. For over a decade he has been a friend of punks from across Asia and South America, helping to give world-wide exposure to great music from these often under-appriciated scenes. I caught up with Ingo over email to ask him about his connection to China, his anthropological research in SE Asia and Depraved and Devilish’s plans for the future.

How did you first hear about punk bands from China and how did meet the guys from SMZB and Si Dou Le?

I’ve always had an interest in punk, hardcore and underground bands from non-Western cultures. I was also very into trading tapes with people from all over the globe before the internet made access to music and communication with people from different parts of the world much easier. It was around 1998 or 1999 when I surfed around the internet in search of new sounds and new people and found out about Chinese punk thanks to a website called World Wide Punk.

I had a fanzine back then called SABBEL which focused on the global phenomenon of punk and hardcore, so I decided to get in contact with people and do some interviews for my fanzine. I got in contact with the guys of SMZB and SDL (Si Dou Le) and started to write them letters and send them material. I really loved their early recordings and their unique approach to punk rock. It seemed very original, very spontaneous and less bound to “scene rules” like much of the recordings from Western nations. Around the same time, a 7″ with punk bands from Beijing was released by Tian An Men 89 Records and it seemed as if punk in China was kicking off. But I never developed contacts with punks from Beijing, instead maintaining my relationship to SMZB and SDL.

How did you decide to release a 7” from a Chinese band and why did you pick SDL?

Before releasing the 7″ of SDL I released a split-tape of SMZB and SDL in Germany, which was well received by the punks here. I did not sell too many copies but some of my friends who ran labels at this time showed an interest in putting out some of the new material SMZB had recorded. I was an inexperienced punk kid back then and saw it as a great opportunity for SMZB to collaborate with Nasty Vinyl Records from Hannover, who could guarantee a far better distribution and professional production of a record than I was able to do. So I helped to establish contact and put out the record.

When it was released I realized that the reaction from the punk scene was very positive and interested. So when I heard the new recordings from SDL, which totally blew me away, I did not hesitate and decided to release a 7″ for their upcoming European tour. I still LOVE this record and its very touching songs. I am really glad I could help this amazing band release a vinyl, because I consider them my friends and because I want their songs to be heard and their lyrics to be read. And why a 7″ for a band from China? Because I love angry and critical music, played by people who stand up for their opinions and convictions… and it is great to see that these kinds of people exist in China as well. I believe in global solidarity and a sense of community which unites people through critical thought… no matter which nation, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, etc. they are “ascribed” to. Putting out records is just a very small contribution to showing solidarity with this community.

When SDL toured Europe with Vialka you traveled with them for a couple days. What were those shows like? How was the band received in Europe?

Of course SDL was seen as something very extraordinary or even “exotic.” As far as I know they were the first Chinese punk band to tour in Europe. I remember that a lot of people showed up at the concerts only for the reason that it was a Chinese band playing there. They were even more suprised when SDL played and turned out to be a brilliant live band with catchy and moving punk tunes. The contrast to Vialka, who played very unique and crazy experimental music, could not have been bigger, and so much of the audience was relieved when SDL started with their more classic punk sound after Vialka had finished their set. Obviously not every show was equally well attended, but I remember that the punks went wild in Mannheim on a weekday night and cheered up SDL with raw chants and joyful screaming, forcing them to play more and more songs when the set list was already completed. SDL were polite and a little bit timid and it seemed as if they could not believe that their music would provoke such an reaction. The reaction of the crowd in different places was very friendly and supportive and I also noticed some people starting long-lasting conversations with the band members who did speak English. I feel there was a real exchange of thoughts and opinions, which I see as a very important part of such a tour.

What was the response in Europe to a release from a Chinese punk band?

The SDL 7″ was the third vinyl record of a Chinese punk band to be released in Europe, so the response was propably not as aghast as it might have been when the first record was released. I remember that a lot of people were suprised by the high quality of the recordings and the very good sound quality of the SDL 7″, because they expected raw and noisy material recorded with a shitty tape recorder in some dark basement. Unfortunately a lot of people have the idea that punks from regions other than Western Europe or the US are “underdeveloped” in their approach to music and generally would lack skills, ideas and originality. They think that these punks would rather copy “traditional Western punk” than create something new and interesting. I think that this is totally ignorant and wrong. So I was happy that I could prove these people wrong with SDL’s excellent record.

You spent some time in SE Asia. What was that like and what sort of impression did that experience leave with you?

I am an anthropologist and spent some months in Yogjakarta, Indonesia doing fieldwork and research on women involved in the local punk and hardcore scene there. It was a very intense and great time and I had the opportunity to meet many wonderful and inspiring people. I had experiences in other punk scenes before and visited a lot of different places, but Indonesia was someplace very special. Because of my work I left aside every kind of tourist ambition and focused exclusively on the punk and hardcore movement in Indonesia, gathering information, participating in concerts, meetings and conversations. I love to see that punk is differently shaped in various societies, but that punks are connected to each other anyway. It is amazing to have the feeling of being friends for years, after knowing someone only for a couple of days. It is amazing to feel trust and affinity from the very first moment. And I think that is what punk is all about. It’s great to see that this feeling is shared in societies all over the planet.

Can you tell me a little bit about your label, Depraved and Devilish?

I think principally the story of my label is the story of every small punk label. I just put out records from friends and people I like and awesome bands no one seems to care about. But there is one difference between my label and most other punk record labels. I am friend with punks and hardcore kids from Latin America and Asia and rather prefer to support their efforts than those of bands from my own region. I think in Europe and in the USA most bands can afford to record their songs and probably they also have the money to put out a record and sell it at their shows. This is totally different in other countries, where the economic situations makes it difficult for bands to even exist. Because renting practice rooms, buying equipment, setting up concerts and recording songs is unaffordable for a majority.

You have released records for many bands from developing countries in regions such as Asia and South America. Is there much interest in punk music from these countries in Europe?

Unfortunately there is not as much interest as I wish there would be. Most people treat bands from Asia, South America or Africa with a strange curiosity, driven more by sensationalism or exoticm than by solidarity or musical interest. There is a small community of people who have a well-marked interest in bands from different countries and they are really supportive. But the majority seems to follow the trends and the influences of big punk and hardcore labels and “leading” bands. I do my best to change this condition through interviews, writing articles, promoting music and releasing records.

Why do you do relases on vinyl? Why not CDs?

I release vinyl because I know that it is difficult for bands from Latin America, Asia or Africa to produce this format in their own countries. Simultaneously, much of these bands love vinyl records and dream of releasing a 7″ or an LP. So I help where I can. I also see that vinyl records are valued higher in Europe and the US and the only way that people recognize that there are awesome bands from Latin America, Asia or Africa is by presenting their music on vinyl. However I do not see this as an important factor for myself, because I do not put out records to “satisfy” a certain market or to “please” the European or US-American punk scene. One of the main reasons why I put out vinyl is that I myself love records and notice that putting on a vinyl record is a kind of ritual in which the music is more appreciated. You take the time to listen to it, to read the lyrics, to look at the cover artwork. You do not skip forward, you do not drag and drop, you do not erase your music.

Have you done releases for any other Asian bands?

Yes, I have helped to put out the first SMZB 7″, did a split-tape of SDL and SMZB and also released an LP of TANK GIRL from Nepal. Recently I participated in the new FANZUI XIANGFA 7″. I also plan to help SECOND COMBAT, a hardcore band from Malaysia, release their LP. Although much of the output of my label involves bands from Latin America. I have lived in both Argentina and Chile for a long time and have visited many other countries in South America and am familiar with the various local scenes, so my connection to Latin America is more intense than my relations to Asia.

Ingo with La Miseria De Tu Rostro in Buenos Aires, Argentina

How do you think the DIY scenes in developed and developing countries can better support each other? Are there things that these scenes can learn from each other?

I wish that there would be more connection between Asian, African and Latin American scenes. Most people (also in Latin America, Africa and Asia) are focused on the US and European bands and totally ignore that there are amazing things happening in China, Chile, Indonesia, Algeria, etc. I would welcome it if the common ways of global interchange and communication would not be repeated in the hardcore and punk scenes, but it seems that also in this “counter-culture” everything is directed towards the “centers” of this world. We have the opportunity to do things differently than our governments and I would prefer egalitarian and equal exchange among equal people. I think it is great that people from Europe and the US support bands from Asia, Latin America and Africa. But I hope and wish that they are not doing it in the same way as Western governments “help” the so-called developing countries by imposing their ideas and vision and claiming that they would know best how to handle and solve problems.

I think we all can learn from each other and the world becomes a better place if we step aside from our convictions that we know the truth and know things better than others.

What future plans do you have for Depraved & Devilish and Sabbel zine?

Sabbel Fanzine unfortunately is dead, because I no longer have the time to write a good fanzine. And for the label I do not have special plans yet. I guess my friends of LA MISERIA DE TU ROSTRO from Chile will record a new killer album soon and I like these guys so much that I will not hesitate to support them.

Thanks for the interview. Do you have any last remarks for kids in China?

Thank you for your questions. I hope that I can travel to China someday, because I promised myself that I will not die until I’ve seen a punk show in China, haha. I want to encourrage you to get in contact with people from other parts of the world. Knowing other people and exchanging ideas is what punk and hardcore need. So get active!