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Interview with Ken Holewczynski of Epoch and Carbon 12 Records

Epoch is an American martial-industrial project which defies many of the expectations that label might produce. It's work is thoughtful and politically relevant and doesn't present illusions of a return to a glorious past in that way that much music in this style does. Epoch recently released the album Purity and Revolution, which bears traces of SPK, Front Line Assembly and other important artists, but updates the old styles to make them relevant to the current crisis. It uses historical samples to draw parallels between the previous Great Depression and the current day, illustrating the tragic potentials of the present and near future.

We spoke to Ken Holewczynski to get a better picture of Epoch's agenda and his thoughts on the continuing controversies surrounding the industrial scene.

Do you see Epoch as continuing the tradition of socially critical North American industrial associated with Front Line Assembly, Skinny Puppy, Die Warzau and others?

Very much so. One of the initial reasons I was drawn to industrial music and culture was the fact that many of the early the artists involved were writing lyrics and music that were geared towards critical thinkers. They didn't write traditional music with traditional pop sentiments. I came across FLA around the time Corroded Disorder came out at the original Wax Trax! Records store in Chicago. I live close enough to Chicago and I made plenty of pilgrimages to the store to get my industrial music fix. They played videos that were on the cusp of the MTV era, except they played good ones. Front 242, FLA and other European artists were featured, as they did most of the importing of industrial music into the US. I think the one video that really struck me on one visit was FLA's Digital Tension Dementia – the visuals were so striking.

This is also how I came across Laibach as I saw the video for Life is Life at Wax Trax! and immediately began to research and follow the band and more so, NSK . I'd say idealistically, Laibach had more influence on what I am doing content-wise, but musically I draw from all of my influences from EBM, experimental and 90's industrial.

I saw in Laibach a sense of showing a system for what it is, with their process of over-identification. However, I don't think that method would necessarily work in the US. Many Americans are already over-patriotized (is that even a thing?) and wouldn't recognize the sarcasm or irony of that method.

The album has a sense of epic tragedy that's reminiscent of early Front Line Assembly – was their work of this period an influence?

I have always been drawn to music that tends to have some sort of “melancholy” overtones, whether it's lyrical or musical. Prior to diving into the industrial scene, I followed bands like Ultravox and additionally, John Foxx with his solo material and everything they did had this grand sound that was both tragic and beautiful. Ultravox's early work had a sense of longing for a time lost, while Foxx sang both of great personal and cultural dystopias.

Luckily as the entire short-lived “New Romantic” period in music ended, I came across industrial to move on to.

FLA definitely was an early industrial influence. The dark sounds, deep vocals and open sonic spaces continued that epic electronic sound that I still try to project. I know that style of industrial music is still reflected in my compositions as Epoch and music I wrote back in the 90's was probably more directly influenced. I hadn't composed in a very long time and I think the distance now has allowed a development of a more personal style, but you can still hear that early sound in my work.

The“narrative”of the tracks is constructed from the samples, many of which seem to be from the era of The Great Depression. What is your approach to sampling?

Epoch
Epoch - Capitalism, from the Purity and Revolution artwork.

At this point I feel it's so obvious that media, world leaders, politicians, what have you, primarily mislead and redirect everyone. Not that everyone lies (how can you really tell?), but even though we live in an age of disinformation, if you actually hear and understand what has been said and planned since the dawn of the media, you will see a linear path towards control of central banking, consolidation of commerce and finances, the destruction of the middle class – not to mention the indifference to the poor and the advancement of the extreme viewpoints that I believe are in direct contrast to most people I know, who tend to be moderates, whether they are conservative or liberal. Of course there have been periods where the lives of the average person are improved through legislation and the political process, but we're at a point where globalization of commerce and finance are pushing back hard and seemingly waging economic war on the common man.

So in sampling source material, I look for sound bites that show, in their own words, the way this has been shaped. Roosevelt, Bush, Truman and even Oswald Mosley among others are intertwined to illustrate that there isn't much difference between the political “isms” of our time. The samples are interpretive and used to accent, confuse, warn or inform. Using historical samples reinforce the fact that we should have all seen the current socio-economic crisis coming.

How does your audience perceive you politically?

So far I haven't been perceived of leaning one way or another politically. Since re-entering the industrial scene and specifically the sub-genre of martial industrial, I've actually been corresponding with other bands and individuals with varying viewpoints, so I assume that for now, people find me open-minded to alternative cultures and philosophies.

How do you respond to the inevitable accusations that Epoch is advocating a right-wing agenda? (if you have actually received these)

While I haven't been accused of being right –wing or left -wing, I suppose you're correct in that given the chosen aesthetic for Epoch, and the fact that I am working within circles that have some bands with ring-wing agendas, that this association may be made.

Groucho Marx said, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

While not entirely apropos, Marx's quote might apply here in trying to associate me with one view or another.

Perhaps my own agenda with Epoch is a bit ambiguous and people will read into what they want. I have a viewpoint that focuses on global situations and corporate fascism that may be based on my American experience, but translates globally.

Getting back to Laibach and over-identification and my chosen graphic representation of Epoch, I didn't feel “going over the top” in an American sort of way was going to accurately convey the music. If I did, the cover art may look like a typical country music album. However, I think the chosen style is accurate. I doubt most people realize that for longest time, the US dime had the Italian fasces on the back, a symbol used by the Fascist party, and that the symbol is still in several government buildings in Washington DC. I find things like this both entertaining and disturbing.

What are the differences you see between American and European audiences for this style of music?

I honestly am not sure how much of an American audience there is for this, although again, Laibach has its fans here but there aren't other US martial or neo-folk bands here that I am aware of. The “mainstream” American industrial scene, and I get the impression the same holds true for Europe, has been homogenized quite a bit and I wasn't even looking at the American scene when I started composing as Epoch. Present-day American folk is simply a regurgitation of hippie culture presented for the masses and I think I'm treading in a completely different underground arena here. It would be good to get more exposure in the US and I have had some of the poster art I submitted to, and was selected for, the First NSK Citizens' Congress appear in a few area galleries. This may be an avenue I explore further in both art and music to reach a larger US audience.

Epoch
Ken Holewczynski - Just Say Nein, from the NSK Folk Art selection presented at the First NSK Citizens' Congress, Berlin, 2010.

However, in Europe, I have been lucky enough to gain the support of Casus Belli Musica in Russia, VUZ Records in Duisburg (an old friend from when I ran my previous label, Arts Industria in the 1990s) and Castellum Stoufenburc, also in Germany. They are distributing the CD and through networking I am finding my audience there.

I have always felt that the more interesting music was coming from Europe and I even made it a point to go beyond the obvious British/American music connection to seek out music from other parts of Europe. I have always been especially interested in finding artists from Eastern Europe – I suppose it’s some sort of vague connection to my Polish heritage.

So I guess the underground has maintained its interest to me. You get a more individual voice from those scenes and for good or bad, at least it's preferable over pop music.

So to your previous point, I think Europe may be a better audience for me, but I may end up being categorized within the martial scene. I just find there is an audience there for the type of music I want to pursue and a market that already exists for it. We will see.

Can you tell us more about the Carbon12 label, its other artists, influences and agenda?

Carbon 12 was basically set up as a collaborative type label. As I said earlier, I had created the label Arts Industria in the 1990s and gained a small amount of notoriety releasing international compilations though the mail and through newsgroups like rec.music.industrial. AI was created to initially release my own music but I created many contacts in those days and all told about a dozen or so comps were distributed.

With C12, I was approached by long-time friend, Paul Seegers who plays live keyboards for Assemblage 23 about starting something similar since he had music he was wanting to put out and I was wanting to get back into it myself.

As the music scene is even more difficult to market to now, C12 functions as a marketing co-op more than a label. The releases we've done so far are financed by the artists and we simply assist each other with cross-promotion.

The core of this new beginning was Paul with his project “Thy Fearful Symmetry,” and Laird Sheldahl – previously in the band Thine Eyes and later on ML and myself. Laird is another friend from the Arts Industria days. Analog Angel from Glasgow were a connection made though Seegers and Assemblage 23 and we'll see what else may pop up as far as the label is concerned.

As we all have vastly different styles of music, Paul and I discussed the label not having a specific agenda – it just wouldn't work they way Arts Industria was an “industrial” label. All the bands associated with C12 are electronic in a fashion, but that's the only common thread. This may in itself prove to be limiting for projects like Epoch, but I haven't hit that wall yet.

Perhaps the label in some way, exposes me as a musical socialist, if the label has any agenda at all.

Source: An interview with Epoch's K. Holewczynski by Alexei Monroe for the Industrialised Culture Research Network