With our interview series »10 Questions With…,« we would like to introduce you to a number of bands and artists from this year’s Pop-Kultur programme who definitely deserve a place in your playlists and hearts. We start with the Berlin-based band SADO OPERA.
- If you would have to sum up the entire philosophy behind SADO OPERA in just one sentence, what would you say?
One music journalist has once put it that way: »for SADO OPERA, serious political action and serious fun can – and should – co-exist.« We can only subscribe to that!
- The core members of SADO OPERA are Colonel and Katya, originally hailing from St. Petersburg. When and how was the band started?
We were involved in numerous music and art projects in St. Petersburg long before we finally decided to unite some like-minded individuals and simply put on the part which we thought was lacking in the city and maybe in Russia in general back then. We did our first show ten years ago. Imagine Russia in 2010 and us on stage – a punk band wearing makeup, in stockings, miniskirts and sometimes even naked. It was a combination of a live show and a cabaret performance with plenty of colourful numbers merged together with the songs mocking homophobia, militarism and misogyny. Drag queens with guitars, synths, a female drummer in a bikini playing very fast rhythms and sometimes sometimes using dildos as drum sticks. It had to be our Russian queercore. We had success in the underground scene and started to perform more and more in St. Petersburg, Moscow and some other Russian cities. Where we come from, acceptance is not part of reality. Anyone may be suddenly stopped by the police with no reason, be humiliated and even be robbed by them. And unfortunately even younger individuals at schools are explained that queerness is a disease. So the background atmosphere were tense. Usually, the audience received us well though. Many people were getting absolutely excited at our shows, because they provided a collective escape from our reality.
- You have been very active in the Berlin scene for years. What made you move to the German capital?
Berlin was always a dream for us. We loved visiting and always were impatient to come back. And then we had our first gig here in 2011 at the notorious Wilde Renate club. It was definitely a mutual »love at first sight moment« that developed into a proper love affair when we were invited to come to play there regularly. As we started to play more and more in Berlin, it also allowed us to plan some tours throughout Europe around that. That’s how slowly we ended up spending most of the time on the other side of the border. We also started to produce our music in collaboration with other Berlin acts. Having so much to do here, we finally moved to Berlin in 2014. Berlin has always felt like it is our home. »This must be the place,« as the Talking Heads song goes.
- SADO OPERA’s the resident house band of the Salon zur Wilden Renate. What exactly does that entail?
Honestly, the encounter with Wilde Renate is one of the best things that ever happened to us. Both personally and professionally. We ourselves, as well as our show, were evolving together with the club’s transformations. We experimented together a lot over the recent years. When the club’s live stage room transitioned to an amazing big techno floor, we focused on curating one of the other club’s floors – the Absinthe Room. Colonel is throwing his Love Radio performances there twice a month and Katya is he floor host for special occasions like the club’s birthday or New Year’s, when the party goes on for days (and nights). We try to involve queer artists from Russia to play there, too. We do believe that it’s important to build bridges between our Russian community and the international scene. Katya is mostly responsible for that, this is her kink! And indeed we want to thank Wilde Renate for supporting us.
- Obviously, playing live as you do internationally is the most important pillar of the SADO OPERA cosmos. What is the concept behind your extravagant live shows?
We loooove touring and playing live. This is probably our favourite art practice – being on stage and sharing those moments with the people. And we are very sincere about it. Aside from concert venues and pop music festivals, we play a lot at techno clubs and big electronic music events. Our music is a mixture of disco, house, funk, and electro. And we speak a lot about inclusivity, freedom, visibility, and sexuality. The closest we get to a definition is by saying that it is fluid. It is a techno wonderland and disco fairytale. We are a queer music band performing in makeup and costumes. The visual part is indeed as important for us as the music production is.
- You were famously joined by Conan O’Brien on stage once while he was in Berlin filming a feature on the city. Truthfully, how big are his chances in becoming a full-time member of SADO OPERA?
Well, everyone is welcome to potentially become »a full-time« or »a one-night-stand« member of the show. We love to collaborate and are very open to do so. If you got excited reading this and felt a spontaneous itch to join us – let us know! Meeting Conan O’Brien was indeed a delightful and very interesting experience for us. We were excited about the invitation to join his TV show. He is very famous but for us it is way more important that he turned out to also be a very kind person. It was fun to play with him together and talking to him was just as pleasing. We surprised him with our sexuality, and he surprised us by joining us on stage and transforming fully into a SADO OPERA band member. While Conan and the Colonel were singing our song »Kissing The Gay Guy« together, in front of the packed room and those giant American television cameras, they managed to get very, very close. Now his chances are big.
- On a more serious note, the on-going COVID-19 pandemic made it necessary also for Pop-Kultur to redesign itself. Your contribution there will also sound and look different than it would have normally done. Can you already tell us what to expect?
Absolutely anything that we could say here about how the pandemic affected us in all possible personal and professional ways will be trivial. We are aware that we are all in this together. This is definitely a challenging experience and the first part of that journey was very emotional and dramatic for some of the band members, who were going through a rough time. The others were sublimating it all at the studio, putting all that energy of a despair and hope into our synths and machines and recorded lots of new material. But it is hard for all the SADO family to be without a possibility to play live for the people. We are in love with touring and always long for being on stage. However, on a positive note: we are trying to reflect on that as a creative challenge for us as artists aAnd to see how and if we can deliver the same (or different?) vibe and energy while forced to being physically distant, having only a screen as a medium. What if the screen has a potential previously unexplored and ignored by us as live performers? And what if the spectator gets an invitation to step with us on stage and have a closer look of what is happening inside SADO OPERA’s universe? What happens when we eventually »Share the Blame«?
- Speaking of which, you latest single »Share the Blame« took its name from the infamous Ficken3000 club, where you host a monthly party, but you also mention Dante’s »Divine Comedy« as a reference. What’s the track about?
»Share the Blame« tells the story of Dante’s disco inferno: Virgil’s got a +1 to Ficken3000, and liberated lovers embrace their carnal desires – eternal consequences be damned! Ficken3000 was actually supposed to celebrate 22 years this April and we planned a big release party. Of course, everything was sadly cancelled. In the meanwhile, we were self-isolating, listening to the EP and recalling all those diverse darkroom and dancefloor encounters at the club and all the true stories that inspired the song. The sound is right between electronic disco and house. And we again used our favourite array of early 80s synthesizers, including a Roland Juno-60 and a Korg Poly-61. Accompanying the song are remixes by Jarle Bråthen and Johannes Albert, who is a resident DJ at Wilde Renate.
- Generally speaking, you have been more and more active in the studio. What does your working process look like? Are all band members involved equally or does the core duo share songwriting duties?
We are absolutely sincere: what we do on stage and what we sing about in our songs is a reflection of our real life. Often, what shocks people in one culture seems to be the absolute norm in the other. Sexual energy and the freedom of sexuality are very important to us. Usually we have four to five people on stage. There are other people who do not go on stage with us, but we still consider them to be full on members of the group. The more we travel with performances, the more siblings and lovers we meet around the world. This is our SADO family. When it comes to the studio work, that mostly involves drummer Icky, Colonel and Katya. This threesome is responsible for delivering the newborn tracks. Occasionally, someone else will join this studio orgy. We call it collaboration… like the one we had with the french band dOP on »In The Dark«, German producer Noema for »Bathroom Song« and »Imaginarium« or Norwegian producer Jarle Bråthen and Johannes Albert from Lichtenberg, who contributed remixes of our single »Share The Blame«. There are also some other individuals that prefer to stay anonymous.
- What do you wish for the future of this world?
What is there to wish for the future of the world but love, justice and equality! In general, one of our main goals is finding ways to be freed from definitions and borders of all sorts. We wish for the present as well as for the future to be able to keep on doing that and to be able to remember that this challenge may also be a fun and exciting one. We also wish that more and more people get the opportunity to unite and collaborate with each other. We ourselves are very open for collaborations and are always excited about meeting new colleagues. Often some of them become members of the family. We believe in the power of a chosen family a lot. For example, we’ve made a collaborative project not so long ago. It is a music video for our track »Patriarchs«. It was a very interesting journey for us to work on it. We started an open call on our Instagram and found lots of really amazing artists thanks to that. It was interesting for us to see how social media – which may as well be an evil – can serve to unite people from different backgrounds and locations. And how it is possible to reach out to one another and work together. Another amazing example of that for us is the First Russian Online Pride founded by the Russian queer media O-zine. This is an interesting, brave and long awaited solution in the face of the limitations that in Russia are caused not only by the pandemic but by the country’s notorious »gay propaganda« laws. Even if the Russian Pride is still forbidden in the streets, the community now unites online.