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Elcassette: D.I.Y., Munich Rock Camp for Girls & Feminism

Elcassette are a kick ass indie-rock-electro duo based in Munich, Germany. Inspired by Riot Grrrl, Queercore and 80s music, Maria Cincotta (guitar/vocals/synthesizers) and Elke Brams (drums) write frank songs about love, dyke bars, domestic violence and the impermanence of life. Maria recently gave a guitar workshop at Berlin’s LaD.I.Y.fest and is involved in the very first Munich Rock Camp for Girls inspired by the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon. Elcassette are very passionate about the D.I.Y. approach to things and adore home recordings.

I know Elcassette are big believers in the D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) ethos; what was your first introduction to DIY?

MARIA CINCOTTA: My first introduction to DIY was through listening to college radio in Los Angeles. I heard about a college radio station called KXLU while I was in high school. The amazing thing about this radio station is that they play a wide range of indie rock bands that record their music themselves. I was particularly inspired by bands that recorded on 4-track cassette recorders, such as Sebadoh and the Mountain Goats. I figured that if they were able to record good music using a 4-track, I could do it, too. I promptly bought a 4-track and began recording my own songs with lots of layers of guitar, keyboard, and vocals. Especially interesting to me was the fact that backward tracks can be easily produced using a 4-track.

My favourite radio show on KXLU is called, Demolisten – a show featuring demos from bands that are just starting out. We submitted our album to Demolisten and have been played on this show (which is kind of a dream come true for me). The folks at Demolisten put on concerts featuring the bands that they played on their show, and I used to enjoy seeing these concerts when I was young and growing up in L.A.

In a previous interview you commented: “We hope to inspire the masses to random acts of dancing and expressions of joy…” when was the last time you felt so joyful you just had to dance?

MC: I felt pretty joyful while working at the Ruby Tuesday Rock Camp for Girls in Berlin a few weeks ago. The rock camp is a weeklong program where girls learn how to play an instrument, form a band, write an original song, and play on stage. The bands did really well; I was hugely impressed with how much the girls accomplished in such a short period of time- especially the band I was coaching, a band that lost its lead singer two days before the concert. The band had to write the lyrics for the song right before they played a show and recorded their song, and they did really well. They wrote a total hit (in my opinion). So I was really moved to dance at the showcase concert when the girls performed their songs.

Who or what inspired both of your to start playing music?

MC: I was lucky to be able to take piano lessons at a very young age. My parents didn’t play music, but they enjoyed music and encouraged me to play music – particularly my dad, who was a passionate jazz fan. While I didn’t really love playing the piano, I was fortunate to get a foundation of music knowledge through piano lessons. I actually kind of hated piano lessons at the time, as I preferred making my own music on the piano to playing the pieces I was given as homework. Eventually, I quit playing piano, took up saxophone, then quit sax and started playing guitar. I secretly bought an electric guitar with the money I had saved up from various jobs, as I knew that my parents thought electric guitar was too loud! I kept it hidden and played it secretly for a number of months before my folks found out. Because of already having a foundation of music knowledge from piano lessons, I found it relatively easy to teach myself how to play the guitar. Not having taken guitar lessons allowed me to focus on creating my own music without playing music that I didn’t want to play.

You both met at a party through a mutual friend; when did you realise you wanted to start making music with each other?

MC: It was pretty clear to us that we clicked musically from the first evening that we jammed together. It was sort of “band love at first sight.”

How do Elcassette go about crafting songs?

MC: Normally, one of us will have the skeleton of a song already mostly completed, play it for the other person, and then we will collaborate on it from there onward, creating the structure and finishing touches together. But sometimes we will collaborate on a song in other ways. For example, in the song “Tonight,” first Elke wrote the music and lyrics, and then I programmed the beats and created the synthesizer accompaniment.

Elcassette have quite a few songs that are lyrically about the impermanence of life and the necessity of living one’s life for today; is there anything that’s happened in your life to shape this perspective?

MC: Yes, absolutely. I lost a former band mate to a bicycle accident. My former band mate, Rasha, was killed on her bike by a motorist as she rode through the mean streets of New York City. She was my second friend to have been killed on her bike, the first friend being an old college friend of mine who was run over on her bike in San Francisco. Having lost two good friends to “bike accidents” (or inadvertent murders by motorists), I think about the impermanence of life quite a lot. I have actually had a ton of bike accidents, and I always thought that I would be the one to go down on my bike, but fortunately, this has not yet come to pass. But you never know when your time will come. In the case of my two friends who were victims of careless drivers, their time came far too soon. Somehow, both of these girls were so alive, and lived life to the fullest – they lived life far more passionately in their short lives than lots of people live in the course of a normal lifetime. I take their lives as examples – live life to the fullest in the present – life is short and can be terminated quite suddenly—make the most of it.

Last month you were looking for participants for the first all Munich Rock Camp for Girls. How exciting! Tell us about the Munich Rock Camp for Girls and your involvement.

MC: The Munich Rock Camp for Girls will have its inaugural session next week. It will take place over a four-day period, in which girls will learn how to play rock instruments, form bands, write songs, and play a show in my favourite club in Munich. We are really fortunate that the club (Kafe Kult) is allowing us to use their space for free. We are also lucky that we have received some financial support from Munich’s “Kulturreferat” (a city department dedicated to sponsoring cultural activities), and that we have a great team of volunteers who will be leading the workshops at rock camp. Coming from the U.S., it is still quite a shock to me that there is a government department that is sponsoring this program. This kind of government support would never happen in the States. So I feel pretty lucky to be able to start this program in a place where it is supported by the community. The program is based on the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon, a program that started in 2001. I volunteered with the Portland camp in 2001, and it was an amazing experience. It is incredible to see how the Rock Camp for Girls movement has spread out across the globe. At this point, there are rock camps for girls in quite a few cities in the States, as well as a number of other countries, including France, Austria, England, Sweden, and more…

You have a passion for home recordings; what is it about home recordings you love so much?

MC: Home recordings are cosy, raw, and honest. They are snapshots of the creative process. They are creative pieces that do not depend on the corporate music machine- thus, they allow the artist produce music without being compromised by the expectations of the commercial music industry. I love how down-to-earth home recordings sound. I am more drawn to the raw, fuzzy aspects of home recordings than to the cold crisp perfectionism of digital recordings.

You also spent some time in Portland, Oregon. Can you tell us a little bit about this time and how you feel you grew as a musician while there?

MC: I lived in Portland from 1996 until 2002. I spent the first four years of this time at Reed College, a college known for its quirky freedom of expression- extra-curricular college projects include tall bike fencing clubs (Chunk 666) and collectives dedicated to creating sofas on wheels, Easter-egg-hunts using beers instead of eggs, bug-eating contests and a fairly wacky infamous end-of-the-year drug festival. During my time at college, I played in a couple of bands, including a 3-piece punk band and a duo. After college, I played in another 3-piece rock band and an experimental folk band. All of these bands were “girl bands.” We played a lot of house shows, and I held a lot of shows in the collective house where I lived. There was an incredibly strong community of female musicians who supported one another in Portland. We supported one another and played house shows together quite frequently. I felt tremendously supported by the music community in Portland. While I had been rather shy while playing shows previously, I finally started to feel confident about playing on “stage” when I played house shows with other bands I was friends with. Portland was a very comfortable place for me to “come into my own” as a performer.

Elke you’ve played guitar and bass for various bands growing up, switching to drums for band Concrete Overkill; do you feel more comfortable behind a kit or out the front like you were with your band Sentido?

ELKE BRAMS: I have had a huge passion for the drumset since my early childhood, which is more intense than the question as to which position I’d like to take on stage. And I would definitely say that this is my main instrument and I primarily consider myself a drummer. But I also like to write songs and lyrics and I like to sing and play my songs. So I enjoy playing guitar and singing my songs. I like to play both instruments, and so does Maria. We always like to switch between various instruments and experience and mix different music styles.

You’re also a big fan of 80s music; what’s one of your favourite things from the 80s?

MC: Mix tapes…

EB: One of my favorite bands from the (70s) and 80s is The Police. In my opinion, their music is the completed perfection in songwriting, composition, rhythm and feeling. They developed a combination of rock and reggae rhythm, which a I am a big fan of. And of course I am a huge fan of Stewart Copeland, too. I guess I have been unconsciously influenced by his style in playing drums a little bit, because I have listened to their music soooo lot.

Elcassette played at Berlin’s LaD.I.Y.fest this year; what’s been the best part of LaD.I.Y.fest for you?

MC: For me, best part of LaD.I.Y.fest was the guitar workshop. I gave a guitar workshop for women at the fest. Women who had never played the guitar before (as well as a few women with previous guitar experience) attended the workshop. We started out with the basics, and by the end of the workshop, the women were playing “Louie Louie” and having an amazingly creative jam session. It was a pleasure to see the participants of the workshop let loose and enjoy beginning to play the guitar.

Do you consider yourself feminists? What does feminism mean to you personally?

MC: Yes, I consider myself to be feminist. To me, being feminist means believing that women throughout the world not only deserve equal rights to men, but also deserve to grow up in a world free from sexist socialization that relegates women to a second-class position (“sex objects” valued only for their external appearance, caretakers who compromise their own needs in favour of the needs of their families and husbands, women forced into a heteronormative identity, sweatshop labourers working in factories populated solely by women, etc…) For me, feminism also means envisioning a world free of gender roles that repress both boys and girls- just as the expectation that little girls be pretty, quiet and self-effacing holds girls back, the expectation that little boys shouldn’t cry or express emotions hurts boys. Even if you think that women have a pretty good situation in this day and age, acknowledging that this privileged status was built on the backs of the women who fought for equality before your time, as well as acknowledging the fact that women in many other countries and cultures do not enjoy such an “equal” status should make anyone recognize the continued need for participating in feminist action.

Is there any community that Elcassette feel a part of or an affinity to?

MC: We are fairly connected to the underground music community in Munich, and we feel especially connected to the community of folks involved with Ladyfests and feminist concerts and events throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Are there any bands that you love that you’d like to give a shout out to?

MC: Yes! We would love to give a shout out to some of the bands we have played with, especially Monsterbeat and the Immigrant (from Marburg), Gr8balls (from Munich), Rae Spoon (from Canada) and Ste McCabe (Liverpool/Edinburgh).

Other than music, what is something Elcassette feel really passionate about?

MC: We feel passionate about connecting to people through music- retaining the connections that we make with folks in different towns when we tour- using music to create community. We are also excited to show folks that music should be participatory- anyone can make music! We aim to communicate this message through giving instrument workshops throughout Germany. Music is simple- especially rock music- it is truly the “people’s music.” All you need is three chords, a beat, and a belief in yourself. Don’t just be part of the audience- be part of the band!

What’s next for Elcassette?

MC: We are about to finish recording and mixing our new electro album, which should hopefully be available in late autumn. After that, we are going to record a new rock album (hopefully an analogue recording!), look for a record label, and go on tour.

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