It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how Alligator Gozaimasu began as it is composed of so many moving parts, but for our purposes, it was dreamt into being by the Munich-based musical collective, beißpony, and Japanese artist Aoi Swimming. Stephanie Müller and Laura Theis, the musical forces behind beißpony, began performing together in 2006. In the years since, they have expanded their reach and brought artists from all over the world, such as Aoi Maeda of Aoi Swimming, into their mystical, musical arms. Alligator Gozaimasu is one of the fortuitous results.
The project is many things. It’s an experimental art and music exchange composed of underground artists from Germany, South Africa, Ukraine, Brazil, the US, the UK and Japan — all of whom collaborated on a majority of the album via online and personal exchanges of ideas. It’s a collaborative album that whittles the sounds and ideas of various queer, feminist and artistic voices into one 17-song social exploration. It’s a musical beast that defies definition, because to box it into any conventional category would defeat its purpose.
I spoke with Stephanie Müller to get her take on Alligator Gozaimasu, as well as on her other projects, including an upcoming feature film. Check out the interview below.
How did this collaboration come about? Are these all artists you have worked with in the past?
In Munich, I’m based in the midst of a buzzing collective of artists and activists who are interested in queer feminist ideas and have a passion for underground art and music. Together with performers, musicians, visual artists and researchers, I love to develop live performances, sound installations and film projects. During the past 15 years I’ve met and collaborated with very talented and open minded artists from all over the world.
Two years ago, Laura (of beißpony) and I were artists in residence in Antwerp, Belgium, a trip that was awarded by a contemporary music and performance theatre there in cooperation with the British Arts Council. During our residency, we started to collaborate with fellow scholar, Mikio Saito, a media artist from Sapporo and we immediately liked each other a lot. Laura and I totally appreciated Mikio’s unpretentious, spontaneous and humorous way of interacting with other people, so we didn’t hesitate at all and decided to keep in touch with each other despite the distance between Germany and Japan.
After contributing some beißpony artwork and some of my own costumes and art installations to a festival in Sapporo at Mikio’s request, the beißpony artwork team (myself and Klaus Erich Dietl, our video artist) was invited to the town for an art exchange with the local artist community. We were lucky, our trip to Sapporo was financed by the cultural department of Munich and supported by an art studio in Sapporo. During that exchange, we met about 20 artists, filmmakers and musicians who would also come to be involved in our collaborative album, Alligator Gozaimasu.
Three months later, Klaus and I went to the Ukraine, where we developed the film trilogy “Global Players” with Munich based media artist, Birthe Blauth. During our recording sessions and the film shootings, we met a young student and a sound artist and we decided to compose the film music with them. When we started to work on Alligator Gozaimasu, I invited them to take part and to exchange sound ideas via email with all the other artists who were involved.
Just a few days after we returned from this trip, Aoi Maeda, a musician and performer based in Tokyo who performs under the moniker Aoi Swimming, came to visit us for a public recording session an underground venue in Munich. It was her first trip to Germany and it was supported by the cultural department of Munich. People of all ages and with different backgrounds were invited to take part and experiment with Aoi, our beißpony collective and another Munich-based artist. Artists, queer activists, young refugees and filmmakers outside of the local community, such as German filmmaker Doris Dörrie, took part as well. Toward the end of Aoi’s stay we all travelled to Berlin where we performed with Lisa Simpson (of Brasil, aka Agente Costura, who does musical sewing performances) and SchnickSchnack (of Berlin). During the last day of Aoi’s trip we met Kris Limbach, a Berlin based sound artist, and recorded an experimental trash set with a singing sewing machine at his studio.
All of these artists and musicians I’ve mentioned (and more–totaling about 35 people) are involved in the Alligator Gozaimasu collaboration.
Alligator Gozaimasu exists at the intersection of so many things – international collaboration, female artistry and electronic experimentation to name a few. Were you thinking about these individual pieces when organizing the project?
I really have a fierce love for intersections. For me throughout the past 20 years, queer feminist ideas and projects have always been very inspiring and I’m absolutely into experimental art, films and music. I guess Alligator Gozaimasu is definitely based on all that. There are also a lot of queer feminist references in the lyrics of the songs and in the way we composed and recorded them.
However, for me it is always important to try more than preaching to the converted. Instead, I enjoy it when I have to leave my own comfort zone for a while and when I have to get in touch with other people’s opinions and ways of life who aren’t like-minded on the first go. Of course, it is cool to work together with underground artists and musicians, but on the other hand, there is so much new to learn about and to experience when you also collaborate with people from completely different fields of interests. Imagine someone who never really thought about queer feminist concerns before, step by step, starting to learn more about them in a very joyful way. I think it’s great that we don’t ride our high horses–we just love bringing other people in touch with more experimental ways of thinking, living and working.
That’s why I enjoy public recording sessions so much, or film projects that don’t follow completely elaborated storyboards and that are open for all people who are interested to get involved with their own ideas and perspectives. Such an open, non-directional process can definitely be exhausting. Sometimes you’re faced with completely different expectations, there might be people who need more direction to feel safe or just any kind of other misunderstandings-you never know what could happen if you’re in the midst of an open process. But I like to be challenged by the unexpected. Somehow that is the motor of my motivation for creating art and music.
What has been your favorite part of creating this album?
The time we spent in Sapporo, where the idea to create the album started, was very intensive. Mikio Saito and the other artists didn’t hesitate at all. There seemed to be no need to consider anything at first. We had the chance to become part of their live performances and their recordings without even practising before. I guess, what we experienced during our stay in Sapporo was a little bit like a trip back to Western Berlin’s ‘80s. A vital, unpretentious musical exchange; a fierce love for experimenting together live; not hiding for months in your rehearsal room in search for a so-called perfection–it was a very direct, honest exchange, super fast and with no fear of any dissonances, not aggressive at all, absolutely polite instead, but motivating as hell. And this was also the case when we collaborated with our friends in the Ukraine.
The international aspect is also present in the upcoming feature film you’re working on, Promises & Other Failures, which you described as a “clashing together” of different languages. Is that how you view “Alligator Gozaimasu”? As a clashing of cultures, languages, different forms of expression? Or is it more of a melting together of distinct pieces to create one, beautiful, cohesive creation?
Honestly, during this open process of collaborative filmmaking there are definitely moments when you have the feeling that all these different ideas, cultural backgrounds and languages just clash together. This can be quite exhausting at first, but if you take the time to discuss and solve misunderstandings, the team has a chance to work together with no boundaries in a very honest and outspoken way. Then distinct pieces and perspectives start to melt together and it is possible to create one, beautiful, cohesive creation. It is important not to be afraid of dissonances if you work with a lot of different people. It’s not comfortable, but definitely more challenging and interesting than anything else I’ve done so far.
How did the idea for the film come about? Are the same artists involved in it as are involved in Alligator Gozaimasu?
“Promises & Other Failures“ started with all the Alligator Gozaimasu artists. At the moment we are in the midst of the film shootings and a lot of other people already started to collaborate with us, like a jazz singer from Montreal who is based in Berlin and a young journalist from Brighton (UK).
The core group of Alligator Gozaimasu, however, is very interested in queer feminist film analysis. There are still a lot of films that idealize the male gaze. Female or queer characters are often just introduced as “pretty“ or “strange“ and “crazy“ sidekicks with no complex characters. The camera often only shows parts of them – long legs, a beautiful neck, or a “crazy“ hairstyle as if they were just dolls without any brains. We wanted to try something where female and queer characters were presented as complex human beings with their very own hopes, fears, prejudices and failures. “Promises & Other Failures“ mainly focuses on how our societies deal with loss, decay and death. It also questions our narrow-minded beauty standards. At first glance this sounds very serious, but between the lines there is so much humor. For example, there’s an episode where the main characters want to visit their therapists but they don’t work in a private and intimate surrounding. Like prostitutes, the therapists work on the streets and sell their therapy sessions in tiny little cars, parked besides the highway. Another episode shows how people can preorder their favourite funeral like a burger menu at a McDonald’s.
How has your collaboration with so many international artists affected your own work and your interactions with different art, music, feminist and queer spaces in Munich.
I have no fear of dissonances anymore. I like art, films and music that are based on contrasts and differences. All the different perspectives coming together provide huge chances to develop personally. And the collaboration with international artists also makes me want to connect the Munich community with itself. There are a lot of interesting groups and projects, each of them with so much passion and work to do. Sometimes I have the feeling that they are like-minded, but that they don’t really find the time to exchange with each other. Temporary projects like “Promises & Other Failures“ provide a chance to bring these groups together for a while and maybe afterwards new collaborations will arise.
Listen to the wonderfully arcane album below:
Then, check out this performance from Stephanie Müller and Aio Maeda
The album will officially be released on September 20th as the first release on underground Munich-based label, RagRec.