We spoke with Victor Love from Dope Stars Inc. about cyberpunk, the current state of Internet and his band’s latest record. You can also check out our reviews of „Ultrawired” and „TeraPunk” via the almighty Google Translate.
Rajmund: It’s been ten years since you sang your first hit, „Make a Star”. After five succesful albums and touring across Europe, Russia and North America, do you feel like a star already?
Victor Love: We live in a world where random individuals are bigger stars than many other rock bands apparently without any substantial reason, so that’s really a difficult question. I mean, you may have done hundred of shows, seen thousand of people and countries but still you will find totally useless people with million followers just cause they post nice or pretty average images on Instagram. What’s for sure is that our music have been spreading through almost 12 years now and has been inspiring many people, fans and other bands which basically means we earned this status. For me what really matters is not what you are or what people think you are, but rather what you want to be and especially what you want to become in the future.
Your previous album, „Ultrawired”, was released as a free download and advertised on The Pirate Bay. How did this way of distribution work for you? What were your experiences with fan promotion and distribution?
I can say that after 4 years and after comparing results of „Ultrawired” with our past albums released on the “standard” system there is no other answer than saying it has been working really good for us. Basically „Ultrawired” performed 50% of the whole total of download and plays that 3 albums and 2 ep did in the past. I can’t tell if this will apply to all the bands around, but this is what numbers actually say. Also, if you consider the economical part it’s even worse, cause labels usually pay a very small royalty rate. Considering the digital is also growing more now the experiment of „Ultrawired” is basically saying that, for what matters the artists to have a label who control just everything you got it’s not always the best choice. But of course it all depends on the deal you can find, the support the label is wishing to give you and what’s the liberty left to the artist. There is a lot of bullshit going around this war of Apple to Spotify and about the fact the free streaming service is damaging in some way the music business. Reality looks like instead that Spotify is way too transparent and does not let major labels to hide sales or justify them with “bad deals” or stuff like that. Because that’s what most of major labels have been doing since the golden age of CD and that’s something they can’t keep doing with streaming services since the numbers are public. The paradox is that the main actors pirating musicians and squeezing them are actually the major labels and they have been doing that almost legally thanks to different international agreements signed even decades ago. You need to go deep, investigate and get informed and you would require some knowledge of music law as well as a strong stomach, but you if you do that you will realize how tainted is this business. That is actually the reason why I have little trust for some labels, even though sometimes you can’t really say if it’s label or if it’s the whole system that is rot to the bone.
Nevertheless your next record, „TeraPunk”, brings you back to the world of record labels. Isn’t it a common thing these days: after running free and tasting the new ways of distribution, artists come back to the more traditional model? Was it just a one-time experiment, closely connected with the „Ultrawired” concept?
Yes and no, because actually „TeraPunk” is a free download on SoundCloud too, as well as „Ultrawired”. The difference between „Ultrawired” and „TeraPunk” is just about the fact we licensed the physical copy to multiple labels in each country in order to have somebody taking care of the distribution of it. There is still a lot of people that is looking for the CD even though the majority just listen to music online. However we kept our direct control over the whole digital platform and almost 80% of sales happen online and not in record shops. The biggest issue with „Ultrawired” was that we had little or no time to follow the shipping of phyiscal copies and in the end we just pressed a limited edition of it which was actually a way to bring the physical version of the album to the hardcore fans. Also this time I really wanted to impersonate the label and see what are the results of making a full promotional campaign teaming up with the best professionals & publicists, investing in promotion in the regular channels and so on. „TeraPunk” is basically a platform of test to compare results with the past release of „Ultrawired” and test a new hybrid model, as well as checking if it does make sense to still invest at the same time in the usual promotional channels. But to have a final word on it, it takes at least 2-3 years which is basically the total life of an album nowadays.
What took you so long to release „TeraPunk”? It was always two year gap tops before.
We’ve been doing alot of things during these years, as well as doing our first full tour in Russia and North America. After that we had to face some internal issues and a line up change and when we were finally ready, I started to work on new material. Also I needed time to evaluate results of „Ultrawired” in order to understand what was the best choice for the release of the new album.
„TeraPunk” is only 40-minutes long and shows your most punk energy up to date. We even have a kinda punkish contraction in Polish, „tera”, which would translate this title as „time for punk now”. Any particular reason why releasing such a powerful, energy-focused record this time?
The album is a sort of break with the past and is an album that, as you say, put in the front an aggressive & in your face attitude typical of the punk sub-culture. The 'tera’ term instead is representing the digital age and the influence of artificial machines both in the life of everyday and the music we do. It is really interesting though to know about this connection in Polish language. It sounds legit!
So I guess it’s also no coincidence that „Do It Yourself” sounds like The Ramones were brought back to life as cyborgs.
Not a coincidence at all. The song is in fact a tribute to Ramones revisited in a cybernetic way. The whole album is also inspired by a strong Do It Yourself attitude that goes from the very production of it until it’s model of releasing it. The sound of Ramones has always inspired me freedom and this fight for independence so that’s why this song has a strong connection with Ramones who has also been of big inspiration for our sound through all our albums.
Punks are usually connecting with political views (even if it’s anarchy) and your previous album had some strong ideological messages. „TeraPunk” seems to be quite different though…
Seems like, but it’s actually not. The lyrics of this album are really personal and connected to life experiences, but the message is still about refusing to deal with the current state of things. We live in a world were it looks like even the artists throw the spounge to the ground and are trying to adapt themselves to fit in the current system in order to survive. There is not that strong attitude anymore to confront the system and speak out what’s wrong with it and I think this is something really sad, because music has always been instead a way to communicate a message to the masses and try to influence them in order to change the state of things. If you read the lyrics of the new album you will find alot of concepts in regards of this topic, even if it’s not spreading a direct political message as it was for example in „21st Century Slave” or „Ultrawired”.
What about the „neuromantic” side of your songs? It keeps fading with each album after „Gigahearts”. Is it unlikely you’ll do something like „Can You Imagine” anytime soon?
There is nothing actually fading away, because we are always promoting our past songs as well as the new material. These songs are part of our history and sometimes you can’t just replicate what you did. Most of the times there are many bands that are basically trying to copy what they have been doing in the past in order to keep their fanbase united and deliver the same formula that worked before. I have instead always tried to explore different kind of genres to experiment something new also while trying to revive a sound that was a classic in our past releases. But what is really happening to be honest, is that when you write new stuff you are just influenced by so many things that you cannot really control it. The process of writing and composing is really instinctive nowadays, thanks to the aid of technology, and sometimes forcing yourself to do a particular thing or get a particular sound can end up with poor results. It is instead much more exciting to just follow the wave and get inspired by your unconscious and by your heart instead of prepackaging your music.
Tell us more about your Hacking The Wave project and its current status.
Hacking The Wave is currently in standby and I will be writing new stuff in the future or eventually make it evolve in something totallly different. That is a project that I started to actually have a platform for experimenting just anything that come up to my mind, without having to “respect” some kind of rules in composition to match a particular sound of an estabilished band like Dope Stars Inc. That was really important also in regards of the production of „TeraPunk”. For instance with Hacking The Wave I have created the synth-guitar sound that I have been using also in „TeraPunk”, merged together with real instruments. So that was indeed influencing alot also the new material of Dope Stars Inc.
I wouldn’t be myself if I haven’t ask you about cyberpunk. Besides „Blade Runner”, „Neuromancer” and other obvious stuff we could hear in your songs, what are your favorite cyberpunk works?
There have been thousand things about Cyberpunk subculture that influenced me through the years and this does not apply only to one particular movie or books, but also what happened in real life, the evolution of networks, the new technologies that now became reality and the contribution of many digital artists that have been exploring this world since decades. The thing is I’ve been a tech junkie since my childhood and have been experiencing almost anything that has been coming out and hyping in the cyberworld since years. So it is really hard to say what have been influencing me more or less because it’s actually the sum of all of it.
You did a Billy Idol cover of his „Shock to the System”. His „Cyberpunk” album, where it comes from, gained some cult following among us, cyberpunks, but was generally critised for inconsistency and making cyberpunk a silly fashion. William Gibson, for example, stated the latter and accused what became of his „Johnny Mnemonic” film adaptation in similar way. What do you think about it?
I love Billy Idol music as well as anything Gibson did. Billy has been inspired by the Cyberpunk subculture and produced an artistical work that has its own personality as well as wonderful songs. What about movies, there have been many authors disappointed about the adaptation of their books on the big screen, one of the most famous is for example the debate of King/Kubrick adaptation of „The Shining”. I can just say that movies like „Johnny Mnemonic” may have not pleased everyone, but at the same time brought to a large audience the interest on this kind of topic. Also the movie “Hackers” have been spreading this idea of hackers as merely informatics criminals, but at the same time it’s a movie I love. So it is really hard to say if it’s been a good or a bad thing honestly.
Any Italian cyberpunk authors I should know?
None that I know unfortunately.
In „We Are the New Ones” off „Ultrawired” there is a sample of Italian American activist Mario Savo from his famous „Bodies upon the gears” speech. Good timing – a few months later the protesters of Occupy Wall Street made it actual once again. Shouldn’t they sing „Banksters” too?
Sadly, I can say they would have, if „Banksters” was released on Universal Music, but since it was released underground, I doubt they heard that song. Eventually, it will get to their years many years later, like it happened with the speech of Mario Savo itself. We live in a society where we are being flooded by unsolicited information that are just spamming our brains in order not to focus on the real thing – and this is the worst part of the digital age.
You seem to be very aware of the Internet and new technologies – there was even a copy of „A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” by John Perry Barlow with „Ultrawired” downloads. Do you believe we can still maintain our privacy online or is it only a matter of which world power spies on us?
Yes, as I told you before, there’s really a lot of different things that inspired me and they are all around the internet, if you search for it. The Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace by John Perry Barlow was the biggest amount of inspiration for the concepts included in „Ultrawired”. What about privacy, there is nothing to mantain anymore. There is actually no real privacy. The thing is not if they are spying you in this very moment. If there is just anybody that want to spy in your life, because he has an interest in doing so, there are many ways to do it and also to go back many years into the past. There’s not just governments or intelligence doing so, but just anyone who can afford it for money. There are so many malwares, backdoors or systems to get your data you can’t even imagine. The network is not a safe place anymore since a long time. The only way to preserve your privacy is just not to do anything on the Internet, because whatever thing you say or write today, will be there forever and ever and cannot be deleted – and this apply to social networks, emails, the history of websites you visited, the stuff you bought or booked on the Internet or even when you used a GPS. All of this data is stored in different databases that are accessible in a way or another by many different 3rd parties and nobody can control the use they will make of it.
I assume you’re also a retro gamer. What’s your all-time favorite title?
My father had a computer shop until early 2000. I played all games on all platform since 1984.
Are there any chances to see Dope Stars Inc. in Poland soon? It’s been four long years since the Castle Party…
I hope so! We have been trying to get on the bill this year, but we contacted them too late. Eventually we will be coming back to Castle Party next year. It is really a great festival and we had alot of fun!
Do you have any particular memories from Bolków?
Only good memories. The place is fantastic, the festival is great and also the after parties down in town are great. We have been hanging around alot, met alot of people and shared a great time all together. We can’t wait to come back.
Our blog is called „You haven’t heard that one before” – now is your turn to recommend us any artist we should check out immediately.
One name above all has been spreading around lately and it’s an Industrial Band from Los Angeles called 3teeth. I’ve been in touch with them and doing a remix for them too. You should check them out. Their music is available for free on SoundCloud.
Thanks a lot!