Music

Mona Mur [Berlin, Germany]

Val Phoenix
Photo [partial] by Biel Moreno

Shedding her wash-out past, Mona Mur has found a new strength and a new focus, balancing the virtual with the real, and rescuing German identity.


Mona Mur and En Esch

120 Tage: The Fine Art of Beauty and Violence

Label: Pale Music
Germany Release Date: 2009-02-15
US Release Date: Import
UK Release Date: Import
iTunes
Amazon
iTunes

The upcoming fantasy game Culpa Innata II features a scene that encapsulates the public persona of Mona Mur: the black-clad, gothic-tinged dominatrix, gruff voice dripping with contempt. Reality meets fantasy and violence collides with beauty.

Photo by Biel Moreno

On a crisp winter morning in Berlin, I meet the real Ms. Mur at her apartment-cum-studio in the trendy intersection of Kreuzberg and Neukölln dubbed “Kreuzkölln”. Casually dressed and sans make-up, the key chain on her belt adding a jaunty touch, she proffers a hand shake and a cup of herbal tea. Down to earth and personable, she reminds me of the no-nonsense Italian women of my Bronx youth. As we settle in her kitchen with some verbena tea, she discourses on a range of topics, barely pausing when she knocks over a chair demonstrating her excitement at seeing the Stranglers as a callow youth.

Mur started out in Hamburg, in the north of Germany, like so many others attracted to the energy of punk. Linking up with Alexander Hacke, FM Einheit, and Mark Chung of Einstürzende Neubauten, she released the “Jeszcze Polska” single in 1982 and found success in her homeland, but then succumbed to the whims of the music industry and her own self-destructive tendencies.

Cast out by the industry, she regrouped in Berlin, bought herself a computer, taught herself production, and set up as a sound designer and composer, contributing soundscapes to games such as Velvet Assassin. “I'm interested in alien, foreign, strange sounds and stuff. I always try to find the paths in the snow where there are no footprints,” she explains.

During her pop exile, she channeled her energies into the Korean martial art of tae kwon do, achieving a high rank and becoming a member of the German national team. Although no longer competitive, she continues to practice it because it offers discipline and instills a work ethic she lacked.

She had given up on singing, when film director Fatih Akin contacted her for his 2004 film Gegen die Wand (Head On). She actually shot a scene for the film which was cut, but Akin used three of her songs, bringing her work to a new audience and returning her to the spotlight.

Photo by Jan Riephoff

After a re-issue of some of her earlier work, Mur teamed up with KMFDM's bald frontman En Esch for the new album 120 Tage: the Fine Art of Beauty and Violence, which, amidst its caterwauling guitars and synth-heavy production, gives full vent to her goth-dominatrix persona. Blood and violence are frequent lyrical references. “I like violent art,” she admits.

Aside from new songs written with Esch, Mur revisits a few of her old ones, such as the title track, and also covers three Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill compositions, including “Die Ballade vom Ertrunkenen Mädchen” (Ballad of the Drowned Girl), a song for which she feels a huge amount of affinity. Written after the murders in 1919 of communist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, the song speaks of a female body floating downstream to its resting place. Mur says, “I think it's a song about life and death, and we all are doomed to die one day. This is beauty and violence at its best, and this is why I should sing this song.”

The powers-that-be that administer Weill's work were less keen on her modern reading of the song, and it took a long battle to get the rights, but Mur succeeded and is gleeful at the opportunity to bring it into the present. “Mr. Weill should not be in a museum.”

Photo by Biel Moreno

Her devotion to this material is indicative of its place in German culture, an emblem of Weimar Berlin, the last free culture before fascism. “This is the good German arts tradition that was smashed by the fucking Nazis. We are decapitated from our folk music roots, from everything that is genuinely German. I mean being German -- it's an insult after what the Nazis did to the world, and also to the Germans.”

Brecht, the Jew driven out of Germany by the Nazis, and the Communist driven out of the USA by the McCarthyists, ended his days in East Berlin. Today, Mur lives in the former West Berlin, next to the Landwehrkanal where Rosa Luxemburg's body was dumped in 1919.

Weimar Berlin continues to fascinate everyone from Ute Lemper to Rufus Wainwright, and Mur sees parallels with the punk scene. “I think it was the same feeling in a way. The feel in the air was similar. If you were in Berlin at the time, you could feel it. It was this volcano dance. We had this wall which was in front of our noses. The Landwehrkanal is right here, where people were shot trying to escape. In some places it replaced the wall. We had this Neue Deutsche Welle (New German Wave) thing trying to emancipate yourself from this English singing. I think it was a good thing. Why sing in a different musical tradition?”

The games industry also has a feeling of freshness and newness for her, although, like the music industry, it is very male-dominated. In fact, she knows of no other female games sound designers in Germany. Today, Mur balances her pop music work with her games composition and sees them as two related aspects of her creativity.

Photo by Ilse Ruppert

Having her two worlds collide, as they do in Culpa Innata II, is gratifying. An adventure game set in the future, the first edition was a hit in Russia, and the sequel features a black-clad Esch and Mur performing a Russian version of “120 Tage” in a half empty “rogue bar”. Although Mur doesn't speak Russian, she seems quite at home with the language, delivering her lyrics with brusque power. In fact, as a child she used to listen to her mother singing sad Russian songs, which she found entrancing.

Relaxing in her own kitchen, Mur is the picture of contentment, albeit with an edgy, cat-like energy. “I want to play live. And I want to do my computer games. So, at the moment I cannot complain,” she says before I take my leave. She and Esch have live performances to look forward to, including a booking at the prestigious Kurt Weill festival in Dessau next year. Truly, the prodigal daughter has been welcomed back into the fold.

***

[120 Tage: The Fine Art of Beauty and Violence is out on Pale Music and iTunes. US distribution is via the KMFDM store.]

Val Phoenix is a freelance writer/filmmaker based in London. Val can be found online at www.myspace.com/valphnx.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image