Das Ding: Between Then and Now

Long before Das Ding resurfaced as today’s Minimal Wave icon, before the Internet became commonplace and indispensable in every household, he was just Danny Bosten – a small town Dutch boy with pop music dreams. Dreams that turned him from a bass player in a teenage band called Spastix, to a fledging recording artist churning out cassette tapes from his bedroom studio, only to abandon the podium later to serve as a devout militant in the squats of the Dutch capital.

These days, Bosten’s settled in the biggest harbor city of Europe with his arsenal of modular machines. Sonically nothing much has changed; he is still hooked up to the same analog apparatus that continues to fuel his addiction to this day; the addiction of a sound he’s been forging in his bunker since the days of the crack epidemic that once plagued the ghettos of the USA.

 

How is it going with your hiccups?

Yeah, that happened the last time when we met at Clone. It was strange; I had just returned from China and got the hiccups for a week. I ended up going to the doctor for medication and the next day, it was gone.

I also read this story once about a certain pope who had it for years…

There is a very famous story by Dutch writer Jan Wolken about a man who hiccuped himself to death. A few months into it, his flesh was coming off his skeleton. I remember reading it but am not quite sure how it ended.

On another spastic move, could you tell us more about your band Spastix? Was that something you did with your brother?

No, it was my band with four friends from school. I was the bass player. Spastix spawned four other bands: Das Ding, Zombies under Stress (reissue on Mannequin) and Vovo Kai, sort of a cult band in Eindhoven who also belonged to the Zesde Kolonne – a famous squat next to the old Effenaar (also a squat). They (band members of Das Ding, Zombies under Stress, Vovo Kai) were part of that collective with people such as Dick Verdult… you know Dick Demasiado ?

No, it doesn’t ring a bell…

He’s famous in South America and lives in Eindhoven. He was born in Argentina and as a joke he made this cumbia record and he’s become world famous since. He’s an interesting figure; he did the TV Show Neon for the VPRO (Dutch TV channel) back in the 80s.

What kind of a show was that?

It was sort of a punkish underground thing. You can watch it online to get a sense of that time. It’s rather funny.

Was it representative of what was happening in The Netherlands?

Yeah, I guess so. Mostly… not really sure…but we watched it all the time. That’s where I first saw a very nice clip of Fad Gadget. When I saw that I thought “Hey that’s nice. I could do that”.

Was that the trigger for you to start Das Ding?

Yes. You know their single “Ricky’s Hand”? I used to have it, but it’s gone now. Back when we lived in Zeeuws Vlaanderen, we would go once a week to Eindhoven to the Effenaar and also to this record shop called Bullit; that’s where we bought all our records. I saw Fad Gadget at least five times, in weird places in Belgium. In the Effenaar we would see all the bands perform live, such as Cabaret Voltaire, Liaisons Dangereuses, DAF (Deutche Amerikanischen Freundschaft), except the time when Joy Division played and I did not feel like going. It was one of their last shows too. I still have nightmares about that, haha.

But, why did you not go?!

I don’t know. Well, we would go every week, so nobody expected that would happen. It was only a few weeks before he killed himself. It remains one of my biggest regrets. Nevertheless I do have an audio recording of the show; we knew the guy who worked there (Effenaar). He used to program and he recorded everything. But Joy Division was legendary for almost always playing horribly live. In Eindhoven, the punks and a rock ‘n’ roll gang were always fighting. Also at the Joy Division gig you could hear them in the background making trouble; singing and shouting. One time we got into a fight with these rockers. I was cleaning my glasses and didn’t really see anything until the whole room was suddenly empty and I was like what the hell is going on? Then this guy came running up to me, punched me in the face before fleeing outside to hide in the car.

What a coward…

Yeah, well, anyhow the leader was later shot by his girlfriend and then they sort of evaporated.

I read that your love for music came from pop music and pop was what you would have liked to make?

I don’t know. I guess so. I could be a producer for other people; that would be my dream actually – to write songs for other bands. If you were in the studio like in the old days, and bands come by, you know? If you listen to the radio back in the 80s, the top 40 was full of brilliant stuff. David Bowie, The Rolling Stones etc. Not like today, haha.

Where did it go wrong?

I don’t know. That’s hard to say. The 90s, the Internet, but I also think it’s radio regulations. These days it’s the iTunes effect. There are no albums any more. It’s all chopped up to bits; there’s no continuity. You could make a big argument about continuity being lost in many other areas because the internet is like “all at once”. There is no A to B; it’s all A and B and C.

You’ve showed me here that you make your own audio apparel and sequencers. Was that just a way to simplify your process of making music or more to do with developing the aesthetics of your sound?

I used to have a Doepfer sequencer and it was basically the same as the smaller one and I thought, well, it could be made smaller, so I could fit five sequencers into the space of one. That’s why I started making them. But also because it keeps me busy. I envision a module and then you can have a million of these sequencers, all running at the same time. I did that for this record that I made for Midlight records. It’s all part of making something with something else you have made and it’s all connected; there’s a purpose to it.

Besides making music, you also design your cassettes and record sleeves. Do you go about making them before or after completing a song, or independent of the sounds?

It’s mostly after. In the case of the latest one for Dream Decay, it really was a brainwave, with a thought bubble and that rainy cloud.

Seems rather symbolistic.

Yeah, that’s it. Simple. Graphically strong.

It’s different from what you did before.

You think so? I was busier perhaps. It was all hand drawn; I used these adhesive letters you could buy in the pre-computer days: electra set stuff, inkt pens.

I remember that in school we used to have this stencil with letters you could perfectly trace with a pen.

Yes, that too. But now we have PCs.

Knowing that Danny fancies philosophy and politics I thought I could ask him about one of his favourite Marxist writers – French native Guy Debord who founded the Lettrist International and Situanist International.

About Guy Debord: if you were sharing a cup of tea with him here at home surrounded by all this uncanny equipment, he would be intrigued. What song of yours would you be happy to show him?

Oh, I don’t know about that. I’d probably play him the Schedelvreter record. Very interesting person but I think I would be very intimidated because he was notorious. I mean, at the end he was the only one left in his own movement, right? Just like Andre Breton, haha. He kicked everybody out because they were not “pure enough”. He (Guy Debord) has been right about everything so far before; now it’s even worse.

Like a prophecy becoming true; he was a visionary.

True. It’s insane; also scary. We kind of took a wrong turn somewhere a few years ago. Like a cartoon cyberpunk nightmare, Donald Trump is a character straight out of a Norman Spinrad science fiction novel. I’m also reading this book about the Frankfurt Schule; it’s sort of a mash biography – all biographies thrown together in a story. Where Adorno (Theodor W.) broaches “the dialect of enlightenment” and attempts to understand why when people are given every opportunity to better themselves they end up electing Hitler, haha. They couldn’t understand it. It’s very interesting. I can’t say I understood it all either. Instead of heading towards enlightenment we went back to barbarism.

In terms of your artistic approach what is more important: the sound or the composition?

Composition. I find it interesting how these simple elements become more complex. That’s fascinating.

And how do you start composing? With a beat, a melody or a sound?

It varies. It could be a sound, a rhythm, a combination of both or all of the above. It’s never the same, and never straightforward. Sometimes it’s about breaking everything down and building it back up. It’s good to start fresh because after a while you end up in a tangled mess, and there are so many possibilities.

Thanks Danny!

 

Photo credits: Verena Blok