Interview: Collapse Under the Empire

Collapse Under The Empire are undoubtedly a singular phenomenon in the realm of post-rock, as they are one of the few bands to achieve the notoriety they are enjoying, without ever having had a live performance. As a studio-exclusive band, they have managed to create a unique sound, a thoroughly distinctive hybrid of post-rock aesthetics and electronic music pulsations, which had opened them up to a large and devoted audience.

This year is a pivotal moment for the band, as they are going to perform live for the first time, at Dunk!, while also planning the release of an expansive retrospective album, comprised of established tracks, with some fresh additions. They have big plans for the next era in their evolution, and they were kind enough to chat with us at length about what kind of projects and output we can expect from them in the coming months.

It feels like “Collapse Under The Empire” is approaching 2016 almost like a coming-of-age year, a space of maturity, in which one can draw the bottom line and make a synopsis of activity thus far. Your upcoming album is an enhanced retrospective, after all. Do you feel like you’re approaching a sort of threshold? Can you see beyond it? (And can you tell us what you see? 🙂 )

Chris Burda: For us, 2009-2014 was the end of an era, we completed the circle and we can now tour with what we have achieved. There is such a vast choice of tracks, that we could perform live for several years. But this is not our goal. We don’t want to serve the masses and tour permanently. We rather want to choose special locations and places, and make something special out of it. We are thinking of a uniform concept, that must not have a lot to do with a normal rock concert anymore. Also the musicians shouldn’t be in the foreground, but rather the visual experience, the story and the show. It is certainly very difficult to play a concert with new ideas and concepts, but we committed ourselves to trying something new here. We are still in the early development stage, but taking a look at the light show, we can already sense a different direction here. I wouldn’t like to reveal too much at this point.

It’s fantastic to finally see one of the most compelling acts in the post-rock sphere break through into live performance! Congratulations! What made you decide to take the plunge now?

Chris: At the end of last year, after seven years of pure studio work, we decided to bring „Collapse under the Empire” live on stage for the first time. One of the reasons is that we have received worldwide requests for concert, to go on tour or to play at festivals, requests which we have always canceled because neither one of us had time to go on tour. It was only a few weeks ago that we received a request from China to go on a 10-day tour. We have always believed that if the time were right and if we had the right team on our side, we would play live. Since the beginning of this year, this is the case.

We’re collaborating with four other musicians, a sound engineer and an internationally very experienced lighting designer, who partly took over the tour management. After all, it was the hard-core fans of Collapse who texted us on Facebook over a year ago that triggered all the live activities.

That’s quite an extensive team, it seems like you’ll be achieving a live experience as close to album quality as possible. Does this mean you might have a live DVD planned?

Martin Grimm: We thought about producing a professional live DVD from our first gig at Dunk! festival. But in the end we decided against it, because we want to focus on the show and on the act of playing live. There is always a lot of work behind a professional live recording and in this short time of preparation it would be too much to also be confronted with this. However, I have heard that they have a small camera team at Dunk! Festival. Maybe they’ll take a couple of nice pictures which will be worth publishing.

There’s a tour in store for late 2016 – do you guys want to make your live presence a constant thing from now on, or is this more of an experiment, that will help you decide about the future?

Chris: Of course, all the effort we’re making right now should result into our being able to play more concerts. This is also the credo for everyone who is working on the live staging with us. We want to use the Concert in Belgium primarily as a sort of promotion, in order to market ourselves and to draw the booking agencies’ and organizers’ attention to us. An experienced booker who works as a freelancer and who could join our team would be ideal. So if any booker is reading this right now, by any chance, feel free to contact us. Most of the applications for the festival season 2017 will end this August, so we will focus on playing some occasional concerts and on further extending the show on a visual level. Regarding the length of the concert, we can’t fill 100 minutes yet. In Belgium we’ll barely play an hour. It certainly is spectacular and a great honor for us to play our first concert after seven years, at the biggest European post-rock-festival. Don’t forget, we’re the third to last band, at 20:10 o’clock, on the main stage.

You have had a very prolific career, and seem like very busy guys. Can you give us a glimpse into your process? What inspires you, how come you have such a speedy album cycle compared to other post-rock groups?

Chris: Sadly, we didn’t have much time to focus on composing new Collapse tracks. Especially since Martin, media technician and producer, is working on several projects at the same time. We also had a lot going on with our own label „Finaltune“, where we released new artists and their music. For now, everything is all about Collapse again. Within the last 6 years, we have consistently produced tons of albums and EPs and had the chance to run riot creatively in the studio. With the live staging of the band and with the double album „A matter of Identity” that will be released in September 2016, we’re closing a chapter. In 2017 we want to start over, with renewed vigor and ideas. We’ve already collected some ideas that will cover some of the global political landscape. You’ll see, it’s going to be a very dark and bulky chapter of Collapse. Today, we more and more realize that history repeats itself, even if this is hard to imagine. We haven’t been and we are not a political band, but sometimes you can hold up the mirror to the people with a clear message. Sorry, I digressed a little…

What’s your view on the post-rock label? Is it still functional? We’re asking because here at Arctic Drones we feel like the genre has mutated so much, and has become so vast, that the name almost feels like an afterthought now, it feels a little anachronistic.

Chris: One of our advantages over the past years was that we did not serve the term post rock to a 100%. Then again we are also a non-existing band, since there are no images or videos of us. Turning away from something that is ubiquitous in the music business, together with our distinct electronic sound, has made us become different from most other bands. You can see that in all kinds of playlists and magazines, such as Sonic Seducer or Zillo for instance, our albums have been selected for the category album of the month. This is actually quite crazy, the fact that we we were able to make our voice heard in the Dark/Gothic/Synth area. Looking back on it, it was our luck, otherwise we probably would have never been able to stand out from the many post rock bands. Of course we feel very connected to the post rock genre. In my opinion, it is one oft he most honest genres which you can play in. I think it is quite similar to film music… where else can you get emotionally and creatively involved on so many levels?  

“Collapse Under The Empire” has an unusual relationship with digital music distribution, as far as I can see, or at least with Bandcamp. Your albums are there, but only as snippets, to whet the appetite. How do you feel about streaming and digital distribution, in a wider context?

Martin: Since 2012, we started releasing our own music via our own music label, Finaltune. Concerning the releases and the distribution, we do make our own decisions. But yeah, you are right. On Bandcamp we only uploaded snippets, and even on Soundcloud we don’t provide that many songs. In contrast to other streaming portals, such as Spotify, YouTube, Google Play, etc., Soundcloud and Bandcamp do not offer the opportunity of monetization. Actually, this is the only reason why we haven’t released our songs in full length there.

In the last two years we’ve realized that streaming has gained more and more influence. If you compare it to downloading, the latter has almost gone extinct. Most of the Collapse fans either buy the CD or stream our music on Spotify. We personally think that streaming is a great thing.

Your videos so far have been animated. Was this part of you trying to dissociate yourselves from the idea of a live presence, or is it a consistent aesthetic choice? Is video animation one of the soft spots of the band? Perhaps an alternative calling?

Martin: Yes, many of our videos are animated. We cooperate with a lot of different directors. We often use video footage that already exists. If a video is going to be animated or not, that’s more of a coincidental and spontaneous decision. However, it was different with our last video release “Low”.

Your latest video, for the track “Low”, has a very distinctive, minimalist aesthetic, that complements the track in a beautiful way. I was wondering if you could disclose what the object being filmed is, or whether it’s supposed to always remain a secret. I say filmed, but then again, the video is credited as being animated, in which case the animation is staggering. Who came up with the concept?

Martin: The concept and its implementation were carried out by our friend Robin Helm ( Our plan was to capture the dense atmosphere of the light show for our upcoming debut concert. With the help of digital and analogue techniques, Robin created abstract landscapes and virtual worlds that offer the viewer lots of room for interpretation, just like our music does. Thanks to the clever play between light and perspective, the structures seem to be stiff and vivid at the same time. One loses the feeling for proportions. We think that the video perfectly highlights the size and power that we want to depict with our music.

We are going to perform “Low” live as well. The video should therefore work as a little teaser for the great light show that we have been working on for weeks. If you watch the video, you can see that we mostly work with dark-light contrast, and that we use color very rarely and subtly. Our show is a must for every music lover!

Can you disclose some of the dates and venues for your upcoming tour, for those of us who can’t make it to Dunk! this year?

Martin: We are already in contact with a booker, who will look after us in the near future. Unfortunately, it is very hard to play at other festivals this year, because most of the organizers  have  already signed all contracts with the bands they wanted in the year before the festival. This is why we will focus on the year 2017. You will see us on a lot of stages that year.

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