Obscurity And Escapism: Exploring German Army
4.2.15 by Mike Haley
Within the past few weeks alone Peter Kris has released two cassettes tapes. One on the Portuguese imprint A Giant Fern, and another that I talked about with Tymbal Tapes. But who is Peter Kris? Peter Kris is the chief administrator of sorts behind the majorly productive, sonic overcast that is German Army. But who is German Army?? Exactly.
Since 2011 German Army, who’s name was chosen by Sam McPheeters of Born Against and Men’s Recovery Project, has been releasing persistent, thoughtful, and coolly haunted music anonymously, in both solo and collaborative forms, with members using handles like Chin Genie, Meatball Maker, and Peter Kris. German Army, or GeAr as they tend to use, implement a style of vocals and instrumentation that has a way of casually sliding under the skin in a creepy but inviting way, like an eel that can get you high. They also show no signs of discomfort while channeling the occasional sun drenched melody as they create outsider music focusing on “important themes of vanishing world culture.” Their earliest output came by way of cassettes on Night-People (“Papua Mass” C40), Skrot Up (“Body Linguist” C30), and Hobo Cult (“Sedentary” C32), with jams flowing steadily since then on the likes of Chondritic Sound, No Kings, Handmade Birds, and (full disclosure) my label 905 Tapes.
A desire to set up personal partitions is behind the anonymity of GeAr, and it’s related entities. “Who I am and what I do professionally is completely separate from the music I make.” Kris said of the forced obscurity “Music has always been a tool I’ve used to balance myself and keep my mind off my work. I’ll get somewhat personal here: I’m a teacher in the second poorest city in America, and most of the students I teach have parents who are incarcerated. These kids suffer from severe behavioral and emotional disorders, and subsequently it’s emotionally taxing on me. Every day I see violence and maladaptive behaviors that will likely escalate into adulthood. Sadly, at least from my own observations, it hasn’t gotten better with time. With that said, the idea of having your identity or photo attached to your music is something I have never really agreed with. I believe music is a separate compartment of a complex individual. If someone’s whole identity is their band, then they must not be very interesting.”
GeAr’s pursuit at musical detachment from reality’s bummers have led them down many paths, including 2014’s “Tassili Plateau”, released in an edition of 75 copies on Field Hymns. Simply put, this tape is brilliant. The array of influences and vibes is dizzying and fascinating. A partial quote from the label description will get you in a legitimate head space. “Short, taut songs, visited by Bollywood dervishes with freckles of exotica, buttressed by fried drum machines lifted from the quarterdeck of Captain (Richard H) Kirk himself, and musically expanded to allow for moments of warmth and redemption, this might be the best outing by German Army yet.”
The first GeAr material I had the pleasure of hearing was the “Holland Village” C40 released in 2013 by Canada’s Dub Ditch Picnic, and I was immediately fixated. So much murky, melting, desperate sounds lurching about and foaming at the mouth. It was music that should make the most fashionable, coldest corners of the underground be embarrassed for etching their songs on glossy wax.
Chris Jacques from Dub Ditch Picnic was in a similar zone after sampling GeAr’s shadowy sounds for the first time. “I hit them up after I scoped out the Hobo Cult and Chrondritic tapes. They catch my ear every time and sound new. Like, I have to catch myself when I hear them. My first response is ‘What’s that? It sounds awesome’ followed by ‘Oh hell. I released that.'”
Dub Ditch Picnic did up 75 copies of “Holland Village”, which is now long sold out, and are in the process of releasing a collection CD compiling some other out of print cassettes.
Even though Kris has left and/or disbanded various groups or names that were becoming too well known, in order to maintain his anonymity, side projects and various collaborations are a plenty in the GeAriverse, each powered with their own unique personality and reason. Included in the fold are the long-distance duo MERX, a Godflesh inspired outing with Bobb Bruno under the name Submissions, a trio called Q///Q, a tribute to political punk from the UK as Final Cop, the synth noise of Black Rollins, the aforementioned Peter Kris solo work, etc., etc., etc.
One thing that just about all of those names have in common, beyond the obvious association, is that they have released material on Denmark’s Skrot Up. “I dig his schizo approach to having many bands and outlets for his musical and philosophical ideas,” said Skrot Up’s head honcho Morten Brohammer “and I like how they develop from release to release. He’s not stuck in one groove just repeating himself over and over”.
Pressed for a fav side project he’s released on Skrot Up, Brohammer (I’m having so much trouble getting over the fact that this dude’s name is Bro Hammer) went with the second MERX tape “Twenty Sq Ft”.
German Army’s ability to deliver their overabundance of prolific action is a satisfying byproduct of having an equally creative experimental cassette scene. Thinking about all of these ever-so-sweet tunes collecting e-dust on a hard drive, waiting for a wealthy investor to come along and press up LPs keeps me up at night. “I would not expect a label to release everything I do on vinyl because it would simply be too much to ask,” said Kris. “I prefer cassette labels because they take risks and put out interesting music. Cassette labels seem happy to work with obscure bands, especially those who want to remain anonymous. They also don’t mind if you send them a picture of sand as your band photo.”
Check out German Army on Soundcloud and look for future activity from this cloudy operation on Fort Evil Fruit, Golden Cloud, Discrepant, and more. I mentioned clouds three times in that sentence. Spoooooky.