Gudrun Gut is an artist that had and still has many lives: from being part of legendary bands like Einstürzende Neubauten, Mania D and Malaria! to her solo acts, always with an eye open on experimentation and always curious and ready to push herself further. We talked about her evolution as an artist, the beauty of collaborations, feminism in music, keeping it up and very sad stories about suicidal pet fishes.
You're celebrating the 35th anniversary of Malaria! this year. 
Yeah, strangely! (Laughs).
How do you feel when looking back at your band’s history?
Hmm, how do I feel about it…? Well, it was a very important part of my life, it was my youth, my first approach to music, I mean, I had played in other bands before but it was my first step into professional music. It was a great time, we travelled, we played a lot. I liked it very much. But it was also kinda tough.
Can you recall when and how you decided to start a band?
Well, the first band I had was another female band where I played the bass. We didn’t have any gigs actually, we would just meet up to rehearse and talk about the clothes we were going to wear (laughs). It was kinda frustrating because we never played. It was just the drummer and I, her name was Coca Cola; we then joined in with Testbild to form Din a Testbild. That was the first band I had.
I’ve been always interested in music; when I was in school I worked for an independent mail order in the little town I grew up in. We were the first German Virgin distribution. I’ve always been into ‘’strange’’ music; as I kid I liked to listen to white noise, so I guess it’s always been there somehow. I was never really into mainstream – well, I always liked pop music but “special” pop music. 
What inspired you?
I started back in the punk days, so all kinds of inspiration were killed; it was about doing something direct. About doing something, really. The political situation in Berlin in those days was frantic, you see, there were lots of demonstrations, the gender issue was on the plate. This was the context we lived in. Everything had to be discussed and was indeed discussed. I swallowed it. The thing is, we just wanted to do something so we weren’t actually thinking too much. We were sick of discussing.
I played the stylophone and the bass, Beate Bartel asked me to join Mania D (seminal Berlin’s underground band from 1979 to 1981, part of the so-called Geniale Dilettanten movement) with Bettina Koster and Eva Gössling, Karin Luna and some more girls in the beginning. Me and Bettina had a shop called The Eisengrau, it was kind of a clothes and fanzines’ shop, a lot of people just came in to hang out, we weren’t making any money. It wasn’t for the money, though. We were entertaining ourselves. So, with Mania D we recorded a single, made a few gigs and when we split up, me and Bettina decided to continue, as we loved playing live. We made the first Malaria! 12” (self-titled, 1981) and we invited Christine Hahn, who I knew from The Statics, to join us, and later on she became the second drummer. We really liked New York’s nu wave, so we asked a few girls we knew to join us, Manon P. Duursma (who had played with Nina Hagen before) and Susanne Kuhnke (who had played with Die Haut). And that’s how we formed the band Malaria!
Was it hard to be in a girl band back in those days?
Not to be in a girl band: to be in a band. (Laughs).
So it didn’t make any difference to be a girl in an environment that was mainly male?
We started off in a non-professional surrounding. You know, Germany didn’t have a real music industry like the US or England back then, so probably if there is no business, both girls and boys are equal, I guess (laughs). It really didn’t matter. We played with The Birthday Party (Nick Cave’s second band with Rowland S. Howard, Mick Harvey and Tracy Pew) and Einstürzende Neubauten in London. It was a great show; The Birthday Party invited us because they lived in Berlin in that period. Then everybody got signed except for us. How strange! We didn’t care, we were founding our own label, and we had a manager that was taking care of all those affairs. That was the beginning of Moabit Music, the label I still run. 
At one point it seemed clear that in Berlin in the ‘80s something was exploding. Many bands came out all of a sudden and all together. I was curious to know if you noticed that at some point you were stepping out of the boredom to enter this big exciting moment in which everyone was interested in Berlin and what was happening there.
What do you mean?
I mean, from a certain moment on people got interested in Berlin not only musically but also culturally, so I was wondering if you could understand or notice that change from the nothing to the whole.
It wasn’t so obvious. We were just bored and wanted to do something. In many cities apart from Berlin things were happening, bands were forming and music was going on... David Bowie did the big thing, you know, for that kind of Berlin’s popularity, but I don't know. Berlin was like an island, it was really different from the rest of West Germany; while West Germany was very rich, Berlin was poor and the music came out differently, way more dangerous. The New York scene was a little similar, the city was way bigger of course, but comparable.
Do you feel like there’s the same cultural fervor these days?
I think the problem is that most of the big cities got really expensive and as an artist you need a cheap place to stay in to be able to experiment stuff. You also need a place that’s free, where people are open-minded and yes, cheap. The quality of life in Berlin is quite high on the one hand. On the other hand, though, it’s full of musicians and you can really test yourself; if you talk about a certain kind of music you can find people that understand what you’re talking about, they don’t look at you like you’re some kind of alien! It makes the city a little bit attractive, but at the same time it’s attractive because of the cheap entertainment: people go there just to get wasted, because the alcohol is cheap and so are the clubs.
I had the chance to interview Alexander Hacke and Danielle De Picciotto when they came to my city for a gig and I remember them talking about the gentrification of the city and the fact that they’d like to get away from it sometimes because of that. Do you feel the same about that?
It’s pretty obvious that this is happening. I have lived in Berlin since ‘80. Now my best girlfriend, who lived quite far from the city, has split up with her husband and needs to find a new place, so she has to move back to the city now. Rents are higher and higher. She’s pissed off because it’s hard to find a place to stay in Berlin.
That’s another problem of big cities...
Yeah. My partner and I bought a house in the countryside two years ago and I switch between that and the city. Mostly I work on music in the countryside.
You feel like it’s a better place to create?
Oh, yeah! In Berlin there’s always something: I have to go there, there and there... So here I can calm down and concentrate on what I’m doing.
So let’s go back to these days. You talked about the birth of Moabit Music and I know that you also rule Monika Enterprise. Both labels have an eye on female creativity, on female artists...
Now that you mention that: I wonder why no male is ever asked why their label represents mainly men! (Laughs).
It doesn’t make any difference to me but even if we are in 2016 it seems like feminism is still something to be surprised about. On the one hand, it’s a good thing...
I think it’s just a good thing. I’m a feminist myself. When I had my first band I thought, “Oh, everything is gonna be equal!” Girls, boys, all the same – but of course it was not like that. That’ s why you mentioned the “eye on female artist:” there are not many labels that do that. Male. Labels. Do. Male. Music. This ain't right.
Of course not.
The music industry is a boys’ club. I don’t agree with that, as I think that pop culture belongs to boys and girls equally. That’s important. 
Have you heard about Sister? It’s an all female collective created by a really young Swedish DJ/producer called Toxe, who, like you, tries to reinforce the networking in between female figures in the underground club culture...
I’m active in Female Pressure, which is another community, a mailing list basically, with female producers, artists in music fields, video artists and so on... That’s kinda eye opening.
“The music industry is a boys’ club. I don’t agree with that, as I think that pop culture belongs to boys and girls equally.”
Do you think there’s a real will in girls to help each other out in this industry? You have a label but if you look around, do you see others like you doing something to make this happen?
Yeah. Recently there’s been more awareness because there are a lot of girls doing music but, strangely enough, they’re not brought to festivals. Why? The music press is also male for the 99% and they don’t take female artists seriously. That’s kind of a problem. Girls want to be heard. I don’t blame them. 
Looking at your discography, the first thing I noticed is that you collaborated with a lot of artists; do you believe in the educational pros of collabs?
It’s really nice to collaborate with other people. Music is a free thing. I’ve been in bands too; I enjoy working with other people. But I need to do my solo stuff, solo albums, solo shows because I feel like it’s my thing. And then right after a solo album I want to collaborate with somebody! (Laughs). Working alone drains you, while being with somebody else you share, you push each other, you talk, you learn: it’s nice. I like it.
How do you choose your collaborators? Is it a matter of trust or, “I might be interested in doing something with you, let's try,” a leap in the dark? 
Mostly it’s a matter of faith (laughs). With AGF (Antye Greie), we played in a festival in Moscow but I had known her for a long time from Berlin and we shared common friends, similar interests. She got a commission for the BBC and chose me to collaborate with her on four tracks. In that case that’s how it started. It’s been really fun to work with her; she is a nerd, a tech girl. With Hans-Joachim Irmler, I played in his festival (Klangbad Festival in Scheer, West Germany), we made an interview together; he’s a really nice person. I am interested in Germany’s pop culture and kraut music and he was part of Faust (an influential berliner kraut band of the ‘70s). He plays the organ. I’m more into drum programming and stuff, so it felt like a good combination to me; it was an interesting pattern.
I read in one of your interviews that it’s very important for you to hear the artist in their own music and that means to find your own voice. How did you find your voice (if you ever did)?
Oh! Hmmm... (Laughs). 
That’s a tough one!
I think that you always have to question yourself, non-stop. You. Your art. Your music. It’s a very painful process. If you want to be an artist you have to be very critical with yourself.
How do you produce your music?
A lot of accidents. I work with accidents. I feel pretty much like a collagist, I put the pieces together. I’m not the kind of songwriter that starts something at the piano; I’d rather start with a beat! Also samplers or whatever. Recently I got myself this new toy, it’s analogic equipment, really fun by now to set the computer aside. 
Are you working on something?
Yes. I’ve just finished actually, I did a remix album for a really interesting project called Heimatlieder aus Deutschland, which involves people from all over the world that live in Berlin: people from Korea, Serbia, Cuba, Romania, everywhere. This guy, Jochen Kühling, already released the original work, which claims that they do live here as well, so it’s kind of a political statement. He asked me to remix the whole album, it’s coming out at the beginning of September, and we’re working on the artwork now.
I was working with Myra Davis on a spoken word project, me and Beate Bartel are making the music for her; that is coming out in November or so. For me it’s been really exciting, because Beate and I were together in Mania D and thirty-five years later we’re working together again! We didn’t write the music together actually, she did half of it and I did half of it. It really worked. Sounds great.
Will you perform it live together?
Yeah, we will! 
Sounds awesome! Can I ask you to name five female artists you took inspiration from, that you respect? Not just in music, in general, whatever you want.
Well, one person I really respect and admire that I worked with and that actually helped me decide to start a solo career is Barbara Morgenstern, she’s on my label as well and we’ve worked together for a long time now. When I saw her playing live I was like, “Wow, I wanna do a solo act too!” She’s a very different artist than I am, more into singing, piano and stuff. She has a confidence in playing her things that I found extremely cool. So she inspired me to start my solo career. Very late. (Laughs). Then, I like Pipilotti Rist a lot, we worked with her on a couple project as well. She’s very different from me too, she’s really positive; I often look up to artists who are different from myself, they inspire me somehow. I really like Lucrecia Dalt from Colombia, a really talented experimental composer. And Anika Henderson, do you know her? Yula Kasp, she’s from Poland but now lives in Paris. She has also a new EP out, there’s this track, Conscious, that I love, it’s so pure. Oh, I like a lot of artists! Pilocka Krach is great too; she’s more on the techno side… Masha Qrella is awesome too. 
These are just the ones I’m listening to now but there might be more. 
Is there any advice you want to give to young female artists trying to start something or carry on with this?
Yes. Be persistent. Don’t give up. Push it baby, push it! (Laughs). 
I think we’re done, thank you so much for your time...
Thank you!
I just wanted you to tell you that I know that Monika Enterprise (one of her two labels) is named after your suicidal goldfish...
Yeah... (Sounding sad).
So I just wanted you to know that something similar happened to me and everybody said it wasn’t possible and that it was clearly my fault.
Oh no, that’s terrible!
I know, but I found relief in knowing that somebody else had had that same experience so, thank you. And so the story goes, I thanked one of the most influential artists of the past years not for the great music she brought us but for explaining to me that goldfishes do jump sometimes.