Mouse On Mars
Mouse On Mars
The music created by German post-techno duo Mouse On Mars resists easy categorization. Members Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma are among a growing scene of electronic musicians who dabble in everything—from techno and ambient forms to rock, jazz, dub, and jungle. “In Germany, people’s tastes are rigid,” Toma said to Susan Corrigan of Trance Europe Express. “Because we’re not making straight techno, they’re confused about what it is we actually do.” So, what does Mouse On Mars actually sound like? According to Corrigan’s description, “Mouse On Mars use rubbishy lo-fi equipment to distort clean, natural live sounds into a messy tangle. They mix it with clear tones and send the whole shebang on its way with a hypnotic, repetitive, but memorable keynote riff. Listeners don’t forget this in a hurry.”
Critics tend to call their music “Krautrock,” and, indeed, fans of experimental 1970s acts like Can and Kraftwerk find Mouse On Mars’ sophisticated reworkings of pop formats somewhat familiar. Nonetheless, Mouse On Mars, although influenced by early electronic experimentation, are not simply imitators of the past. In fact, as St. Werner claimed in an interview with Chris Tweney of the Boston Phoenix, “We never really listened to Can and Kraftwerk at the time we started doing music. We are our own heroes.”
St. Werner, born in Cologne, Germany, and Toma, who hails from Dusseldorf, joined forces as Mouse On Mars in 1993 after reportedly meeting at a death metal concert and then working together creating music links for a German cable channel. Prior to forming the duo, St. Werner and Toma worked in rock and rap production, respectively. At the time, both felt a discontent with Germany’s massive techno scene and wanted to take a different direction.
Thus, working from Toma’s home studio, the pair took cues from early Krautrock outfits like Kraftwerk, Klus-ter, and especially Can and Neu!, then fused them with modern-day ambient textures. “A lot of techno bands name these groups as influences, but maybe they don’t know Can or Neu! as well as they might know Kraftwerk,” Toma told Corrigan. “Those bands influenced us to use ‘live’ instruments, like guitar, bass, and drums, either in a distorted way whilst recording or straight from the instrument when we play live.”
St. Werner and Toma also developed a strong professional relationship. It is both relaxed and purposeful. “We live about 40 minutes apart by car,” Toma told Corrigan. “When we meet to work, we drink a cappuccino and I show him what I’ve done, because the studio is in my place. Then I have another cappuccino while he adds to it. We don’t spend too much time, maybe a day, and don’t discuss too much. We just do it, and I find that really exciting.”
Eventually, Mouse On Mars sent a tape of their material to the London-based, guitar-ambient group See-feel, who, in turn, handed it over to their label, Too Pure. Impressed by what they heard, Too Pure immediately released Mouse On Mars’ first single “Frosch,” in 1994, establishing the duo in the emerging cross-genre scene with label mates Seefeel, Laika, and Pram. Similar to these groups, Mouse On Mars used traditional rock methods and instruments in conjunction with electronics to great effect.
Mouse On Mars’ full length debut, Vulvaland, appeared later in 1994, with the vinyl edition accompanied by a 12-inch EP of remixes. Eclectic and trance-inducing, warm and minimal, the seven-song album was hailed for its inventive edge and resistance to easy categorization and sold well. In addition to “Frosh,” Vulvaland featured notable tracks such as the mellow, pulsing “Chagrin” the mechanical, yet grooving “Future Dub,”and the radio clattering “Die Seele Von Brian Wilson.” The success of the album led to compilation appearances and remixes for other artists, including one for the experimental act Oval. That group’s Markus Popp also teamed with St. Werner as Microstoria for the album Init Ding, released in 1995.
Also in 1995, Mouse On Mars released a second album entitled laora Tahiti, described by Richard Fon-tenay in Rock: The Rough Guide as a “wondrous melange of easy-listening exotica, post-Motorik trance rhythms and deep dubby bass.” It featured guest drums by Wolfgang Flür, formerly of Kraftwerk, and Dodo Nkishi, as well as a vocal introduction by Japanese singer Nobuko Sugai. Overall, the songs on this
Members include Jan St. Werner (born in Cologne, Germany), composer, arranger, producer, sound engineer, instrumentalist; Andi Toma (born in Düsseldorf, Germany), composer, arranger, producer, sound engineer, instrumentalist.
Formed duo in Germany, 1993; signed with Too Pure, released debut album Vulvaland, 1994; released laora Tahiti, toured with Stereolab, 1995; released Audiocracker, 1997; released Niun Niggung, 2000.
Addresses: Record company; —Thrill Jockey Records, P.O. Box 476794, Chicago, IL 60647, phone: (312) 455-0310, fax: (312) 455-0319, e-mail: [email protected] Website —Mouse On Mars Official Website: http://www.mouseonmars.com.
album were faster, adopted more global influences, and showed the band’s sense of humor. A single off the album, “Bib,” featuring drum ‘n’ bass rhythms, also appeared, as did a vinyl-only remix of the Latin-influenced track “Saturday Night Worldcup Fieber.”
The duo supported the album with a series of live performances. Their travels included a brief tour opening for the group Stereolab; at these shows, St. Werner and Toma would regularly join the headlining act on stage for improvised encores. Mouse On Mars’ own concerts were likewise spontaneous. With live instruments and turntables, the duo captivated audiences, filling the space with a strangely organic soundscape of bass, drones, and catchy tape loops.
In 1996, Mouse On Mars scored the soundtrack for the American indie-rock film Glam and aided Flür under the name Yamo on the album Time Pie. Microstoria also released a second album that year entitled _snd, and the recording’s follow-up, 1997’s Reprovisers, featured remixes with Ui, Oval, Stereolab, and others. Further collaborations with Stereolab resulted in Laetitia Sadier and Mary Hansen contributing vocals for Mouse On Mars’ 1997 Cache Coeur Naif EP. That same year, Stereolab released Dots and Loops, an album for which Mouse On Mars produced several tracks.
Mouse on Mars released two additional albums in 1997: Audiocracker, issued by Too Pure (and in the United States by Thrill Jockey), and the vinyl-only Instrumentals, issued on the duo’s own Sonig label. Audiocracker, containing the tracks “Tamagnocchi,” “Twift Shoeblade,” and “The X-Files” won high praises. “Mid-tempo tunes loosely built around the circuitry of electronica and its spacey chillout cousin trance, are filled to the brim with melodious beeps, clicks, whirs, and dubby bass lines,” wrote Chris Tweney of the Boston Phoenix. “Even the inevitable machine noises sound as if they came from, well, happy machines: this is a well-oiled mix.” However, the album also revealed an unsettling side. “Their music is frightening because you’re never quite sure where you are....They’ve created a complex, multi-dimensional musical stereogram with an image buried inside. The catch is that everyone is meant to see a different image.”
In 1998, St. Werner released a solo album, Uni Umit, under the moniker Lithops. Two years later, Mouse On Mars released another acclaimed album, Niun Niggung, which included the tracks “Distoria,” a catchy breakbeat number, and “Download Sofist,” painted with lush guitars and brass instruments. With this set, Mouse On Mars again proved that their music, according to New York Times reviewer Jon Pareles, is “constantly inventive.” For their eclecticism on record and stunning live performances Mouse On Mars is considered to be among the finest contemporary German electronic groups.
Vulvaland, Too Pure, 1994.
laora Tahiti, Too Pure, 1995.
Cache Coeur Naif (EP), Too Pure, 1997.
Audiocracker, Thrill Jockey, 1997.
Instrumentais, Sonig, 1997.
Niun Niggung, Thrill Jockey, 2000.
Buckley, Jonathan, and others, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
Boston Phoenix, October 16-23, 1997.
Melody Maker, December 13, 1997; May 16, 1998; October 9, 1999; November 24-30, 1999.
New York Times, December 17, 2000.
Rolling Stone, January 22, 1998.
Trance Europe Express 3 Booklet, 1995.
Washington Post, May 5, 2000.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 23, 2001).
Ink Blot, http://www.inkblotmagazine.com (February 23, 2001).
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