Kai Althoff Dossier: Tobias Madison

Tobias Madison on the 2001 album Es liebt Dich und Deine Köperlichkeit ein Ausgeflippter by Workshop

‘Yes, even on days like these, I have to struggle with people like you. For the first time, the monster didn’t leave me. I pray to the small light.’1

‘What is PC but a verbal form of gentrification?’2

Workshop’s first four albums – Workshop (1990), Welcome Back to the Workshop (1991), Talent (1995), Meiguiweisheng Xiang (1997) – move between Krautrock, connoisseurship and experiments in German techno. With a distance that is not so much ironic as marked by the distortions that result from genuine fondness for something that’s not physically present, the albums sound like observations of an archaic forest festival from a faraway hill, through a glass dome (an aesthetic explored at the same time by fellow Cologne-based artist Wolfgang Voigt with his ‘Gas’ project).

In 2001, the band (consisting of Stephan Abry, Kai Althoff, Stefan Mohr and Christoph Rath) released its fifth album Es liebt Dich und Deine Körperlichkeit ein Ausgeflippter (A Crazy Man Loves You and Your Physicality) on Cologne indie label Sonig. Recorded between June 2000 and May 2001, in the period just before existing cracks in society gelled forever into a symbol, the album is marked by a detachment from worldly matters and an orientation towards cosmic themes. The record is very compact, with five songs on each side, all between three and six minutes. It takes its cues from neo-folk and esoteric East Coast orchestras, without neglecting the rave context that was always a parallel presence for Workshop. Unlike its predecessors, the lyrics on this album are all in German, written and sung by Althoff.

It is hard not to see Althoff’s songs in the context of German techno culture (the roots of which in turn lie in the Krautrock scene). The rituals of this scene are about physicality and affection, a rhythmic merging with the collective cosmos, and celebrating the self and a general openness to all manner of otherness – themes that are also dealt with in the lyrics of Es liebt Dich und Deine Körperlichkeit ein Ausgeflippter

'Scheusalstage' (Monster Days), for example, describes how one can become friends with an animal. 'Die Verwundung' (The Injury), on the other hand, is a feverish cross-country trip during which the injured person, lying on a cart, hallucinates the pestilential events in his body. 'Missa Lux' describes festivity and transcendence in the face of suffering and drama, while 'Jetzt ist Vakanz' (Now Is Vacancy) tells of separation from childhood at the end of adolescence and the subsequent shaping by institutions, containing one of the album’s best lines: ‘To find someone / who becomes his own victim / and gives birth to himself.’ Finally, 'Im Winter' and 'Erfüllung' (Fulfilment) describe escaping to the countryside and from oneself, a rejection of an ideological belief in progress and a reconciliation with the ordinary: ‘Now I can see air in my veins / and feel air in my little head / Thoughts made of cells? / Thoughts made of air? / Not a hard choice.’

Here, language itself seems to have crystalized into otherness. Permeated by a certain rurality with its secret words that have long since made way for more efficient ones, it sounds like a folklore that is now only partly fit for human habitation. Althoff’s lyrical approximations of authors like Annette von Droste-Hülshoff and the ideas of German Romanticism remain questionable, but here these references are used to renegotiate the connection between personal withdrawal and collective identity. The above-mentioned distance moves in areas that are not even tolerated in a free-thinking community, as when Althoff, in the face of Catholic physicality, ‘throws foamy spit / and tears final miraculous corpses out of all his body parts’.

The lyrics thus not only describe distance, but also, at the same time, themselves formulate a linguistic distance to a collective that does not accept the alienation of the individual. The titular physicality that Althoff evokes in his lyrics is neither the sweating, fucking, chemically drugged, loving body of rave ecstasy, nor the much invoked dead body of the insti-tution, but an extension of our understanding of the body to cover all the small fungal growths and molecular shenanigans that populate it – in other words: a potentiality.

Institutionalized communities regulate their bodies, reducing the risk of potential deviant physicalities is an integral self-preservation instinct, transgression is not tolerated. In this way, physical violence is grounds for exclusion – at the same time, the will to exclude culminates in collective ostracism. Tenderness and reconciliation, on the other hand, appear in symbolic gestures, separated from their bodies or, as on 'Für Wen?' (For Whom?), serve to reintegrate a renegade into the party.

Es liebt Dich und Deine Körperlichkeit ein Ausgeflippter formulates a linguistic access to the body of a truly crazy person – torn between the instinct to distance himself and an all-encompassing affection – through which the superstructure can be addressed directly as a person. ('Wie sieht es aus?')

A monster is going about in language. A mutation can be observed, away from ambiguity and potential misunderstanding (that can be productive, but that can also be abused, see the history of politics) towards a language of compatibility that is efficient as such, and that can keep up with the speed of capital. In view of the supremacy of images, language increasingly converges with them, making the WTFs, LOLs and ASAPs into the logos of companies whose shares we all deal in. Against this background, language and images must operate with a level of nuance beyond the poles of ambiguity and clarity. They have to develop the fondness of a crazy man, in order, then, to watch themselves from behind.

Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Tobias Madison is an artist. He lives in New York.

1 from: Workshop, 'Scheusalstage', Es liebt dich und deine Körperlichkeit ein Ausgeflippter, 2001

2 from: South Park, season 19, episode 10, 2015

Issue 25

First published in Issue 25

Autumn 2016