Oliver Ralli, of the band Pass Kontrol, talks about combining artistic mediums and predicting the "Pop-apocalypse."
They aren’t necessarily radical, like some plain ode to Andy Warhol. They aren’t grand statements about consumer culture either, though they’re cut up in the style of Barbara Kruger. The fliers and CD covers that are made by the Brooklyn band, Pass Kontrol, allude to popular memes by deconstructing recognizable forms into collages—the voyeur Warhol, models barely clad, even multiples of Chanel designer, Karl Lagerfeld. “I like to work with my hands,” says front man, Oliver Ralli, referring to his art work that was on display, for the first time together, on the walls of Bushwick’s Norte Maar gallery. “It informs my music to look at composition in a more visual way.” While it’s true that the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky used color to reinterpret Wagner’s music, in real Gesamtkunstwerk fashion, Ralli rearranges re-appropriated images like he would notes on a musical scale. These synesthetic abstractions oscillate the boundaries between music and art, a strong example being the music video for the Pop ode, “Warhol," where band photos are silkscreened onto the strums of layered music.
“It’s hard to be connected to New York City,” Ralli says, “because its so ginormous. It’s hard to find any community there.” That’s why he prefers Bushwick as his home, where we meet at the local Café Ghia (yes, people knew his name). “I can walk five blocks and see about five people I know. That’s something I wanted to find in New York but couldn’t.” His artwork appreciates that sense of community, the medium itself being a gathering. In remixing streets and city skylines, the unassociated have no choice but to. “It’s empowering to be able to rename these neighborhoods—Groundsville Estates, East Bushwick Park, Country Club Prospect. Money makes things weird. I made a really weird New York and outlined it with subway tickets from Berlin,” a sensible nod to Dada and the found object.
They can also appear dystopian as visions of the future or some sort of parallel congestion. But, in speaking with Ralli, they also become self-reflective. “When crossing borders into another country,” he says, “or even when you’re coming back into your own, at that moment, you’re devoid of any power.” The band travels while touring. “They,” being border police, “can take you and throw you in a cell, which has happened to us in Canada and to me in Germany,” where he frequently goes to visit his family. “In Berlin,” Ralli explains, “they don’t have turnstiles; you just get on with your ticket and the secret police, dressed as regular people, will randomly ask to see them—a holdover from eastern Germany.” In two of the band’s fliers from 2011, security cameras spy on aspiring public faces.
That’s the strength of these collages, that they avoid permission by gluing borders together in a complete image by a band that’s more art collective than musician, also actors, artists, and writers at any given instance, with a group name that misappropriates the term "passport control." Creative and physical boundaries are released. They’ve even staged a play about a post-apocalyptic capitalist-run world, a “Pop-apocalypse” as Ralli conjures, after the defeat of the individual by repressive monopolies. “New Hope City” was named for its irony, and shares its moniker with a song off their major album. Emploring theater, music, and art in this way strings the joints of reality together, those of presence, past, and memory for the future.
“My old neighbor used to be the performance artist Genesis P-Orridge,” Ralli recalls as a major influence when he used to live on Gates Avenue. “Her big art project with her and her partner Lady Jaye was to become one person, neither male nor female, called the Pandrogyne project. They underwent several plastic surgeries to become one; it was the ultimate cut-up technique.” And its had a clear affect in his work, almost to the very core. For Ralli and his group, it’s like splitting a pizza; it’s as normal as taking scissors to coupons, only if they read, “Buy one and got a lot more for free.” It’s real creativity in the face of market specificity, which Ralli readily recognizes. “It always comes back to music,” he says as we’re about to leave. “I just love how physical it is.” But, I don’t know if that means making music, his collages, or pandrogenic anatomy. And that might be the point entirely, to pass the control over to meaning instead of just seeing.
Their new album, "Maspeth," is now available for free digital download.
All images courtesy of the artist and Norte Maar, NY.