With two cassette decks, two Walkmans, a small mixer for pitch control and a neatly displayed collection of tapes in front of her, Marijn Verbiesen has dug a pretty unique niche for herself under the name Red Brut. Musique concrète, it’s officially called, even though naming it is no priority. Without knowing exactly what she is doing (or even wanting to), Verbiesen has been able to play a role of significance for years – in the musical avant-garde, but just as much in her hometown of Rotterdam, where she organizes shows for others as one of the people behind Herman.
Written by: Ruben van Dijk
Photos: Bas Leemans
“If someone ever says to me, ‘the cassette is making a comeback’, I'll punch them in the face. In our scene, the experimental music, the cassette has always been present”, says Verbiesen between two sips of tea – somewhat dryly and yet firmly. We are visiting Herman, a company that gives music, performance and poetry a stage and is currently doing so in a somewhat astray, detached building at the southern end of the Maastunnel. Not very long ago, Turkish family restaurant Iskender was located here. Now the ground floor is filled with instruments, art and a makeshift office, while the upper floor houses a sleeping area for artists and a stage – remarkably cozy for the fact that two relentless punk bands will be playing here in a few days. The property has been sold and (unfortunately) will be given a new purpose, after which Herman will once again have to exchange its comfortable residence for an uncertain future. First, the past.
"If I feel like opening and closing a door for ten minutes, I will."
Verbiesen's musical career started in Utrecht, where she resided for six years. “I always had friends who were musicians and I always helped out with a label here and a label there. But at a certain point I was done there. Ultimately, Utrecht is a lot like a village and I knew everyone. There is barely an art scene there, and almost no experimental music is being made.” In the meantime, she gets to know Bebe Beliz and Michiel Klein, her future Sweat Tongue bandmates, and through them everything that Rotterdam did have to offer her. “I had graduated by then and left everything behind in Utrecht. I didn't know anyone else in Rotterdam, but something just really clicked."
She had never made music herself, except for one or two drum classes, but once in Rotterdam it happened – suddenly. “The band [Sweat Tongue, ed.] started because we were having a drink one night, and Michiel said: 'Let's start a band.' And we were drunk, so I said, ‘Yeah, I played drums.’ ‘Well okay, then you’ll play drums.’ And that’s how it went.” It was easy like that. With the advice of her now-boyfriend Klein, “Forget everything you've ever learned," she taught herself to play drums all by herself — an ethos that has "continued in all of my music projects."
That includes Red Brut, the pseudonym with which Verbiesen makes music that can best be described as tape collage art. It all starts with recording sounds, and those could be anything; then literally cut and paste everything together. “The sounds I record are sounds that I'm currently working with, that I'm inspired by, or that I just feel like recording. If I feel like playing the guitar, I’ll play the guitar. If I feel like opening and closing a door for ten minutes, I will.” She now has a proper sound library with one unique sound on each side of every cassette. “Some people say it has a very homey feel to it because I'm very preoccupied with the sounds I encounter in the house. I also record things with guitar and synth, but I play them in my own way. I can't play the guitar like Michiel can, for example.” She also learned to play with the Korg S10 and the other samplers and synths that were at her disposal before she could even do anything with them simply by the endless turning of knobs. Verbiesen: “I have certainly tried to learn things by the book, but that is not for me, because then I end up in certain processes that I can't do anything with and then I get stuck. For me, that is more of a hindrance than a tool.” It becomes a process of trial and error, or "a little wriggling and cuddling in the mud, crawling out and then falling back," as she describes it herself. Eventually you will learn it on your own. “In the beginning I thought: I shouldn't get too good, because then I'll lose my style. But that's not the case, and I've also come to realize that the better you get, the more you can develop your own style."
One of those unique sounds that can be heard on her first record, released last year by the Belgian KRAAK, is the almost terrifying yelling of a group of children. “I'm not much of a morning person, so I always sleep in quite a bit. But I live right by a kindergarten and those kids are always released into the playground at 9:30 in the morning and then all you hear is screams. So I recorded it from my window – and on a cassette that gets translated into something of a hysterical sound.” A hysterical sound, but in the best possible way, because Verbiesen enjoys unpleasant sounds. She again makes the comparison with crawling through the mud. “Something like that might be seen as negative, but I can really revel in it. I love that feeling. I really learned to listen to that feeling.”
Apart from Sweat Tongue and Red Brut, Verbiesen does not shy away from 'nasty sounds’ with Herman either. Artists that could be found in that cosy little attic in Charlois, the last few months: overwhelming bulldozer punk by Sial from Singapore, dissonant ambient grit by MYTTYS from Finland, a filthy Rotterdam crossover of post-punk, gabber, opera and hip-hop called Coolhaven, and more, much more. Herman is, certainly for an organization that is largely run by volunteers, a well-oiled machine that manages to sell out most of the room twice a month on average. But that too was a process of muddling through, ever since Michiel and Marijn started what was then still called ‘MiMa’ more than six years ago. “We hadn’t even formed Sweat Tongue at the time, but we did have friends who were looking for shows in Rotterdam. You had WORM and THE PLAYER then, but not a lot else, and those were quite established institutions actually. So then we just started doing it, nomadically, in different places in Rotterdam. Now there were only two of us anyway, so that meant an audience of max twenty on any given evening. And I don't mind that in itself, because I do like those small-scale shows, but now and then there were five, or almost none, and that’s just really shitty for the artists.” It was hard, she admits, and at first she wasn't good at it at all. “But it does help Herman, now that I have become a bit better at all those things.”
Herman now has a steady footing in Rotterdam and knows how to profile itself with a combination of the experimental and the slightly-less-experimental. Also, just like Utrecht, Rotterdam turns out to be a kind of village too, where everyone knows you and you know everyone. “In any case, the Netherlands is one big village, but in Utrecht I experienced that as a negative thing - not in Rotterdam. Especially because the village I now live in is a village where a lot of interesting stuff is happening, where many people are involved and have real energy to do things.”
Editor's note: this article was originally published in Dutch. Some quotes may have been altered in the translation.