Although they would like to refuse any specific definition in order to embrace a polymorphic concept which reaches other forms of art outside of the sonic one, the Khem Kollective as defined by one of his founding members Cosimo “Zos” Mungheri, comes from the fertile Italian grey underground post-industrial scene. Although the stylistic borders are intentionally not so clear, the contribution by Devis Granziera (Teatro Satanico) is somewhat recognizable on Khem‘s last interesting release, “The Cross”. The album was well received by their followers and lead them to some good live performances (including the one at Destination Morgue, the renowned Italian festival for industrial culture). It’s release on Old Europa Cafe’ took place at almost the same time we had this chat with Zos.
Chain D.L.K.: Howdy Khem! First of all, tell us something about your collective, its birth and its “mechanical” principles…
Zos (Khem): Khem was born about 4 years ago as a duo, myself (Zos) and Hans. The very first sonic experiments took place in my beach house, where we used to play long-lasting noise and ritual music jams… for instance our first song, which was later included in a compilation, was a cut-up of a 23-minutes long track… after we found a name for the project, or I’d rather say after Hans invented it (as a quotation of a book by Mr.K.Grant ) we made the first record “Come forth…”, which was released by the Swiss label SMYW… I immediately became aware of the fact that the project was not just a sound but something more important to the level of expression of my thoughts, and the idea of calling it and considering it a Kollektive entailed the intent of widening our range of expression in every direction so that a limited edition T -shirt, a DIY book or a strictly limited micro-Zine could come out under the same name as well… I do not even know… I will maybe change our name as soon as someone will find a definition for Khem. Khem can be considered a Kollektive because many people are involved in the project… For instance there have been many friends who gave us poems that became texts… Devis G. from Teatro Satanico currently plays machines, Divine Negation (from Terreni K project) gave us some vocal fragments also or V. Schirosi made some guitar lines on the first record… our friend AlePOP took care of the cover artwork of last record… in summary, you can consider KHEM a Kolletive, a Temporarily Autonomous Zone with Manson-spotted drops of common electronic… we make a kind of music that I would define experimental industrial ambient ritual ambient agitpop for new Masons psychedelic post-industrial from Italy…
Chain D.L.K.: You come from Taranto, a city in Apulia, Italy, where beauty and human-driven decay “harmoniously” meet… besides social and economical aspects, how does its environment and setting influence your music? Would you say that Taranto has the same seed of creativity found in other notorious industrial European and American cities which were the cradle of similar artists and musicians?
Zos (Khem): We think that the place where the project was born as well as my native places has partly influenced what we “spit” out on digital media, but speaking honestly I can not tell you how, as both lyrics and music come from different minds or from the merger of different minds from different physical or mental locations… so one might say that the whole thing does not have a specific geographical position.
Chain D.L.K.: Your first release “Come Forth” occurred 3 years ago… I’d say it sounded more shamanic than “The Cross”… just out of curiosity, do you ever play it back? How do you feel when you listen it now?
Zos (Khem): I’ve considered “Come forth” as a shamanic release to be honest, and I’m glad to hear it translated like that for you as well, even if I consider what we have created in “The Cross” much more shamanic… maybe not properly shamanic or something closer to electronic shamanism, but I like such a definition so I’ll take that as a compliment, it doesn’t matter which of Khem release you define so. Some songs from “Come Forth ” are still played live even today, albeit with some slight variations on keyboard that Davis managed to add, and I guess that we might bring more tracks from that album on stage… two songs have already been performed in Rome at the Destination Morgue as well as at Korova in Trani. Listening back that record always makes me very happy and I would say that I play it back with pleasure… it’s a son of Khem and just like parents love their children with any kind of virtues and shortcomings we love that “little son of a digital bitch”.
Chain D.L.K.: Some veterans of the under-rated Italian scene who took part to the last edition of Destination Morgue (a sort of festival and rendezvous of industrial-related musicians, sound artists and fans) gave really positive feedback on your performance there… what’s the state of health of that scene in your own viewpoint?
Zos (Khem): Talking about the “health” of a music scene embarrasses me a lot as I’m neither a “doctor” nor a “veteran”, even though I’m not a nipper anymore. I don’t think we can speak about a proper scene, but I think that such a situation is a good thing as a scene requires a stylistic narrowness in order to fit to its canons, and open projects like ours might consider that a true advantage. As you made a reference to the Destination Morgue, I can say that today that is the only festival that gathers the whole experimental music and the fact that they had us there has honored the diversity of the projects that made up the festival.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the main problem for the “visibility” of that scene? Do you think there are some prejudices on the part of the Italian audience and media which create obstacles to its understanding?
Zos (Khem): I think that prejudices are not in the media or in the people. I think that it is simply a matter of taste. One thing I like to say that with regard to KHEM, and I think that it could be an answer to your question as well, is this: “we are honored to be liked by a few people; the standardization of taste rather offends us”.
Chain D.L.K.: What was some of the worst and the best feedback you’ve received after a concert or from a listener?
Zos (Khem): Let’s say that after a live show I’m not clear-headed enough to understand the moods of audiences. But the day after, people always tell me that our show was great. I do not know if they do it just to get paid to drink at the next show of Khem! Regarding the reviews I’ve read so far about the new album, just as was the case for the previous album, I’ve read very positive feedback, including comparisons that have surprised me. But as I already said, everyone hears what he/she wants to hear in music.
Chain D.L.K.: I hope you won’t be disappointed if I say that the wise sonic injection by Devis Grinziera in your album sometimes reminds me of some stuff by Boyd Rice, Vomito Negro or Pankow… which bands or musicians do you consider influential on your own sound?
Zos (Khem): Devis has brought all his cultural heritage, both in terms of sound and ideological viewpoints, and bridged them in the current Khem sound. Your three comparisons flatter us. I cannot but agree with any possible association which comes to your mind! With regards to my influences for KHEM’s music, it would be so difficult to get a list of names and references that I would run the risk to exclude someone. For example I would mention my readings, ranging from A.O. Spare to Jodorowsky, from Fante to Burroughs and Leary and I could go on for hours. It’s the same for musical influences as my personal listening habits depend on the changes in my mood, but as you can guess from the way I defined the Khem sound, you can find a plenty of musical influences which range from Tibetan ethnic music to kraut rock, from psychedelia to ska (we recently performed a live cover of a Madness song, just to give you an idea), from proto-industrial to punk.
Chain D.L.K.: Have you recorded “The Cross” in one take or in different moments?
Zos (Khem): “The Cross” was created essentially as a one-take recording done in one week at my house in Taranto, and if we have to give a more precise temporal placement, it comes from music that Devis had written a long time ago. We are talking about the year of my life when I used to live in Veneto for a job. Both of us thought that those tracks could be perfect for Khem so we decided to combine his music and my lyrics. We fused them together and later we gave them a new shape with further manipulations… that’s the way “The Cross” was born.
Chain D.L.K.: Besides the title track, I cannot help it but make a semantic connection between the symbol which marks your album and evokes the notorious Red Cross and the “Pazienti Socialisti Khem”, where you quoted SPK principles. Am I on to something?
Zos (Khem): The cross on the cover artwork is an idea that AlePOP had without receiving any instruction. We simply relied on his creativity after listening to the record. I could tell you that the presence of the cross is something strange because I’m obsessed with it in terms of graphics in any form of meaning. AlePOP did not know anything about my obsession and his choice was a nice coincidence… Furthermore the title comes from the fact that we have given the “cross” the meaning of crossing or crossroads of bluesy reminiscences, a junction between the past and present of the project, as we had to decide what to do to follow “Come Forth”. The song “The Cross”, which gives the title to the book, is a very surreal tale by Jodorowsky about the birth of the cross that I enriched with personal reflections, while S.P.K. followed the reading of the writings of the SPK movement. I found many affinities with the conditions that I used to live in, and that I observed in the city where I live. By merging the two things, I have made the classic cut-up, creating a text with final consideration which exhibits a state of “malaise” on a large-scale.
Chain D.L.K.: There are really many positively provocative references in your album! You quoted Ouspensky or, I’d rather say, Gurdjeff on “Fourth Way”… how come?
Zos (Khem): Yes, there are many references to Bad Trip (G. Lerici) and Gurdjeff, that we quoted in “Forth Way” and we also made an Italian version of this song for live performances. Gurdjeff is one of my favorite authors, I have “collided” with many of his arguments. By means of cut-up techniques, I took the ones that best identify with the way I see some things. I finally decided to select 11 points as 11 is a very important number to us.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s your own definition of disease? And what’s the best definition of the same concept in arts or music in your own viewpoint?
Zos (Khem): The best definition of disease is the one a sick man can give to you… I realized that each of them will provide you a different and equally valid definition, depending on the disease that they are experiencing… I do not know who has a better understanding of the concept, as we say that every artist perhaps made his/her art in order to expel the disease that is kept inside…
Chain D.L.K.: I really appreciated the poisonous track “Peggio”, about the social habit of labeling others… have you ever tested that track on its possible targets?
Zos (Khem): “Peggio” came out of a sense of opposition to the labels that Warhol used to consider suitable for food that we try to avoid with our attempt to escape from definitions, as I explained before… we are all what we can become so this song reinforces the idea, moreover it highlights some of the definitions that have been given to the project over the years due to our game with labeling… we have never performed “Peggio” on a live stage but who knows, maybe we’ll do soon…
Chain D.L.K.: Another track “Fatto di Cronaca” , i.e. news story… is it a “real-life story”?
Zos (Khem): “Fatto di Cronaca” plays on the double meaning of the word “Fatto” (in italian: fact/made)… it’s a true story which actually happened nearby my house here in Taranto a lot of years ago; after that piece of news got broadcasted [editor’s note: it refers to the homicide by an unsuspectable surgeon who killed his whole family, including his wife and his two young daughters before committing suicide], I wrote lyrics down, but they’ve been in the drawer for years before I found that it can be fitted to the music that Devis seems to have made for that episode. It is a true fact and you can notice that you do not need imagination to meet atrocious violence but you can just get your nose out of your house…
Chain D.L.K.: You also attributed a track to Gianluca Lerici aka Prof. Bad Trip… have you ever met him (if not physically, spiritually) ?
Zos (Khem): I have never met Mr. Lerici in person but Devis did as Lerici offered his talents to some stuff by Teatro Satanico, so when I told him that I had written an article dedicated to Bad Trip, Devis was very happy. My meeting with Bad Trip is limited to a sort of love for his work, then when I read the sentence that was repeated like a mantra in the song’s lyrics, I became really astonished so that track became my tribute to Mr.Lerici as well as a description of a personal moment.
Chain D.L.K.: The album ends with a funny “cover” of the most provocative and notorious act by John Cage… do you consider him another source of inspiration?
Zos (Khem): Let’s say that Cage is a “subconscious” inspiration that Devis and myself decided to pay homage to at the end of the disc with a silent song… after all, another group wrote a well-known song “Silence is sexy”… we maybe wanted to do an intellectual tribute which could sound sexy as well… who knows ….
Chain D.L.K.: Any future rings on the Khem chain?
Zos (Khem): I can’t really answer this question as we are constantly evolving… this could be my last interview and “The Cross” could be my last record or the beginning of a series of (not only listenable) outputs by Khem… I just can tell you that the Kollektive recorded “New Ekonomia”, “No Redemption”, “Our Despite ” (whose lyrics have been written by another member of Khem), “Fourth Way” and “Almighty God” (a tribute to J.Fante) and that these songs are still unreleased, but I do not know if they will be published on a full-length, a mini-record or a DIY release.
In the meanwhile KHEM thanks for the space that you have given us and for the eyes that this interview will reach….