Zweikommasieben translates from German to English to read ‘two comma seven’. It’s also the title of an extremely homemade, bi-lingual print magazine from Lucerne, Switzerland that’s focused on documenting interesting happenings in contemporary club culture. With an arthouse aesthetic and a design led feel, content comes ahead of everything on their agenda – Something we heavily endorse here at Hyponik. Having just published their 9th edition, our very own Conor McTernan spent an evening in London’s Soho with the two core players behind the magazine – Remo Bitzi & Kaj Lehmann, to discuss what started as a University born side-project in 2011 to grow into one of the most original voices in this industry with nigh on thirty contributors today…
To begin, how and where did you two meet each other?
Kaj: We’re both from the German speaking part of Switzerland and we studied at the same University. We met playing against each other in a ping-pong tournament back in 2011. Remo told me he was planning a music magazine and looking for a graphic designer. I was doing some photography fan-zines already and loved the idea of working in music.
Remo: I won the ping-pong match and the first issue was issued in August 2011.
So you knew exactly the kind of direction you wanted for the magazine to have from the start?
Remo: Not really, I knew that in terms of content it was always going to feature contemporary music – dance as well as experimental.
K: In terms of graphic design the first issue was pretty different. It was completely handmade, printed on a risograph and then our friends sewed it with a sewing machine. We used the Risograph for the first four issues. In Lucerne there is a concert house called Südpol (Southpole) where we conduct a lot of our interviews. They have a printing machine which they bought to print their own advertising in-house, and we were able to print there. Now we can afford offset-print, and I’m really happy about that, because the edition grew with each issue. But I think even though it’s less handmade now, we kept the idea of a fanzine.
At the start how did you go about getting all the artists on board for the first issue?
R: We started mingling with the artists and people involved at Südpol and that’s how it started really. I did all three interviews for the first issue and there were some columns from other people in there too.
How do you find the balance between your individual workflows?
R: Kaj is a freelance designer and I work four days a week as the editor of lifestyle magazine titled “Young Swiss”.
There is no balance at all, just a lot of work! (laughs) In the beginning the goal was to publish an issue every three months but now we’ve decided to run every six months and really nail it. At the beginning we were scared people would forget about us because we didn’t offer a subscription or organise too many events. But now we do these things so it should be alright to publish a magazine bi-annually!
There’s a real DIY/Punk aesthetic to the magazine, do you reckon that a direct reflection of your collective personalities?
R: Not at all. You couldn’t get more square than I am! We just wanted to do something ourselves, it was never like fuck the system or fuck big publications it was more about contributing something to the culture that we love and care about. There are people contributing to the magazine with a punk background though. Samuel Savenberg for example who today produces dark industrial Techno as S S S S, he has a Punk/Metal/Hardcore background. Personally I developed an interest in Punk and Punk-informed music over the last couple of months. But there’s not much punk in my history itself to be honest.
K: The whole DIY thing comes from having no money, not having an attitude.
R: If we had money we probably would have done the whole super glossy thing! (laughs)
What’s the audience like for music like in Lucerne today?
R: There’s not that many people interested in the same music as us in Lucerne. But there are a handful of diggers – and they dig deep. All the people involved with zweikommasieben, the folks over at Klub Kegelbahn, the people doing Korsett, the Südpol-crew, just to name a few. When doing events ourselves we’re often forced to come up with alternative ways of setting them up. Most of them are for free and we don’t try to make money at the door as it’s really difficult to motivate people to pay for something that they don’t know & sometimes won’t like! (laughs) We come up with strategies to pay the artists in some other way by getting a good deal with the club and taking a cut from the bar or whatever.
K: Over the time we became more and more active in Lucerne running three to five events each month. Sometimes it’s too much! We run an event called Nacht, it started as a place to promote people from Switzerland but after a while we were in a comfortable enough position that we could start booking artists from abroad and it’s just been growing really. There’s not that much thinking behind everything it’s just sort of happening.
R: We’ve also done two vinyl releases and there’s a third one coming too. The first one we did in collaboration with Samuel, in order to promote a night we set up together. He has a friend who can make dub-plates who was interested in doing some work with us. We asked Raime and Black Rain from Blackest Ever Black who were performing that night if they would be up for contributing some music we could publish. They were interested so we sold some 10 inches exclusively at the event. The second release is a single-sided twelve-inch with a composition by Martina Lussi, an artist who also works for the magazine doing photography and proofreading.
This was your first Bilingual edition. It will be interesting to see how it expands from here with your partnership with Berlin’s Motto Books?
R: Our English isn’t impeccable enough to translate it ourselves and before there was no budget to pay for a translator. The bilingual thing is a result of the collaboration with Motto books. They said directly from the beginning that there would be a market for this content in English too. We weren’t looking for a gap in the market it just happened. If there is interest from the English speaking area then yeah that’s cool but if not, that’s cool also.
Aiming to capture the contemporary state of club culture in the moment, You’ve obviously witnessed some changes to it. Do you believe that club culture is as healthy today as ever?
R: That’s a difficult one, I would have said there haven’t been big changes in the past three years in general. There are always new trends and more events happening in Lucerne than before. Our current issue features more dark stuff, but that’s really just our interest at the moment. We’re not trying to represent something bigger it’s simply what we’re interested in at the moment. The interview with Andy Stott, we did that nearly a year ago & the same with Haxan Cloak, so we’re super slow to print. That’s why we veer away from talking about current releases because by the time we go to print it’s old news…
K: Doing the magazine was a way to meet all these interesting people. Lucerne is such a small place & all these musicians end up there for an evening so it’s just the idea of telling stories from our Lucerne point of view.
R: There is a nice example from the time just before we started the magazine: Hype Williams was performing at Sudepol in early 2011 and there was hardly anyone attending the event. It was promoted by Hood Regulators, two friends who did UK Funky stuff before so the small audience that was there was a bit confused seeing an act like Hype Williams. I was there totally amazed and then there were other people not really feeling it. They went on stage asking Dean and Inga to play ‘some party music’. The band were just like fuck this so they stuck on a loop and left the stage. We thought that was a great story!
Tell me about the individual stages in the production process?
R: First we organise the interviews, the columns and tell our writers to respect the deadline! Sometimes stuff that wasn’t ready for one edition will carry on to another. There’s no drawing board or central hub where everyone meets.
K: Sometimes I ask Remo is there a coincidence in topic overall so myself and the other two designers can tie that into a visual aspect/theme for the magazine.
R: One important thing that we insist on is our writers do all interviews in person. There have been some exceptions though. For the one with Laurel Halo in the third edition, we wanted to do the interview with her on the train down to Milano. She had a problem with her ticket so the interview wasn’t completed in the train because she had to speak with the ticket conductor and we had to finish the interview online at a later stage. There’s an actual photograph of her included from the day at the train, stitched into the magazine and we talk about it in the piece. We thought it made it all the more interesting. A similar thing happened with Actress when he was playing in Lucerne a while back. I picked him up at the Zurich airport. I asked him would he be interested in doing an interview for the magazine. He was, but then there was not enough time to finish our conversation so I sent him some questions via e-mail.
K: His answers were super short & cryptic. We programmed a website with just answers that he gave. People could contribute pictures to compliment the topic of the answer without knowing the questions that Remo asked him. The images are completely random but also associated with his obscure answers in a way. We printed all of them in the sixth issue.
The music box section, I found that really interesting.
R: We had that for the last four issues. The idea was to tell the story of House music. The “host” is Fabian Riccio aka El Tigre Sound, a friend who often plays at our parties. He’s coordinating the whole discussion and also giving input to the others doing the writing.
Do you have something special planned for issue number 10?
R: We’ve actually done most of the interviews already. There will be a focus on artists doing Punk and Grime informed music. There will be a feature with some people involved at the Golden Pudel in Hamburg. There will also be content with DJ TLR, Kuedo and M.E.S.H.
How many copies/outlets are you going to be distributing from?
R: First we did 300 copies, then 500 and now 1000 with the latest issue. Motto are doing a great job in distributing it. Apparently it’s in Tate Modern now which almost feels weird.
K: The fact that Motto distributes the magazine is really a big deal for me. Even before I studied graphic design I went to their store in Kreuzberg and thought, wow this is the coolest place in all of Berlin.
R: I remember going to Motto with the first issue and asking them to sell it and was just completely humbled when they said yes.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the publishing business?
K: I think that you need a little bit of money to do it. We’ve got a couple of adverts in there now but I’m not a salesperson at all. What I’ve learned most is that you get further when you’re in a team. Since the sixth issue I design the magazine with my friends Simon Rüegg and Raphael Schoen, and they’ve really helped bring it to the next level.
R: Personally I’ve learnt so much, it’s been a huge thing for me but I couldn’t name one individual thing.
What advice would you give to newbies starting up a zine / magazine today?
K: Having good content is the most important thing a magazine can give to it’s readers and that’s what will bring them back.
R: I would say look for good graphic design! (all laugh)
Interview & Photography: Conor McTernan