Christopher von Deylen performing in his recent concert at the fully-packed 3,000-strong Interior Ministry’s  Auditorium in Tehran. (Photo: Ritmeno.ir)
Art And Culture
Friday, March 23, 2018

'Before You Judge, Experience Iran Yourself': Exclusive Interview with Schiller's Christopher von Deylen

Finance Desk

Schiller, the German electronic music band led by Christopher von Deylen, in December became the first major non-classical western group to perform in Iran since the Islamic Revolution nearly four decades ago.

They were originally slated to perform two concerts on Dec 11-12 at the Ministry of Interior Auditorium, but since their tickets were bought in a matter of hours, another three nights were added to their dates, all of which also sold out by the time they arrived in Tehran.

On his first press conference in Tehran at the time, the 47-year-old von Deylen spoke of his engineer father's travels to Iran and the pistachios he brought back when the now internationally renowned musician was no older than seven. He also explained just how shocked he and his fellow performers –Cliff Hewitt and Martin Roberts– were after seeing the excitement of their Iranian audiences that they had to take out their phones and record it.

The concerts were organized by Ritmeno, a local music website, in collaboration with the Tehran-based cultural institutes of Nay-o-Ney and Tanin-e Roya-e Pars who bought all-new equipment to provide the best quality sound in cooperation with German sound engineers and producers. Schiller had a successful run, von Deylen thanked his audience for the warm welcome and left the country.

But less than three months later, it was announced that Schiller was to return to Tehran with three more concert nights and some new tracks to go with their repertoire of memorable songs.

Schiller, named after the famous 18th-century poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller, reentered Iran on Feb. 28 and after von Deylen promised changes in rhythm and a new exclusive song for Tehran audiences, staged three additional concerts on March 4-6

Before the concert on March 6, Financial Tribune sat down with the musician, who founded the band in 1998 and has since sold more than seven million albums, for an exclusive interview in which he spoke of the "energy" that seems to be at the center of what he does, how he is on stage and in the studio, his Berlin-Tehran treat for his eager listeners in Iran's capital, and Iran's image outside the country.

He said he had fun performing in Iran that is "like nowhere else" because the atmosphere is so warm and welcoming. "I'm addicted," he said.

As to what changed in Schiller's second run in Tehran compared to a few months before, he noted that the music was more energetic this time around in recognition of audiences that seemed to have a more exuberant response to higher tempo sequencer sounds.

"So I decided to modify the set list and even rearrange certain songs in order to create a little bit more energy. And apparently, the audience loves that and picked up on it."

He explained that beyond the songs with a fixed melody, Schiller is prone to improvisation both in the preparation stage and mid-performance. That has even prompted questions about whether the set list has changed from one night to the other –"which in fact it didn't"– but it has also given him what he sees as an opportunity to take a lead from the audience, interpret the energy he receives and incorporates it into his music.

"Sometimes there are certain moments where I think during a concert 'oh, this could've been different or even a little bit better' and I hope that nobody really realized that in the audience, but I think that's one of the main attractions of playing live because you can have a plan, you can have a set list, you can rehearse, but there's this headroom for unexpected things and I guess that's also what the audience likes about live music in general that there's always a certain tension in the air".

When in studio, adds von Deylen, it's a different story as everything is contained and he can just call it a day and come back tomorrow on days when he feels things are not going well. But being on tour and performing live entails a tension and energy that he thinks the audience can feel beyond the music itself.

According to von Deylen, the reaction from his Iranian audiences to Schiller signature pieces such as Leben (I Feel You) and Ruhe was pretty much the same as his Western audiences, but the former showed differences in case of other songs.

"But there are certain bits and pieces and certain musical events, say, like when a bass sequence starts, where the audience in Iran immediately reacts to and I can immediately feel that the energy which comes from the stage is being picked up and given back," he said, adding that it in turn affects him and his bandmates and what they play.


Von Deylen said a "powerful depth" he felt among Iranians, even in one-on-one conversations, was one of the main things that inspired him to write his new track dubbed Berlin-Tehran.

His experience has been that Iranians have a politeness, calmness and hospitality on one hand, but have a deep energy on the other, and that is something that connected with him.

The track features the electric guitar and apparently that was the result of a happy coincidence.

As von Deylen said, they were rehearsing another song which had just a little bit of electric guitar –"not so much, just as a texture, as a taste"– and Berlin-Tehran was one of the songs on the rehearsal set list.

"Martin, our guitarist, just by accident hit a chord and suddenly this idea came up to make a rhythmic pattern out of it because the entire song is rather rhythmic. Of course it has a melody and quiet parts, but it's really dynamic and has this deep energy. So this accident became an interesting addition to the song".

This was another example of the unexpected yet fortunate things that can happen in live situations that he was talking about before as he said something like this would have never happened and he would have never said out of the blue in the studio that a song like this would need the electric guitar.

But going back to all the other elements of the song that were conceived by design rather than accident, did he actively try to incorporate oriental elements in it? The short answer is no.

To explain, he referred to another song written in honor of a capital city, Berlin-Moskau, which does not necessarily have overtly Russian elements in it.

He described the song as a fantasy soundtrack that is about a train ride from Berlin to Moscow. It's not so much "the marriage of those cities" as it is just going from one place to another and uses train sounds and continuous sequence to represent an "everlasting train ride".

"With Berlin-Tehran, again, it wasn't so much the idea of stealing Persian sounds and putting them into my music, but I wanted to express the feeling I have whenever I'm in Iran and so that's what I'm trying to describe; this energy and the passion for energy and rhythm".

He said the groove and rhythm were to a certain extent inspired by Persian groove patterns, but not to a fault. The song also features melody parts which he described as uplifting and conveying the feeling of a poem.

Experience Iran Yourself

Iran's image outside the country is mostly limited to political and social developments, the majority of which do not necessarily reflect everything that actually goes on inside the country, its people and what they think, and the kind of experience the country as a whole can offer to its guests.

So as the first major western musician in recent memory to perform in Iran and visit several of its cities and provinces, what would the Schiller front man have to say to his peers and anyone else mulling a visit to Iran?

"The simple answer is 'just go there'," von Deylen said. "That's the same answer I would give to people in another country who think Germans drink beer all day and wear leather trousers and Bavarian hats, and you know, the entire country is in Oktoberfest. I would ask them, 'before you judge, or before you form an opinion, experience it yourself, and then you can decide whether you like it or not'".

He has been telling that to everybody he can inside and outside Germany because also having experienced the country himself prior to his concerts in Tehran, he is of the belief that it is very difficult for one to "form an opinion which somehow comes close to a truth if you just rely on third-party information".

Von Deylen visited Iran 12 years ago and because of that in addition to his fathers' travels, he said he grew up with a very positive image of Iran and that image was only bolstered when he came back to perform.

He said he has on many occasions found himself explaining to others –"for hours sometimes"– how different Iran is compared to what many would think.

"But people's faces just became empty, and I realized it's impossible to describe it. It's a little bit like describing your best friend to someone… you can get a list of topics, but you have to get to know the person, you have to meet them in real life". 


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